What I Learned This Summer
As kids prepare to return to school, it reminds me of the classic project teachers assign students, “Write a reflection on what you did this Summer.” Ritualistically, I offer my recollection of a great summer experience. The Ionian Village experience offered an amazing assortment of opportunities to grow in my Faith.
Following is a sample of what I encountered. I hope to share as much of the experience as I can in sermons, bible study classes, and future Myrrh-Bearer articles. Each day and each excursion to a new place, monastery, church, historical site, offered new insight as to how Orthodoxy plays a role and shapes us as believers. To sum up the entirety of the message I wish to convey, I saw firsthand, that our Orthodox Christian Faith is a living and dynamic Faith!
About 2 miles from the Ionian Village (IV) campground sits a small convent, Panagia Eleousa, pronounced Panagia Eleusa and means, “The tenderness of the Virgin Mary.” The IV program tried to develop a relationship with the nuns that lived there, but it was unsuccessful. The nuns were not interested, and eventually the convent was abandoned. An icon of the Virgin Mary hung above a spring in a cave at the monastery for many years. As the facilities grew lifeless, a thief entered the cave and stole the icon above the spring. The water stopped and the monastery closed.
The bishop of the area had a young priest that showed interest in breathing new life into the Holy grounds. That is exactly what Fr. George has done. Fr. George was assigned to the Monastery in Bartholomeo about 18 months ago. A relationship was fashioned between IV and the monastery. The Director of Ionian Village, Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, spoke of his witness of the dried wellspring. A few months into his assignment at the monastery, a woman found a picture of the original icon that sat above the now dried spring.
Fr. George took the photo, enlarged it, framed it and positioned it in it’s original spot. “Within an hour,” exclaimed Fr. George, with great emotion, “the spring began to flow and the oil lamps in the chapel began to sway back and forth. The water has not stopped flowing since and the oil lamps rocked for about an hour that day.” As the entire camp crowded the small solea, Fr. George passionately shared this story to the entire camp. Pilgrims suffering from cancer come draw from the spring and later find themselves cured. He explained that many couples that suffered from infertility came to the monastery and drank from the well, later to find themselves with the blessing of a pregnancy. “I have baptized many children born to parents that were told they were not able to conceive. It is a miraculous fount.” Fr. George allowed the campers and staff to take water from the well. We all took sips of refreshment, receiving the blessings of God on that hot summers day.
I was moved! Here was a living example of the power of our Christian Faith. I quizzed Fr. George and made him repeat the story to me once more as I analyzed each portion of what he revealed. He knew what I was doing, smiled and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s the power of our Faith.” I asked him to pray for our community, for all those here suffering with cancer and hoping to bring life into this world. He promised to remember the request during the divine liturgies he would celebrate.
The staff had a hard time peeling me away from Fr. George. Noticing my fixation, the campers also wanted to hear more from Fr. George. He built on the energy of excitement by inspiring us to stay true to our Faith Tradition. He encouraged the kids to seek spiritual assistance in times of trouble, to never hesitate to call on God and to realize that sometimes when you want something from your father, you have to ask your mother (explaining the importance of the intercessions of the Virgin Mary). We were all touched and provoked. As we returned to the bus and made our way back to the campgrounds, all I could think about was how one man’s service allowed the Holy Spirit to blossom.
Fr. George stepped into a situation not many others would have even considered. He offered daily and fervent prayer and found the blessings bestowed to be insurmountable. There was no need to debate with him the scientific reasoning and arguments behind how the spring could have regenerated. It was the presence of God!
His delight that Orthodoxy is established and flourishing in America was encouraging. He offered great inspiration and reminded us that the work done by the Church and its people is to be done in the name of Christ. His insistence that all things are possible when we place our hope and faith in God was contagious.
My encounter with Fr. George, at this simple monastery, hidden in the wilderness of Bartholmeo, left me with a greater understanding of how ALIVE our Orthodox faith can be when we desire to participate in Her offerings.
In Christ’s Service,
Fr. Gary Kyriacou