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  Nr. 73 - August 2004
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St. Theoktisti (part ii)

by Katherine Clark
The following account takes up where we left off in the July issue of 'Paros Life'. If you missed or have mislaid it, you can look it up on our web page at www.paroslife.com.

You remember that we left our late-9th century hunter from Euboia, alone and in fear and trembling, in Paros's Ekatontapyliani, where a voice had admonished him from the shadowy recesses of the church: "Stop, sir, and come no further, nor come nigh unto me. For I am ashamed, being a woman and naked!". We continue his narration:

"Well, I summoned up my courage and asked who she was, living in this wild place, and she asked me to throw her my cloak, which I did, and thus modestly covered she came forward. She looked hardly human, all white hair and black skin. And I was terrified all over again and fell down trembling and begged for her blessing. She stretched out her hands and whispered, 'May God be merciful unto you. But surely it was He who sent you to this uninhabited island, and I will tell you my story:

"'I am of the village of Methymna on Lesbos. My name is Theoktisti. I lost my parents while still a child, and my relatives let me become a nun. [Another account tells how prominent and active she was at her monastery even at an early age, seeing that orphans learned weaving, so that they could support themselves.] When I was about 18 years old, at Easter time, I left the monastery for the nearby village to visit my married sister and her family. During the night, Saracens from Crete, led by the terrible Nissiris, broke into the town, took me and others captive, and sailed away with us.

"'When the Saracens stopped at Naoussa harbour to get water, they took us captives ashore to examine us and see what we might be worth. On a pretext of having to make water, I went a little aside and then fled into the woods, running further and further into the island and not stopping, even though I cut my feet on the rocks until the blood ran, and I finally fell down half dead, and slept. But when in the morning I saw that my captors had left, my pain left as well, and you cannot imagine my joy. And now it has been 35 years that I have been here, living on lupins [don't try eating the lupin beans (unless, of course, you, too, are a saint): they cause severe indigestion] and herbs. We do not live by bread alone, and I live as much by the Word of God as by anything else.

"'I have just one favour to ask of you,' she said, as she ended her story: 'When you return to Paros to hunt once more, please bring me the holy sacrament for my soul's solace.'

"So I left with my companions, but I was true to my word: I brought along the sacrament (the holy body and blood of Christ) when we returned once more, in early November it was. When I presented her with the holy gifts, she recited [the words that mark the end of the Esperino, the Orthodox vesper service, every evening (Luke II:29)]: 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.'

"I joined my companions and we hunted for a few days. Having filled our satchels with game, we returned to the ship, but I made a final detour to the church for the holy woman's blessing. Alas, I found her dead! I fell at her feet and covered them with tears, which was right and good. And what I should have done next was to tell my companions about her and all that had happened, and got them to help me bury her with all due reverence. But, you know, it is difficult in this world to do right, and besides what am I but a simple rustic hunter? So in my ignorance and foolishness and because, after all, of my great faith, too, I then went and did something very displeasing to God: I cut off her hand!"

The hunter's grisly action must certainly strike us today as pretty bizarre, but in an age when relics (bones, clothes, belongings, etc., of holy persons) were the only defence against everything from the toothache to foreign invasion, people were glad of any they could get hold of. The hunter, convinced that Theoktisti was a saint, could not resist garnering this powerful totem for himself. But he should have known better than to commit such a desecration, and all did not go well…

"I returned to the ship with the precious hand wrapped in linen hidden in my sack. Evening came on, and we set the sails to a favourable wind: we were sure of being in Euboia by morning. But just imagine our astonishment when day broke, and there we were: still in Paros harbour. The sails were full of wind, but the ship stood still in the water as if anchored. We were all much afraid at this unnatural occurrence and asked one another what could be the cause. But I knew well enough what it was, and I hurried back to the church, buried the hand with the saint's body and returned to the ship.

"Then, with the ship flying across the waves toward Euboia, I confessed my story to my companions. They - horrified and full of reproaches at me and determined to set things to rights - immediately turned the ship about and returned to Paros. We all ran to the church in fear and trembling. But the body wasn't there, where I had buried it: it had just disappeared. We searched everywhere but could find no trace of it. So we returned to the ship, praising God at this new miracle, and returned home."

Thus endeth the tale of St. Theoktisti, told by the hunter from Euboia, with his own story, to Symeon the monk, who told the two tales, along with his own of Nissiris and the kivorio, to Nikita the Byzantine official, whose written account of all was revised by St. Symeon Metaphrastes for us to read today.

There is only one church on Paros to St. Theoktisti: rather good-sized, next to the Taxiarchis opposite Longovardha monastery between Paros and Naoussa. As we would expect, St. Theoktisti is well represented right where she lived for 35 years: in the Ekatontapyliani itself. There you will find a large icon picturing the events in her life half-way along the left-hand wall as you face the iconostasis. Here she is depicted young and lovely as she was when abducted: in other icons she is shown much wrinkled, with white hair and brown skin, clutching the hunter's cloak about her.

You will find near her icon a footprint in the marble said to be hers, though this author finds it hard to credit the saint with so heavy a tread. The Ikarians apparently made off with her body around a thousand years ago, but they overlooked an upper arm bone, which remains on Paros. This important relic is brought out to be reverenced on special occasions, such as her feast day, which is celebrated in grand style on Paros on November 9, which is also, suitably, the feast day of St. Symeon Metaphrastis.

Katherine Clark has been a resident of Paros on and off for 35 years and an Orthodox Christian since 1987. She has written about the Ekatontapiliani and written and lectured on Greek Orthodoxy generally. She has kindly agreed to write a series of articles on Orthodoxy for Paros Life, so if you have specific questions, please contact her at transactKC@aol.com.
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