November 30, 2021

Katerina Derba, an Ascetic of the World (2 of 3)

...continued from part two.

Her Spiritual Work

Katerina lived an intense spiritual life, guided by patristic books, as if she were being taught by God. But she had good anxiety and was afraid of being misled. She told Fr. Methodios, a hieromonk she knew that would frequently go to Mount Athos, if an Athonite clairvoyant Elder was manifested, to take her to him to be counseled. When Papa-Ephraim Katounakiotis suffered a concussion and went to the hospital, she went to see him with Fr. Methodios. The Elder saw her in particular and, while many were waiting outside, he held her back and said to her: "Eldress, say more." He looked at her in amazement and with admiration repeated: "Eldress, say more." The Eldress told him: "I came here to ask and listen, not to speak." And the Elder said to her: “You will continue in this way. Do not be afraid. I will pray for you." He held her for over an hour, while the others waited outside and knocked on the door; he said to Fr. Methodios in particular: "The Eldress will repose in a few years." When he later went to Papa-Ephraim, he said to him again: "The Eldress will repose in a year. She will be the first in Paradise, in front of many Athonites. I have never seen such a soul in my life, nor could I imagine that there is such a soul in the world. It is a soul that has lived theology in practice and has transcended all spiritual stages. This grandmother with her simplicity, with her inner communion with God through prayer, with her great humility and her thirst and longing for Christ, reached such measures and she did not need to live in asceticism in a monastery. I will pray for her, but tell her to pray for me too."

Katerina lived the spiritual life quietly and in secret. She did not talk about supernatural states and gifts, and she did not like that some people said that they saw Christ and the Panagia. She said: "Someone saw this or an icon wept and people run to it. How are they like this? Why do they seek after proof and why do they need to see these things? I believe in these things and I do not feel the need to go to them."

She had attained to other levels. She spoke mainly of the essence of the spiritual life, of the inner work and of the sense of the grace of the Holy Spirit. She felt this very strongly and said: "The Holy Spirit enlivens the human soul."

She loved Christ very much and prayed with feeling as if Christ and the Panagia were before her. She gave herself completely to prayer, she forgot everything. During the Divine Liturgy, she stood in a quiet place and devoted herself completely to the Mystery.

She felt that she had never been okay before God, that she had not responded. She had great repentance and self-denial. She said: "All I know from my life is that 85 years are full of sins. My shoulders were heavy. I did nothing for my repentance and salvation."

She was usually silent, she did not say many words. She sat with her head bowed, wearing a handkerchief like a nun and always with the prayer rope in her hand. She used to say: "Silence is better than saying useless things."

Sometimes she would say something and when she was asked to say it again, she would say: “When did I say that? I do not remember it. If I said something and it was good, I did not say it. I only say nonsense, nothing good."

Everything she said was not prepared in her mind. Someone was surprised that she did not remember the beautiful and spiritual words she said to him and she replied: "These are not poems to say. If it came out, it came out, if it did not come out, you do not say anything." In other words, she spoke under the inspiration and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and not as a human being.

She said: "I thought of Paradise and said to myself, 'I will be left on the outside. Who will care about me, a poor, sinful and insignificant person? I am naked of virtues, I have nothing to present. How I wish I had some holy friends, to intercede for me and say that they know me!' It is a big thing! To make the saints friends in Paradise."

She loved humility very much and often talked about it. She said that it is a basic human task. People must practice humility, live it deeply. She experienced humility and had complete self-knowledge in the patristic sense. Whatever good was seen by others in her, she considered it a gift from God, while she considered that she was only an old woman.

She had the grace of God and this was felt by many of her visitors. There was a crowd in her hut. Others went to see her and take counsel from her, and the sick sought to be comforted by her. A monk known to her said: "I felt the same thing, the same peace, as when I visited Elder Paisios and Papa-Ephraim in Katounakia. She had her mind on the spiritual and on God and brought all the incidents of everyday life to the Lord. What she was saying put you in another reality. Sometimes she did not speak. It seemed that she was living elsewhere, that she was experiencing something supernatural. She bowed her head and monologued: "Ah, my Father!… my oh my! God has great mysteries, but who pays any attention?"

She did not hang out with grandmothers but with young people. Someone asked her how she manages to communicate with young people and she replied: "They increase their age about ten years, I lessen my age about thirty years, and so we associate with each other and meet. I do not want the old people. What would I do with them? The old people eat well, drink well, have a good time and go to church. But also in the church they are ready to shout 'Waiter, bring us a coffee.' They are having a good time and they lack almost nothing to sit cross-legged. The Liturgy is over and the grandmothers are ready to speak and talk. Where do they find this mood? I leave quickly after the Liturgy and when they ask me where I am going, I tell them, 'I am going to my little cell,' so that I do not see, do not hear and do not know anything. If you see a person after the Liturgy who is laughing and ready to tell jokes, they do not know, they do not understand what the Liturgy is. They did not go to church."

This is what Eldress Katerina used to say with a complaint but not with a disposition of condemnation, as she would add: "When you are offended in the church, close your eyes, because the negative images will adversely affect you. Tell yourself that you are the worst of them all. The words that the priest says, no matter how sinful he is, are the words of Christ and you receive a blessing. Even if you find yourself to have the most insane priest and the most insane chanter, say inside yourself: 'Here is Paradise. Paradise has opened.'"