St Efimia and St Paisios the Athonite
A TRUE STORY
The Elder (Paisios) was in the front yard of his retreat when he was visited by one of his spiritual children. He was repeating, from the heart, “Glory to You, o God”, over and over again.
“Can someone be rendered useless – in a good sense?” the Elder suddenly asked him.
“Who would that be, Elder?”
“Well, I was sitting in my Cell quietly, then she came here and drove me crazy… They are having such a good time, ‘up there’..”
“What’s troubling you, Elder?”
“I will tell you, but don’t you tell anyone.”
He went on to narrate the following:
“I had just returned from the world, to deal with an ecclesiastic matter.” (He had a meeting with the late Mayor of Athens, Mr.Tritsis)
“It was Tuesday, around 10 in the morning, I was in my Cell reciting the Hours. I hear a knock on my door, and a woman’s voice saying:
“With the blessings of our holy Fathers…
I thought to myself: “How did a woman come to be on the Holy Mountain?”
And yet, I could feel a divine sweetness flow through me, so I asked: “Who is it?”
“Efimia” (replied the voice).
I thought to myself: “Who is this Efimia? Could it be a woman who did something foolish and came to the Mountain wearing men’s clothes? What am I supposed to do now?”
A second knock was heard.
I asked again: “Who is it?”
“Efimia” (replied the voice again).
I thought it over and decided to not open the door. At the third knock, the door opened on its own, even though it was bolted from the inside. I heard footsteps outside, in the corridor. I dashed out of my Cell and saw a woman who was wearing a head veil. She was accompanied by someone who resembled Luke the Evangelist, but he vanished. Despite my certainty that this was not a sinister phenomenon because the woman’s presence glowed with a radiant light, I asked her who she was.
“The martyr Efimia”* (she replied).
“If you are indeed the martyr Efimia, come with me, and let us prostrate ourselves before the Holy Trinity. Whatever I do, you must do.”
I went into the chapel, prostrating myself and saying “In the name of the Father….”. She repeated it, also prostrating herself.
“And of the Son….”
“And of the Son….” she repeated in a soft voice.
“Louder, so I can hear you” I said to her, and she repeated it, in a louder voice.
While still in the corridor, her prostrations were not in the direction of the chapel, but towards my Cell. At first I was puzzled, but then I remembered I had a tiny paper icon of the Holy Trinity pasted onto a piece of wood, which was hanging above the door of my Cell. After our third prostration, saying:
“And of the Holy Spirit…”
I said to her:
“Now, let me prostrate myself before you.” I prostrated myself and kissed her feet and then the tip of her nose. I thought it too impertinent to kiss her face.
The Saint sat down on a stool and I sat myself down on the small chest, and she proceeded to give me the solution to my concern (regarding the ecclesiastic matter).
Then she told me about her life. I knew that a Saint Efimia existed, but I didn’t know anything about her life. When she described her martyrdoms, I didn’t only hear them being described; it was as though I could actually see them and feel them…. I shuddered…. oh my God !!
“How did you survive such tortures?” I asked.
“If I had known what kind of glory the Saints have, I would have done whatever I could to undergo much worse tortures.”
“Well, after that occurrence, I was unable to do anything for three whole days. I was beside myself with elation and was constantly praising God. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want anything… I was constantly glorifying….”
In one of his letters the Elder had mentioned:
“In all my life, I will never be able to repay my huge obligation to Saint Efimia, who, although entirely unknown to me, and without being obliged to, bestowed on me such a great honour…”
When describing the incident, he added very humbly that Saint Efimia appeared before him, “not because I was deserving, but only because I was preoccupied at the time with an issue that had to do with the state of the Church in general, and for two other reasons.”
What had especially impressed the Elder was “how that petite, frail person could last through such tortures….If she were more of a….(implying a woman of a bigger and stronger physique)…. but she was so tiny….”
While in that paradisiacal state, the Elder composed a versicle in honour of the Saint: “With what complimentary songs can we praise Efimia, who condescended from above and visited a wretched resident monk in Kapsala? On knocking the third time, the door opened miraculously and she, the Martyr of Christ, entered with heavenly glory, and we worshipped together the Holy Trinity.”
He also composed a closing hymn, which began with the words: “Glorious Great Martyr of Christ, Efimia, I love you very-very much, after the Most Holy Mother….”.
(Of course he did not intend these compositions for liturgical use, nor did he chant them in public.)
Contrary to his custom, the Elder left (Kapsala) for the town of Souroti and made the sisters of the monastery there participants of that celestial joy. With his help and his instructions, they painted an icon of the Saint exactly as she had appeared before him.
The Elder himself had fashioned a negative of the Saint’s icon onto a metal mold, which he used to print small, stamped icons that he distributed as blessings to visitors, in honour of Saint Efimia. While sculpting the mold of the icon, he had trouble fashioning the fingers of her left hand. He said: “I struggled to fashion her hand, but then I put forward a positive thought to explain it : ‘Perhaps it is because I had also oppressed the poor girl’…”
Elder Paisios of Mount Athos
©2012 For the English Language by The Holy Monastery Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian