When you meet this man on the pages of what reads like a memoir put together by friends after his death in 1991, you'll want to hand in all your college degrees and hang instead with sheep herders, grade school dropouts and poets. If shopping for spiritual advisers, after reading this book you may prefer the company of simple and quiet folk who embrace short prayers which arise from a basic divine madness--a divine eros he called it. Love for God. Yes, as to church, you'll lean more toward the company of men and women of the Jesus Prayer or who have no formal spiritual training but have taken in the lessons of life's hard knocks collected by such things as rubbing up against difficult people, poor health and austere surroundings.
I spent dozens of hours with this book, number 2 pencil in hand. The brother who suggested I read it must have liked it as well: he read it seven times. Yes, in my copy, no margin of white space has been safe, as now, notes abound. Wounded By Love first appeared in Greek in 2003, two years after this monk and priest died at the seasoned age of 85. The book was arranged by his students in two parts: his life and his sayings. His early father working out of country to support the family, Elder Porphyrios ran away from home to become a monk, trading work at a relative's corner store at age 12 for a life of prayer. He was raised on the holy mountain by two brother monks who, by providence, met him on the boat docks of Mt Athos. Telling a small lie, they broke the rules and were able to successfully sneak the young lad into that monastery in Kavsokalyvia. Dwelling in that small skete his two mentors were strict with this young boy, teaching him obedience and prayer.
Elder Porphyrios was the son of dirt poor farmers, an elementary school dropout who with less than two years of formal education in the countryside not far from Athens. He taught himself to read, stumbling over the pages of a little book on the life of St. John the Hut Dweller. He sought to emulate St. John from his youth forward.
The second part of the book contains the wisdom, practical sayings and stories related to friends and parishioners who sought the elder out for counsel and confession and friendship. Porphyrios speaks on such topics as: how to love people who get on your nerves, how to acquire humility, how to love Muslims and those of other faiths, ways to manage sleep, how to avoid overeating or what to do about depression, how to pray, how to love God with zeal yet avoid fanaticism, tips on raising kids, how to love your work.
No seminary here, this monk was made a priest against his will at the age of 20. Tutored on Mt. Athos, he was eventually sent home against his will once again, this time due to poor health. He served not far from Athens for 33 years as a hospital chaplain and parish priest. He lived and found and taught holiness comfortably in both a quiet monastery and a bustling city.
This book was for me a sort of modern day Ladder of Divine Ascent. A couple of my favorite passages include one where he says he wanted so to run away and live with the hippies in Matala, Crete, and show them God's love. And then there's the one where the elder and priest was going door to door, performing Epiphany house blessings. Unwittingly (I wonder about this), he found himself on the steps of a brothel. Fearing nothing, he entered, singing chants and blessing the ladies of the evening there as they poured out of their rooms and into the hall. The elder was met immediately and chided by the madam who thought the visit and blessings inappropriate, considering the working girls evidently unworthy of such a blessing. How delightful was the response of Elder Porphyrios, his words and love and counsel and acceptance for those women of the evening, as he encouraged them each to come forward and kiss the cross in his hand.
Throughout his life the elder taught to fret not about evil but to embrace God and others with divine eros. He loved to recite church poetry in the liturgical readings, such as the one where an enraptured young lady would bloody her bare feet, running on rough stones to reach and be near her beloved, caring not for obstacles along her path.
Gone but nine years now, Elder Porphyrios of the holy mountain is sure to become numbered among canonized saints in the eastern church. And this not because of the many miracles attributed to him, such as an ability to see through mountains, heal the sick or taste water beneath the earth, but the wisdom and grace he acquired living with difficult people and circumstances. I've sent copies of this book to friends and relatives; one of my top ten favorite books, worth reading and re-reading.