In addition to the challenges of adaptation, young Haralambos faced the additional hurdle of undergoing the “examinations” conducted by the Elder. Naturally, the first examination arrived swiftly.
Father Haralambos recalls, “Approximately a week after my arrival, the Elder instructed me as follows:
“You shall ascend that rock over yonder, where a magnificent hut awaits. It will be a genuine pleasure for you to reside there. Therefore, make your way up and do not return until I summon you. Do you understand? ”
“May it be blessed, Gheronda!”
I made a prostration and immediately climbed up the rock. I anticipated finding a tidy hut, but to my surprise, what awaited me there? On one side, a solid rock, and on the other, a weathered wooden gate. Upon entering, I discovered that taking just two steps would result in bumping my head against the rock. Inside, there stood an ancient wooden bed adorned with a single blanket. Earth surrounded me on both sides, and a humble straw pillow rested nearby, accompanied by numerous holes that could serve as entry points for snakes. “Why does the Elder describe this place as wonderful? What kind of hut is this?” I must have muttered these words five or six times. Nevertheless, I had no choice but to trust the Elder, for it was he who had sent me here. “I shall persevere, even if it means risking my life. Unless the Elder summons me, I shall not retreat. It is better to meet one’s end in obedience than to defy.”
I devoted myself to ceaseless prayer for six uninterrupted hours. Gradually, tears welled up within me, and for an entire hour, I wept. I prayed to God and expressed gratitude, pleading for His forgiveness even for the last person on Earth. Oh, how deluded I had been, thinking that I was accomplishing something in the world! How misguided I was, rushing about here and there! Yet, in this place of constant struggle, day and night, I found myself unable to bring order to my own being. I thanked God for bringing me here, and a transformation occurred within me. I began to perceive that humble hut as a palace, and the desire to depart from it vanished. It appeared so beautiful and filled with goodness to me! In the evenings, as I gazed upon the sky and the sea, tears flowed uncontrollably. I wished never to leave that sacred place.
However, after two or three hours had passed, I heard the Elder’s voice calling out to me:
“Haralambos, come down!”
Believe me, I descended with a heavy heart.
The Elder took me to his cell and inquired:
“Haralambos, I want you to be honest with me. How did you spend your time up there?”
– Well, Gheronda, quite well. Initially, when I saw that hut with its earthen floor and holes, I questioned myself five or six times, ‘Why does the Elder claim this place is good? Is this truly a cell? Only snakes could enter here…’. But then, I commenced my prayers. Oh, my God, what comfort, what indescribable peace, and profound joy I experienced! I began to pray for all my adversaries. In the end, I no longer wished to depart. Just as you had instructed, it unfolded precisely as you described.”
“My child,” responded the Elder, “this is the essence of monasticism. If God resides within you, then everything is good and beautiful. In His absence, everything appears distorted.”
Excerpt from My Elder Joseph the Hesychast – Venerable Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, Evangelismos Publishing House.