An Orthodox Monk

I wrote a blog post on Friday, 30 December 2016. I was just about to post it when I took a phone call from the rector of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. He had some bad news to tell me. Someone I knew had passed away. The prayer service was that evening and the funeral the next morning at the Cathedral. I put what I was doing on hold, made a phone call, took care of a few things, such as make supper for my wife, and got ready to go to the funeral home.

I’ve been to many prayer services and funerals, even for priests. A few were rather extraordinary, but this was unlike any I had been to before.

The “About the Author” description on the last book he published says: “Fr. Theophanies (Constantine) is an Orthodox monk.”

I still don’t quite understand why this Orthodox monk was in Edmonton after spending more than 30 years on Mount Athos, nor do I quite understand all the circumstances surrounding his death. The last couple of times I saw him were soon after he was ordained a deacon, making him a hierodeacon. The rector told me as we were coming back from the cemetery that the bishop was planning to ordain him a priest in January, which would have made him a hieromonk. However, neither were all that important to him. He was a monk of the Great Schema, so humility was important to him.

Humility can be very confusing. Nonetheless, I now know more about orthodoxy, I now know more about marriage, I now know more about monasticism, I now know I had some typos in the preface of the second edition of a book I’m working on after he took out a pen and started marking up the draft I gave him, and I also now know there’s much more that I don’t know about all of these. The more you know about a mystery, the more you realize you know next to nothing.

When I asked him why being baptized in the Orthodox Church is necessary to be a monk on Mount Athos, why they re-baptize converts, which would even disqualify Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, he simply replied, “I know Kallistos.”

Bishop Kallistos was the one who wrote his letter of recommendation to be a monk on Mount Athos.

Painting of a Russian Orthodox
deacon leading an ektenia
When he admonished me for not having my hair tied back that day, I told him to take a look at the picture of the Russian Orthodox deacon on the Wikipedia page for “Deacon.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m from a Greek monastery. I don’t know the Slavic traditions.”

That was similar to how he finished another topic I discussed with him the first time we went for coffee together. He said, “I’m just a potbellied monk who’s an academic. I don’t know anything about spirituality.”

The amazing thing with how he said this was that there didn’t seem to be any sarcasm behind these words whatsoever. How is that possible? Humility.

As we walked down the block towards my car, in what would be our last conversation in this life, he began telling me about a young monk and his first meeting with Elder Paisios. Of course, the young monk was him and he was talking about himself in the third person again, another confusing act of humility.

Rather than post the blog I had written on Friday concerning the real reason I’ve desired to have untrimmed hair the way God created me, ever since the age of 13, but was intimidated by social norms, I’m just going to copy and pasted an edited version the story I wrote after the above mentioned prayer service:
The Orthodox monk came up to this man I know, a couple of years ago in the basement of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, just before Holy Theophany Supper. The Orthodox monk asked him if he belonged to this parish and when the man said he was technically Roman Catholic, but his parish is the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, the Orthodox monk asked him, “What are you doing here with the schismatics?”

Later that evening, the Orthodox monk asked this man what he did. The man attempted to quote Evagrius of Pontus, “If you are a theologian, you will truly pray and if you truly pray you are a theologian.” He tried three times to get this quote right, but for the first time in his life he messed it up all three times. He would later discover that the monk was from Mount Athos and had published a rather large, three volume book that contained five works of Evagrius that the monk had translated from the Greek.

The Orthodox monk seemed to like this man since he not only agreed to go out for coffee with him the next day, after Vespers and Matins that evening, the monk gave him the large container of the leftover gigantes plaki (γίγαντες πλακί) that this monk, who had been named after the Great Feast they were celebrating, brought for Holy Theophany Supper.

As they were walking from the cathedral to the coffee shop in the downtown library the next day after Holy Theophany Divine Liturgy and Water Blessing, the man asked the Orthodox monk why a monk from Mount Athos was in Edmonton. The Orthodox monk replied, “I’ll be the one who asks the questions and I might not answer any. Did you tie that chotki? Let me see it.”

And this is how their conversation progressed, only with much more difficult and unexpected questions, some of which the Orthodox monk even answered, but most were answered by the man who took him out for coffee.
Saskatoon pie for my 47th birthday
The blog post I had originally written mentioned a Mike Stern concert that I took my future wife to and how I took her to the above mentioned library to meet a friend of mine after a shopping trip together. These were the first two times I went anywhere with her. That concert was on the Eve of Theophany on the Julian calendar almost 28 years ago. It was almost two years ago, on the Eve of Theophany, that I first met Fr. Theophanies. Вічная пам'ять.