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March 28, 2013

A Japanese Woman Who Followed Her Heart to Orthodoxy

How far is Tokyo from Larissa? By kilometers the distance is undoubtedly very great.

For a young woman, who had the longing to follow the path of her heart to satisfy a great desire of hers, the distance was like an excursion in a blooming spring garden.

It is like the excursion the then 29 year old Yuko did thirteen years ago, to the Holy Church of Saint Nicholas in the center of Tokyo, the only Orthodox church in the bustling capital of the country of the rising sun.

This excursion was decisive for the rest of her life, because it changed her completely.

It made her choose the living testimony of Orthodoxy, to change Christian doctrines. To leave her homeland and family and come to Greece determined to become a monastic, devoting the rest of her life to the service of God.

Her visit to the Church of Saint Nicholas in Tokyo, where she followed the Divine Liturgy, and her acquaintance with the Professor of Theology at the University of Athens, Stergios Papadopoulos, were the two key events that changed her life.

We met her as she wove baskets at an outdoor festival dedicated to nature in the heart of Paranesti, a few kilometers from the village of Mesochoritos in the region of Drama.

Listening to her story, you feel that the 42 year old, today known as Sister Sophia, was destined for this very purpose: to be a monastic, devoting her life to the pursuit of God's truth.

She Renounced Protestantism

Fascinated by Orthodox Christian worship, the Services of the Orthodox Church, and under the guidance of Professor Stergios Papadopoulos, she decided to renounce Protestantism, to leave her employment as a catechist in the Protestant Church, and be baptized Orthodox Christian. She took the name Sophia and made the huge decision to come to Greece, as she claims: "Only here could I find the fulfillment of my great desire to dedicate myself to God."

Sister Sophia confesses that she came to Greece because there she would not feel like a minority, since "Orthodoxy and faith are predominant and alive in everyday life." Moreover, she was tired of the busy Tokyo life. From the Professor she heard about the Sacred Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner which is 3.5 kilometers west of the village Anatoli, at a height of 1100 m. in the mountains of Kissavos.

The Monastery was built in 1550 by St. Damianos of Kissavos, who organized a coenobitic monastic brotherhood and lived as an ascetic in a nearby ravine. The Monastery flourished until World War 2, but then was abandoned. In 1980, near the original Post-Byzantine complex, Athonite fathers began to build a new wing, which was abandoned after 1983. Since July of 2000 the Monastery began its restoration by a team of Orthodox monastics from various countries. These same nuns are also from the Hermitage of Saint Paul in Lavrion. It is worth noting that this monastic community understands the multinational character of the Monastery as an international mission, affirming the fact that in Orthodoxy there is no distinction between nation, tribe or tongue.

She Has Served As A Monastic For 13 Years

Sister Sophia was drawn to the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner. She has served as a monastic there for thirteen years. Years that have been closer to God, but very far from her family - her parents and her sister. She still remembers how much they resisted her decision to change Christian doctrines and leave Japan. However, she says that she prays to God to give them strength, and she communicates with them regularly through writing. She learned Greek, which she considers a difficult language, and learned to weave baskets at the urging of the abbess since she had to fulfill some obedience. "The basket", says Sister Sophia, "is inextricably tied to the Christian story, since the desert fathers were involved in basket making both for all purposes but also to ensure their livelihood."

In her highly skillful hands, the flexible rods of laton (a Chinese plant from which the basket is made), formed a handmade basket without using any other technical means (glue, stapler, etc.). She very patiently explained this to all those interested who approached her during the 10th Pan-Hellenic Festival Local Exchange about the art of basketry.

It is already noon and several women have gathered around Sister Sophia to hear about the beauty of basketry, and so we leave Sister Sophia. We hold on to her words however. Instructive words that reveal that every desire leads us on a path to reality, if we believe in our abilities. We all as people have the potential to follow the path of our hearts.

Source: From Alitheia, September 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.