Archimandrite Elder Aimilianos, born Alexandros Vafeidis, Father Superior of Simonopetra from 1973 to 2000, was born in 1934, to pious parents, in Nikaia, Piraeus. The family originated from Asia Minor: His paternal grandmother, Evdoxia, was from Constantinople, and his grandfather, Alexandros, from Selymbria (present-day Silivri), in Thrace, studied in the famous Theological Seminary of Chalki Island (present-day Gökçeada).
In 1906 his grandparents moved to Semantra, in Cappadocia, where they served as teachers for the Greek community; they came to Greece after the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922)/Asia Minor Massacre and the exchange of populations. Although married, they led an austere life of abstinence and prayer. It should be noted that both Aimilianos’ grandmother and mother became nuns and died as sister Eftaxia and sister Aimilani, respectively.
Elder Aimilianos attended primary school at Semantra, Halkidiki, where his grandmother had settled, and secondary school at Nikaia, in Piraeus, where his parents lived; he was always an excellent student. He continued his studies at the University of Athens; he initially attended Law School for two years and continued with Theology, to receive the education his calling sought.
During his university studies, as a member of a peer group with the same ideology and convictions since their secondary school years, he was extremely active in organising Sunday schools, speeches and various events, which promoted his mental, spiritual, leadership and organisational talents. When he completed his studies, and due to the education and training offered at the time, he considered becoming a priest so that he could go on to become a missionary abroad. However, he thought it would be best to start his preparation for such a goal at a monastery. He approached the then Metropolitan of Trikki (present-day Trikala) and Stages, Dionysios, who had just undertaken his priestly duties and was known as a bishop who supported monasticism.
The young man arrived at Trikala in 1960 and placed his future at the Metropolitan’s hands, took his vows in front of Metropolitan Dionysios on 9 December 1960 and was given the name Aimilianos as a monk at the Varlaam Monastery of Meteora. He was registered as a monk in the registry of the Monastery of St. Bessarion (Dousikou). On the 11th of the same month, the most reverend Metropolitan ordained him a deacon for the church of St. Paraskevi in Trikala; from then on, Elder Aimilianos was sent to various Meteora monasteries, which then had a shortage of monks, until he was ordained a priest at the Monastery of Vytoumas on the day of the Assumption in the year 1961.
Holy Monastery of Saint Bessarion, Dousikon
After he was ordained a presbyter, he moved to the Monastery of St. Bessarion (Dousikou) where he stayed from four months, until December of the same year. At that remote and isolated place, he lived all alone in silence, painfully and extensively seeking God, “he who redeems from storms and failing spirit”. The Lord, in his prudence, listened to Elder Aimilianos’ silent cries, appeared to his servant and transformed his existence in His light, revealing ‘life paths’ to him.
Aimilianos now dedicated all his entire strength and enthusiasm to ascetic life and through this austerity envisaged with exceptional courage and heightened hope how to revive and renovate monastic communities.
At the end of 1961, given that the Metropolitan of Trikki shared the same dedication for ascetic life, invited Elder Aimilianos back from St. Bessarion and appointed him Father Superior at the Transfiguration Monastery of Megalo Meteoron. It was there, all alone at first, where, despite his fragile health, Aimilianos fortified himself with long-lasting patience, and indefatigably cultivated asceticism, leading a mystical and secluded life. He stayed vigilant, prayed continuously and delved in unceasing studying of paternal, ascetic and ecclesiastical works. His unquenchable thirst led him to seek, find and investigate every text referring to the organisation and operation of Eastern Orthodox monastic life, particularly that of a Coenobium, thoroughly exploring the monastic institutions of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Typicon[the Rules] of distinguished ancient monasteries.
While Aimilianos led a purely ascetic life, on 1 January 1962, the Metropolitan bestowed on him the title of Archimandrite and assigned him the ministerial sermon task, as well as those of the confessions and education of the young in his province, appointing him in charge of the church of Panagia Episkepseos in Trikala.
This opened a new chapter in the life of the reverend Elder. He was not alone anymore: he became a ‘father’ to numerous ‘sons and daughters of God’; he lived as and felt like a true apostle. His life was dedicated to his children in full freedom, without any expectations even to the end, for even the slightest reciprocation or response. Many of these ‘children’ considered a monastic life. In time, the initial nucleus of the brotherhood of the Monastery of Meteoron was created, while others turned to a life of priesthood or family; whatever their choice, they remained a broader family-in-spirit, centred around the monastery.
In 1963 the first two monks settled at Megalo Meteoron; since the 1965-66 School year, numerous secondary school pupils conducted themselves as novices of the Elder. On 6 August 1966 Elder Aimilianos tonsured a’Megaloschemos’ Monk [Great Schema] before Metropolitan Dionysios, his own Elder; he had reached the highest rank of Eastern Orthodox Christian Monasticism. The life of the Meteoron and the course of his young, yet talented, son offered pure joy to the heart of His reverence and filled it with hopes for positive prospects. When monastic life was being established at Meteora, Elder Aimilianos consulted and forged spiritual bonds with pious contemporaries, such as: Athanasios Hamakiotis, Father [Papa-] Dimitris Gagastathis, Amphilochios of Patmos, Philotheos Zervakos, Simon Arvanitis, Damaskinos Katrakoulis. During the same period, Elder Aimilianos forged bonds with eminent members of the Serbian clergy and students at the University of Athens at the time, spiritual children of the holy Elder and pillar of the Serbian Church,Saint Justin Popović [Јустин Поповић], whomAimilianos visited in Serbia (1976), having become the Father Superior of Simonopetra Monastery. At the same time, the Elder launched his pilgrimage trips to Mt. Athos, where he collected a wealth of spiritual experience. It was then that Elder Aimilianos became acquainted with holy Father Paisios; on reaching the land’s end of the peninsula, he met the champion of obedience, Father [Papa] Ephraim Katounakiotis. The two men built a strong spiritual relationship, and Father [Papa] Ephraim often said: “I found my late Elder, another Elder Joseph, golden-tongued and reverend, Elder Aimilianos.”