(For Sunday 1/12/2019)
St. Porphyrios was born in 1906 in a village in Evia (Greece). From an early age, he strongly desired to become a monk, and at age 13 he went to Mount Athos. After a year he was tonsured a monk, and for the next six years he lived in obedience to two Elders. Due to a serious illness, he was forced to leave the Holy Mountain and return to Evia, where he settled in a local monastery. It was there that he was ordained as Deacon and Priest. Some years later, in 1940, he was appointed the Dean of the Church of St. Gerasimos in the Athens Polyclinic of Omonia. He served and preached at the Polyclinic until 1973, when he left Athens to pursue his desire to build a monastery. Initially, he settled in St. Nicholas Church (under the Monastery of Penteli) in Kallissia of Penteli. In 1979, he moved to Milesi (Attica), where he built the Sacred Hermitage of the Transfiguration of the Savior.
At both the church in Athens and the hermitage, St. Porphyrios was visited by many people for confession and spiritual counsel. They sought relief from their sorrows, and he gained a reputation as a saint. His great spiritual gifts, given by God, were a help for those who came to him. The people could grow spiritually, sincerely repenting of their sins and growing closer to the Church. Many miracles from God are attributed to the prayers of St. Porphyrios.
To avoid human glory, St. Porphyrios returned to his old cell on Mount Athos in November of 1991. It was here, on December 2nd of the same year that he reposed. His last words were from the Lord’s prayer for the unity of believers: That “they may all be one” (John 17:21). St. Porphyrios was canonized by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 27, 2013.
This is but a summary of the life of this great saint who lived in our days. It is our blessing to hear his words and learn from him. What was it that turned an illiterate peasant into a charismatic elder and guide of souls? How is it that he became a miraculous Saint, known throughout the Orthodox world? No doubt it is due to his great faith and love for Jesus Christ and his fellow man. We can also see his purity of life, unceasing prayer and daily spiritual struggles. These virtues of course are possessed by all the Saints, who by the grace of God, are glorified. We can also see in St. Porphyrios another virtue, which he acquired with great effort. This virtue is obedience. It is a virtue that he began to observe from the earliest years of his life, to his Elders on Mount Athos. St. Porphyrios himself gave credit to this obedience for the gift of insight and divine blessings that he received from the Lord.
The matter of obedience is one that causes us to easily stumble. In our time, obedience is misunderstood. We think it violates our freedom, degrades and humiliates us. Many confuse Christian obedience with military discipline, or the servility of a slave to their master. None of this is correct. The obedience that Christ teaches, is the one that He Himself gave to His Father. It is the free acceptance of the will of the other, done out of great love for this person. This obedience springs from love and gratitude. Such obedience brings joy to the person who accepts it, as well as the great blessings of God. Obedience to Spiritual Fathers, Bishops and priests protect the believer from many dangerous pitfalls. Here is what St. Porphyrios himself had to say about it: "I fell into the obedience with joy, with love. That very obedience saved me. Only because of it did God give me (insightful) charisma. And because I loved them, (meaning his Elders) that love made me feel and understand what they wanted "(1). "This deep obedience has benefited me greatly. It changed me ... On the obedience I had bent over and bowed. The rest, where God came into my life, came to them alone. "Obedience shows love for Christ. And Christ especially loves obedient people" (2). "The bishop is a type of Christ ... you cannot break your relationship with the bishop, because then your prayer does not go up to heaven, it remains" (3).
From the words and example of St. Porphyrios, we can understand that without this great virtue of obedience to spiritual fathers, Christians cannot progress spiritually. That is why St. Paul the Apostle exhorted Christians: “Follow in faith and obey your church leaders” (Hebrews 13:17).
May we, through the intercessions of St. Porphyrios, receive the virtue of obedience to spiritual fathers, so that we too may enjoy the sweet fruits of Divine Grace. Amen.
(1) Life and Words of Elder Porphyrios Kafsokalyvitis· Issue of Chrysopigi Monastery Chania 2006 p. 53.
(2) as above p. 73
(3) as above p. 106