A Novice of her own Son

On Gerontissa Theophano, the mother of Archimandrite Ephraim of Philotheou

A Novice of her own Son

 

“The climate on the island of Thassos suited her better than in Portaria, so I moved her there. She gradually drew near to the end of her life. Two years before her death, at the age of 92, she was paralyzed. From that time she didn’t completely raise herself from her bed. But, glory to God, as the Gospel says: And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life (Mt. 19:29).

This is what happened with my mother: during her illness she was surrounded by caring daughters—the sisters of the monastery who took care of her with great zeal. And where in the world will you find such love now?! Her nurse, one of the sisters of the monastery, so loved my mother that there are no words! She was so nice, so kind, and even slept together with her, head to head…

When a crisis came during my mama’ illness, something happened which happens very rarely, but when it happens it’s only with spiritual people for the sake of testing them and for gaining experience. It happened one night. Mama was as if dead already several days—she didn’t eat, didn’t drink, and didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t drink a single drop of water. She was dehydrated, with closed eyes—how dying people usually look…

When she was in such a state I was there with her, together with the nun-nurses and Gerontissa. It was dark, lampadas were burning. The night before, at about the same time, her eyes opened at some point. She opened her eyes and looked around, as if she was expecting something to happen or that already happened, with some kind of uneasiness, as if listening to something, or seeing something or someone. This was the first time after being unconscious for so many days that she showed some attention to the world around her. Lying, because she was unable to move, with open eyes, she looked all around, to the right, left, up, and down. And as the moments flowed by, her face more strongly revealed a state of terrible agony and terrible fear—a whole river of fear. I saw such fear reflected on her face as when some killer is drawing near with a knife, ready to cut you.

I began to cover her with the sign of the Cross, repeating aloud the Jesus Prayer to calm her. I understood that what was happening was a demonic temptation. After a while the danger passed, and the invisible powers departed. Mama calmed down, and she was still conscious. Then I asked her: ‘Mama, what happened? What’s with you’—‘Oh… so many, they are so many!’ And from that moment mama began to pray: ‘O Mother of God, save me! O Mother of God, save me!’ Day and night! From that point her mouth never stopped. Day and night she besought salvation from the Mother of God.

It is striking that she had no thoughts, only prayer—sick people usually easily succumb to thoughts. By her way of life—constant podvigs and labors—mama acquired exceptional patience, and this patience helped her maintain prayer this whole time. I asked her: ‘What happened?’—‘The Mother of God helps me!’ And again the prayer continued: ‘O Mother of God, save me! O Mother of God, save me!’

After some time, when the torment was over, she completely calmed down and shut her eyes. The next day at the exact same time her eyes again opened. The same fear and agony was again displayed on her face. The exact same scenario happened again. It was all quite excruciating.

Then I wondered: why does the devil have authority over this holy soul? I, of course, understood that this temptation was allowed so she could obtain a crown, that through this ordeal she could acquire boldness before God. And at some point, when she was in such a state, I said to myself: ‘It’s not fitting that this should continue. It’s time to end this.’ I went to my cell, got on my knees and began to pray: ‘O Lord, I beg Thee, do one of two things. Either take her right now, that she could have peace already, because she is worthy of peace, or banish the devil away from this holy soul. She has already labored for Thee so much, and now her time for rest has arrived.’ This is how I prayed.

When her eyes opened again the next day at the same time, she was calm. ‘Mama, how are you?’—‘They left…’ The trial was over. From that very moment began the blessed final period of her blessed life. Days passed in this blessed state. Her appearance gradually changed, she became more and more beautiful. Of course, this beauty was not physical, but spiritual. I wanted to photograph her. The grace in her was clearly apparent. Thus she gradually drew nearer to death.”

“I saw how her soul ascended unhindered to Heaven”

“The following year, after Nativity, in Christmastide, I went to the monastery to see her again,” continues Elder Ephraim’s narration. “She spoke and understood what was happening, and unceasingly repeated the prayer. In the final moments of her life her face was transfigured, blessedness shining upon it. She turned to the right, revealing her widely shining eyes and glanced off to the side as if she saw something there. In that moment I felt such Paschal joy in my soul, such resurrection, as if I had suddenly gathered the grace of ten Paschal nights.

It was the first time I felt this in my life. Of course, when my elder Joseph departed to the Lord there was something special then too, but here it happened with my own relative. I felt such happiness at that moment, and also felt and saw … I don’t know, in what manner it happened, but I saw how her soul ascended unhindered to Heaven.

When the doctor arrived he couldn’t believe that she had already died—she looked so alive. Her body was warm and soft, like the body of someone living. ‘Lord, have mercy! I can’t believe it!’ the doctor exclaimed. It was incorruption. I told the doctor that Christ said: death is but a dream, and every person will awaken on the day of the Second Coming at the sound of the archangel’s trump.

When the doctor left, we sewed her up in a monastic habit, with three crosses sewed on top. Meanwhile I continued to feel such strong Paschal joy, that I wanted to go out on the street and sing ‘Christ is Risen!’ She was so beautiful after death. She was 95, but she looked like she was 15. It was the result of her whole life, all her labors; it was a reward for all her labors.”

Her relics were found to be “very beautiful”

The sisters of the monastery told me that when Gerontissa Theophano’s coffin was carried to the monastery cemetery, sheep came and doves flew over. The sheep managed to get themselves out of their pen, ran to the grave, all bleating at the same time, and turned around and ran back to their pen. Then from somewhere above their appeared a flock of doves which flew over the grave and disappeared into the heights.

Her relics were found to be “very beautiful.” In Greece the tradition still exists of taking bones around the third year after death and placing them in an ossuary—not only on Athos but in other monasteries and even among the laity in regular cemeteries. By the color and smell of the relics you can hypothesize about the postmortem state of the soul of the departed. For example, there are cases when the body does not dissolve, or the relics emit a foul odor—then it is considered that things are bad for the soul of the departed and it stands in need of prayerful help. Family members begin to order forty-day prayers for the dead and distribute alms for the repose of the soul. There are particular signs by which you can know that the soul of the departed found grace from the Lord: an amber color to the relics and a sweet fragrance emanating from them. It even happens that the relics of some Orthodox acquire incorruptibility.

So, when they opened Gerontissa Theophano’s grave, her relics were fragrant and had the most amber color, by which it could be determined that her soul found salvation. A reliquary was made for her head which is now kept in the Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the island of Thassos.

Through the prayer of holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us!


[1] Gerondissa, the feminine form of geronda, is the Greek word used to denote respect for an abbess or female spiritual instructor.

[2] A piece of wood which monastics rhythmically beat to call the others to the services.

Source: Pravoslavie.ru

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Our Lady of Kipina

 

 

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If you go towards the old-world village of Kalarrytes in the Tsoumerka Mountains in Epirus, you come across an impressive fortified monastery built into a rock face: the Holy Monastery of Our Lady of Kipina.

 

The Holy Monastery of Kipina is built into a large cave in a sheer rock.

 

According to the founder’s inscription, building began in 1349. But according to Metropolitan Serafeim (Vyzantio) of Arta, a historian, the foundation dates back further in time. Other historical sources date it to 1212.

 

Access to the Monastery is by a stone path hewn into the rock. In former times, contact could be broken by means of a wooden drawbridge.

The outer gate of the monastery.

 

Without doubt, the time when the Monastery of Kipina was at its peak was the 18th century. Indeed, it’s recorded that, in 1760, the exceptionally active Abbot Kallinikos funded the construction of a bridge over the nearby River Kalarrytikos, a tempestuous tributary of the Arakhthos.

 

The Monastery also ran a school and a water-mill. All of this shows both the financial power of the foundation and also the close links with its social setting.

 

The imposing rock casts its shadow over the steps of visitors, next to the path to the entry.

 

Still surviving from the old Monastery complex are the church, four cells and a small building which used to serve as a stable.

 

In the olden days, the drawbridge would be raised at night or at times of danger. Access to the Monastery was thus completed severed, which is why it is one of the few that escaped pillage. The crank handle of the drawbridge has been preserved.

 

The Monastery is dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God. According to tradition, however, it celebrates on the feast of the Life-Receiving Spring (Friday in the week after Easter).

 

The church is a small, single space, built within the cave.

 

The rich iconographical decoration of the church was carried out in the 18th century.

 

At the northern end of the narthex is the opening to the cave, which extends to a depth of 240 metres into the rock.

Today’s Abbesses of Abbesses

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

Gerondissa Akylina, Gerondissa Porphyria (Sipsa) and Gerondissa Makrina (Portaria)

Friday, November 4, feast day of the Blessed Elder Georgios Karslidis of Pontos, warmed my heart with fond memories of nearly 3 decades of pilgrimages to beautiful, gem monasteries in Northern Greece!

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“God cares for everyone. Despair is in effect a lack of faith.”

 

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

Taxiarches and the Analipseos Monastery (Sipsa) in Greece is one of the Monasteries in Greece that holds a dear place in my heart. Together with that of St. Paisios in Souroti, they were the first monasteries I started visiting as a University student, before my graduate studies and work at the US. At that time Gerondissa Porphyria, a Living Signpost in my journey on The Way,  had not even become a monastic, and now she is a renowned Abbess, one of the few of her ‘calibre’ in contemporary women’s monasteries.

 

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

The Blessed Elder Georgios Karslidis of Pontos (1901-1959), latter day saint of the Saintly Orthodox Church in Greece,  glorified by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2008, was the first “resident” and founder of the monastery in the year 1930. He is one of few saints known to bear an imprint of the sign of the cross on his skull. There is a flourishing multitudinous sisterhood of nuns here today, who occupy themselves with the Iconography of handheld pictures, gold embroidery,knitting and waxwork.
 
 
 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis
 

 

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis
 

 

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis
 

 

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina was the first Abbess. I had the rare blessing to meet her a number of times during the last years of her life. In the words of our late Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos, Gerondissa Akylina, together with Gerondissa Makrina in Portaria, were ‘Abbesses of Abbesses’:  examples of the monastic life and their monasteries models of coenobia, workshops of virtue and antechambers of Paradise.

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

Gerondissa Akylina holding the Cross of St. Georgios Karslidis which was found intact after the translation of his relics. He is one of few saints known to bear an imprint of the sign of the cross on his skull.

 

 

Gerondissa Akylina, Porphyria, Sipsa Monastery and St. Georgios Karslidis

 

 
Gerondissa Porphyria has always been so full of love and humility, always ready to sacrifice her ease,  her rest and sleep, everything for her ‘neighbour! How many times has she consoled me in the trials and tribulations of my life! Always by my side, always! How many times has she offered a shoulder to cry on and precious, practical counsel! Her prayerful presence is intensely, intimately felt even thousands of miles away, here at the UK, and her smile warms my heart. Oh, just look at her smile in the photographs below with a pilgrim at the monastery and imagine the rays of the sun warming your shoulders after a rainy, cold day! How blessed am I to have such a spiritual mother by my side! Over the years I got better acquainted with the friendly and hospitable nuns there and the pilgrims and the faithful who regularly visit this monastery. St. Georgios’ holy presence is immediately felt upon entering the monastery gate, and there is always a queue at his tomb where his spiritual children kneel before their spiritual father, now in Heaven, to ask for his spiritual guidance and to seek comfort in life’s trials and tribulations.
 
 
 
For a closer insight at Elder Georgios Karslidis and his miracles, watch the following interview by Gerontissa Porphyria:
 

 

Christians of Comfort

 

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Annual Memorial Service of Father Symeon Kragiopoulos

Last month in Greece, I had the blessing to attend Church services at both the women’s Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos  and at its twin ‘brother’, the men’s Monastery of the Holy Trinity, at Panorama, the suburbs of my hometown, Thessaloniki.  Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos was their spiritual father and abbot. He  passed away last year, at 6:00 a.m. on September 30, 2015, but even after a year, his presence is still felt everywhere in both monasteries.

He was known throughout as a true elder and teacher. I would like to acknowledge here his zeal, patience, kindness and loving example. He has been in so many ways a spiritual signpost of the faith for my own journey through the desert. What an authentic, uncompromising, and yet gentle, loving, kind, compassionate contemporary Elder, what a  heaven-endowed, grace-filled rock of Faith and consolation, a true voice in the wilderness in our times of apostasy! Oh I have been so blessed to hear him preach in my youth, probe into the Niptic Fathers and the Bible, and have attended for years his church services, especially ‘his’ vigils, and his famous silent assemblies, dedicated to the Jesus Prayer, when I was not studying or working abroad.  I even had the blessing to spend invaluable, private time with him as a spiritual father, helping me prepare for my postgraduate studies, work and life at the U.S.A.

In recent years he largely kept silence due to his failing health but he was known throughout as a God-bearing elder and teacher of the true faith. Throughout his life-long ministry, culminating in the prayerful silence of his final, ‘hermit’ years, Elder Symeon has been a rare gift of God, especially for us Thessalonians. In so many respects, Thessaloniki will never be the same after his humble, God-fearing ministry, and we can never thank enough God for the blessing of walking along the Way with such a venerable Elder by our side. His tomb is already a pilgrimage site, and his spiritual children kneel and pray there for hours for his guidance, fully aware that now he is closer to us in the Holy Spirit. Whenever I read his books, or listen to his recorded homilies, the joy and jubilation of Resurrection warms my heart and tears are streaming from my eyes, for the Venerable Elder who was our staff, for the Man of God whom we knew and loved and in whom we placed, after God, so many of  our hopes. We felt so loved and so safe in his presence!

The elder leaves behind many soul-profiting words, and the faithful invariably testify to a presence in Holy Spirit of the Elder, even while ‘simply’ reading or listening to his homilies:

Like the deep sea…

Spiritual work happens secretly in the heart. Externally, let everything else threaten us, like the sea: the wind blows, waves rise. But deep down it’s all quiet, peaceful, serene.

This is how a man who trusts in God lives. There might be a wild rage out there, but deep down nothing hinders the soul from having mystical communion with God, mystical love for God. Quietly and mystically, in a special way that the heart perceives, the Lord is whispering: “Don’t be afraid. I am here. Keep walking this path. Keep loving Me, keep believing in Me, keep following Me.”

It’s not enough to suffer myriad things in life. When, though, you believe in God and accept all these—whatever it is that happens to you—accept all these gladly, for the love of God, God will make a saint out of you.

Man will find all, but after he has lost all, after he has deprived himself of all. It matters greatly for a man to deprive himself of the most beautiful, the best, the most innocent, the purest things, which the Lord Himself has deprived himself of.

It matters greatly for man to deprive himself of things because he loves God.

 

 

 

 

We run to the Lord with pain 

However, we know that we have a Saviour, we know that Christ came to earth. Then we start to understand what it means that he came to save us, and we run to the Saviour. We run to the Lord with pain, with prayer, with a cry, with faith, with hope and a firm conviction that the Lord will accept us and will save us. The Lord wants us to approach things exactly like this. This is not our own daring or our own boldness. He wants us to act just like that, to entrust ourselves in this way, and for this reason he gave us promises. So someone does this work, and little by little the decay of his soul, that lies in the subconscious and the unconscious, emerges.

* * *

Self-worship lives and reigns …

For us to have right communion with Christ, it is necessary that our entire soul becomes conscious, that it comes into the light, into the grace of God, and that nothing remains in darkness. However, no matter how much someone believes, no matter how much he, every day, makes a new start in the true life and struggles to give himself and devote himself to God, he must realize this vital point: that within him, the ego, pride, and selfishness, live and rule. This self-love, this self-worship, lives and reigns. Therefore, man must become humble: every day, he must increase in humility. We have many things, many realities from our everyday life that help us with this work.

He who truly loves humility, and desires to become humble, begs God for this. In this way, in the beginning, and imperceptibly –later perhaps more truly—he starts, little by little, to feel this, the emptying of the soul from the ego, from selfishness, from the idol which we have installed within us. And so if one is completely humbled, he surrenders himself to God and is devoted to him—meaning that every day he makes a new beginning, from which the whole object of his soul will finally come into the light of God—in truth, man will arrive at this state which the Lord promises to us.

           But what is this state?

The Lord didn’t come simply to die Himself. Rather, He said that we will also die with Him. And in the same way that He Himself resurrected, we will also be resurrected. Whatever Christ is after the resurrection, this man also becomes when he is united to Christ. He is not simply a good man who thought up some good things. Christian means little Christ. In the end, Christ will make each one of us whatever He is himself. He does not simply advise us from the outside, but enters into us and takes us into Himself. We are united and become like unto Him. Even from this life we become like unto Christ, but this will become complete in the next life.

I pray this for all of us.

 

 

 

Christians of comfort

We are Christians of comfort. That’s why the Lord will let us struggle a lot.

Don’t expect salvation with certainty, unless all comforts are abolished in you.

Our whole Christian mentality functions wrongly.  On the one hand, we want to avoid suffering. On the other, we take great care not to lose or deprive ourselves of anything. And we “walk” in the wrong manner.

In the long run, whether we like it or not, we will have suffering. And indeed, when we have a fake impression that we are enjoying the goods of this world, our life is often like hell.

***

These words, and many more can be found here.

 

Memory Eternal, dearest pappouli! May we meet you in Heaven!

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In the following days, I am going to present a tribute to Father Symeon, together with excerpts from his homilies and a few recordings, for those of you who are hearing about this venerable elder here for the first time. Even if the recordings are in Greek, I trust the spirit of this man of God can be felt through and richly bless us all.

 

 

 

 

Near-Death and Afterlife Stories in a True Crown Jewel

 

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Dryovouno Monastery, Near-Death and Afterlife Stories

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Father Stephanos of the Monastery of Transfiguration (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros) in Dryovouno speaks very little, mainly with his eyes.

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Mother Theologia: “How little do we think of death, although he is so near to us!” commenting on a yet another sudden, unexpected death.

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Laokratia told us about a dream: “My friend’s late young son, who had suffered a sudden and violent death through a road crush, appeared in his father’s dream in tears, standing before a closed gate, telling him that ‘they’ do not allow him in. His father, a very faithful man, promptly met Elder Iakovos Tsalikis and told him his dream. By the grace of God, the elder, having a pure nous, was deemed worthy to see the souls of people at the time they were leaving the earth and ascending towards heaven. Elder Iakovos asked him if his son was blaspheming God, and the father sadly admitted so. Then, Elder Iakovos promised to pray for his son, and he also advised him to do alms in his son’s name, fast and pray to the Lord so He will grant him rest”. The poor father made a prostration and obeyed the elder, and after 40 days, he saw again his son in his dream, this time radiant with joy, in front of an open gate, thanking him and telling him that ‘they’ had allowed him in!”

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Sister Gregoria: “I just received a message from a friend who had to undergo a difficult operation and she told me that it all went well but that it was St. Luke Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, the Blessed Surgeon who operated her! In the operating room she felt that she was dying. She started ascending and watched the surgeon and the nurses trying to revive her unconscious body. Then she met ‘somewhere in the air’ St Luke. To be sure she could not really interpret what was happening to her as it was taking place. Still she understood that he reassured her that he would take over as the surgeon was clearly in an impasse. Then she started moving in the reverse direction, got into her body again and found herself in the hospital, having had the surgery performed, with doctors standing around her, looking at her puzzled. But who was this St Luke she had met? It took her a few hours to find out that her mother, a very devout woman, had placed a little icon of his underneath her pillow, just before the operation started!”

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Sister Ioanna:”Yesterday at midnight, while I can finishing the writing of an icon and adding the dedication, I realised that although I could write the mother’s name easily, there was no way I could add her late son’s name. I started praying and in the Spirit I ‘saw’ that the mother was in a very good spiritual state, but her son was not at all well and needed our prayers. She felt that God had granted rest to the mother’s soul, but they should do alms in the son’s name and pray to the Lord so He will grant him rest”.

We arrived at the Monastery of the Transfiguration (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros) in Dryovouno on its Feast  day. We were a group of faithful, Mother Theologia and some nuns from the nearby Monastery of the Assumption, Dormition (Koimiseos tis Theotokou) of Mikrokastro. What stunning Beauty confronted us!

 

 

This male monastery is located a few kilometers above Dryovouno, at a secluded area. Its foundation goes back to 1592, while the murals were completed in 1652, by painter Nikolaos from Linotopi while the narthex in particular is the work of Argyris Kriminiotis.

 

Kosmas Aitolos arrived here and, after preaching, treated the monks who had been taken ill due to an epidemic. He fetched water from a nearby spring, blessed it, and gave it to the monks to drink, who were then cured. This water has been considered holy ever since and a chapel devoted to saint Kosmas has been constructed at the spring. St. Kosmas received from God the gift of prophecy.

 

At wartime, the monastery offered valuable services to the local population. It served as storage for ammunition and as base for various chieftains. This is where Dimitrios Feraios, Kapetan Vardas and Pavlos Melas resorted to.

 

In 1943 it was set on fire by Italians along with its historic records. Its renovation began in 1996, the prime mover being Archbishop Stefanos Rinos with the personal efforts of monks and believers. The parvis offers a sense of tranquility and a spectacular view to Voio and Kastoria.

 

 

How Romanians React to Foreigners

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Suzana Monastery Retreat  II, or An Anthropological ‘Field Trip’ Insights,  and Communism Jokes 😃

Doamne Ajuta! I am obviously not the only pilgrim at Suzana Monastery, but I am the only pilgrim who is NOT Romanian. I am immediately spotted and ‘targeted’ , especially by a group of Romanian students who belong to an Orthodox youth organization and do volunteer work at the monastery in the summer. They are here to help with the housekeeping, farming and agriculture. And with chanting.

How to ‘annoy’ a Romanian (1)

Mistake Bucharest for Budapest.

Never ask a Romanian if he lives in Budapest. That’s the capital sin, the perfect way to end a potentially interesting conversation. Yes, Budapest is a capital city, and there’s a big chance you’ll nail it with this guess — but only if you’re speaking to a Hungarian! We’re so tired of hearing, “Good evening, Budapest!” every time an international act has a concert in Bucharest. Metallica did it, Lenny Kravitz did it. And many others. But they had bodyguards. You, on the other hand, will be alone in front of an outburst of anger.

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The Romanian hospitality, warmth, enthusiasm and curiosity about anything Greek, or foreign for that matter, AND Orthodox CANNOT be exaggerated! This group of students at Suzana Monastery instantly become my ready interpreters and eager translators, my willing tutors for Romanian chanting and they are so full of questions about my job, my studies, my travels, my pilgrimages, my adopted country UK, my home country Greece and its Saints, especially St. Paisios, about everything, to the point of collapse!

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I may be on a pilgrimage in Romanian monasteries, but St Paisios’ the Athonite, my patron Saint‘s, presence is strongly felt all over Romania. Plenty of icons of his and books with his services and spiritual counsels in all monasteries and churches I have been so far! Esp. on the 12th of July the faithful all over in Romania were holding Vigils and praying Akathists and Supplication canons, asking for his prayers. Wherever I go, the moment Romanians realise that I am Greek and my home town is near Souroti, they start asking for my telephone number and email, so that I can make arrangements and help them go and venerate his tomb. 

How to ‘annoy’ a Romanian (2)

Ask us about vampires.

In 1897, the Irish writer Bram Stoker published a Gothic novel entitled Dracula. His story made Transylvania more famous than any tourism promotion campaign ever could. By using some historical facts, he linked Vlad Tepes, the Voivode of Wallachia, to his main character, Count Dracula, the vampire. Unfortunately, that means foolish tourists now come to Transylvania expecting to see garlic hanging by doors or people walking around with wooden stakes in their pockets. Transylvania is a peaceful, hilly area with many traditional houses and fortified churches. The real threat back then wasn’t exsanguination, but impalement — the Voivode Vlad’s favorite method of execution. And that isn’t fiction.

Their energy is indomitable, even when our conversation lasts for hours while standing after very long services outside the church at dusk until midnight and …! Their effusion is so contagious and there is no end to the exchange of telephone numbers, emails and addresses for the planning of future pilgrimages in Romania and Greece and exchange of Saints! These ‘buzzing bees’ with bright eyes and brighter smiles are to follow me everywhere from now on (when they are not busy with their obediences) yet their ‘buzzying’ mysteriously does not interfere with the silence that invades me. It surely has to do with their kindness, love and purity in Christ.

 

 

If you have never experienced the intensity of Romanians’ love and hospitality, you may think I exaggerate. To give you just another example, while waiting for the bus to Bucharest from Thessaloniki, I sat at a nearby café and took out my Byzantine chanting textbook to practice! Yes, one has to be very careful with these diatonic genus and Greek:  A    Β     Γ   Δ     Ε Ζ     Η, Greek:       Πα Βου Γα Δι Κε Ζω Νη, English:     Pa Vou Ga Di Ke Zo Ni, [Re Mi   Fa Sol La Si   Do], [D   E     F   G   A   B   C ]

Can you imagine a Romanian in love with you, if that is their normal ??!!

Suddenly a Romanian interrupts me and ‘blurts’ out how excited she is for meeting me, and that she is returning back to Bucharest together with 4 Romanian musicologists, who were on a Byzantine chanting conference in Thasos, and pretty soon I am surrounded by 4 (even) more effusive, enthusiastic Romanians, reciting to me Homer in ancient Greek, hugging me and chanting Ti Ipermaho / Τῆ Ὺπερμάχῳ/ To Thee the Champion Leader, in Greek again with stunning voices right in the middle of the street (!) with tears in their eyes. What a people! Can you imagine a Romanian in love with you, if that is their normal ??!!

How to ‘annoy’ a Romanian (3)

Leave food on your plate.

Mark my words: If invited to a Romanian’s home for lunch or dinner, fast for a day or two before the visit. We are known for being a welcoming nation, and one of our favorite ways of showing it is through food. Here are a few appetizers so you don’t starve before the first course is ready. Some eggplant salad, salted roe, homemade smoked bacon with onions, and stuffed boiled eggs with mayo. Come on, try them all! Do you like the smell of our meatball soup? Here comes the clay pot full of sarmale, next to a steaming polenta and a jar of cream. You have to taste this! It’s our traditional course. You’ve finished everything? Don’t worry, there’s plenty more! The pork roast seasoned with garlic is almost ready.

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Doamne Ajuta! Nothing best encapsulates the warmth of the Romanian heart, the warmth of their love, politeness, gentleness and hospitality, other than this greeting of theirs, ready to be offered at any time of the day, and on any occasion. So, rather than wishing someone ‘Good Morning’, or a ‘Safe Journey’, lay people and priests bless each other continuously, “Doamne Ajuta”, for surely where He is present, the journey or the job is bound to be blessed too. Such fresh and pure, innocent, child-like faith, feels refreshingly ‘simple’ compared to the Russian anguish, sinfulness and repentance.

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Such warmth and hospitality, even when very poor, even when they want to share with you, their ‘raw’ cottage cheese, natural sour cream and bizarre non-homogenized boiled water-milk concoction straight from the monastery’s cows (!), their mamaliga, their beans puree and their boiled cabbage. (Can you imagine, again the Romanians’ soaring child-like enthusiasm when steaks or ice-cream show up in a surprise at our monastic (!) dinner?) Here, at a monastery, we have to boil water at the wood stove so that we can have hot water to wash the dishes. No hot bath to be sure. We have to sleep under kilimia, rough peasants’ rugs, becoming prey to very hungry fleas. And still, the poorer you are, the eager to share, and especially the more hospitable especially when it comes to basic human needs, such as sleep, company, food.

How to ‘annoy’ a Romanian (4)

Confuse Romanians with Gypsies.

The official name of the Gypsy ethnic group is Romani, and even though Wikipedia states they are “not to be confused with Romanians, an unrelated ethnic group and nation,” misplaced associations are still often made. There are Gypsies all over the world — one million in the United States, 800,000 in Brazil, and many others in Europe, including Romania. They originated in India and left sometime between the sixth and eleventh centuries. Confusing Romanians with Romanis only makes you sound ignorant.

 

All Romanians I have encountered so far, be it at the UK, be it in Romania or in Greece, anywhere, are true cosmopolitans, intelligentsia and artists, men and women of culture and refinement, often very poor but with a wealth of education, so eager to contribute to the whole world community of Arts and Sciences, so enthusiastic to learn and to connect, curious yet so courteous, well-mannered and pious (in the good sense of the world).

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Sometimes this poverty of theirs may surface in a certain ‘ugliness’, dirtiness, slovenliness, chaos, and carelessness in their kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and common areas. We have to surround ourselves with beauty—that is a Christian virtue., but not one that I have encountered in Romania, with the exception of their churches and monasteries. Yet one feels so privileged, honoured and blessed to just be with them! Romanian homes are often less than orderly and clean according to a western European standard, their appearance follows a pretty weird and slovenly fashion (if one may call such an ‘invention’ fashion), completely lacking any finesse and style, but just a look at their bright smiles and sparkling eyes and a companionship with their fascinating personalities ‘compensates’ immensely. Who cares about clothes and looks, when in company of such kind and refined people, refined in all tastes that truly matter, refined in spirit and soul and heart, in the company ultimately of true aristocrats? Besides, none of us would have been any the better, after such an aggressive Communist regime and persecution, followed by a ruthless dictatorship, just in recent times.

How to ‘annoy’ a Romanian (5)

Tell us a breeze can’t make you sick.

We Romanians are so convinced that a cool breeze or draft of air can make you sick that we even have an expression for it: Te trage curentul. (“You’ll be pulled by the draft.”) Take the bus on a hot summer day, and you’ll probably see the windows open on only one side of the vehicle, or not at all. Craving a breath of fresh air, you move your hand in the direction of the window. But even before you touch the handle, you’ll hear a panicked voice say, “Are you trying to get us all sick?” To anyone else, this doesn’t make sense, but the logic behind this Romanian belief goes like this: The current of cool air will make your ears hurt and your nose run. Don’t even try to argue about this. You’ll only make yourself hotter.

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Romanians laugh a lot , especially at the face of danger, and can always appreciate a good joke. Like when I peppered sugar on my steak! Yet, I am not the only one in trouble with a foreign language. The residing priest told us that while at the States, he was invited at Arizona monasteries, and he made a homily there how Jesus was carried by a monkey (!), not donkey 😃

“Humor was a way of rebellion and survival at the same time; an escape of the mind and soul, a way of coping with all those absurd and restrictions imposed by a communist regime who did not care about its own people. Humor was a way of standing up or fighting back, a form of active resistance against a criminal regime; at that time the political jokes served as a catalyst of the constant state of discontent Romanians felt towards the things they did not agree or even hated… towards what was happening with our country. ”

Like:

Have you noticed that at every petrol station there is now a doctor and a policeman on duty? The doctor gives the first aid to those who faint when they see the price, and the policeman interrogates the ones who fill up about where they got the money from. 

A patient is hospitalized at the Insane Asylum. ‘Why are you here?’, another patient asks. ‘I wanted to cross the Romanian boarder’, says the first. ‘But for something like this they do not send you to an asylum!’, replies the other. ‘Yes, but I wanted to escape to Soviet Union!’

A citizen said the chief of the Communist Party is an idiot. For saying this, the citizen was sentenced to spend 25 years and 3 months in prison. Everybody was wondering why 25 years and 3 months. In the end, they old find out the answer: 3 months for insulting a citizen of the Socialist Republic of Romania; 25 years for revealing a state secret.  

 

For those who lived in Romanian during communism time, this system is very different from anything you could read in the some idealistic books. Some of the quotes show extremely well how people really felt about such an oppressing system:

Is communism a science? No, if it were a science, they would have   tested it on animals first.

An old gypsy man on his dying bad. Instead of sending after the priest, he asks for the local chief of communist party. ‘I would like to join the Party’, says the dying man. ‘Why would you do this?’, asks the communist. ‘You lived your whole life free as the wind and now you want to join the Party?’. ‘Well, you see, if somebody has to die, I would be much happier if that guy were a communist’, answers back the dying man. 

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Last but not least, Romanians are not just ‘special’, but unique! (in their own opinion of course) Stereotypes, ethnophyleticism, ethnic superiority/ inferiority complexes and xenophobia deeply vex my spirit.Sadly, even here, in a monastery, I have to ‘defend’ English people and ‘their’ Orthodoxy from some Romanians. I do not know how good an ‘ambassador’ I am, but I am trying my best. And all of Romanians I have encountered think that St Philothei, the Righteous Martyr of Athens (sic!) is Romanian! Not that Greeks are any better. We consider St Efraim the Syrian (sic!) to be Greek! Of course!

How to ‘annoy’ a Romanian (6)

Refuse homemade beverages.

Romania has one of the oldest winemaking traditions in the world. The country once had so many vineyards it’s believed Dionysus, the god of wine, was born in southeast Romania in a region then called Thracia. As proud successors of the Thracians, Romanians practice winemaking as a popular hobby, so you’ll probably be offered some garage-made wine. Or tuica, a strong fruity beverage. Even if you have reason for concern, do not ask about hygienic conditions or quality control. We take great pride in everything made with our own hands, so turning it down would be a serious insult. Take a sip, two, three, and worry not. We all drink homemade alcohol, and no one has died of it. So far.

Go here for Part I

Go here for Part III

To Be Continued …

Sources for the jokes: How to piss off a Romanian   and Romanian Communist jokes

Romanian Monasteries Pilgrimage — Zamfira Monastery

A most spiritually intense summer so far! Full of such dramatic ups and downs! Personal tribulations and divine interventions, violent, ‘rough seas’ in the ‘world’ and hesychastic pilgrimages and retreats in monasteries!

This week I am entering the atmosphere of Romanian Orthodox Christianity and undertaking together with very special Romanian spiritual brothers and sisters a pilgrimage to various, notable monasteries to the south of Romania.

My first stop was the Monastery of Zamfira, famous for its ties with Greek Revolutionary history, and specifically Nicolae Mavrocordat, and for its amazing paintings by the skilful young Romanian painter Nicu Grigoresku.

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This monastic complex is located in the Teleajen Valley, halfway between Ploiesti and Valenii de Munte. It has two churches (monuments of art), a collection of religious art and the cells of the nuns.

 

The first church (named The Big Church) is located the large yard of the convent. It was founded by Metropolite Nifon and was built between 1855 and 1857 with the aim of transferring the monks from the “Rosioara” hermitage of Filipestii de Padure. The artistic significance of this church is based on its painting, because it is the first church entirely painted by the great Romanian painter, Nicolae Grigorescu, at the age of 18.

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This painting is considered to be unique since it the only one created in “fresco” by Grigorescu. The mural painting and the icons of the iconostasis were completed in an extremely short time, i. e., in less than 14 months.

This painting has undergone several restorations, the last and best one being done between 1986 and 1989 by the painter and restorer, Chiriac Ion. He carefully removed all the repainted portions, hence making the original painting visible once again. It is a remarkable restoration.

 

The collection of religious art containing objects dating from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries belonged to the two churches or to the various donors: icons on wood or glass, books of worship, invaluable objects of worship, carved pieces embroideries, etc.

 

Frescos of the great Romanian painter, Nicolae Grigorescu.

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The chanting of the nuns was breathtaking, the kneeling during its long services surprisingly soothing, a balm to the wounded heart, and the Vespers and Matins services dedicated to the veneration of St. Paisios the Athonite, my patron Saint and spiritual grandfather, incredibly moving! What a surprise to find his Icon and seek his intercessions at the very heart of Romania! Even the strangeness of praying in a language you can barely follow was a special blessing, a long-sought-for emptying, a kenosis, allowing all this silence and deep peace of Christ ‘invade’ you!