|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Psychotherapy and Personal Experiences|
A saintly Fool for Christ in the heart of Athens
This is the story of Stella, a little old lady, unknown by most people around her, who lived her life as free as a sparrow, but entirely devoted to God.
On the 3rd of June 2005 our beloved Stella was killed in a car accident.
She bore all the signs of a "fool for Christ", with an inner life of spirituality.
It was her will to remain homeless; she lived on the streets; at nights - in summer and in winter - she slept on park benches, in hovels and in the waiting rooms of Hospitals, but she was always filled with a love for God, for the Saints and for unfortunate people. Her clothes were always clean. Whatever earnings she had, she would dedicate to the requirements of charity. She did not like to be praised, and when they did praise her, she would act «silly»...
She came from Constantinople; she had acquired a good education; she handled the Greek language extremely well, and she was also familiar with the French language, and lately was also trying to learn Italian.
Her departure from this life was exactly as she had desired it: with a violent death, and as a stranger among strangers. Nobody had gone to identify her. They interred her without a funeral service, because they didn't know who she was. But all this missing information became known in a miraculous manner a year later; that was also when her funeral service was performed. I was honoured to perform her memorial service also. After her memorial service, in the guest hall of the Holy Monastery of Pelaghia, Mrs. Militsa Pisimisi-Loukidou, a lawyer, and Mrs. Chrysoula Mandas, a dentist, narrated all they knew about Stella, who was truly a person of God.
In this issue, we are publishing the text by Mrs. Militsa Pisimisi-Loukidou, which was written in collaboration with Mrs. Chrysoula Mandas also, outlining only a portion of her blessed life, while in the next issue we shall be publishing the remembrances of Stella - «God's little sparrow» - by the Monastic community of the Sacred Monastery of Pelaghia, who was unknown to the world but certainly well known by God - who had lived «alone, with only God». It is my belief that this narration will be beneficial to those people who live their lives seeking unbridled bliss, laden with a neurotic mentality and constantly complaining about the things they would have liked to possess.
The following words of Christ were applicable in her case: «Observe the fowl of the sky, how they neither sow nor reap nor collect in barns, and how your heavenly Father sustains them; are you not far different than them? » (Matthew 6:26).
Finally, Man «is» not what he «has»; he «has» what he «is».
The ever-memorable Stella, whom I was exceptionally blessed to meet, is a positive protest for all those who are «insured».
+ Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios, Hierotheos
«God's little sparrow»
by Militsa Pisimisi-Loukidou, Lawyer, Employee of the Labour Ministry
I became acquainted with Stella in the summer of 1979 at the Chocolate Factory. She was an ordinary worker; she worked very hard - more than 9 hours a day. Everyone exploited her, everyone gave her orders and she would obey immediately, and always with a smile. Stella - here! Stella, there! The owner-employer was very fond of her because of her obedience and her diligence.
To most of the other workers, she was "stupid Stella". Her face always shone, her lips always murmuring something. When you listened carefully, you would hear her saying "Glory to You, o Lord".
Quite often our supervisor would assign a chore that we were supposed to undertake together, so I was given the opportunity to savour her kindness, her love... I remember that she would constantly say the prayer, then suddenly burst into laughter and turn her dear head upwards, towards the sky. That's when her face glowed.
«Glory to You, o Lord» was what you would frequently hear proceeding from her mouth.
That Chocolate Factory produced various kinds of chocolates. Its more inferior range of chocolates would be exported to countries in Africa. That upset Stella very much. Once, when we were working together in the packaging sector, I remember Stella concentrating her attention over those boxes and praying «for the little black children who would be eating those chocolates».
Whenever we were wronged in our workplace - they used to «whittle away» our wages - she would never respond, never criticize, never react. Stella was for me a little harbor of comfort - I however used to react against every injustice. To my comments, she would simply reply with «Ah, Militsa!». I don't remember her ever putting a single chocolate in her mouth (I would remind you that she worked in a chocolate factory!) Even though most of the employees regarded her as «crazy», still, they respected her and would always wonder how she managed to work so efficiently.
Stella never participated in our discussions; she was with us, but at the same time, she abstained from comments, from unnecessary talk. Very often, when she was asked to give her opinion, she played the fool. I had noticed that she did that on purpose. For all worldly things, she was crazy - a lunatic; but when you asked for her assistance at work, her tiny hands would move tenderly in assistance; if it were possible, she would even offer them to do all the work for you.
This is the environment in which we became acquainted. I had so much respect for her, that I never asked her about her private life. She told me herself that she came from Constantinople. It was surprising how all those who knew her had (somewhat thoughtlessly) characterized her as «crazy», when I had sensed that they were wrong to do so. The truth is, I had perceived very early along that Stella wanted them to regard her as «crazy». There were times when the two of us happened to be alone, talking quite normally, and when someone else approached, she would start to talk entirely incoherently. She always gave me a feeling of serenity, so the others' judgments were entirely indifferent to me...
I worked at that Chocolate Factory only for a short period of time. I would often encounter Stella on the street, and she would always be saying that prayer - in her heart and with her lips. She used to say the prayer audibly, but in a very soft voice. Every now and then she would come to my house. During that time, she used to live in the laundry of that 2-storey home.
The years passed, I lost track of her, but I always brought her to mind her with a sweet remembrance and nostalgia.
Later, as a married woman, I saw her again at the Holy Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Hossia Pelaghia) at Akrefnion. We had gone there with my husband and were to stay at the Monastery overnight, to be there for the Divine Liturgy early next morning. The nuns there very politely apologized to us, explaining that they did not have any available room to put us up for the night on account of the construction work that was going on, and that we would have to share the cell where «a very eccentric lady» was staying. I accepted. They led me to that cell, where to my surprise I realized that the «very eccentric lady» was my very dear Stella, whom I hadn't seen for years. My joy could not be described. We had remained embraced for quite a long time, when I suddenly heard the nuns shouting out: «Eldress, come and see Stella and Militsa embracing each other!». We were all overjoyed. That evening, Stella acted like a little child out of sheer joy. She kept clapping her hands, she laughed, she kept crossing herself....
-My Militsa, I am overjoyed that you are married. You know, I prayed a lot, that you would get married. I am so glad, so glad. I am only sad that you are suffering from your legs. I know you have a problem. Patience... Prayer... (you must bear in mind that Stella did not know that I had suffered a chronic and painful problem with my legs). Your husband's position will change, but don't worry - it will be for the better. (And indeed, entirely unexpectedly, my husband was obliged to move his veterinarian practice to another place).
That night, we spoke of many things. The next day, while Stella was some distance away, I told the nuns that I had perceived she was a holy soul... The next day, Stella left the Monastery. She had perceived what had been said. She did not want you to praise her. When we met again at a later date, she reprimanded me very austerely for having praised her. I was taken aback, because I had not said anything in front of her. And yet, she knew I had praised her...
Another time, she had said to me: «I can't stand the honour that the Eldress is bestowing on me. Look what she did - she recently made me dine together with them - with all those holy souls! Who am I ?.... Oh no, no, no Militsa! ».
We lost track of her for a long time after that. The Eldress would call us on the phone and ask us if we had seen Stella. At the time, I had realized that if I ever wanted to see her again, I had to stop talking about her.
Stella had become homeless. She had retired from her job and had been allocated the minimum pension by our Social Services (about 411 Euros per month), which she would distribute to the poor, to prisoners in jail, to the Overseas Missions etc. She was now living on park benches, in hovels, in deserted country chapels, on stairs, in unfinished buildings. She had personally entrusted this information to me.
Pressured by the Eldress and myself, she had come to us - during heavy winter weather - and stayed with us. She always asked to be lodged in the lowliest part of the house.
I remember very nostalgically that whenever we did offer her the hospitality of our home, serenity and light prevailed, and everything was peaceful. When my husband would come to join us, Stella would depart; and whenever he addressed her, she never replied. She delighted in eating plain tomato soups that contained no oil. She incessantly glorified the Lord and her soul overflowed with gratitude, with a continuous «thank You, thank You».
Many times at night, on the pretext that I was tired, I would ask her to recite the Evening Prayers. It is impossible for me to describe what occurred when she began to pray. Her expression gradually changed, her petite face would light up and she would entirely forget herself in her glorification of God. I would leave her and go off to sleep.
One time, while thinking of her with compassion «wandering about like a little sparrow in the streets» she looked at me suddenly and said: -«Don't worry about me. It is the will of God that I sleep on park benches. I am just fine; I am very happy. You know, I even sew my own clothes on those park benches (Stella was also an excellent seamstress). For example, I had a very nice time at Easter. On Easter Saturday I went and bought some lamb, I put it in a little confectionery pan, I gave it to the bakery and they baked it for me. I hid it under the bench and the next day I celebrated Easter on my park bench, happy and pleased, because my Priest had also given me a red-dyed Easter egg. So don't worry about me. No, no, because I am under the shelter of our Most Holy Mother».
Another time, she narrated to me that she had gone and washed her hair in the bathroom of the Municipal Health Center. The employees there saw her and reprimanded her severely. Stella did not accept their reprimand, arguing that she was not stealing anything - not the water, nor the soap - because as a worker she had been consistently paying her dues to the Social Security authorities. She spoke in a very bad manner to them and they called the Police, so Stella was taken to the Police station. This was how she narrated the dialogue between her and the Police Chief:
«Mister Police Chief, forgive me for tiring you, but please listen to me. I am homeless, I have nothing of my own. See, all I have is this Social Security Medical Coverage Booklet which verifies that I have paid my dues to them. The Health Center where I washed my hair belongs to the Social Security organization, therefore I have a right to it. When I am inside a Social Security building, I feel as though I am in my own home. Please forgive me».
Police chief: «You can leave, but next time you wash your hair, make sure that nobody sees you. Now go on your way».
She left, glorifying God and with gratitude towards the Police chief.
She had slept in hospital lounges many a night. Or rather, we should say that she pretended to sleep, because as soon as things calmed down in the hospital, she would hurry to the lonelier patients who were in need of help and would tend to them, but, as soon as she sensed that a third person had noticed her, she would begin to display her «craziness».
On numerous mornings while on my way to work (around 6,30 - 7 am) I would run into her as she was leaving the Accident Center Hospital, and when I pressured her into telling me why she wouldn't come to my house to stay, she confessed that she loved the Saints very much; that she regarded them as her friends, her relatives, and would rush to their feast-days, to the festivals, and was so happy when they also distributed food there. She would go on various pilgrimages during the entire year. On the Myrrh-Bearers' Sunday she would be in Mantamados (on Lesvos island) for the feast-day of the Archangel Michael, then in Aegina island for Saint Nektarios, at Nafpaktos for Saint Paraskeve, etc.. Indicatively, I would like to mention the following: Once, she had gone to Saint Paraskeve at Nafpaktos and had acted like a little child, as she herself described it. She was very fond of the Reverend Hierotheos (Vlachos), whom she regarded as someone very close to her; she was so happy to watch him officiating in his splendid priestly attire and to listen to him speaking so beautifully. She had a great deal of respect for him. She was so proud that he had spoken to her and had given her his blessing at the Monastery at Akrefnio. She rejoiced over him, as she used to say.
All of Stella's narrations were enjoyment and relaxation for me. I had been observing an elderly woman feeling and expressing herself like a little child.
One time, we hosted a celebration at our house, with quite a few guests. Suddenly, Stella showed up. She seated herself, and I went and seated myself right next to her. Among the guests was a couple who was facing very many problems, which I was aware of. Stella was «in her own world», whispering the prayer and simultaneously telling me in a low voice what was going on with that couple - what was wrong with them - but to the other guests she would say irrelevant things or just smile at them. But she was always focused on the prayer. Most of the people present thought she was «nuts», but that was exactly what Stella wanted, so that they wouldn't understand her.
It was August 12th, 2004. I was in my office, and I was to travel to Lesvos island on that day for my summer vacations. All morning, I was tormented by a trivial detail - my mind was «stuck» as we commonly say. I didn't have a key chain to hook my spare keys on, that I was going to give my neighbours so they could come and water my garden while I was away on holidays. Suddenly, around lunch time, my door opened and Stella appeared, soaked in perspiration, dead tired and panting. She said: «Here, take it. I was at Omonia Square, and she told me to bring you this key chain». I was stunned. When I asked her who told her to bring it to me, she mumbled «the Holy Mother» at first, but then she began her incoherent rambling, her «crazy» act. She had purchased that key chain at the Monastery, and on it was a depiction of our Holy Mother. To my insistence that she remain a little longer with us to rest herself, to have some refreshment, she sat down on the couch and began to tell me things about herself. That was when she told me : «My Militsa, I will die on the streets, alone. No-one will hear about it - no-one, no-one...». Those words hurt me deeply, so I told her somewhat forcefully: «My Stella, please, I want you to tell me about it. I want to learn about your departure». And I hugged her. After that, she stopped talking for several minutes. Then, suddenly, she turned and looked at me with a tender gaze full of love and said to me: «My Militsa, you will hear about it, you will hear about it».
She stayed at my place for the last time, in October of 2004. She had pains in her leg at the time and was forced to limit her walks. I happened to have offered hospitality at my place during that period to a person who was finding it difficult to tolerate her presence, especially during her evening prayer, because she went to bed early and would get up late at night and begin to chant in a loud voice. We would often hear her repeat the words: «Liveth, the Lord God».
So, in view of this problem, a friend of ours - Chrysoula - offered to let her live in a small apartment which remained vacant after the death of her parents. Stella was happy to be living in a house near people with love and understanding - especially now that she was having trouble with the pain in her legs. She stayed there, until May of 2005. On the 1st of June 2005, Chrysoula saw her leave the house. We lost all traces of Stella after that day.
We began to worry eventually, but because she regularly used to disappear, we believed that she would show up again. Every now and then, we used to communicate with the Eldress - Chrysoula and myself - in the hope of learning news of Stella. The Eldress would always say: «Go and look for her and find her». But we were convinced that she had left on a trip somewhere and would be returning.
After Easter of 2006 one evening, very late at night and with my family sound asleep, I lay down and fell asleep immediately - unusual for me - and was awakened just as quickly (I verified this, by looking at the clock) by a powerful dream: I saw Stella underneath a beautiful tree, standing upright and leaning lightly against its trunk, looking very youthful and exceptionally beautiful and sweet, and she was looking at me with an infinitely warm gaze. I felt my soul releasing a cry that reached the heavens and tore through my chest: «My Stella....my Stella.... my Stella....» And I ran to embrace her, with my arms outstretched, but when I came near the tree, she vanished and in her place stood a lit, pure white Easter candle, which radiated a wonderful light all around and I could see its flame rising straight up into the sky. Then I noticed on the ground - right next to the candle - a newspaper clipping that showed a horribly mangled body, as though from a ghastly automobile accident...
An unbearable message pierced my being: «Stella is dead!». I awoke, overcome by mixed feelings: immense joy at Stella's appearance and the light of that candle, and terrified by the photo that I saw in the newspaper clipping. I wanted to wake up my husband Dimitri, to tell him about Stella - the «little sparrow» as we used to call her, not only because she lived «as a bird living alone on a rooftop», but also because her walk resembled a sparrow's. But something powerful kept me from waking him. The next day, I rang the Eldress and Chrysoula and I told them about the dream. They both recommended that we try to locate Stella. From that moment on, we commenced our agonized search. Traffic Police, Hospitals, Military Police, Morgues....
Chrysoula discovered that on the 3rd of June 2005 and at 6:10 pm an unidentified woman (sparrows don't have names!) was killed in an automobile accident, near her house. Her death was instantaneous. All the research proved that the unidentified woman was indeed Stella. She was run over while crossing the road, by a car with an Army officer who was driving at a dangerous speed. She was crushed. Only her face was discernible (as shown in the Traffic Police photos).
Stella's body remained in the "Aesclepion" Hospital until the 18th of June 2005 and was then transferred to the Central Morgue of the Popular Hospital of Athens, where it remained among the unclaimed bodies until the 20th of July 2005, after which, it was released for interment. The Funeral Office that handled the interment informed us that the Funeral Service was not performed; only a Trisaghion prayer over the grave.
It should be noted that all of us who were involved in locating her would speak to her in our prayers, saying: «If you can hear us, if you are in God's favour, lead us, help us... ». And help us she did; we were led to her «nonexistent» grave which was overgrown with weeds, at the easternmost end of the Zographos district cemetery, marked with the number 8915...
Forty days after the feast of Easter, a year after her repose, Stella's Funeral Service was performed in the Holy Temple of the Life-Giving Fount, where she used to celebrate during the Paschal period. The priest had said about Stella: «She had her crazy behaviour, but she said correct things and she always came here laden with food for the poor, with sacramental bread, oil, and wine for Holy Communion... she had even commissioned the icon of Saint Marina to be painted in our Church.....».
On the 3rd of June 2006 her annual memorial service took place - with her very favourite Bishop, father Hierotheos as celebrant - at the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Hossia Pelaghia), at Akrefnio.
In one of our last encounters, she had said: «This life has made me feel complete. The Lord has given me everything. Only one wish has not been fulfilled: I wanted to baptize two children, to which I would have given the names of Saint Nektarios and our Holy Mother, but nobody wanted me as a godmother». When I told her that I would try to baptize two children in her place - and in fact, that when they grew up I would speak to them about «their true godmother» - she was overjoyed and exclaimed: «Now I am at peace. I am ready to leave».
STELLA'S HANDWRITTEN NOTES
"Nothing - I have done nothing good and proper in my life. If I know or read or study or write the Greek language of my Homeland or whatever else, small or big, is it beneficial to my fellow-man?"
"Others have done many good things, and they do them entirely noiselessly, with patience. With God's help, truly great things. Liveth, the Lord God. With His help, I shall not despair - He will not abandon me in Despair. I have not done anything right. I have thought of nothing correct. I am guilty, deserving many punishments.
God is my hope for everything. He will Never be victorious, and in no way, that enemy of my soul. Styliani.
In the care of GOD. Yes, of CHRIST. "I am a foreigner and a sojourner on Earth". My Hope in You makes me conquer opponents.
My GOD, I THANK YOU. My CHRIST. Saint Catherine, intercede for me, 25 November. Saint Stylianos, 26 November.
«Fools for Christ» belonged to a category of people who decided to pursue a difficult path. Albeit city dwellers, they would feign madness. They did things that a madman would do, but those acts of theirs had an intrinsic content. «Fools for Christ» had noetic energy to a sublime degree; albeit in full control of their mental faculties, they purposely chose a gruelling path and way of life...
The lifestyle of «fools for Christ» was a perfect - perhaps even an extreme - implementation of in-Christ folly, which is the quintessence of the whole spirit of the Gospel. Not everyone can of course pass himself off as a fool for Christ - as we observed previously - because it happens to be a special charisma and a special blessing given by God. However, it is possible for everyone to experience in-Christ folly, in a more moderate form and adjusted proportionately; this can be perceived, by the fact that the lifestyle of the Church - a life of love, of faith, of self-restraint - aspires to and is inspired by another polity: one that is clearly contrary to human polities. This way of life that the Church has cannot be easily comprehended by those who have logic and the physical senses as the hub of their life. Christian life does not abolish logic and the senses, it just moves beyond them.
Article published in English on: 30-7-2009.
Last update: 30-7-2009.