November 10, 2021

A 103 Year Old Woman Recalls Having Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia as a Village Priest and Her Difficult Life

By Romanos Kontogiannidis
103 year old Zoe Kortsinidou - one of the few living first generation refugees - experienced deprivation, poverty, pain, orphanhood, successive uprootings, wars and death. However, with the intercessions of Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia - "Hadjifentis" as she calls him - God blessed her to make her happy with a large family and to be satisfied with the little sight in her eyes.

From the depths of her mind she recalls her memories of her village, Farasa of Cappadocia, which Zoe Kortsinidou left as a child forever during the uprooting of the Greeks of Asia Minor.

Despite her deep old age, Mrs. Zoe remembers very clearly the place where she was born and talks about it with longing. Maybe in her mind she becomes a child again and runs again on the cobbled streets of her homeland.

"The houses were made of straw and stone and had no tile on the roof. Next to our village there was a large stream and opposite a high mountain, at the top of which was a small church. It was dedicated to the Panagia and it was difficult for us to climb it, since there was no road. There was no electricity in our village, and I remember my parents with horses plowing and sowing the field. Just outside the village there was a mill and next to it a bridge. This is where the Turks came from. When we saw them we were very scared because they hit us."

Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia had close relations with the family of Mrs. Zoe. From the age of six he had her father as an altar boy in the church of the village. When her mother was conceiving her first child, the Saint, on the way to Jerusalem, had told her grandparents that their bride would give birth to a boy, who he himself would baptize as Moses, which he did. From Jerusalem at that time the Saint had also brought a cross with a piece of the original wood, in which Mrs. Zoe still finds solace.

"Hadjifentis used to tell us when we see Turks on the bridge, to tell him. He prayed and the Turks left."

Poverty hit Zoe's family hard in Farasa. Her father would have become a priest if he had not been killed in a battle outside Ankara. The mother was then forced to sell many of the family's belongings for some wheat and work day and night on the loom. On a trip to Ankara, where she went to sell some clothes, little Zoe also lost her sister. Her mother had trusted her with some neighbors, but they, in order to stop her crying, bullied her and she became ill due to her grief. Returning from Ankara, the mother took the little one to Saint Arsenios, who had the ability from God to heal her, but it was already late. Shortly afterwards, Zoe's mother also died; the little girl and her brother were thus left orphaned, poor and in fear of the Turks, who often carried out raids in the village.

"Once three Turks came to the village to steal from his house. He was inside, listening to them and started to pray. Suddenly the door closed and the Turks were trapped with one foot inside and the other outside. It was a miracle! They begged the Saint to release them and promised not to return to the village. He released them, gave them pocket money and they did not appear again," recalls Zoe of Saint Arsenios.

"There will come a day when we will leave here. The mother will lose the child and the child will lose the mother. We will go to Greece and there we will see indecent things," Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian had prophesied, as Mrs. Zoe remembers. By indecency he meant the fact that in Greece women did not wear the tsemberi [the traditional women's headscarf].

This cursed day arrived, and the Turks took the Greeks out into the courtyards of their houses, telling them to leave the village quickly. Moses and Zoe Kortsinidou started the never-ending journey with an uncle, taking only a basket with a few grapes on the road. What was left behind were their possessions, but also the holy books of the village church, which Hadjifentis buried, so that the Turks would not desecrate them, in a field outside the Chapel of the Panagia.

As Mrs. Zoe recalls, led by Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, first on horseback and then by train after a difficult journey, they managed to reach the shores of Asia Minor. It was the first time in her life that she saw the sea, and it was almost the last. Climbing on the ship, she slipped and almost fell into the water. A male hand pulled her up and little Zoe was saved.

"We were very hungry, since the only thing we ate on the boat, until we reached Kerkyra, were very dry cakes."

After forty days in Kerkyra, Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia died, as he himself had prophesied, and the people of Farasa lost their support.

From Kerkyra, which could not feed a large number of refugees, the State quickly took them and transported them to Harmankioi (today's Neo Kordelio) in Thessaloniki, to a camp. From there they were taken to Platy, Imathia and placed in sheet metal huts. "In the summer the sheet huts were boiling and in the winter it was very cold. It was an area without trees and there was no water nearby. Many refugees died in Platy."

The Farasites were looking for the mountainous landscape of their village. So they left Platy and set up their lives in the mountains above Paranesti in Drama. Their main occupation was the cultivation of tobacco. Zoe Kortsinidou settled in the village of Aetorachi and created her own family there. Peaceful life, however, did not last long, as during the Occupation the inhabitants were warned to leave their villages, because Bulgarians would soon arrive. Mrs. Zoe was pregnant with her fourth child.

"I started shouting at everyone, 'Come on, there was a mobilization.' I took the children and everything I could carry, and we went down to Choristi, Drama. I also collected our animals and handed them over to the army."

During that time she also lost her husband. Some Bulgarians stopped him and told him to get off his horse to bury a Greek who had just been killed. When he refused, the Bulgarians beat him mercilessly. Then they put him face down on the horse and it took him home. He died two months later.

However, the family did not stay long in Choristi either. She went to Gazoro, Serres, where for 17 years Zoe worked as a cook and cleaner at the local police station, to feed her children. Since 1967 she lives in Thessaloniki with her daughter.

Mrs. Zoe knew Saint Paisios from a child, in Farasa. However, she met him again about twenty years ago when he was ill in the Monastery of Souroti in Thessaloniki. Although due to his illness he did not accept anyone, he saw her because she was a Farasiotissa. He took her hand and they talked about their homeland.

Just before I let Mrs. Zoe rest, I see her rolling her clear eyes, making her cross and in two sentences summarizing the pain and wounds left by her difficult life: “In my prayer I say: 'My God, you command the whole world. Make the nations have a mind and stop the wars. Do not leave children orphaned and women hungry.' War is a disaster. You lose your life, you lose your people. We know it well, because we went through it all!"

Source: Written in 2015. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.