Father Ioan Guțu was one of the most important Romanian praying Fathers who lived on Mount Athos. Born in 1906, in the Bessarabian* region of Soroca and reposed in the Lord on December 5, 1996, in his cell at the Holy Mountain, Fr. Ioan Guțu lived and died in complete humility.
Fr. Ioan Guțu left us a few words that can be looked upon as his true spiritual ”will”, according to which he himself worked his good deeds: “Let us love all good works equally; however, we should start with the fear of God and finish with our love for Him, which is the wreath of all good works. Prayer should lead the way in all our good works. More prayer, more humility, more love for God – will easily lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us pray for one another and hope that God will not leave us. That said, we need to be aware that we cannot acquire salvation without temptations, patience, and contrition.”
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Fr. Ioan Guțu was born in 1906, in the Bessarabian town of Popești, region of Soroca. In 1926, after having graduated elementary school, at only 19 years of age, young Ioan left for the Holy Mountain, where he settled at the Vatopedi skete of Colciu, in a cell that was consecrated to the birth of St. John the Baptist.
Later on, after a visit that he made in his Athonite cell at Colciu, his father, glad to see his son’s pure life, told him: “See that you will die here.” Thus, it was in his cell at Colciu that the Fr. Ioan would spend the rest of his life in spiritual effort, namely over seventy years. All throughout that time, he never left the Holy Mountain except one time, when he did obedience to his Spiritual Father, Hieromonk Ilie Vulpe.
Speaking of this humble Hieromonk, Fr. Dionisie Ignat, who lived in St. George’s cell at Colciu, said: “His Spiritual Father was Ilie Vulpe. However, within a short time, the Elders around him died and he was left alone for tens of years. We lived next to Fr. Ioan as if we were brothers: there was no difference whatsoever between our two cells. We would spend all the holy days and great feasts together. Fr. Ioan Guțu was the most rigorous observer of monastic life I have ever met: one of the best monks ever and a very zealous and good man. Others tried to live next to him, too, but they weren’t able to. He was only a Priest; not a Spiritual Father. The moment the last Spiritual Father in his cell died, he stopped performing the service, out of humility.”
To all those who met him – although he never confessed people – Fr. Ioan Guțu was truly a great spiritual father: he would fast all the time, eating only once every few days; he would keep vigil at all times, sleeping only a few hours a night; and he would pray all the time, while doing countless prostrations.
Once, a younger brother asked him for some words of spiritual profit. Fr. Ioan told him: “I am a simple man and have no such words. I, too, ask for spiritual advice and counseling from others, who are more advanced spiritually. Yet I can say this much: if we fulfill our monastic vows and complete our life’s journey as we have started it, we can hope for salvation.”
During the last years of his life, because of his efforts and his long years, Fr. Ioan got ill. Yet even so, he didn’t call for any doctors and continued his monastic canon all the way to the end, without sparing himself any part of it. As a result of that, well over two months ahead of his repose, he told his apprentice the date of his departure from this world.
Fr. Ioan Guțu reposed in the Lord on December 5, 1996, aged 91, after having led a holy life. On December 3, he confessed to Fr. Dionisie Ignat, took part in the day’s services and received the Holy Mysteries. Then after having asked for forgiveness from all the monks living at Colciu, he withdrew peacefully into his cell. According to his apprentice, Hieromonk Augustin, Fr. Ioan Guțu was “a model of humility in everything: from clothing, to food, his cell, his way of speaking… everything. We have learnt a lot from him”.
* Bessarabia = the current Republic of Moldova
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Between 1906 and 1996 (December 5), for 90 years, Abba Ioan amassed so much grace and humility, that he attained a most profound innocence. He was a great faster (as he would eat every two days) and a great ascetic worker (as he would sleep three hours a night, at most, sitting on a stool), and a great prayer (he would do prostrations even when his legs started to bleed, in his old days), and he never used medicines. He didn’t speak much, because if you did not take profit from his silence, there would be no reason for you to ask for any of his advice (and isn’t it that we can learn about humility only by looking at it?). He always thought that “we must start with the fear of God and finish with our love for Him – and put much humility and prayer in between these two and we will get to the Kingdom of Heaven”.
For his efforts, God revealed him the hour of his departure ahead of time, so he took care of everything else that needed to be put straight in his life, two months beforehand, asked for forgiveness from all his brethren – including the ones in St. George’s cell, where Fr. Dionisie Ignat lived (and who also confessed him) – and, on the day of Holy Savvas, he went to the Lord.
Fr. Ilie of Colciu used to recall that one year, they had nothing left to celebrate the patron saint/feast of the cell. They went down to the sea and laid out their nets but caught nothing. Since it was already St. John’s eve, they went to Abba Ioan and with a saddened heart, asked for his advice. Geronta told them: “Go back to the shore and bring that big fish.” The fathers would have liked to tell him that that is where they were coming from, but they kept quiet and did obedience. As soon as they got back to the shore, they were surprised to see quite a large fish, heading towards them, which would have been enough to feed all of them for two days. They took it out of the shallow water with their bare hands and praised the Lord.
In one of the last years of his life (in November 1996), Abba Ioan Guțu met with a young man who later on became Minister of the Department of Cults in Romania […]. The young man asked him: “Father, what do you deem that you have acquired during your 70 years of prayer at Mount Athos?” And the Elder told him: “I have acquired boldness before God”…
As he was working in the garden with Abba Ioan once, Fr. Augustin, his apprentice during his last years, told him in a slightly jesting tone: “Father, please pray to God, as you have acquired credit before Him, to send us a spring that would be closer to our cells, so that we don’t need to carry the water all the way up here from the valley”. The Elder didn’t say anything then, but towards that autumn, as the apprentice had all but forgotten his comment, fresh water sprung one day on the coast above the cell, just a few meters away from their garden plot… It is from that spring that the monks take their water from to this day.
Once, a Greek brother came over from the Vatopedi Monastery, to hear a word of profit from the Elder. And upon receiving his blessing, he meant to take his leave, but the Elder greeted him: “Kalos taxidis, pater Athanasios”. The brother wasn’t even a monk at that time, but when he tried to point that out, Abba told him: “It isn’t according to your will, but according to God’s will in your regard”. Today, one can find Father Athanasios living in that same community at Vatopedi.
Elder Ioan made himself inconspicuous, casting off his own will, but upon doing that he also cast off all worries, thus amassing peace for himself and also providing rest to his brethren…