Friday, October 31, 2008

The Life of St. George Karslides the Righteous of Drama (+1959)

Picture of St. George Karslides the Righteous of Drama (1901-1959) - Commemorated on November 4th (icon taken from http://www.rel.gr/photo/displayimage.php?album=7&pos=22; Note: the following five icons from the life of St. George are taken from the ornate, beautiful copy, I believe, of the official Patriarchical acknowledgment of his Sainthood posted on the Metropolis of Drama website: http://www.imdramas.gr/view_image.php?image_id=ierov_001.jpg)

Below are excerpts and summaries from the life of St. George given in an excellent book: Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece, by Herman A. Middleton. Published by Protecting Veil Press 2003.

St. George Karslides was born in Argyroupolis, Pontos in 1901. He was orphaned very young, so it was his pious grandmother, who raised the young Athanasios (St. George's baptismal name) to have a "holy fear of God and a fervent love for the Church's divine services." The region of Pontos in Asia Minor has historically been a great seat of Orthodoxy, and more recently was also the site of such spiritually important monasteries of Panagia Soumela, Peristereota and St. John Vazelonos. At the age of five Athanasios began tending his family's flocks, all while bearing the harsh treatment of his older brother, who made life difficult for him and for his younger sister Anna. They bore this with love, perseverance and holiness. In fact, when Anna died at a young age, light emanated from her grave. Three years later when her remains were exhumed, her bones had the same yellow hue as the Saints of God. "Thus, Athanasios's early days were permeated both with the piety and holiness of lives dedicated to God, as well as with the pain of the corruption and instability of this life. This very realistic understanding of life was to prove to be a firm foundation for Athanasios's future spiritual development." (Middleton)

Because of the extremely difficult situations he was facing, at the age of seven Athanasios decided to run away, and was sheltered for awhile by some crypto-Christians. St. George the Great-martyr was a great protector of Athanasios, and he appeared to him, told him to mount his horse, and helped him to travel to Tiflis, Georgia where a pious priest took care of him. The priest was impressed by his spirituality and maturity, and clothed him in a cassock from age nine. In 1919 Athanasios was tonsured a monk with the name Symeon, and during his tonsure the bells of the monastery began to run by themselves. Fr. Symeon still faced many difficulties, however, as his monastery was soon closed by the communists, and the monks were humiliated, imprisoned, and threatened with execution.

The following is a beautiful story of St. George's time in this prison:

"The imprisoned monks and clergy asked permission at Pascha to go to church. Having been denied this, they fervently prayed for continued strength in the struggle. As they chanted, "Christ is risen," the prison shook and the doors opened of their own accord. The inhabitants of that area hastened to see what was happening and beheld three holy figures who, chanting "Lord have mercy" and holding a cross, were processing in a circle above the prison. The vision lasted until dawn, when the captives were prepared for execution. They were tied together and led to the edge of a cliff. The firing squad took aim and fired. Three bullets hit Symeon, but only grazed him, and did little harm. He was dragged off the cliff, however, by the weight of the others. Miraculously, he fell without being killed and this escaped death." (Middleton)

Once released from prison, he was ordained by Metropolitan John Tsiaparaski of Grouzia Scheta in 1925, and was given the new name George. He was recognized by many as being a God-bearing elder. Despite his difficult situations, he was constant in his ascetical struggles, eating mostly wild greens, sleeping little, and pursuing voluntary poverty (for example, refusing a new cassock to replace his old one which was falling apart). His service of the sacraments was filled with his love, care and attention.

"During the preparation of the elements [in the Proskomedi, preparation for the Divine Liturgy], God would inform him of the spiritual state of those he commemorated, both the living and the dead. With great pastoral discernment he would pass the information on to his parishoners, either to encourage them to pray more fervently for the souls of the deceased or to bring sinners to repentance. Before bringing the Holy Communion out to the fathful, he would ask that those who wanted to commune come to the left-hand door of the iconostasis where he would read the prayer of absolution over them and anoint them with oil...[St. George] would sometimes be seen levitating during the Divine Liturgy. When he celebrated he would often be visited by the Saints, who would serve him." (Middleton)

In 1929, most likely because of his failing health (not quite thirty years old and semi-paralyzed), St. George moved to Greece, and settled in the town of Sipsa near Drama in northern Greece. He gradually recovered with the help of the local inhabitants, who became aware of his holiness and sought his help. In 1936 the Elder went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, where he met his uncle (who was a monk) who urged him to return to serve in the world, where there was a great need for spiritual guidance. Later, the Elder was given a plot of land by the Greek government, and in the year 1939, a monastery he founded and dedicated to the Ascension of Christ was consecrated.

Many of the accounts of the counsels and miracles of St. George come from this later period of his life as the shepherd of the community of Drama. He forsaw both World War II and the Greek Civil War. During the civil war, three different groups of fighters went to slaughter the inhabitants of Sipsa, and they each felt intense remorse and apprehension and repented beforehand without harming the villagers. The Elder had forseen this danger, and instructed the inhabitants to have a procession around the village with the icon of Panagia. Thus the village was saved from certain destruction.

There are many other stories of St. George's discernment and spiritual gifts: "On another occasion a woman visited him and before she even managed to greet him he told her, "Your hands are on fire. They are burning, but we don't see the fire. What work do you do?" She told him that she was a midwife. "How many children have you killed?" he then asked. She denied having kiled any. "Shall I tell you? Five." He went on to tell her in which villages and of which mothers the children were whom she had aborted. Speechless, the lady wept and through active repentance was reconciled to God." (Middleton)

"One day a lady brought some quinces to the Elder. A pregnant woman stopped her along the way and asked for some, but she refused. When she arrived at the monastery and gave them to the Elder, he told her, "On the way the gate of Paradise opened and you closed it." (Middleton)

In early 1959 St. George forsaw his upcoming death. As the day approached, he gave instructions to his spiritual children on his departure. "On the eve of his repose he asked to be helped to go into the monastery church. There he venerated the icons and partook of the Holy Mysteries one last time. A few hours after midnight on November 4th, 1959, St. George reposed in the Lord.

Icon depicting the repose of St. George Karslides the Righteous of Drama (+1959) (taken from: http://commons.orthodoxwiki.org/images/8/8f/GKarslidis02.jpg)

Today a monastic community of nuns continue the spiritual legacy of St. George at the Monastery of the Ascension of Christ in Sipsa, Drama, in northern Greece. St. George has continued to work many miracles after his repose in the Lord. In 2008 St. George was officially acknowledged to be a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Once again, many thanks to the author of the following book for translating the truly inspiring life of the newly-revealed St. George: Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece, by Herman A. Middleton. Published by Protecting Veil Press 2003. For a full biography and many stories and miracles from St. George, see: The Blessed Elder George Karslides (1901-1959), translated from the Greek text of Monk Moses the Athonite, by Orthodox Kypseli Publications. Also see: http://orthodoxwiki.org/George_(Karslidis)_of_Drama.

Picture of the Icon of St. George and his holy Skull at the Monastery of the Ascension of Christ, Sipsa (taken from: http://commons.orthodoxwiki.org/images/6/60/GKarslidis05.jpg)


For a beautiful video of the Saint's Monastery of the Ascension of Christ in Sipsa, see: http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com/2011/11/blog-post_8910.html.
  
Icon of St. George the Righteous of Drama (taken from: http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/agios-georgios-karslides-01.jpg)


Apolytikion of St. George Karslides the Righteous of Drama (amateur translation from the above Greek)
O river of Divine Grace, O God-bearing George, and vessel of miracles of all kinds, we praise him crying out, Ascension, Holy Monastery's Founder, and Drama's protector and shelterer, do not despise those who entreat you, and magnify you, O Righteous Father. Glory to Christ Who glorified you. Glory to Him who sanctified you, Glory to Him who showed forth this new ascetic fruitful.

Apolytikion (for a Monastic) in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy George, your soul rejoices with the angels.
(altered from: http://goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=225&type=saints)
 
St. George Karslides (source)
   
Holy Father George, intercede for us!
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

1 comment:

fdr said...

Thank you for this!