This past Thursday, May 3, I had the blessing of visiting two beautiful monasteries in the Volos area with the sisters – our chanting instructors – from a monastery here in Thessaloniki and my Byzantine chant classmates. I’m in my second year of a three-year course in Byzantine chant thanks to the great love and generosity of the sisters who take their time and talent to offer us lessons for two hours once a week. One of the monasteries we visited was Panagia Odigitria (All-Holy Directress) Monastery in Portaria, near the top of a mountain overlooking Volos.
This monastery is very close to my heart for many reasons, not least of which is because the ever-memorable Abbess Macrina founded it with five or six other young ladies (who also longed to live for their Bridegroom Christ) through the prayers and blessing of the monastery’s original spiritual father Elder Joseph the Hesychast (whose inspired words won my heart over to Holy Orthodoxy when I read his book Monastic Wisdom). Gerontissa Macrina is a spiritual giant of our time, the likes of which we saw in the early, holy ascetic Mothers. I don’t think any material exists on her in the English language – an unfortunate reality I hope will soon be remedied. (I write a bit about her in my book The Scent of Holiness, but the small section I have on her does not do justice to her great work and person). A volume is being prepared about her life and work in Greek which, God willing, will be available soon and translated into English not long after that.
Below I’m going to share a small excerpt from the book, O Gerontas Mou (My Geronda): Joseph the Heyschast and Cave-Dweller (Greek), written by Archmandrite Ephraim of Philotheou and St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. The passage illustrates the great spiritual height of Gerontissa Macrina as seen in a vision by another God-seeing Elder, Ephraim of Katounakia. Although he had a different elder, by the grace of God, Elder Ephraim of Katounakia met Elder Joseph the Hesychast and began to seek his counsel on the Jesus Prayer as well as other topics, thus he is counted as a disciple of the ever-memorable elder. Here is my translation from O Gerondas Mou:
After Elder Joseph [the Hesychast] fell asleep, many times Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia saw two glowing pillars in Volos with his spiritual eyes in the evenings during his vigils. [They were] rising from the earth to the heavens, proceeding from the ever-memorable Gerontissa Macrina and from one of her blessed nuns. And Fr. Ephraim would say joyfully: “Hey! Hey! Look at that! We on the rocks [ie. in the wilderness] labour so hard in order to find little crumbs, and they in the world find so much grace! What do those women do down there?”
The monastery in Portaria shone [because of] its spirituality. And thousands of faithful, not only from the [surrounding] area, but also from all over Greece, found a harbour close to the unforgettable Gerontissa Macrina, and they received spiritual benefit. Her face radiated goodness, love, sincerity, and faith. Her peace and her sweet words were a staff and a fountain of strength for all those who were blessed to know her.
May we have her blessing!