Saturday, January 13, 2018

“Pray… some donor may appear out of nowhere”

Kyriakos C.Markides.

His eminence Athanasios
Metropolitan of Limassol.
Father Maximos spent most of the morning in his office chatting with two fellows in their mid-twenties. They had arrived at the monastery two weeks earlier and were staying in a cell reserved for visitors. I assumed at the time that they were potential novices exploring the option of a monastic life. But Stephanos, being a kind of lay father figure to the younger monks and therefore having intimate knowledge of the goings-on in the monastery, informed me confidentially that the newcomers had a very severe drug problem. They had arrived with the aim of freeing them­selves from their deadly addiction, and were not primarily concerned with the salvation of their souls. Father Maximos was their therapist and the monastery was serving as a detoxification center of a sort.
I was sitting on the bench outside my cell reading when Father Max­imos came out of his office and waved at me to join them. It was then that the two young men volunteered to reveal in graphic detail how they had become addicted to drugs. One had just completed a two-year jail sen­tence for possession and use of cocaine. The other, a tall former Olympic athlete from Greece, had an even greater problem. "Bad company," he said, led him into all sorts of mischief and eventually to heroin addiction.  He was sent to Cyprus by his desperate parents, after they heard from a Cypriot friend of Father Maximos's reputation as a charismatic elder.
Had it not been for the hospitality and care they received at the Pana­gia monastery and Father Maximos's spiritual guidance, they would have been back on the streets, they both told me. When I asked them whether they considered the possibility of becoming monks they emphatically replied that they had no such intentions. Their temporary stay at the monastery was for purely therapeutic purposes. While staying there, how­ever, they had to follow the routine activities of the monks, including waking up at three-thirty every morning to attend long services, practicing the Jesus Prayer, fasting, and working in the gardens. This regimen apparently worked well for them, and while in the monastery the young men did not suffer any withdrawal symptoms. Father Maximos later told me that he was concerned that a brief stay at the monastery may not be sufficient for their long-term rehabilitation. An additional concern was how serious a problem drug addiction had become on the island, and how little the government was doing about it. He felt that he had to do something himself.
 That afternoon Father Maximos asked me to drive him half an hour down the
The monastery "Panagia" of "Machaira".
mountain to the construction site of the Holy Shelter, a drug re­habilitation center that had started a year earlier at Father Maximos' ini­tiative. During the ride he described the circumstances that led to the creation of the center.   
About a year and a half ago Father Maximos began to regularly visit an imprisoned young man in an attempt to help him with his drug prob­lem. This fellow was about to be released but there was no agency which could at that time take up his rehabilitation. Hearing this, Father Maximos did what he knew best, he prayed for him. Then an unusual incident took place at the monastery which, he considered a form of divine intervention and an answer to his prayers.
"It was very early in the morning, on the sixth of January, 1996, when a wild dog rushed into the monastery the moment the gate was opened. The dog was out of control. He bit Father Arsenios on the leg, and when Father Isaac tried to intervene he bit him on his right arm. It was terrible. Finally we managed to chase him out of the gate and shut it firmly. The dog would not leave and kept howling and barking outside. It was Epiphany and we were concerned about the safety of people coming for the morning service. So we called the police. Their response was that their job was not to handle stray dogs and that we should instead contact such and such an agency. So we did and what do you think their reaction was? They warned us not to harm the dog and to make sure that we fed him properly. Before arriving at the monastery they called several times to find out, not whether anyone was harmed, but about the welfare of the dog." Father Maximos chuckled in his usual way.
"After that experience, I thought that if there is so much concern about the well-being of wild dogs, why isn't there any concern about the welfare of drug addicts? If there are homes for stray dogs, how about a home for those recovering from drugs?"That episode with the dog," Father Maximos went on, "gave me the idea to begin the search for money in order to create a drug rehabilitation clinic. The first thing I did was to give a talk in Nicosia. To my great sur­prise, that very night many people volunteered to make donations and four thousand pounds [eight thousand dollars at that time] was raised. I had no idea what to do with that money. The following day I received a telephone call from a sixty-five-year-old woman who was a refugee. She had inherited five thousand pounds and wished to donate it for the project. So, we put all the money we had collected, by then nine thousand pounds, in a special account.
"The following Saturday," Father Maximos continued, as I cautiously steered the car down the rough dirt road, "I offered confession to pilgrims all day long. It was late in the afternoon when I finished and walked down the steps in a state of exhaustion. A woman, who I thought wished to see me for confession, was waiting for me. I said to her: My dear lady I am very tired. Please come some other day, I could hardly stand on my feet. But, Father: she persisted, “I want to talk to you about a very important matter”.”I am really sorry but I just can't help you”: I replied. I saw that there were two other women sitting on the steps and I assumed they had come for confession also. “Father”: she announced, “we would like to make a donation for the center you are creating.” “Thank you very much. But could you please give the money to Father Arsenios. He will give you a re­ceipt.” “But, Father”: she insisted, “I am talking about a lot of money.” I thought she meant something around a hundred pounds. “Father, you don't understand”: she said. “I am talking about half a million pounds!” [a million dollars at that time]. I froze. She repeated, “Did you hear me? Pounds, not drachmas.” “Are you serious”: I asked, “Or is this some kind of a joke?””o you see these two ladies sitting on the steps?” she replied. “Don't you know who they are?” How could I have known that they were the wives of Greek ship-owners? They had heard about the project and come to Cyprus to help out. That very day they pledged a quarter of a million pounds each.
drug rehabilitation clinic "Agia Skepy".
“The next day," Father Maximos went on as I drove and shook my head in disbelief, "a very wealthy Cypriot and his wife visited the monastery. When they heard about the donation they themselves pledged an additional quarter of a million pounds without even being asked."
"Kyriaco," Father Maximos said in earnest as he turned towards me, "wealthy friends of that couple pledged another one hundred thousand pounds. Within the span of just a week, a million pounds were collected without any effort on our part."
Father Maximos added that the monastery had donated its best parcel of land, several miles down the mountain, for the project and that con­struction had now entered the completion stage. "The “only problem left," he added, "is to find donors for the operating expenses."
"That's a serious problem. What are you going to do about that?" I asked as we approached the construction site.
With a wide smile on his face, he replied, "Pray some more." Father Maximos firmly believed that when people pray sincerely, from the heart, for the good of others, the Almighty always responds in one form or an­other.
The drug rehabilitation center was in the middle of an ancient olive grove, a serene place befitting the purpose for which it was being created. The two-story, square building was almost completed, looking like a monastery with a large yard in the middle and traditional arches all around. Father Maximos was particularly meticulous about aesthetics and he made certain that the building would blend with the surrounding countryside. "You know," he said while showing me around, "this place would have made a wonderful seminary."
"Well, pray some more and you never know, some donor may appear out of nowhere" I joked.

Daily activities in the center.

The center's products.

Note: Father Maximos in the book "The Mountain of Silence" represents his eminence Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, and the rehabilitation center is the foundation "Agia Skepy", that belongs to the monastery "Machaira". It was founded in 1999, by his eminence who was at that time the abbot of the monastery.

"The Mountain of Silence", Kyriakos C.Markides, (2002)