How often did our Lord tell his followers that God’s ways are not the ways of the world? How many times did he turn accepted “wisdom” upside down? How much of his teaching was counter-intuitive for the worldly? The saints are people who have taken our Lord’s words to heart and followed him completely. St. Sophia the Righteous is one from the last century who shows us the way.
Sophia was born in the village of Trebizond, Turkey, and led the normal life of a devout Orthodox Christian in this area of the world for the first part of her life. Remaining in her village among her extended family, she married and had a son. But her life began to change after seven years of marriage when her husband mysteriously disappeared and then her infant son died. Sophia took her grief and loneliness to God in prayer, spending much of her time on a nearby mountain top. Her life as an ascetic had begun.
In 1919, just prior to the forced exchange of Christians from Turkey with Muslims from Greece, Sophia left with others from her village to go to Greece. There was a violent storm as they traveled by sea and when the winds subsided, the captain remarked that there must be a very righteous person aboard, as all were saved. The other passengers looked toward Sophia, who had spent the entire time in a corner of the ship, praying. Years later, she recalled this incident and told how, to her eyes, the waves had been filled with angels.
Upon arrival in Greece, Sophia had a vision of the Mother of God, who said to her: “Come to my house.” When she asked where her house was, she was told “in Kleisoura.” So Sophia found the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Kleisoura and moved there. Although she never officially became a monastic, she remained in the monastery for the rest of her life.
Sophia lived in the monastery kitchen, where she slept only a few hours every night in the cold fireplace. She ate very little – only enough to survive – and her clothing was torn and her sandals had holes in them. In the eyes of the world, this woman was a “tramp”; indeed, the villagers called her “Crazy Sophia.” But in the eyes of God, she was already a saint.
Sophia did as St. Paul commanded and “prayed without ceasing”, keeping a lighted votive lamp before a fresco of the Blessed Virgin. When anyone gave her new clothing, she would immediately give it away to a poor person. She sometimes also received gifts of money, which she would hide and then retrieve whenever she discovered another person’s need.
Having shed all the trappings of the world and having left behind all the habits, customs, desires, and needs of the worldly, Sophia was in greater communion with the saints and angels and was endowed with the gift of foreknowledge. When visitors cane to the monastery to see her, she would call them by name before they introduced themselves and she knew their problems and family circumstances without their telling her. Her advice was always simple and clear.
Often visitors to the monastery videotaped their conversations with Sophia so that not only her words are preserved but also the sight of this humble ascetic. Among her many simple sayings are these:
The fear of God makes a person wise. What is the fear of God? Not that one should be afraid of God, but to be afraid to sadden someone, to harm someone, to do them no wrong, and to not make accusations. This is wisdom. After all this, God will illumine you as to what to do in your life.
The angels speak every day. God sends the angels to see if people are repenting.
In 1967, Sophia became very ill with a disease affecting her stomach. Without medical attention, she was healed through a vision of St. Mary, St. George, and the Archangel Gabriel. As with most ascetics, Sophia had a great affinity for wild animals such as bears in the nearby forest and birds and snakes.
When she fell asleep in the Lord on May 6, 1974, Sophia was buried on the monastery grounds. In 2011, St. Sophia the Righteous was named among the saints by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. She is known as an eldress because of her simple wisdom and an ascetic because of her prayer and fasting. We ask for the intercessions of St. Sophia the Righteous, especially for the poor and needy and for those who grieve. Holy Sophia, pray for us.