Our pious God-bearing father Peter the Athonite, the first hesychast on Mount Athos, lived in a cave in the southern part of the peninsula. There he led a truly angelic, heavenly existence. Without clothes, barefoot, and suffering many varied temptations launched against him by Satan, he for fifty-three years was fed only with heavenly bread.
Righteous Gerontios, the founder of St. Anne's Skete, was the first hegumen to serve in the monastery of Vouleftirion. At first he lived in caves near the sea. Later, because of the threat of pirate attacks, he moved higher up the rugged cliffs of Athos, where to this day there is a chapel in honour of St. Panteleimon. Many ascetics lived in desolate huts near him.
With absolutely no possessions and free of worldly cares, they gave themselves entirely to the labour of prayer.
In order to bring some consolation to his brothers, the saintly Gerontios prayed, and holy water appeared on the spot where he did his ascetic labours. His successor gath- ered up all the water from this miraculous spring, because he wanted a small garden and he needed the water for it. According to the fathers, our Panagia did not like this and dried up the spring, although another one appeared at another spot below the original one. The Lady Theotokos wanted ascetics to be free of worldly affairs, to devote themselves only to prayer, and not to cultivate gardens
The newly manifested St. Gerasimos, who laboured on Athos, stayed in Kapsala for five years as an ascetic. He ate only boiled zucchini with no oil. Then he went to Homala of Kefallinia Island to his ascetic cell and there built a holy monastery.
During the time he lived on Mt. Athos, he gained many spiritual experiences, met pious and saintly men, and completed his monastic training. He became a vessel of grace through ceaseless prayer and fasting. That is why all evil spirits were afraid of him and were cast out by him. His nickname was "Kapsalis," after the desolate place of Kapsala. The demons would cry out: "Kapsalis, you have burned us."
During one very cold winter in which snow fell heavily, our righteous and God-inspired father Akakios the Kafsokalyvitan lit a fire to warm himself. But as he drew nearer the fire, he felt colder. Then he realised that it was abnormal to feel cold by the fire, and that the cold must be caused by demonic influence. So he put out the fire, went out of his cave and, naked, fell into the snow, whereupon he immediately felt very warm, as if he were in a steam bath. We were amazed and surprised each time we visited this saint's cave and saw his bed, which is preserved to this very day. It was made of thick, untrimmed branches nailed in such a way that wide spaces remained between them. It would have been impossible for anyone to rest well on them.
St. Savvas the Agioritan, an ascetic who was sanctified on the island of Kalymnos, loved ascesis and suffering. He ate food cooked in oil only on weekends. He did the ninth hour prayer every day. When he slept, he slept on a plank, but most nights he spent entirely in prayer. He confessed God's people like a good shepherd who "gives his life for his sheep" (John 10:1 1). He was also clairvoyant.
He left Mount Athos for Aegina, in order to place himself under obedience to St. Nectarios, the miracle worker. St. Nectarios gave him a set of priest's vestments which he wore only on great feasts. It was St. Savvas who served the burial of St. Nectarios.
My elder's spiritual father was the Karouliatan hermit and hieromonk Christophoros. He lived ascetically in a hut which resembled an eagle's nest. It had a tin roof and was surrounded by steep, bare rocks, disappearing into the abyss of the Aegean. There was an endless, cleansing stillness everywhere, interrupted only by the sweet, joyful cries of wild birds. It was a totally isolated place. Only a few cactus fig bushes and some wild almond trees scattered about decorated with a bit of greenery the barren landscape. In these desolate surroundings, one could admire and contemplate how this crippled spiritual father Christophoros came to live near such precipitous and unapproachable ravines. Despite his having only one leg, he would climb, like an athletic mountaineer, up the truly awesome and forbidding Karoulia.
My ever memorable elder many times told me that the fathers in past times used to travel by sea from both the desolate places and from the monasteries, rowing all the way to Daphni and back. Because this way took a long time, they brought books and incense along with them in order to be able to chant their matins. They chanted or prayed with the prayer ropes as they rowed.
In the desert of St. Basil, next to Kerasia, lived Elder Theophylaktos, a solid gem of asceticism and endurance. He had two monks under obedience to him. He frequently went for all-night vigils to a cave. One night after a heavy snowfall, everything was covered by a foot of snow. When morning came, his monks went looking for him everywhere. After a long search they saw from a distance a dark object on a cliff. As they came closer, they realised it was their elder, and they feared that he had frozen to death. As soon as they touched him, however, he moved. This was a great surprise, and they observed that not only was he alive but, in fact, he was emitting such a warmth that it was as if his whole body were aflame. And indeed all the snow had melted around him.
This same holy ascetic at another time was taken by demons and carried over to St. Basil's desert in Karoulia.