The renowned hesychast and spiritual father, elder Gregory lived at Saint Anna’s skete before father Sava. He lived in a ceaseless prayer and silence. He spoke only when it was necessary and everyone marveled at his divine gift of inspired speech. He became the supporter and upholder of the monks, hermits and pilgrims.
Due to the discernment of this wise elder, captain Gheorgaki, the chief of a band of robbers was guided to repentance. For reaching this thing the elder used an admirable trick. He pretended he was guilty of many crimes too and these were even bigger than those of the robber. By means of this trick he earned the trust of the fierce robber And thus he tamed he him and made him change his heart almost completely. He also promised to the robber to give him the Holy Eucharist every day with one condition: to keep a fasting of 40 days together. And Gheorgaki agreed.
However elder Gregory did not give him the Holy Eucharist, only common bread and wine until the forty days of repentance passed. Then he gave him the real Eucharist.
Elder Gabriel, the abbot of Dionisiou Monastery related me the following:
More than 50 years ago, around Karyes (in Kutlumus skete) lived a very simple elder who hadn’t studied much in school but had a purified mind attached to Christ’s teaching. His obedience was to knit socks for the civilian guards of the Holy Mountain and for the highlanders from Rumelia and Epirus. When he came at the Sunday fair from Karyes to sell his products, he stood under the portico of the cemetery near the road keeping in his right hand the rosary and in his left hand the goods for sale. He uttered without cease the Jesus prayer: `Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner`, with his eyes on the ground. If someone teased him saying: `Lift your head and seek customers`, he answered `As long as they see me it’s not necessary to seek them.`
This man had such discernment that at the confession he realized the major problem of the person who confessed and gave him advice for improving.
Hearing about him Joachim the 3rd the Ecumenical Patriarch who was at that time at Athos went to Karyes to meet him. He went to the elder and asked him to go together in the afternoon in a cell to confess.
`My cell is too small, your holiness to receive a Patriarch, answered the elder.`
`It doesn’t matter if it is small`, answered the Patriarch.
`But it’s too low to enter, your holiness.`
`I’ll bend myself to enter`, insisted the Patriarch.
`Unfortunately you don’t bend your head, said the elder. If you had done this you would have been Patriarch even now.
He meant that the Patriarch was arrogant and had an attitude that was not inclined to give up.
Many times the Patriarch said about this incident:
`As long as I live I will not forget the discussion with that elder, a simple man but with a great discernment.
A monk came to the same spiritual father to complain about the young novice who served him obediently and who although had only to make his usual prayers and everything was easy for him, not being burdened by much work, was overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, being in danger of falling into a spiritual confusion because of depression. The elder who was responsible for him came to elder Gabriel to advise him how to help the young novice.
`Marry him`, answered elder Gabriel.
Hearing that the elder was stunned and looked at him puzzled, not believing his own ears.
`Get him to work`said elder Gabriel. The young men can be humbled and silenced by regular work. For a monk the prayer alone without work is like work without prayer. Marry him with his work.`
Every time there are temptations and troubles the crown of victory is shown too, said elder Gregory to hieromonk Joachim Spetsieris. And he added:
`If there were a monastery only with angels and you were a monk in that monastery you wouldn’t have saved your soul, because nobody would have upset you and you would have had an easy life. The following verse fits in this situation:
«You received the good ones in your life»23 (These are the words Abraham says to the rich man who went to hell and they are found at Luke16, 20–25).
Once hieromonk Joachim Spetsieres said to elder Gregory:
` Father, I am losing the struggle with the carnal temptations. I cannot rest during day nor during night!`
`Do not despair. This is a sign that your salvation is close. Do not be afraid, our Christ does not let us be tempted more than we can endure. And soon after he blessed him, he was released of that temptation.
An elder said that Hagi Gheorghe, who was at first a novice, understood the monks under obedience. He took care to help them improve and advised them with discernment.
An elder said :
`If you pay all your debts in this life you can be saved. But if you are hit in the head many times you will receive something more. For the people who are beaten unjustly there is a reward. This means that God allows those who have a good life to be severely hit. Why is it so? Let me give you an example.
There is a happy family where all of them are good people: the mother, the father and the children. They go to the church and take the Holy Eucharist regularly. All of a sudden a drunkard or a madman kills the good father without any reason. Because of this many of those who are far from God will say: `Look at him. You see? He went to the church and look what happened to him.`
`What an insolence! God permits the suffering of the innocent for giving a second chance to the unrepentant so that they may be led on the path of repentance seeing the suffering of the innocent and thus to be like the good robber who was crucified on the right side of Christ.
What do we notice at the two robbers between whom Christ was crucified ? One of them defamed Him saying:
`If you are Christ, save Yourself and save us.`
But the other one rebuked him saying:
`Aren’t you afraid of God since you are under the same punishment? We receive what is right for us according to our deeds but this One did no harm.`(Luke 23, 39–41).
For this reason God allows the suffering of some innocent people, to be of use for the rebels, even if those who suffer are truly loved by God. I think that God will say in heaven: `Here, this place is for you or you can chose the one you like!`
Do you understand? It is just like this. If we ask justifications for what happens to us we can lose everything. We lose our peace of mind and reward.
One of the most enlightened elders of the Holy Mountain, who had a great discernment, was elder Daniel, who built for the Athonite monks a holy hermitage in the desert place of Katounakia. There the monks who were under his rule were called «Daniels» – because of the special charismatic personality of their Elder.
He became famous as a wise spiritual adviser of numerous monks from their community, of hermits and laymen for his virtues and education coming from experience. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he was capable to discern any trap coming from the right side (temptations coming from the right side: it is an expression found in the Orthodox monarchism and which refers at all the scheming of the evil one to cheat someone and make him believe that he has virtues he doesn’t have) because of the evil spirits in the struggle fought by Satan. These temptations from the right side include all the actions of a person which show false virtues, exaggerations, delusions, things done without blessing, self praise and vainglory. All these lead to a demonic pride.
One of these brothers who was deluded by Satan was father Damaskinos the Konstamonite. He thought he could be a recluse like one of the great hermits but without asking for a blessing from his elder. He decided not to go out of the monastery. He went out of his cell only for going to the church and to the refectory and he fulfilled his duties. He spent 10 years thinking that he was a recluse but full of pride. In the meanwhile because of the fact that he believed he was virtuous his praised increased and the contempt of the others as well and also the slanders, the rows and disagreements with the other monks. Because he did not correct his behavior the elder sent after elder Daniel who came heartily always glad to help.
Elder Daniel, so full of discernment called the misled Damaskinos and with his usual kindness talked with him and he slowly made him come to his senses and have repentance. Elder Daniel used examples from the Old and the New Testament, from Moses and the Israelites and from the Holy Fathers and said to him: `Brother, beware from now on not to trust in yourself and in your thoughts but repeat that wise word f abba Dorotheus: `Cursed be your thoughts and the knowledge by your own self.`