May 13, 2012

Eldress Agatha: Mother of Elder Cleopa Ilie

Eldress Agatha Ilie (1876 - 1968), formerly known as Maria before being tonsured a nun, was the mother according to the flesh of one of the greatest hesychasts of modern Romania - Elder Cleopa Ilie.

She was from Soulitsa in the district of Botosani. Her husband was named Alexander, who was a cow merchant for a living. God blessed them with ten children. From a young age this pious couple taught their children to love the ecclesiastical services, to pray, and to flee temptations in their personal lives. Nearby their village was the Kozantsea-Botosani Skete, where Fr. Paisios Olarou struggled, who became the spiritual father of Elder Cleopa as well as the entire family. This is where the children of this large family would go to pray and to listen to the teachings of Elder Paisios, as well as help graze the animals of the Skete.

But God, Who alone is All-Good, and Whose ways are beyond comprehension, allowed this large pious family to suffer many bitter trials. One by one each child was taken from this life, much like the children of Job. This occurred between 1915 and 1935, by the will of God. John died at the age of 16. After a year his sister Porphyria died at the age of 18. After two years the 26 year old Maria died. Their mother Maria was in deep sorrow constantly for the loss of her children. She would go to the Skete and Elder Paisios would console her saying that she was sending angels to heaven. Her sorrow would continue after a few years when Basil and George left to become monks at Sihastria Monastery, and in 1931 she was informed that Basil had died as well. George, who had taken the name Gerasimos, would die two years later. One year later another terrible loss came upon Maria, when her daughter Katherine died; she was only 20 years old and was a novice at Agapia Monastery. Eight children had died at this point, and two were left for her consolation. Every time a child was taken from her, Fr. Paisios would say: "Your children are chanting to God like angels, Maria. There you will meet again." In 1949 Maria went to inform Fr. Paisios that her ninth child died, named Michael. He told her: "Your nine children have gone to the Lord and received nine martyric crowns." Shortly after this her husband, Alexander, died. Her last surviving child, Constantine, had already gone to become a novice at Sihastria Monastery in 1936, and came to be known as Cleopas upon his tonsure. Cleopa was urging his mother at this point to become a nun, and Fr. Paisios informed her: "Go Maria, you also become a monastic and pray for the living and the dead."

In the winter of 1946 Maria went to join a convent, at the age of 70, after first visiting Sihastria Monastery to venerate the tombs of her two sons. From there she went by carriage to the Monastery of Old Agapia, where she stayed for good. There she took the name Agatha and lived for another 22 years. All her life she was illiterate and could not read books or the Divine Services. What characterized her was her goodness and innocence of soul. Her soul was child-like, without evil, without pride, without bad thoughts in her mind. Whatever somebody told her, she believed, and whatever she was asked to do, she did with obedience, because she loved everybody and had no discrimination. She spoke with everyone, and cried for the misfortune and pain of all people.

When she was asked what obedience she had at the Monastery, she would respond: "I cut wood with the saw, I take care of the flowers, and I help with the cooking." Another job she had was to go into the woods all day to gather sticks for the kitchen, the whole time praying while she worked, and she would return before sunset.

One year before her repose, she ceased altogether speaking of her children. If a nun happened to ask Sister Agatha about her children, she would groan a little bit, but then be happy as a child, saying: "How good are these sisters. They care for me like a mother. Behold, here I am alone. Abbess Olympia also reposed. I have remained alone."

Her only consolation now was the Church and the Sisters who took care of her in her cell. She lived the 22 years of her monastic life with humility, prayer, silence, love, quietude, and spiritual prayer.

Old Agapia Monastery was a haven for Eldress Agatha. Though she sent all but one of her children to heaven before her own repose, through prayer she was ever near them together with all the saints through the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the Monastery she found comfort and peace of soul. In the summer of 1968 Eldress Agatha began to feel weak. She only had the strength to walk to the balcony of her cell to catch some warmth from the rays of the sun. For a few days she was bedridden. "Eldress Agatha, won't you eat some food? Here are a few apples," said the nuns who took care of her. To this she responded: "Apples I will eat in Paradise, where I am going soon." On 15 September 1968, at the age of 92, her soul went to Paradise, after saying farewell to the entire Sisterhood of the Monastery.