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While our Orthodox Mission, Holy Lady of Vladimir, still holds weekend services at Queen’s College, this post is about our domestic chapel of St. Nektarios.

I’m not a great photographer, but I wanted to show you how the domestic chapel of St. Nektarios looks now. I had written about our house chapel last year, but, to my great joy, we’ve made some additions.

My father is a very accomplished carpenter and I had been telling him how I wanted him to make us an iconostasis for our domestic chapel. Because we didn’t have proper church furniture the icons I painted of Christ, the Mother of God and St. Nektarios were relegated to the side of the chapel instead of in front of the altar. So, I was in a hurry to have something made.

The original plan was for my father to take measurements when he and his wife visited us in the Fall (of 2016). However, we ended up deciding on the spur of the moment, two days before dad was to leave, to build stands instead. Off we went to the hardware store to rent a table saw and buy supplies.

While dad started on making icon stands from scratch with no pattern, his wife Angela and I went to the fabric store. She’s a talented seamstress and equally as enthusiastic about fun projects as my dad and me and so she thought she may be able to sew some coverings on my sewing machine while dad built the stands.

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I regret that there is no photo evidence of the state of my backyard while dad and I assembled the stands together: he sawing and hammering, me sanding and crack filling. (Fr. John would have been there to help but he got called away on a pastoral matter). It was a ton of fun and I was more than ecstatic about the way the chapel would look once we were finished.

In short order the icon stands and the Proskimidi table were ready, the coverings were also ready. All Fr. John and I had to do was varnish/ stain the wood (which we’ll do in the summer – when we can do it outdoors), hang the coverings, and acquire gold crosses to be attached to the fabric. We were able to get the crosses during our trip to the mainland in October; we attached them with fabric glue, but we have yet to attach the large cross to the altar covering.

There is still more to be done. I would like to buy three oil lamps to hang from the ceiling above Christ, Panagia and St. Nektarios. But, I’m trying to not be rash in furnishing the chapel, one thing at a time. I also plan to cover the large wooden candle stand with painted canvas like I’ve marveled at in Orthodox monasteries. (You can sort of see an example of a canvas-covered candle here; it’s to the right, in the middle of the smaller candles).

This particular candle stand (shown below before the “Royal Doors” – or where Royal Doors would be) represents the fiery sword that prohibited entrance to Eden after the Fall. That is why it is placed here in front of the Royal Doors during the Divine Liturgy, after the consecration, while the priest communes.

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You can see all the snow outside the window. This photo was taken at Christmas

 

Words can’t express how grateful I am to have a chapel in my own home (something I always wanted). My gratitude is doubled by the fact that Fr. John has an Orthodox chapel in which to hold daily Morning and Evening Prayer, not to mention vigils.

I’m a vain sort, but I’ll be honest and say that ever since my father built the icon stands and the chapel took on more of “chapel” look I try and make sure I never miss a Vespers service (I’m unable to attend Matins because of work). It’s a comfort to stand in the oil-lamp lit space and pray in front of icons that we have collected during our travels, and moreso in front of icons that I had the honour to paint.

The icons I painted – pictured in the below collage – are as follows: (Top left corner) St. Gregory Palamas (he is to Christ’s right in the photo). Below that is an icon of St. Demetrios (this is a copy of an icon I painted – my godson has the original); Christ the High Priest and St. Nektarios (as well as the Mother of God depicted elsewhere); St. John Maximovitch (bottom left) – which I just finished last week; and St. John the Theologian (bottom right).

It comes as a great consolation to me to have the icons I painted – icons that took me countless hours to paint – in our chapel. I can’t speak for other iconographers, but for me, when I paint an icon I don’t feel ownership over it. I may be a bit more critical of my own work than I would be of others, but at some point the icons I paint stop being my work and become the countenances of the persons depicted. And yet, I know each inch of the icons in intimate detail, they are so personal and yet so distinctly their own. It’s hard to explain, perhaps I’m just babbling. So, I’ll suffice it to say I’m deeply humbled that images I painted with my own unworthy hand now adorn an Orthodox chapel. I thank God for my talent and hope He accepts my offering.

Lastly, I want to say while I love our domestic chapel, my joy would more than quadruple if our parish were able to establish a proper Orthodox church here on the island of Newfoundland. Amen, so be it.

Please keep us in your holy prayers!

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In hopes of giving the children in our parish encouragement in their little prayer lives and a visible reminder of the beauty of Orthodoxy, these handmade prayer books were made with love. They’re inspired by illuminated manuscripts, just as the prayer books I make for myself are (you can view them here and here).

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Each one contains prayers to the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, the Creed, the Jesus Prayer and are customized to include the child’s patron saint and troparion (a prayer specific to that saint).

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While I drew all the letters and the decorative border found on the last page, I wanted the children to participate in making their personal prayer books more beautiful. So, I included black and white icons for them to colour (I didn’t draw the icons – unfortunately, I didn’t leave myself enough time).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also left a blank space in the prayer “Through the prayers of [insert name of patron saint], Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” so they could write the saint’s name in their own handwritten script.

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Then I uploaded all the images I drew and spent far too long trying to format the little booklet on my computer. Once I had them all printed I wrote the name of the saint under the icons I had lamented and inserted in each child’s prayer book.

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The finishing touch was attaching a gold ribbon to each prayer book that my (beloved) husband cut and dipped in beeswax so they wouldn’t fray.

Here’s a picture of all the prayer books with the various patron saints’ icons and troparia:

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Then I wrapped them all up and watched with delight as the children cautiously opened them after Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning. They were genuinely happy and a few of them didn’t even want to put them down while we broke the Fast with our annual Christmas brunch.

I really enjoyed making the prayer books, and I hope and pray the children enjoy them too.

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“It is of great significance if there is a person who truly prays in a family. Prayer attracts God’s Grace and all the members of the family feel it, even those whose hearts have grown cold. Pray always.”

-Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

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bf2c84ea6332b95c29294b84515cb114Today in the Holy Orthodox Church we commemorate the Hieromartyr Eleutherius, his mother Evanthia and Caribus the Eparch:

(Source) Saint Eleutherius, the son of an illustrious Roman citizen, was raised in Christian piety by his mother. His virtue was such that at the age twenty, he had been elevated to bishop of Illyria. In the reign of the emperor Hadrian, Saint Eleutherius was tortured for his bold preaching about Christ, then was beheaded at Rome with his mother Evanthia. The Eparch Caribus, who had tortured Saint Eleutherius, also came to believe in Christ and was executed.

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“Ambrose for Bishop!”

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Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, was born in the year 340 into the family of the Roman prefect of Gaul (now France). Even in the saint’s childhood there appeared presentiments of his great future. Once, bees covered the face of the sleeping infant. They flew in and out of his mouth, leaving honey on his tongue. Soon they flew away so high that they could no longer be seen. Ambrose’s father said that the child would become something great when he reached manhood.

Read more about St. Ambrose’s life here.

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Elder Ephraim with his mother, Gerontissa Theophano

My own preliminary comment: Below is a very beautiful article posted on Pravoslavie, compiled and translated with love, I’m sure. May God forgive their sins for the hard work and spiritual care that went into presenting this information. I encourage you all to take the time to read this. It’s very touching and inspiring. May we have Gerontissa’s blessing!

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On Gerontissa Theophano, the mother of Archimandrite Ephraim of Philotheou and Arizona

by Olga Rozhneva, Olga Zatushevskaya                                                                                    Translated by Jesse Dominick Pravoslavie.ru  11 / 11 / 2016

(Source) The Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the Greek island of Thassos is a podvoriye of Philotheou Monastery on Mt. Athos. Gerontissa[1] Theophano, the mother of Elder Ephraim of Philotheou and Arizona, spent the final years of her life there and departed to the Lord on February 27, 1986. The gerontissa of the monastery, Abbess Ephraima, blessed us to record stories of Gerontissa Theophano, as well as recollections about her from sisters of the monastery.

In the Monastery of Archangel Michael and generally in Elder Ephraim’s spiritual family everyone calls Gerontissa Theophano “Grandma.” “Grandpa” is Elder Joseph the Hesychast, the spiritual father of Archimandrite Ephraim, and “Grandma”—Gerontissa Theophano. About how this common woman, spending the large part of her life in the world and having raised three sons, one of whom became an Athonite abbot and great elder, ascended to such spiritual heights, we will try to speak in this article.

We hope that the example of this Orthodox Christian, having combined within herself the virtues of motherhood and monasticism, would inspire our God-loving readers, both laity and nuns, to try to imitate her measure of strength in podvigs and prayerful labor. We also hope that readers of this article will come to love Mother Theophano, and begin to turn to her for prayerful help and beseech her intercession and teaching, undoubtingly believing that she has found boldness before the Lord God, Whom she so loved and Whom she sincerely served with her whole heart until her final breath.

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Gerontissa Theophano (left) with Gerontissa Macrina

Person of prayer

Gerontissa Theophano (in the world Victoria Moraitis) had true maternal love for people. Her character was strict, but with love. She was severe first with herself and only then with others, with those whose souls were given to her to care for by the Lord, for her children and the young novices. Gerontissa was a person of prayer, and moreover was quite merciful and gracious, despite her severity.

She was always a faithful woman, regularly going to church, but in early childhood she lived without any special podvigs and had no elder who could direct her in the spiritual life. She loved to visit new places and go on various trips. But after a fire in her house, and after a miracle associated with this fire, she turned to Christ with her whole heart. Soon afterwards the Lord sent her a spiritual father.

“All together we’re not worth one Victoria”

As is known from Elder Ephraim’s book My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Fr. Ephraim (Karaiannis), a disciple of Elder Joseph who had left the Holy Mountain and settled in the city of Volos, became her family’s spiritual father. He became the spiritual father of the community of which Victoria and her friends were members. Some of them got married and others chose the monastic path in life. Victoria stood out among them; she was so modest and God-loving, and had such a gift of prayer, vigil, and philanthropic works that her spiritual father Elder Ephraim said of her: “All together we’re not worth one Victoria.”

Podvig in the world

Victoria’s husband, Dmitry Moraitis, was also a believer. He went to church but didn’t have the same zeal for God that his wife had. However, he never put up any obstacles in her spiritual life and podvigs. For example, Victoria constantly labored in fasting, both during and outside the Church fasts. Preparing to receive the Holy Mysteries of Christ, she, according to pious Greek tradition, kept the so-called “triimeron”—a complete three-day fast, eating absolutely nothing for three days. At the same time she had to do all of the necessary housework, and raise her children. After three full days of abstention she communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ and would eat a little food that day, to begin again the next day preparing for Communion, and, accordingly, to begin a new three-day fast.

At night she often awoke and arose to pray, locking herself in the kitchen. She prayed on bended knee, with tears and many prostrations. Her son John, the future Elder Ephraim, would say to her: “Mama, when you finish praying, wake me up and we’ll pray a little together.” Thus, from childhood, thanks to his mother, he loved nighttime prayer. When he was small it was hard for him to pray for a long time, but he tried to arise and pray at least a little bit, as much as he was able.

As I already said, Gerontissa Theophano’s husband allowed her everything connected with fasting and the spiritual life, but himself did not seek to emulate her in her podvigs. He was a so-called “moderate Christian.” He had his own work—a small carpenter’s workshop, where he worked with his sons, from an early age teaching them his craft and dreaming of leaving them his workshop as an inheritance. In the end this work was inherited by Elder Ephraim’s older brother Nicholas. He works there to this day, now together with his sons and grandsons.

In Wartime

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Elder Ephraim’s family

Dmitry and Victoria had four children. First they had a daughter, Elena, born in 1924. Victoria was an orphan, and before marriage she had to clean the neighbors’ houses to feed herself. So from eleven years old she was out in society. One of the women she worked for was especially kind to her, took care of her, and even helped her get married. When Victoria had a daughter, she named her after this woman, Elena. Elenitsa, as they called her at home, died in early childhood. Then three sons were born to Victoria: Nicholas (1926), John (the future Elder Ephraim, 1928) and Christos (1930).

During the Second World War Greece was occupied. A famine began in Volos and other cities. They had to collect and gather grass to survive. Additionally, the peaceful inhabitants were constantly in danger from the occupiers, but Victoria’s prayer saved her family and children in these difficult years. More than once the future elder and his brothers avoided death literally by a miracle.

In these years, to help his parents somehow feed the family, John and his brothers would haggle for every little thing at the city market: bagels, quinine, buttons, matches… One of these days, when John and Nicholas had just gone off to trade, the market was surrounded by Germans who seized everyone there, saying that everyone would be immediately shot. Just a few minutes before, Nicholas had briefly left the market for some necessity, and therefore he wasn’t captured, but John was among those whom the Germans took to be shot.

At that last moment the residents convinced the Germans to release at least the women and children. John was about fifteen years old, but he was short and thin from hunger and of weak health, looking younger than his age. In Greece in those years the young boys wore short pants, like shorts, in winter or summer. The elder was a head shorter than the boys his age and at fifteen still wore these short pants. In those years clothes were generally worn for a long time, literally to tatters. It saved him: thanks to his children’s clothes, small stature and thinness he passed for a child, and at the last moment they released him together with the women and other children, and the Germans shot all the boys and men that day.

Another time at the same market the soldiers captured and beat the elder’s older brother Nicholas half to death, for no reason.

They often saw people hanged in those days. In those years they lived in an atmosphere of constant fear and terror. Only faith and prayer supported Victoria and her family. When the bombing began, all their neighbors fled to the bomb shelter or hid in basements, but Victoria stood on her knees before her icons and prayed. So strong was her faith.

Notice from the Lord

From the very beginning Victoria knew that one of her children would become a monk. She received two notices from the Lord about it. Here’s the story about how I learned about these notifications. When I spoke with Gerontissa Ephraimia and the sisters of the Monastery of the Archangel Michael they couldn’t exactly remember what kind of notice it was.

Then Gerontissa Ephraimia concluded: “There is only one way to find out how it was: we have to talk with someone that Gerontissa Theophano personally told about this event, with some person who knew her well in her lifetime.” Then I mentally asked Gerontissa Theophano and Elder Ephraim to send me such a person, because I didn’t want to write something not corresponding to truth.

On the last day of my stay in Greece, when I was at one of the elder’s monasteries, the Monastery of the Ascension of the Lord in the village of Proti in the district of Serros, a group of pilgrims from the city of Volos came there—the birthplace of the elder and Mother Theophano. Among the pilgrims was Elena Ksenia; learning that I came from Arizona, she spoke with me and said she had been a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim since she was twelve (she is now sixty-five). Immediately after that she began to tell me, of her own initiative, the story of this vision, for which my own narration would not be good enough. I recorded the story in her words:

“Gerontissa Theophano, whom I met in Portaria, once told my mother about how the Lord had sent her two signs about Elder Ephraim. They were like visions between dreams and reality. The first time she saw three crowns flying to heaven. Two of them were laurel crowns, and one was golden and this crown flew in the direction of the Holy Mountain. She was pregnant then and didn’t know then how many children she would still have.

When her third child was born, the future Elder Ephraim, in the first forty days after birth, one day, also between sleep and waking, she heard a voice: ‘Victoria, come forth, look at your son, an elder, who came from the Holy Mountain.’ She thought in amazement: ‘How can it be? I just bore this child! When did he manage to become a monk?’ But still she went outside and saw the elder: her newborn child a few days from birth, but in the form and image of a hieromonk, in full abbatial vestments, decorated with flowers and gold.”

“Not halfway, but completely and exactly as demanded”

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Elder Ephraim in his youth

Knowing that John should become a monk, Victoria was especially exacting towards him. But she was a loving, albeit strict mother. The elder’s brother Nicholas notes that she always demanded that the children precisely carry out her instructions: “Not halfway, but completely and exactly as demanded.”

In 1947, Elder Ephraim left for Athos. His father didn’t want to let him leave the house and didn’t bless him to become a monk: he needed a helper at the carpentry workshop, where there was always a lot of work. Then John’s mother helped him secretly leave. She went against her husband’s will in this case, because she knew that the will of God was that her son become a monk.

When John turned nineteen and the family’s confessor, Fr. Ephraim, blessed him to go to Athos, his mother helped her son prepare in secret everything he needed for the trip. His father, knowing his son’s strong desire to leave for Athos, strictly controlled him and required him to report in on where he was and when he would return. At that time there were catechism courses at their parish, something like a school for youth, which John regularly visited. His father didn’t allow him to go to these lessons, which his spiritual father, Fr. Ephraim, held. On the day he left for Athos his mother advised him to write a note to his father that he had gone to the catechism class and would return later. In his talks the elder would say that even this corresponded to reality: for how many catechetical lessons did he have to endure on Athos in the beginning?

John left a note, grabbed the things he had prepared and headed on foot for the port, to the pier to get on the boat to Athos. His father, returning from work, asked Victoria where their son was. She showed him the note and, having read it, he calmed down. However, later, when the hour had passed when John usually returned from the lessons, his father got worked up and began to interrogate his wife. In the end she was obliged to reveal the whole truth. Then his father, angrily shot back: “This will not be,” grabbed a bike and dashed for the pier, hoping to catch up with his son and bring him back home. Along the way he fell off the bike and hurt himself pretty badly, such that he was in no condition to continue his pursuit. He had to return home with nothing. In his conversations the elder concluded that, obviously, it was the will of God that he got on the boat that day and sailed for Mt. Athos.

Accepting the monastic tonsure

He wrote his mother just one letter from Athos, in which he wrote: “Here, mama, we don’t wash ourselves with water. We wash ourselves with tears.” Then there was no news from him for many years. As we know, the first time the elder left Mt. Athos, according to the last will of Elder Joseph, after his death, was to visit his hometown of Volos, and take upon himself the spiritual direction of the sisterhood which at that time lived in one house in the village of Stagiares in the Pelion region. It was then that he met his mother again, and, as we know, she didn’t even recognize him—so much had the elder changed over the years, spent in ascetic labors.

In 1962, with the blessing of Elder Ephraim, the sisterhood from Volos bought a small plot in the village of Portaria on the mountain in Upper Volos to build a monastery there. There was no monastery there before that. The miraculous icon of the Mother of God which had been in the house in Stagiares before that was immediately transferred here.

After transferring the icon to the new place they began to work on building repairs, and the beautification of the territory, and in 1963 the sisterhood relocated to Portaria. Soon Elder Ephraim celebrated the first tonsure in the newly-constructed monastery—over his own mother Victoria, who was named in tonsure Theophano, and her friend who was named Matrona. Elder Ephraim named his mother in honor of the blessed queen Theophano († 893/894), the wife of Leo the Wise. The elder greatly reveres her and therefore named his mother in her honor, and after her many of the elder’s abbesses and nuns also received this name.

The first and best novice

After her tonsure, Gerontissa Theophano did not stay in Portaria, but returned home for some time. By this time her husband, Elder Ephraim’s father, had already died, but her youngest son, Christos, was not yet married. Gerontissa lived at home with her youngest son until he got married, and then finally relocated to Portaria, to the monastery.

Soon after the tonsure of his mother, Elder Ephraim tonsured Maria who he named Macrina—she became the abbess of the monastery in Portaria. Gerontissa Theophano was her sponsor in the tonsure, and therefore Matushka Macrina considered her her gerontissa and spiritual mother. For many years in Portaria they shared one cell and continued in joint prayerful podvigs, as they had done in the world, in Victoria’s home, locking themselves at night in the kitchen, to spend hours kneeling in collective prayer. They were great women of prayer. The locals bear witness: they saw how two pillars of fire would rise from the monastery at night to Heaven—the prayers of Gerontissas Theophano and Macrina.

Thus Gerontissa Theophano became the first and best novice of her own son. As the nuns say, she had true obedience and unceasing prayer, and therefore she had a lot of temptations.

Gerontissa was always the first to church

Gerontissa Theophano lived in Portaria until 1983. By that time her health had worsened, and the climate in Portaria did not suit her. Then, because of her sickness, Elder Ephraim decided to transfer her to the newly-opened Monastery of the Archangel Michael on the island of Thassos.

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The Holy Monastery of Archangel Michael (island of Thassos)

During the final period of Gerontissa Theophano’s life in the monastery on Thassos, the sisters said that she was always the first to church. She always stood during the services, never sitting anywhere. In Greek churches, in addition to stasidi along the wall, usually there are rows of chairs, usually in the back but sometimes in the front of the church, and the faithful periodically sit down to rest, because services in monasteries are very long.

Gerontissa Theophano always prayed standing with her prayer rope, never letting go of her prayer rope. Because of her unceasing prayer she endured much from demons who she heard and saw firsthand. She told the sisters that only had she just entered her cell to rest before the night services, and lied down upon her bed, when demons came to her, not allowing her to sleep. They called her: “Hey, old woman! old woman!” and pulled her from every side, tossing her blanket, and she saw them. Once they pestered her so much that she absolutely could not fall asleep in the evening. They finally left her not long before the beginning of the service, and matushka dozed off. Then came the pounding on the semantron[2], gathering the sisters for the service. Seeing that she hadn’t come to the church, Sister Isidora went to her cell to wake her. She began to knock on the door of her cell, and Matushka Theophano thought it was the demons again harassing her, and answered from behind the door: “Go away, stop hitting me!” Later she said the devil beat her all night, not letting her sleep.

The final test

When gerontissa turned 92 (Decemebr 20, 1983) she had a stroke and became paralyzed. Until the very last day before her illness she independently took care of herself and helped in the kitchen, making food for the sisters and teaching them how to make prosphora and various other household things. She was a great homemaker, and whatever she undertook turned out well. Moreover, she was very hard-working, never stopping for rest, all the time either praying or working.

The first Lent after her stroke everyone thought she would die. Elder Ephraim came to Thassos from the Holy Mountain and spent forty days—the whole of Great Lent—with his mother. He saw a great number of demons all around her, who gave her soul no rest. He began to fervently pray and beseech the Lord to deliver his mama from the demonic powers. By his prayers, Gerontissa received relief from her illness, came to and remained lucid until her blessed repose which occurred two years later. In one of his recorded talks, Elder Ephraim talks about his mother’s blessed repose.

Elder Ephraim’s story about the blessed repose of Gerontissa Theophano

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Elder Ephraim at his mother’s grave

“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”

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Gerontissa Theophano’s grave. There is no cross because her relics have been removed

Gerontissa Theophano’s grave at the cemetery. There is no cross on it because her relics have already been removed.

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.

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The Elder with his mother’s holy skull

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!

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“Who made room for David in his sorrow”

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St. Gurias (companion and co-sufferer of St. Samonas)

On this day, in the Holy Orthodox Church, we commemorate the holy martyrs and confessors Gurias and Samonas who suffered during the persecution against Christians under the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (305-311).

 

Below is the prayer St. Samonas uttered before he and his friend were beheaded (a witness recorded it; as a result it has been preserved to this day):

“O Lord my God, against Whose will not a single sparrow falls into the snare. It was You Who made room for David in his sorrow (Ps. 4:1), Who proved the Prophet David stronger than lions (Dan. ch. 6), and granted a child of Abraham to be victor over torture and flames (Dan. ch. 3, ch. 14). You know also, Lord, the infirmity of our nature, You see the struggle set before us. Our foe strives to snatch us, the work of Your right hand, away from You and to deprive us of the glory which is in You. With Your compassionate eye watching over us, preserve in us the inextinguishable light of Your Commandments. Guide our steps by Your light, and make us worthy of Your Kingdom, for You are blessed unto ages of ages.”

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Cappadocia in Asia Minor (eastern Turkey) is virtually devoid of Christians now, but in 1840, when St Arsenios was born there, there were still vital Orthodox communities. St Arsenios became a monk and was sent to his native town, Farasa, to serve the people. He pastored his Greek Orthodox flock amidst extremely difficult conditions. Under the harsh yoke of the Turks, the Greek people of Farasa formed an oasis of Orthodox Christianity. They sought refuge in holy St. Arsenios, who was their teachper, their spiritual father, and the healer of their souls and bodies. His reputation as a healer was so great that not only Greek Christians but also Turkish Muslims came to him for healing. Many times his village was threatened with violence from marauding Turks, but each time it was preserved in a miraculous way by St Arsenios.

He lived in a small cell with an earthen floor, fasted often and was in the habit of shutting himself in his cell for at least two whole days every week to devote himself entirely to prayer.

St Arsenios predicted the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor before it happened, and organized his flock for departure. When the expulsion order came in 1924, the aged Saint led his faithful on a 400-mile journey across Turkey on foot. He had foretold that he would only live forty days after reaching Greece, and this came to pass. His last words were “The soul, the soul, take care of it more than the flesh, which will return to earth and be eaten by worms!” Two days later, on November 10, 1924, he died in peace at the age of eighty-three. He was officially declared a Saint by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1986.

St. Arsenios was the spiritual father of the late St. Paisios’ family. He baptised St. Paisios as an infant. Throughout his life Elder Paisios had great love and reverence for the memory of St. Arsenios, and it was out of this love that he compiled the book “Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian” which provides us with the details of his life. Accounts of these miraculous events were documented by the St. Paisios from eyewitnesses, and they testify to how powerfully God works through His holy ones, and to how lovingly He cares for and protects His children amidst adversity.

Since 1970, many apparitions and miracles have occurred near his holy relics, which reside in the Monastery of Souroti near Thessalonica. The relic of St. Arsenios has also been known to heal those who have cancer and to grant children to infertile couples. In 1983 St. Paisios forwarded a portion of his holy relic to Pantanassa Monastery. This relic is available for veneration at all the St Arsenios Feast Day services. We pray that the intercessions of our Venerable Father Arsenios of Cappadocia, the Wonderworker, and of the late St. Paisios, be with you and your families always.

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