A saintly Fool for Christ in the heart of Athens (2)
3 Απριλίου 2009
Holy souls live among living humans…
«I was under the impression that mister John was a theologian-professor. I surmised that, from his profound theological but equally simplified analyses. He knew the entire Holy Bible by heart, and he would exhort me with faith to read one or two pages every day, from the Bible that he himself had given me as a gift. He even counselled me to kneel before the icon of the Holy Mother every day and describe in detail the day’s joys, sorrows and problems.
He used to say «Dear little Calliope, ask our Holy Mother to become your best friend and you will see everything changing around you. Our kind Mother is the kindest Mother of all, the kindest sister, the kindest friend. Talk to Her – She listens…»
Last night, when I rang up mister John and a gentleman who picked up the phone told me that mister John had died and informed me about the funeral, I felt as though I had just lost my father…
Mister Anastasy suddenly jumped up and asked:
–«When did you ring up?»
–«Last night, around 8pm. I wanted to ask him if he was going to come this Sunday when it is my shift, because I have to confess that I trusted mister John more than anyone else – even more than my own parents…»
–«But the apartment was locked since the day before yesterday, and I’m the only one who has keys to it», mister Anastasy said, mystified..
So he turned to the others in the room and asked if anyone else had keys. The replies were all negative…
–«But the voice on the phone sounded so much like mister John’s. I just assumed it was a relative of his. But now that you mention it, I remember that he called me «little Calliope» over the phone – and he was the only one who called me by that name! Its just that at the time, I was so upset by the news of his death, that I didn’t pay special attention, when I heard the following:
–«And now little Calliope, you will be looking after the children on your own, because your mister John has passed away, and can no longer visit you as a clown…» he said to me over the phone!
I assumed that his next of kin were aware of this activity of his, so I didn’t take any notice of those words… I am only now finding out that he had no relatives, and I don’t know what to say…»
Just then, father Dimitri who was observing everything in silence while seated at a nearby table, stood up and exclaimed:
«This man is a Saint !!!»
«A Saint! A Saint!» everyone instinctively repeated…
–«I have been listening all this time to the narrations of the adventures of our departed brother John. Everything that you said about Crazy John – as you all call him – are miraculous events that characterize only the saints of our Church. I am under the impression that this isn’t a commonplace funeral gathering; it rather resembles a festive occasion.
Calliope’s realization that he had spoken to her – albeit deceased – over the phone, shook me to the core, and it reminded me of a similar incident that relates to the life of the holy elder Porphyry the Hut-burner..»
–«Father, young Dimitri wants to say something too», mister Apostoly said.
–«Come on, say it, so that everyone can hear what you told me a while ago about Crazy John.»
Young Dimitri was a boy in his early teens. He was going on 14 and was in his second year at High School. He lived together with his brother Paul who was three years younger than himself, and his parents, just two apartment buildings down from where Crazy John lived. During the past year, unlike the other children his age, he had turned to God.
His friends couldn’t explain that huge about-face. They all wondered what had happened to make that high-spirited Dimitri abandon his pranks and mischief and turn to studying and prudence. Even his parents had no idea what the reason for his conversion was. At first, they actually believed he had been brainwashed by a heretic organization. But later, they realized that nothing of the sort was lurking behind their son’s change. They also noticed that ever since their son turned to God, the problems in their family had begun to diminish. Quarrelling stopped. Teachers’ praises at school had replaced their complaints about his mischief…
Dimitri’s about-face had changed the family’s course. His parents became even more surprised, when they saw their son going to church every Sunday and reading the Holy Bible that Crazy John had given him as a gift. Poor Panagiotis – Dimitri’s father – who customarily went to church every Christmas and Easter – became very upset. He discussed the matter with his wife Polyxeni.
–«Say, wife, do you think Dimitri is in trouble? How did he change so much? Is there any chance he has suffered a romantic disappointment because some girlie left him? I am afraid that the priests will destroy him. Not to mention that he risks being taunted by his friends and mocked by them. What do you think? Shouldn’t we have a talk with him?» he would say.
Poor Polyxeni would listen to her husband carefully. She never spoke. When the time came and she spoke up, she said:
–«I don’t know what to say, my Panagioti. You may be right. I can’t hide the fact that those same thoughts had crossed my mind too. But one thing I do know: ever since Dimitri displayed this new behaviour, our family has calmed down. His grades at school have shown a sharp improvement. His teachers have only the best things to say about him. Even they are amazed at Dimitri – they actually asked me if he was being tutored privately. Even young Paul has become motivated, near Dimitri…
Have you forgotten, my dear Panagioti, how much we worried when Dimitri would come home after midnight? Have you forgotten the time we found a packet of cigarettes under his bed and that magazine with indecent photos? Have you forgotten the time we were called to the Police Station to pick up our son who had been held there because he had caused damages together with some others, in the episodes that took place after their school’s party? Have you forgotten our neighbors, who constantly complained that Dimitri and his friends would beat Crazy John and make fun of him?
Listen, dear Panagioti: what I can see is that after Dimitri’s change, I am far more at ease, and so is this household. Our problems have become fewer. Even our quarrels as husband and wife are minimal. Ever since Dimitri brought God home, smiling and happiness has returned to us. So I wonder, could we be the ones who are wrong? Could we be the ones who were responsible for the path that our children had taken?
Panagioti, instead of worrying about Dimitri, I suggest that we follow him on his path; that we begin as a family to go to church; to do what Crazy John told us to do the other day, when you invited him over to eat with us…
In other words, that we find a good spiritual father and go to confession. That’s what the fool meant, when he said that confession is the fuel that drives man towards the heavens. Remember how he would ask us if we would like to travel to Heaven and we laughed at him and regarded his words to be foolishness?»
–«Look wife, I understand what you’re saying, but it occurs to me that our friends will laugh at us if we do something like that», Panagiotis replied.
–«That thought also crossed my mind, but then I remembered something else. Remember the time Panagioti when we didn’t have enough money to pay the installment on our housing loan and you had asked your friends to help out, and they all forgot us? They all disappeared, and they even stopped calling. When did those friends stand by us? They come over, only when we invite them to eat with us, or go to a tavern with us.
Weren’t you the one who told me that they gossiped about us, and that you discovered that deep down, they were pleased whenever they heard us talking about our problems with the children? We would have lost the house, if we hadn’t found that envelope with the 100.000 drachmas under our door – which, by the way, we never discovered who had put it there, although I suspect that the fool was behind that gesture» Polyxeni replied.
–«No…no…I had asked the fool, but he flatly denied that he had done such a thing. Besides, how could the fool have known about our financial worries?»
–«He knows everything, since he makes his rounds in every part of the neighborhood. Perhaps he saw us worried and asked Dimitri or Paul. Don’t rule out anything, because other families around here have also received envelopes like that.»
On the Sunday after that discussion, the parents announced to Dimitri that they would all go with him to church. In fact, they even woke up Paul, who preferred to sleep in on Sundays. «We have only one day for sleeping» he used to say. Dimitri was stunned at first, and he may have thought they were aiming to monitor his moves. But when he saw that this routine was repeated and that his parents acquired a spiritual father and began to read spiritual books, he then began to speak of a miracle.
So, with some coercion by mister Apostoly, young Dimitri began to present his own testimony, Everyone had now turned their attention towards him. Meantime, several other people had gathered around, from adjacent tables.
–«One day» said young Dimitri, «my mother sent me to mister Apostoly’s bakery to buy bread. As I was buying the bread, I also did something bad – something that I used to do often with my friends also. Well, I stole a chocolate bar. Mister Apostoly didn’t notice, and I was sure that no-one had seen me take it.
But from the next day on, as I left the house to go to school, I would find two similar chocolate bars outside our door, like the ones I had stolen. This went on for about 20 days. I asked my mother who kept putting the chocolates there and she told me that every morning, Crazy John usually rings the doorbells in the building.
–«That guy does such crazy things» my mother said. That was when I realized that the fool must have spotted me when I grabbed the chocolate, and this was how he was taking his revenge. «I’ll show that madman, who’s trying to make me feel bad for a measly chocolate that I stole» – that was how I used to think, at the time…
The next day, I found chocolates again – one for me and one for Paul, my brother, along with a note that had the ten commandments written on it, with the commandment of «thou shalt not steal» underlined.
I became very angry….
So, as soon as school was out, I went straight to Crazy John’s apartment building and rang his doorbell. He opened his door and said with a smile:
–«I’m sorry, my Dimitri. I know you came here to give me a couple of punches for the chocolates. I’m a fool; I deserve those punches. Come on, hit me, as hard as you can. Let your anger out.»
I was at a loss, and was going to leave. I got scared. How did the fool know that I had gone there to beat him, seeing that I hadn’t told anyone? As soon as this thought crossed my mind, he remarked:
–«My dear boy, you must be wondering who told me you were coming here to beat me, aren’t you?»
I nodded affirmatively.
–«Well, you see, just before you came, Saint Dimitrios was here – who is your guardian – and the Holy Mother also, and they told me. You know, they love you very much, and they often talk about you. For example, yesterday, with your schoolmate Helen – when you slapped her for disagreeing with you – you made them very sad and they were crying here, along with me. My dear Dimitri, I will tell you a big secret, under the condition that as long as I am alive, you will not tell it to anyone. Do you accept?»
«Yes» I replied, while I watched Crazy John radiant with joy.
–«Our Lord Jesus dear Dimitri wants to come over to your place, but every time He comes to visit you, He hears quarreling and He departs, very sorrowed. So, He told me to give you His commandments to read, to learn them well, and to observe them all, and only then will He return to live with you continuously. Do you know what it means to live in the same house, together with Him, Who created the entire world? Now leave, go home, because your mother will be getting worried.»
I began to leave, but while walking me out, Crazy John said with a smile:
–«Hey, little Dimitri, where are you going? You forgot to give me those punches!»
I left for home as though flying on wings. As soon as my mother saw me, she asked me why I was late, and I told her that «I was at the fool’s house, to tell him not to leave any more chocolates on the doorstep, because I will get fat. Mum, give me 30 drachmas to give to mister Apostoly the baker, because I bought something but didn’t have enough money on me to pay for it.»
She gave me the money, and I went running to the bakery and handed it to mister Apostoly. He was surprised when I told him that I had taken a chocolate bar along with the bread, but had forgotten to pay for it.
–«Well, I was indeed surprised, because I knew you to be a mischievous brat, dear Dimitri. But, as soon as you made that move, I told myself I shouldn’t condemn anyone, because you never know what kind of heart is inside each person. From that moment on, I became very fond of you», the baker explained.
The fool’s last letter…
He then pulled young Dimitri towards him and gave him a kiss, while patting him on the head. His mother Polyxeni and her husband Panagiotis who were witnessing the scene were obviously emotionally charged. Mrs Polyxeni then decided to say her part.
–«To us, Crazy John was the support of our family. He was the one who contributed towards us making the about-face towards Christ. Our life changed, and he made us partakers of the miracle of salvation. He brought blessings into our home…
To me, Panagiotis and my children, he was a friend and a brother. As his brothers therefore, we decided earlier on to suggest to you all that we get together next Saturday at our parish to perform the 3rd day memorial service and then you all come to our place to eat with us, to honour his memory.»
Mrs Polyxeni’s suggestion was welcomed by all of us. Mister Anastasy in fact spoke up again, to add that it would be good to continue the impromptu discussion that had begun in the Memorial Service Hall of the Cemetery, so he proposed to all the people who were present to write down their own experiences with Crazy John during their contacts with him.
Father Dimitri who happened to find himself among the mourners, addressed Mrs Polyxeni and said:
–«I never got to meet the departed brother John – that fool for Christ – however, I would like to ask you, if possible and if you have no objections, if I could come to your house and listen to this blessed expose of miraculous events.»
–«It would be a pleasure, father; it would in fact be an honour if you could come», Panagiotis replied.
So, everyone was looking eagerly forward to the following Saturday. Mister Apostoly the baker had arranged for the ceremonial wheat grain offering and all the other necessities for the memorial service. He had even notified the priests of the Sacred Temple that after the Divine Liturgy, there would be a memorial trisaghion for Crazy John. More than anyone else, it was mister Apostoly who was looking forward to that day.
Besides, he had every reason to look forward to this gathering, because on the day after Crazy John’s departure, he had received a registered letter. He was very surprised to see that the sender was Crazy John himself, who had arrange to send the letter on the eve of his death.
The ever-curious grocer, mister Pandelis, was begging Anastasy in vain to tell him what the contents of the letter were. He kept the contents a doubly-locked secret and wouldn’t divulge anything.
–«Ha! Anastasy, I know why don’t want to tell me what the letter says. The poor deceased fool has probably written all sorts of silly things in there and you are too embarrassed to read them» he said slyly, in the hope of forcing him to speak.
Who was the fool finally? Him, or us?
–«Pandeli, I will tell you one thing: After I read the letter, I asked myself who was crazy – him, or all of us? We’ll talk about the rest in due course, don’t you worry», mister Anastasy said. But the news of the letter spread from mouth to mouth, throughout the neighborhood. And as was to be expected, it had stirred up everyone’s curiosity.
Thus, on Saturday morning the sacred temple of the parish filled up with such a large congregation that the priest was puzzled. «This is the first time that I’ve seen so many people at a memorial service» he whispered to the sacristan. But he replied:
–«The fool – Crazy John – mustered them father»
–«But I can see strangers in the crowd also. They must have been his relatives» he muttered to himself, as he walked towards the Holy Altar.
Father Vassily had been serving at that parish for 28 years and he knew most of the parishioners very well. Young Dimitri who was assisting in the Holy Sanctum together with his brother Paul, said to father Vassily that mister Anastasy was asking for his permission (albeit permissible) to say a few words after the trisaghion.
–«Gladly, gladly, my little Dimitri. Let mister Anastasy speak» he said and nodded affirmatively, looking towards the podium where mister Anastasy was standing. As he himself admitted later to mister Anastasy, he too was curious to learn the reason that the Church filled up as though it were a Sunday.
So, towards the end, and before the closing prayers, father Vassily performed the trisaghion. The entire congregation was crying at the reciting of the words «My Lord, give rest to the soul of Your reposed servant John…..» that father Vassily was chanting. He then nodded to mister Anastasy to approach and say what he wanted.
He then in turn stood next to the Sanctum entrance and said:
–Reverend father Vassily, you must be wondering what the reason is for this blessed gathering. You must be wondering why the entire neighborhood -but also other Christians, not from here- have come to honour the memory of our brother John, who was known to all of us as «Crazy John». Even the shop owners left their shops closed in order to come to the church from early this morning, to participate in the divine service, and not just to come for the trisaghion memorial service – as many people erroneously are accustomed to doing…
Today, father Vassily, we have gathered here to honour a saint, a humble man whom the Lord had bounteously blessed with a holy spirit. A man just like us, who concealed under the cloak of a fool all the virtues that Christ had offered him. John was a «Fool for Christ», who cared for his fellow-man day and night, selflessly. He approached every person with love. He supervised the neighborhood like a Bishop and a guardian of our Orthodoxy and would bring back souls – with his supposed madness – to our almost entirely forgotten nowadays Lord – Jesus Christ.
There are many of us who are lucky, because we were blessed enough -albeit unworthily- to meet and get to know a saint of God in our everyday lives. My words are too poor to adequately describe the life of our brother John. In fact I regard myself as unworthy, after having read the letter that I received the day after his death, which had been sent by the deceased.
As he mentioned in his letter, John had been advised of a miraculous event by the Blessed Baptist a week before his passing away, that is, to prepare himself for his exit from this world. As far as I knew, he was not suffering from any sickness, nor had anyone suspected anything from his behaviour. On the contrary, in the last days of his life he arranged to leave quite a significant trust for our neighborhood. He made arrangements for all of us.
In his letter, John gives advice and exhortations to each and every one of us by name, personally, that we must be hooked on our Christ and to study the righteousness of God. I will read you the letter in detail», said mister Anastasy, and pulled out the letter from his coat pocket. However, he was overwhelmed by his tears and was unable to say a word. Tears welled up in everyone else’s eyes also.
Father Vassily then intervened, saying:
–«Dear Christians. I have known the deceased for more than forty years. But, possibly because of my sinfulness, I was not able to diagnose John’s holiness. Listening to mister Anastasy earlier, certain events came to mind, with Crazy John as the central character. It is only now that I am made aware of those events and can perceive them as miraculous acts.
I remember how one Sunday morning at daybreak when I unlocked the temple I found Crazy John kneeling in front of the icon of Christ.
–«How did you get in, you fool?» I asked him.
–«Well, dear father, yesterday evening during Vespers I completely lost track of time and the sacristan locked me in.»
–«And what was the soliloquy you were muttering in front of Christ’s icon?» I asked him
–«I was just singing a song father, to pass the time» he replied.
–«Just be more careful, because next time I will call the police.» I have to confess that I reprimanded him very severely…»Dear God, forgive me…» father Vassily murmured. «I am only just realizing why his face was shining like the sun…. And he went and took his usual place next to the main entrance of the church like he always did, and would sit and beg.»
He begged for alms, to give them to others…
There are poor and unemployed who ask for help every day, but nobody can ever know what diamonds and holy souls are hidden behind every beggar that we meet.
He then went on to describe the incident with the money that he gathered from begging and deposited inside the charity box, which we described earlier on. I have many things to tell you, dear Christians, because I believe that the riddle has now been solved, and for this, I must thank mister Anastasy. I will narrate on ly one incident, and then I will let mister Anastasy take over.
«One afternoon, Crazy John was standing in front of the icon of the Holy Mother. I was in the office. I could hear him talking and I could hear -without seeing- that he was conversing with a woman, I paid no attention. When I came out of the office, I could see only Crazy John, and there was nobody else inside the church. The sacristan was away on an errand. Crazy John approached me and, after prostrating himself before me as he usually did, he said:
–‘Father, you should go to Mrs.Stamata after Vespers. She is waiting for you to give her Holy Communion because her hours are numbered and she may not make it through tonight.»
–«And how do you know this?» I asked him.
–«A woman told me, a while ago», Crazy John replied.
–«And why on earth didn’t she come and inform me?»
–«Well, she must have thought I was the sacristan» he said, and departed immediately afterwards.
I have a clear view of the main entrance of the church from my office, and I didn’t see any woman entering. But even so, I didn’t give it much thought…
After Vespers, I went to Stamata’s house. Her daughter was astounded when she saw me, as she was planning to come and notify me the next day so that her mother can receive Holy Communion, and not oblige me to go there in the night. I entered Stamata’s room and gave her Holy Communion. She thanked me, and held my hand for a short while, then said to me, breathing with difficulty:
–«Father, please look after my daughter and my grandchildren.»
Her daughter was divorced and she was raising her two children on her own. As I was leaving, she asked me who had notified me. I replied that it was the woman whom she had sent to church, who told Crazy John. She looked puzzled.
That evening, two hours after receiving Holy Communion, a little before 10pm, Stamata departed for the Lord. Next to her at that moment were her daughter, her two grandchildren and Crazy John, who was reading Psalms from the Book of Psalms. I was told this by the late Stamata’s daughter, who is here and can verify it.
Then Maria (that was the name of the daughter of the deceased Stamata) sprang up suddenly and said:
–«Tell them father Vassily about the envelope with the money also, which I thought you had left there and for which I had thanked you.»
–«Yes» said father Vassily, «Maria had indeed found an envelope on a chair in the room, which contained 100.000 drachmas. She thought I had forgotten it there and she came to give it back to me. But I had no idea about the envelope.»
–«But father, you and Crazy John were the only ones who came into our house. when I asked Crazy John, he said that the Holy Mother had sent the money for the funeral expenses, because you are poor.»
«The Holy Mother does that sort of thing» he used to say.
–«I didn’t take him too seriously and I was convinced that you had sent him and were trying to hide the truth» said Maria.
–«No, child, I would have told you», said father Vassily…..
This excerpt was taken from the newly-circulated book about Crazy John, a modern-day ”Fool for Christ”