Abbot Gregory of Docheiariou Monastery on the Holy Mountain
I apologize to my readers for taking such a long break since my last post. In October I had the blessing to visit the Holy Mountain; however, being away for seventeen days has set me back with my needs and responsibilities here at the monastey. The day I departed from the Holy Mountain, October 23rd, I heard the news of the passing away of Elder Gregory, the Abbot of Docheiariou Monastery. He was 76 years old and had been suffering from cancer and diabetes for many years. I had visited Docheiariou Monastery several times, and once had a short conversation with Elder Gregory so I would like to share some of my experience with you now.
My first visit to the Holy Mountain was in the winter of 1986. At that time I spent several days at Docheiariou and was there for the feast of the Three Hierarchs (January 29th or February 12th on the Old Calendar). When I arrived at the monastery, there were only a few monks present as most of the fathers, including Elder Gregory, were out working in their olive orchard. An English-speaking monk I encountered there told me a little bit about Elder Gregory (even at that time, he mentioned that the community was worried about the health of their Elder because of his diabetes). Elder Gregory began monastic life with the Elder Amphilochius (recently canonized in the Church) on Patmos. When the Elder Gregory – who was a novice at that time – came to him, Saint Amphilochius said to him: “Someday you will rule over your brethren.” Sometime after the death of Saint Amphilochius, Elder Gregory left Patmos with a group of fathers because Patmos, as the place of the Revelation to St. John the Theologian, had become too much of a tourist attraction. They went to the Holy Mountain which at that time had a number of monasteries which had dwindled in numbers and were in a state of decline. Elder Gregory with his group was offered one of two monasteries, Xeropotamo – which was known as having the largest existing piece of the Cross of our Lord – or Docheiariou – which had the wonderworking icon of the Theotokos called, “Quick to Hear”. As we know already, they choose, Docheiariou with the icon of the Theotokos.
Elder Gregory was a hard-working, practical man. As I said, when I arrived he was out working with the brotherhood. Vespers and Compline were served only with a few monks. The work group brought food for dinner and came back late. One monk read compline while the others continued working. This was not the norm but rather an exception in order to meet a temporary need. The father who spoke with me warned me that I might hear someone shouting during the services the next morning. This would be Elder Gregory since he would often rebuke some of the monks during the services in order to humble them. He would say, “We do not go to church to pray, we go to church to make ‘a joyful noise unto God’” (see Psa. 94:1). He did not like for his monks to be late to the services; if anyone was quite late (he had a certain designed point) they would have to sit separately at the dining hall and would be deprived of certain extra foods above the main dish. As a rule of prayer they would do 600 Jesus Prayers which would take about half an hour. The fathers went to confession every Saturday and received Holy Communion on Sunday.
From my conversation with Elder Gregory:
Question: When people come to me as a confessor, what does the Lord
expect for me to do for them?
The Elder’s answer:
Before you say anything to them you must cry within yourself. For example, say the Lord’s Prayer, or call on the name of the Lord Jesus, or call out to the Panagia and the saints. Afterwards you should say that which comes to your conscience, into your heart. But all that you say must be according to the Orthodox teaching. In the Orthodox Church everything is a tradition, a living tradition, so you will not get much help through reading books. And when you give advice to another person it is not only what you say that matters but how you say it. Guidance is also a tradition. If someone has not been living in such a tradition it is difficult to undertake the activity of counseling. But if there is a tradition from an elder, one can even say things that are very strict to another yet he can cover them in such a way—a protecting way—that he who hears can accept them very easily. But for someone who has no tradition, even though he may give some advice about very little matters it will not be accepted by the one seeking counsel. As one has learned from his elder so must he teach. Because in this world people cannot practice everything precisely we must make economia—this is what we need to learn from our elder. As for the people they must do what they can, to make them do precisely what we would like is very difficult. You must say to the people the precise meaning of the faith, and what they can do, they will do. If, for instance, it is one, or two, or five that they accomplish don’t worry; but if they do nothing, then you must worry. We should never concentrate on the weaknesses of people; rather we must always speak to them of the preciseness of the faith which has been the same throughout the ages. For example, during Great Lent we should encourage the people to fast in order to eliminate the passions of the body. If they do this for a week or two weeks it is good, but if they persevere throughout the fast, excellent! However, if they do much, do not pat them on the back and lead them to pride. Likewise we should not cause them to be cast down if they only do a little. Do not comment on the quantity if it is only a little and do not admonish them a lot. It is their struggle that should be commended, and that which should disappoint us when it is absent. According to the teaching of St. John the Theologian holiness does not mean to not sin, but rather to struggle, to fight against sin.
Question: How can one help a spiritual child who is insensitive and is not motivated to do anything in the spiritual life?
The Elder’s answer:
They need courage. The devil makes them feel disappointed in themselves and to think that they are doing nothing. If they do something, even a very little thing we must show enthusiasm, encourage them, and point out that they did something and say, “See, look what you did.”
Question: I have heard the expression “holy anger” but I do not understand it. How does it differ from sinful anger?
The Elder’s answer:
In the beginning when someone is starting in his spiritual life he feels zeal for God and enthusiasm. For example, if someone blasphemes he is angry within, but this must be restrained. It is not the true spiritual state. But if someone is more advanced in the spiritual life then his zeal is very beneficial. It is good for him and for others. However if one’s zeal causes a disturbance in the soul, or causes exhaustion, then it is not from God; but if there is peace then this zeal is from God. Everyone must have this zeal. But in the end this means a very strong feeling of love for God. In the Scriptures it is said that this kind of zeal consumes a person. This is how we can define zeal: Love for God as the Scripture says with all ones heart and soul.
The Elder concluded our conversation by saying the following:
Learn something else. This is not only for you but also for the people who are coming to you. Do not give much importance to everything that passes through your mind, but rather to the perception of the heart, because the heart of man reflects the true spiritual state of the mind. But a lot of different things, many varied things pass through the mind. The fathers say that the mind is like air, but the heart reflects the true spiritual state of the mind.
May our Lord give rest to the soul of His newly departed servant, Archimandrite Gregory.