January 5, 2022

On Theophany the Face of the Girl Shined

Theophany Eve of 2000. The first sanctification (Sanctification of the Waters on Theophany eve). In Piliouri, a village in the Himara of Northern Epirus, a priest gets out of the car that transported them there and prepares to sanctify the houses.

In an hour and fifteen minutes they made it by car to arrive. The village is hidden on the beautiful historic Himara mountains. The road is dangerous. The car was struggling to detach from the mud created by the rain in the previous days. He is a young priest, just two months ago he was ordained a Presbyter. He had come from Greece with three students to help with the analogion and to serve the necessary liturgical needs to the villages of the area and anywhere else they would need them.

Their first visit was to the Holy Temple at the entrance of the village. The atheist regime had made it "the home of the people", then a warehouse. The spectacle is sad! The stairs are grassed over, the door is barred. No sign of life. It is left, as it were, to the wear and tear of time for the atheists to destroy what was left behind.

The children ran to knock on the doors of the village, to announce the arrival of the priest. In a little while an alarm was sounded. One housewife after another learned the great news. "For the first time in so many years, a priest came to sanctify us," they said with tears in their eyes. Others threw layers of blankets at the entrances. Others cut the best flowers from their garden for the reception. Everyone was waiting at the front door. The dogs in the clean yards participated in the joy. Their barking is happy, different.

"Having been baptized in the Jordan O Lord...," could be heard throughout the village. The cassock of the priest was filled with mud, they were heavy. The shoes of the students were covered in mud. And of course everyone was happy.

It took three and a half hours for all the houses to be sanctified. A house at the edge of the village was left. Some people said that they would go and give them the holy water because the priest was tired. It should not happen that way. Two women, an old woman and her daughter were waiting for the priest. With longing they kissed the Cross. They led the priest and his entourage to all the rooms of the house. In one of them a young woman was lying in bed. "Father, my granddaughter," cries the old woman heartbreakingly. "She is 18 years old. A very good girl. She is going through a trial, but God is great." Her mother next door is crying silently. Both women want to say something to the priest but are hesitant:

"We would like, Father, to ask you something. The girl you greeted in the room is disabled, quadriplegic. She was baptized three years ago. Since then she has been fasting strictly and has not eaten meat. Wednesday and Friday no oil. She prays and waits for a priest to come to commune her. So we said maybe your holiness could."

"Tomorrow is Theophany," said the priest. "A great day. There will be a lot of people at Himara. They will commune and then we will throw the Honorable Cross into the sea. Understand that we will be very late."

"It does not matter, Father. We will wait as long as you need. When our girl learns the news, she is not going to drink water from today. She longs for it."

The next day, late afternoon, the same car with the same people headed to the village. Nobody spoke. They arrive. They walk a long way to the house. Someone is walking in front with a lighted candle. On the main steps of the house, the two women weep with joy, making deep prostrations to express their gratitude. Mute, speechless, they make their cross with reverence and carefully lead the priest to the daughter's room.

"The servant of God Eleutheria receives the Body and Blood of...". However, before transmitting the mysteries, the minister of God stops. Something is happening. He opens and closes his eyelids. Like something was bothering them. When he left the holy tongs (spoon) in the Holy Chalice, he rubbed his eyes, which were dim at that moment, wondering to himself about what was happening. The eyes of Eleutheria, fixed on the Holy Chalice, shine. They glow so much that the amazed priest can no longer distinguish her face. A bright light with a constantly increasing intensity spread slowly throughout the room. He felt that it was touching him. His hand felt its warmth. He was scared. The light did not have the color of a candle flame, but it was white, strong, soft, not dazzling. It was so strong that the priest could not see her face and mouth.

Puzzled and with great effort not to tremble his hand, having in his memory the face of the girl, he transmits the divine Communion. He understood that he communed her when he felt that the holy tongs touched the teeth of the recipient. "Thank you very much, Father," he heard in the back of his mind the voice of the young girl.

He intended to consume what was left in the Holy Chalice in the room with the iconostasis of the family. Impossible. He silently bid farewell to the housewives, nodding to the students to help him, that they should leave. The housewives ask to give them hospitality. The priest however was unable to hear. He holds the Holy Chalice tightly in his right hand and heads quickly to the depths of the small forest beyond the house. Chills go throughout his body. He wonders what happened to him. He hurriedly consumes the leftovers.

"Father, are you okay?" ask the children. "Yes, of course, let's go now because we're late."

Source: From the book Ascetics of the World, vol. 1. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.