During the earthquake last September in Greece one of our major convents was destroyed. This is the Convent of the Dormition of the Mother of God at Parnitha some twenty kilometers outside of Athens. This convent was founded in 1936 by the late Bishop Parthenios, when as a young hieromonk he came from the Holy Mountain to serve and support the faithful who resisted the innovation of the change of the calendar in 1927. The first three fathers who left the Holy Mountain in order to aid the pious Orthodox Christians were Fr. Evgenios from Dionysiou Monastery, Fr. Gideon, former abbot of Costamonitou Monastery, and Fr. Parthenios from Nea Skete.
The construction of the present buildings were begun in 1938 and finished in the early part of the forties during the German occupation when the state church abated its persecution of the Orthodox on account of the war. The construction was done with great poverty and privation and with the personal hard labor of the nuns carrying the stones and mortar for the building of the walls and cells and the church.
As one can see from one of the photos, the convent was a true adornment in the whole area, being built on the scale of the great monasteries of the Holy Mountain. At its height the convent had over eighty nuns. It supported itself by weaving materials for vestments and agriculture and livestock. It presently has some sixty nuns.
Its first Mother Superior was the venerable Mother Ephemia, who is still living at the age of 98. Mother Ephemia comes from an illustrious family from Kalamata which had established itself in Piraeus at the beginning of this century. The location of her family house is presently the parish church of Saint Paul the Apostle which belongs to the convent. Mother Ephemia never once followed the innovators of 1924. She was one of the faithful that was present at the vigil of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in 1925 at Saint John the Theologian's Church in the fields of Cholargo when the Venerable Cross appeared over the faithful in order to confirm the Orthodox in their struggles against the innovator ecumenists and protect them from the persecutors who had sent the police to arrest the celebrating clergy and disperse the Christians.
The present Mother Superior is Mother Matrona who was elected by the sisterhood as their second abbess upon the retirement of Mother Ephemia in 1997.
Fortunately, except for one nun who panicked and broke her leg, there were no casualties during the earthquake. This is attributed to the protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, since there were many casualties and deaths close by of men, women, and children.
But alas, the convent buildings were greatly and irreparably damaged. An official from the Ministry of Public Works visited the convent with a government engineer and verified that at the time of construction all the buildings were built with hand-hewn stones on the outside, but without poured concrete and metal rods in the space between the walls. Because of the poverty at the time of construction, all the walls were filled with sand and stones inside. Thus, there is an appearance of solid buildings, but in reality, quite weak construction. As one can see in the accompanying photos, when great cracks appeared during the earthquake, the sand began to pour out of the walls, whereas in certain areas everything just collapsed.
The buildings therefore were condemned by official government decision and have to be razed to the ground, and whatever is built after will have to be according to government regulations so that the new buildings will be less quake prone.
For the present, great containers were brought at great expense by private individuals, friends of the convent, into which were put all the things of the church and whatever could be salvaged from the cells and the workshops. These containers are weatherproof and were sealed, so that the elements would not destroy the contents.
As for the sisters, they are presently living in tents and chicken coops (the convent had many chickens and sold organic eggs as a means of support). The government has promised to send pre-fab units to house some of the elderly nuns (there are about ten very elderly and invalid sisters). The weather there is very cold with heavy rains and snow in winter, since the convent is built at the foot of Mount Parnese. Fortunately, the water source of the convent was left intact after the earthquake (many times after earthquakes the wells are damaged and the water disappears). Also, although many rocks came down from the mountain side, none hit the building which houses the pumps, etc. This was considered a miracle by the government officials that visited the convent, as also that none, if not all, of the nuns were killed.
Many of our faithful from the U.S. who have been on the pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the 70's and 80's, when the pilgrimage would continue after the Holy Land in Greece, will remember the convent during our visit there. While in Greece, we invariably visited the shrines of St. Nectarios in Aegina, St. John the Russian in Euboia, St. Irene Chrysovalantou outside of Athens, as also the two great convents of the Dormition of the Theotokos at Parnitha and the Theotokos' Entry into the Temple at Keratea which are the two large convents of the Orthodox in Greece. The convent of Parnitha is where Metropolitan Chrysostom of Florina was buried and where his fragrant relics are found. The pilgrims will remember that no matter how many of us would how up in our charter bus, the sisters would always set up trapeza for us and feed us.
The Greek government has promised to help all the victims of earthquake financially in order to rebuild their damaged properties (more often than not they remain just promises). But in the instance of the convent they were told that since they do not come under the provisions for commercial properties (factories, stores, warehouses, etc.) or for privately owned properties (homes, apartments, etc.), they are not eligible for financial assistance. Being a convent, they were informed that the only way that they could received government assistance financially would be to apply through the local Metropolitan for the assistance given to damaged church properties. But should they do this, either they will be denied outright as not belonging to the State Church or told to recognize the local Metropolis and thus their properties will belong to the State Church and they will be forced to be in communion with the innovators. The sisters would rather die in the street than deny their witness and confession.
We, therefore, appeal to the kindness of your heart to generously help the sisters to get through the winter and begin re-building their convent in the spring. The Holy Mother of God, to whom the convent is dedicated, will reward you a hundred fold.
Donations can be sent directly to the convent, payable to:
Iera Moni Koimesis tis Theotokou
or send to
Holy Transfiguration Monastery
278 Warren Street
Brookline, MA 02445
earmarked for the Convent of Parnitha
Thank you, and may our Saviour and His Ever-Virgin Mother bless you. Amen.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
Page 1 of photos: Top photo: photo of undamaged building.
Middle photo: damaged church interior
Botoom photo: damaged monastery tower
Page 2 of photos:
1. Top left: exterior shot of damaged tower
2. Top right: exterior of damaged wall
3. Lower left: Exterior wall damage
4. Lower right: Interior wall damage
Page 3 of photos:
1. Additional interior damage
2. Temporary housing for nuns.