He was born as Alexandros Vapheides near Piraeus in Greece in October 1934, meaning he was about 11 ½ years older than me.
Until I read obituaries today I did not know that name.
To me he was always Geronda, Greek for Elder.
His monastic name was Archimandrite Aimilianos.
I met him 1981, during my first (of three) trips to Mount Athos, the peninsula in Northern Greece which has been a monastic republic — and officially off-limits to females — for more than a thousand years.
On that first trip, I started my visit there, but had no direct contact with him. I spoke with some of the other monks, and then journeyed to other monastic establishments around the peninsula.
When I returned to the monastery of which he was the abbot, Simonapetra, he noticed my return and had one of his monks come and get me to talk with me.
And thus began one of the most significant relationships in my life. I asked him, and he agreed, for him to be my spiritual father, which in Orthodox Christianity is an incredibly important relationship
I was surprised — and honored — at his agreement. He was already one of the most important figures worldwide among the more than ¼ billion Orthodox Christians.
My wife sent me several emails with information about his passing, which was exactly 2 weeks before my birthday.
In this post I will provide links which will let you read more about him.
Although I last saw him in 1989, and left the Orthodox Church several years later, from what I know of him he never removed me either from his heart or his prayers.
Please let me share with you about my Geronda, who is still very much a part of my life even 3 decades since I last saw him.