“When the Elder Told Me I’d Become a Monk, I Thought: What a Nightmare!”

 
Archimandrite Ephraim, the Superior (Abbot) of Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, speaks about the special quality of the spiritual life on the Holy Mount, the apex of Russian Athonite monasticism, and how he himself nearly died of grief when he learned that he would become a monk.
 

This interview was conducted during the first “International Conference on Digital Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care.”

Question: Were you born into a believing family? What was your first conscious encounter with God? 

Fr. Ephraim: I come from a rural family, from a poor village. My parents were farmers. My father was a hard worker, but not especially a church person. My mother was a person of God. And my first spiritual inspiration came from the Batiushka, the priest in our village. I was drawn to church life: I put a towel around my neck and served the “Liturgy” in childhood. I understood and grasped everything, then repeated it, and made dismissals.

Question: What influenced your decision to become a monk? Who was your spiritual father?

Fr. Ephraim: My spiritual father was the Elder Joseph of Vatopedi. And I became a monk because grace attracted me.

I couldn’t even imagine this way of life: the first time I came to Athos was when I was eighteen years old. I studied in a church school, and one of my classmates, who also wanted to become a monk, but who ultimately became a married priest, said that in one civilian newspaper there were articles about the Holy Mountain. I began to read these articles and wanted to come to Athos. Then a year later we came to the theological school in Athens to study, and in 1975 I came to Athos for the first time.

On the program was a meeting with the Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, who reposed in 1998. He had a strong charisma from God. We were then five students. He looks at me: “You,” he says, “will become a monk.” I went crazy with grief! “You will also put on the epitrachelion,” he says, “and become a priest.” And moreover he says: “You will also be of our spiritual kin: disciples of Joseph the Hesychast.”

I couldn’t sleep because of this! What a nightmare: how would I become a monk?! I went to Gregoriou Monastery and asked for a meeting with the abbot of the monastery, Fr. George, a spiritual person. “I,” I say, “am very sad: I was in Katounakia, and the Elder Ephraim gave me such an answer.” “The Elder Ephraim said such a thing to you? Then it’s settled,” he says, “of course. He never misses the mark.” I became even worse off, my sorrow increased. Another Elder confirmed the words of the first one!

I then went to Burazeri, which is a large cell where there lived the spiritual brother of the Elder Ephraim, the Elder Haralampos, who was also one of the neptics, one of the watchful fathers. Whomever I met of the spiritual fathers, I told them all of my pain: I had different thoughts and plans in life. How stupid I was then! When I read St. John of Kronstadt, he had such an influence on me, that I also wanted to live in a “white” marriage (he lived with his wife like brother and sister) like him.

I tell the Elder Haralampos: so forth and so on, this is my woe. “The Elder Ephraim,” he says, “told you this?” “Yes.” “Then that’s all there is to say,” he says. And from that time on I was called a novice. Everyone joked among themselves: “You’re a novice,” “You’re a novice.” And I wanted to die from grief. Five years after this I became a monk, that is, the prophecy was fulfilled.

Then I also met the Elder Joseph of Vatopedi who, like Ephraim of Katounakia, was also a disciple of Joseph the Hesychast. They all contributed greatly to the hesychastic revival on the Holy Mountain.

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The Editor of the Catalog of Good Deeds.

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