Archimandrite Ephraim of Arizona (1928–2019). From the "Homily on Remembrance of Death".
When we for the first time founded our fraternity in the New Skete, something happened to an elder of the Skete, both frightening and beneficial for all of us. Of course, the older fathers can remember that.
This elder had heart disease, therefore he should have a special sort of remembrance of the death. But, alas, the temptation overcame him and did not allow him to confess some sins related to his secular life when he was still a layman. When he felt very ill and realized that he is close to death, he send his brother, also a monk, to see me. His brother told me that the sick man was dying of impatience and was looking forward to see me. He is in need of consolation as he is being tortured by thoughts of his soul going to perish.
I was surprised, of course, that he told me that he had lost his patience, because I know that the monks are somewhat patient in temptation, in sickness and other labours. We went to his cell.
When I saw this elder I realize that it was not the problem of him being impatient. His bed was surrounded by demons. After we were left alone with the sick man, I asked him if he could see the evil spirits. He nodded. His face was distorted with anger, he was looking on the left and right and trying to protect himself with his arms. He behaved as if he was attacked by a pack of rabid dogs struggling with all his might.
I raised my voice to distract him from the demons and asked him what the demons were telling him. ‘Alas! What they are telling me… I dare not to say that.’
‘Father, you are wrong! It’s better for you to tell me the truth and confess your sins because they know our sins better than we remember them.’ The demons accused him of various sins, which he had not confessed, and they staged rude pantomimes for him, in order to make him despair, mimicking obscene scenes of sins he committed.
As he couldn’t watch that nasty pantomime any longer, he confessed me all his sins and I gave him absolution with strong faith that our Lord would protect with his mercy this brother in this difficult and most fearsome hour of his.
But his face kept changing and was both anxious and furious. I told him that I have to leave for a while to ask the brethren to pray for him using the prayer beads. But the monk would not let me leave. ‘No, Father, said he, you’d better stay with me!’ So he was saying, with great anxiety asking me to stay with him in his cell. But I persuaded him to wait a little in order that I might ask the brethren for their support in prayers.
Very late at night, when I was saying my evening prayers, in private vigilance, I realized that all those demons that were at the elder’s place, came now to my cell. They were making a lot of noise and turbulence. Never before have I seen so many demons, so close, so noticeably fighting me. I turned on the light to read, but no way! The demons were surrounding me both on my right and left. I knew they wanted to scare me so I would never go to the elder again, but I replied, "You do your job and I do my job." Then, when the Divine Liturgy began, they all disappeared.
After the Divine Liturgy, I went again to the sick man, to help him to prepare to the eternal life, i.e. with anointing oil, confession and all the necessary things. I asked him if, beside the demons, his guardian angel was also there. He said ‘yes’ and added that his angel was waiting for a superior order to take his soul from the body. ‘Well, I said to him, as you see your angel, can you see ours, too (because I was with another Hieromonk)?’ ‘Yes, I can see them’, he replied, ‘but your angels are different: they wear crowns on their heads and their vestment are a bit different.’ This was a testimony that guardian angels of priests have special tokens. Then he told me that on Monday (that day was Friday) there would be a festival (he meant his funeral) and that some people who were missing in those days would also attend, which also truly happened.
When he was close to his death, the demons, as they saw that they had lost, for the elder confessed his sins, became angry and made the last attempt to gain power over his soul in the end. On the night before his death, I sent Fr Joseph to support him, to pray for him with a prayer rope, and to spend the night with him in his cell praying and in vigilance.
When I went in his cell in the morning, the elder told me that during the night, he almost lost his soul due to the tricks of the demons. In other words, they showed him a jug full of water, which was next to his bed, and told him continuously that he should drink it all. The elder, exhausted of his illness, instead of praying started a discussion with demons saying that such a large amount of water will just cause him to die. Then they started to force him drinking the whole jug to die and end his sufferings. He asked Fr. Joseph to give him the jug but the latter persuaded him to show abstinence and not to listen to demonic thought that force him to commit suicide. So he escaped from this last trap of the demons.
After the Divine Liturgy on Sunday I found him sitting peacefully in an armchair. ‘I am very well, Father,’ he told me, ‘may God reward you for the all the good things you did for me.’ I left to have a brisk rest after the Vigil, planning to visit the dying man after I had a nap. When I woke up, I learned that half an hour ago the bells rang. The elder rested in God.