May 6, 2019

Was St. Sophia of Kleisoura an Old Calendarist Nun who went by the name Myrtidiotissa?

By John Sanidopoulos

In 2011 the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized Sophia of Kleisoura Monastery in Kastoria as a Saint of the Church. But is this the name she went by?

This Saint is a rare example of one who is recognized for her sanctity by both New Calendarists and Old Calendarists, and specifically to the region, by both the official Church of Greece (New Calendarists) and the Genuine Orthodox Christians (Old Calendarists), and both of these are in a schism from one another. The official Church of Greece says her name was Sophia and that she lived as an ascetic and was not a tonsured nun, while the Genuine Orthodox Christians believe she was herself an Old Calendarist who rejected the New Calendar, and that she was tonsured a nun by Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili, the first hierarch of the Old Calendarist Synod of Resistance, who was then an Archimandrite, and given the name Myrtidiotissa.

Based on a study of the official texts and of books that have been written about her, the matter is a complicated one. Some say she should go by the name Venerable Sophia of Kleisoura, others say Venerable Eldress Myrtidiotissa, another says Venerable Sophia the Nun, and another is Venerable Sophia Hortokoridou. It should be noted, she is commonly depicted in photographs and icons as a simple ascetic without monastic dress.

Her Old Calendarist Biography

Most people first got to know about this Saint from a biography published by the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Fili, titled Eldress Μyrtidiotissa: The Ascetic Struggler of Κlissoura (1886-1974), which speaks of her as an Old Calendarist nun that was tonsured by the then Archimandrite Cyprian as Myrtidiotissa. Their relationship seems to be confirmed by the photographs of them together that are circulated online. It is said her tonsure took place on October 12, 1971 when she was 85, and that she was sponsored by Mother Maria Myrtidiotissa Patera.

Her Grave

However, when one visits her grave, on her gravestone it says:

Sophia Hortokoridou


Sacred Monastery of the Panagia. Reposed 5/6/74. Age 78.

This offers us some peculiar information. First, her supposed monastic name of Myrtidiotissa is not given. Second, though her name is given together with her last name by marriage, it says she was a nun. Third, the date of her repose is given according to the reckoning of the New Calendar, since Old Calendarists claim she died on April 23rd. Furthermore, she was buried behind the Chapel of the Honorable Forerunner, which is quite some distance from the Monastery. Old Calendarists say this was done because she was an Old Calendarist, but the more probable reason is that this was done either by her request, or because she was not in fact a tonsured nun, or because it was a male monastery in her time, while certain written documents say this was in fact the cemetery of the monastery, but the latter is not confirmed.

Her Canonization by the Ecumenical Patriarchate

In the official document of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that recognized her as a saint of the Church, she is given the name Sophia and nowhere does it say she was a nun with the name Myrtidiotissa. In fact, in the last paragraph she is given the name Venerable Sophia Hortokoridou.

Her Service Composed by Haralambos Bousias

In her Service composed by Haralambos Bousias, which includes her Synaxarion, nowhere does it say that Sophia was a nun and given the name Myrtidiotissa. In fact, there she is called Our Venerable Mother Sophia of Kleisoura. This is her Synaxarion in Greek:

Τῇ ΣΤ΄ τοῦ αὐτοῦ Μηνός Μαϊου, Μνήμη τῆς Ὁσίας καὶ θεοφόρου Μητρὸς ἡμῶν Σοφίας, τῆς ἐν τῇ Μονῇ τῆς Παναγίας τῆς Κλεισούρας θεοφιλῶς ἄρτι ἀσκησάσης.

Χάριτι σοφισθεῖσα, Σοφία θείᾳ, Σοφῶς ἤσκησας ἄρτι, ἐν τῇ Κλεισούρᾳ.

Ἡ Ὁσία καὶ θεοφόρος Μήτηρ ἡμῶν Σοφία, ἡ ῥακένδυτος, αλλὰ πνευματοφόρος Ἀσκήτρια τῆς Κλεισούρας, ἐγεννήθη ἐν Ἀρδάσσῃ τοῦ Πόντου τῷ 1883. Ἀκολουθήσασα τῶν προσφύγων τῷ δρόμῳ μετὰ τὴν ἐπὶ τῆς γενετείρας αὐτῆς κώμης ἐπιδρομῆς τῶν υἱῶν τῆς Ἄγαρ καὶ τὴν στέρησιν τοῦ αὐτῆς συζύγου καὶ τέκνου ἦλθεν εἰς Ἀναῤῥάχην Ἑορδαίας. Ποθοῦσα τὴν ἀσκητικὴν πολιτείαν, τὴν πρώτην αὐτῆς καλιὰν τῶν ἀγώνων ἔπηξεν ἐν τῇ Μονῇ τοῦ Ἁγίου Μάρκου Φλωρίνης, ἔνθα παρέμεινεν ἐπὶ διετίαν. Τῇ προτροπῇ ὅμως τῆς Κυρίας Θεοτόκου, κατεστάθη ἐν τῇ Μονῇ Αὐτῆς, τῇ ἐν Κλεισούρᾳ τῆς Καστορίας κειμένῃ, ἔνθα ἐπὶ τεσσαράκοντα καὶ ἑπτὰ συναπτὰ ἔτη θεοφιλῶς ἠγωνίσατο. Οὐκ ἔχουσα κλίνη πρὸς ἀνάπαυσιν τοῦ χοϊκοῦ αὐτῆς σαρκίου, ὑπέμεινε τὸ ψῦχος τοῦ χειμῶνος καθημένη παρὰ τὴν ἑστίαν τοῦ αὐλείου χώρου τῆς Μονῆς, τὴν ἀπέναντι τῆς μεσημβρινῆς θύρας τοῦ Καθολικοῦ, ἀτενίζουσα τὴν ἱλαρὰν μορφὴν τῆς Θεοτόκου ἐν τῷ αὐτῆς ὑπερθύρῳ. Λιτοδίαιτος καὶ ῥακένδυτος καὶ ἐνίοτε χρησιμοποιοῦσα μωρὰς προσποιήσεις τῆς ἀρετῆς ἤνυσε τρίβον καὶ σχολάζουσα τῇ ἀδιαλείπτῳ καρδιακῇ προσευχῇ κατὰ μέθεξιν ἐθεώθη. Πλουσίαν εἵλκυσε τὴν χάριν τοῦ Παναγίου Πνεύματος καὶ ηξιώθη οὐ μόνον διορατικοῦ χαρίσματος ἀλλὰ καὶ ἰαματικοῦ. Προσηνὴς πάντοτε ὑπεδέχετο τοὺς τῆς Μονῆς ἐπισκέπτας διδάσκουσα αὐτοὺς τὴν μετάνοιαν και τὴν χρηστοήθειαν. Προϊδοῦσα τὴν τελευτην αὐτης ἐκοιμήθη τὸν ἐμπρέποντα Ὁσίοις ὕπνον τῇ ΣΤ΄ Μαϊου τοῦ σωτηρίου ἔτους 1974. τὰ ἱερὰ αὐτῆς λείψανα, ἀνακομισθέντα και εὐωδιάζοντα ἀποθησαυρίζονται εἰς τὴν Ἱερὰν τῆς Κλεισούρας Μονήν, παρέχοντα τοῖς πιστοῖς ἰάματα.

Her Service Composed by Monk Porphyrios in 2001

This Service from 2001 was composed at the request of Metropolitan Paul of Drama, who was at the time an Archimandrite. In the Synaxarion of this Service, it says Sophia, by the great and angelic schema was called nun Myrtidiotissa. The Synaxarion can be read here in Greek:

Τῇ ς΄. Μαΐου μηνός, κατά τό σωτήριον έτος 1974, ἐκοιμήθη εἰς τήν κατά Κλεισούραν μονήν τοῦ Γενεσίου τῆς Θεοτόκου ἡ οσίας μνήμης καί μεγάλης ἀσκήσεως γερόντισσα Σοφία, ἡ διά τοῦ μεγάλου καί ἀγγελικοῦ σχήματος ἐπικληθεῖσα Μυρτιδιώτισσα μοναχή, ἡ ταφή δέ τοῦ σεπτοῦ αὐτῆς λειψάνου ἐγένετο κατά τήν επομένην, τήν εβδόμην τοῦ ἰδίου μηνός. ἡ ανακομιδή δέ τῆς αγίας αὐτῆς κάρας καί τῶν λοιπῶν ὀστέων ἐγένετο κατά τήν 7ην Ιουλίου μηνός, μετά παρέλευσιν ετών επτά, κατά τό ἔτος 1981. Ἐπανεύρεσις δέ καί μετακομιδή κατά τό εσπέρας Τετάρτης προ τῆς Ἀναλήψεως.

Despite this single reference, throughout the entire Service she is referred to as Sophia.

The Biography of the Saint by the Nuns of Kleisoura Monastery from 2002

In the biography of the Saint published in 2002 by the nuns of Kleisoura Monastery, titled Σοφία η ασκήτισσα της Παναγίας ("Sophia the Ascetic of the Panagia"), on pages 158 and 159 it says that none of the nuns ever saw her dressed as a monastic nor did they refer to her by any monastic name, but she always wore black simple clothing and they called her "Sophia". However, it also says there that just before she died, she called for the abbot of the Monastery of the Panagia, Nektarios, and said the following: "My child, Nektarios, Cyprian came and made me a nun and called me Myrtidiotissa."

On pages 92 and 95 is published a letter from 1998 from the Monastery of the Annunciation in Oinousses under the Metropolis of Chios, where the nuns there relate the details of the tonsure of Sophia, on which occasion they were present. There they speak of Sophia's close relationship with Mother Maria Myrtidiotissa, of the Patera family, who visited her three times with different nuns on each occasion from the monastery in Chios. They even go into detail about how difficult it was to cut her hair for the tonsuring because her hair had not been cut in forty years and was very tangled, so they had to use scissors that were used on sheep. They also said that they still had a lock of her hair.

It should be noted here, and one must wonder, why the letter came from nuns of the Monastery of the Annunciation in Oinousses and not from the monastery itself. Also, when the founder of the monastery, Maria Myrtidiotissa Patera, was abbess there, it was under the Genuine Orthodox Church. Furthermore, by this testimony, the tonsuring of Sophia is verified.

It should also be noted that the Patera family had a close relationship with many ecclesiastical figures of the twentieth century that were in communion with the Church of Greece, such as Saint Amphilochios Makris, Elder Ieronymos of Aegina, Elder Philotheos Zervakos, Photis Kontoglou, Dr. Alexander Kalomiros, Fr. John Romanides, Demetrios Panagopoulos and Fr. Theoklitos Dionysiatis.

The Canonicity of the Tonsure

Assuming it is true that Archimandrite Cyprian, future Metropolitan of Oropos and Fili of the Synod of Resistance, tonsured Sophia a nun with the name Myrtidiotissa, we must question if it was a canonical tonsure. In the biography of Sophia issued by the nuns of the Monastery in Kleisoura in 2002, on pages 158 and 159 it is disputed, because permission from the Metropolitan of Kastoria was never requested nor given for the tonsuring.

However, the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Kleisoura at the time of the tonsuring was not a female monastery, but a male monastery now in ruins, overseen by an abbot appointed by the Metropolis of Kastoria, and taken care of by a council called "Agios Markos" out of Thessaloniki. While there, Sophia was never a novice, since it was a male monastery, but she was merely being hosted by the monastery. Many times she was forced out of the monastery, but by the miraculous intervention of the Panagia she was able to return.

Despite the monastery being under the New Calendarists, Sophia was revered by both New and Old Calendarists. This should not be surprising, since this was fairly common especially with certain figures of the 20th century that both claim as their own, such as Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Elder Ieronymos of Aegina, Elder Philotheos Zervakos and Elder Avvakum the Barefoot, who all were zealous to keep the Old Calendar out of reverence from their childhood before the Calendar change, but were all in communion with the official Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Furthermore, her association and sponsorship at her tonsuring with the Old Calendarist Maria Myrtidiotissa Patera should not be alarming, because she was a known moderate and not an extremist, as noted above from her relationships and her families relationship with many high profile ecclesiastical figures revered by both Old and New Calendarists. Also, Archimandrite Cyprian had been a spiritual child of Elder Philotheos Zervakos, and held a moderate stand as an Old Calendarist, affirming that grace still resides among the New Calendarists. However, while before 1969 Archimandrite Cyprian was under the official Church of Greece, in 1969 he went under the Genuine Orthodox Church and was deposed by the Church of Greece.

An Incident of the Saint Where She Affirms Her Monastic Identity

The following incident was composed by Bishop Κlémes of Gardíkion (June 12/25, 2012), which the Synod of Resistance uses as a miraculous affirmation that the Saint herself affirmed her monastic name and identity:

The pious Evthymía Nikolaidou, a resident of Thessaloníke and a spiritual child of the then Archimandrite Father Cyprian, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justina, in Phyle, regularly visited the holy Eldress Myrtidiotissa at the Monastery of the Theotokos, in Kleissoura, to speak with her.

During one visit, a few months before the repose of the ascetic Saint, the Eldress revealed to her the following:

“Now that you are returning to Thessalonike, you will find an engaged couple that is looking for a sponsor to stand witness at their wedding. Stand witness at their wedding and sponsor [as Godparent] the first child that they have, who will be a girl, and give the child my name: call her MYRTIDIOTISSA!”

In fact, when she returned, the woman met the couple, Nicholas Grámbas, fourth son of the veteran struggler for the Old Calendar, Antónios Grambas (†1996), and Theodora Klessiáres, daughter of Constantine Klessiares, a resident of Kýmina (a suburb of Thessalonike). She proposed to them all that she was told by the holy Eldress, though she did not tell them anything about the gender and name of their first child, but only that she had made a promise to name their first child. They accepted this.

The wedding took place at the Old Calendarist Church of the Holy Apostles [in Kymina] in November of 1974, while the Eldress Myrtidiotissa had already reposed in the Lord about seven months before. And the Baptism of the couple’s first child, which was indeed a girl, also took place at the Church of the Holy Apostles, in 1976. To the insistent inquiries from the father, as to what name the child would be given, the Godmother answered: “Do not worry. The name that I will give to the child is one that you will like; it is a very lovely name.”

When the relatives heard the name MYRTIDIOTISSA [an unusual name in Greece], they were taken aback. In fact, one of the two grandmothers said (half in Greek and half in Bulgarian [in Greek Macedonia, Slavic dialects are often spoken as a second language]: “Σιὸ [τὶ] ὄνουμα [ὄνομα] εἶνει [εἶναι] αὐτό, Mατσανιώτισσα?!” (What kind of name is that — Matsaniótissa?!) But shortly this passed — with the help of the Godmother, to be sure, who explained to them in detail about the prophetic words of the holy Eldress Myrtidiotissa of Kleissoura and told them: “If you like, you can call her MYRTÓ [an ancient Greek name—Socrates’ second wife and one of the Amazons had this name — and a nickname for Myrtidiotissa], but when she communes and when she gets married, the Priest must use her correct name, MYRTIDIOTISSA.

Myrtidiotissa (Myrto) Grambas is married today and lives in Néa Málgara (a suburb of Thessalonike), and her parents, Nicholas and Theodora, are residents of Kymina and parishioners of the Church of the Holy Twelve Apostles. Her pious Godmother, Evthymia Nikolaïdou, reposed in the Lord around 1979-1980, when her Godchild was still very young.

Other Miracles

Despite this miracle related above issued by the Synod of Resistance, Eldress Ephraimia of Kleisoura Monastery wrote a letter in 2011 to Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria listing and describing 21 miracles she recorded of the Saint, with the names and locations of each recipient of the miracles. In Miracle 10 there is related a miracle received by Sophia Pontika from Thessaloniki, who afterwards when she was praying she was trying to remember the Saints name, when she suddenly heard a voice say: "My name is Sophia."


With all this in mind, we can say that for New Calendarists and all those who knew her towards the end of her life, she was a laywoman named Sophia, who received tonsuring by Old Calendarists and given the name Myrtidiotissa, but this tonsuring is not a recognized tonsuring by the Metropolis of Kastoria which she was under, nor by the Church of Greece or the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Archimandrite Cyprian at the time was a deposed priest and not in communion with the Church, despite his continued insistence on being a priest. The Saint herself, not being a scholar of the issue of the Calendar or of canonical matters, but as one who accepted everyone, probably recognized herself as a nun by the tonsuring, without being aware if it was canonical or not. She was above all a simple woman who did not get involved in the politics of the Church. Therefore, for Old Calenderists who do recognize the tonsuring, she will be known by her monastic name of Myrtidiotissa, but by the Church she was under and was in communion with, this tonsuring is not recognized and she is therefore known by her lay name of Sophia. It is unfortunate that she never revealed her tonsuring by the Old Calendarists sooner before her death, because then there could have been time to give her a canonical tonsuring with the name Myrtidiotissa, which she embraced. Despite her embracing of it, however, there is no canonical way it could be recognized by the Metropolis of Kastoria, which she was under. As Metropolitan Theoklitos of Florina wrote in a letter to Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria on April 5, 2011:

"During the years of her asceticism until her death she attended church, communed and confessed to priests of the Metropolis of Kastoria who liturgized in the monastery. Her funeral service was performed by priests of the Metropolis of Kastoria and its neighbor Florina."