Elder Porphyrios was born on the 7th of February 1906, in the village of St. John Karystia, near Aliveri, in the province of Evia. His parents were poor but pious farmers. His father's name was Leonidas Bairaktaris and his mother's was Eleni, the daughter of Antonios Lambrou.
The Elder attended the school in his village for only two years. The teacher was sick most of the time and the children didn’t learn much. Seeing the way things were, Evangelos left school, worked on the family farm and tended the few animals that they owned. He started working from the age of eight. Even though he was still very young, in order to make more money, he went to work in a coal mine. He later worked in a grocer's store in Halkhida and in Piraeus.
While he was looking after the sheep, and even when working in the grocer’s store, he slowly read the life story of St. John the Hut-dweller. He wanted to follow the example of the saint. So he set off for Mt. Athos many times, but for various reasons he never made it and returned home. Finally, when he was about fourteen or fifteen years of age, he again left for Mt. Athos. This time he was determined to make it and this time he did.
His elder, Fr. Panteleimon, took him to Kavsokalyvia to the Hut of St. George. Fr. Panteleimon lived there with his brother Fr. Ioannikios. The well-known monk, the blessed Hatzigeorgios had once lived there too.
We should not find it strange that divine grace should rest upon this young monk who was filled with fire for Christ and gave everything for His love. He never once considered all his labors and struggles.
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.
Even after being overshadowed by divine grace, this young disciple of the Lord continued in his ascetic struggles as before, with humility, godly zeal and unprecedented love of learning. The Lord now wanted to make him a teacher and shepherd of His rational sheep. He tried him out, measured him up, and found him adequate.
It was in this monastery that he met the Archbishop of Sinai, Porphyrios III, a visiting guest there. From his conversation with Nikitas he noticed the virtue and the divine gifts that he possessed. He was so impressed that on the 26th of July 1927, the feast of St. Paraskevi, he ordained him a deacon. The very next day, the feast of St. Panteleimon, he promoted him to the priesthood as a member of the Sinaite Monastery. He was given the name Porphyrios. The ordination took place in the Chapel of the Holy Metropolis of Karystia, in the Diocese of Kymi. The Metropolitan of Karystia, Panteleimon Phostini also took part in the service. Elder Porphyrios was only twenty-one years old.
After this the resident Metropolitan of Karystia, Panteleimon appointed him with an official letter of warrant to be a father confessor. He carried out this new "talent" that was given him with humanity and hard work. He studied the "Confessor’s Handbook." However, when he tried to follow to the letter what it said regarding penance, he was troubled. He realized that he had to handle each of the faithful individually. He found the answer in the writings of St. Basil, who advised, "We write all these things so that you can taste the fruits of repentance. We do not consider the time it takes, but we take note of the manner of repentance." (Ep.217no.84.) He took this advice to heart and put it into practice. Even in his ripe old age he reminded young father confessors of this advice.
In 1938 he was awarded the office of Archimandrite from the Metropolitan of Karystia, "in honor of the service that you have given to the Church as a Spiritual Father until now, and for the virtuous hopes our Holy Church cherishes for you" (protocol no. 92/10-2-1938) as written by the Metropolitan. The hopes of whom, by the grace of God, were realized.
He was assigned by the resident Metropolitan as a priest to the village of Tsakayi, Evia. Some of the older villagers cherish fond memories of his presence there to this day. He had left the Holy Monastery of St. Charalambos because it had been turned into a convent. So, around 1938 we find him living in the ruined and abandoned Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas, Ano Vathias, Evia, in the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Halkhida.
When the turmoil of the Second World War approached Greece, the Lord enlisted His obedient servant, Porphyrios, assigning him to a new post, closer to his embattled people. On the 12th of October 1940 he was given the duty of temporary priest to 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. He himself requested the position out of the compassionate love he had for his fellows who were suffering. He wanted to be near them during the most difficult times in their lives, when illness, pain and the shadow of death showed the hopelessness of all other hope except for hope in Christ.
Elder Porphyrios, with his lack of academic qualifications, agreed to be chaplain of the Polyclinic for a salary of next to nothing. It was not enough to support himself, his parents and the few other close relatives who relied on him. He had to work for a living. He organized in succession, a poultry farm and then a weaving-shop. In his zeal for services to be celebrated in the most uplifting manner, he applied himself to the composition of aromatic substances which could then be used in the preparation of the incense used in divine worship. In fact in the 1970’s he made an original discovery. He combined charcoal with aromatic essences, now censing the church with his own slow-burning charcoal that gave off a sweet fragrance of spirituality. He never, it seems, revealed the details of this discovery.
On the 16th February 1970, having completed thirty-five years of service as a priest, he received a small pension from the Hellenic Clerical Insurance Fund and left his duties at the Polyclinic. In essence, however, he remained until his replacement arrived. Even after that he continued to visit the Polyclinic to meet his great number of spiritual children. Finally, around 1973, he minimized his visits to the Polyclinic and instead received his spiritual children at St. Nicholas’ in Kallisia, Pendeli, where he celebrated the liturgy and heard confession.
Elder Porphyrios, in addition to the illness that forced him to leave Mt. Athos, and that kept his left side especially sensitive, suffered with many other ailments, at various times.
It was a long held desire of the Elder’s to found a holy convent of his own, to build a monastic foundation in which certain devout women, who were spiritual daughters of his, could live. He had vowed to God that he would not abandon these women when he left the world because they had been faithful helpers of his for many years. As time went on it would be possible for other women who wanted to devote themselves to the Lord to settle down there.
His great love for his fellow man was centered upon guiding them to the joy of transfiguration according to Christ. Together with St. Paul the Apostle, he implored us, his brothers and sisters, through God’s compassion "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." (Rom.12:2). He wanted to guide us to the state in which he lived, according to which, "We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor.3:18)
Elder Porphyrios had never emotionally left Mt. Athos. There was no other subject that interested him more than the Holy Mountain, and especially Kavsokalyvia. For many years he had a hut there, in the name of a disciple of his who he visited on occasion. When he heard in 1984 that the last resident of St. George’s hut had left for good and taken up residence in another monastery, he hastened to the Holy Great Lavra of St. Athanasios, to whom it belonged and asked that it be given to him. It was at St. George’s that he had first taken his monastic vows. He had always wanted to return, to keep the vow made at his tonsure some sixty years earlier, to remain in his monastery until his last breath. He was now getting ready for his final journey.
During the last two years of his earthly life he would frequently talk about his preparation for his defense before the dread judgment seat of God. He gave strict orders that if he should die here, his body should be transported without fanfare and buried at Kavsokalyvia. In the end, he decided to go there whilst he was still alive. He spoke about a certain story in the Sayings of the Fathers:
Elder Porphyrios left Attica for Mt. Athos with the hidden intention of never returning here again. He had spoken to enough of his spiritual children in such a way that they knew they were seeing him for the last time. To others he just hinted. It was only after his death that they realized what he meant. Naturally, to those who would not be able to stand the news of his departure, he told them that he would be coming back. He said so many things about his death, either clearly or in a cryptic way, so much so, that only the certainty of those around him that he would survive like all the other times (a hope born of desire), can possibly explain the suddenness of the announcement of his death.
God, who is all-good, and who fulfills the desires of those who feared him, fulfilled Elder Porphyrios’ wish. He made him worthy of having a blessed end in extreme humbleness and obscurity. He was surrounded only by his disciples on Mt. Athos who prayed with him. On the last night of his earthly life he went to confession and prayed noetically. His disciples read the Fiftieth and other psalms and the service for the dying. They said the short prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me," until they had completed the rule of a great schema monk.
The chief characteristic of Elder Porphyrios throughout his whole life was his complete humbleness. This was accompanied by his absolute obedience, his warm love and his unmurmuring patience with unbearable pain. He was noted for his wise discretion, his inconceivable discernment, his boundless love of learning, his extraordinary knowledge (a gift very much from God and not form his non-existent schooling in the world), his inexhaustible love of hard work, and his continuous, humble, (and for that reason successful) prayer. In addition to this, his pure Orthodox convictions, without any kind of fanaticism, his lively but for the most part unseen and unknown, interest in the affairs of our Holy Church, his effective advice, the many sides of his teaching his long-suffering spirit, his profound devotion, and the seemly manner of the holy services that he celebrated and the lengthy offering which he kept carefully hidden unto the end.
a) "The one who comes to me I will by no means cast out." (Jn. 3:37)
Elder Porphyrios throughout his whole life received all those who came to him; becoming, like St. Paul, "All things to all people in order to save them."
The Elder taught that the basic element of the Spiritual life in Christ, the great mystery of our faith, is unity in Christ. It is that sense of identifying with our brother, of carrying the burdens of one another, of living for others as we live for ourselves, of saying "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon ME" and for that "ME" to contain and to become for ourselves the pain and the problems of the other, of suffering like they suffer, of rejoicing like they rejoice, their fall becoming our fall and their getting up again becoming our getting up again.
For the Greek text of the official Patriarchal act of the canonization of St. Porphyrios, see here.
For the Akathist to St. Porphyrios of Kavokalyvia, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/11/akathist-to-st-porphyrios-of.html.
the demonized are redeemed and the sick are healed who cry out: “Glory to Him who gave His might to you! * Glory to Him who made you Holy! * Glory to Him, who, through you, effects cures for all.”