A woman who read my book, Experiences During the Divine Liturgy, wrote me a letter. She was from a small village of Mytilene, and her father-in-law was a priest.
He was uneducated, he only went to the second grade, but he was full of simplicity, humility, piety, love of church services and he was truly alive in faith. He served for years before World War II and for a few years after. He was elected to become priest by the people of his village.
Prior to becoming a priest, he was captain of a fishing boat. When there was a terrible storm at sea, and the danger was great, he would take St. Nicholas’ icon, venerate it along with his six sailors, and throw it into the raging waters. Every time, by miracle, the sea would calm down! Every Friday he cooked beans in water; he was strict in his fasting, especially on Fridays and during Great Lent.
Whenever he was at sea, he always returned to Mytilene for Holy Week, which he spent eating dry foods. On Great and Holy Saturday morning he would confess his sins and that same night receive Holy Communion.
On Christmas 1939 at four in the morning, papa-George went alone to go to his church, in order to prepare the church for the great feast; he wanted to light the two wood-burning stoves in order to warm the church a little, and then light all the oil lamps. In the end, he would ring the bells in a joyful peal.
That way, just like every other year, the chanters would come first, and then slowly all the other villagers; they would chant matins and follow with the Divine Liturgy.
He walked to the church. There was a strange darkness all around. However, when he opened the church door and entered in, he was blinded by a very bright light, like many afternoon suns together.
He was not afraid; he was very calm. The entire church was bathed in a lovely and serene light. And within this dazzling light, papa-George was filled by prayerful wonder, joy and serenity. His eyes looked straight ahead. He could not see the church temple, or rather he couldn’t see it in the bright light. He could clearly see the Holy Table and the Holy Sanctuary.
And suddenly, there in the sanctuary he saw a manger and animals. By God’s love, a miracle! In the manger he “saw” the birth of Christ! He saw it within an ecstasy in his soul! He “saw” our Panagia, the most holy Theotokos and mother of God, holding tenderly the Holy Child in her virginal womb. Joseph was nearby. Their faces were shining wondrously by white rays of a thousand suns.
Next he saw and heard the angels’ doxology, “Glory to God in the highest.” He took all this in and lived in this otherworldly happiness. His eyes, his soul, his heart and all his senses took everything in within this Nativity scene and the heavenly angelic psalmody.
One heavenly scene came after the other, exactly as the Evangelists Matthew and Luke describe them to us. He saw the wonder of the shepherds and their coming to see the Holy Babe; then he saw the appearance of a shining star which “stood over where the young Child was.” At the same time he saw the adoration of the Magi and their presenting to him their treasures of “gold, frankincense and myrrh.” All of these psychosomatic feelings that the priest had came to him in delight: The vision and the psalmody.
All of a sudden, everything returned to its natural condition. The priest, however, stood still for a long time, warmed with fire and full of supplication, wonder, surprise, ineffable gladness and happiness.
All of a sudden, his elder son, Rallis came and brought him back to his senses: “Father, what are you doing? What happened to you? Why haven’t you lit the oil lamps? You are shining strangely! What happened father?” He replied, “I’ll tell you my child, and I’ll tell the entire village.”
They lit the oil lamps hurriedly, and the wood stoves and rang the bells. To everyone who came, Father George asked them to return to their homes and wake everyone up, “because an amazing miracle occurred in our church and I want to tell you what it was.”
The Christians would go door to door and woke everyone up and all together they went to the church which was overflowing with people. Nativity Matins were chanted and after that the Divine Liturgy and Eucharist.
After the end of the Liturgy, Father George described his Heavenly vision with such vitality, faith and with such feelings that everyone who heard him was crying. When his recounting ended, he made a prostration all the way to the ground and asked forgiveness from everyone, men, women and children, and he told them that when they come to receive Antidoro, they should tell him that they’ve forgiven him and to ask forgiveness of each other. To each he gave a different blessing, something that had meaning to him alone.
This is where the miracle ended. The woman who wrote to me, however, continued her letter and wrote to me that her husband, the priest’s son, told her:
‘When I was young, during a certain Divine Liturgy, I was helping my dad in the altar. After my father had prayed for the Holy Gifts and had cried out, “For the All-Holy…” he asked me intensely, “Ralli, my son, do you see anything?” “No, father, I don’t.” “Yet, son, Christ is standing right here beside us!” And my father fell on his knees for a long time and wept silently…’
Γνώσις και βίωμα της Ορθοδόξου Πίστεως
by Father Stephanos Anagnostopoulos