Pastoral care: not always pretty
Recently I read Elder Païsios’ life of Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, who lived among the persecuted Greeks in Eastern Turkey in the last days of the Ottoman empire. I was struck by this strange story of one of the Saint’s miracles, a jarring reminder that Divine love and divine care are not always what we imagine.
When Father Arsenios had gone to the Holy Land for the fifth time, a woman by the name of Sophia got into his cell through the window, not to steal anything, but for revenge, because he had been very strict with her about some nasty things she had done in her life.
While her husband, who was with her, waited outside, Sophia got inside and turned the whole place upside down and knocked everything over he had in his cell, even the Crosses and Gospels. In fact, they say she even evacuated her bowels on the sheepskin on which Father Arsenios used to kneel and pray before his icon-stand.
So when Father Arsenios returned from his pilgrimage and saw all this, he felt sorry for that poor soul, and repeatedly invited her to go and see him, but she paid no attention. Finally the President [of the town] went and fetched her and presented her in front of Hadjiefendis, who, when he saw her, said to her:
“What was that you did? Not even an impious Turk would have done that, throwing the Gospels and the Crosses on the ground.”
But Sophia, unfortunately, instead of repenting and asking forgiveness started using bad language and swore at Father Arsenios shamelessly.
Then he said to her:
“You’d do better to have no brain at all that the one you’ve got, child, because that one will see you in hell. So I’m going to beg Christ to take it away from you, so at least you’ll be judged as a madwoman, and in that way your soul will be saved.”
And, indeed, from that very moment, Sophia lost her mind, and from the wild beast she had been, she became like a baby, a little child with no harm in her, smiling innocently all the time. She lived for a number of years here in Greece, too.
This is known to all the Farasiotes, only that some have misunderstood Father Arsenios, because they thought he had cursed her. But the way the President told me, and the others, and the way I see it myself, he not only did not curse her, but in this way actually blessed her and assured her entry into Paradise, because only sheep go there, not wild goats. This was the opinion of the serious-minded Farasiotes, that in this way Hadjiefendis saved Sophia.
— Elder Païsios, Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian, pp 124–125
Source of icon image: Full of Grace and Truth blog.
Note: “Hadjiefendis” is a Turkish title, meaning roughly “honored pilgrim,” by which St Arsenios was known among his people. He often healed the ailments not only of his Christian flock, but of many Muslim Turks who came to him for prayer.