On February 7, 1906, in a small village called St. John Karystia, on the second largest island of Greece (Evia), a baby boy was born. The boy’s father was a farmer named Leonidas, and his mother’s name was Eleni. This boy, the fourth of five children born to the Bairaktaris family, was named “Evangelos” when he was baptized. The whole family loved God and served Him to the best of their ability. Leonidas was the village cantor, so the family often attended church, and they lived out their faith at home, too.
Evangelos went to school in his village, but the teacher was sick a lot and the students didn’t learn very much. So, after only two years of school, he left and worked instead on the farm. He loved to take care of the animals on the farm. During this time, his father taught him many things about the Orthodox Faith, including the Paraklesis service to the Mother of God. Evangelos was a very serious boy who worked hard at all that he did. One of the things he worked hard at was reading the story of St. John the Hut-dweller. It was hard for Evangelos to read because he only had two years of school, but he loved the saint and kept reading until he had read the whole story. When he finished, he knew that he wanted to love God like that, too, so he wanted to imitate St. John’s life.
Evangelos looked much older than he really was. When he was only 8 years old, he started shaving. That was the year that he got his first job away from home. He worked in a coal mine to make more money for his family. Later he got a job in a grocery store. Throughout the years that he worked to make money for his family, Evangelos remembered St. John the Hut-Dweller and wanted to go live on Mt. Athos just like St. John. Finally, when he was a very young teen, Evangelos was able to go to Mt. Athos. On the ferry boat between Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos, Evangelos met Fr. Panteleimon, who immediately began to look after Evangelos, helped him settle in on the Mountain, and eventually became his spiritual father.
Evangelos did not stop being serious or working hard when he finally made it to the Holy Mountain. In fact, he worked even harder! Sometimes he wished that his elders would ask him to do more. He began to work on his asceticism. He walked around barefoot (the Mountain is covered in rocks and sometimes in snow!), and didn’t sleep much (but when he did, he slept on the floor with the window open and only used one blanket), and he did many prostrations. His daytime work varied from cutting down big trees to carving wood to preparing the ground around his hut for a garden. While he worked, Evangelos prayed and repeated the services/hymns/Gospel to himself until he had them in his heart. He no longer had bad thoughts because he was always focusing his mind on the things of God. Probably the most special thing about this time in Evangelos’ life is that he chose to love his elder, and submit to and obey him because of that love. The way that he humbled himself in submission to his elder made this part of his life so special. During this time, he was tonsured a monk and named Nikitas.
Nikitas’ great love for his elder, for the Church, and for God opened the door for him to experience God’s blessings in new ways. Here is how it began: one morning Nikitas went early to the main church. The door was still locked. An 90-year-old monk (also a saint) named Dimas came to the church. He looked to make sure no one was there to watch, missing Nikitas’ presence, and began to make full prostrations and praying in front of the church doors. The grace of God poured out of Dimas and touched Nikitas in such a special way that even after liturgy, after receiving Holy Communion, he was still basking in it. When he returned to his hut, he stopped, raised his hands, and shouted, “Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God! Glory to you, O God!”
That touch of God’s grace in Nikitas’ life changed him. God began to give him special abilities that he did not have before. The first thing that happened was that Nikitas could see his elders, who had traveled far away, coming back while they were still far away. No one else could see them, but he could. His sense of sight was very good. His other senses became very strong, too. Nikitas’ hearing was so good that he could recognize different animal voices and could understand what they were saying. His sense of smell was so strong that he could recognize different smells that were far away. He could see anything from the deep part of the earth to faraway space. He could see past time, as well, seeing things that happened hundreds of years before. He could communicate with rocks and learn about the ascetics who had visited them before, as they worked on their asceticism. He could heal people just by looking at them or touching them. Nikitas used these gifts only to bless and help others, not himself. He didn’t even ask for God to heal his own sicknesses! All of these special gifts were from God and Nikitas was quick to say that it was God’s grace that made them happen: not anything that he had done!
Monk Nikitas kept on working on his asceticism. He wanted to live out in the hut, but his body was so worn down from his hard work that he was sick. His elders sent him back to live in a monastery until he was well again. Then he went back to his hut. Again he got sick. His elders had to send him back to a monastery. This time, they sent him to the Monastery Lefkon of St. Charalambos. He lived as ascetically as his health would allow in that monastery. Monk Nikitas was 19 years old when he moved to that monastery.
When he was only 21, Archbishop Porphyrios III noticed God’s hand on Monk Nikitas’ life. He ordained the monk to the diaconate, and the next day, to the priesthood. He gave him the name Porphyrios.
One of Fr. Porphyrios’ jobs was to hear confessions. He learned from St. Basil that he needed to handle each confession individually and not be upset if they take a long time. Fr. Porphyrios would spend hours every day, sometimes without a break, hearing people’s confessions. The special gifts he had from God helped him to better help the people who came to him for confession.
When the monastery became a convent, Fr. Porphyrios was reassigned. He was sent instead to a church in the village of Tsakayi. Not long after, he was sent on, to the chapel of St. Gerasimos in Athens, at the Athens Polyclinic. World War II had begun, and Fr. Porphyrios wanted to be near the people that he loved who were suffering, so he asked for this work. He worked at the Polyclinic for 30 years, then (because he loved his spiritual children) he stayed on as a volunteer for three more years. All of those years, he received very little money for that work. So he had to work another job as well, to pay the bills. To help pay the bills, Fr. Porphyrios worked on organizing a poultry farm and then a weaving shop. In later years, he rented the monastery of St. Nicholas in Kallisia and worked the land, planted trees, and built an irrigation system. He worked and worked, and did not let himself rest. When he finished his 35th year as a priest, he left the Polyclinic (but kept visiting after that, as mentioned before, because of all the spiritual children that he had there, whom he loved). Finally, in 1973, he left the Polyclinic and went to live at the monastery of St. Nicholas, where he continued to receive guests, hear their confessions, and pray for them.
By this time, Fr. Porphyrios had many physical struggles. He had kidney trouble, and had worked his body so hard that he needed an operation. He asked that they wait to do the operation because it was Holy Week and he wanted to celebrate the services. They did, but he ended up in a coma and doctors thought he would die. He also had a fractured leg and a hernia which both gave him trouble. And then on August 29, 1978, he had a heart attack and had to stay in the hospital for 20 days. Later he had an operation on his left eye. Sadly, the doctor made a mistake and Fr. Porphyrios completely lost his vision in that eye. (That doctor also gave him a shot that Elder Porphyrios’ body couldn’t handle, and it caused a stomach hemorrhage that he struggled with for the rest of his life, leaving him unable to eat regular food!) All of this made him very weak and tired. But God kept him alive!
But Elder Porphyrios loved God and His people. He kept receiving the people who come to him for advice and help. Although he had to reduce the number of hours that he could help people, he could still pray for them with love! And he did.
Elder Porphyrios had wanted for a long time to build a convent for some of his spiritual daughters. He got the blessing of the church and looked long and hard for a place to build it. Finally he found some land and the “Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior” was started. His great love for people made him want to guide them in the joy of being transfigured (changed) to be like Christ. That’s how the name came to be.
He moved onto the property in 1980, and construction (which he supervised closely) began. Elder Porphyrios and his friends had been saving up for this monastery for a long time. Because of that, they had the money to build on the property. His prayers supported the work, and the building went smoothly, by the grace of God.
But in his heart, Elder Porphyrios really wanted to go back to Mt. Athos. In 1984 he was given the hut on the Mountain where he had lived when he first took his monastic vows. He sent disciples to live there over the years, but he wanted to go himself, to die in the place where he took his vows 60 years earlier.
Finally, in 1991, on the night before the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Elder Porphyrios left for his hut on Mt. Athos. On his way, he had visited Athens to give his confession and receive absolution. When he arrived on Mt. Athos, Elder Porphyrios settled into his hut and waited to depart this life.
He asked that a deep grave be dug for him. Then he told someone what to write, and wrote a letter for his spiritual children. In the letter he gave some advice and asked them to forgive him for the things that he did wrong in his life. He was ready to depart this life, but his spiritual children kept contacting him for advice and help. Two times he had to go back to the Convent in Athens. He didn’t want to, but his spiritual children needed him, so he went. He always left only a few days after arriving at the Convent, so that he could get back to Mt. Athos as quickly as possible.
God was merciful and allowed Elder Porphyrios to be on the Mountain when he departed this life. The evening that he passed away, he went to confession and then spent some time praying. His disciples read some Psalms and prayed the Jesus Prayer to help him finish his prayer rule one last time. He continued to whisper prayers, until finally he said only one word, “Come!” and departed this life. It was 4:31 am, Dec. 2, 1991.
The fathers at the monastery kept vigil all day and night, and buried him at dawn on Dec. 3. They had not announced his passing to the rest of the world, just as Elder Paisios instructed. After he was buried, everyone else found out that he had departed this life.
Elder Porphyrios continues his work of love for others and prays for all of us. He has appeared to those who needed his help, and prayed successfully for God to heal many people. Because of his life and these after-departing-this-life miracles, the elder was elevated to sainthood on Nov. 27, 2013.
Through the prayers of St. Porphyrios, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!
Here are additional helpful links and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about St. Porphyrios:
Share this little book about St. Porphyrios’ life with your Sunday Church School students: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/…/58…/flypage-ask.tpl.html
To learn more about St. Porphyrios, listen to this recorded telling of his life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrjzhH1pHjU
You and your students can hear the voice of St. Porphyrios, as he speaks about Christ and our life in Christ in this (subtitled with English) video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhkoQ2T0azA
Talk with your young Sunday Church School students about saints. What makes some people special so that we call them saints? How do we become holy? Share with them the story of one of the Saints: the life of St. Porphyrios. As you tell his story, be sure to point out how often his life exemplified love. Talk together about love and how/why it is so important. Then share this quote of St. Porphyrios’ with your students: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/st_porphyrios_you_dont_become_holy.pdf. Discuss the meaning of the quote together, and tie together your previous discussion about sainthood/holiness and love. Give each student a copy of the quote and allow them to decorate it in a way that will remind them to love, and thereby become holy.
Continue to encourage your Sunday Church School students to work towards being a saint. “Be the Bee” episode #11 uses the life of St. Porphyrios to encourage its viewers to work on sainthood from an early age. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgocWG9AG7s
Mending a coat with newspaper? Flying cars? Speaking to people of other languages without an interpreter? A miraculous intervention in spacetime? Share these miracles of St. Porphyrios (that sound like they could be movie clips!) with your Sunday Church School class: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/10/saint-porphyrios-and-flying-car.html; http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2015/12/saint-porphyrios-and-gift-of.html; and http://www.bio-orthodoxy.com/2015/04/saint-porphyrios-of-kavsokalyva-patron.html (by the way, today it would take about 50 minutes to travel from Migara to Milesi, but the nuns made the trip in a taxi slowed by traffic in only 15 minutes, with St. Porphyrios’ blessing.)
And then there was this time when St. Porphyrios appeared to high school students and healed one of the students’ mother through his prayers: (told from the father/husband’s perspective) http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-wondrous-appearing-and-healing-of-st.html
Before class with your middle-years Sunday Church School students, gather some items to have in the room when they arrive to pique their interest in the life of St. Porphyrios. Perhaps a pair of binoculars to represent his incredible long-distance vision, a wood carving to represent the carvings he made, a rock to represent the rocks he could communicate with about the ascetics who had visited them before, etc. Keep these items visible in the room and share the life of St. Porphyrios. Challenge your students to identify each item and how it relates to St. Porphyrios’ life. Then talk about some of the special gifts that God gave to him so that he could use the gifts to help others get closer to God. Make a list on the board of the different kinds of gifts he had. Share this video that demonstrates one of them (knowing what happened in someone’s life so that they are encouraged to make things right with God): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2Tie7qFdBs. After watching this together, discuss it. What happened in this story? How did St. Porphyrios know about the taxi driver’s sin? WHY did he know about it? Who else knew what had happened? Talk together about how God knows EVERYTHING that happens, and encourage your students to live accordingly (and to go to confession if they need forgiveness!).
Talk about what you and your Sunday Church School students (middle grades or higher) think is the most important thing to you. If you knew that you would soon depart this life, what would you write down to leave with your loved ones? God told St. Porphyrios when he was getting ready to depart this life. Because of this, St. Porphyrios wrote a letter to his spiritual children before he died, so that he could say final words to them. Read the translation of the letter here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/88352.htm. Read the letter to your students and talk about what St. Porphyrios had to say in the letter. What was most important to him when he knew that he would soon depart this life? How does that compare to what you talked about as important words you would leave for your loved ones?
Print or copy these quotes from St. Porphyrios onto notecards. Put the notecards in a basket and allow older Sunday Church School students to select one, read it, and share it with the class. Discuss each quote – how does it apply to our life? http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/category/sayings-from-saints-elders-and-fathers/st-porphyrios/
With older children, watch this video of 12 sayings of St. Porphyrios. Pause after each and talk about what it says and what it means. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycxr6D74q-Y Before class, copy each of the sayings onto its own piece of paper, large enough that the whole class can see it. As the saying appears in the video and you discuss it, put the paper containing it out on the table or up on the wall for your students to see. By the end of the video, you will have 12 sayings displayed. Encourage each student to select their favorite, then take time to have each student share their favorite quote and why they like it so much. (If there’s not time, just have each student share with someone near them.)
Teens or adults will benefit from a book study on this book full of the wisdom of St. Porphyrios: https://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Love-Wisdom-Saint-Porphyrios/dp/9607120191/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8