Cappadocia (in eastern Turkey) is virtually devoid of Christians now, but in 1840, When St Arsenios was born there, there were still vital Orthodox communities. He became a monk and was sent to his native town, Farasa, to serve the people. He became known as a mighty intercessor before God, praying for all who came to him, Muslims as well as Christians.
His countless miracles of healing became known throughout Cappadocia. Those who could not come to see him would sometimes send articles of clothing for him to pray over. He became known as Hadjiefendis, a Muslim term of honor for pilgrims, because he made pilgrimage to the Holy Land every ten years on foot. He never accepted any gifts in return for his prayers and healings, saying “Our faith is not for sale!”
He concealed his holiness as much as he could beneath a rough and sharp-tempered exterior. If anyone expressed admiration for him, he would reply “So you think I’m a saint? I’m only a sinner worse than you. Don’t you see that I even lose my temper? The miracles you see are done by Christ. I do no more than lift up my hands and pray to him.” But as the Scriptures say, the prayers of a righteous man avail much, and when Father Arsenios lifted up his hands, wonders often followed. He lived in a small cell with an earthen floor, fasted often and was in the habit of shutting himself in his cell for at least two whole days every week to devote himself entirely to prayer.
Father Arsenios predicted the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor before it happened, and organized his flock for departure. When the expulsion order came in 1924, the aged saint led his faithful on a 400-mile journey across Turkey on foot. He had foretold that he would only live forty days after reaching Greece, and this came to pass. His last words were “The soul, the soul, take care of it more than the flesh, which will return to earth and be eaten by worms!” Two days later, on November 10, 1924, he died in peace and the age of eighty-three. Since 1970, many apparitions and miracles have occurred near his holy relics, which reside in the Monastery of Souroti near Thessalonica. He was officially glorified by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1986 and is commemorated on November 10/23.
“Father Arsenios proclaimed true Orthodoxy with his Orthodox life. He mortified his flesh in asceticism from his ardent love of God, and modified souls with the Grace of God. He believed deeply and healed many, believers and non-believers. Few words, many miracles. He experienced much and hid much. Within his hard outer shell, he concealed his sweet, spiritual fruit. A very harsh father to himself, but also a very loving father to his children. He never beat them with the law.… As minister of the Most High, he did not tread the earth, and as co-administrant of the sacraments he shone upon the world.” —Elder Paisios
From the book Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian by Elder Paisios:
Father Arsenios often went to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. We know of about five times.
The third time he went, something happened in the Church of the Resurrection and the story was spread around Farasa by Father Arsenios’ fellow-pilgrims:
“At the time of the Divine Liturgy, during the procession of the Great Entrance in which Hatzefendis [Father Arsenios] was taking part together with a large number of priests and bishops, his face was shining and they asked us to tell them about the sort of life our Hatzefendis led.”
I had heard about this from old Prodromos and other Farasiotes in Konitsa, but I was not so interested in things which happened a long way off, since so much had taken place in Farasa itself.
In 1971, quite by chance while we were talking, I heard about this occurrence from the Elder Joseph of New Skete (on the Holy Mountain) who had read about it in a book by Father Joachim Spetsieris called “On Holy Communion”, in which he states that he, too, was a concelebrant.
When I myself had read the copy of the book, I tried to find out if there were any children still alive of those Hadjis who had been on that pilgrimage with Father Arsenios.
I calculated from Father Arsenios’ rule that he went to the Holy Land every ten years and that since he went for the first time after his ordination into the priesthood (in about 1870), it must have been this third time, that is about 1890, that this event happened, which is also known to younger Farasiotes, apart from the old ones, in Horisti in Drama (Moisis Koglanidis, Vasilios Karopoulos and others) and in Petrousa in Drama (Anestis Karaousoglou and others).
From this extract which follows concerning the narration of the miracles of Father Arsenios, it is not difficult to see that this, too, is imbued with the spiritual aroma of Hatzefendis. Copied from the book On Holy Communion, by Father Joachim Spetsieris, published by G.K. Rodis, Athens 1937:
“Another event which took place on the Sunday of Orthodoxy in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The celebrant was Patriarch Nikodemos, and concelebrating were six bishops, twelve deacons and more than forty priests. Indeed, many of the priests were pilgrims from the East, from Russia and other parts. I was among the concelebrant priests, too. After the Great Entrance, and when the celebrating patriarch read the prayer and blessed the Precious Gifts, the face of one of the concelebrating priests shone brightly, which made a strong impression on me. This priest would have been past the seventieth year of his life. I asked other priests, saying: ‘Where is this priest from?’ They told me from Cappadocia and that he came as a pilgrim. After the Divine Liturgy I asked: ‘Had others come from that place where this priest was from?’ ‘Yes’, they told me, ‘other pilgrims had come with this priest.’ ‘Please’, I said to one of the deacons, ‘ call one or two of the pilgrims who have come with this priest.’ The deacon called, and three came. I said to them: ‘Are you from the same place as that priest who was a concelebrant today?’ ‘Indeed’, they replied, ‘from the same place, and that priest is ours.’ Again I said to them: ‘What sort of life does he lead? Is he a good priest?’ They said to me: ‘He is a holy man; he works miracles so that if he reads a prayer over someone who is sick, the patient becomes well, so that not only we but the Turks, too, consider him a saint, because he works miracles among them, also, and heals the sick….”
In the immaterialised person of Father Arsenios, the man of God, the spiritual laws prevailed: although he lived in secret and avoided the glories of the world, the Grace of God gave him away.