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Fr. Proclus, Carpathian Hermit

Age eighty-four, the respected Romanian elder, Fr. Proclus (Niceu) is a hermit on the outskirts of a remote Carpathian village, where mobile phones do not work. He receives people in a small shed, in which there are two long benches, a table to match them, a hefty barrel containing treats for guests, and a wall completely covered with icons. Appearing most often amongst them is the image of St. Seraphim of Sarov, and those who know and love the elder often compare him to that saint. He really is that joyful and loving, and the cap that kept sliding over his forehead is very similar to the one you'll see in Diveyevo amongst the personal items of a saint so dear to every Orthodox Christian. Fr. Proclus is happy to see every soul who comes to visit him. He can speak with them for hours, and the love that he emanates makes you forget within ten minutes about the minus 12 degree centigrade temperature in the cell (it was just as cold outside).

Abbot Melchisedek of Putna Monastery, who took me to see the elder, could perceive from my facial expression that I was somewhat anxious about the pending visit, and counseled me to think less about questions and to simply pray that the Lord would give words to me and to Fr. Proclus. This advice turned out to be very valuable when, after the elder's warm greeting, he looked at the dictaphone (switched on with his blessing), and began his talk:

I was with Fr. Joel (Gheorgiu, the spiritual father of Elder Cleopa. I. Z.) not long before his death. Several fathers who knew that I went to him bade me tell them about our conversations. One of them gave me a tape recorder and asked me to tape them (although [the monks] didn't like tape recorders then). I came to Fr. Joel, and when he saw the tape recorder, he said, "An unclean thing. Bad to have in the house of a priest." After that, I did not ask him anything more, because I received edifying words from Fr. Cleopa who taught me very much; but that is all I will say about it. (After hearing these words, I put away my notebook with questions as something superfluous; all the work was consigned to the dictaphone, and for me it remained only to pray that the battery would survive the cold.)

When I left for the monastery, Fr. Cleopa was taken off the obedience of shepherd and made the abbot of the monastery. Fr. Cleopa did not waste any time while he shepherded the sheep: he read volumes of patristic literature. There was one holy man, John-Jacob from Neamts, who labored in asceticism in the desert of Chozeva, near Jerusalem, where he also died, and who searched for good books to give to Fr. Cleopa. I could very much feel his [John-Jacob's I. Z.] kindness toward the brothers; I believe that the Holy Spirit touched their hearts through him, and all would immediately thirst for repentance, and desire to serve God.

I learned very much from Fr. Cleopa, for he had a longing for God from his childhood. More than anything else in the monastery, he loved obedience and cutting off one's will.

Under the communists, when Romania was ruled by Ceausescu's predecessor, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Fr. Proclus was called to military service. At the recruitment office, he was told that if he joins the army he would be given 1,000 lei up front, and a high paying job after service. They asked him how many years he had been in the monastery. Fr. Proclus answered, seven. Then they had him stand on the table, called in the other recruits, and asked him to tell them that there is no God. Fr. Proclus addressed those gathered around him with the words, "I was asked to tell you that there is no God. But that is not so: there is a God!" He had barely managed to say it when he found himself lying on the floor; he was severely beaten for his confession.

When I joined the monastery, I was only in Sihastrea for one year. Patriarch Justinian (Marina), who was Patriarch then, took me from there and sent me to Slatina Monastery. Half of the brothers were sent there in order to open a coenobitic monastery. The communists said that there is no God, but Fr. Cleopa said that there is a God. So there turned out to be as if two parties, and therefore the communists wanted to imprison Fr. Cleopa. But the good Lord directed that they [the communists] leave. I have said to many, and say still, that Fr. Cleopa was a wonderful spiritual father. I am not likely to see such an elder again. Due to human nature, all may sin, but we are unlikely to find someone like Fr. Cleopa. Even when very important people or communists came to him (albeit secretly, so that they would not lose their bread and butter), they would change immediately, as soon as he would begin to speak. It could be felt that the Holy Spirit, present within him, worked through him. I learned very much from him about prayer of the heart. Whoever thirsts for prayer of the heart and wants to learn it should be a virgin in mind. Fr. Cleopa so progressed in spiritual life because he had humility. One never wanted to leave him. I am not the only one who had that feeling; many other fathers felt that way.

One father from Slatina said to me: So that the Holy Spirit would not abandon me, I should try never to offend anyone. He very often counseled the monks to forgive their brothers. One day in Slatina I felt that one brothermy cell-matehad something in his heart against me, but I was not sure about this, and did not ask his forgiveness then, but decided rather to pray for him. Later I said in confession to a father who, like Fr. Cleopa, confessed many people, that I felt this brother was offended at me, and I should have asked his forgiveness. He asked me how I fell asleep on the day this happenedsaying a prayer, having some bad thought, or thinking about something. He helped me very much by this question, because I very well realized in that moment that I should have asked my cell-mate for forgiveness, saying to him, "Forgive me, and may the Lord forgive you!" But because I did not do that, I was overcome. How you fall asleep is importantif with prayer, then the Holy Spirit will help you find prayer of the heart.

When they began to expel monks from their monasteries in Romania, the communists came to Slatina and passed out forms to the brothers for them to fill out. One line stated, "I want to leave the monastery." They tried to force Fr. Proclus to sign this form, but he answered that he was scandalized over these leaders; he thought that only simple people of the baser sort are capable of deceiving, but now it turns out that people in higher positions can, also. Then they ordered his beard shorn. The communists tried to cheer Fr. Proclus, saying that he should not grieve, but rather rejoice that he lost his beard and not his head. The communists advised Fr. Proclus to "keep a lock on his mouth, so that it would not send him to another place." To make this insult more sensitive, they obligated the beardless Fr. Proclus to leave the monastery everyday over the following two weeks to check in at the police station in the city.

Fr. Proclus's cell.
Fr. Proclus's cell.
In Slatina, there were certain fathers who progressed in the Jesus prayer, and I learned from them. One of them told me how he once fell asleep pronouncing the Jesus prayer, and when he awoke, he felt that he had begun to say the prayer with the mind. Continuing to say it, he felt a Holy Power, which took his mind with the prayer and carried it to the heart. There, in the heart, he said the prayer without ceasing. Finally, the Holy Power helped him so much that it took him as if out of his body. He remembered the words of one spiritual father, who had great experience in the Jesus prayer, that when you see that the Holy Power wants to take you, then you no longer even pray, for you are so filled with joy that you no longer want to see this world. This father said that he was taught that if you pray the Jesus prayer, then the Holy Spirit can enrapture you. I know for sure that this father was enraptured for four days, and then returned. After that, he guarded his mind strictlyhe tried not to think about time and other trivialities. I asked him, "When you were enraptured, did you fall asleep?" He answered, no. He prayed the Jesus prayer, and when the Holy Spirit returned him, he continued praying it. A little while later, the Holy Power again took him, and then he did not want to eat or rest. I remember how in the Egyptian patericon one father ate once every forty days, and I thought that this was a miracle, because it is beyond human strength. But if the good Lord helps, us, then all is possible.

The brothers avoided telling these secrets, fearing the spirit of vainglory. If the Holy Spirit wants to help a person to fast, then it is a miracle of God. But sometimes He abandons us, so that we might live in humility, for we also need the earthly. He who never gets upset when someone scolds him feels these joys very strongly. That father told me that if I want to become a monk, I should live so that no one would pay any attention to me, so that I would be held in contempt by both great and small. You have no right to get offended with anyonethat is the only way to achieve humility; we should try as much as we can never to offend anyone. But it often happens that I offend one of my neighbors against my own will. If I see that someone does not receive my spiritual word, I joke with him, so that he would come to himself, and so that anger would disappear from his soul.

One day, three men came to Fr. Proclus. He understood right away that they were educated men, and since he considered himself uneducated, he was not the first to begin a conversation. Wishing to test him with questions, the men waited to see how he would greet them. Thus, the elder and his inquirers looked at each other in silence. After what turned out to be a long time had passed, Fr. Proclus spoke first. "When I die, the demon will take me to hell, because if a man does not like how he lives, then neither will God." Then one of the visitors said, "If the demon will take you to hell, then what can be said of us?!" In reply, Fr. Proclus advised them to find a spiritual father, and gave them instructions on spiritual life.

People come to me and say that they waver in their faith. I answer them, be at peace. If you do not want to waver, then exchange what is bad in your life for what is good. The Holy Spirit will help us according to how much we unite humility with repentance, and not fall asleep with a distracted mind. We cannot overcome these temptations right away. Those who want to live in repentance are as if on the scales. Sin and passions will beat us against the ground, and we will beat them against the ground through repentance and contrition. The demons will try to lower our soul, but the Holy Spirit will try to raise it. If the enemy is not able to crush us directly, he works through various pretexts. But the Holy Spirit helps us attain virtues through humility. If we are weak on this, then temptations will go on without stopping, so that we might see our infirmity.

Fr. Proclus and Fr. Galacteon.
Fr. Proclus and Fr. Galacteon.
One day the snow was falling, and there was no one near my cell, when I heard, "Know, that you are better than so-and-so." There were sticks lying nearby with which I began to beat myself, praying, "Lord! You know what a sinner I am! Lord, do not abandon me!" Regardless of the fact that I humbled myself, I had already "drunk my coffee." If a thought has passed through my mind that I am better than someone else, I have already fallen, and no one knows that I am fallen but God and I. Lord, do not abandon me! Then, I should pray for my enemies. Lord, do not punish them, forgive them, God! And if I ask forgiveness for them, then I hope that the Lord would have mercy on them, and on me.

Prayer of the heart is surrounded by many heresies, many false spirits, and fakes. Only one who has a spiritual father can succeedthat is, if he tells his spiritual father what is attacking him. Whoever wants to talk about prayer of the heart will never finish talking.

Now we have to read the Egyptian patericon as much as possible. It brings great benefit. There are many holy people described in it; when you read it, you feel love, thirst for repentance, and a desire to change. But our much-caring hinders us in this. Sometimes I want to hide, but I do not know whereno matter where I go, I find myself there. I need to be silent, as much as I can. Sometimes the thought might come to a person that it would be better if everyone were to go to hell, but that he go to paradise. This does not suit me. I should have mercy for my neighbor, and according to the measure of my mercy, I myself will receive help from the Lord.

People come to me who say that they want to be saved, and change their lives, and I feel sorry for these people. But sometimes people come who say that they cannot forgive their neighbor. Lord preserve us, and have mercy on them! I try to send everyone who comes to me to the church, to priests, for instruction. I try to give no more advice to anyone. This autumn, one man came to me and said that I am sitting here alone and praying, and I cannot weep over the fact that I am a living dead man. Further, he said to me that I should not weep because I am on the earth, or I will be deceiving myself and others, but rather [I should weep] over what awaits me after death. Only then can the mind awaken, and it will no longer want to remain in this age. Our age is very deceptive. It is very important to preserve the Orthodox Faith pure.

One day, Fr. Proclus left Slatina Monastery for the hills of Neamts, in order to live there as an anchorite. This was his first attempt to depart into stillness. None of the brothers knew whether he had a blessing for this from his spiritual father. Fr. Cleopa said that perhaps there was such a blessing, but if not, then Fr. Proclus will quickly return. That is just what happened. After three days, Fr. Proclus returned and related how he had only just built himself a hut on the edge of one forest meadow when a herd of fierce wild boar ran up to him. Out of his youth and inexperience, Fr. Proclus did not immediately perceive that demons were hiding under the appearance of boars. He grabbed a stick in order to beat them off as he ran. Then eight boars surrounded him, and, understanding that they were demons because of their vile appearance, Fr. Proclus began to scream at them out of fear. The boar-demons began to scream at him, and Fr. Proclus could not prayhe just stood with his mouth hanging open in surprise. Then one she-boar leapt at him and bit off his finger. Fr. Proclus could only think to himself that if the Lord saves him from these boars, then he will return to the monastery without fail. No sooner had he thought it than the boars left him, and Fr. Proclus heard a voice that asked him why he didn't want to endure this attack and be torn to pieces by the demon, why didn't he have obedience, and why did he leave the monastery? When he returned to the monastery, he showed everyone the bitten off finger, and told them what a lesson he had received.

I want to be alone when I die. But many people hold me here, and don't allow me to leave; they want me to talk. But terrible is that hour, and in that moment there should be only God and me. I have already said enough.

One father said it like this: "Enough! How much have I talked?! I need to talk a little for myself!" [that is, to pray.O.C.]. One day, when I almost died, a man came who wanted to talk with me O brother! In that hour, we need silence. There should be only me and God. It sometimes happens that the devil himself sends people to force me to talk, and that is not good.

While I lived in the monastery, certain fathers, being near death, saw that many people were gathering around them. The fathers asked those presentfor they could not do it themselves due to weaknessto turn their faces to the wall, so that they could peacefully depart to God. The same thing happens with a monk who is in the hospital; he tries to arrange it that before death they would turn his face to the wall, so that no one would see his face, or how he says the Jesus prayer.

I know one father who was compassed about by the Holy Spirit at the moment of death. As he was dying, he wanted to relate his joy, and he did this when they saw his face after death. It is very important to have that final struggle in order to remain alone with God. If I have prayer of the heart, I can be alone with Him in that minute. As long as we [keep saying], "How could he do this to me?" and "I will tell him!" we cannot achieve anything. That's how it is Woe is me, forgive me! I think that only my mouth will go to paradise

One day, a certain monk came to Fr. Proclus and asked for a word of instruction for the abbot of his monastery. Fr. Proclus said, "If I preserve my mind, then they will call me Monk Proclus, but if not, they will call me pork."

What can I say to you? I am completely behind, woe to me I have noticed that it is very important that when I go to pray, I do not to haveanything against anyone. If someone has something against me, that is his business. The main thing is that I not have anything against him. We will receive great benefit if we strive to live so that no one would notice us, so that we do not stand out. May the Lord help you! It is very helpful to read the holy fathers.

Whoever wants to do the Jesus prayer sincerely and in a real way will go directly to paradise. But that person should not think that if he has attained prayer of the heart, he has already been saved. It all depends on how death will find him. If I have prayer and have reached a state wherein there is only me and God, that is good; but the devil does not fear the beginning, he fears the end. That's how it is Many demons gather around a man of prayer, and they can bring him various visions. One day, I needed to go to confession to Fr. Cleopait was at the time when I was not allowed to go into reclusion, but I did live for a few months by myself, and the demons appeared to me in the form of various people. That day, much snow fell, and when it had frozen a little, I went to the elder and told him about all my temptations. He advised me: If I should understand that a demon in the form of a man has come as if to teach me, then I need to say, "If you are from God, then say along with me, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,'" for the enemy does not want to say, 'Have mercy on me.' All who have the Jesus prayer can bind the demon with it; however, the enemy nevertheless prepares many temptations for such a person, and the enemy can only be completely conquered through humility and repentance.

It is important to go to sleep with prayer of the heart. The demon can take the form of a man in order to distort my prayer and draw me into heresy. All who wish to learn prayer of the heart must confess more often, so that they might be delivered from the spirits that disturb us. These spirits want to distort our faith, and corrupt it. If the demon manages to do this, he will then take you away in his cart. Therefore, it is very important to have a spiritual father, who possesses experience both in prayer of the heart, and in stillness. The most healthy stillness is the one in which you are able to weep. When you go to pray, have nothing against anyone.

May the Lord help you! Let all who have the possibility to help the Church not neglect to do so, for this is a very great thing. If a person has the condition of weeping over his sins, then he must make use also of this. One father told me that if times are peaceful, and I use them to the glory of God, then when temptations come, I will get help from the Holy Spirit. If I do not make use of peaceful times, then a long period of temptation will come, which can be survived only through repentance, confession, and a good foundation. But we must know that for this, the spirits of vainglory attack with great force. Therefore, there is no way other than weeping. I must also have an awareness that all others are greater than me. If the thought has passed through my mind that I am better than another, then disaster has struck, and woe be to me.

I know that in monasteries there are fathers who were conquered by the spirit of vainglory. The good Lord so allowed it that others rebuked them, or that they passed through other temptations.

One day in Bucharest, Fr. Proclus was walking to church together with some of the faithful at whose home he had spent the previous night. The monk was dressed in secular clothing, and his friends even put a cap on his head. Their path took them through a crowded square, where there was a market. There they encountered a gypsy woman all smeared with pitch, from Yasi. She shouted at him, "Eh, you, bumpkin from Moldova! Why did you come to Bucharest? Why did you deck yourself up in a cap? Fall over right here!" The entire square gathered to watch this scandal.

One day, when Fr. Cleopa had left Sihastrea, I confessed to another spiritual father. He told me that if someone is scolds me, then I should speak with him one, two, three times; if he does not understand me, then I should shut my mouth and say to myself, "Lord Jesus Christ [Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner]. Well, a few weeks later it happened that someone scolded me very harshly, and I was greatly vanquished by it. I understood that humility cannot be acquired in a momentit takes time. Do you know how you can tell when you have acquired humility? When you feel the Holy Spirit, and see that you have nothing good of your ownonly from Him. Then, I went to the spiritual father and told him what had happened, how I was so vanquished by disturbance from the words said to me, that I "broke all the jars." When I heard "the glass breaking," I understood that I should have been silent. I asked him why this happened to me; after all, I never liked quarrels, and I have always loved silence more than anything else. The spiritual father then told me that the demon had conquered me, because I had taken off my garment of prayer and was naked before him, not having the remembrance of God. I have noticed that when a person commits a sin, he is naked and empty. When a person has prayer, he is like a cup of hot water, from which the flies stay at a distance. But as soon as the water has cooled, the flies start flying over the cup.

There are many holy people in Russia, who have reached sainthood. We must preserve our faith healthy, just as it has been taught to us by the holy fathers. Whoever wants to take another path is deceived. We have need of teaching by the holy fathers. It is a great disaster that our Orthodox Church is being divided. This is very bad. I pray for everyone, that they would go to paradise, but I cannot say that one is good but the other is not, or I will sin. I cannot serve the Holy Liturgy, because I am a simple monk, but I remember all the Orthodox in my prayers. All who love truth and peace, who love the Church, the saints, and God, have an obligation to unite. If we unite, the Holy Spirit will help us. But if the Church will divide and dividethat is very bad. Now, since everyone thinks in his own way, there is great disturbance in the Church. We must weep over it. Now, salvation is like this: each man for himself. That is, if you have a spiritual father, and you feel that he is leading you to heaven, then hold on to him. A person's salvation depends greatly upon whether or not he has a spiritual father. If a person feels that his spiritual father is leading him to heaven, he should hold on to him. Someone may criticize me for speaking according to my own mind. I agree; I do not want to speaklet the Church speak for Herself. I am no man's judgeI have my own sins; why do I need someone else's? If someone were to appoint me to work as a judge, then my monthly pay would be only five francs.

In Yasi, the Securitate was hunting down monks whom they had not managed to arrest after the closing of the monasteries. The special services were even able to infiltrate the clergy. They wanted to send Fr. Proclus to prison also. An elder of one of the monasteries, who they had not arrested due to his old age, protected the monk, saying to those who came for him, "Who do you want to imprison?! Proclus? When he sits in a train he doesn’t know what direction it will go!" Nevertheless, Fr. Proclus preferred to wait out the situation in populous Bucharest. When he left Yasi, he met a gypsy woman, and they got into a discussion. At parting, she said that she had prepared a bomb for him. This was the same gypsy who later shouted at him in the market in Bucharest.

We have people who try to set the elders against each other and thus sow confusion; but we know that they are going around with a cat in a bag. I pray for all; I pray that the good Lord would unite the Church. It is a great catastrophe that we have ceased to listen to the saints, to God, for only the saints have the Holy Spirit. When they wanted to imprison Fr. Cleopa, he left in his place one archimandrite who had come to the monastery before the communist takeover, and gave him the obedience of telling the monks in that he was now in charge. That night, Fr. Cleopa departed for the mountains.

One father said, "When great danger comes upon the Church, we see those who are standing on their feet." Since the times are still good at present, we can't see who is standing, and who is not.

Only those who have endured became saints. The good Lord wants to purify every person, so that all would go to heaven. We must strive according to our strength to have the fear of God in our hearts.

The Lord gives to all those who labor in the Church the gift that the saints and Apostles received. The Lord grants the modern-day apostles the experience of longing for Him. When a person experiences this, love for God comes to abide in his heart. Then that person is no longer attached to this age. Whoever has awakened (come to himself) should not do anything but weep. He should not weep over the earthly, but rather over what awaits us after this life. Otherwise, we deceive ourselves and others. Our current brief life is fleshly, while before us lies eternal lifespiritual life. The truth is with the Savior, and with those saints whom He has made what they are. Certain people say that they also have saints. But the saints of our Church were made so by God Himself, and we have to beware of those "saints" who are glorified by people. The saints work miracles. The saints are the stair steps to God.

One father said that we all have a common joy, but each of us has a separate joy in himself, which he received through his prayer, preservation of his mind, and repentance. If we console the Holy Spirit by our lives here, then He will console us in the other life. The Holy Spirit is so good that He reveals to those who have consoled the Lord, in this life, the beauty of the future age. These people will never suffer the sickness of unbelief. May the Lord take you all to paradise.

Igor Zybin
Translated from the Russian by OrthoChristian.com

17 / 06 / 2011

2012-11-26
21:08
Theo James:
Father bless.

Thanks for this inspiration article full of much spiritual wisdom. Fr. Proclus is small in stature, but a spiritual giant at heart. My prayer is that you will do more interviews with this Saint on earth.

With your prayers in XC,
Theophilus
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