Chapter 4: Exile from the World

After attending the monastery for about six months as a layman, he saw a picture book about Mount Athos. In it was a picture of an old monk, sitting on a short wall. He had a little smile on his face, looking intently at the camera. George had the thought, “Who will fare better in the Resurrection, someone like him who gave his whole life to Christ in the Church, or someone like me, who only attends church on Sundays, and the rest of the week is wrapped up in the world?” From then on a holy seed was planted in his heart. Attending a university to follow the things of this world lost all value and became of little importance. Not long after, George made the decision to become a monk.

He informed Fr. Panteleimon of his desire and was told that there was no room until after Pascha, when one seminarian who was living at the monastery would leave. George said that was perfect, because a semester in college is what he had left to finish in his third year, and he would come right after that. George informed his family that he decided to drop out of university, quit his engineering job, and join the monastery.

They were not happy, to say the least. His mother, on her own, arranged a meeting with Archbishop Anthony Bashir, head of the Antiochian Church in America, to dissuade George. Out of respect to his mother, George agreed to attend this meeting. Archbishop Anthony was ordained in 1936, and one of the consecrators was a hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Archbishop Vitali Maximenko of New York. By the time of their meeting, Archbishop Anthony Bashir had already become a mason and was deeply committed to the Ecumenical Movement. The bishop looked intently at George and promised to ordain him a priest in three years if he would not go to the monastery but rather attend Columbia University in New York. He told George that he would be the youngest priest in the archdiocese. George told him that he would rather be a monk. When he heard the word “monk,” his eyes opened very wide, and he said, “A monk?! Do not do that! Do you know what that means? They will make you clean all the toilets and do all the dirty work in the monastery!” George smiled. That did not faze him, but his mother was sobbing all the while because she recognized that her plan would not be successful. She and the bishop thought that George would desire the rank of a priest, and were hoping that he would get married.

Later George calmed his mother down, saying, “Perhaps I will not like the monastic life, and I will leave. After all, being a monk is difficult.” This gave her hope to the extent that she thought that he would only be at the monastery a very short time, and then would go back to college. She was so convinced that this was just a fleeting whim, that she gave her son a going away dinner. She invited all the relatives on a certain Sunday, and informed them that George would be leaving home for the first time, albeit just down the road to Jamaica Plain, to join a Greek monastery. George had asked a seminarian friend from Holy Cross to come to this dinner for moral support. He was a friend of the monastery and could help explain to all his uncles and aunts what he was about to do. His name was Leo Papadopoulos.

During the supper George explained that he was going to be a monk, that he was leaving the Antiochian Church and joining the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, that he was leaving the university and that he was giving all his savings ($700) to the monastery, with the intent that they will use it to print a book useful against Ecumenism called The History of the Council of Florence. Their reaction was predictably negative. After the supper, Leo took George aside privately and spoke to him softly, saying that he should know something about Fr. Panteleimon. He asked, “What?” Leo said in a very serious tone that he is a homosexual. George told him, “I never heard that word before, what does it mean?” Leo rolled his eyes in amazement. Just then George was called to the kitchen and never received an explanation, and he completely forgot about it until Leo himself reminded him some fifteen years later.

When the time came, George sold his car and left school, and he went to the monastery, bringing some furniture and all his books. Among the books he had was The Ladder of Divine Ascent and The Rudder. He was given a room on the third floor of the monastery, which at that time was located at 32 Orchard Street in Jamaica Plain.

George set about his monastic vocation with much prayer and great zeal. He had come to know the monastics in the monastery fairly well, but his greatest consolation was the fact that these monastics (mostly Greek) had left their Greek Archdiocese or ethnic roots to find shelter with the Russian Church Abroad and its true-confessing bishops. This was a consolation because it is exactly what George had also done, for he knew by reading The Rudder and the studying the Faith that an Orthodox Christian must be under a truly Orthodox and confessing bishop.

During the first week at the monastery, it was determined that George should not be doing extensive manual labor, but rather working on the painting of icons. He had a good hope that this obedience would blossom, although some of the fathers tried to dissuade him from doing this. They told him candidly that it was very difficult for anyone to succeed in iconography at that monastery. They cited two novices who had tried and then threw up their hands in despair and even left the monastic life. George inquired to find the reason, and he was bluntly told that Fr. Panteleimon, the abbot, had a problem which made it very difficult for iconographers to stay, hinting that the abbot drove them away, although he greatly desired that iconography be part of their monastic work. This contradictory statement confused the young man and he simply disregarded what they said, and submerged himself completely in his new task. Of course, at this early stage, his work was to learn to make sketches of as many icons as possible.

At the end of the first week, George had gathered his clean clothes and, as was his custom on Saturday while he was living in the world, he went to take a shower. As he was about to enter the bathroom, one of the monks said, “What are you doing?!” He turned around and said, “I am going to take a shower.” After he completed bathing and was about to go to his room, he was surprised to see the abbot with a small group of monks waiting for him. They called him to themselves, and explained that if he wanted to become a monk there, he should know that they did not take showers or bathe. George asked them, “How do you keep yourselves clean?” They merely replied, “Monks do not bathe.” George shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay, I have to try that and see how it works.” Surprisingly to him, this proved to be no problem.


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