The Patriarchal Act of Recognition of our Saint Ephraim motivates us to present some unknown aspects of a truly fascinating process that began in January 1998 and ended with the official celebration of the Saint on May 5, 2011.
An Unknown Story
A few days after New Year's Day and before the Despotic Feast of Lights, I visited the Holy Monastery of the Annunciation and Saint Ephraim in Nea Makri with my wife. I had developed many bonds, especially at that time, with this particular Saint. During our short stay in the monastery we asked to receive the gift of the blessing of the late eldress and abbess Makaria, who was facing many health issues.
Despite her health issues, she received us. In fact, as soon as we entered her humble and simple cell, her face shined. She welcomed us with a disarming smile and gave us the impression that she was waiting for us. We kissed a portion of a holy relic and she, having crossed us, bid us to sit down. We were accompanied by the novice nun Rebecca, now a nun of the monastery named Makaria.
The eldress began to tell us about her miraculous experiences and the revealing way Saint Ephraim appeared to her. Being completely inexperienced in the spiritual life at that time, I could not explain the tears of joy flowing from her eyes as she referred to the many unknown experiences she gained from the close relationship and friendship she developed with her regular celestial visitor, the Venerable Martyr Ephraim. At one point she turned to me and began crossing me continuously with the sacred relic she was holding. For a moment I felt astonished and a little embarrassed, but quickly an unprecedented feeling of inner joy created an atmosphere that was unknown to me until then. I felt a strong fragrance flooding the cell, which as I learned much later was a sign of a heavenly visit.
The eldress was staring at me with her penetrating eyes. I was under the impression that she was looking into my soul and I felt the awe of someone during divine confession. She grabbed my hand and whispered, "The Saint wants you to take up the process of getting him recognized by the Holy Synod." "But I don't know ..." I answered mechanically.
Eldress Makaria interrupted me and said: "He will guide you and help you." Her words left no choice of a rebuttal, so I nodded my head in the affirmative.
The whole project, however, seemed impossible at the time. Given the cruelty of the Hierarch against the monastery at the time, I thought we would accomplish nothing and that we would proceed in vain.
The eldress ordered that all the publications with the history and miracles of Saint Ephraim to be given to me. I cannot hide from you that I left the monastery deeply pensive. I was wondering what I should do. How is it possible for the Holy Synod to accept to discuss the whole matter without the knowledge of the Holy Metropolis? How will the Metropolitan respond? Questions of this kind were circling in my mind looking for some sensible answers.
A few days later, a general discussion I had with the then Secretary and now Metropolitan Damaskinos of Didymoteicho about the process of canonization made me even more disappointed.
"Only through a Metropolitan can a file be submitted," he told me.
Despite all the difficulties, a force pushed me to study the books that the eldress had given me. The testimonies and miracles of the Venerable Martyr had moved me. I phoned Metropolitan Nicholas of Fthiotis, who had published a book about Saint Ephraim, and I talked to him about the whole project.
He urged me to make the effort, even if my hopes for the Holy Synod would be low. So I wrote a report and made 13 massive envelopes with all the information and evidence I had collected. Then at the end of February 1998 I visited the offices of the Holy Synod and after getting permission from the then Chief Secretary I placed the folders at the doors of the members of the Holy Synod at that time.
A Blessed Meeting
Outside the office of the Chief Secretary I met the late Metropolitan Hierotheos of Hydra and I told him I had an envelope to give him regarding Saint Ephraim. I ran and took it from his door and gave it to him personally. I explained to him exactly what it contained and he asked me if I could come to his house in the evening to discuss this more extensively.
"I'll take a quick look at it and in the evening come and we will discuss it," he said to me.
The whole attitude filled me with new hopes which reminded me of the words of the eldress. So in the evening I was at the house of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Hydra. He lived somewhere in Kolonaki, if I remember correctly. His sister opened the door and told me to wait because he was collaborating with a professor from the Theological School. A few minutes later the professor left and the late Hierarch urged me to come near. I got his blessing and sat next to him at the table drinking a beverage offered to me by his sister.
"I flipped through the envelope you prepared. I don't think anything is missing. It's complete. I even decided to move the whole process to the next session of the Holy Synod," he said.
I literally didn't believe my ears what I was listening to. That's why I couldn't articulate a word, nor did I dare say anything. I preferred silence. I just said "thank you very much."
I wanted to share my joy, which made me jump as I walked along the road. "What a miracle my God," I was saying while tears of joy ran down my face. It was late though and I didn't call the eldress. The next day however, I made the whole sisterhood aware of the miracle.
A few days later the issue of the canonization of Saint Ephraim was put by the late Metropolitan on the agenda to be discussed at the regular convocation of the Standing Holy Synod on April 2, 1998!
Meanwhile, the problems in the relationship between the Holy Monastery and the Metropolis had expanded a great deal and was occupying the order of things. I was afraid that the whole matter would not have a happy ending. My fears were heightened when the then Archbishop of Athens Seraphim entered the Laiko Hospital and the Holy Synod meeting was postponed. During his stay at the hospital, the late Archbishop Seraphim asked to see me. Metropolitans Meletios of Marathonas and Theokletos of Ioannina led me to him. I felt like he wanted to tell me, but the apparent fatigue due to the illness and possibly the presence of other people in the room prevented him. I only got his blessing and after he smiled at me I left.
Archbishop Seraphim reposed a few days later and I believed that the canonization effort had failed. I thought the procedure had to be re-started from the beginning. The election that followed nominated Christodoulos of Dimitriados as Archbishop of Athens. The first meeting of the Holy Synod was presided over in May and discussed issues that were on the agenda of the postponed April meeting, including that of Saint Ephraim. At the proposal of the Metropolitan of Hydra Hierotheos, the issue was given over to the late Metropolitan of Patras Nikodemos. The Holy Synod unanimously accepted the suggestion and decided to send the relevant file to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for adoption of the corresponding patriarchal act.
It is noteworthy that the then spokesman for the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Maximos of Serres, considered that this issue did not interest the journalists. And that is why, because of my initiative, he only announced it to me personally, saying to me:
"One of your topics was passed today, Dionysios." I thought he was joking and I responded with a grunt.
"What topic? Did you decide to elect me as a Bishop?"
"No, we unanimously decided to have Venerable Ephraim canonized based on the file you submitted."
"Why didn't you officially announce it then?" I asked.
"This issue is for you personally. Newspapers don't deal with these things."
I wanted a second confirmation and ran to the office of the Chief Secretary. He also told me the details of the Hierarch I mentioned above.
Full of joy I went down the stairs skipping down two by two and I ran outside to the courtyard of Petraki Monastery. I immediately called the monastery without thinking it was three in the afternoon. After hearing the joyful news the eldress ordered for the bells of the monastery to ring on behalf of the great miracle.
Information about the canonization and that it was done unknown to him made the then Metropolitan of Attica even crueler in his relations with the monastery and the sisterhood. The trials continued as the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not issue a patriarchal act before the problems that had arisen were resolved. Twelve years passed since then with the issue pending. In the meantime, the two top cassock wearers who formally opposed the canonization of the Saint were forcefully removed from their positions. Ecclesiastical peace was restored by the election of a new Hierarch, Metropolitan Kyrillos of Kifissia, Amaroussion and Oropos. One of his earliest works was the completion of the process of canonization of the Saint with the adoption of the Patriarchal Act on March 2, 2011.
So on May 5, 2011, the most formal way was to celebrate his memory by closing an entire circle that began in January 1998 and ended on March 2, 2011. A series of amazing events we were obliged to record in order to make you aware of our joy but also to beg you to mention in your prayers those late Hierarchs such as Hierotheos of Hydra and Nikodemos of Patras who were instrumental in the whole process.
The least servant of the Lord,
Source: Published in Stylos Orthodoxias, May 2011. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.