Orthodox Byzantine Chants
Holy Mount Athos
Maro Sideri’s testimony
I look over and over again at the icon of elder Porphyrios, of saint Porhyrios as the believers call him. I look at his face surrounded by a halo and I feel uneasy. What a fool I am, my Lord! So that elder who received me in his cell without saying a word when I entered frightened was a saint? So that small old, kind and patient man who always respected my refuse to listen to any catechetical advice and never gave me such advice was a saint? Yes, he was a saint. And I feel stupid because I always knew he was a saint, although I was afraid of him.
When I met him I was a child with all the problems a child has when he enters a wild and black adolescence. I was a child raised according to the Christian principles, but I wanted to destroy them, because I didn’t like them, because they didn’t satisfy me, they constrained me. This is the way I was when I met the starets. That’s why I felt constrained when I had to accompany my family who wanted to see him. Those Sunday afternoons when I had to take off my jeans and put on my skirt and when I had to go and kiss his hand annoyed me. I remember that fury that exploded inside me in silence because I didn’t dare to say that I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t dare because I knew inside myself that he was a saint – how could I refuse the blessing of such a man?
On the other hand I was afraid of the fact that he was a saint. At first I was afraid because I felt he knew my thoughts and deeds and I was afraid he could tell them to my mother. And when I understood that he didn’t tell her anything I was still afraid because I thought he judged me for everything I had done and said, for everything I was, because I didn’t befriended him. And why would I have done it?
He had already befriended my sister, mother and father. He talked with them, welcomed them, gave them the cross he was keeping in his hand to kiss it. He didn’t do like that with me…he didn’t give me his hand to kiss it. I approached him alone, frightened, forcing myself to do that then I left with the fear that he didn’t receive me.
And this till one Saturday afternoon when my mother asked me imperatively to get ready to go to the starets. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t want it, but I didn’t dare it. But I said that I wanted to go dressed in trousers.
My mother was adamant so I went furiously into my room. And in the safety I felt being alone I cursed him. I cursed him so awfully that even now after so many years I am ashamed of the words I said while being alone in my room. Then I went out dressed in the skirt, I got in the car quietly, with the same fury inside me.
When we reached his cell we got in. I intended to kiss his hand and run out quickly. But on that evening was for the first time when he called me on my name saying: `Come, Maro` and he stretched his hand towards me. My God, how much I liked it when I heard his voice calling me as my friends used to call me. What a relief a I felt when he welcomed me like this! But when he received me like this for the first time after I exploded against him in my room, made me be sure that he wasn’t a saint. He didn’t know what I had said.
And when I sighed being relieved I heard him saying tenderly, gently:
`Maro, could you get out for a while to speak to your mother?`
It would have been better if the earth had opened and swallowed me in that moment than to hear him telling me these words. I was sure that a saint like him heard what I had said and was going to tell everything to my mother. I went out with my heart throbbing like crazy and while I waited outside I prepared my defense. I was ready to fight. However there was no fight. I don’t know what he told her but I know that when my mother went out from his cell she apologized without explaining to me why she did that.
I also know that from that moment she never told me again to go with them to the starets. I went anyway because of shame, because I couldn’t bear the thought that I didn’t want to go and I envied the relation my sister had with him although he didn’t like me. I wanted to love him even if I didn’t. I wanted to feel his blessing, even if I didn’t feel it. I wanted to consider me one of his friends, even if I felt that he wasn’t my friend. I had to get out of the darkness of my adolescence to figure out ashamed that he had accepted me as I was. Then I understood that when he didn’t give me his hand to kiss it he didn’t do it not as a sign of disapproval but of acceptance. In the relationship we had he was the sincere one and I was the liar. I approached although I didn’t want it but he didn’t stretch his hand because he respected my fear and my opposition. I was the one who constrained myself and he was the one who accepted me and did what I wanted…
Even my anger he interpreted it as a prayer. He didn’t make any allusion to Christ, he didn’t give me any advice, he didn’t speak to me about miracles, to convince me. But despite these I am sure that this silence was the most obvious proof that he counted me among his friends just as I was. Maybe that’s why he was the only one who didn’t oppose when I was admitted at Theology. All the others, friends, relatives were upset. Maro at Theology? I don’t know why I have opted for Theology. But he didn’t say anything. He neither congratulated me nor praised me. He maintained the same attitude towards me, firm and silent, that my soul wanted. Sometimes I think that seeing the wilderness from me he entrusted me directly to God and for me this is the greatest proof that he counted me among his friends.
I had this sickly relationship with the starets till the end. I never softened and he received all my fury as a proof of love. I offended him once again on his back with a terrible insolence. It was Saturday I was already a student and I was in the period of exams. On Monday I had an exam and on Saturday at nine pm I found out that I had read something else.
I panicked and my mother trying to comfort me said: `Why are you worrying when you have avva? And I burst like a volcano saying: `Give me a break with our starets! What can he do to me`In that moment the phone rang and when I heard my mother saying: `Yes, abba, Maro is here near me!` I wished the floor would have opened and I could hide below. Like a wet cat I took the phone and my voice that contested him so powerfully was now so quiet. I will never forget his bewilderment.
`Who is the one from you two who called me indeed?` he asked me wanting to assure me that he, as a saint, heard not the words of my mouth but those of my soul. Could you come tomorrow to read here? he asked with a gentleness I had never met before.
I said yes being embarrassed. Then he hung the phone without saying anything. The next morning at seven o clock I was in Malakasa with my parents. The starets asked to be opened an office to wait for him there although in the church was the Holy Liturgy. He accepted me as I was…After 10 when he received me in his cell and he didn’t tell me many words:
If you had faith you would write of 10 he said and opened the book for four times. But it doesn’t matter, 5 is good too.
From the four subjects I read two. The other two I considered without sense and importance. I got all these four subjects and I got a 5. It was good. With the starets I always got 5. I can’t bear and I don’t deserve to get more and I know it well. 5 is enough for me. It makes me feel that I have him beside me and that’s enough. What about the fact that he is a saint? I know it but my mind doesn’t stand it…The starets had always been a saint cause only a saint could bear someone like me. For me he is a saint, but he remains a starets. My starets, who used my faithlessness, selfishness and mistrust as means of communication with me. He is the starets who never rebuked me, never flattered me, never quitted me, only told me the words that were absolutely necessary. He is the starets who never answered when I was addressing to him with a false respect and who always welcomed me when I talked simply as Maro…