Inherent Spirituality in an Orthodox Country
(The following is an excerpt from my book The Scent of Holiness, published by Conciliar Press, pp. 203-206)
“Well, I think I’m going to go to my cell to lie down. Constantina, will you take me?”
“Of course, Geronda!” I said, more than willing to have the blessing of assisting the blind elder to get around.
As we were exiting the room and walking into the main gallery, I saw a young couple. Figuring from their expressions they didn’t know who Elder Isidoros was, I said, “Would you like to take the Papouli’s blessing?”
They both stood up, took his hand and kissed it. Elder Isidoros, not understanding that they were just a couple who came to visit the monastery, thought (since so many come to see him) that they wanted to meet with him and asked, “Do you want to speak with me?”
“We’ve come to see Gerontissa,” the young woman answered.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Good, good, see Gerontissa,” the elder said immediately, stepping back and gesturing apologetically.
He squeezed my hand as we were turning to go, and I could tell he was embarrassed. How was he to know they hadn’t come for him, the poor Papouli! We continued in the direction of his cell. I opened the door for him and helped him to his bed. I took his blessing and shut the door. When I came back into the gallery on the way to my room, I saw that the young woman was crying.
“Who was that Geronda?” they both asked me.
“He’s a monk from Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos. He’s very holy. He works miracles,” I told them, pulling out a chair to sit down.
“That was a very significant thing that happened just now when he asked if we wanted to speak with him. We should have said yes! I didn’t realize,” the young woman said, wiping tears from her cheeks while the young man stroked her shoulder.
You see just how sensitive Greeks can be? This couple wasn’t particularly “spiritual”; I found out later they were just learning about the Church, and the young man didn’t even know what Philotheou was. Yet they both had the natural spiritual sensitivity that I often saw in Greeks. It’s as if the sheer grace of their baptism preserves grace within them, deep down in their hearts. And the fact that, whether they know it or not, they live on sanctified ground—ground that has been purified by the blood of countless martyrs and the tears of countless ascetics, their very ancestors—also helps a lot.
“I can ask him if he will see you if you’d like,” I told them.
“Yes, please ask him,” the woman said quickly.
I walked back to the cell the elder was staying in and knocked on the door.
“Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers,” I said (the proper thing to say when entering an occupied room or cell in a monastery). “Geronda, the young lady we just met, she’s crying.”
“Yeah so. How am I to blame?” he responded, with his distinct humor.
“No, Geronda,” I said smiling. “I think it was grace, I think it was from the Holy Spirit, they want to speak with you.”
“They said they wanted to speak with Gerontissa, so they should speak with Gerontissa,” he answered.
He said this out of humility, because to him it would be interfering and overreaching to speak with them since they came to speak with the abbess. But due to my unique Canadian sensitivity, I was uncomfortable at the prospect of telling someone something that would potentially upset them. So, out of nervousness I started saying in English: “Okay, okay, okay.”
“No, not okay, endaxi!” the elder yelled. He had been correcting my Greek all week, and he had already told me the day before, “You will not say okay, you will say endaxi!” (the Greek word for okay).
“Yes, of course. Endaxi,” I corrected myself.
“No, give me your little hand!” he said.
I gave him my hand and he playfully slapped it.
Still nervous and not wanting to have to tell the couple that the elder said he would not speak with them, I tried asking again. “So, just to be clear, you won’t speak with them?”
“If they ask Gerontissa and she says it’s blessed, I will speak with them, but they need to ask her first,” he answered.
Relieved by this, I unwittingly responded, “Okay.”
“No! Not okay!” he once again playfully scolded.
“Give me your hair! Where is your hair?” I knelt down and put my hair in the blind elder’s hands. He pulled it.
“There! Now, say endaxi!”
“Endaxi! Endaxi!” I said quickly, laughing and getting up off the ground.
I told the couple what the elder told me. Later that day I saw them speaking to him, so it all worked out.
This story still makes me smile, as does the simplicity, humility, and extreme humor of Elder Isidoros, the blind monk from Mount Athos.
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