Monday, June 22, 2015

From the Sorcerer to the Priest ( Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver )

During a morning shift, a few months ago, I was driving back and forth on a central road, looking for my next customer, as taxi drivers often do. It was 11am, and for some reason work was surprisingly slow. I kept circling the neighborhood, but to my dismay there wasn’t a customer in sight. I made one final effort without any success, so feeling a bit disheartened, I moved over to a new neighborhood. As I was driving down the central road, a lady jumped in front of me shouting “Taxi, taxi, please, stop! I want you to help my parents.”

When I heard the word “help”, my mind went to either very heavy suitcases, or to some very elderly people with special needs. I was wrong on both accounts, even though, they were elderly. The father, I found out after they entered my taxi, was eighty-five years old. He sat in the front seat. The eighty-year-old mother, along with the daughter, sat in the back.

I was waited for them to give me their destination address, but no one was speaking, so I turned around and asked, “Excuse me, where are we going?” The daughter answered with, “My mother wants to tell you something.”

I looked to the elderly lady and asked, “Tell me where you want me to take you.”

“Look my son, we were told that in this neighborhood there is a very good sorcerer, and we want you to help us find him.”

“A sorcerer? And what do we wish to accomplish with the sorcerer, yiayia?”[1]

The daughter suddenly intervened, broke down in tears, asking, “Forgive me my good man; what’s your name?”

“My name is Thanasi.”

“Look, Mr. Thanasi, and please forgive me for crying, but for some time now our household has been going through a terrible drama because my mother believes that someone cast a spell on her. From dawn until dusk, she accuses, swears, and curses at my father because she believes that he may have angered these people who cast the spell on her. This unjust Mr. Thanasi because my father, as you can easily see, is a blameless lamb. He is meek, humble, full of love, and he bears the curses and the daily humiliation of my mother, not only now, but for as long as I can remember. Never once did I hear him rendering back the slightest recompense against my mother. He bears them all, and for many years now.”

I turned to look at the papou, and I was sincerely impressed by his demeanor. He hadn’t opened his mouth to say one word or to offer even the slightest complain. The poor fellow seemed sullen, his hands were crossed, and his face was downcast. He reminded me a bit of my reposed father.

“This morning,” the daughter continued, “was the worst. My mother started again at dawn with her usual refrain: ‘Unless you take me to a sorcerer I will lose my mind, I will go crazy. I can’t take it anymore. Don’t you understand that only a sorcerer can free me from these terrible spells? Now take me to him! Take me to him!’

Unable to help her, in the end, my father and I gave in to her demands. We took to the streets to find a cab driver to lead us to the door of a sorcerer, but instead he dropped us off at the spot where you picked us up. The last driver was clueless. I don’t know what else to do to help my mother. I am truly desperate. Is there anything you can do to help us?”

After the daughter unfolded the tale of her family’s drama, I asked her to give me some time to talk to her mother, without intervening and interrupting.

I pulled the car off to the side, turned off the engine, and said a quick little prayer and said, “My Christ please give me a few words to say to these souls because I am very weak, and this is well beyond my capabilities.” I then turned to see for myself if she was in her right mind, taking into account all that was said. To my surprise, not only was she well, but this yiayia was sharp as a tack. She also seemed to be fairly well educated.

“My yiayia, please tell me, what do you think is the main cause of your troubles?”

“Look, my dear Thanasi, my daughter has already told you. We heard that somewhere in this vicinity, there is a very good sorcerer. We asked across the street, at the café, but no one knows a thing about this. We thought you, being a taxi driver, might know where he is located. So please take us to him and we will pay you extra. I need to put a stop to this torture inside of me; I can’t take it anymore.” She began crying.

“My dear yiayia, you are asking me to take you to a sorcerer? It is a good thing I don’t know where any of those charlatans may be. Even if I did know, I would be committing the greatest of crime if I were to take you. I would be doing you the greatest of evils. Then, you would see what real torture means. May God forbid such evil! Now, please tell me, what exactly makes you think that you may be a victim of sorcery.

“Look here on my arm,” she pleaded. “My whole body is the same way. I am a hundred percent sure that they have cast a spell on me. That’s why I want you to hurry and take us to the local sorcerer- so he can remove it.”

“I don’t see anything on your hand, but since you insist so much, I’ll take you. Now, answer me this before we go, if you don’t mind, how is your standing with the church?”

“Good, very good. I am a Christian Orthodox woman, I believe in God; although, I haven’t gone to church for a long time.”

“Since you claim that you are in very good standing with the church, and you say that you believe in God, how do you reconcile the church with sorcery? I don’t get it, these two are diametrically opposite. Haven’t you ever heard my good yiayia ‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24)?’ ”

“We cannot have two bosses. Either we are with the church, or with the sorcerers. Either we are with Christ, or with the devil. There is no middle ground. On the Day of Judgment, my yiayia, each person will be compensated by his own boss. Are we working for Christ? We will be rewarded with eternal life, eternal joy, inexpressible joy, and glory. Or are we working for the devil? We would be paid with eternal hell. As Revelation tells us, 'And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die and death will fly from them’ (Rev. 9:6). In other words, the damned people will seek death to be liberated from their torture, but there will be no such thing. They will be living this torture eternally, without being able to be delivered, because they themselves selected it. They stubbornly maintained their pride and their thick egotism, refusing to repent. No one will be damned, because he is sinful, but because he chose not to repent. I remember a priest telling me, ‘My Thanasi, I pray that no one ends up in hell, not even the rocks, let alone people.’ So do you understand, my yiayia, what dangerous doors you are about to enter?”

I continued, “I will ask you one more thing, because I truly care about you. “Have you ever been to holy Confession?”

“Yes, I have, but it was a long time ago.”

“May I ask, how long?”

“It has been about four or five years for me and for papou[2], from what I can remember, it has been about a year and a half.”

When I heard, my friends, that this woman was once going to church, and that she had her spiritual father, I immediately realized that the devil had set up shop here. How can we get rid of the devil, now when he had the yiayia hooked. As you also may know, my friends, when we make a stand, and I mean a spiritual stand, the devil doesn’t lose any opportunity to rush back in, enraged, to claim the rights we once gave him. He will not only bite us but devour us, and even then he will not be satiated. He is so hateful, that he cannot be evicted without two things: the sincere repentance of the person, followed by confession to a priest. The devil doesn't bother those who are indifferent, and even less those in heresies, such as the false witnesses of Jehovah, the Pentecostals, the Evangelicals, the Mormons; and the Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims, Buddhists, and the Hindus. The devil does not trouble them because they are his. He already has them under his wing, so why would he bother with them? The devil dictates, and they listen.

You, however, the Orthodox Christian, baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, and struggling for the cleansing of passions and development of virtues, you are a target. In other words, you are struggling for your salvation, and he wants to prevent it. Orthodox Christians are like live fish that are going against the current of the river. The devil isn’t interested in dead fish. He’s not concerned about them, because they belong to him. He wants to catch the live ones.”

I tried to use various examples to help the elderly lady to understand, that it was the devil who planted in her mind these thoughts of being victimized by sorcery, and it was so he could take her under his control.

In spite of all my words and examples, and her daughter’s disapproval, the yiayia was adamant, refusing to listen to anything or anyone.

As Greek Orthodox taxi drivers, hang a Crucifix from our rear-view mirrors. It caught my attention and, enlightened by Him at that moment, I took the Crucified One in my fist and I shouted from the top of my lungs, “Listen Christ, You are you so weak, so small and insignificant that we have come to the conclusion that you can no longer help us. Since you are not able to do anything, we have decided to abandon you and go to the sorcerers to solve our problems, since you are not able to do anything. Good bye Lord; we are leaving You!"

These words given to me by the enlightenment of the All Holy Spirit at that very crucial moment acted like sticks of dynamite. This dynamite blew up whatever sinful construction the devil was attempting to build in this soul. The devil begins such construction whenever we give him the right of way and distance ourselves from Christ, His Church, and the power of His mysteries.

How I wish that I had a video camera to record this most beautiful scene in the taxi! Words cannot capture such moments. The daughter began crying profusely and thanking God, her head in her hands. The yiayia raised her little arms towards heaven and shouted, “My God, my God! What man did you send us?” The papou lifted up his hand to wipe tears of joy from his eyes. I wonder how many years he had been waiting for this very moment!

Now that the yiayia seemed to recover a bit from her daze and the delusion of the devil, I took hold of her hand and told her, “Do you understand now, my dear one, what you were setting out to do? You were on your way to pay the sorcerer to tie a time bomb around your waste.”

“I know it, I know it, my dear Thanasi; and I thank God that He sent you before us. May I also tell you something strange that happened before you pulled over for us?”

“Yes, please, tell me.”

“Before you stopped for us, four empty taxis passed us by.”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Thanasi, my mother is telling you the truth.”

“I was assured even more when the papou spoke and said, “Yes, my lad, believe me, four vacant taxis passed in front of us, and not a single one stopped as if we were totally invisible! What a strange phenomenon!”

When I heard these words, I was truly shaken. Then it became clear to me why I exhausted myself going up and down the streets of the previous neighborhood, unable to find a customer. The hand of God was in this. Oh, my friends, these are indescribable moments; such moments will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Overtaken by love and joy, I turned to them and said, “The first thing we need to do now is to retrace our footsteps back to the spiritual father.”

“Yes, my dear Thanasi, you are right; we will go next week.”

“No, my yiayia, we should not wait until next week. By next week the devil and his demons will run circles around us, and have us tangled up all over again with his crafty techniques of procrastination and self justification. He will whisper to you that everything is normal, and what you did isn’t even significant. The devil will use every possible craft to keep us disconnected from the mysteries of the Church. My suggestion is that I take you back to your home, so all of you can rest and relax for a few hours. In the afternoon, after I finish my work, God willing, I will return so we can all go together to your spiritual father. Are we all in agreement?”

“You will do this great favor for us, my dear Thanasi?”

“It will be my honor to accompany you as if you were my own beloved mother.”

“Yes, but our spiritual father, from what I remember, has moved to a village outside of the city.”

“Don’t worry my dear; we will go and the ride is on me for the love of our Christ.”

At the end of my last sentence the entire family was once again moved to tears. As the daughter was crying, she explained that she had not been to confession since her childhood, and that was only once; but she vowed to be the first one to open her heart to the father confessor.

So we headed back to their home with the understanding that in the afternoon we would all go to meet the spiritual father. They gave me the priest's telephone number, so that I could make the arrangements. I called him, and said, “Father John, your blessing. My name is Thanasi and I’m a taxi driver. Earlier in the day, I picked up some spiritual children of yours [and I mentioned the family name]. Do you remember them?”

“Yes of course, I remember them, but I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

“Please, I hope and pray that you can meet with us this afternoon. Something disastrous was about to happen, but the grace of God intervened and protected us just in the nick of time. Now they’d like to come to you for confession.”

“I will be pleased to see them; I will wait for you this afternoon in the village.”

After a few hours, when I returned the taxi to the station, I took my personal car, and we all set out together for the priest’s village. Along the way, we discussed beautiful and soul benefiting things about how a Christian must confess, above all, with sincere repentance. At one point I turned to the daughter and said, “The time has come for you, my dear. This is your special time, so don’t lose this opportunity.”

“No, Mr. Thanasi, no,” she replied. “From the moment we met, it has been the only thing on my mind. I know that our meeting is not by chance. This not only concerns my parents, but me as well. Apparently, my own hour is also before me: I feel eager to go to confession.”

When we arrived, the presvytera received us with much love. Then, the priest came to greet us and we hastened to receive his blessing. Afterwards, we sat together on the veranda, and had a general conversation concerning the traps of sorcery.

The spiritual father offered us beautiful words of wisdom. He spoke to us about the many interspersed traps of the devil, not excluding the one that he set to plague this family. He reprimanded the elderly lady in a spiritual and loving way. He made her understand that the great evil that she was about to bring upon her entire family, by seeking the services of a sorcerer, was due to apostasy: the distancing from the mystery of repentance and confession. After this brief and edifying sermon, all three took their turn in the confessional, exiting with joy and peace painted on their faces, and with promises that they would now do this more often. At the end, we received a final blessing from the priest, thanked his wife for her love and care, and headed back home.

When we arrived outside their home, I parked and got out to assist the elderly. Then, when the time of my departure came, the papou broke down crying. He cried hysterically, opened his arms, and hugged me, saying, “My dear Thanasi, let me kiss you, let me kiss you, my boy, please.” While we hugged each other, I told him, “I need to kiss you, my father, because I love you very much and I am so happy that I have met you." The papou didn’t want to let go of me. He was crying like a little child. Then, it was the yiayia’s turn. She also came crying to hug me, saying, “My dear Thanasi, I thank you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you only knew how much joy you have given us!”

“Not I, my sweet yiayia,” I said, “Not I, but the grace of God.”

She hugged me, kissed me, and heaped upon me a thousand blessings. I thanked her kindly, and told her that I also wanted to ask her a favor.

“Whatever you want, my dear Thanasi, whatever you want!”

“I would like to ask only one thing: I would like you to stop insulting and abusing papou. He is such an angel. Why are you hurting him? You grew old on the same pillow. It is a shame now for you to lose the crown in your golden years.”

“You are right, my son, I give you my word, I will not distress him again.”

Finally the daughter’s turn came. Her eyes running with tears, she squeezed my hand and said, “Mr. Thanasi, I don’t have the words to thank you. What can I say?”

“There is no need to say anything, other than ‘Glory to Thee, Oh God,’ nothing else.”

While driving back to my home, three things stood out in my mind. First, it became clear to me why I went up and down on that road so many times without finding a customer. Second, the warm embrace of this elderly gentleman reminded me of my deceased father who reposed when I served in the military[3]. It has been thirty years since I felt such a warm fatherly hug. The third thing that impressed me was the patience, meekness, and love of this elderly fellow. He acted in a loving, Christ like manner by putting up with the daily abuse, curses, and insults of his wife without any grumbling or thoughts of retribution. Needless to say, my friends, I benefited greatly from this blessed meeting!

[1] Grandmother.

[2] Grandfather

[3] Military service in Greece is mandatory and men must appear on their 18th birthday unless they enter a university at which point they will enlist after graduation.
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