The following is from “The Scent of Holiness”
by Constantina R. Palmer
The Great Panagia
The love and admiration the saints have for the Most Holy Theotokos is one of the main common characteristics of their holiness. Countless are the stories in which you read of the saints’ devotion to the All-holy Lady. St. Mary of Egypt went to live out her days in the desert after her encounter with an icon of the Mother of God. St. Nektarios wrote hymns to her in Ancient Greek to demonstrate his love and devotion to her. And Elder Joseph the Hesychast could barely say her name without tears streaming down his face.
Elder Isidoros the blind was also like that. One evening, sitting down with a group of people, he bowed his head and crossed himself while tears rolled down his cheeks. Wiping them away, he said, “Excuse me, but at this time of night the love of the Mother of God pulls me.”
“That’s why,” the nuns told me, “he won’t speak about Panagia in front of too many people. He’ll start to cry.”
One afternoon I sat with the elder in the reception room. Since we were alone, I thought I’d take the opportunity to start up the conversation about the Mother of God he had said we would have.
“Papouli, why don’t you talk to me about Panagia now?”
“Okay, what you would like to know?”
“Why don’t you just tell me about her?” I asked him.
“She is . . . she is . . .” he said, raising his hand in the air and waving it in a circular motion— a gesture Greeks do when they are either pleased or annoyed about something.
“She is . . . she is . . . she’s like . . .” he said, rubbing his hands together and ever so slightly smiling.
“I can’t describe her. She’s indescribable!” he finally said.
He then started singing the Supplicatory Canon to her: “Now to God’s Mother let us humble sinners run in haste and in repentance let us fall down before her feet, crying aloud with fervor from the depths of our souls, ‘Sovereign Lady, help us now, have compassion upon us, hasten for we perish from our many offenses. Let not your servants go empty away; we have you as our only hope.’” “Do you have the Paraclesis * here?” the elder asked.
“Yes, Papouli, but it’s in English,” I told him.
“Ah, never mind,” he said. He leaned his head back and rested it against the wall.
“How can we become like her?” I asked.
“You know she lived in the Temple from the age of three on,” he said.
“Yes, I know. She was the first hesychast.”
“That’s right! That’s right!” he said. “She was the most pure person that ever lived. She was pure because she never once accepted a bad thought. Not once. She kept her mind, her soul, and her body perfectly pure.”
I understood this to be his answer to my question. We can become like her if we also control our thoughts and struggle to attain purity of heart and mind.
He sang some different hymns to her and then he told me, “The more we cry out to her, the more she will harken to our prayers.”
I knew he spoke from experience. For, although he was blind since birth, when he went to the Holy Mountain to become a monk, his sight was gradually restored. For ten days he could see, but he told the Mother of God, “Panagia, take my sight back so I don’t lose Paradise.”
And she did.
But he wasn’t truly blind. He simply couldn’t use his bodily eyes. He’s been known to describe things in detail, things he couldn’t possibly know if he were truly blind. “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind’” (John 9: 39).
Palmer, Constantina (2012-10-05). The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery (Kindle Locations 3069-3099). Conciliar Press. Kindle Edition.
Elder Isidoros the Blind