|The path from the monastery to the olive grove. M. Fotinia|
The Corfu Island… Contemporary city-dwellers imagine the endless azure sea with the broad patterns of foam crested waves, beaches with warm sand and countless sights, which could be visited on the well-known Greek Island, literally overflowing with tourists in summer time.
Here, at the very top of the mountain, in the heart of the half-wild ever-green nature, mother superior Fotinia, the Abbess of the monastery dedicated to St. Parasceve, leads an austere secluded life of labor, deprivation and hardship. It is already four years since m. Fotinia, with the blessing of Elder Ephraim and of the local bishop, began without income the re-building of the abandoned and derelict monastery, founded over 100 years ago. Working on keeping the Jesus Prayer, Mother Fotina relies on God and on the help of kind people. At the moment she is the only inhabitant of the monastery, but soon a novice is expected.
Mother Fotinia’s life (Christine Marshall in the world) has been unusual in comparison to what we might expect from her origins. Christine was born and raised in a well to do family in Paris and never lacked in material things. She received a very good philological and mathematical education. In her early student years her soul was looking for God and monkshood. At that time she started singing in a church choir and at the age of 23, as her heart was inflamed by the desire to devote herself to God, she left everything in the world and withdrew to a convent. Many years of struggles, temptations, spiritual trials and joy, praying and physical labor have passed since that time.
Six years ago m. Fotinia moved to the convent on the island of Corfu, and after two years, with the blessing of her spiritual father, Elder Ephraim from Mont Athos, she moved into the seclusion of St. Parasceve Desert (Pustynia) and began the work of rebuilding the derelict convent. At the present, have been finished sister’s cells and a little chapel dedicated to saint Silouan the Athonite. Recently the refectory has been completed as well. The construction of the priest’s house is still in progress and the reconstruction of the main church is being planned.
The daily schedule of M. Fotinia’s life is not so easy. According to the tradition of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, a great part of the services are completed in a cell with the Jesus Prayer. The following rule is laid down in the convent. The cell rule of prayer starts at 1.30 am, followed by Midnight Office and Matins completed with the prayer rope in a cell.
The Hours are served in the church at 4 am. Then there comes free time or time for the rest in a cell. The hard physical work at the building site begins at 9 am; mother Abbess with one or two workers have to carry stones, heavy buckets with sand and water, mix the cement, and prepare the materials and tools for the workers. After the workers’ departure and a short rest, mother Fotinia prays Vesper. The evening time is dedicated to the translation of the spiritual literature. The translation work provides a meager income, which is entirely spent on the reconstruction of the convent. Nights are set aside for a longer prayer. M. Fotinia hardly allows herself more than 4 hours for sleeping.
Many monasteries in Russia has been involved in the translation of the spiritual literature written by the Spiritual Fathers of the Church. The Writings of Nil Sorskiy, translations of Paisius Velichkovsky and saint Theophan the Recluse are well-known in Russia. Translation is an important part of m. Fotinia‘s monastic life: she translates orthodox literature from Russian, English and Greek into French (“Letters of the Abbess Thaisia”, “The Counsels of the Abbot Nazarius from Valaam”, “The Life and Miracles of St. Spyridon the Wonderworker”, etc), from Russian and French into English and Greek, and from Greek into Russian and English.
|The Entrance to the Monastery of St. Paraskeva|
Currently, m. Fotinia is translating the writings of Elder Paisios from Greek into French.
The convent owns an olive grove of 800 trees and a variety of other fruit trees. They are entirely under the care of m. Fotinia and she is interested in the development of their potential as another source of income for the monastery.
The big estate, the summer haymaking time, the autumn-winter season of harvesting olives and collecting wood for heating are hard labor for m. Fotinia. God Himself teaches her to rely constantly on His help and on the prayers of her Elder.
All forms of support, prayers and any financial contribution will be gratefully received by m. Fotinia.
With gratitude M. Fotinia will receive orthodox people wishing to help with their own hands to re-build the convent.