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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Contemporary Testimony of a Priest Who Communed Hundreds of Lepers


In the video below, Fr. Stephanos, who has served for the past 48 years as the priest at the Hospital for Infectious Diseases "Saint Barbara" in West Attica since he was first ordained at the age of 28, recounts his experiences of many decades pastoring and communing various patients with infectious diseases, especially those suffering with leprosy and tuberculosis.

He begins by saying that when he was first ordained at the age of 28 and began serving in the church he is now standing in, the entire church would be filled with lepers, around 200 of them. Many of the lepers that came forward to receive Holy Communion from a common cup were not able to use the cloth to wipe themselves afterwards, nor to take the antidron, because their hands were withering away, so three nuns who attended the services as well as Elder Eumenios, who was then a monk and had been miraculously cured of leprosy, would help the lepers wipe themselves with the cloth after they received and gave them the antidron.

Today there are only eight lepers who attend the Divine Liturgy. One of them who has suffered the most from leprosy is Barba-Thanasis, who due to leprosy is blind and has lost his hands. When Fr. Stephanos asks him how he is, he always says: "Glory to God, all is well!" He says that none of the lepers he served over the years complained about their fate. They had great faith in God. It was a beautiful thing to behold. For many of the patients there, their leprosy was beneficial, because it sanctified them. Not only did it produce patients like Saint Nikephoros the Leper and Elder Eumenios, but many of the lepers there became saints. There is no doubt they are saved.

When asked if they all communed from the same chalice, he responds in the affirmative, and that he would go out to them to commune them from where they were standing or sitting instead of them lining up. And often the healthy relatives of those who were sick would be in the congregation, and they also communed of the same chalice, but none of them ever got sick.

Fr. Stephanos then recalls his first Divine Liturgy serving in a church full of lepers. He was nervous and wondering what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, such as consuming the remaining portions of Holy Communion after they all communed. He looks back at that moment as a temptation of fear. He then decided to view the matter as a soldier whose duty it was to serve no matter what the circumstance. Just as a soldier can't choose whether to go to the Turkish border or the Albanian border, so he as a priest could not choose where to serve. This is where he was stationed as a soldier of the Church, and it was here that he would remain and serve. When the time came for Holy Communion, one of the lepers was only able to consume half the portion on the spoon, so Fr. Stephanos saw this as an opportunity to overcome his temptation and he put the spoon with the remaining portion in his own mouth and consumed it. After this, he felt liberated from the temptation. From that moment on, he never was tempted by fear again.

Not only did he commune them, but they would also often kiss his hands, especially when they received the antidron at the end of the liturgy. Because they were all sick, often times they would cough on his hand, so he would always go back to the sanctuary and wash his hands in the sink afterwards. He never forbade them kissing his hands, but would just take the necessary precautions for his own health in circumstances like that.

Finally, he mentions that there were two doctors in the hospital who would attend the liturgy when he first began his service there, and they would bring their kids to help the priest in the altar. There were about 4 or 5 healthy children who served as altar servers. The lepers and the others with infectious diseases would tell Fr. Stephanos to not allow children in the church, but Fr. Stephanos continued to allow them to serve and keep a distance from the patients. He even allowed his own children to serve. Today, 48 years later, neither Fr. Stephanos nor anyone else who was healthy there ever became infected with leprosy or any other infectious disease.




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