Archive for the ‘Sketching Holiness’ Category

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Encomium at the funeral of Archimandrite Ephraim, former abbot of Philotheou, offered by Archimandrite Paisios, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Anthony the Great (Source)

Our most reverend Geronda,[1] our most beloved father!

It is so difficult for me—and for the entire brotherhood—to articulate even a single word about the departure of our great Father and Elder.

The best word for an elder of your stature, I believe, would be silence, love, reverence, prayer. That unceasing prayer, through which your heart was warmed with love for our Christ and our Panagia.[2] This prayer that he constantly urged us to say without ceasing. His voice can still be heard—and indeed we will all hear it forever in our consciences—“My child, say the prayer,[3] don’t stop, don’t speak, say it audibly.”

Today, Most Reverend Archbishop of America, Holy Hierarchs, reverend Abbots and Abbesses, and all my beloved brethren in Christ, we celebrate an event whose importance is self- apparent. For behold, “Rejoice, O chief shepherd, as you behold round about your table your children’s children, bearing branches of good works.”[4] And from the Prophet Isaiah: Lift up your eyes, reverend Elder, and see around you: behold, your children have assembled together to you like divinely-radiant luminaries, from the west and the north and the sea and the dawn, through you blessing Christ unto the ages,[5] sending you on ahead unto the desired homeland which you had ever before your eyes, to that moment you desired when you would be united with your beloved Christ, the Bridegroom of our souls. He always had his thoughts on the things on high; he passionately loved the heavenly and never bothered himself with anything earthly except the salvation of the souls of his spiritual children.

Geronda would say to us, “Always remember death, as if every day that dawns is your last day, and say to yourself, ‘Arise, go forth, my soul: Be silent, pray, seek reconciliation, love, weep with pain for your sins, for the end has arrived.’ As long as we have time, let us force ourselves, because this is what we will keep; all the rest will be scattered by the four winds. Pray also for me who say but do not do, and woe to me the thrice-wretched; which face of God will I see?”

That which is taking place today is indeed a little painful, because of the temporary bodily separation, but in many ways it is joyful because we have obtained a most powerful intercessor before God. Our Geronda did not die; he fell asleep and was translated to heaven, to the synodia[6] of his own Geronda, the ascetic Saint Joseph the Hesychast. He is being welcomed by the Holy Apostles, the Martyrs, the monastic Saints, the choir of the Angels, his guardian the Honorable Forerunner, our Panagia, and by the Master Christ, Whom he so loved, by the true light, the Holy Trinity. He walked with much faith and love and trust in the will of God, and now deservedly rests in the place prepared for his repose.

And now has come the hour of his departure. He expectantly waited for it and often mentioned it. And honestly, how long would he stay with us? How long could he endure being far from his own Geronda in the heavens? All possible bounds of human patience had been surpassed, his limitless love was offered richly to all. You suffered much, Holy Father, you endured pain and we along with you; you were slandered, you experienced rejection, you patiently endured the martyrdom of illness, you took up your heavy cross with faith in the mercy and the love of God, with great fortitude while glorifying the name of our Christ, and mostly in silence. Yet your voice, your teachings, remain as an invaluable treasure which you have entrusted to us, to exhort us in the struggle for virtue. Pray, Holy Elder, that we may follow in your footsteps, each according to his abilities.

You told us years ago that you would depart, but Christ extended the time for the sake of your beloved spiritual children. But today, the Master Christ desired to receive your grace-filled and luminous soul, pure and godly, from your much-suffering body. Today the long-desired day of your departure to the heavens has arrived. Most revered Geronda, angel on earth and heavenly man, today you leave this present world and join the heavenly, where the light of the Resurrection shines eternally, where the newborn heavenly Babe receives you into His manger,

He the incarnated Fashioner of creation. And your departure becomes a triumph and glorification of Christ the King. And as you related in one of your teachings, “The nous[7] feels the attraction and is drawn by the hymn ‘Christ is born, Glorify Him!’[8] My God, my Christ, words fail me; my heart is going to burst, how sweet You are! What can I say? My heart melts like wax, because I am unworthy in everything. But when, O when will I see You, my Father? Your sweetness surpasses all reason and understanding.”

Our own feelings, however, are rather mixed. Peaceful tears, and a joyful sadness reigns within us. Today we see off to the throne of God a protector and intercessor, a new pillar of our Church. We have obtained a saint who struggled in the caves and huts of Small Saint Anne’s[9] and excelled in obedience as very few have done. We have obtained an Equal-to-the-Apostles who tirelessly tilled the soil of America and Canada, bringing forth immortal souls, reborn through repentance and confession. His words—simple, fiery, deeply spiritual—reached the ends of the world. We have obtained a martyr who suffered all manner of trials from his fellow-man, but also from his unseen enemies. Our most beloved Geronda, upright is your heart, straight is your path. Holy is your memory, blessed is your remembrance.

All of us are recipients of your gentleness, of your ever-joyful countenance, of the cheerfulness of your words, of your Christ-centered teaching, of the graciousness of your character, of your sweetness, of your meekness and your extreme Christ-like humility towards all.

Truly, who met you and did not love you? Who spoke with you, bowed beneath your epitrachelion,[10] and did not feel their heart sweetened? All desired to be with and near you. All who approached you underwent a positive change and drew from the inexhaustible fountain of divine grace, which continuously gushed forth from your godly soul and overflowed not only for those close to you but even those afar off who were in need. All desired to be with you, near you. Everyone, and especially the simple hearts who discerned in you your clear and bright purity.

We beg you, our most holy Father and dearly beloved Geronda, “The chariot of Israel and its horses!”[11] do not leave us orphans, but ever intercede to the Lord on behalf of us all, the humble brotherhoods under you, and all who have come today here to your funeral service to give one last prostration and venerate your grace-filled and sanctified hands, ever raised in prayer and intercessions for us, for our homeland, for all the world and the church.

And finally, emulating your courteousness, Geronda, I express warm thanks to His Eminence Archbishop of America Elpidophoros, to the other hierarchs, to the abbots and abbesses and the other brethren, and especially His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, represented by the Right Reverend Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou of the Holy Mountain Archimandrite Nikodemos, for his paternal and patriarchal blessings and his words of consolation to our brotherhood in Christ.

Eternal be the memory of our most reverend Geronda and Father and Abbot, Archimandrite Ephraim the Hieromonk.

Our Elder and Father Ephraim has fallen asleep, the boast of the monastics. May he be remembered with renown from the mouths of thousands.[12]

Used with permission from the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great

[1] Geronda (Gk. Γέροντα, lit. ‘elder’), a term of respect often used for the abbot of a monastery.

[2] Panagia (Gk. Παναγία, lit. ‘all-holy’) is the term usually used in Greek to refer to the Theotokos.

[3] The prayer, or ‘efhi’ (Gk. ευχή), i.e. the Jesus Prayer, that the Elder always exhorted us to have continually on our lips.

[4] From the ‘Hymns of Ascent’ of the 3rd mode.

[5] From the 8th ode of the Canon of Pascha, itself based on Isaiah 60:4.

[6] A synodia (Gk. συνοδεία) is a group of monks living together, consisting of the elder and his disciples. The word is often translated as “brotherhood”.

[7] Nous (Gk. ‘νούς’), a patristic/theological term that refers to the faculty of the soul that is able to enter into communion with God, also referred to as the ‘eye of the soul’.

[8] The first eirmos of the canon of the feast of Christmas.

[9] Small Saint Anne’s (Μικρή Αγία Άννα) is the name of the area on Mt. Athos where St. Joseph the Hesychast’s brotherhood struggled in asceticism.

[10] The epitrachelion, (Gk. επιτραχήλιον) is the vestment (also called the ‘stole’ in English) worn by the priest around the neck, and placed over the head of the penitent during the prayer of absolution at the end of confession. In the Greek text here, the more colloquial ‘petrachili’ was used, presenting a warm contrast to the more elevated language throughout the rest of the eulogy, and evoking fond memories of the love and paternal compassion felt by those who passed under the Elder’s stole in confession.

[11] 4 Kings 2:12.

[12] Αὐτοῦ εἰς ἀνάμνησιν μυριώνυμον εὖχος—a phrase from classical Greek, often used in elegiac writings in reference to the repose of great figures.

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St. Ephraim of Katounakia (on the left) is called “Papa-Ephraim” in the passage below

From My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Archimandrite Ephraim of Arizona, pp. 242-244

The piety of Papa-Ephraim was manifest especially during the Divine Liturgy. He said: “When I served for Elder Joseph, I had overwhelming compunction and a flood of tears – a torrent! I could not contain myself when serving there. I must admit, thought, that it was all because of Geronda’s [St. Joseph the Hesychast’s] prayers.”

…Elder Joseph was delighted with those Liturgies and the compunctious atmosphere that was created, because everyone in his brotherhood was wholeheartedly devoted to worship, and no thought removed their nous from prayer. He wouldn’t let anyone else serve Liturgy for them because he didn’t want to lose what they had. He even said: “I believe that on all of the Holy Mountain there is not better Divine Liturgy  was a Liturgy of prayer.

Frequently during the Divine Liturgy, Papa-Ephraim saw the grace of God tangibly filling the entire chapel. This is why he could say from experience, “The Holy Spirit cannot be seen, but His grace can be seen.” Grace flooded their hearts in that tiny chapel, and many times Papa-Ephraim could see Christ as an infant on the holy paten. At such times, his tears ran like a streams.

One time at the consecration of the holy gifts, he was informed of what is meant by the phrase, “heirs of God and joint-hiers with Christ,” while feeling an intense ardour of spirit. Another time, when he went to rest after the Divine Liturgy, he suddenly saw a cherubim. With inexplicable joy he embraced it and kissed it. When he told Geronda [Joseph] what had happened, Geronda explained to him that it was a manifestation of God’s grace.

Once during the Liturgy, he saw the Trinitarian God in the holy gifts. I saw Him with the eyes of my soul, but I can’t describe it. Of course, man cannot see God and live, but I saw Him in a sense as Moses did, when he saw ‘the back parts’ of God (Ex. 33:23). At that moment, I found myself in a state of ineffable bliss, peace, love, divine eros, and tears. The living God was in the holy chalice! So then how can you dare approach the holy chalice?” After such incidents, Geronda would humble him by sweetly saying, “You are traveling very fast, my dear priest!”

When Papa-Ephraim served the Liturgy and said, “Peace be unto all,” he had the thought, “Who am I to pray for peace to come to Elder Joseph?” This thought concerned him for a while until one day he heard a voice coming from the stole, “You are not the one saying it; I am saying it.” He then realized that it is the Holy Spirit Who is blessing through the priest.

After so many heavenly events, it is no wonder that the abandoned chapel of Elder Joseph in the wilderness where Papa-Ephraim served the Liturgy for so many years is still fragrant.

May God make us also worthy to attend such holy liturgies!

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When people met Anastasios [i.e., Fr. Arsenios] on his way to Jerusalem, they asked him: “Where are you going?”

“To the Holy Land,” he replied.

With great surprise they asked, “But which road are you going to take?”

“It doesn’t matter; all roads lead to Jerusalem!” he responded with his typical simplicity.

Even after he left home, his mother still prayed intensely for his salvation. She told his little sister, “Let’s go out to our garden.” When they got there, she said to her: “I didn’t want to come out to the garden to check on it but to pray for your brother.”

“Why? He went to become a monk.”

“Yes, he has gone to become a monk, but has he secured his salvation? He’s still just a youngster. Who knows what kind of people are down there. That is why I beseech Christ and the Panagia day and night to help him.”

What a diligent mother! It was her prayers and tears that helped him and protected him from evil. After all, he was so simple that he would do whatever people told him.


When Fr. Anatolios [i.e., Fr. Arsenios] arrived at the train station in Alexandria, the porters saw his silken cassock and assumed he was rich, so they cordially offered to carry his baggage for him. Seeing such kindness, Fr. Anatolios said to himself with amazement: “Just look at what good Christians these people are! Not even we monks are so helpful!”

As soon as they had arrived to where they were going, the porters said to him: “Hand it over.”

“Hand what over?”

“The money!”

“You mean you take money for carrying my things?”

“Hmph! What do you think? We’d do it for free?”

“You mean you don’t do it out of love for Christ?”

“No, Father. How else are we going to make a living?”

So he paid them.

Later when he went to eat, the same thing happened. A waiter said to him,

“What would you like to eat? We have this, this, this, this, and that.”

“My, my! What gluttony!” he answered. He was so simple that he thought he was expected to eat everything. While he was eating, he was thinking to himself, “How hospitable the people are around here!” But then when they unexpectedly asked him to pay…

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Below is an excerpt from my book The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing. Purchase your copy of The Sweetness of Grace through Ancient Faith Store or Amazon.com.


Set a Watch Before My Mouth, pp. 236-238

SR. SARAH AND SR. THEKLA, having become novices around the same time, had a special bond. Not only did they share books and stories, work together, and were even tonsured together they had a unique pact. From the very beginning of their monastic lives they agreed they would never, under any circumstances, indicate to each other that they had gotten into an argument, were upset with, or had been offended by, a member of their monastic community. This decision to safeguard the bond of peace within the sisterhood was a very wise one.

“See, if I had a problem with a certain sister, if for some reason I got upset with her and went and vented to Sr. Thekla, then she might also find herself becoming embittered or disliking the other sister. You know, the way a person sometimes dislikes those whom their friends dislike. We never wanted this to happen, so we agreed that we would never say anything bad about another sister, ever.”

This simple commitment brings with it immeasurable protection. Many times we allow ourselves to vent. We convince ourselves that it is better to get it all out than to allow our anger to boil up inside us, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, we are wrong on two counts for engaging in such behavior.

First, venting allows our thoughts and suspicions, our hurt feelings and offenses, to become solidified. We confirm our thoughts by justifying them, explaining why we are right and the other person is wrong, how we are wounded and the other is the cruel offender. Second, we pull the other person or persons listening to us into sin with us. We infiltrate their thoughts and perceptions, tainting the way they think and feel about the supposed offender. This is actually worse than the first wrongdoing, because we are not only sinning but creating a stumbling block for someone else.

It is an easy enough temptation to fall into, especially given that contemporary society encourages expressing our anger; it teaches us it’s a necessary evil to pour out the poison in order to avoid blowing up. But since when has the authentic Christian embraced what the world teaches? Here is what Elder Thaddeus teaches we ought to do to resolve our inner turmoil:

When the period of warfare comes, we are overwhelmed by thoughts… This is when we must turn to the Lord in our hearts and keep silent. If we cannot abandon the thought that is bothering us immediately then we must keep silence. We should not think about anything. It is not ours to think. The Lord knows what we can take and what we cannot. Then, when we are in silence and our minds are quiet, we should give it something to do so that it will not wander [and return to the matter that is bothering us]. We should pray.[1]

When we are confronted by strong emotions and thoughts, instead of venting to someone else, we can apply the elder’s advice. And then we go to confession. It is in confession that our venting can take place. Not that confession is an opportunity to accuse, slander, or even simply reveal the faults of others, but it is here in confession that we can reveal our honest feelings and perceptions. Most importantly, it is through confession that our erring thoughts are corrected and we receive consolation for our sorrow. A wise spiritual guide can help us discern where we are at fault in a conflict, or, if we are innocent, how we can bear the injustices done to us.

The sisters protected themselves and each other by committing to keep silent instead of venting. Silence doesn’t mean the heart is at peace, but it does ensure that sin does not progress into action through word or deed. By their silence the sisters “silence the enemy and the avenger” of mankind (Ps. 8:2).


[1] Elder Thaddeus, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, trans. Ana Smiljanic (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2014), p. 116.


From the author of The Scent of Holiness, The Sweetness of Grace is a collection of stories derived from conversations with Orthodox nuns, monks, and laypeople, along with experiences of Orthodox life in South Korea, Greece, and North America. These stories of faith, courage, struggle, and everyday miracles will inspire and delight you.

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From My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Archimandrite Ephraim of Arizona, pp. 420-421

Once when Geronda and I were outside with our prayer-ropes and he was telling me about prayer and his experiences of looking after monks in their old age, I could smell lilies and roses, even though we only had holly-oak trees there. I was sniffing intently, and he said to me, “Why are you doing that?”

“Geronda, I smell lilies and roses.”

“Why don’t you go over there to my door?” So I went over to his door and smelled his cell. That heavenly fragrance was so strong that it stuck to my beard and my clothes. Then he explained to me, “It is from prayer. Don’t you understand? The name of Christ is fragrance.”

I could sense the scent of his prayer pervading everything around him. It affected not only my bodily senses but also my entire internal self. When my brothers went to Geronda’s cell after his vigil to tell him their confessions, they also sensed the same fragrance many times.

When Geronda’s prayer culminated, his little cell became a “burning bush.” Many times I said to myself, “I wonder what takes place within the soul, within the heart of this holy man?” In order to grasp what was really taking place within the heart of this contemporary saint, we, too, must also get a taste of how it feels when the prayer is continuously being said on its own accord within our heart. We must see and experience through noetic prayer what God is like — what beauty He has, what His divine traits are. We must feel how He mysteriously exists, how He miraculously sustains all creation, how He is present within creation yet beyond it and completely within the heart, how theoria occurs within the nous, how He takes the nous and divinely guides it into His mysteries, and what is revealed to the nous. Geronda lived all these things to a fullness beyond our comprehension.

The power of Geronda’s pure prayer affected not just himself but even nature around him. When Geronda was praying, wild birds would come to the windows of his cell and peck on the panes. One would think that this was the activity of the devil to hinder him from prayer. But, in fact, the wild birds were attracted by Geronda’s prayer!

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“Grumbling is caused by misery and it can be put aside by doxology (giving praise). Grumbling begets grumbling and doxology begets doxology. When someone doesn’t grumble over a problem troubling him, but rather praises God, then the devil gets frustrated and goes off to someone else who grumbles, in order to cause everything to go even worse for him. You see, the more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.

Sometimes the devil deceives us and makes us unable to be pleased with anything; however, one can celebrate all things in a spiritual manner, with doxology, and secure God’s constant blessing.”

-St. Paisios of Mount Athos

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Below is an excerpt from my book The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory, published by Ancient Faith Publishing. Purchase your copy of The Sweetness of Grace through Ancient Faith Store or Amazon.com.


Edified by Silence, pp.240-243

THE FIRST TIME I VISITED an Orthodox monastery, I was escorted into a small room to speak with a priestmonk. When I entered the room, I saw he was seated, his hands folded in his lap, while his elbows rested on the chair’s wooden armrests. He wasn’t wearing his monastic skoufa [hat], but he was wearing a priest’s stole, which looked peculiar to me with the buttons holding it together in the middle, since I was used to Western stoles that hang on either side of the neck like a scarf. His long black monastic robe grazed the floor, and behind him, leaning against the wall, was a wooden ladder. I don’t know if it was placed there on purpose or was merely being stored there, but it nevertheless made an impression on me. Even though I wasn’t yet Orthodox, the imagery of a ladder behind a father confessor was not lost on me: “For it is a ladder from the earth unto heaven that confers glory on the souls that ascend,” the Kontakion of St. John Climacus says.

Approaching the priestmonk, I bent and touched the ground and kissed his right hand. (I had done a little homework and looked into basic etiquette at a monastery.) He gestured for me to sit on the floral-patterned couch.

I was incredibly nervous about speaking to him, not only because I felt I was speaking to an important person for the first time, but because I imagined this conversation as my opportunity to speak out loud my heart’s desire to become Orthodox. (This was a potentially destructive desire for my relationship with my husband, who at that time, as I said above, was in the process of becoming an Anglican priest.) I saw this as my one chance to reveal the burning desire I had kept relatively hidden until that point.

Sitting down, I waited to see what the priestmonk would say. He didn’t begin with small talk; he didn’t ask how I was nor about my trip to the monastery. His first question, getting right to the heart of the matter, was, “How has your journey to Orthodoxy been?” That was all it took to start me sobbing. I managed to sputter, “Hard,” in response but wasn’t able to pull myself together to say any more.

Suddenly, while I was still crying, there was a knock at the door. The priestmonk quickly stood up and exited without saying a word. I continued to cry and take deep breaths, trying to compose myself. Time passed, and gradually fewer tears rolled down my cheeks.

More time passed, and I began looking at the icons lining the walls. I remember St. Katherine the Great Martyr, sitting next to a spiked wheel, hung on the wall opposite me.

I began thinking over what had led me to the monastery and what I was seeking from this experience. I managed to make a mental list of three things I wanted to speak to the priestmonk about. However, the more time passed, the more I began to wonder if something had happened to prevent him from returning. I thought of leaving, since it had been about thirty minutes since his departure, but I figured he would send someone to get me if he wasn’t planning to come back. I decided to be patient.

Once again I began going over the three things I wanted to talk about. But as suddenly as he had exited, he entered and sat down again, saying nothing—nothing—not a “sorry about that” or a “something came up.” He just sat down and looked at me, waiting for me to begin.

Those few moments of silence that passed between us deeply impressed me. Never in my life have I met someone like this priestmonk! I thought. I can’t express how instructive this silence was for me. In the face of this silence, I felt that for the first time my loud, attention-seeking, talkative nature was revealed to me. I was filled with great admiration for him. I thought he must have had great humility to be free from the inclination to fill space with empty words. It was only later when I read the Desert Fathers that I learned the Orthodox Tradition holds silence in equal esteem with spiritual words: Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, “Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.” The old man said to them, “If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.”

That evening I was edified by the priestmonk’s silence, and as a result I gained great insight into myself as well as learning the power of silence in place of speech. I have never forgotten his holy and passionless example.

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