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Σάββατο, 31 Οκτωβρίου 2015

OUTSTANDING MONASTICS OF MT. ATHOS PETER A MONK OF KATOUNAKIA MONASTERY







OUTSTANDING MONASTICS OF MT. ATHOS


PETER A MONK OF KATOUNAKIA MONASTERY

George Lagios was born in 1891 on the Island of Limnos, Greece.  It appears that this young man was never spiritually enlightened and that is why he drank a lot wine and got drunk.   These are things that have been written about him and have been remembered by those who knew him.  This allows us to understand some of his unusual monastic struggles.  But God, who saw his good intentions, imbued his unique and simple soul with a fiery sense of fervent repentance.  He fulfilled his desire for penance by going to Mt. Athos in 1908.

George’s monastic quests attracted him to the well-known monk Father Daniel of St. Peter’s Monastery.  This led him to the remote area of Mt. Athos and to the monastic cell of St. Peter the Athonite, the first and greatest of monastic Athonite monks.  He became obedient to Father Daniel and attempted to emulate his spiritual struggles and to be obedient to him.  After serving a long period of time as a novice, George was tonsured a monk in 1926 and was given the name Peter.  He learned from his blessed Elder the simple practical things of monasticism.  He was initiated into the mysteries of spiritual silence, keeping vigil, isolation and continuous mental prayer that remained with him until his death. 

Living in a profound penitential way remembering the known and unknown sins of his youth, he requested and received from his Elder the blessing to abstain from water for three months.  He asked for this penance in order to ask God to forgive him for his years of getting drunk with wine.  He ate regular food and vegetables but he did not drink any water for three months.   He was eager and willing to undertake the ascetic trials required of him.   In his simple ways, he distinguished himself in being totally obedient to his Elder.  The good beginning of his monastic life established a firm spiritual foundation for him.  This was just a preamble to his future enlightened way of life.

When his Elder Father Daniel fell asleep in the Lord in 1929, he lived for a few years with his fellow monks.  One of these monks left the monastic life and returned to the secular world.  Other monks died and it became very difficult for him to live alone.  During the German occupation of 1940, the times were very difficult and there was hunger in the land.  Because of this Monk Peter left his monastic cell and took up his residence in a shack at the Monastery compound of Little St. Anne.   This shack is located above the cell of the Apostle Thomas which is lower than the road that leads to the Monastery of Katounakia.   This cell is not visible from the road because it is built into a rock formation.  This cell is divided into two very low cells.   There is an inner door that leads to the ledge where there is a cave that is very roomy with an opening to the outside light.  This is where the monk lived in order to experience greater silence.  

That place was his spiritual work place, his spiritual beehive, his sweet hideaway that became for him an earthly paradise.  It was here that he tasted the honey of silence and the manna of heaven.  It was because of this environment that he did not desire to venture outside to talk with other monastics.   This physically petite, uneducated and poor Peter was a monk in the true sense of the word.  He prayed ceaselessly.  He frequently saw the Uncreated Light of God and he lived this life in this heavenly state of being.  

The Elder Gerasimos, the Hymnographer said about Monk Peter: “I knew Elder Peter of Katounakia.  He was truly a holy monk.  He prayed much, practicing great asceticism.   He would cook once a week and he would eat from this food once a day.  He once visited our cell and his face was transfigured.  Crying, he said to me that during the previous night while praying he was enveloped by abundant bright Light and his cell became fragrant.  He said that he felt a sense of indescribable blessedness, sweetness and peace.  He did not know whether or not he was in his cell.  He asked me what that was that happened to him.  He said to me: “You are educated, you are a learned man, tell me whether or not this is a delusion visited upon me by Satan.  Is it evil?”  “All these things that he said to me were a result of Divine Grace.   As he was describing to me what happened to him the previous night he suddenly began to glow.  I lost it.  I could not speak and I allowed him to continue to talk about his experience.   I did not interrupt him.  I made a note of everything that he said and did.”

I did not see one sign of satanic delusion.  I later told him to glorify God for allowing him to see those things because they were all from God and it was not delusion.  Upon leaving, Monk Peter begged me not tell anyone what he said to me and that I should pray that God would have mercy on him so that he would not be deluded.  Elder Peter, a very simple and humble monk, had become a man who achieved mental prayer, the prayer of the heart.”

It seems that this phenomenon happened to him for the first time but it was also evident that it continuously happened to him throughout his life as it was revealed to us by Elder Paisius.  During his unceasing prayer he would frequently see the Uncreated Light of God.  This was accompanied by abundant tears. His experience was beyond any accepted norms.

An Elder had asked him if he followed a formal prayer routine or order of service.  He answered: “Neither do I follow a prayer routine or have an order of service.  As soon as the sun sets, I eat; I read the After Supper Prayer Service (Άπόδειπνον) and then sleep for two hours.   When I wake up and it has gotten dark, I start praying with the prayer rope.  When I start saying the prayer rope for the second or third time, tears began flowing.   This goes on all night till the morning and I do not know where I am.  During the summer months I start the vigil at night and when the sun rises, I regain my senses.”  

Because of these things happening to him in prayer, he remained secluded in his cell and did not want to talk to anyone.  As he said: “I do not want to interrupt the flow of God’s sweetness to me.”   In order for him not to lose his unique contact with God, he avoided gatherings with other monks.  Other monks would visit him and knock on the outer door of his cell.  He, in response, would open up a little window to ask who it was and what they wanted.  If they brought food for him to eat, he would tell them to leave it outside the door.  He would leave the food there where they left it until it rotted.  He did this on purpose so that his fellow monks would no longer bring him any food.

Someone asked him why he did not leave his cell.  He answered: “If I venture outside I will end up talking about irrelevant things.”  He was totally indigent.  He would venture outside his cell once or twice year to sell the prayer ropes he made and buy some biscuits.   He would say the ninth hour every day and would not consume any olive oil practically for the whole year.  His food consisted of tea and biscuits (παξιμάδια). 

He said to Father Dionysus of Little St. Anne Monastery that when he was a young monk: “In order to live in the desert, one must be a good cook.  You should cook beans on Sunday and you eat these beans until the following Tuesday.   On Wednesday you should add a little water to the beans.  On Thursday you should add a little tomato.  On Friday you should add a little salt and water.  On Saturday you should add a little flour and on Sunday you start another type of food.  In this way, you can manage to have food for the whole week.”

One winter it had snowed and Father Dionysus saw him from afar walking barefoot in the snow.  He later asked why he did that. He confessed to him that he was having a battle with his passions and he therefore went outside barefoot in order to fight against them.  

The Elder Peter had the Grace to foresee the future.  One day he received information about something in the future and he wanted to convey this news to the Elder at the cell of Saint Haralampos at the Monastery of New Skete.  He said to him:  “Elder, a wolf is coming to eat your lamb, do you know this?  Your attendant monk is not doing very well.  Are you aware of this?  Be careful because he is going to leave and fly away.”  Sure enough, this monk was drowning in many thoughts and was planning to leave the Monastery.  Elder Peter was seeing this taking place from afar but unfortunately, in spite of his efforts, the monk returned to the world and got married.  

He lived a life without distractions.  During the summer he would climb to the top of Mt. Athos with the excuse that he was gathering tea leaves.  But in reality he was practicing noetic unceasing prayer and having visions.  He would not encounter many people on the mountain.  He tried to live a life of obscurity and because of this we do not have many details about his life.  But the Holy Fathers of Mt. Athos tell us that hearing just one word about a monk reveals to us a lot about his spiritual development.  If someone tastes a small glass of wine he can tell what the quality of the wine is in the whole barrel.

With the few details that we know about the Elder Peter, we know that he was very advanced in practicing the Jesus Prayer.  He was a monk of the Jesus Prayer, a monk who perfected the prayer of the heart.  He stormed the doors of prayer life. He was a true ascetic that combined action with vision.  All the monastic fathers that knew him had the best things to say about him.  They say: “He was the best in the area, a true monk, a holy Elder.”  

The Elder Paisius said that of all the monks he had met on Mt. Athos Elder Peter was a monk of the highest caliber and that is why he wanted to be his servant.   Father Ephraim of the Katounakia Monastery had great respect for Elder Peter and he said about him: “After encountering him and talking to him, he would leave me with an inner feeling of sweetness.  He never attended the vigil services at Monasteries and he was never involved in any scandal.  Living a whole lifetime on Mt. Athos and to be at peace with everyone is quite an accomplishment.”

When Elder Peter encountered other monks on the road he would never say the traditional monastic greeting, “your blessing.” (Εύλογείτε).  He would rather say the following profound greeting: “Fathers, we are leaving.”  In other words we are dying.  

He was very tactful.  He would avoid staying the night in the cells of fellow monks.  He did this not to burden his fellow monks.  He also did this so that he would not lose his solitude and his nightly prayer routine.  Once Father Joachim of Karyes from the cell of the Transfiguration insisted that he stay the night at his cell but he refused.  Instead he started off on foot walking towards Daphne.   It got dark and it started to rain and he was forced to spend the night in the hollow of a chestnut tree.

When he was informed by God of his passing from this life, he left his isolated cell and returned to the cell of St. Peter at Little St. Anne Monastery where he began his monastic life.  He wanted to leave his earthly remains there.  He lived there for a few months and fell asleep in the Lord in 1958, on the feast day of St. Peter the Athonite.  He had received his monastic name from this cell.   When he died the only possessions they found in his cell were a few biscuits in a basket, and a half bottle of olive oil that he used for the votive light.  He had neither a bed nor a mattress.  May we have his blessings.  Amen. 

ΤΕΛΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΩ ΘΕΩ ΔΟΞΑ
THE END AND GLORY TO GOD
    
Translated from the Greek by:
+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT, USA, October 26, 2015, 860-460-9089, cjsimones300@gmail.com  



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