Arsenios the Cave-Dweller

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The Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller was a monk, ascetic, and elder of the twentieth century at Mount Athos. He was a co-struggler of hesychasm with Joseph the Hesychast.


The Elder Arsenios was born Anatolios in 1886 in Pontus. Little is known of his early childhood. As a youth he became desirous of an ascetic life and set off a foot to Constantinople and on the Holy Land. For a decade he served in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other shrines around Jerusalem. There he met the Elder Ieronymos, from whom he learned of the ascetic life. From Jerusalem Anatolios moved to Mount Athos, spending several years at the Monastery of Stavronikita where he received his Great Schema and the name Arsenios.

Desiring greater ascetic feats, Arsenios left the idiorhythmic monastic life of Stavronikita to find the great ascetics in the "wilderness" of Mount Athos from whom he could learn and imitate by example to reach perfection. Soon he found a young man with the same desire as himself. They met on the very peak of Mount Athos, and were drawn together as if by a magnetic force. From that moment the two would not leave each other's side. This other young man, a layman named Francisco Kottis, would become known as the ascetic Joseph the Hesychast, one of the greatest Saints of the twentieth century. They in turn met others including the Elder Daniel Katounakiotis and Kallinikon the Hesychast, as well as Gerasimos and Ignatios.

It was from the ascetic Papa-Daniel the Hesychast that the two spiritual brothers learned the discipline of eating only dry foods once a day and the importance of being vigilant. Elder Arsenios worked with his hands as well. He would carry stones and whatever necessities for preservation and the building of stone shelter and walls, not only for themselves, but for all the ascetics of the area. The Elder responded, when asked how he did all these things, that he would always say the Prayer of the Heart, the Jesus Prayer, and this would lighten the burden and a higher power would come to his aid.

Joseph and Arsenios dressed in rags and walked around shoeless, whether it was winter or summer, to the point that many regarded them as "fools". However, they were not fools in a worldly sense, but for Christ.

The two ascetics lived for approximately twenty years high in the Skete of St. Basil, when they decided, in 1938, to move to a lower area, to the Skete of St. Anne. With them came a small brotherhood who had gathered around Joseph and Arsenios during the time at St. Basil. They stayed at St. Anne until 1953, when they moved to Nea Sketi at a still lower area. Joseph the Hesychast fell asleep at Nea Sketi in 1959.

Several years later Elder Arsenios moved from Nea Sketi to a cell at Chilandari Monastery known as Burazeri, where he lived for twelve years. Then, in 1980 he moved to the Monastery of Dionysiou.

Elder Arsenios fell asleep in the Lord at the Monastery of Dionysiou on September 15, 1983 at the age of 97.