Monastery of Simon Peter (Mount Athos, Greece)
‘You have shown me the path of life’
The Archimandrite and Geronda Aimilianos, in the world Alexandre Vafidis, higoumen of the monastery Simonos Petra from 1973 to 2000 was born at Nicaea in the Piraeus. In 1906 his family moved to Simandra in Cappadocia, then after the disaster of Asia Minor and the exchange of populations, arrived in Greece. Although they were married, the parents of little Alexandre lived like monks, giving themselves to night vigils and prayer. When they were widowed, both his grandmother and his mother became nuns. Alexandre completed his secondary studies and then entered the University of Athens, first in the Faculty of Law for two years, then in the Faculty of Theology at his own wish. At the university, with several friends, he made remarkable efforts for the development of the faith and the Christian life. He was thinking of becoming a priest and even a missionary, but he thought it better to prepare by a monastic formation. The Bishop of Trikala noticed him and in 1960 the young Alexandre entrusted himself to the bishop. In the end he became a monk with the name of Aimilianos, for the monastery of St Vissarion of Doussiko. He was soon ordained deacon by the bishop, who sent him to different monasteries of Meteora until his ordination as a priest.
After this he lived in the monastery of St Vissarion for some time. He devoted himself to solitude and to the search for interior peace. He cherished a deep desire for the renewal of monasticism. Some time later he was chosen to be higoumen of the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Great Meteora. At first almost on his own, he lived an ascetic life of vigils, prayer and progressive integration of the elements of the monastic tradition. In view of this serious way of life the bishop gave him a pastoral charge, and he received more and more of the faithful who wished to put themselves under his care. Many young people searched him out as their confessor, and he became the spiritual father of a large number of them. Among these young people several were thinking of monastic life and in time constituted the first nucleus of the Monastery of Meteora, though others turned to the clergy or to family life. All of them, whatever their manner of life, formed the one extended spiritual family, centred on the monastery. It was at this time that Father Aimilianos began to visit the Holy Mountain in order to gather there the riches of its spiritual heritage. He got to know Father Paissios and Papa Ephrem of Katounakia, with whom he enjoyed a great spiritual friendship. In 1972 he accompanied the foundation of a feminine community at Meteora.
In 1973 he was elected higoumen of the monastery Simonos Petra by the brothers there. The fathers of the Holy Mountain greeted the community of Meteora in Mount Athos with great hope. In fact other communities followed in their turn and the monks of Athos found their number growing considerably. Even while living his monastic life with great vigilance, celebrating the divine liturgy and fulfilling other duties, Father Aimilanos devoted himself to reorganising the internal life of the new community. With respect and love he knew how to graft the experience of the ancients onto the young people’s enthusiasm, the devotion and zeal of the younger monks, which also increased the numbers of the community. His good general administration and his fatherly care allowed him to restore authority and to bring out the full value of the age-old tradition of this holy monastery. Once he had settled the community on the Holy Mountain, Father Aimilanos took over the care of the women’s monastery of Ormylia, which gathered on 5th July 1974 at the ancient dependent house (metochion) of Vatopedi, ‘the Annunciation to the Mother of God’, which was acquired by the monastery Simonos Petra with the approval of the local bishop and the help of the Holy Community. The sisters established themselves there and from then on lived as a metochion of the monastery Simonos Petra. This was not accomplished without difficulty and hard work. Geronda Aimilianos accepted a certain number of foreigners who became monks under his direction. Notable among them were Fathers Placid Deseille and Elias Ragot, who came from France with some others. Between 1979 and 1984 three dependent houses were founded in France, St Anthony the Great for monks and the Protection of the Mother of God (Solan) and the Transfiguration of the Saviour (Terrasson) for nuns, frequently visited by Father Aimilianos. He was invited for conferences and spiritual guidance, accepting everything as blessings from God. In his mid-90s his health declined irremediably, and Father Aimilianos was obliged progressively to give up his office of higoumen. In the year 2000 he re-joined the monastery of Ormylia where he was to pass the last almost twenty years of his life in the deprivations and patience of suffering.
The sisters of Ormylia have assembled his spiritual teaching in several volumes, some of which have been translated from Greek into French: The True Seal (1998), Under the Wings of the Dove (2000), Let us Rejoice in the Lord (2002), The Divine Liturgy (2004), From the Fall to Eternity (2007), Ascetical Discourses of Abba Isaiah (2015), The Royal Road – St Nilus of Calabria (2017). In the words of his successor, Geronda Eliseus,
‘The leaderships of the Geronda at the Holy Monastery Simonos Petra marked an important turning point in the recent history of the monastery. It was a blessed period in which the monastery enjoyed a great influence, a period which coincided with the increase of the number of monks on the whole of the Holy Mountain, thanks to the active protection of the holy Mother of God.’ Nevertheless, as the Geronda himself formulated it in the monastic Rule of Ormylia (1.9): ‘The monastic community of the Coenobium, living by its own rhythm, lives substantially in the Church and for the Church, as the heart or any other member of the body. It is appreciated not for the development of any activity but chiefly for the loving search for God. In this way the nuns become perfect images of God, drawing others to the divine life.’
After long years passed in silence on his bed of suffering the Geronda Aimilianos gently joined his heavenly home on 9th May, 2019. May his memory endure for ever!
 ‘Geronda’ is a title of the monastic Greek Church. It is roughly equivalent to ‘Elder’.
Archimandrite Basile (Prohigoumen)
Monastery of Iviron
Homily at the funeral of Geronda Aimilianos
27 April/10 May 2019, Ormylia
Today by the grace of God the Geronda Aimilianos has gathered us together for this paschal synaxis. I have known him for years, ever since our time of studies together. We were in the catechetical group of the current Archbishop of Albania, Gianoulatos. Years passed and he left for Meteora. The fact that he had made spiritual progress, the fact that he had gathered young people and that he had founded the community which later settled on Mount Athos, and after this the community of sisters, show that he was working with the blessing of God. The other remark-able fact was that he remained for twenty to twenty-five years like an unburied dead man. This is another witness to faith, for Father Aimilianos had worked not only as higoumen but also as preacher by saying nothing. But in saying nothing he gave us the ineffable words of eternal life. As he understood nothing, he was already with the angels. I think today we understand all this. Father Aemilianos has gone, but he has left us these instructions, that is, he worked much, he founded two communities, and afterwards for twenty-five years he spoke to us without words. The Holy Women had received from the angel the order to announce the event of the Resurrection by ‘withdrawing; they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’. They were afraid, and they did not want to harm the inexpressible by speaking. In the same way, I think that Father Aimilianos was speaking to us. I must confess to you that he conquered us. He conquered me too. What a Cross for so many years! I used to go right up to his door, and from that I derived strength. Now, I think that those who did not understand the reason for his silence can today understand it, hearing such vigorous singing in the magnificent church at the heart of this community. Father Aimilianos has left us, but the grace of God remains. I think what he has left behind is this great event.
Today we are present at the abolition of death, and we speak not to a few people who speak the same language, but to all people. By its silence the Church speaks to all who hurt Christ and the Mother of God. These are the people who need help. The event we are living today shows that what we need is a Father Aemilianos who rests in Christ, who speaks to us by his silence, who goes away but leaves this living community. And what will the community do? It will live and continue this tradition. Following this path one can suddenly ask oneself, ‘What am I doing?’ It is precisely when I am doing nothing that He is present who ‘offers and is offered, who receives and is distributed.’ So let us give thanks to Christ, to his Mother and to all the saints for the gift of Father Aimilianos, for he has spoken to us by his life, by his actions and by his silence. Let us ask Christ and the Mother of God that Father Aemilianos continue to pray from the place where he now is in company with all the angels. As for us, we must be patient, in the hope of attaining the marvellous treasures of the kingdom of heaven which God has prepared for us and for all people.