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May 7, 2021

The Great Miracle at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring in Paros in July of 1944

Monastery of Longovarda of the Life-Giving Spring in Paros

On May 14, 1944, an English submarine anchored in the bay of Piso Livadi, Paros, and the soldiers were divided into three groups led by the residents of the island Antonios Delenta, Manolis Gryllakis and Nikolaos Stella. They went up to the village of Tsimpidos (Marpissa) and captured seven German soldiers that were sleeping, killed two radio operators who had just managed to send out a telegram about the raid, and injured the commander of the airport Lieutenant Tampe; communication cables were also found cut. In retaliation, the Germans arrested the young Nikolaos Stella from Leukes at the airport the next morning. Having reasonable suspicions against him, they killed him, hanging him on a tree in a high place to be seen by the surrounding villages for intimidation on May 21st.

After the raid, things got much worse for the people of Paros. The Germans immediately imposed a curfew from 7pm to 6am. On the night of June 4, 1944, Pentecost, the airport was bombed for the first time at night.

Meanwhile, the Germans were preparing retaliation for the killing of two radio operators, the wounding of the airport commander and the destruction of some of its facilities. The military commander of the island, Commander George Graf von Meremberg, asked the presidents of the communities of Paros and Antiparos to hand over to him on a certain date, the names of 125 young men, whom he would execute in retaliation for what the commandos did against the German army and for the example and compliance of the rest of the young people of the island.

Elder Philotheos Zervakos

The Presidents of all the Communities and the Priests, together with the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Longovarda, Philotheos Zervakos, all went to the town of Tsimbidos to the house of the good doctor Eustratios Aliprantis, where they held a council and decided to go to the military commander to try to persuade him to change his decision.

However, when they were informed that the commander had announced in advance that no one should go to the headquarters to mediate for the suspension or revocation of the decision to execute the 125 young men, they formed a committee consisting of the Abbot Father Philotheos Zervakos, Dr. Eustratios Aliprantis, and the President of the Community Archilochos Emmanuel Kavallis who went to Chieftain Zasse, a lieutenant, whom they asked to mediate before the military commander. The chieftain replied to them: "I asked him not to kill any innocent people, but he was unconvinced and even threatened me in a strict way not to mention anything of this matter to him. Whoever dares to mediate will be punished by example."

"The only thing I recommend to you," continued the chieftain, "is that the abbot invite him to the Monastery, where the monks in particular should take care of him, and at some point the abbot should speak about the young men of Paros who have been sentenced to death, and then maybe he will accept mediation." The chieftain had previously spoken to him with eloquent words about the Monastery of Longovarda and had predisposed him.

Commander George Graf von Meremberg

The abbot Philotheos did not waste time. He immediately notified him and invited him to visit the Monastery. As soon as the commander received the invitation, he informed Father Philotheos by phone that on the following Sunday, July 23, he would visit the Monastery together with six other officers and soldiers.

Indeed, on Sunday morning, the German commander left his car at a point along the route, near the Mill, and from there, with animals of the Monastery, they were transported to the Monastery which is dedicated to the Life-Giving Spring. At first it seemed as if Father Philotheos had lost them. The commander had a stern and fierce look, a tyrannical look that showed all the savagery of the conqueror. They were taken on a tour of the Monastery library and iconography and bookbinding workshops and had a rich lunch at noon. The arrogant and inaccessible German officer was impressed by the serenity that reigned in the Monastery, by the ascetic way of life of the monks, by the "biblical" as he characterized them appearance of the elders. Slowly, he began to become more approachable and his relationship with the abbot warmer. With the warm hospitality of the monks and their compliments he began to calm, to become more talkative, and asked to learn through an interpreter the meaning of certain objects of the Monastery, meanwhile the abbot did not leave his side even for a moment.

After eating, the German commander and his soldiers went down to the katholikon of the Monastery to attend the Sacred Service of Vespers, which was followed by the monks chanting the Supplication Service to the Most Holy Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring on behalf of the salvation of the convicted brothers.

After the Supplication Service, they went to the guestroom for coffee and sweets. Then something unexpected happened! In this reception area of the Monastery, there were many pictures of old abbots of the monastery hung on the walls. Between them there was a picture of a seaside village. It was brought to the Monastery by two Russian monks, after the destruction of their own monastery, during the Russian Revolution. Von Meremberg stood before this frame and wondered for a long time. Then, obviously excited, he told the surprised monks that the village depicted in the painting was his mother's village in Yalta, Crimea. There, as a child, he spent in this village with his mother carefree and happy summers. The atmosphere had become more peaceful and friendly.

Commander Graf von Meremberg, Elder Philotheos Zervakos, with soldiers and monks at Longovarda Monastery on July 23, 1944

When everyone was ready to leave, the commander, in a show of kindness, said to Father Philotheos Zervakos to ask him for any favor in return for his warm hospitality. The abbot marveled at the conversion of the German commander, took courage and after asking for the both of them to be left alone in the guestroom of the Monastery, he thanked him for the honorary visit to the Historic Monastery and wished him good health and happiness. Then through the interpreter, Monk Nikephoros, he asked him that no matter what favor he asked for that he would not be denied. The commander gave him his right hand and promised him that he would give whatever he asked. And Father Philotheos said to him: "I want you to allow to live those who were sentenced to death without guilt."

The commander replied: "Ask me for another favor, because I cannot do it. I know it's not a fair decision, but it's not up to me. I have such an order from my superiors, that when a German is killed, fifty are killed in return." The abbot replied to him and said: "Since you have not done for me the favor which I asked for, then I want you to accept me also as one of those who have been sentenced to death." Then the commander was moved, shook his hand and said to him: "I will give them to you; only recommend to all the inhabitants of the island not to repeat such a sabotage." The abbot promised and thus the German commander left the Monastery in peace and pleased. However, the day of the liberation of the island and Greece from the occupation troops could not come soon enough.

This miracle is particularly celebrated on the island of Paros every year on July 23rd.