Testimonies and Experiences
They wrote about Elder Porphyrios
Alexander M. Stavropoulos
Assistant Professor at the Theological School of the University of Athens.
In order to collect more testimonies about life and the works of Elder Porphyrios, in addition to the recorded tapes we did on CBC in the framework of the program "Orthodoxy Today," we sent a special mission to Athens.
During the course of this assignment, we also communicated with Mr. Alexander M. Stavropoulos, Assistant Professor at the University of Athens, who knew the Elder Porphyrios very well. Mr. Stavropoulos, however, was leaving the country the very next day. Thus, instead of recording a conversation, he was good enough to send us his text for publication "The Royal Oak - In Memory of Elder Porphyrios" that was published in the periodical Efimerios, (1991, pages 376-378.) We thank him warmly and we cite it below, followed by one other text of the same person that was first published in the periodical Koinonia (1992, pages 105-109) with the title, "The Heavenward Elder." and which also cite in this present, second edition.
The Royal Oak In Memory of Elder Porphyrios
A living presence
The news resounded like an echo from one corner to the other throughout Greece and the whole world, "The Elder has passed on, may we have his blessing!" An unbelievable report, yet true. We were all waiting for something like this to happen someday. That someday was placed in the distant inaccessible future. All of us kept a safe distance from the unavoidable. We created our own type of insulation against it. We were nagged by the thought of what will become of us when that moment comes. We have many teachers, but we do not have many fathers. Who will console us during those difficult times?
However, I can feel within me the sweet sensation of his presence. It is a presence that unites the earthly, with the heavenly, the Church Militant with the Church Triumphant.
Elder Porphyrios "has passed from death to life," and he has become an intercessor for all of us who are grieving.
It is impossible for me to imagine him dead. His body has been placed in the good Athonite soil, which will produce fruit a hundredfold in the hearts of his children. That body that negotiated new roads, which grasped the smallest detail with his experience of ascetic life, will be reconstituted to that from which it was made, contributing to the metamorphosis on the day of Resurrection.
We all hold the memory of the touch of his hand firmly in our minds. By placing his hand on our head, he passed on a blessing, he healed or admonished. We remember his curled up body in times of pain and suffering. We also remember the same body tall and upright when we found him in moments of extremely good health.
We will remember him as flesh and bones and in this way we feel he is next to us, in front of us, behind us, accompanying us discreetly on our journey through the thoroughfare of life.
Words of life
We will remember his words with overwhelming emotion because they were words of life that animated us. Let us delve into our memories and recreate those words in their fullness. Many of us were idle and neglected to record the complete mosaic of the skillful artwork of his word. The certainty that we would see him and hear him again made us indolent. He was one of our own. He would say the same thing.
He would constantly relate the same things to us, to clarify the details that escaped us. We would even wonder why he was telling us these things again. A heartfelt friend, who went to the Elder again and again, was always told the same story by him and asked himself why. Three years later he understood the reason for so much repetition. This, of course, made him tired, affected his health and troubled those who served his needs, because his strength was sapped.
We often experienced that awkward moment of knowing that we had tired him out. We became heavy hearted and sighed when he tried to persuade us to make the great step and take up the spiritual struggle. Entrenched within our doubtful security, we resisted the opportunities that he wanted to open up within us. Being narrow minded, we could not comprehend the openness into which he called us. With the narrowness of our hearts we opposed the broadness of his.
In spite of his desire to move forward, he stopped to marvel at the complexity of nature and technology. His brains were occupied in finding solutions to everything. Dead ends did not exist for him unless we put up barricades.
He was always in favor of transporting "built constructions." If something cannot be done here it can be done elsewhere. So we transferred buildings that were condemned to ruin and age to a corresponding site in another area. Spiritual life demands techniques and methods so that you can transfer what you have learned here, there, or somewhere else. He tried to teach all of us the idea of 'else'. We remember him saying: If we cannot do something here, let us start from somewhere else. The important thing was to start. We should not be idle. If you can't start with this or that, start with something else. The impetus you get from that will motivate you to do the other things.
The three enemies: laziness, carelessness and indifference.
He would charge most of us with being lazy. He would 'sniff us out from the way we walked, the way we talked, the way we grasped something or by the way we moved our hands. He would say, "Look at him, he can't even move his feet and he wants to move forward spiritually!" He applied a type of psychosomatic pastoral treatment. He recommended the use of work therapy.
He was unbelievably annoyed by our carelessness and our indifference. A Christian must be interested in and by everything. How is it possible for the world to progress if Christians are indifferent? We must be careful. The thief is careful. We must also 'steal' We must impress upon ourselves attention to detail.
He had never put his hands on a steering wheel yet was an excellent fellow driver on impossible and difficult roads. The journeys that he made taught him what to watch out for. They taught him what to avoid. He passed on his invaluable experience even when we became exasperated with his interference. We realized little by little, that he did not aim to make us mature but to make us completely operational so that we could take advantage of our psychosomatic dynamism and produce abundantly.
Measuring our pulse
He gave special emphasis to the schedule of our spiritual life, which was not unrelated to all that we mentioned above. He took our measurements. You never found something that was off the rack. It was always something made to order for you. He labored to find your pulse, your own disposition for fasting, prayer, asceticism, and the mystical life. He would always convey to you something from his enthusiasm, something from his own ascent, something from his spiritual flights.
"Our religion, Alexander, is something magnificent. It heals everything. Love Christ, and then everything will change within you and around you." By saying the word Christ you would think that the letters were being written in your heart one by one, and you felt an ache. You felt "the name above every name," was being inscribed in your heart with large, fiery letters. You felt yourself taking part in the chorus of saints who have now received Elder Porphyrios into the Heavens.
To all of those, and they are many, who felt the rewarding presence of the Elder, let us say that the Elder Porphyrios lives and reigns in the unending day of the Kingdom. He prays for all of us and especially for the priests whom he respected, honored and loved with all the warmth of his heart.
May we have your blessing, Elder!
The Heavenward Elder
Gift of God
If we wanted to characterize the presence of Elder Porphyrios amongst us, we would be greatly helped by the two readings, the Epistle reading (Eph. 4:7-13) as well as the Gospel reading (Mt 4:12-17). They were read in the Divine Liturgy on the day of the Fortieth-Day Memorial, which was held at the Holy Convent "The Transfiguration of the Saviour" at Milesi, Attica on the twelfth of January 1992.
We could maintain with certainty that Elder Porphyrios is one of the Christ's gifts, who He has raised up to the heights and offered to the people. With his life, Elder Pophyrios revealed the Great Light, Christ, to those dwelling in darkness. He invited all of us to His miraculous light. The apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the shepherd, the teacher and above all the father, were all concentrated in his person. Throughout his whole life he aimed at edifying the Body oi Christ, the Church. All his gifts were given to him for this purpose
Is it possible for all things to be concentrated in one particular individual? Certainly it is possible if we remember that in each one of us "is given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift." The answer is given to the above mentioned doubt by the ingenious and silencing 'epigram' of a Cretan priest, who recited it to me in a telephone conversation a few days ago. There is no doubt at all.
"Porphyrios' countenance has bottomless depth; no place can contain it nor mind efface it."
A form of resurrection
The Elder's life is one continuous surprise whether we know little or much about it. However it is mainly a revelation of the life which the Lord assured us of when He came to the earth, "that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). The Elder's life was resurrectional. It witnessed to the Resurrection. It was I would dare say, "a form of resurrection," which revealed hope when death drew near to us, and when death drew near to him in its every mold.
Having this conviction, I was surprised when I was asked to write a death notice for the Elder. I silently objected. The dissension was formulated in the letter of an exceptional friend of mine. In response to my invitation to gather information relating to the Elder's life, he willingly sent me notes of conversations he had held with him at various times. I found in them a brilliant icon of those things which we ourselves tried to present in words with such difficulty. I wonder who amongst us has the right to write the "death notice" of the sleeping Elder who has already "passed from death to life?"
I will quote some of the Elder's words to you, based on the inventory of notes. My comments are superfluous.
"When I became a monk, I felt better. My health even strengthened. Before I was sickly, from then on I became healthier and had the stamina to withstand the struggles of life with spiritual courage. Chiefly I felt eternal. The Church is a mystery. Whoever enters the church doesn't die, but is saved, is eternal. So, I've always felt eternal, immortal." The face of the Elder lit up and he continued "From the moment I became a monk, I believed that death doesn't exist. This thought sustains me."
When I first read those verses, tears of joy slowly flowed over my cheeks. I said, Verses'? What else are those lines other than a resurrection hymn? Verses that breathe the poetry of a whole life out upon himself. The Elder's life put into practice the glorious words of Kostis Palamas, the poet:
The statue I struggled to form for the shrine,
out of my own stone,
and to establish it mother-naked
and to age
and to pass by without passing away.
There, the reason why it was so difficult for us to imagine him dead and feel him alive and near us for four whole months after his departure.
A revelation of a kind
Another reason for our gratitude to God is that the presence of Elder Porphyrios in our lives resurrected within the Hellenic nation and the human race a disappearing breed: the figure of the 'Elder' within Orthodoxy.
We mentioned above how ample the qualities of Elder Porphyrios were. In his person we relived, as in a dream, all that tradition has recorded in histories and in the wondrous events of the saintly Elders' lives. We relived the life of our Church condensed in the length of the encounters we had with him. It is truly a miracle to come out of his cell with certainty of faith, with firm hope, having tasted the sweet fruit of his love.
We know that for many he was the "tree of godly fruit," the "wood of leafy branches,"* which nourished and sheltered many people. I remember the case of a highly placed person. When he found himself in a black despairing mood, he took his car and went and stopped a breath away from the Elder's cell. In the morning, he would leave for his day's labor without even attempting to talk with him. The Elder felt his presence. The Elder felt many things and he also did many things to be felt by others.
When George Seferis spoke some sixty years ago about that fir tree that bends down before the sea, do you suppose he knew what a ripe image he gave us in order to talk about the Elder?
"I once spent the night under that tree. At dawn, I was brand new, as if at that moment they had carved me out of a quarry."
*Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, 14th verse "New was the creation..."
Carving the Transfiguration
True, maybe I have been led astray, talking about irrelevant images, about statues, about stones, and become distracted from my desire to trace the outline of Elder Porphyrios? I think not. Nothing like that is happening. I simply wanted in the final analysis to transcend the Elder's deep desire to hew the formless mass of our stony selves, to form the image of Christ within us, and thus, transform us. All of this happened with much travail on his part, the strengthening of our hopes, so that we would never be disappointed and give up.
He saw signs of hope in our personal lives, the life of our nation and the life of humanity. One night, when we had confided in him our sorrow and our distress about everything that was happening around us, he confided:
"Our age is just like the age Christ lived in. At that time, the world had arrived a wretched state, but God felt sorry for us. We shouldn't get upset now. I see a truly outstanding person of God appearing in this calamity who will lead people and unite them towards the good."
Amen, Elder, but when?
Everyone who knew the power of his prayers asks you to intercede to our most gracious God, to Christ's all holy Mother, for the salvation of humankind and of our souls. Don't forget us when we forget your life-bearing words. "Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent." May his memory be eternal!
My good Elder,
your blessing as then
when you prayed for us
and you blessed us with the cross.
Your prayer rained
rivers of grace upon us
and you freed us
from the bonds
which held us
The hands and the feet,
were then free, moving
toward the four corners
of the horizon
and your word
a weather vane of many trips
upon the wings of the wind
to the ferry of fertile lines.
**Reprinted from the periodical Ephimerios, vol. 41, issue 17, November 15, 1992, page 353, with the permission of the author.
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Article published in English on: 19-3-2009.
Last Update: 19-3-2009.