by Elder Joseph οf Vatopaidi
HIS RETURN TO HESYCHIA
When the tempest of the war subsided by the mercy of God, though only after a multitude of casualties in the liberation of the nation, blessed Joachim Papoulakis withdrew to his beloved hesychia. However, he did not return to Athos and Vatopaidi, the monastery of his repentance, but preferred instead the quiet areas of the land of his birth, Ithaki; but this was not by human design. Holy men always speak and act «not by their own will, but as they are moved by the Holy Spirit» (see 2 Peter 1:21). This devout athlete in the spiritual arena and instrument for the twofold love of God and man not only always disregarded his own interest, but also directed his every action to the benefit of the people; this was his reason for residing outside of Athos. Throughout the entire course of his lifelong struggle, according to those who knew him, he always linked compassion for others with his own personal asceticism. This is why he preferred to live the hesychastic life within the world, binding together these two callings. Having arrived in Ithaki, he chose to reside in the forest called Aphentikos Longos, meaning «Master’s Thicket.» He remained there for about five years in strict asceticism, barefoot and half-naked, living in fasting and hardships.
During this period, Elder Joachim’s chief occupation was prayer; and he went about it using all of the rules and principles of spiritual inwardness FN and sobriety that he had practiced so intently during his stay on Athos. His five years of extreme asceticism in his carefree surroundings, coupled with his earlier training, raised him to the level of godly illumination; and Divine Grace elevated him to deific theorias ** — now a normal state for him — at which point his blessed soul was adorned with clairvoyance and foreknowledge. What is more blessed than the mind that has been illumined and the heart that has been purified? The person who is found worthy of these things sees, by means of them, God and the things of God. How very little we know about the life of holy men — and only in a faint way do they become known to us — and this from glimpses of their life that they themselves have allowed us to see.
Everyone drew attention to the Saint’s prophetic and therapeutic charismata, which were usually revealed when he associated with the people for their benefit. But what struggle did this spiritual giant undergo in order to put off the «old man» (Eph. 4:22) of corruption and lies, to mortify the «members which are on the earth» (Col. 3:5), and to crush the beast of egocentricity — which is truly the «abomination of desolation» (Matt. 24:15) — so that «mortality might be swallowed up by life» (2 Cor. 5:4)? Only fellow spiritual athletes who are one in heart, way of life, and belief know these things; those who take up the cross of Christ; those who have hurled themselves with zeal into the sea of painstaking diligence and have fully embraced «spiritual poverty» (see Matt. 5:3) by means of voluntary obedience and submission. «As many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them» (Gal. 6:16), and this is precisely what the blessed Elder Joachim Papoulakis did. «By their fruits you will know them» (Matt. 7:20), says our Lord. The spiritual charismata that adorned his benevolent soul and his innumerable miracles, through which he still today benefits the faithful, tell us of his spiritual riches and of the boldness he has before God.
When people hear about a miracle -a supernatural manifestation of Divine Grace- being done through a holy person, they usually express their wonder and astonishment. They are more amazed, however, by the supernatural occurrence than by the person that Divine Grace has acted through and about how much boldness and holiness he has been found worthy of. Every supernatural occurrence is a work of Divine Grace, a work of the uncreated divine energies, by which the All-wise and Almighty God fashioned and maintains the created universe. These divine energies keep the entire creation balanced, so that it continues to behave in character precisely and faithfully in terms of appropriate seasons and processes. When a miracle occurs, however, this is precisely a «super-natural» movement of the laws and rules of nature, an intervention by God who rules and governs it. For this to happen, some familiar intermediary must mediate before the Divine Majesty, one whose status and candour before God are such that He will alter the workings of the laws of nature. This extraordinary intermediary, who as a friend of God has the candour to transform the earthly elements, is a holy person who either lives on the earth and belongs to the Church Militant or has been translated from this life and is now found in the Church Triumphant in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What we have written at this point has been to show how someone becomes holy, becomes a saint, because only in this way can he become a friend of God. These remarks of ours are intended to demonstrate the high standing and worthiness of a saint, showing how much he had to labor and struggle in order to arrive, by the grace of God, at this state. In our times, there are very few heroes and giants who achieve this state, even if it is a favor and a gift of God. Our blessed Father Joachim, whom we are describing here, is not a spiritual athlete from «that time» but a contemporary offspring of our Church. How many, many people there are even today who remember stories about his life that were told to them by their parents and relatives who lived with him, saw and heard him, and in general received benefit from him.
THE ACTIVITY OF SAINT JOACHIM
Living in strict asceticism in the ravine known as Gouves, Elder Joachim was becoming known especially by the nearby inhabitants. At first, a few elderly women were visiting him for their spiritual benefit, something that often happens with the Greek people. Those that benefited from their visits spoke about it to others, and soon Papoulakis, as they called him, became the centre of interest for the people of Ithaki. With his winsome and eloquent manner of expression, he captivated the masses, but even more so he consoled the distressed, supported the weak and infirm, and continually promoted piety and a virtuous morality, which during that period of foreign occupation had been brushed aside. He gave more of his attention to the poor and destitute, and whatever money or material goods were given to him, he distributed to them. To those, however, whose needs were spiritual rather than material, blessed Papoulakis repeated the saying of the Chief Apostle Peter: «What I do have I give you» (Acts 3:6); and by means of the clairvoyant gift that Divine Grace had so lavishly bestowed upon him, he resolved the uncertainties that troubled believers, rescuing them from dangers or harm that they would have suffered had they followed their own devices. He thwarted plots and retaliatory murders that were being planned in absolute secrecy, freed people from sterility, foretold future events that would happen to various persons, and revealed things about people who were missing or were far away.
The virtuous life and continual teaching of this blessed man so influenced this forsaken people that it brought about a palpable transformation in their moral behaviour. The otherwise unchecked crime was significantly reduced, and a moral life and order became the general rule on the island. But out of resentment for this spiritual progress and prosperity, Satan, that evil leader, incited others to make his first assault in order to hinder the Elder. Some envious and malicious men spread rumours that the Elder had prophesied that a great earthquake was about to happen, and because of it, the pregnant women would miscarry their children, something that upset the British governor of the area. This pompous fellow summoned Papoulakis and arrogantly began to threaten him. With a humble demeanour, the blessed Elder answered in defence that he had never said such a thing, that it was slander. However, the haughty governor reproached the Elder, and monasticism in general, and in anger rose from his seat in order to mistreat the humble monk. But, O Thy wonders, Lord All-bountiful and our King! The armchair of the governor was spontaneously shattered into pieces, and he fell to the ground unconscious. His guards moved him immediately to his bed, where he came to after several hours following medical intervention. As soon as he got up, this previously presumptuous man fell at the Elder’s feet and asked his forgiveness. He gave him permission to go about freely wherever he wanted and to exercise his spiritual duties, and proclaimed to everyone that he was a saint. This was one of the first acts by which the most blessed Elder revealed the supernatural power of Grace that had come to reside in his soul, because God’s holy ones, according to the sacred verse, «judge all things, yet they themselves are judged by no one» (see 1 Cor. 2:15).
According to the description of his first biographer, the blessed Elder was in this supernatural state of Grace from the initial stage of his repentance at Vatopaidi Monastery. At some nearby harbour -which most certainly would have been that of Vatopaidi Monastery- some vessels were mooring in order to exchange goods? Blessed Joachim foresaw approaching bad weather and warned the ships’ captains to leave the area where they were docked and to move to a safer place, which most likely he himself indicated. All of them complied with his advice except one, who instead mocked the Elder. Suddenly, however, such a tempest arose that only those who believed him and fled were saved, whereas the ship of the man who scorned his warning was destroyed.
Another time, while still a monk on Athos, when he had been sent for duties out in the world — perhaps to the dependencies** of the Monastery which at that time were outside the Holy Mountain — he met a family man in a wretched state that belied his misfortune. The Saint asked him the reason for his trouble, and he explained that he was living as a bondservant to a doctor. He owed the doctor money because he had healed his wife and his children from a serious disease, and he had nothing else to offer him. Thus, for recompense, he became his permanent servant; consequently, his family was suffering from abject poverty. Blessed Joachim’s heart went out to the man, and he suggested that he allow him to take his place, if the doctor would agree to the arrangement. Hence, with the agreement of the doctor as well, Papoulakis stayed on as a servant in place of the poor householder, and he continued his duties. Seeing the monk’s earnestness, the doctor was filled with admiration for him. He bought him a new pair of shoes so that he would not have to go about barefoot and suffering. The next day, he saw him once again barefoot and asked where his new shoes were. The monk told him that he had given them to some poor person. Afterwards, he bought him some clothes, since his own were little more than rags, but these shared the same fate as the shoes. After this, the doctor, seeing among other things his austere way of life, relieved him of his servitude because, as he admitted, he could not bear to be waited on by such a holy person. Papoulakis himself disclosed this to the doctor’s former bondservant when the poor man saw him going about freely and asked how he was released from his service to the doctor.