November 25, 2021

Katerina Derba, an Ascetic of the World (1 of 3)

She was born in Vlasti of Kozani in 1890 and was the sixth daughter of John Vlachogiannis and Maria, who was a very pious woman and very prudent. Her mother said that her ancestors twice hosted Saint Kosmas the Aitolos in their house and he blessed them.

Katerina attended some classes in Primary School, learned to read and studied a lot throughout her life. She was very beautiful and when a new teacher came to their village, he liked her and took her as his own. Her father gave his blessing, Katerina got married to Konstantinos Derba and they settled in her husband's village, in Tsaritsani of Elassonos. While Katerina was expecting her third child, someone shot and killed her husband. So at the age of 27 she became a widow with three babies. To make a living she learned to sew. Later, her relatives built a house in Vlasti next to her paternal home. There she also learned knitting. Her son, George, also learned sewing and later settled in Thessaloniki, where he was followed by his mother Katerina.

Her settlement in the city of Saint Demetrios was a gift from God to Katerina, because she took advantage of the spiritual opportunities that existed. She went to church at Saint Menas, Panagia Chalkeon, Saint Katherine and mainly in Hagia Sophia, which she considered her home. There she found Fr. Vasilios Kaimakis, the virtuous spiritual father, to whom she confessed.

She had great reverence for divine things and was very respectful of the priests. She had a nephew, Fr. Eusebius Vittis, whom she loved dearly. Twice in her life she was found worthy to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In appearance she was small. She always wore a headscarf and black clothes. She was well-groomed, she was not ragged and sloppy. "These are excesses," she said. "People should be clean and tidy."

She lived repentance and mourned for her sins, but this was expressed as joy. She lived the joyful mourning, joyful sadness, as the fathers say. She was a woman who loved life, the beauty of life, everyday reality. She did not feel inside that she was deprived, that she suffered, that she was in need. She did not complain about anything, she overcame everything with her trust in God and prayer.

Wherever she went she changed the atmosphere. She conveyed what she was experiencing, and when asked something she conveyed the word of God. She did not have monotony in her behavior. She was always a refreshing individual. She said: "A new day, a new life." She was not anxious about anything. Although she had gone through many hardships in her life, she said: "If I came back to life, I would easily go through it again. God required me to live comfortably, without having any property or house in my name. I do not know what a tax office means, what a lawyer means. I passed my life like a queen." She was always peaceful without outbursts and anger.

Her Rule

Her son had bought an estate near the War School and that for Katerina was like paradise. She also worked there, but mostly supervised the workers who grew peanuts. She herself climbed the trees and prayed. Later she settled there permanently.

She would wake up very early in the morning and say, "I will sleep forever later. When I leave this world, then I will be satisfied with sleep. Now I have to be able to rejoice in this gift of God, to think and to philosophize."

Apart from the morning prayer, she used to pray at midnight after previously resting a bit. She said: "At midnight, when everything is quiet after a person is a little rested, their soul needs to talk to God." She loved to pray with the prayer rope, and she said to be careful how we pray.

She used to say to herself when she fell asleep: "The night is falling, my life is coming to an end." And in her night prayer, among other things, she said: "I am before You, I cry asking to understand what I did today. I pressed Your flowers, in my garden I have no other flowers, only thorns grow. Make others, my Christ, bloom."

She went to church every Sunday and feast and communed often, after confessing. She also attended sermons. She did the rest of the prayers in her hut. It was a place for her to take her to heaven. Although she lived alone, in a shack in the wilderness, not in the big house next door, she was not afraid. "What should I be afraid of?" she said. "Thieves do not go to the poor and humble. I was told to sit here; I sat down and found great benefit."

She loved reading a lot. In addition to the Holy Scriptures and spiritual books, she also read literature to deepen concepts and learn to psychologize human characters. What she was reading she did not typically pass over but took it deep within herself. She had the ability to take a word, to develop it, and to do a whole sermon. Because she spoke spiritually and inspired respect, some thought she was a presvytera and called her Miss Presvytera. She had a strong memory and memorized what she read. She once said: "My God, I have learned a lot about you, I have read a lot, I have heard a lot, let me close the books now and let my soul speak with You."

She said in her prayer: "Most Compassionate One, give us to feel the light of the Transfiguration, the power of the Resurrection and the flame of Pentecost."

"Jesus, You are the life and the light, the word and the bread, the truth and the love. Give Yourself to us that we may find ourselves."

She fasted and did what the Church prescribed, but she had exceeded the rule. When she chanted and prayed she was focused within herself and seemed to feel it, she lived it. She was very thin. She ate little. "I never remember after having eaten, then feeling full," she said.

She loved lighting a candle and burning incense. She said: "May the candle always burn in front of the icon. As the light of the candle shines, so may my soul shine, be illumined with the light of the Transfiguration."

Although she had a lot of love for people, she was not in the habit of doing alms. As she said, she had nothing, everything belonged to her son and she could not dispose of it. She had no money or possessions to manifest her material alms, but her merciful soul gave her abundant spiritual alms. Whoever went to her, it was as if she was giving them all her being, if the visitor asked, otherwise she would be silent. "You cannot help spiritually if the other person is not in the mood," she said. It was not her concern to go to hospitals and prisons, but to give what she had at her disposal, with her heart; no matter how insignificant this was, it filled you.