There is a community, considered one of the oldest on the Holy Mountain. They were last seen by a young monk, who was in obedience to an elder living in the wilderness. He was taking a walk after the morning liturgy, when suddenly he saw in a forest clearing six monks, whom he did not know. The monks were performing a funeral service for their deceased seventh brother. Approaching the young monk they said that according to tradition, their fraternity should have seven people and invited him, as the first person, whom they met, to join them, replacing the deceased monk. Realizing what fraternity they were, the young athonite very much wanted to join them, but did not dare to make such an important decision without the permission of his elder. Agreeing that self-righteousness does not lead to good, the six brothers praised him for his obedience and allowed him to go and ask the elder in accordance with the rules. They made him promise however that he would be alone upon his return, as they ought not to be the object of anyone’s curiosity. However, the young monk’s report of his encounter with the seven brothers put the elder in a state of strange uneasiness. He was unable to hide it and kept repeating that he had to see them, even if he died after that. They went together, but wandering in the grove and stumbling over stones they saw nothing but thorny bushes, thistles, dry grass and the radiant sky. The forest meadow with the mysterious brothers was nowhere to be found, although the young monk knew the area well and was absolutely sure that he would easily find his way there. They wandered in the heat for a long time, until finally the elder realized that he could not see the seven brothers, because that was not God’s will.
And yet, the fraternity mentioned in this parable is considered the holiest and the most prayerful on the Holy Mountain. The ancient legend says about these seven monks that they will celebrate the last Liturgy on Earth. It will take place on the top of Mount Athos just before the onset of the kingdom of heaven.
Father Athanasius (Kambanaos), a physician of the Great Lavra, wrote about these discrete Athos ascetics in the Holy Mountain Library magazine, published in Athos in 1930-1938. He mentions the vast, sparsely populated and densely wooded areas between the lesser St Anna and Glossia hermitages as being their habitat. The few people meriting to see these hermits described them as magnificent, almost ethereal ascetics, completely naked, but covered with the radiant garment of Divine grace.
Later, confirming the truthfulness of his publications, Father Athanasius referred to the testimony of Elder Anthony from the skete of St Peter, who once came to the Lavra to fulfil the commission given to him by these invisible ascetics: “Go and tell the Lavra doctor that he will soon become sick and die, and must therefore prepare himself.”
Indeed, monk Andrew writes in his Paterikon of the Holy Mountain, “after a short period of time, Father Athanasius fell ill and without any serious illness fell asleep forever, having published before his death information about these holy ascetics who wander in the wilderness of Athos for the glory of God and for the spiritual benefit of the inhabitants of the Holy Mountain.”
This book also contains a story about a pilgrim who, ascending the forest path leading from the sea to the lesser St Anna hermitage, met these holy men and asked them for permission to stay with them forever. “No, brother. Your way is to the Xenophontos skete, ”was the answer. After showing him the way, they told that pilgrim to turn to the monastery’s confessor, Father Savva, for instructions about his future life. After walking some distance, the pilgrim regretted that he had parted with the holy ascetics so early and returned to their meeting place where he spent a long time searching for them, but to no avail. Then he went to Father Savva, told him everything and heard the following from him: “You are not able to live with them, child. The Lord showed you these saints because you had doubts about their existence. You will settle in the Xenophontos skete. “
It eventually happened just as the confessor said. That brother took monastic vows and became a monk of the Xenophontos skete. This incident was told by Father Akaki, the confessor from Kapsala, known to be a very virtuous and truth-loving man, who personally knew the actual person seeing the saints, who later described everything to him in detail.
Father X., after labouring on Athos for twenty-six years, once said, “Only once did the Lord bless me by seeing one of these hermits. At that time I was still a young monk and lived in the Great Lavra. I often visited various monasteries and hermitages of the Holy Mountain, fulfilling various obediences. I always travelled on foot. Sometimes I spent nights in the forest. It was in winter time, with all the paths covered with snow, that I got lost. Suddenly I saw behind the bushes at a very close distance a head and a bare shoulder of a fine old man with gray hair. “Father, bless,” I said rushing to him, “How can I find my way?” But he turned and, without saying a word, quickly disappeared into the woods. The last thing that I saw was his completely naked back. “
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds