Word Magazine November 1998 Page 8-9

By Father Luke Veronis

During my five years as a missionary in Albania, one of the highlights of my experience has been meeting the living “saints” of the land. I’ve met a priest who spent twenty-seven years in prison, suffering under the most inhumane conditions. Despite such affliction, he shows no bitterness, but always radiates a deep, inner peace, joy and love. His afflictions didn’t harden him in a resentful way, as has happened to others, but drew him always closer to God. One comment he made to me remains in my mind, He simply understated, “Sometimes I look back at those days and realize how simple things were. Each day, all I had to do was suffer for Christ. Every day I would simply tell Jesus, ‘I’m doing this all for you’.”

Another inspiration for me was a simple villager who quietly hid icons and priest vestments in his house in 1967 when the State declared all religious expression forbidden and all churches closed. This man piously thought that he would keep these religious artifacts safe for one day in the future when the Church would reopen. Unfortunately, some neighbor reported him to the authorities and he was sent to prison for nine years. Nine years of suffering, but he also showed little anger. He did it for the sake of his Lord.

But always my greatest inspirations have come from the three holy women of Korea — Demetra, Marika and Berta. These are the women who practiced and lived their faith throughout the years of communism. They secretly invited Fr. Kosma to come to their home occasionally and hold Divine Liturgies at 2:00 am; they covertly baptized children; they carefully taught people about the faith; they quietly showed people how to pray; and they even left little Bible verses and short prayers in hidden places around the city for some unsuspecting person passing by. But their greatest witness was the intensity of their prayers. Once they heard a priest tell them about the importance of “unceasing prayer.” So they decided, with several other devout women, to pray without stopping during a forty-day Lenten period before Easter.

Praying for forty days in a row, twenty-four hours a day, without stopping. They organized themselves to alternate in continuous two-hour shifts, so that someone would be praying at every moment during the forty days. Their prayers were focused on the reopening of the Church in their lifetime, as well as on specific needs of individuals who suffered at that time. And they found such comfort and strength in this prayer rule that they repeated this during many other Lenten periods.

Surely, through the prayers of such faithful, saintly women, as well as through the blood of countless martyrs, God brought about the fall of communism and the re-establishment of the Church in Albania. As the Bible says, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Today, in 1998, 1 believe we witnessed another miracle through the power of prayer. Let me very briefly give the background situation. The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, under the direction of Archbishop Anastasios, has been struggling to establish its Holy Synod of Bishops since its resurrection in 1992. A deadlock existed between the Albanian government, who insisted that any new bishops must be ethnic Albanians, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who electd three Greek archimandrites to become bishops back in 1992. For six years, periodic dialogue, visits and discussion brought few results. Archbishop Anastasios understood that this unresolved issue created dangerous problems for the development of the Church, and even risked the Church’s future unity. So he made his main goal for 1998 the establishment of the Holy Synod. For such a solution to occur, much prayer would be needed.

Of course, Archbishop Anastasios is a very prayerful man, who has been constantly interceding for such a resolution. But others around the country also began praying more fervently. One Saturday in June, when I happened to visit the holy sisters of Korea, they announced to me, “Do you know what today is? Today, our women’s group just finished forty days of “unceasing prayer” (every moment of each day), asking God to bring a resolution to our problem of the Holy Synod. And now we told all the women in our group to personally pray for the next forty days the Paraclesis (Supplication Service) to the Virgin Mary every day in their homes, asking our holy Mother to intercede on behalf of this problem.”

Once again I stood in awe at the fervency and faith of these holy women. What an inspiration, and a lesson, to so many of us who constantly complain or become anx­ious over our problems, instead of following the advice of St. Paul when he wrote, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

At the end of July, after Archbishop Anastasios met with both government officials and the Ecumenical Patriarch, a solution was reached. Six years of anxious waiting ended. Three new bishops were ordained and enthroned — Metropolitan IGNATIOS of Berat, Metropolitan JOHN of Korea, and Bishop KOSMA of Apollonia (the priest who used to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the middle of the night in Korea). The Holy Synod was finally formed.

“The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective!” God continues to hear the prayers of his saints even today. Let us all thank the Lord for the prayers of such holy people. May we all strive to imitate their example in our own lives!