01 July 2009

A Modern Elder Reposes

My good friend, Fr Luke Hartung, sent me an e-mail this morning notifying me of the repose—on the day of his own birth—of Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, who was one of only two remaining direct disciples of the great Athonite, Elder Joseph the Hesychast (the other being Elder Ephraim, currently of Arizona). The newly reposed Elder Joseph, a Cypriot, was the author of the biography of his Elder, as well as one of the biographies of Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, a sort of spiritual ‘cousin’ on the Holy Mountain. Although I never had the opportunity for a proper talk with Elder Joseph, I did see him give a homily before the assembled Vatopaidi brotherhood one time, and my newly baptised father and I were able to receive his blessing. My impression was of a man possessed of an extraordinary, childlike humility and love. Here is a brief excerpt about his life from the interview with Elder Joseph conducted by Fr Seraphim Bell for Divine Ascent #7, (Presentation of the Theotokos, November 2001):

I started off from my home when I was a young boy, 15 years old. My family was in America. There were five of us brothers and sisters; all four were there. I was also preparing to leave for America in order to go to school to study. I didn’t know anything about monasticism then. I had not had much opportunity to study. I had to work, to do farm work. I had not learned to read and write very well, when one day, by chance, and out of curiosity, I found myself visiting a monastery for the first time; the only one in the area. There the monks lived the Athonite life. And when I saw the life the monks were living, I was moved by it and I thought to myself, How is it that such a way of life exists and I didn’t know about it? And then I was told, Yes, it does exist and all the saints you venerate, they passed through this way of life and on to sanctification.

Oh my, I thought to myself, susch a great thing exists and I didn’t know about it? And here I am planning to leave to go to America. Oh my! I’ll obtain a degree, make some dollars, nothing more! I will lose the life of sanctification and I will lose the blessing!

So, I took out my documents which I had prepared for my trip. I tore them up, and I didn’t leave. . . . After the crisis was over, in ’46, and things got better, then I left and came to Athos, because, as you know, the foundation is here; that is, the real monastic life, and here I would find spiritual people and become a good monk. When I came in ’46, . . . I sought to find a holy man, a person from whom I could learn the teaching, the dogma, the authentic patristic Tradition. And I heard that there was an Elder who lived in the caves, who lived the life of prayer (the Jesus prayer), and I persisted in order to meet him.

. . . What value is there in anything else, if I don’t find the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is what will transform me? Then I will have lost my way. With the Elder, I found my way, because we saw in his person the working of the Holy Spirit, which was the guarantee. This was the diploma! (pp. 85-7)

Fr Seraphim’s last question to the Elder was, ‘Do you have a final word for those of us in America who are Orthodox and who are trying to live faithfully?’ The Elder responded:

What can I say about this? It is the greatest blessing and more precisely our heritage, as Christians. You see He sent us the Apostles saying, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . It is our duty wherever we may find ourselves on this earth. It is our absolute responsibility, and for us to be Christians and to tell others as many as want to follow. However, we cannot accept innovations. Whoever wants to be with us and brings in new ideas, NO. That’s how it is, because this is revelation. Christ Himself came and lived among us and showed us by His example and with His Word, the Truth. What else can we add now? This is how it is. Okay. (p. 95)

The Vatopaidi blog has a number of posts about and photographs of the Elder, including those I’ve used here (showing the Elder in life, in blessed repose, and in a fresco offering a chapel to the Panagia). I was also pleased to see that they have posted a poem written by Elder Joseph about the Theotokos. Unless someone has already done so, perhaps in the next couple of days I can try to translate it. For now, however, here is the Greek text:

Εις τα άγια ανετράφης των Αγγέλων τη προνοία,
πού προώρισεν ο πλάστης για την θεοκοινωνία.
Έπεσε το πρώτο πλάσμα στην φθοράν και συνετρίβη,
μά η θεία παναγάπη ουδαμώς δεν απεκρύβη.
Εις το πλήρωμα του χρόνου η Παρθένος των αγίων,
ανεδείχθη η διόπτρα των αρρήτων μυστηρίων.
Ο παρθενικός της βίος κι η τέλεια αγωγή,
έπεισαν τον Κυβερνήτην προς ημάς να κατεβή.
Ο υπέραγνός της τρόπος, εκ των κόλπων του Πατρός,
είλκυσε τον Θείον ΛΟΓΟΝ με αξίαν της Μητρός.
Στής παρακοής το σφάλμα, όπου ο νόμος της φθοράς,
η Υπέραγνος Παρθένος έγινε διά της αγάπης η αιτία της χαράς.
Το απόρρητον εν πάσι των αρρήτων μυστηρίων,
έλυσεν η θεία ΚΟΡΗ με τον ΤΟΚΟΝ της κυρίως.
Σύμπαντος του κόσμου άρχει, και διέπει η Τριάδα,
αλλά στην Παρθένον ΚΟΡΗ εσαρκώθη η Μονάδα.
Το αχώριστον στην φύσιν της Τριάδος μένει πάντα,
καί τον Λόγον η Παρθένος απεγέννησεν εις άνδρα.
Ακατάληπτον θα μείνη το μυστήριον του Τόκου·
πώς Παρθένος και Μητέρα; ανερμήνευτου του τρόπου.
Της Τριάδος δευτερεία επροικίσθης Παναγία,
καί το πώς δεν ερμηνεύει πάσα η Θεολογία.
Μυριώνυμος η κλήσις και αρμόδιος ο τρόπος,
κι ό,τι κι αν σε προσφωνήσουν είναι χρέος, κι όχι κόπος.
Ως Παντάνασσα, σοί πρέπει ότι πάντων κυριεύεις·
παντός πόνου και ανάγκης εις την ίασιν πρωτεύεις.
Στών παρθένων ταίς χορείαις, και γυναίων και ανδρών,
μετατρέπεις τη στοργή σου πάντα κόπον εις φαιδρόν.
Έστησας του ήθους μόνη, την ανάπλασιν κυρίως,
κι ο παρθενικός σου βίος εφαρμόζεται οσίως.
Ικετεύω χάρισαί μου, ό,τι είχα και μου κλάπη,
καί αυτό δεν είναι άλλο, παρά μόνο η αγάπη.
Έν σου βλέμμα μόνον στρέψε, ικετεύω σε, Κυρία,
καί βεβαίως θα μου έλθη διά σου η σωτηρία.

There is a brief notice in Greek of the Elder’s passing here, as well as a short video of the Elder himself. Please have Hieromonk Joseph commemorated at your parishes this weekend. May his memory be eternal!

Addendum: I should note that John Sanidopoulos, at his blog, Mystagogy, has done a wonderful series of posts on Elder Joseph in the days since his repose, including photos and video from his funeral here, and a series of rare photos from his life here. I urge everyone to have a look at them.


+Bishop SAVAS of Troas said...

Let me get you started:

You were brought up in the Holy Place,
attended by the angels,
There were the Maker had pre-ordained
communion with things sacred.

The first-created fell into corruption
and was broken,
but the love of God for all things
in no way did He withhold.

When the time was full, the Virgin was
revealed to be,
the lenses through which might be seen
inexpressible mystery.

Her life lived as a virgin
and her perfect education
persuaded Him Who Governs All
to come down and approach us.

I tried to retain something of the meter and rhyme. Feel free to offer criticism.

More importantly, thank you for bringing the falling asleep of this great Elder to our attention. Eternal memory, indeed!

aaronandbrighid said...

Theophylestate> And here I was going to settle for a more literal translation with at best a feeble stab at Iambic pentameter! Very nice. Does Your Grace have any more?

+Bishop SAVAS of Troas said...

In the Holy Place were you brought up,
cared for by the angels,
Where the Maker had ordained
communion with the sacred.

The first-created fell into corruption
and was broken,
but the love of God for all things
in no way did God withhold.

When the time was full, the Virgin
was revealed to be,
the lens through which might be discerned
inexpressible mystery.

Her life lived as a virgin
and her formation complete
persuaded Him Who Governs All
to come down that we might meet.

From the bosom of the Father,
in a manner more than pure,
she enticed the godly Logos
with her Motherly allure.

I'm afraid that's the best I can do for now, Aaron. It's not exactly my metier.