Papa Ephraim of Katounakia, by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi: review by Jean-Claude Larchet
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Ancien Joseph de Vatopaidi, Papa Ephrem de Katounakia. [Papa Ephraim of Katounakia, by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi] Translated from the Greek by the sisters of Solan, preface by Hegumen Ephraim of Vatopaidi, introduction by Jean-Claude Larchet, “Grands spirituels orthodoxes du XXe siècle” series, L’Age d’Homme publisher, Lausanne, 2018, 150 pages.

Father Ephraim of Katounakia, whom his relatives called “Papa”, a name commonly given to a priest (papas) in Greece, was one of the most striking figures of Mount Athos in the second half of the 20th century.

The “Grands spirituels orthodoxes du XXe siècle” series had already devoted a book (L’Ancien Éphrem de Katounakia) to him in 2012, written by his first disciple, Father Joseph of Katounakia. Here is a second book on him, which supplements the first one, rather than repeating what it said. Less detailed as to his life, it is in a way more personal, as it mostly bears witness to the fraternal love which for several decades intimately united him with the author, Father Joseph of Vatopaidi (1921-2009). Both were at first very connected in the small community of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, of which Father Ephraim was the serving priest before members of the community were ordained. And Father Joseph was one of the Elder’s disciples. When the community was dispersed after the latter’s repose, his disciple Father Joseph founded his own community at Nea-Skiti, before it was transferred to Vatopaidi Monastery to ensure its renewal under the leadership of the hegumen, Archimandrite Ephraim. Father Joseph had then become “Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi” and was its spiritual father.

Father Ephraim of Katounakia lived for many years as a hermit in the desert of Katounakia, before accepting one, then several disciples. Both, however, maintained close relationships, visiting each other and writing regularly.

In addition to witnessing to a personal relationship of intense spiritual friendship and fraternity, this book aims above all at highlighting the charisms of the one familiarly called “Papa Ephraim” by everyone, and especially the virtue which was the main source of these charisms: obedience. The subtitle of the book is actually “The obedient charismatic”.

The book also emphasizes his prayer. Elder Haralambos and Father Ephraim had the reputation of being the two greatest hesychasts on Mount Athos. The Jesus Prayer, which he had learned to practice with care and vigilance under the spiritual direction of the Elder Joseph the Hesychast, had become for him a “prayer of the heart”, spontaneous and continuous, so that he perfectly put into practice the Apostle’s advice “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

He had experienced one of the highest fruit of this Prayer: the supernatural knowledge of the divine mysteries, and through an experience identical to that of Evagrius (who said, “If you pray truly, you are a theologian”), he could say and repeat that “prayer generates theology”.

The book offers a summary of Father Ephraim’s rich teachings on the Jesus Prayer: its conditions, means, purpose, and effects. It also contains many useful tips to face the trials and tribulations of life, especially sickness and sufferings. Papa Ephraim was not spared any, but he learned to experience and overcome in them as a true disciple of Christ.

Numerous other subjects are presented in the book, with recommendations coming from Elder Ephraim’s experience: the way of being faithful to one’s spiritual program and of steadfastly engaging in inner spiritual fight; the need for watching one’s thoughts and for subjecting them to a regular examination of conscience; the importance of confession and of holy communion, etc. Many testimonies and anecdotes are offered as apophthegmata rich in teachings.

This book is available in French on the l’Age d’Homme publisher website.

Jean-Claude Larchet

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