On Expatriation and Voluntary Exile


Two descendants of royalty were John and his son Euthymios, the builder of the Holy Monastery of Iviron. They flourished from 960 to 980 A.D. and were students of St. Athanasios the Athonite.


Holy Euthymios, while still living in the world, had quarreled with and killed a Jew who had blasphemed the Lord Jesus' name. After that he fell gravely ill but was cured by the Theotokos. Then he went to Mount Athos to be under obedience to the great cenobitic Athonite Athanasios. The monks of Iviron called Euthymios the new Chrysostom, for he translated the entire Bible and other books from Greek
into the Iberian language.


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St. Savvas the Serbian was a crown prince. His name before he was a professed monk was Rastko, and his father was Stephanos Nemania, King of Serbia. His whole family were very pious. Since childhood this saint loved the angelic monastic life. When some monks from Mount Athos visited his country, among them was a very pious Russian elder. After he heard from him about the holy monastic life on the Mount Athos, the prince was struck by divine love. With tears of piety he asked the elder to take him along with them on their way back to the Holy Mountain.
"I see, Father, that God, Who knows the depths of my heart, sent you to me, a sinner, to guide me to the divine path. So I beg you, teach me how to avoid the vanity of the world and to succeed in a holy life like yours. For soon my parents are planning to marry me off. That is why I have decided to depart from here as soon as possible."
The elder accepted him as a travelling companion and guide, for he realized that it was God's will, since he saw Rastko's soul burning with desire for God while preparing for his escape.
In the Russian monastery Rastko trained in all monastic labours like a good soldier and athlete. His parents, however, were inconsolable. His father sent men everywhere to look for him, for Rastko was not only his well-behaved, beautiful son, but also his heir to the throne.
Finally three Serbian noblemen heard that Rastko was staying in the Russian monastery and went there to bring him back. Novice Rastko pleaded with his elders to tonsure him immediately and that night hid himself in the monastery's tower.
Then he wrote a letter to his parents describing the last judgment and eternal hell. The letter touched them so deeply that they decided to become monastics themselves. His mother received the schema in a monastery where she laboured, pleasing God, and there she reposed in the Lord. His father gave up his kingdom and passed the throne to his other son, Stephanos. Then he went to Mount Athos where he met with his son Savvas. The joy and piety they felt when they met cannot be described. The former king requested to be tonsured a monk and received the name of Simeon. Thus the natural father became the spiritual son of his own natural son. In 1198 the father and son built the famous Serbian monastery of Chilandari on land donated to them by the holy monastery of Vatopedi, a grant under the golden seal of the Emperor Alexios III. There in Chilandari both the father and the son were later canonized.


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The holy Damianos was indeed worthy of admiration. A friend of St. Kosmas the Zographitan, he led a pure life, labouring in the holy monastery of Esphigmenou. He was under the rule never to stay overnight anywhere else but in his own hut. Once, he found himself at night near Chilandari, in rain and fog, and not knowing where he was because of the dark and the heavy rain, he cried out to the Lord. "Lord Jesus Christ, save me, for I am perishing." Then an angel of God appeared and snatched him up, and suddenly he found himself safely in front of his own hut. After he reposed in the Lord, the fathers of the monastery smelled a fragrance coming from his tomb for forty days; this fragrance reached the holy monastery even though it was a mile away from the tomb.


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"Where do you come from, Elder?" They would ask spiritual father Benjamin from the monastery of Koutloumousiou, who lived to be ninety-five and departed] to the Lord in 1941
"I am a refugee," he would reply, meaning that all human I beings are exiles, and this life is passing and temporary.


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About the year 1835, approximately five years after the Turkish occupation had ended, a group of serdarides went to a heavily wooded area near Great Lavra to hunt for wild goats. Suddenly one morning they saw a venerable elder outside a cave standing there naked, and they said to him: "Elder, bless!"
"The Lord," he replied, and started asking them questions about the Holy Mountain: "How is it? How do the monks spend their time?" And so forth. They informed him that it was peaceful everywhere, now that the Turkish occupation had ended.
"Who are these Turks? And what is the Greek Revolution?" the elderly hermit asked.
"Don't you know, Elder, that we the Orthodox shed our blood to be free from the Turks?"
"No, my children, I do not know anything. Here we are seven altogether, but we do not go anywhere. We do not get any news," replied this earthly angel and heavenly man.
After these hunters had been blessed by him, they hurried in amazement to tell the fathers of St. Anne's Skete all about their encounter. The fathers of the skete showed great interest in what the hunters told them. Accompanied by these civil guards, some of the fathers went throughout all Mount Athos searching for the cave and the extraordinary elder, neither of which they found.


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In the kellion of Holy Trinity in Karyes lived Father Kyrillos, a man of sweet, friendly and gentle face. He was very old and had a white beard and shining countenance. Because of his appearance, one might have supposed him the principal of some university, but in actuality throughout his whole life he had never left Athos. .


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Hieromonk loakim the American, who was admirable for his self-inflicted exile and his contempt for all worldly glory, lived in a hut belonging to St. Anne's and named for the Birth of the Theotokos. He was my elder's spiritual brother. My elder told us repeatedly about this exceptional man and his exemplary obedience.
He had served at the Jerusalem Patriarchate and in the American army. He was decorated with several medals which, along with his Archimandrite's cross, he devoted to St. Anne's icon.
Coming to Mount Athos from America, where he had bee/i a candidate for high ecclesiastical office, he did exemplary obedience under a very strict elder, after first resigning voluntarily from his priesthood so that he might live as a simple monk. Like the ancient ascetics, he grew a long beard which reached the ground. Afflicted with tuberculosis, he reposed in the Lord in 1957.


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The hesychast Gregorios lived in total exile in the Archangel hut at Small St. Anne's. He was a Spartan, and he devoted his whole life to constant fasting and prayer. He used to say that he would be cast into hell with Satan because he felt that he did not honour enough the Lord's sacrifice on the cross. Everybody loved him.


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An aged elder said, "Flow can one tell that a monk has been crucified? Here is Father S. He has been on Mount Athos for sixty years and has not come out in the world." Then he said again, "Praise and flattery are harmful to a monk. A monk who seeks praise is like a man who tries to catch his shadow." And then again he said, "A monk under obedience might say, 'When my elder scolds me he does not love me.' But if he only knew that he is in his elder's heart!"


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A Serbian monk from Chilandari did not leave his cell for forty years.


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St. Leontios from Dionysiou did not know where the exit door of the monastery was for seventy-five years, until he departed eternally to the Lord.


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One hundred years ago there lived and reposed in peace in a barren hut of St. Anne's Skete a Serbian prince of the family of Vragovich, called Monk Theokletos. As an ascetic he laboured hard in exile. For this reason he was blessed with the grace of the all-giving and merciful God.


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An elder said, "A monk, as soon as he leaves this world, places his own family under God's care and forgets them. God then has to take care of them. The monk leaves the small family and becomes a member of Adam's larger family. He does not remember or pray for his own family especially, because he knows that God is obligated to look after them. "I see my parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews in every man. I thus don't communicate with my own family. When I do not think of my own, the Lord will."


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Hieromonk Euthymios earned a good reputation as a spiritual guide, a discerning father confessor, and a scholar of many patristic books. He lived in a cell of Koutloumousiou. This ever memorable monk used to tell the following incident:
After the liberation of Crete in 1912, the Turks were selling properties on the island which they had owned during their occupation. At that time, someone who had a brother on Mount Athos went to the skete to ask for some money to buy a property too. His monk brother did not. want to give him any money, since he knew that money coming from a monastic does not bring good to relatives. A monk is dedicated to God alone. But finally he was persuaded by his natural brother to give him some money he had. As soon as his brother returned to Thessaloniki, he fell into grave danger. He was robbed of all the money he had received, and killed.


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Elder Bartholomew was born in 1860 on Mount Athos, where his mother and other women and children had taken refuge during the rebellion of Chalkidiki. His mother dedicated him to Panagia. Another one to follow in his footsteps was Hierodeacon Vasilios (Davilas) who died in 1979: he demonstrated such complete denial of the world that he never left Mount Athos or his cell for forty years, not even to go to Karyes.
In the same way the natural brothers Benedictos, Agathangelos, and Savvas (all three from the cell of the Dormition) and their brother Hieromonk Gregorios of St. Nicholas cell in Karyes, never went back to the world from the time of their tonsure. Hieromonk Gregorios, in fact, came to Mount Athos when he was only nine years old. He had forgotten what a woman's face looks like, having only the vaguest memory of his own mother.


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Father Neophytos of St. Anne's, an aged elder who once went out of Mount Athos just for a short time on urgent business, used to tell me: "I pray that Panagia will never allow me to go out into the world again."


 

 

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