By His Grace Macarie Drăgoi, Romanian Orthodox Bishop of Northern Europe
Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, the founder and spiritual guide of 18 monasteries in the USA, especially of St. Anthony the Great Monastery in Arizona, rightfully thought of as one of the latest philokalic saints of today’s world, passed away last Sunday, 8 December 2019.
As I have been blessed with sharing his Grace-filled presence, I bear witness to God and all believers about this ‘man sent from God’ (John 1,6). It happened in the summer of 2014, when, during a visit to America, one night, late, with no forewarning whatsoever, I arrived at the gates of the Monastery of St. Anthony the Great. I knew Elder Ephraim did not receive visits for guidance without due notice, therefore I expected a no from the people in the monastery. Yet, not only was I well received and counseled, but Elder Ephraim also accompanied me to the night vigil service, duly crowned by the ensuing St. Liturgy. Beckoning me to sit in the bishop’s chair in order to bless the entire congregation, he sat in the next chair, after which I noticed there was another untaken seat just next to his. I asked for his blessing to move from the bishop’s chair and sit, throughout the service, in the chair next to his, to which he consented, a mild smile lighting his face. I then had the feeling that Heaven Itself was smiling to me. Subsequently he offered me a small prayer rope, which he placed into my hand. All through the rest of the service, sitting in my chair, next to Father Ephraim, I experienced an inexpressible sweetness and grace-filled joy, a heavenly scent which stayed with me long afterwards. Every time I use the prayer rope from Elder Ephraim to say the Jesus prayer I feel Heaven smiling to me incessantly.
On hearing about his blessed dormition, I was saddened about the departure from among us of a ripe fruit of the hesychast and Athonite tradition represented by Geron Joseph the Hesychast, recently canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but I was glad to know I had acquired in the Kingdom of Heaven a strong intercessor who knows the needs, the temptations and the pains of this age of ours. Of his many spiritual words, brought into print by his spiritual children, some of which have thankfully been translated into Romanian as well, I feel most imbued especially with those reassuring his sons and daughters overpowered by temptations and urging them towards prayer. Elder Ephraim spoke about ‘the kingdom of one’s heart’ which, in order to find soothing and peace, must house Christ with all His holy suites so as to banish the evil one. And how can this be? Through prayer, especially the Jesus prayer.
Having said this, I would like to bring to your hearts this word from Elder Ephraim of Philotheou of worthy memory: “Everything is secondary. Everything. The most important thing is the name of Christ and I can now see that people can only prevail through love. My life has been toil and pain: I lived in poverty in the Nazis’ time, in famine during the occupation, temptations and suffering in the monastery. A backbreaking battle. It was only the name of Christ and that of the Holy Mother of God that gave me power. He who does not call the name of Christ and that of the Mother of God daily is no Christian. The Holy Fathers were lit up by the Holy Spirit and handed over to us these little prayers: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us’ and ‘Holy Mother of God, have mercy on us’. We do not need to read encyclopedias or many books. With these two prayers any Christian can find salvation”.