Mother Stavritsa the Missionary and the Miracle of the Archangel Michael the Taxiarch

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The wondrous icon of the Holy Archangel Michael, Mantamados, Mytilene (Lesvos). “Where your grace casts its shade, Archangel, there the devil’s power is chased away; for the fallen Morning Star cannot endure in your light.”  May he intercede for us all and protect us! The Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers is one of the major feasts of the Holy Archangel Michael the Taxiarch, Mantamados, Mytilene (Lesvos). This is because that church was consecrated on this day. Thousands of pilgrims flock to celebrate this feast, seek the intercessions of the great Taxiarch, and thank him for his prayer and his protection. 

Days of travelling, days of mourning (+ my father-in-law, Pericles), days of new beginnings, new home and new job, arduous, exhausting days, yet such hope and inspiration in Mama Stavritsa’s faith and courage!

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Miracles of the Archangel Michael the Taxiarch to Mother Stavritsa the Missionary (+2000) (1)
My name is Stavritsa Zachariou, and I am a Greek American. In 1969 I went to Africa as a missionary. I am 75 years old, and 15 years I spent in Africa, near our suffering brothers, sowing the seed of the Gospel. I stay by myself in Nairobi, Kenya, and from there I go to Kampala, Cameroon, and other places, where the seed of the Gospel of Christ needs to be sowed.
I am a missionary of the Archdiocese of America. With the help of God and of benefactors, we built 12 holy Churches in [Africa]. We built the 10th holy church in honor of the Archangel Michael, and I wanted to paint his icon from the prototype from the north gate of the Patriarchate. As I was finishing the icon, when I went to the post office, I received a letter from Fr. Soterios Trampa. I know Archimandrite Fr. Soterios, who was a missionary for many years in Korea, and who also served as a preacher of your Metropolis, along with Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Athens from 1968-1973. In his letter was a small booklet on the Taxiarch of Mantamados. Then I learned about Mantamados, and the bas-relief icon of the Archangel Michael. Fr. Soterios wrote: “I am sending you the information on the Taxiarch of Mantamados, that you might come to know his wondrous icon. Within this you will see one of his many miracles, which occur daily to the glory of God. I served there in the past, and I especially honor him…”
I began to read the booklet on the Taxiarch, including the miracle of the sword. As I continued reading, I reached the place regarding the passing of the sword from some unknown person to Mr. Diamante, when there was as if some marked commotion in the icon [that she had painted]. I turned around to see what was happening then and, O my God!!!! The Archangel of the icon began to come to life, to take on flesh and bones! I was astonished! I knelt before it and began to pray with tears and to ask for his help and his protection. After a short while, slowly the icon began to return to its natural state.
I was supposed to go for a trip to Kampala. I always thought that when I would go on some trip, that I should take with me the icon of some Saint from my icon corner. That time, I took with me the little icon of the Taxiarch of Mantamados.
We reached the border of Kampala and Kenya, and Kampala at that time (1988) had a military regime. When we speak about a military regime in the center of Africa, it means that human life is cheaper than the life of a blackbird!
As we were passing through, my driver (a Kenyan and my Koumbaro) did not notice that at one place there was a stop sign and he kept going. Five wild motorcyclists surrounded us. They got off their motorcycles, drew their weapons, and knelt, preparing to fire at us and to take our car and our possessions as spoil. That is what usually occurred there…
Then, I don’t know what strength was within me, but I opened the door of the car..I exited with the icon of the Taxiarch in my hands, and approached them, crying out:
“For God’s sake, stop! I have with me the Taxiarch of God, who is dark-colored (2) like you, come see him!!!”
Automatically, it was as if someone grabbed them by the hands. They calmed down, left their weapons in the grass, and ran up to me, took the icon, like something holy and venerable, and began to examine it carefully and to shout. They bowed their faces to the ground and holding my hands, they asked for forgiveness. Then I saw that one of them was injured badly in the hand by a knife. I took my first aid kit from the car, nursed the wound and dressed it. We became friends! The most impressive thing is that, there was sown the word of God, and the five of them received Christ, and became Christians!
After all of this, I promised to the Archangel to come to Greece, to Mantamados, to thank him. And today, I feel very blessed that the Lord made me worthy to fulfill my promise. I thank Him from all my heart!”
(1) Ed.’s Note: Excerpt not included in the Amazon book; part of her own autobiography, yet available in a limited edition only in Greek.
(2) Ed.’s Note: Dark-colored, because of dirt, mud and dried blood: 

“There are two accounts surrounding the date of this icon, one having to do with the Ottoman Turkish occupation and destruction of 1462, and the other with Saracen pirates during the 9th and 10th centuries during which the entire island was invaded.In either case, the story of the creation of the icon shares the theme that the target of the raids was the monastery of the Taxiarchis. The pirates threatened the monks with death if they would not reveal the whereabouts of the hidden villagers. The monks refused and the invaders slaughtered all of the monks except for one novice-monk [1]

As the pirates where leaving, the novice climbed to the roof of the monastery to be sure that the pirates had left. However, the pirates noticed him from afar and returned to kill him as well. It is at this point in the story that the Archangel Michael makes his appearance in front of the Saracens with his own sword drawn forcing them to retreat in terror[2]. Thanks to this miracle from the Archangel the monk survived and descending to the courtyard buried the bodies of his fellow brotherhood.

The monk still in deep respect and reverence for having witnessed the Archangel Michael in all his fury, gathered up the earth that was red by the blood of the martyred monks and shaped it into the icon-sculpture of the Archangel as it is today; while it was still vivid in his memory. According to legend, the monk did not have enough of this dirt-blood mix and so the head of the Archangel has turned out disproportionately larger to the rest of his body.

This icon, is now kept within the interior of the church. Many islanders claim to have had personal experiences of miracles being granted for them by Mantamados. This is evident by the numerous cabinets full of tagmata (gifts) to the Archangel housed inside the church. To this day, pilgrims to this church have mixed emotions regarding this icon. At times, the expression on the icon can appear severe, sad, or happy, according to the message that the Archangel wants to convey to that pilgrim or the faithful. This is the tradition of the much-celebrated icon of Mantamados.”

 

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Christ’s Naked Word

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St. Cuthbert, an early Celtic Saint, used to pray standing in the sea. When he stepped out, the sea otters would dry his feet with their fur.

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“The more I examine myself, the more I see that a life devoted to constructing and organizing, a life which produces positive results and which succeeds, is not my vocation, even though, out of obedience, I could work in this direction and even obtain certain results. What attracts me is a vocation of loss–a life which would give itself freely without any apparent positive result, for the result would be known to God alone; in brief, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.” (Father Lev Gillet, Letter of 9 March 1928, in Contacts, 49, no. 180, 1997, p. 309.)
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“The one thing that sets the Saints apart from the rest of us is their struggle to remain entirely obedient to Christ. There is no bargaining in their mind, no negotiating Christ’s teaching, no diluting His words to the point where they lose the strength to open for us the path of salvation.

Most of us receive the word of God with caution, and we immediately start turning it on all sides until we reach a compromise that works for us. Most of us fear the word of God. All we truly want is something that looks like His word enough to make us feel good about ourselves, enough to make us have the appearance of Christians, but not to the extent that we could lose control over our lives.

One can go through life either in obedience to Christ or in obedience to one’s own will. The challenges and choices of this world are simple and clear if we obey Christ’s word – we need to love, we need to forgive, we need to help. Ultimately, we need to allow the world to crucify us for His name and become true followers of the Crucified One. These are His words, and this is the way of the Saints.

Things only seem complicated when our brain gets in the way. Things only seen unclear when we begin negotiating Christ’s word, looking for a human version of it which does not lead to the Cross. Unfortunately, we always succeed. Unfortunately, we have the frightening ability to reduce Christ’s teaching to something that excludes the Cross. The danger, though, is that without the Cross there can be no Resurrection either.

The Saints are not like that. The Saints do not build an idol of their earthly lives. They have no vision of a perfect life here, no vision of a perfect self in this world. They remain faithful to Christ and His word, and allow nothing of this world to come between them and their God.

Look at St Cuthbert. Look at his faith, the faith of a young man who spent his nights into the cold waters of the North Sea, so he may control his mind and his body in prayer. Look at his obedience to his true calling – a hermit at heart, he left everything behind to be obedient to Christ. A man alone on his island, but carrying the world and its Creator in his heart.

Through his prayers, may we also be given the faith to obey Christ’s naked word, not our own tamed version of it.” (Fr. Seraphim Aldea, Mull Monastery Blog)

 

 

Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (II)

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Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

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Bright Tuesday

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus: I can literally feel the 179 Martyrs presence on me, as Father Jonathan had insisted that I carry them during this pilgrimage on their Feast Day[1]. Of course, the truth is the other way round: it is always the Saints who are carrying us. Archimandrite Theoklitos had offered a tiny fragment of the 179 Martyrs’ relics to our Holy Cross parish, which is displayed for veneration in the Holy Liturgy, and will later in the day return to ‘their own’ monastery to be ‘reunited’ with their brethren on their feast day.

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Holy Monastery of Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, the Wonderworker and Newly-Revealed: A strange spectacle is awaiting us at the monastery gates: a leaping and dancing Resurrectional priest, a modern Saint Seraphim of Sarov figure, who greets all who enter the monastery with a kiss, and the words of the Paschal greeting: “Christ is Risen!” He is literally leaping with joy and greeting all pilgrims in a ‘dance routine’!!!

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli: Vespers and a Holy Procession of the 179 Martyrs. During the Procession, Abbess Styliani’s face is lit and transfigured in ecstasy. Together with all the nuns, she too is dancing the Resurrection dance. She is also blessing all pilgrims with a large pectoral Cross.

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NOTES

[1]The 179 Holy Martyrs were massacred by pirates into the katholikon, on Pascha 1680, during the midnight service, after the final “Christ is Risen!” was joyfully chanted by the fathers following the Divine Liturgy. Similarly, Saints Raphael, Nikolaos and Eirini were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday when they were eventually martyred on April 9, 1463. St Efraim of Nea Makri was himself too martyred by the Turks on Tuesday May 5, 1426.

 

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Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

 

Musings from a Bright Week Pilgrimage (I)

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Gerondas Theoklitos, Monastery of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian

 

Paschal Holy Dances in Attica, Aegina and Euboia

Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly ‘leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me.

 

But let me start with the beginning.This Bright [1]Week pilgrimage was appropriately the brightest I have ever participated in! It felt like the fulfilment of St. John’s of Damascus Mystical Pascha captured in his Paschal Canon! To be sure, any trip to Greece in springtime straight from a foggy, misty, rainy England is bound to feel full of light! Especially if to Athens and the islands!

 

Still, the Light which nearly blinded all of us during this Bright Week pilgrimage must have contained a tiny ray of Christ’s Light [2]! A palpable, tangible Transfiguration Light dancing in all pilgrims’ eyes, on the bus and in all the monasteries we visited. The atmosphere felt so light as if were all to collectively Ascend to Heavens. The sheer exuberance of “Christ is Risen” chanted 99 times every single day during Resurrection Day and All Bright Week made our hearts leap with joy! And our Lord’s greeting “Rejoice!” in all the 11 Resurrectional Matins (Eothina) Gospels reverberated in our hearts. And as we were soon to find out, we were about to meet lots of literally dancing and leaping holy men and women.

 

Morning Holy Liturgy at the Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Mount Olympus (3) on Bright Tuesday

 

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That was another discovery of that week: how many Paschal verses indeed contain this image of “leaping”:

 

THE PASCHAL CANON

 

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David, the forefather of our divine Lord, leapt and dancedbefore the symbolical Ark of the Covenant.

 

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“When they who were held by the chains of hell beheld Thy boundless compassion, O Christ, they hastened to the Light with joyful feet, exalting the eternal Pascha.

 

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We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life. And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.

 

THE PASCHAL STICHERA IN TONE FIVE

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and leap for joy, in that thou beholdest Christ the King like a bridegroom come forth from the grave.

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Everybody in our mixed company on the bus was exhausted even before starting out! Doctors, reeling after long shifts, having barely slept for more than 3-4 hours in 3-4 days in a row; parents struggling with noisy, boisterous,excited young children; senior high-school and university students in distress, studying for their final exams … on the bus! … while all were desperately trying to get some sleep… But the most exhausted of us all was our accompanying priest, Hieromonk Synesios, St. Arsenios Monastery, after a rigorous monastic Great Lent and Holy Week, on top of all his other duties. St Arsenios himself, as in all past pilgrimages, was at the front seat of the bus. His relics were reverently carried by all pilgrims at every stop of our pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was brief but packed and hectic, so let me simply offer a few Paschal, mostly “leaping/ dancing” vignettes which made the greatest impression to me:

 

To Be Continued …

 

Footnotes

 [1] Bright week begins with the Sunday of Pascha, and comes to a close on Bright Saturday, at Vespers. One may actually argue that Bright week comes to a close before the ninth hour (which precedes vespers), since the royal doors and deacons’ doors, which have been wide open all week, are closed. This is a sad and significant moment. Just like our forefathers Adam and Eve, we cannot remain in paradise in this life, because of our sins. Ours is a life of struggle against our passions, which hold us back from full realization of paradise in this life.
‘How many days are in Bright week?’ There are TWO correct answers! According to the sun’s rising and setting, Bright week is seven days, (Sunday through Saturday) but to the church, liturgically, it is one day – the “eighth day”.

[2]Cf. Lev Gillet’s notes on the theme of light in the Byzantine liturgical year: ‘Come, take light from the Light that has no evening, and glorify Christ, risen from the dead.’ On the Sunday Pascha, the celebrant stands at the royal doors of the iconostasion and holds a lighted candle in his hand. “Once more, the eastern Church represents the Christian mystery in terms of the mystery of light; this Light, whose birth was marked by the star of Bethlehem, has been shining among us with growing intensity; the darkness of Golgotha could not extinguish it. Now it reappears among us, and all the candles which the congregation hold in their hands, and that they now light, proclaim its triumph. In this way, the deeply spiritual meaning of Easter is indicated. The physical Resurrection of Jesus would be without value to us if the divine light did not shine at the same time among us, within us. We cannot worthily celebrate the Resurrection of Christ if, in our soul, the light brought by the Saviour has not completely overcome the darkness of our sins.”[The Uncreated Light] on Easter night triumphs over the darkness; at Pentecost it reaches its full zenith. Pentecost is the ‘midday flame’. (The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, p177, p215 respectively)

[3]: For information and a documentary in Greek about our first stop, the beautiful Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus, go herehere and here.

Choice

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“Freedom, A Choice”,  a painting by Anila Ayilliath

 

Choice (*)

 

-Lord, let me come and join you in that land which beckons me, in those fields that I love.

-No, it is in this town that you must meet me.

-Lord, I long for the sun and the wilde flowers over there.

-I only have this black sky and these thorns to give you.

-But Lord, there is only noise and smoke here.

-There is something else as well; there is sin.

-Lord, I would so like to see again the blue water that you knew!

-Here, hearts are sick and souls are dying in darkness.

Lord, I could perhaps stay if you entered into my heart, if you took my hand. But when I see these streets […] my whole being revolts and escapes in thought over there. Must I therefore still stay here, with my sadness and my loneliness?

-My child, is it so difficult to decide? And to walk where I walk?”

(“Sunday Letters”, Lev Gillet, ‘A Monk of the Eastern Church’ by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, p23)

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* Dedicated to my spiritual father 

This dedication, initially made on 10/6/2017, holds true of course, only yesterday, when I re-discovered these letters last night, I thought every single iota of these verses was written for me! Piercing my heart … Each time, returning here is becoming increasingly difficult … 

I am Back

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli

Virginia: “When will you start writing in Greek? English comes difficult to me. I struggle with your posts. Please consider …”

And Gianna. And Kalliopi. And …

Christ is Risen! 

It seems this blog may soon become bilingual… Maybe I should alternate one blogpost in Greek, one in English? … Once, twice a week? Do you think this is a good idea? On the bus, on our way to Attica, my Greek friends asked me to share on the microphone a few of my experiences here. They gasped at the stories I told them. They did not know. How could they even begin to imagine? 

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St. Nektarios’ the Wonderworker monastery, Agia Triada (The Holy Trinity) in Aegina

I feel I owe this to my Greek and Cypriot brethren who should not be left behind. They need to recover Orthodoxy, expand their horizons and learn about Orthodoxy’s struggles in foreign lands. In so many ways, I have discovered more about Orthodoxy during my brief ‘exile’ in an un-Orthodox country than in a lifetime in an Orthodox one.

Besides, any missionary endeavour and blog require by their very nature more than one tongue. At Pentecost “every man heard them speak in his own language”(Acts 2:6). I still find writing in English a lot harder than in Greek my mother tongue, and there are a lot of texts yet untranslated in English. 

What is your opinion? Do you have any suggestions? I would be so grateful for any help.

 

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Pantokratoros Monastery in Ntaou Penteli, 179 Martyrs Reliquary

Christ is Risen! 

I am back. I can’t believe a whole month flew by so fast! Thank you for staying in touch through my inbox. So many emails to reply, questions to answer, stories to be told … Please be patient with me, as I am still unpacking. My pilgrimage to Attica, Aegina and Euboia lasted only a few precious days, yet had quite an effect on me. It felt like a landmark and a watershed. More in the posts to follow…

 

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The Kato Xenia Monastery at Almyros, near Volos – The Wonder Working Belt of Virgin Mary

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Monastery of Transfiguration near Rovies, island of Evia, constructed by Saint David, and served by the recently canonised St. Iakovos Tsalikis. + His grave

Two Contemporary Miracles of the Holy Cross

 

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Two True Stories of Witchcraft, Demons and the Power of the Holy Cross in Congo, Africa 

1. A Miracle of the Holy Cross in Congo 
Mystagogy
Amazing things are happening in Congo, said Father Basil Muamba to a large audience in the lecture hall of Kananga Mission. They are authentic and leave one speechless!
Fr. Basil recounted:
“In 1996 I made a missionary trip to Dimbelenge, accompanied by a boy who was a chanter in the Center of the Mission of Kananga, and another boy who came with us on the road.
When we arrived we met the old faithful who I had baptized last year and some were waiting to be baptized now. They gave us a house to spend our days while we were living near them.
Among those awaiting baptism, there was a man who in a magical way was able to bring down lightning, and he had already killed many people.
The traditional chief of the village had punished him by forbidding him to drink from the local river Mukamba.
I baptized all of those who waited for baptism and among them was the magician.
In the evening I kneaded and left the prosphoron (offering bread) for the Divine Liturgy the next day. All three of us then went to sleep.
At around 4 o’clock in the morning a strong wind began to blow, which made the entire house shake. I jumped from the bed and heard the two children who escorted me crying and shouting:
‘Father, we are dying, come and rescue us!’
I heard the kids, but I could not move to get to the children’s room. I realized I was alive because I could feel my head. But my entire body was paralyzed.
I had with me a Cross that the late Fr. Chariton gave me once in Tsikamva. In the evening I had placed it on the table. I thought of getting it and praying. But I could not reach out my hand.
The children continued to cry louder. With difficulty I brought my hand on my leg, I did the sign of the cross, and realized that I could now move.
I sat on the bed with my legs hanging, but the wind was throwing me from one wall to another room. With difficulty, knocking back and forth, I got out of the room and went to the porch where I saw my bike thrown upside down on the edge of the porch, and immediately went to the children’s room.
I went inside, grabbed them by the hand, their clothes were torn leaving them almost naked, and they vomited and had diarrhea. It was about 6 o’clock in the morning.
In the courtyard of the house was a night guardian who resides with his entire family in a house on the same plot. He had heard what was happening in our house, but could not approach us to help. I took the kids outside and told them to stay on the porch and I reentered the house.
I started to call the name of the security guard. At one point, he arrived. ‘You do not understand anything that was happening?’ I asked. ‘Do you perhaps understand what happened all morning?’
‘I heard everything’, he told me, ‘but I did not have the strength to come near to you.’
I begged him to go and call some of my relatives, who lived in the area, as well as the faithful. In the morning I had to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Many of the faithful came and told me:
‘All that happened in the night happened because you baptized yesterday the leader of the thunderers magicians who was able to throw lightning. His friends (other magicians) thought: We will agitate and put through a trial now the one who baptized our leader.’
I stepped out for a moment from the space in which I was about to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Some of the faithful and a few unbaptized villagers said to me:
‘Father, they wanted to kill you (like they did the others), but they were unable to. We also believe that your God is mighty, true. We ask you, therefore, to baptize all of us.’
I baptized them and the leader of the ‘thunderers’ was strengthened even more, that our God is the true God.
I finished the trip and returned to Kananga.
When I was to make my next trip, the Bishop gave me a Cross, saying: ‘When you arrive, throw this Cross in the river of the area, and you will tell the faithful to swim, find and return to you the Cross.’
I threw the Cross. Many of the faithful fell into the river to find it. The one who found it and returned it to me was the leader of the ‘thunderers’ who had come to celebrate at the Center of the Mission.
I presented to the Bishop the faithful one who retrieved the Cross and the Bishop gave him a gift.

He had the habit of walking barefoot, but now began to wear shoes. He also began drinking water from the river that was forbidden to him.”

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2. A Miracle of the Holy Cross in Congo  
Mystagogy
 
At the Monastery of Saint Nektarios (Kolwezi, Congo), among the girls in the boarding school, there were added two more a few months ago – Despoina who is 11 years old and by exception a boy named Angelo who is 6. These children have a history.
The Sisters of the Monastery found these children abandoned in the streets. They brought them to the Monastery and alerted the police to find their parents. Eventually they learned their mother was a witch. She had killed their siblings and initiated them in magic and abandoned them. In this way they would be able to make their “bread” in life.
With the blessing of Fr. Meletios Mandelides, the head of the mission, they were baptized. Since then they have had the strength and enlightenment from God to tell Abbess Thekla what magic they did and how many people they had killed.
They told her that with magic they killed people, took their blood, and placed it on a sewing needle. They would hang this on themselves and at night they would fly kilometers away to do their magic and kill other people.
When the Abbess asked if the demons still bother them, they said:
“They come to get us. They pull at us to cut off the Cross we wear around our neck. When we do the sign of the cross, they disappear. One time magicians came and pleaded with us to follow them, but they were unable to take us with them.”
As to why this is so is easy to understand, since the demons fear Baptism, the Cross and Holy Water which the children drink every morning.
These children, Abbess Thekla told me, have a strong character which is why they have them eat once a day. Every morning they drink Holy Water, and when there is a Divine Liturgy they Commune of the Holy Mysteries.
Source: Αληθινές Ιστορίες μαγείας (True Stories of Witchcraft), Εκδόσεις “Ορθόδοξος Κυψέλη”, Θεσσαλονίκη. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
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Orthodox mission in Rwanda