CONSTANTINOPLE – The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate unanimously canonized the Elder Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia and Meletios of Lardos (Rhodes), marking the first time the Church has canonized a saint since Nectarios of Aegina in 1961.
This decision was formalized on November 27, convened and presided over by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It was also decided and officially proclaimed that the Feast Day of Saint Porphyrios will be celebrated on December 2, and the Feast Day of Saint Meletios on February 12.
The Synod’s decision officially validated the longstanding consideration of Porphyrios as a holy man in the Church’s heart and mind.
Books had been written about him some years ago such as Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios. Elder Porphyrios: Testimonies and Experiences. With Elder Porphyrios: A Spiritual Child Remembers.
Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia, a member of the Canonical Committee of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which made the suggestion to the Holy Synod for the canonization, said that Porphyrios “was truly a great Saint. He had communion with the Saints, with God, with all of Creation, and he helped many people. He worked miracles through his gift of clairvoyance and foresight, which he inherited by the Grace of God.” Over 50 books have been written about Elder Porphyrios by many people, even by people who despised him because he was uneducated, according to the world. They wrote about his life and contribution.”
Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou met Elder Porphyrios in 1981 when he was a student in Athens. Porphyrios guided him to another Elder, the late Iakovos Tsalikes, Abbot of the Monastery of the Venerable David in Evia. Neophytos of Morphou maintained, as he said, a living relationship with Elder Porphyrios until his repose, which continues until today “in another form.”
Regarding the importance of the canonization, Neophytos said that “in the circumstances of our spiritual crisis with all that is happening in Hellenism and throughout the world, the Ecumenical Patriarchate wisely announced to us ‘come receive the light from the unwaning light’ and this light is the eternal fire of our venerable Father Porphyrios, the clairvoyant and universal scientist.”
According to Neophytos, Elder Porphyrios and other contemporary Elders – Iakovos, Paisios, Evmenios – “never cultivated elderism. This is a phenomenon that followed their burials by people who wanted to imitate them without having the spiritual qualifications.”
He also noted that “Elder Porphyrios had knowledge of the whole world and accepted all the technologies of modern science. He was not, he told us, a “black and white Elder.” All kinds of people approached him, especially people of sin and extremities, and he comforted them and guided them to repentance and to an ecclesiastical life. It is very important that Elder Porphyrios spent thirty years of his life in the most sinful area of Athens, Omonia Square. He had many illnesses and never asked for healing. He felt that his illnesses were a security which he had in opposition to the many gifts God gave him.”
The basic core of thought of Elder Porphyrios was that the world has a need to consolidate and cultivate love towards their Creator, not through a fear of things to come, but through a selfless relationship, like a loving father to his child. Unity, which is the greatest inheritance of Christ to His Apostles, can be assured when a child unites with the father primarily through love and not fear.
Meliton celebrated in the presence of thousands of believers a Festal Divine Liturgy at the Sacred Hermitage of the newly-proclaimed Saint Porphyrios in Malakasa Attica, surrounded by many priests.
Meliton said among other things that “our Lord Jesus Christ, who is wondrous among His Saints, brought us together today, brethren, on the day of the repose of our Saint Porphyrios, a few days after the Mother Church of Constantinople synodically confirmed in the Holy Spirit the Pan-Orthodox testimony in the stages of the life of the common consciousness of his sanctity.”
He also said that “Saint Porphyrios declared experientially and empirically the life of love and angels, from the Holy Mountain, from Evia, from Omonia, from Kallisia, from Milesi, from this sacred place where his feet stood. The face of the Holy Elder Porphyrios still remains etched in the memory and hearts of those who were blessed to know him and socialize with him.”
Meliton added that “Saint Porphyrios was a real father and leader of our people, because they really loved him. He did not try to serve his person, he did not desire to gain something from the people, he did not ask to acquire an office, power or riches. The only thing he had in abundance he offered without restrictions, and this was his love”
Saint Porphyrios was born on February 7, 1906 in the village of St. John Karystia, near Aliveri, in the province of Evia. His parents were poor but pious farmers. His father’s name was Leonidas Bairaktaris and his mother’s was Eleni.
At baptism he was given the name Evangelos. He was the fourth of five children, and the third child of the four that survived. His oldest sister, Vassiliki, passed away when she was a year old. Today, only his youngest sister, who is a nun, is still alive.
His father was the village cantor, and St. Nectarios called upon his services during his journeys through the area, but poverty forced him to emigrate to America to work on the construction of the Panama canal. Evangelos attended the school in his village for only two years. The teacher was sick most of the time and the children didn’t learn much. Evangelos left school, worked on the family farm and tended the few animals that they owned. He started working from the age of eight. Even though he was still very young, in order to make more money, he went to work in a coal mine. He later worked in a grocer’s store in Halkhida and in Piraeus.
His father had taught him the Supplicatory Canon (Paraklisis) to the Mother of God (Panagia), and whatever else of our faith he could.
While he was looking after the sheep, and even when working in the grocer’s store, he slowly read the life story of St. John the Hut-dweller. He wanted to follow the example of the saint. So he set off for Mt. Athos many times, but for various reasons he never made it and returned home. Finally, when he was about 14 or 15, he left again for Mt. Athos. This time he was determined to make it and he did.
Evangelos met his future spiritual father, the Hieromonk Panteleimon, while he was on the ferry boat between Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos. Father Panteleimon immediately took the young boy under his wing. Evangelos was not yet an adult, and so should not have been allowed on the Holy Mountain. Panteleimon said he was his nephew, and his entrance was assured.
Panteleimon, took him to Kavsokalyvia to the Hut of St. George. Panteleimon lived there with his brother Fr. Ioannikios. Young Evangelos embraced the monastic life with great zeal. He would walk barefoot among the rocky and snowy paths of the Holy Mountain. He worked; wood-carving or cutting down trees, gathering snails, or carrying sacks of earth on his back for long distances, so that a garden could be created on the rocky terrain near the Hut. He also immersed himself in the prayers, services and hymns of the Church, learning them by heart while working with his hands. This uneducated boy from the second grade, using the Holy Scriptures as his dictionary, was able to educate himself.
We do not know exactly when but certainly not long after reaching the Holy Mountain, he was tonsured as a monk and given the name Nikitas.
Forced by pleurisy to depart the Holy Mountain, he returned to his birthplace, where he was unexpectedly elevated to the priesthood at the age of 21 by Porphyrios III, Archbishop of Mount Sinai and Raithu. With the outbreak of World War II he became a hospital chaplain in Athens, in which post he continued for three decades (1940-1970). His later years were devoted to the construction of the Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior. After 1984 he returned to Mount Athos, occupying the same cell which he had earlier in life been forced to abandon.
Through his role as spiritual father, Elder Porphyrios became known to an ever-wider circle of Orthodox followers. Several compilations of stories and sayings attributed to him have been published.
“This is the way we should see Christ. He is our friend, our brother; He is whatever is good and beautiful. He is everything. Yet, He is still a friend and He shouts it out, “You’re my friends, don’t you understand that? We’re brothers. I’m not…I don’t hold hell in my hands. I am not threatening you. I love you. I want you to enjoy life together with me.
“Love Christ and put nothing before His Love. He is joy, He is life, He is light. Christ is Everything. He is the ultimate desire, He is everything. Everything beautiful is in Christ. Somebody who is Christ’s must love Christ, and when he loves Christ he is delivered from the Devil, from hell and from death.”
St. Meletios was born on the island of Rhodes, during the difficult era of Turkish occupation. As a young man he had a vision of an icon of the Virgin Mary – Ypseni at the root of a tree, at which point he decided to lead a monastic life and then he established a monastery at the spot where he had the vision. He dedicated his life to helping his fellow Christian Greeks during their hard times under Turkish occupation. The Ypseni Monastery website, ypseni.wordpress.com, describes him as having “held a wealth of grace, virtue, purity, innocence, and great love of God.”