The life of Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalyvia was a smooth, majestic flight toward God! Evangelos, as he was named at baptism, was born to poor parents named Leonidas and Eleni Bairaktaris on February 7, 1906 in the province of Evvia, into a family of five children. The Saint’s father was a chanter, sometimes accompanying even Saint Nektarios in his travels.
Saint Porphyrios completed only two grades at the village school, being forced to abandon his studies on account of poverty. Therefore, from the age of 8 years old, he began working in order to assist his family. He tended to the small fields owned by his family, he cared for livestock, he worked in the local mines, and he helped at various shops in Halkhida and Piraeus. Yet amid his daily chores, the Saint sweetened his days by reading the life of Saint John the Hut-Dweller, whom he desired to imitate more and more. Compelled by this desire, he tried several times to depart for Mount Athos, but each time he turned back. Finally, his wish was fulfilled and he reached the Holy Mountain. There, despite his young age, 12-14 years old, through divine providence he became the disciple of two reverent ascetics who were also brothers, Panteleimon and Ioannikios, who lived in the Cell of Saint George at Kafsokalyvia. He devoted himself entirely to obedience to his elders, whom he loved very much. Thus, he fulfilled everything with immense love: he walked barefoot through the snow, traveling on dangerous pathways, he made many prostrations undressed from the belt up so that sleep would not overtake him, he made wood carvings, he carried soil on his back from a great distance away, because they wanted to make a small garden in the rocky terrain of the Cell of St. George. Yet between all these activities, he weaved in great zeal for spiritual ordinances, being very attentive to the church rites. He memorized the Holy Gospels during his handiwork and repeated them continuously so that he could keep his mind glued to Christ.
After some years, at the moment determined by God, he was tonsured a monk, receiving the name Nikitas. For his obedience and humility, he received the gift of clairvoyance even in his youth. And the first sign was when he saw his elders approaching the skete, though they were much further away than the eye could see. His gifts flourished the more he dedicated himself to obedience and prayer. Thus, he could read people’s thoughts, he could see into the depths of the earth and the heights of heaven, he could heal by simply looking at the location of the sickness, he could cure through touch alone, he prayed and his prayer was fulfilled.
At 20 years old, he fell sick with pleurisy and, at the exhortation of his Elders, he returned to his native village. But since his heart remained in the Holy Mountain, he returned there, but out of obedience to his Elders after getting sick again, he settled in a monastery outside the Holy Mountain, called the Holy Monastery of Saint Charalambos Leukon in Evvia, near Avlonari. He was ordained priest on July 27, 1927, by the bishop of Sinai, Porphyrios III, who also gave him his name. He then was made a confessor by the Metropolitan Panteleimon of Karystia and later was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite. In 1940, he became the chaplain at the Polyclinic Hospital in Athens, located near the Omonia Square, in order to care for the sick. He served for 30 years with great love, after which he moved to the Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Kallisia, where he continued his work as confessor. All categories of people entered his cell, and he received everyone equally, with the same unbiased love, healing each soul as much as possible.
Alongside the pleurisy which he suffered from since youth, Elder Porphyrios was also afflicted by other illnesses. When he was at the Polyclinic, he acquired a nephrological disease and only entered surgery much later because he worked nonstop. As a result, he entered a coma and his family was notified to make funeral preparations. By the will of God, however, the Elder was resuscitated despite the medical prognosis and he continued to serve the Church. Later, he broke his leg. Likewise, because of the exertion he underwent in the village of Turkovuni, where he lived for many years and carried heavy weights, he suffered a hernia that disturbed him until the end of his life. In 1978, he suffered a heart attack but immediately after recovering, he founded, together with several of his spiritual daughters, the Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Lord, with the blessing of the Bishop of Athens. Medical problems continued to follow him. After a cataract operation, he lost vision in his left eye and later in his right eye. Due to side-effects from some cortisone injections that he received during the cataract operation, he suffered several intestinal hemorrhages and had to endure excruciating pains. Yet he endured all these mishaps with patience and love, caring for those around him with the same zeal.
In preparation for his passage into eternal life, in 1984 he received the Cell of St. George in Kafsovalyvia, where he had been tonsured a monk. The cell was unoccupied, so several of his disciples settled there. A while later, sensing his imminent repose, he confessed to his spiritual father and settled there as well. Then, he dictated a farewell letter to his spiritual children. This was found in his burial shroud on the date of his repose. He spent the last night of his earthly pilgrimage just like the other nights of his life, in deep prayer. The last words of the venerable elder were from the high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ: “that all may be one” (John 17.21). After this, his disciples heard him utter repeatedly a single word, found at the end of the New Testament, at the end of the Book of Revelation of Saint John the Theologian: “Come!” (“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”). On December 2, 1991, he reposed in the Lord. His spiritual children learned about his death only after the burial, according to the Elder’s wish, because he did not want them to over-exert themselves to come to the funeral. On November 27, 2013, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate listed Elder Porphyrios among the saints, with the commemoration date of December 2.
From Saint Porphyrios, we have many instructive words that continue to provide spiritual comfort to this day:
What is the Christian struggle? Behold, the soul is a garden divided in two parts: thorns grow in one part, and flowers in the other. We have one water reservoir – the powers of our souls –, with two faucets and two ditches. One carries water toward the thorns, and the other toward the flowers. I can only open one of the faucets at a time. I leave the thorns alone so that they wither away, and I water the flowers so that they bloom.
We should draw near to God with simplicity, without any hidden motive.
May we look upon everything, both the good and the bad, with a spiritual smile, and when faced with the painful, pressing, and prolonged things in life, may we display the fortitude of cliffs that are beaten by the waves of life. Be strong as cliffs!
I don’t speak about Christ to anyone unless they ask me about Him.
This is what I think, but you proceed as you deem best.
I prefer to be deluded within the Church, than to abandon her. I don’t want to be saved without the Church and I will never abandon her ark.
You cannot speak with Christ and simultaneously have hostile relationships with other people.
You can’t win someone over with harshness, but only with kindness.
Only God can transform the hearts of people.
Evil begins from evil thoughts.
Don’t fight to stop or correct the faults of your neighbor. Love him as he is, with all his faults, and the Lord will attend to these faults.
Christ doesn’t want rude or rough people near Him, but rather delicate people.
When satan catches you in his snare and bears down on you, don’t remain stationary, as do those who grow melancholic and fall into the web of thoughts for hours on end.
Vanity is all you can reap from egotism. Eternity is everything you give out of love.
When you pray for someone who is attacked by sinful passions, don’t tell him, because the devil will find out and will unleash fury within your soul and thus your prayer will not bear fruit. Pray for that person in secret, and thus your prayer will help.
I’m not afraid of hell and I don’t think about heaven. I ask the Lord only to be merciful with all people and with me.
Whoever does not repent, will be lost.
First, forgive the person who saddens you.
Be attentive, because we need to fight unto our last breath. Show great care.
Attend church regularly, confess and commune often, and then you will escape from all fear and all the wounds of your soul will be healed.
I advise you always to have love toward everyone. First love, then everything else.
Confess periodically and thoroughly because, even if you are Patriarch, if you don’t confess your sins, you can’t be saved.