Hieronymus of Aegina (1883 – 1966) is one of the most beloved elders of our time. His multiple spiritual children throughout Greece have preserved fond memories of their encounters with the elder and put them together to create his life. Elder Hieronymus is also known beyond Greece, revered as an example of kindness, humility, the art of keeping peace and the love of Christ.
He lived in an age of great upheavals and troubles. He often talked about the coming of the anti-Christ with his disciples. Yet with his life, he showed an example of living through all trials with dignity. From every adversity, he emerged stronger and richer in spirit than before.
Born in Cappadocia at the time of the Ottoman empire, he grew up in a Christian community facing intense pressures from its surroundings. Vasilios (his name before monasticism) had received ordination as a deacon and served in Constantinople. He inspired many of his flock with his holiness, ascetic living and majestic voice. But he also earned himself enemies, frightened by his zeal and steadfastness in the faith. Vasilios was faced with the bitter question: should he continue to serve liturgy in the face of the opposition, and risk exacerbating the divisions among the faithful? Soon, he had a vision of the Lord Himself that convinced him of his unworthiness to serve liturgy. He retired from active ministry and went to ascetise as a hermit in a small monastery.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s, uprooted many Greek Orthodox, forcing them to move to Greece in massive population exchanges. One among these new refugees, Hieronymus settled in Aegina, and soon became known for his care of the sick and his ministry among multiple patients with tuberculosis.
Eventually, he established a hospital in Aegina, where he preached among the patients and found many disciples. He also built churches and founded a hermitage of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. He practised almsgiving and gave spiritual directions to his multiple disciples.
Also in the 1920s, he was caught in a bitter controversy over the transition of the Greek Church to the new calendar. To him, this decision was a dangerous sign of the secularization of the Church. As he declared in 1940, “The Church of Greece, by changing the festal calendar, has become diseased, a change that was the beginning and cause of many evil things.” Factions within the Church began to appear. Yet Hieronymus valued church unity above all else and did not join any breakaway group. In doing so, followed the teaching of Saint John Chrysostom: "even if the Church made a mistake, exactness in the observance of times would not be as important as the offence caused by division and schism."
He lived the rest of his life as a monk and hermit. Many believers chose him as his spiritual father. Those who met him for the first time often left with the impression that they had met a saint. Simply and calmly, he would reveal to them the most secret aspects of their inner world and most carefully guarded thoughts. He irradiated God’s grace, and his words were lessons in peace, love and wisdom.
“Find in your neighbour at least one good trait, a quality that you do not have, and by this positive line appreciate, love, admire, rejoice and perceive it. Don't pay too much attention to the rest," he would advise.
To a married woman considering divorce, he said: "Bring to mind an image of a man who is carrying many things and is weighted down. Wouldn't you run to take something from him to lighten his load? Do this, my sister, and let your love take some of the weight. Be calm, do not get angry, and speak with goodness." For himself, he set the following rule: "Love everyone but do not love anyone. That is, do not tie your mind down with anything but Christ."
Since his repose in 1966, Elder Hieronymus has not been canonised by the Russian or Greek Churches. Yet to many Christians, he remains a teacher of humility, peace, and love for others.