Fr. Ilie Cleopa

Blessed Fr. Ilie Cleopa – Constantin Ilie by his layman name – was born in the Suliţa township, in the Botoşani county, on the 10th of April 1912. His parents, Alexandru and Ana Ilie, were role models for what it meant to live a Christian life, having loved God, the Church and their children. The Cleopa family was blessed by God with ten children, out of which two died during early infancy, and eight (four boys and four girls) survived.

His parents always attended the Holy Liturgies, engaged in charity work, prayed often together with their children, and lived a clean life that was pleasing to Christ. As Fr. Cleopa recounted, their house was like a church: “We had an entire room that had icons almost everywhere. A sort of oratory. We used to pray there. And at midnight, we woke up, read from The Psalms and did hundreds of prostrations. Then we went back to sleep.

“Is this a feast?”. Cause I used to live at the Cozancea skete, and living the individual lifestyle was the norm there: each person ate alone, lived alone. “Brother,” he said, “this is not a feast! Here we live a cenobitic life. This is the way the monks gather around the table to eat, always together!” The elderly man read to them from the Holy Word. He would conduct the Liturgy and he would would only eat The Holy Eucharist, for about twenty years. Only on Saturday and Sundays he would nibble a little on some food from the bowls. I know, for I used to be a cook there. May God rest his soul, the poor thing! He was so God-fearing and had such faith! He got me to enter the convent in 1937, during the Fast of Saint Mary.

There were no fights or any foul language or any other things that are unpleasant to God in their household. Rather, their daily life ran smoothly like the freshwater flowing from a spring, as that was the custom of old, and such was the Christian tradition of the land.

It was not a coincidence that, by God’s Sovereign Will, many great people were born in said region, out of which quite a few were monks, priests, holy and pious hierarchs, such as Saint John The New from Neamţ (1913 – 1960). Among these, we would not be wrong to count our worthful spiritual father, the Archimandrite Cleopa Ilie, as well as his holiness’ spiritual confessor, eremite hieromonk Paisie Olaru.

Fr. Cleopa Ilie was chosen from birth by God to offer spiritual advice and consolation to monks, priests, as well as to laypeople who were believers. His holiness was the confessor and spiritual adviser of everyone who asked for his prayers and wanted to follow Christ. He was a blessing from God for our entire country.

The house where Archimandrite was born was like a living church, but it did not replace the village’s church, where the well-known priest Fr. Gheorghe Chiriac had been serving at the time, since 1877. As Fr. Cleopa himself recounted, the villagers form Suliţa listened to their priest as if he has been Christ Himself, and they didn’t do anything without asking for his advice and his blessing. That is why everyday life was peaceful, the church was full of parishioners, and the children, who were numerous, were the village’s adornment.

Fr. Cleopa was the fifth child out of the ten children that Alexandru Ilie’s family had. He attended elementary and middle school (for seven years) in his home village. He had a remarkable memory, that he has inherited from his mother. For three years he and his brothers were a spiritual apprentices to the hieromonk Paisie Olaru, a hermit from the Cozancea skit.

In the beginning of December 1929, he joined the community from the Sihăstria skit, together with his elder brother Vasile Ilie. After having been tempted for three days in front of the skit, they were received into the Sihăstrie community, on the 12th of December, which was the feast day of of Saint Hierarch Nicolae. This is why Fr. Cleopa held great devotion for Saint Hierarch Nicolae and for Saint Hierarch Spiridon.

Until 1935, Constantin – Cleopa herd the sheep at the Sihăstria skit, alongside other brothers. Then he is drafted in the army in the city of Botoşani. He returns to the skit in the autumn of 1936 and he receives his monastic tonsure on the 2nd of August 1937, receiving the name “Cleopa”. Afterwards, he tends to the skit’s sheep until the summer of 1942, alongside the priests Galaction Ilie and Antonie Olaru.

In June 1942, he was brought into the skit and appointed as a temporary abbot (hegumen) because the Father Superior Ioanichie Moroi fell very sick. On the 27th of December 1944, the monk Cleopa is ordained hierodeacon, and on the 23rd of January 1944, he is ordained hieromonk by the bishop Galaction Cordun, who was a Reverend Father at the Neamţ monastery. Starting with this date, he is officially appointed as a hegumen (abbot) of the Sihăstria skit.

In 1947 the Sihăstria skit, having over 60 people living in it, was upgraded in rank and became a monastery, and Protosyncellus Cleopa Ilie is named Archimandrite with Patriarch’s Nicodim’s approval. In 1948, because of the political context of the time, he retreats in the woods that surround the Sihăstria monastery for six months.

On the 30th of August 1949, according to Patriarch Justinian’s decision, Archimandrite Cleopa Ilie is ordained Abbot of the Slatina monastery from Suceava county and moves there together with 30 other monks from the Sihăstria monastery’s community. His replacement as Abbot at the Sihăstria monastery was Protosyncellus Ioil Gheorghiu.

At the Slatina monastery, the priest gathered a community that reached over 80 people. Between 1952 and 1954, having been followed by the Communist secret police, he takes refuge in the Stânişoara Mountains, together with the hieromonk Arsenie Papacioc. After over two years of living as hermits, they were brought back to the Slatina monastery at the order of Patriarch Justinian.

In 1956 Fr. Cleopa returns to the Slatina monastery, and in the spring of 1959 he retreats for a third time, in the Neamţ Mountains, where he lives in austerity as a hermit for over five years. In the autumn of 1964 he returns to the Sihăstria monastery as spiritual adviser for the entire community, continuously advising both monks and laymen, for 34 years, until the 2nd of December 1998, when he surrenders his soul in Christ’s arms.

Fr. Cleopa’s final words – addressed to the community from the Sihăstria monastery, at the refectory, at the 1st of March 1998.

In the Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

Most pious Reverend Father, most pious Fathers and brothers, the same way I see you here, my dearest ones, may I be blessed to see you in Heaven, in the immeasurable joys of Heaven, for you all are serving Our Savior and The Mother Of God, and each of you, poor things, is obedient in his place, wherever he is assigned.

I feel a lot of joy when I hear you! But I don’t know some of you. I rarely come here. I have so many people to attend to there and I’m ill. But I do know some of them, who come to confession and have been around longer. My wish is that each and every single one of you to enter the eternal joy and not even one, God forbid, to the works (hell).

My dearest Fathers and brothers, I want you to know that The Church is our spiritual mother. She gave birth to us during the baptism through water and through the Spirit. You have heard what the St. Apostle Paul says: “You have taken the gift of adoption to sonship in the baptism of the second birth and the renewal of The Holy Spirit. Since we have been baptized in the Name of The Most-Holy Trinity we have been children of God.

That is why I ask you to love The Church, my dears. To keep The Church dear to your hearts and attend the Holy Liturgies, day and night, to the best of your abilities. Let those who are older and can’t do this stay for shorter periods of time, the poor things. The young ones can stay longer because attending Church improves people’s memory and the gifts of The Most-Holy Spirit dwells upon those who listen with piety to the Holy liturgies of the Church.

My dearest ones, I, the sinner and the wretch, am an old man. I’m 86 years old, my right arm is broken, I had it in a cast for 32 days. Soon you will be singing “Memory Eternal” for me. What could I be waiting for? Psalm 89 says it clearly: they will live for 70 years and if they are stark, for 80. And in the eleventh line it says: what is beyond these is just toil and pain! I have entered the years of pain. I have gotten old. I will be 86 years old this April.

My dearest (spiritual) parents, I ask you with all my heart, those of you who have love and can do so, don’t forget me in your prayers. Mention me! I experience love when I see all of you serving Our Savior and The Mother Of God.

Our monastery has a canonical practices: meat eating is prohibited, we have timely confession, the liturgies follow the rules of Saint Sava. When I arrived here, there were 14 holy fathers, wearing opanci (traditional peasant shoes worn in Southeastern Europe), having beards down to their waistlines, with wooden beads in their hands. My brother Vasile brought me. When I get here I was only 15 and a half years old, I didn’t know much…

And when I saw all the monks sitting around the table and the old Reverend Father reading from the Scriptures at the top of the table, I asked the brother:

There used to be a priest, Nicolae Grădinara, he had a long beard, maybe some of you had met him. He said when he took me in front of the altar: “Most pious Father, let us call him Cleopa, for we don’t have any other monks named Cleopa here!” And the old man reached for the scissors and called me Cleopa. So it has been written!

May God rest their souls! I have the diptych at home, with the names of everyone who had died here; there are bishops and patriarchs included in it, however many they might be. While I still have some life left in me, I mention them every day! But I plead with you, my dears, don’t forget to mention me in your holy prayers. And just the way I see you here, may I be blessed to see you in Heaven, in the eternal, unending joy!

May the blessings of The Most-Holy Trinity and the protection of the prayers of The Most-Holy Mother and of all the saints be with you all, my dears, and may they take all of you to Heaven. Amen.

Translated from by Lucian Hodoboc.

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