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3.22.2012

Spiritual Elders

 
 When reading the biographies and writings of certain modern day Holy Elders, one will inevitably come across various "prophecies" they made concerning end-time events. These "prophecies" have especially arisen in modern times during periods of high anxiety for Orthodox Christians - in Slavic countries with the rise of communism and in Greece especially since the 1970's and on as we neared the beginning of the second millenium. Much of the latter stems from the rise of eschatological propaganda infiltrating Greece from the West in translation (in 1970 Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth was published following the Six-Day War in the Middle East that sparked a plethora of eschatological writings in the West), and the translation into Greek of the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by a Greek politician in the 1980's. Fascinated by these writings, Orthodox Christian thinkers began to look into their own tradition to apply these seemingly convincing portrayals of the soon-to-be second coming of Christ to make them their own. Unfortunately many of our beloved Holy Elders and modern day Saints were influenced by these writings and traditions, to the confusion of many. I personally believe this was mainly due to the simplicity of their hearts, since these neoeschatological and conspiratorial writings do seem to conform to aspects of Orthodox eschatology if one is pushed to reconcile them. This should by no means determine the authenticity or sanctity of a Holy Elder, since no one is infallible and God may have His reasons for allowing such things.

But not all of our Holy Elders were of a similar mind on these eschatological issues. In fact, when these Holy Elders were asked about these issues, they flatly disagreed with what other Holy Elders were saying about these things. In doing so, they would never try to discredit the Holy Elder they disagreed with, but still considered them men of God with special gifts of the Holy Spirit. They recognized that these things were spoken not by revelation, but through their own opinion or because it was a tradition that they were convinced of by their own logic. Unfortunately most people cannot tell the difference between a real prophecy and an opinion, and this has caused much confusion among impressionable contemporary Orthodox.

One of the most popular and beloved Holy Elders today is Elder Paisios the Athonite (+ 1993). He is one most especially known for his end-time prophecies circulating throughout the Orthodox world. Elder Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia (+ 1991) was another Holy Elder of our times very much beloved by Orthodox Christians. These two Holy Elders are considered the two strongest pillars of sanctity in 20th century Greek Orthodoxy. But on the critical issue of eschatology they strongly disagreed, much like the Apostles Peter and Paul disagreed in the Acts of the Apostles on the issue of Jews and Gentiles in early Christianity. In fact, Elder Porphyrios censured Elder Paisios for circulating his eschatological material. From this incident, many important lessons can be learned by contemporary Orthodox Christians. For this reason the details of this incident are written below.

The Epistle of Elder Porphyrios to Elder Paisios

In an interview for Cypriot television, Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou spoke of his personal relationship with Elders Porphyrios, Iakovos, Evmenios and Paisios. He says in the interview that he was instructed by Elder Porphyrios to have Elder Iakovos of Evia as his spiritual father. The Metropolitan was in law school at the time, before he entered ecclesiastical life. His impression of Elder Porphyrios was that he was able to be attuned to another persons soul in a more intimate way, like an x-ray machine, than the other Elder's he met, such as Elders Iakovos, Evmenios and Paisios. This is because each Holy Elder has a particular gift manifested in a more powerful way than other Holy Elders.

The special gift of Elder Porphyrios above all the other Greek Elders, according to Metropolitan Neophytos, was that of clairvoyance and the foreseeing of the future. He had the unique gift of being able to see not only future events, but those of the past as well. He could tell you about the various mineral deposits below the earth better than any geologist, he could determine the accurate movements of the stars better than astronomers, and if there was anything below the sea or in your home you needed to know about, he would reveal to you that as well. The charisma he had was very rare which few in the history of the Church ever possessed. What is striking however is that despite his clear visions of things in the past, present and future, he never spoke about the signs of the end-times.

This, said the Metropolitan, is a very strong message for the people of our day who are inundated with many supposed prophecies and predictions concerning the end of the world, the reign of Antichrist and the second coming of Christ. These in fact are mere speculations and baseless interpretations of the writings from people of the past that have been imposed upon our time to deal with the various changes our world has gone through over the past few hundred years and especially now that we have entered the second millennium after the birth of Christ. The Church works synodically; it is a synaxis. Since a synod of the Church has not expressed itself on these matters, then no individual can interpret them any way they please. For these reasons, understanding the times we live in, Elder Porphyrios did not reveal anything about end-time events that was revealed to him, according to God's will. Thus, while richly endowed with gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy, Elder Porphyrios systematically avoided speaking about apocalyptic events.

When Metropolitan Neophytos was a deacon in Cyprus he went to visit his elder Iakovos in Evia. At the time the people were in a fever about end-time events, the meaning of 666, the identity of the Antichrist, etc. Also, an Archimandrite had published a best-selling book about apocalyptic events. He went to Elder Iakovos and asked him his opinion on all these matters. Elder Iakovos then spoke in a very authoritative tone, which was something very rare for him to do, since he spoke much more humbly than all the other Greek Elders he had met. He said: "Listen to me, my Neophyte. Elder Porphyrios and dumb Iakovos do not speak about anything. Not the things of the present, nor of the things to come, unless the Holy Spirit expressly reveals to them. And up to this point the Holy Spirit has not revealed any such thing to me, not about the Antichrist, nor about wars to come, nor about the future." These are the exact words of Elder Iakovos and the Metropolitan says that he neither added nor subtracted from his words.

I will now translate the words of Metropolitan Neophytos:

"I must mention that there is an epistle held by a monastery on the Holy Mountain, and it would be good for the keepers of this epistle to publish it at some point. This happens to be an epistle by Elder Porphyrios addressed to Elder Paisios. Now I understand that the content of this epistle might challenge some of our spiritual brothers, but it is good to be challenged this way. It is better to be challenged than to fall into exaggerations. This epistle was from a man who honored and revered Elder Paisios very much. Fr. Porphyrios told me that Fr. Paisios is a man of God. And he wrote to him:

My beloved Father Paisios, what happened to you? If Constantinople will be freed or not, this is the concern of the politicians and of the military rulers, and not of the monks nor even the archpriests. If the Antichrist will come, this must be the concern of the archpriests and it is their duty to inform the people. And when that time comes, God will provide us with illumined archpriests who will in turn illumine the people. We the monks, if we are members of the priesthood, we need to liturgize for the salvation of the entire universe. And if we happen to be simple monks, we need to weep over our sins. Now because of my love for you, and knowing how much you love Christ, I am giving you a rule not to talk about these things again out of your great love for Asia Minor and Hellenism.

And Fr. Paisios, this great man of God, did obedience to this great Elder of Elders, Fr. Porphyrios. And since then he kept silent about these matters, because he realized that the smallest comment he would make would often be exaggerated by his highly impressionable visitors. Not to mention, some of these prophetic sayings were not his, but he was quoted by different people, or misquoted, and with other things he was often quoting from a notebook of his spiritual father, St. Arsenios of Cappadocia, who happened to be his godfather. St. Arsenios had received the gift of prophecy [or had heard things from others] and recorded a number of things. Elder Paisios would make some comments based on this notebook he had in his possession.

Now what can we say about all this, but to marvel at the great spirit of discretion of Elder Porphyrios. A spirit of watchfulness, vigilance and patient endurance. But in order to have this patient endurance regarding end-time events, whether social or political or personal, the exercise of patience is extremely necessary....

The work of the Church is to liberate people, to redeem people. When people lean towards interpreting the signs of the times and the future, this mania about the things to come is often alienating people from the essence of spirituality - from their personal struggle, the purification of the heart, our personal trauma, and our need to become well, to cure our passions. This is the heart of the problem.

One time I asked Elder Evmenios about these things, and he responded very simply. He was the most simple of all the Elders, a man of very few words who did not like endless spiritual talk. He needed to be inspired by someone or by something in order to speak. And when I asked him about all the prophetic talks circulating, he said: 'You know, I personally don't believe that Christ would only give 2000 years of grace to the world. It just doesn't seem very long to me.'"

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