Monastery of St. George of Choziba

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When you first catch a glimpse of the magical St. George’s Monastery in the Judean desert, the Desert Fathers’ Wisdom is brought to life in its uncompromising, breathtaking asceticism. This amazing cliff-hanging monastery, one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land, is a must-see for the desert / archeological fans  / devout Pilgrims.

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St. George Orthodox Monastery, or Monastery of St. George of Choziba is a monastery located in Wadi Qelt, in the eastern West Bank, in the occupied territories. The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is active and inhabited by Eastern Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across Wadi Qelt, which many believe to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow. The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). 

Here’s some beautiful aerial video footage to give you a taste of the area around St. George’s Monastery…

 

St George’s Monastery can be reached via the main Jerusalem – Dead Sea highway (Road 1). Take a left at Mitzpeh Jericho (or a right if you’re coming from Jericho) and follow the brown signs for Wadi Kelt. You can hike the Wadi all the way to the monastery but it will take lots of hours of arduous trekking in the desert under the blazing sun!  Up and down, for hours, a windy path! Not so easy for seniors or people with disabilities, but there are usually plenty of locals offering their donkeys for the ride (at a cost of course).

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Check out the clip below for a real taste of the walk to St George’s Monastery … When I look at these photographs or watch the videos, I cannot believe I did all this walking!

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St. George’s Monastery was originally started in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyles and desert stories of  John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). The traditions attached to the monastery include a visit by Elijah en route to the Sinai Peninsula, and St. Joachim, whose wife Anne was infertile, weeping here when an angel announced to him the news of Mary’s conception.

 

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The monastery became an important spiritual centre in the sixth century under Saint George of Choziba. Hermits living in caves in nearby cliffs would meet in the monastery for a weekly mass and communal meal.John of Thebes became a hermit and moved from Egypt to Syria Palaestina. The monastery was named St. George after the most famous monk who lived at the site. Destroyed in 614 A.D. by the Persians, the monastery was more or less abandoned after the Persians swept through the valley and massacred the fourteen monks who dwelt there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persians in 614 A.D. can still be seen today in the monastery chapel. These 3000 and more martyrs’ relics are so alive that during their Supplication canon every week smell of fresh slaughtered blood and an exquisite fragrance are alternately exuded from them!

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Monastery of Saint George

The Crusaders made some attempts at restoration in 1179. However, it fell into disuse after their expulsion. In 1878, a Greek monk, Kallinikos, settled here and restored the monastery, finishing it in 1901. Father Germanos, born Georgios Tsibouktzakis, who came from Thessaloniki, Greece, to St George’s in 1993 and lived there until he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001, was for many years the sole occupant of the monastery, he was named Abbot in 2000. Emulating the Wadi Qelt monks of late antiquity, Father Germanos offered hospitality to visitors, improved the stone path used by pilgrims to climb up to the monastery, repaired the aqueducts, and improved the gardens of shade and olive trees.

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This is probably the most stunning discovery in the monastery: St. John Jacob (the Romanian) – a Hermit from the Holy Land with complete Incorruptible Relics! He was a great ascetic and a poet. He called himself “the child of zero” who “followed the One”. After his all night- vigils, he would briefly rest in the verandah of the monastery and write his so moving poetry, sadly not translated yet in English. In the next days I plan to translate and post some of his most moving autobiographical poems. This Saint is famous for his miracles, from the discovery of his relics to nowadays.

This discovery was even more stunning for me personally because my spiritual father had introduced him to me the last day before flying from Lancaster to Greece and then to Tel Aviv. He also gave me a tiny piece of a secondary relic of him. What a ‘coincidence’! I knew nothing about him, other than his name, and then a brief google search, and there I found him most alive and incorruptible! 

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Let me close with Archimandrite Konstandinos, a holy Elder, very special in his hospitality and famous for his clairvoyance gifts.

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For more photographs, go here

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Holy Land Pilgrimage: Bethlehem

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Bethlehem! The birthplace of our Lord and Savior and the cradle of biblical history. Bethlehem (Hebrew: בֵּית לֶחֶםBet Lehem, [bet ˈleχem], “House of Bread”) is located five and half miles from Jerusalem. No town in the world has such a glorious history as Bethlehem. Our Elders together with a number of Holy Land Hieromonks offer a Holy Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity. 

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A Greek Orthodox Church, which has been built over the birthplace of Our Lord by the Emperor Justinian and is over 1,500 years old. It is the second oldest Orthodox Church in existence. It was not destroyed by the Persians, as they saw a mosaic of the Magi dressed in Persian wear over the front door. Words cannot communicate what we experienced in venerating and touching the actual ground where Jesus was born. A few feet away is the Holy Manger. 

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Where is Bethlehem?
 
Micah 5:
 
    2 “ But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
      Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, 
      Yet out of you shall come forth to Me 
      The One to be Ruler in Israel, 
      Whose goings forth are from of old, 
      From everlasting.”
“I am the Life” Our Saviour said
 
Where is the house of Living bread?
 
Where does this birth of new life start?
 
The chamber of a loving heart
 
Is Bethlehem.
 St.Athanasius of Alexandria (On the Incarnation, 54): “For He was made man that we might be made God (divine)”
Sunday of the Righteous Forefathers 2009 JAH (Fr. Jonathan Hemmings)

The Same to Us | Kai Sta Dika Mas

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At St. John the Forerunner Women’s Monastery at Metamorfosi, Chalkidiki — at a nun’s funeral

“Και στα δικά μας” [“kai sta dika mas”] (*)

(*) (cf. Gerondas Gregorios’ word in the end)

Sister Episteme, +22 Friday September 2017, the day of our visit, reposed in the Lord on the eve of the Conception of St. John the Baptist, the patron Saint of her monastery, and her spiritual father, Gerondas Gregorios prayed together with her as she was leaving her last breath. Sister Episteme, 60 years old, 34 years a nun, felt her end approaching in the morning and asked her relatives who were visiting the monastery to take her on a last walk on her wheel chair giving them detailed instructions and blessing every corner of the monastery yard, churches and buildings. + Memory Eternal

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Gerondissa Emmeleia, Sister Episteme’s mother in flesh, became also a nun in the same monastery immediately after she became a widow, after her husband’s 40 day Memorial Service.  She had 5 children, 2 of which became nuns, Sister Episteme and Sister Christonymfi,  and one a married priest, Father Nikolaos. The last decade of her life she led a most holy, hidden ascetic life in silence and obedience and reposed in the Lord last Easter Sunday. + Memory Eternal

 

Gladdening Sorrow-Χαρμολύπη

 

Eleni, Sister Episteme’s lay sister, a kind, meek mother and grandmother, always caring first for others and never for herself, smiling radiantly, with courage, even when her sister was laid in the tomb: ” I feel such bright sorrow in my heart today!”

Surrendering Unconditionally

 

Tatiani: a pilgrim who tried for some time to become a nun in the monastery but gave up in the end.

– “What was the most difficult thing in monastic life? What made you ‘give up’?” 

– “The fact that I could not surrender entirely to God’s Will and to do obedience in everything. I wanted to control my life, to have my opinions, to be in charge. A visa problem emerged, future was uncertain. If I “gambled” all my life and stayed in the monastery as a novice, I might jeopardised both citizenships, Greek and …, and ended up a refugee at God’s Mercy, God knows where. I did not have such ‘craziness’. The fasts, the long prayers, the vigils were difficult of course. One would get bored, tired, hungry, sleepy, but gradually, if one persists, one gets used to them, and grows spiritually. That was not really difficult. But cutting your will and having the guts to give up everything for Christ, and surrendering unconditionally, this has made all the difference. I could not do this.”

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Presbytera (ie. a priest’s wife) Theodora with 9 children, suffering from lupus:

“Unless one surrenders unconditionally, reaches even the point of becoming a fool for Christ, one way or another, living only for Him, and loving Him more than his family and himself, God’s Grace is never revealed in all His Power in his life. Most people around him of course will not understand him, and think that he is really crazy, but they do not care about what the world thinks of them. They only want to follow Him. Sister Episteme surrendered unconditionally to Him all her life, and especially in her illness. And in just 9 months God granted her his Kingdom.

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(*) Gerondas Gregorios wishing to me after the funeral: “May the Lord help you. “Και στα δικά μας” [“kai sta dika mas”] (Approximate translation of this wish is “the same to us” In Greece this is a  reply to a well wisher in a very specific context, a traditional return gesture of good wishes, but more than that it is specific to the occasion. It most likely refers to an engagement or a wedding. The reply means: may good wishes accompany you when you also find yourself engaged or married or something similar ‘τα δικά σου’ – your (day of celebration).  Actually it is an encouragement to follow the same route, wished to an unmarried guest in a joyous occassion, namely a wedding or engagement.  There is a lugubrious exception, when this wish is said after the death of a monk in Mountain Athos or monasteries in general in Greece.

 

+ Memory Eternal!

 

 

A Spiritual Father’s Blessing

 

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Back to Greece  

Holy Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner,

Metamorfosis Village, Chalkidiki

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Before the little city hermit’s  Pilgrimage to Holy Land

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To receive the blessing (ευλογία) of 

St. John the Forerunner

St. Paisios the Athonite

Gerondas Gregorios’, St. Paisios’ tonsure

Gerondissa Eythymia

and + Sister Episteme

Memory Eternal!
22/09/2017

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In a Grave For Three Years

The monasteries of Mt. Athos are hundreds of years old, and hundreds and thousands of monks have ended their earthly lives in them. But where are all of the graves of the reposed? Can it really be that the monks just don’t consider it necessary to take care to preserve the memory of their deceased brothers?

Purity of soul

Anyone that visits Mt. Athos’ monasteries will notice two peculiar things: first, even large monasteries have small cemeteries with only a few wooden crosses mounted in the ground; second, the oldest burials in these cemeteries are, at best, twenty or so years old. But how could that be?

First of all, let’s take note of the fact that Athonite monks are usually always buried on Mt. Athos itself. However, it does sometimes happen though that an Athonite monk due to various circumstances may end up living in another monastery outside of Mt. Athos and thus will be buried there instead. For example, at the Danilov cemetery in Moscow can be found the revered grave of the Athonite monk Aristoklis (Amvrosiev), who for many years had presided over the Athonite metochion in Moscow and thus was buried in Moscow after he reposed. However, any monk that reposes on Mount Athos, even if he had come to the Holy Mountain from another country for the first time, is not taken to his homeland to be buried, but is buried at the same Athos monastery in which he had reposed.

To repose on the Holy Mountain, in fact, is actually considered a kind of recognition of the deceased’s righteousness and almost a guarantee of the salvation of his soul. An Athonite monk of our time, hieromonk Gabriel, would always say, “What a joy it is to die on Athos! Here, the Mother of God herself meets the monk after his death, guiding his soul on its way from Earth to Heaven…”

On Mt. Athos, according to tradition, the burial of the deceased is preceded by a special rite. Also, the deceased monk’s clothes will not be changed and neither will his body be washed before burial. On the one hand, proper hygiene is, of course, always maintained; on the other, too much care for the body and health in general is considered an unnecessary occupation, not worthy of a monk’s time. And in fact, this manner of burial is not exactly something unique to Athonite monasticism. For example, in the “Monastic Rite of Burial” we read the following: “When a monk reposes in the Lord, it is not appropriate for his body to be washed or be seen unclad.”

The deceased instead will first be clothed in a “schema” and his head will be covered with a “koukoulion” (attire worn by schemamonks). Afterwards, a cassock is sewn over the body, serving as a coffin for the deceased, and an icon of the Holy Virgin Mary is placed on his chest. It’s worth noting that usually during burial procedure the icon of the Virgin Mary is only given to women, while men are given the icon of the Savior. But, since Mt. Athos is considered to be a place where the Mother of God is especially present, and according to belief, is the first to meet the souls of the deceased, the funeral traditions that have formed here are unique.

Generally burial takes place on Mount Athos on the day of death and without a coffin, so that the body may return unto the ground as soon as possible. Such a burial practice is actually common in many religions and cultures. In particular, Abrahamic religions adhere to this rule in accordance with the words that God addressed to Adam before his exile from Paradise: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen. 3:19).

After the customary prayer rule is read, the deceased monk is carried by his fellow brethren to his place of rest and is buried. Afterwards, on top of the grave the brethren mount a low four-pointed wooden cross on which, using simple paint, is made the most concise inscription: the name of the monk and the date of his death.

Stone after stone

It should be noted that the Athonite grave, that is, the very ground that the body is buried under, is much different than it is elsewhere. For example, the ground in Russia, which is mostly flatland, does not share in common any of the burial-related problems that inhabitants of the Mediterranean and other mountainous areas face. In Russia, the usual environment where the body of the deceased is placed is usually a homogeneous, soft, crumbly mass: at best, it is soil or sand; at worst—clay. On Mount Athos however there is nothing of the sort. Mt. Athos is all stone. Sometimes the ground is just a single stone mass, but more often it consists of cobblestones and large gravel. Soil on Mount Athos is in deficit even more than wood is. Therefore, agriculture on the peninsula is practically absent—there are no appropriate conditions for it. By the way, some time ago in the past, the Russian Panteleimon monastery on Mt. Athos had soil delivered to it by sea so that the monks, despite harsh conditions, would nonetheless be able to plant a few gardens. During our trip we happened to see some monasteries that had a bit of farmland, which at best had a few dozen rows of cabbages and some kind of gourds. The largest garden we saw was at the Great Lavra monastery, which had about 40 yards of land. And, no doubt, the soil for this garden was also brought from elsewhere, for the ground around the monastery is mostly all stone. As for the ground of the surrounding roads, it is either siliceous or consists of dense red soil resembling something like grated brick.

Now let’s take a look at the following scenario: a monk in one of the Athonite monasteries reposes in the Lord. In order to bury him, the brethren of the monastery have to urgently fulfill an extremely laborious obedience—prepare the place of burial for their deceased brother. Let us not forget that the deceased, according to monastic customs, are buried as soon as possible, usually on the very day of their death. Little by little, or rather, stone by the stone, the hardworking monks, with their shovels ringing, dig through the rough terrain of Mt. Athos. Finally, the grave is complete and the body of the deceased brother is gently placed within. But now what? Will they really fill the grave back up with all those stones and boulders they just dug up?! Of course not—for a cause such as this they can’t find enough soil. Now let us again keep in mind the deficit of soil on Mt. Athos, as this circumstance will soon help us understand the reason behind other important burial customs on the Holy Mountain.

With the grave now covered and topped off with a small mound of earth, and the wooden cross with its inscription mounted in place, the burial is complete. Now, here is the incomprehensible part of the procedure to one who is not familiar with Athonite burial customs: In just three years’ time the grave will be dug up, and the deceased brother’s bones will never again return to their former place of rest!

On Mt. Athos, a monastery brotherhood prays for newly-reposed monks with especial assiduousness. For the first 40 days, the entire brotherhood of the monastery reads the customary prayer rule for the reposed, repeating it according to the amount of knots on their prayer ropes. Also, in memory of the reposed monk, the monastery prepares “kolivo” (also called “kutia” in Russia), a ritual memorial dish which consists of some grain such as wheat, rye, oat, or rice, as well as honey, raisins and nuts. Furthermore, for the following three years the deceased is commemorated at every Liturgy during the proskomedia. Now bearing in mind that the Divine Liturgy in the monasteries is served daily, this means that the deceased monk receives commemoration every day and for quite a long time. Finally, the name of the deceased is also recorded in a special memorial monastery book, the so-called “Kuvaras”, which bears record of the names of all the deceased monks that have lived in the monastery from the time of its very foundation. For example, the “Kuvaras” of the Great Lavra monastery, read during special memorial days, has been recording the names of its brethren to this very day since the 10th century!

The ossuary

After three years have passed, the grave of the newly-reposed monk is carefully dug up and the brethren now examine the remains of the deceased to see what state they are in. If the soft tissues of the body are not completely decomposed yet, the grave will be covered up in likewise manner and the following procedure will be repeated again until it is clear that only the bones remain. By the way, according to Athonite tradition, a body that is not “accepted by the earth”, i.e., doesn’t decompose, is regarded as a sign that the monk did not make the effort to lead a proper monastic way of life and that his soul has not found rest in Heaven. In such case, the entire brotherhood begins to pray even more diligently, beseeching the Lord for the forgiveness of sins and purification of their fellow brother’s soul.

If the bones of the deceased are completely free from flesh (and this, under the Athos climate, while also taking into account the terrain, occurs most often in just about three years), they are taken out of the grave, and after being thoroughly washed with water and wine are transferred to the ossuary, which is a building that resembles a chapel and is usually located somewhere nearby, outside the walls of the monastery. As for the empty grave, it’s now ready to grant rest for another three years to someone else after his repose.

So now we know how Mt. Athos manages to solve the problem of soil deficit and why there are so few graves in the cemeteries of these ancient monasteries. As it turns out, there can’t possibly be too many graves, as there is a constant “rotation” going on that many at first aren’t aware of.

Now an ossuary is, in essence, a crypt. But the peculiarity of this crypt lies in the fact that the deceased, or rather, their remains, are not hidden there, but are in plain sight: the skulls are lined up in rows along the shelves, while the other bones are neatly laid right on the floor along the walls. The names of the monks and the date of their death are usually found written on each skull. Here is how the well-known Russian writer Boris Zaitsev, who visited Mount Athos at the beginning of the 20th century, described the ossuary of the Skete of Saint Andrew: “The ossuary of St. Andrew’s Skete is a rather large, secluded and well-lit room on an underground floor. Inside the ossuary is found a cupboard with five human skulls. On each is inscribed a name and a date. These were the abbots of the skete. Then on the shelves lay the skulls (about seven hundred) of ordinary monks, which also have inscriptions. And, finally, what to me seemed most incredible—small bones (the hands and feet) were neatly put together in stacks near the wall, reaching up almost to the ceiling. All this was done with the most profound care that is inherent to this kind of burial tradition. It seemed to me that the only thing missing from this whole picture was a monk that would spend time here keeping record of things and compiling biographies of the reposed brethren. There is some literature present here as well. On the wall here, by the way, hangs a saying that the brethren themselves composed: “Remember, O brethren, that we were once like you, and you will once become like us.”

Thus, in such a manner do the Athonite monks lay at rest after reposing in the Lord, with the ossuary basically serving them as a common mass grave. It’s also worth noting that on Athos it is thought that the color of the skull of a reposed monk is a sure sign of whether or not the monk’s life was well-pleasing to God. Thus, according to this belief, the skulls of the righteous have a beautiful yellowish shade—they look as though they are emitting light, and, sometimes even produce a sweet-smelling scent; the monks that have honestly carried out their monastic vows have white-colored skulls; and a dark colored skull, on the other hand, signifies that the judgment of the departed monk’s soul due to his sins did not have a positive outcome. The last case, however, is quite rare on Mt. Athos.

Mt. Athos’ ossuaries are never locked. Any inhabitant of the monastery can at any time can enter the ossuary and in solitude reflect on the transience of life. Looking at the bones of monks whom one once knew, or of those who had reposed centuries ago, it is unlikely that one would not come to the thought that they themselves will one day also find rest here along with their fellow brethren. Now that is truly something to ponder for the monk… However, monks do not at all fear ending up here in this gloomy house of bones, knowing for certain that there is no need to fear death, for it has already been defeated by the Risen Christ!

Yuri Ryabinin

7/7/2017

 

A Smile from Eternity

Honorable Mr. Papanikolaou,

A few hours after the entombment of elder Joseph, you posted at your website an article with the title «Funeral of Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopedi – A Smile From Eternity«, describing in a few words the event aided by a few pictures.

The photograph of the reposed, who is smiling not only with his lips but with all the expression of his face, made  a great impression on people, which we can see  from the articles and comments in numerous web-sites.

One can indeed come across dead people with a glowing face, a peaceful expression, but with never a smile. On the one hand all the spiritual fathers say that the time of death is horrifying for man. On the other hand we read in the book of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers that even the most advanced ones , out of humility, did not let down their guard before entering eternal life, where there is no longer any danger.

In addition, Elder Joseph had a major heart problem and he was very debilitated by this illness. So how did he repose smiling?

The answer is: NO, he didn’t repose smiling, but HE SMILED AFTER HIS REPOSE.

After a conversation of us with some fathers of the monastery, we convey to you the story of the event.

The two monks that were with him until the very last moment, sprinted to the abbot, Elder Ephraim, to let him and the rest of the fathers know about the repose of Elder Joseph and the former two didn’t pay attention to the reposed, who was left with his mouth half-open.

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Thus, they came back to the cell, to prepare the reposed according to the monastic order. Elder Ephraim ordered them to leave his face uncovered. The fathers tried to close his mouth, but as it was quite late, his mouth remained open. They even tied a gauze around his head, so that his mouth would remain closed, but after they removed it his mouth opened up again. About 45 minutes had already gone by, since he had passed away.

-Elder, what should we do, it looks bad with the  mouth open?

-Leave him as he is, do not cover his face!

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They sewed him inside his monastic mantle as according to monastic custom. The whole procedure so that he was put inside the mantle and sewed in took another 45′. Then, they cut off the cloth around his face –according to the order- and found the elder as everybody can see him now, smiling.

Did he listen to them and granted them this litle favour, so that he didn’t hurt their feelings? Or, was it that he wanted to grant us an indication what he saw and let us know the state in which he is now?

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The smile of elder Joseph of Vatopedi, is the First supernatural event after his repose and has become a great consolation for everybody.

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Panayiotis Koutsou

Source: Diakonima

 

Eldress Theosemni: a Quiet and Hidden Ascetic

The life of the beloved Eldress Theosemni is a Synaxarion account of perfection in self-emptying and martyric asceticism in silence and humility. Her personage and her venerable example cannot be appreciated through the description and listing of her virtues, for it is impossible to explain, through words, the balance and grace of a person who spoke through her silence.
By the Nun Theoxeni, Abbess of the Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi, Hania, Crete

The Eldress Theosemni, Anastasia-Aristea Dimtsa in the world, was born in Larissa in the year 1938, the third child of pious parents. When she was just four years old, she lost her father and the care of the family fell to its newly widowed mother, who was from Eastern Romylia and was wholly dedicated to God.

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From the time she was a child, she received profound love from Christ and the Church, and she would hasten to attend the services and all-night vigils with a zeal that was unusual for her age. She also participated with great zeal in the youth activities at church and, from a very early age, expressed her desire to serve as a missionary.

She studied at the Red Cross’s School for Nursing, from which she graduated with highest honors. She chose this path out of zeal to serve humans in pain.

In 1966 she became a nun at Meteora. It is widely agreed that her monastic path was a model of obedience and asceticism. Unforeseen difficulties arose at that time, at the beginning of her monastic path, with which she dealt prudently, quietly, and humbly.

In 1976, Eldress Theosemni went to Hania (Crete) with two other nuns and, with the blessing of his eminence Metropolitan Irenaeus of Kydonia and Apokoronos, she took on the reconstruction, from its foundation, of the ruined Chrysopigi Monastery. Over the course of twenty-four years she worked in silence, with perfect self-renunciation. Her spiritual presence and her ascetic example encouraged many souls to dedicate their lives to the Bridegroom Christ, and she led them and established them in the Lord.

The abbess was an ascetic, a lover of struggle, and prudent. She restored the Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi from ruins, along with its miraculous icon of the Life-Giving Spring, and gave the monastery a spiritual foundation. She also restored the neighboring monastic dependency, the Monastery of St. Kyriaki. In her final years, she sought a more deserted place for the sisterhood. She established the Monastery of the Transfiguration on a rock, under the fatherly care of the venerable Elder Porphyrios.

At the age of forty-eight she became seriously ill with cancer and was miraculously cured by Elder Porphyrios, who had an especial love and respect for her. Ten years later, her sickness returned to her, during the four final years of her life. She accepted her sickness with great courage and perseverance, immense patience, gentleness, and deep peace, unceasingly fulfilling her duties until her final breath.

Her end was a blessed one, as her life had been. She fell asleep in the Lord on the 31st of May 2000, at the age of sixty-two.

Quiet and Hidden
Eldress Theosemni was a model nun, according to the teachings of the Fathers. In everything she did, she combined gifts that are seldom given, with great capability, on both the theoretical and the practical level. She was hard working and energetic, but simultaneously ascetic and hesychastic. By nature quiet and reserved in her relations with people, she was able to hide her great gifts and virtues even from the people around her, and to ascribe successes to others. Although she was very mature, organized, methodical, clever, and observant, she always managed to ascribe the result of any work to everyone involved, as though it was wholly a team effort. In this way, she taught the sisters not to seek after personal glory.

“That which moves me more than anything else,” she would say, “is the example of the Panagia. Her humility, obedience, and silence. An angel went and told her that she would give birth to Christ, God, and all she said was, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.’ She didn’t say anything else. Only obedience. And she was hidden. My prayer is that we will acquire these virtues….”

The Eldress never believed in her many spiritual gifts. She was marked by a profound humility, not just simple “humble words,” or pietistic comeliness.

She managed the monastery’s affairs without any discord. She had the discernment to know which sister should undertake any given job, or a particular responsibility, and made use of the talents of all. In whichever place or job in the monastery she provided oversight, she was observant enough to know what needed to be fixed or improved, and this always took place with propriety and with a quiet explanation.

The Eldress herself took care of various jobs in the monastery, and did not limit herself to just the fulfillment of the duties of the abbess. She made good use of her time with remarkable creativity.

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The Holy Monastery of Chrysopigi in Hania, which the Eldress Theosemni renovated and where she quietly worked for twenty-four years

When she realized that some aspect of the monastery’s work was running behind or was unsuccessful, she got involved herself, without getting upset or uptight, and with her remarkable simplicity saying, “let’s have a look, sisters, with patience, at what other way we can do this….” And, of course, she always found a solution.

The Eldress had immeasurable respect for all of the sisters, and no one ever heard her speak in an offensive manner. Unless she was asked, she did not counsel anyone, and only infrequently would she give her nuns unsolicited counsel. And when she did, she would censure herself, saying that she was not worthy to teach.

Humble, Merciful, and Ascetic
Let us have a humble spirit. May we be careful to never see the sins of others, only our own sins. We, however, want to fix other people, but don’t want to fix ourselves. Eh…does this happen, though? No, we don’t fix ourselves! Our brother is not to blame for whatever happens, our spiritual condition is to blame. It’s this condition of ours that upsets us, which makes us judgmental, which causes us to get angry. We mustn’t blame others for these things. The causes are within us. If we ever do or think something good, let us not regard it as our own achievement, but the achievement of God. And let us say, “You, my God, You gave it to me. It’s yours and You allowed it and gave me the strength to do it.” In this way, we chase thoughts of vainglory far from us.

She had the spiritual gift to administer and direct  the sisterhood without getting upset, without raising her voice, without having to check up on, or to threaten by giving her nuns a rule of penance. She generally did not give rules of penance. If she did it on occasion, she was very sad about it, which is why she would be the first to fulfill the rule of penance that she had given to the sister. As abbess, she never accepted special attention or honor.

The Eldress was exceedingly merciful. She loved and honored, without distinction, people in need and in difficult situations. No one left the monastery with empty hands. She did not even overlook those who, for whatever reason, were not able to make it all the way to the monastery. She experienced such great joy when she gave, that she felt like she should be the one giving thanks. “We mustn’t ask anything from people,” she would say, “but we should give them everything.”

The Eldress loved to hide within the sisterhood. She would generally not appear to visitors, especially when large groups would visit the monastery. She always sought to remain far from crowds. While she shared in the people’s pain, and would pray a great deal for their problems, she systematically avoided social contact with them. “This,” she would say, “is the work of the guest master,” and in this way she taught the nuns not to seek social relations and conversations with pilgrims, whether acquaintances or relatives. She would say, characteristically, that “the spiritual life of the monastic progresses through isolation and silence.”

She carefully examined every part of the monastic life and did not ignore anything as though it were unimportant or too detailed. She never allowed herself to make changes, remaining always faithful to the spirit of the Fathers. It is characteristic that she never gave a blessing for a loosening of the fasting regulations unless such a loosening was indicated in the Orologion. Even when she was sick, she kept the fasting rules precisely. On one occasion, she found herself outside of the monastery at the very beginning of Great Lent, for radiation therapy, and she still kept the first three days of Lent with precision [a complete, strict fast], and then had the first round of radiation therapy on Wednesday afternoon of the first week of Lent, after the Presanctified Liturgy.

During her whole period of sickness, despite the insistent requests of the sisters, she never asked for any specific kind of food, but accepted with thanks whatever food she was offered.

“As monastics, we must practice asceticism. We shouldn’t eat until we’re full. We should arise from the dinner table and be hungry; in any case, this is what we promised. Even Christ practiced asceticism. He ate little, he had only one tunic. And He taught his disciples not to have anything. Let us do the same. Asceticism: in food, in sleep, in standing for long periods. Let’s try to do these things and we’ll see what a blessing we have.”

The blessed Eldress Theosemni never protested for anything, to anyone. She regarded martyrdom and being crushed as part and parcel of the monastic life, with the certainty that God allows trials for our salvation.

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The Transfiguration, the new monastery that was built under the fatherly oversight of Venerable Porphyrios

Full of Love and Untiring Prayer
The Eldress would always cover over the failings of others, she never blamed anyone and never judged, criticized, or complained about someone who had done her wrong or had slandered her. She forgave and loved all people from her heart, effortlessly, which is why everyone felt at ease with her, despite her serious and careful demeanor. For her part, she did not feel as though she was doing anything more than fulfilling the obligations of a nun.

Let us have love. When we reproach someone, we don’t love them. They will only understand through love, not through being gloomy, angry, and judgmental. We’re mistaken if we think that other people have wronged us. The problem is within us. Only let sweet words come from our lips. And if we don’t have anything to say, a smile suffices. Let’s gift others with our smile, with our love. When we don’t love our brethren, we don’t love Christ. It’s no good for us to say we love Christ if we don’t love our brethren.

Humility is to make excuses for our brethren in all things and for all things. The humble person cuts off her own will.

Once, near the end of her earthly life, reference was made to instances where she made remarkable sacrifices and was particularly humble, and she responded laconically, “Sisters, let’s not transform our daily duties into some kind of achievement, if we have at some time, by the grace of God, done something….”

The Eldress struggled for the salvation of the whole world. She prayed unceasingly for the known and unknown, small and large, Christian and non-Christian, for all people.

Most of our prayer should be for the world. We should pray, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” but this “me” should refer to the whole world. If we pray for others, God gives us more grace than He would have if we were just praying for ourselves. And whatever good things we ask on behalf of others, God also gives to us. Let’s say the prayer continuously. This softens the soul. It makes it soft, so that it loves all people. All people seem good to it and nothing upsets it.

She was once walking down a street in London, after a visit with a professor of oncology, who had just told her that the mass in her lung had returned and that she would have to undergo more therapy. She was thoughtful and, in answer to the question posed by the sister who was with her, as to whether she was upset by the problem of her health, she answered, “No, I have left this concern completely to God. What I was thinking about just now, and it’s for this that I’m concerned, are those young children we met on the corner who were begging. I noticed that they were pale and their hands… oh, my… how their hands were! I feel terrible. I’m afraid that they’re taking drugs. And that girl, how beautifully she played guitar and sang! She also could have sung….”

Patient in Her Sickness
Her serious long-term sickness was a source of pain for everyone else, but not for her. While she suffered, no one noticed any sadness or disappointment on her face or in her words because of the bodily trials and pains she suffered and endured. She continued her life with psychical strength, remarkable patience and meekness, courage and boldness, endless faith and obedience to the will of God. She continuously transmitted to everyone the joy and hope of communion with Christ, and the strength of the foretaste of eternal gifts, which her blessed soul experienced already in this life.

“Let us hymn and glorify God in trials,” she would say, “Let’s not be beggars and only ask things from God, ‘Give me, why won’t you give it to me?’ May our lips be used to glorify God. Let’s not be sullen and self-absorbed. Let’s say a ‘Glory to Thee, oh God!’ We must not forget.”

And referring to her own sickness:

My sisters, don’t be saddened that I’m sick. Think that whatever God gives is for our good. Whatever He allows is for our salvation. Whatever this is…and let us thank Him. Do you know what joy and what peace comes from thanking Him for all things, and from glorifying Him? Submit everything to God. This is the work of a nun: prayer for everything, for everyone. Haven’t you heard what Fr. Porphyrios said, “With joy, leave all things to God.” Let us have our minds constantly on Christ. This is the only way we will be patient in our sorrow and in whatever trials come to us.

The peace that exuded from Eldress Theosemni’s face gave comfort to the insecurities of everyone and her peaceable speech was therapeutic for the souls of those who listened to her. Her whole life was a harmony of spiritual vision, teachings, and action. The Eldress incarnated the humility of the holy Fathers, which is why people near her experienced peace and an otherworldly joy, the same kind that we sense when we are near Saints.

Her Repose
While still in this life, the blessed Eldress had already truly lived the foretaste of heavenly blessedness in silence and humility, and through her repose reconciled people with death. The people that came to Chrysopigi from Crete, from Greece, and from overseas, to pay their last respects and to venerate her relics, all witnessed to the same experience: they described the sweetness and absence of fear that they felt before her relics.

The two days that preceded her burial were a touching experience, full of blessings for everyone, not only for those that knew and loved her, but also for the whole Church. Parents who had lost young children in tragic accidents described with tears how, for the first time, they felt comforted. Others touched their infants to her, as they would to the relics of the Saints. Children both young and old approached her coffin and touched her again and again without fear, for they saw her smiling, as she had unceasingly smiled even when in pain.

The funeral of the blessed Eldress was uncommon. It was a triumphant funeral service, a revelation for everyone, a tangible revelation of the mystery of sanctity. There was no despair and sadness, but victory over death, the joy of the Resurrection. A young person said, “It’s like Holy Friday when we bury Christ with the certainty of tomorrow’s resurrection.” Everyone felt that the reposed Eldress Theosemni had passed to heavenly blessedness from a life in which she had had a foretaste of, and had grown accustomed to, the joyful feeling of immortality. She had experienced this to such an extent that she was able to communicate psychical comfort and the overcoming of sorrows to everyone, along with the reality of the approach of eternity.

The blessed Eldress Theosemni departed in light from the present life, during which she had lived within the perspective of the future age. Her grave had become a source of consolation, hope, and an education in eternal blessedness, not only for the nuns of her monastery, but also for all of the pilgrims, known and unknown, who thronged from near and far. And a story, well-known to the Church, was repeated: of how a person who lived in obscurity and silence became a preacher, an inspirer, and an initiate, not of human words and actions, but of the mystery of eternity.

 

Source: Pemptousia

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