July 25, 2015

The Saint Who Endured Slanders

St. Gregory Kallides (Feast Day - July 25)

By Haralambos M. Bousias

Saint Gregory Kallides (+ 1925) was a brave-minded Hierarch who did not give into dangers and secret threats.

He lifted the banner of the truth of the Gospel of love, boldly repeating the words of the wise Sirach: Gregory, "fight to the death on behalf of truth, and the Lord God will fight for you" (Sir. 4:28).

Wherever he was, with untold courage and fortitude, he rejuvenated his flock with constant touring of the villages, especially those that accepted the attacks of propaganda, with strong spoken as well as written words, but he also defended the weak against those in power at whatever cost.

This dynamic, together with the love and respect the people harbored for Christ-imitating Gregory, this Hierarch distinguished for his acts of mercy, and for his perception of every trial and his assistance towards the suffering, brought him face to face with the forces of darkness and tyranny, which is why he bore the enormous burden of slander twice, once in Thessaloniki and once in Ioannina, to the point that he was exiled.

In December of 1884 Gregory took over the pastoral care of the Metropolis of Thessaloniki, at a time when there were societal conflicts and disputes between the trade unions and those in power.

This perfect and righteous Hierarch, unfortunately, was soon slandered and defamed as if he supported the unions against those in power, therefore he was exiled for the first time by those in power.

The cup of slander broke for the second time in Ioannina on the 9th of June in 1891, during the inauguration of the beauteous Church of Saint Nicholas in Zitsa, with a large influx of people from the surrounding regions as well as Ioannina.

The presence of the struggling Hierarch with his genuine ecclesiastical words and patriotic spirit rejuvenated once again the enslaved Christian Greek people, which resulted in continuous wild cheers for their freedom, since those years were years of slavery, which brought about enemies of our faith and our nation.

As often happens, there were found to be false-witnesses who lodged against him, saying that at the opening ceremony he prayed on behalf of Greece against the Turkish government, and the Pasha of Ioannina was pressed by other dark forces, because followers of theirs had embraced Christianity, therefore they achieved his unjust removal from his flock.

Gregory endured for two years the humiliation of this unjust slander, without complaint in imitation of Christ, bearing his cross and glorifying the Lord.

After two years, on the 20th of May in 1894, he returned triumphantly to his Metropolis, since the slanders were exposed, and he remained in Ioannina until Meatfare in 1900, where he stepped down indefinitely in order to offer his synodal services in Constantinople.

His holy life touched many people of other faiths who wanted to embrace our Orthodoxy.

He took care to rebuild the Zosimaia School and won the hearts of all, even the egotistical elders who not only caused him administrative problems, but also health problems.

From the burden of slander Saint Gregory came out strengthened, both in the eyes of the people as well as the eyes of God. He sanctified him and the people honored him and glorified him.

Did He not say that we will be blessed if we endure insults and persecutions from people, "and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me" (Matt. 5:11).

Someone once said that at the edge of a lake there came down some doves. Just beyond, there were bouncing in the water, playing, one or two frogs. A certain child threw a stone towards them which immediately sank forming concentric circles in the calm waters. Then the doves flew away frightened into the clouds, while the frogs dove deep into the water and did not reappear.

Slander is like a stone when it falls, and its fall could have two results. The slandered, if the slander proves to be true, will cause them to sink into the water, in the swamp of their actions, like the frogs. But if they are innocent and pure, the stone will cause them to fly higher, like the doves who flew into the clouds.

My brethren, slander is very difficult to suffer.

It is mud, but a healing mud. It requires patience! Sooner or later the trial will end and the Physician of our souls, our Christ, will wash us of the muddy, stinky slanderous poultice.

Was He not slandered? Did He not hear them saying: "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matt. 11:19) and "He has a demon, and is insane" (Jn. 10:20).

What a great glory it is, for the slandered to participate in the passions of our Christ!

Lift up, my brethren, humbly and without complaint your cross. Do not be faint-hearted, just as Saint Gregory Kallides did not lose heart.

If your conscience does not condemn you, you can always courageously lift your gaze to God and stand boldly before Him. What is more important than this?

Slander is a false accusation. It is diabolical. With certainty the devil is its inventor, since he is the father of lies and the slanderer predominantly lies.

It is a great feat for a person to bear slander. There is nothing more unbearable than those suffering from the pain of slander, because it bites at the soul.

It is no coincidence that the prophet David said to the Lord, and this psalmic verse was repeated daily by the simple Priest of Athens, Saint Nicholas Planas, as well as Saint Iakovos of Vitsa Zagori: "Redeem me from the slanders of men that I may keep Your commandments" (Ps. 118:134).

What is it, though, that drives people to slander their neighbor and speak lies against them?

Our experience has indicated that the motives of a slanderer usually are jealousy, envy, resentment, pride and carnal passions.

There is no doubt that condemnation and even more so slander are the seal and energy of other passions, which dirty the soul and cause irreparable damage.

We read about slander in the Sayings of the Fathers and the Lives of the Saints, among which are the following:

- There came to Abba Anthony a certain brother from another coenobium, who was slandered for fornication. Certain brothers came from the coenobium, to heal him and take him back. Instead, however, of showing him love, they rebuked him, and he tried to answer saying he fell into no such sin.

Abba Paphnutios, who was there listening to the conversation, grieved for the treatment given by the other brothers. So he took the opportunity and said: "I saw in the river bank a man who had penetrated the mud up to his knees, and when certain people came to give him a helping hand they sank him deeper till it reached his neck."

Abba Anthony then said of Abba Paphnutios: "Behold, a man who truly can heal and save souls."

The brothers were then moved by the words of the elders and repented before their brother. They calmed down and took him back to the coenobium.

- Near Abba Isidore of Pelusium who was a Presbyter there was a pious and virtuous Deacon. Abba Isidore intended to make him a Presbyter and his successor. He, however, out of great humility would not accept ordination, putting forward his unworthiness.

This virtuous brother was hated very much by another monk in Scete, who had been conquered by the passion of envy, and he looked into every way to harm and discredit him.

See, now, what the devil put him to do. One day he took one of his books and secretly put it into the cell of the Deacon, without anyone seeing. Then he went to Abba Isidore and complained that he lost his book and how a certain brother must have stolen it. It was required, therefore, to do a search in all the cells.

Surprised, the Elder said: "Such a thing has never happened in Scete. But to be sure, take two brethren and search the cells."

So it happened. After looking in a few of the cells, they went to that of the Deacon and of course found the book.

They took it, therefore, and brought it to the church during the time of vespers, when the brothers were gathered together, and they said aloud to Abba Isidore, for all to hear, where the book was found.

The innocent Deacon did not complain that he was slandered. He fell humbly on his knees and asked all for their forgiveness, saying he did wrong.

"Forgive me, brethren, for I am a thief."

Three weeks passed and the Deacon finished his penance and was admitted into the Holy Altar, and the slanderer was exorcised and moanfully cried confessing his sin. He was freed from the tyranny of the demon of slander only when the slandered Deacon prayed for him.

- Listen to another example: A brother asked the following question to one of the fathers: "How does the devil throw temptations on the Saints?"

The Elder responded: "There was once a monk named Nikon in Mount Sinai. Someone went into the tent of a certain Arab from Faran and found his daughter alone, slept with her and afterwards said: 'Say that you suffered this by the anchorite Abba Nikon.'

When the father came and she explained what happened, he took his sword and rushed out against the Elder.

He knocked on his door, the Elder went out, and when the father pulled out his sword to kill him, his hand became paralyzed. Then the man from Faran went to the church and informed the presbyters what happened.

They sent someone to bring the Elder in their midst. They gave him a bunch of wood and he thought they were going to tell him to leave, but he begged them to allow him to live among them in repentance.

Thus, they put him in solitary confinement for three years with the order that no one speaks to him. Three years passed and the slandered elder would go to church every Sunday with repentance and begged: 'Pray to the Lord for me.'

Later, however, the one who committed the sin and threw the anchorite into temptation, became dominated by a demon and went to the church, saying: 'It was I who sinned and slandered the servant of God.'

Then all the people stood up, and they penitentially said to the Elder: 'Abba, forgive us.'

He responded: 'As for forgiveness, I have already forgiven you. But to live among you, I will not do so for anything. There was not one person who had discernment and had sympathy for me.'"

- Let us remember Saint Theodora from the village of Vasta in Arcadia, who fell victim to a great slander, and was martyred for not revealing the truth. In commemoration of her sacrifice we can witness there a living miracle today.

God, listening to her prayers, allowed seventeen trees to grow without roots on the roof of a small church of twelve square meters on the spot of her martyrdom.

- Let us also remember the all-comely Joseph, the son of Jacob, who suffered so much at the hands of his own brothers, and who sold him into slavery in Egypt. There he was relentlessly slandered by the wife of Potiphar, because he did not give in to her wicked desires, yet God placed him in a position of rule, to govern all of Egypt by the side of Pharoah.

- Lastly, let us remember the example of the punishment of the slanderer of Saint Eugenia, the unrepentant Melanthia, who so unjustly defamed the Saint. God, the just judge, punished her in such an exemplary way, that he sent fire from heaven to burn her.

Unfortunately, slander has become a widespread behavior today for many people in their daily lives, with the result that it has become seemingly natural.

We unjustly slander when we condemn a person and create and disseminate a false story about them, always deliberately in order to harm their honor and reputation.

In our days this slander is common and indicates the resistance of our conscience has become numb, or at least less dangerous.

We accept what is said to us lightly without encountering the subject and we devour their flesh, usually unsuspecting victims.

We forget the commandment of Leviticus: "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor slander one another" (Lev. 19:11), and we easily accuse others, creating and spreading false facts, rumors and information about them.

Many, especially today, take this issue lightly. We have seen, however, besmirched personalities, reputations and families are tragically often the subject.

People lose their jobs because of this, their families are dissolved, and they even lose their health, and unfortunately even take their own life because of the despair over the injustice committed against them.

We will close with the wonderful words of Saint Maximus the Confessor: "The more fervently you pray for your slanderer, so much will God convince those who were scandalized because of the slander that you are innocent."

And let us not forget the words of great men.

Jonathan Swift said: "Slander usually hits worthy men, just as maggots are thrown onto the best fruits."

Diogenes said: "Of all the wild beasts, the worst bite comes from the slanderer."

Once when the Spartan Theophidas was sharpening his sword, someone else asked him if it was sharp, and he responded: "It is sharper than slander."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.