In October our Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announced the upcoming canonization of five grace-filled, God-bearing saints of the Church from the 20th Century. Below are brief biographies, as well as sayings (italicized) from these blessed spiritual guides.
Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) is the spiritual father of Elder Ephraim of Arizona, who has founded 17 monasteries in North America in the last three decades. He lived a life of extreme asceticism and obscurity in the desert of Mount Athos. He renewed Hesychasm – the practice of the prayer of the heart – on Mount Athos, and many of the monasteries there attribute their spiritual renewal to Elder Joseph’s disciples, who became abbots of these monasteries. Read more about his life here and here. Elder Joseph:
Say the [Jesus] prayer all the time. Don’t rest your mouth at all. Thus it will become habitual in you and the mind will receive it. … Let ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ be as your breath.
Christ does not demand anything from you to give you His holy gifts other than to acknowledge that anything good you happen to have belongs to Him.
The time of this present life is a time for harvesting, and each person gathers spiritual food – as pure as possible – and stores it up for the other life. It is not the clever, the noble, the polished speakers, or the rich who win, but whoever is insulted and forbears, whoever is wronged and forgives, whoever is slandered and endures, whoever becomes a sponge and mops up whatever they might say to him. Such a person is cleansed and polished even more. He reaches great heights. He delights in the theoria of mysteries. And finally, it is he who is already inside paradise, while still in this life.
When in obedience and stillness one purifies the senses and calms the mind and cleanses the heart, then he receives grace and enlightenment of knowledge. He becomes all nous, all clarity, and filled with theology such that if three were writing they could not keep up with the flow. He spreads peace and complete inactivity of the passions throughout the body.
Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (+1998) lived in the desert of Mount Athos, pursuing a life of silence and prayer. He became acquainted with Elder Joseph the Hesychast and learned the prayer of the heart from him. In his later years he became a renowned spiritual father and a close friend of Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery and Elder Joseph of Vadopedi Monastery. Read more about his life here. Elder Ephraim:
It is known that the thoughts are led from the mind into the heart and disturb it. The troubled mind also troubles the heart. Just as the wind raises the waves of the sea, so the wind of thoughts raises waves in the soul. Attentiveness is necessary for prayer. That is why the Fathers talk about prayer in combination with watchfulness. Watchfulness keeps the nous in constant alertness and readiness and prayer brings the divine grace.
Everyone has a cross to carry. Why? Since the leader of our faith endured the cross, we will also endure it. On one hand, the cross is sweet and light, but, on the other, it can also be bitter and heavy. It depends on our will. If you bear Christ’s cross with love then it will be very light; like a sponge or a cork. But if you have a negative attitude, it becomes heavy; too heavy to lift.
Having a peaceful and serene mind depends entirely on you. It does not depend on temptations or your fellow man’s behavior. You yourself will be responsible for your salvation; whether you are saved or not depends entirely upon you. When you long for your salvation and struggle hard, then the outcome will be according to your wish.
Elder Daniel (Daniil) of Katounakia (+1929) was the founder of the Danielaioi Brotherhood of Katounakia on Mount Athos. He entered the monastic life after an encounter with St. Arsenios of Paros. He was a close friend of St. Nektarios of Aegina, with whom he maintained a correspondence for many years. Read more about his life here. Elder Daniel:
The holy fathers, ascetics skillful in deeds, decisively call us to be sober.
On the gifts of the Holy Spirit: if the gifts, known since ancient times, are seen nowadays possessed … by the simple, the illiterate, and often by the laymen. We should not be indignant or envious. Indeed, God’s gifts can not be cancelled; they are not given randomly, in vain, but by ineffable means and for purposes known only to God, since He knows for certain good hearts of people, who are able to receive the grace.
Wicked Satan, out of hatred towards people leading a holy life, uses all means to deceive them with different delusions. When he notices in somebody inclined to contemplation and visions, even true ones, he takes the shape of an Angel of light, and, cunningly imposing his fantasies and dreams, makes such ascetic a shame for Angles and men.
Elder Hieronymos (Ieronymos) of Simonopetra (+1957) was the abbot of Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos for eleven years. For the last 20 years of his life he served as a spiritual father to countless laypeople at one of the monastery’s dependencies in Athens. He was a contemporary of St. Nektarios of Aegina, St. Nicholas Planas, and St. Savas the New of Kalymnos. Read more about his life here and here. Elder Hieronymos:
Temptations are as necessary as breathing. They are like the waves of the sea; without waves one cannot travel and without temptations one cannot be saved.
Elder Sophrony of Essex (+1993) is known as the spiritual child and biographer of the great St. Silouan the Athonite and the founder of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, England. He was also the spiritual father of Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou, who has written many books on the spiritual life. Read more about his life here and here. Elder Sophrony:
It is essential to read the Gospel, that incomparable book. Then our life will be built up on the basis of the Word of God. And we will begin to think and make decisions in the spirit of the Divine commandments. How beautiful, when one begins to think like the Creator of this world!
All of us, at every moment of our lives, are in absolute need of Divine grace, which is given to man through pain and effort. When we pray in the morning, pray in the evening, and pray every moment – then we have the right to say: ‘Lord, do not leave me; help me.’
When we begin to lead the Christian life, all our labor, all our struggle [podvig] is directed towards accepting even our enemies with love. In this consists the Christian’s martyric witness.
Whoever gives up his cross cannot be worthy of the Lord and become His disciple. The depths of the Divine Being are revealed to the Christian when he is crucified for our Savior. The Cross is the foundation of authentic theology.
We do not think about how to change the world with our own powers. We strive to receive strength from God in order to act at all times with love.