The Convent of the Transfiguration lies 45 kilometer outside Athens, a short 40 minute car ride away if one uses the Attica toll road (2.30 euro in tolls.) Surrounded by the lush chartreuse green pines of the secluded Mavrosouvalas Forest, the convent is a crow’s flight from the peak of Mt Oropos. A humble road sign with a hand drawn arrow in Greek points to the winding path up the hill from the central road toward Milesi so that if you are driving too fast you will miss it completely.
The Monastery complex rises up like an ethereal palace of white in the midst of the verdant green giving the impression that it stands hovering above the earth, one foot off the ground. Two tall cypress trees stand guard outside its clean-cut minamalist courtyard built entirely from local stone. Indeed so quiet is the place one can hear the wind howling through the pórticos and arched walkways that empty into secluded courtyards. It lives up to its name as a female “Hesychitirio” roughly translated as “a place to keep quiet.” So quiet one does not dare speak except in hushed tones. The one thing loud is the sun, screaming on white.
The face of Elder Porphyrios, now a saint, graces the small chapel to the right of the main catholikon. The main church is still under construction so it waits bare in gray slate while the iconography inches from the second floor and mezzanine to the adjoining chapels of saint something or other.
In case you have not heard of Elder Porphyrios by now he and Elder Paisios have both achieved semi-cult-like status since their canonization two years ago. His life and legacy have been documented in various Youtube clips, collections of sayings, and books documenting his words and counsels to his spiritual children since his death in 1992. He typifies the saying of St Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”
Born to poor parents and refugees from Asia Minor, he was born February 7 in the little village of St. John Karystia, in the province of Evoia. He was fourth out of five siblings. Only his youngest sister is still alive and is a nun.
To help out his poverty-stricken family instead of attending school, he tended a grocery store in Chalkidiki as a go-fer. However, he was predisposed to the monastic life from an early age with self-imposed ascetic exercises. During his breaks he slowly read the life story of St. John the Hut-dweller. Determined to follow in this saint’s footsteps, he made several attempts to reach Mt Athos. He set off one time when he was 15, and it so happened on the ferry between Thessaloniki and the Holy Mountain, a kind monk took him under his wing. This man would become his spiritual father. Evangelos was not an adult yet and so should not have been allowed on the Holy Mountain, but Father Panteleimon said he was his nephew and so his entry was allowed.
He entered the skete of the Kafsokalyvia (Burnt Caves), and was tonsured Nikitas Kafsokalyvitis, an epithet he was to keep for the remainder of his life, at the age of 15. He recounts in the book Wounded By Love, how he fell into complete obedience laboring tirelessly with love to fulfill the demands of his two elders on the Holy Mountain, who according to his own account were harsh task masters. He left Athos due to failing health and lived for a time with his brother in law in Thessaloniki. His ill health caused him much grief throughout his life as it kept him from living on 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. It was then that he took the name of Porphyrios.
With the outbreak of World War II he became a hospital chaplain in Athens, in which post he continued for three decades (1940-1970). He served at the Chapel of St. Gerasimos in the Athens Polyclinic, which can be found on the corner of Socrates and Pireaus Street, close to Omonia Square.
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.
His life’s journey took him to Athens where he served as presiding priest of the Church of on Vassilios Sofia Street in downtown Athens. As the church was next to the Hospital of the Evangelismos, he served as hospital chaplain there. He was often seen in its wards making rounds to the ill and dying.
The website, www.orthodoxphotos.com, describes how he received the gift of the Holy Spirit:
It was still dawn, and the main church of Kavsokalyvia was locked. Nikitas, however, was standing in the corner of the church entrance waiting for the bells to ring and the doors to be opened.
He was followed by the old monk Dimas, a former Russian officer, over ninety years old, an ascetic and a secret saint. Fr. Dimas looked around and made sure that nobody was there. He didn’t notice young Nikitas waiting in the entrance. He started making full prostrations and praying before the closed church doors.
Divine grace spilled over from holy Fr. Dimas and cascaded down upon the young monk Nikitas who was then ready to receive it. His feelings were indescribable. On his way back to the hut, after receiving Holy Communion in the Divine Liturgy that morning, his feelings were so intense that he stopped, stretched out his hands and shouted loudly “Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God!”
The change wrought by the Holy Spirit.
Following the visitation of the Holy Spirit, a fundamental change took place in the psychosomatic makeup of young Monk Nikitas. It was the change that comes directly from the right hand of God. He acquired supernatural gifts and was vested with power from on high.
The first sign of these gifts was when his elders were returning from a far-away journey, he was able to “see” them at a great distance. He “saw” them there, where they were, even though they were not within human sight. He confessed this to Fr. Panteleimon who advised him to be very cautious about his gift and to tell no-one. Advice which he followed very carefully until he was told to do otherwise.
More followed. His sensitivity to things around him became very acute and his human capacities developed to their fullest. He listened to and recognized bird and animal voices to the extent that he knew not just where they came from, but what they were saying. His sense of smell was developed to such a degree that he could recognize fragrances at a great distance. He knew the different types of aroma and their makeup. After humble prayer he was able to “see” the depths of the earth and the far reaches of space. He could see through water and through rock formations. He could see petroleum deposits, radioactivity, ancient and buried monuments, hidden graves, crevices in the depths of the earth, subterranean springs, lost icons, scenes of events that had taken place centuries before, prayers that had been lifted up in the past, good and evil spirits, the human soul itself, just about everything. He tasted the quality of water in the depths of the earth. He would question the rocks and they would tell him about the spiritual struggles of ascetics who went before him. He looked at people and was able to heal. He touched people and he made them well. He prayed and his prayer became reality. However, he never knowingly tried to use these gifts from God to benefit himself. He never asked for his own ailments to be healed. He never tried to get personal gain from the knowledge extended to him by divine grace.
While he served many ill and dying, he himself was not spared a similar fate. He was wracked with pain from an incessant stomach ailment. Seeking the solitude of the forest, Porphyrios harbored a life-long dream to found a female convent near Mount Pendeli in the northeast suburbs of Athens. He tried for many years to establish such a community there, but it was not to be. Instead at the end of his life, he accumulated enough funding to purchase lands in Malakassa on the slopes of Mt Oropos. What started out as a humble trailer transformed into the towering oasis that one witnesses today.
It is a site of spiritual refuge, best visited during the week during its Vesper service at 6 pm, away from the weekend flocks. Its community of 20 nuns heralding from all walks of life and across its spectrum. The convent can be reached by purchasing a one-way ticket to Malakassa by public bus or KTEL for 5.20 Euros at the Pedeo Areos (The Field of Mars bus station), two blocks north of the Victoria Metro stop on the green line, Line 1, Kifissia-Pireaus line.
Video Compilations of the Elder:
The Elder recites the Jesus Prayer 100 times (a soothing sweet way to wake up in the morning): www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkHZ6IY6a8g
Documentary about his life and legacy: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPFcOxOMDE4
A lecture he gave about the Apollo 13 mission to outer space: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/07/elder-porphyrios-and-apollo-13.html
A homily he gave about conquering depression: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SjhCKMCkbU