Tom Mitrakos is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Political Science and Economics, was co-captain of the football team, and was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. He also has a teaching degree in secondary education, and taught Sunday school for 15 years at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh. For the past 35 years he has been a homebuilder. He has made many pilgrimages to Mt. Athos and to the U.S. monasteries of St. Anthony’s in Arizona, Holy Archangels in Texas, and St. Nectarios in New York. He was instrumental in establishing the first Greek Orthodox monastery in America for Elder Ephraim, in an effort to help monasticism gain a foothold in America. Tom created and has been writing the Daily Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints & Fasting Calendar for the last 20 years. It is sold in the United States, Canada, and around the world, and can be purchased online at www.LivesoftheSaintsCalendar.com. His other book, Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers, is a compilation of wisdom and writings of the saints, which are categorized by subject, such as humility, sin, love, faith, etc. He also writes a satire column for local newspapers about things that set his teeth on edge, and will soon be writing a blog for the Huffington Post. Tom is married to Georgia, and they have three talented sons – Nicholas, Michael, and Gabriel.
We arrived at the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos in Greece, and it was freezing out. It was the first day of Great Lent. The monks always fast strictly, and especially so during these first three days. Of course their prayer life gives them the strength to endure this. I was just worried that my snacks might give out.
The monastery is built on the edge of a cliff 1,100 feet above the sea. A seagull soared right past our balcony. And I’ll never forget that hot cup of mountain tea with honey that the fathers gave us. I felt like it saved my life. Our group of pilgrims included our priest Father John Chakos, who is now heavily involved with the Guatemala orphanage and shepherding the growing Orthodox conversions there, and Dr. Mike Pappas.
One evening after vespers, the fathers brought out some holy relics, so that we might venerate them. This included the most sacred relic of Simonopetra, the incorrupt left hand of the myrrh-bearing woman, St. Mary Magdalene.
The hand exudes a beautiful fragrance, still gives off warmth, and works many miracles.
During a raging forest fire in 1945 that was affecting several monasteries on Athos, two hieromonks took the holy relic and approached the fire. They began a Holy Water Service then chanted a Supplication Service to St. Mary Magdalene. By the time the services were done, the fire was completely extinguished. Miracles also happened to rid the area around Thessalonica of plant eating worms, and later swarms of locusts.
I’ll never forget Dr. Pappas’ look of excitement when he exclaimed, “I got to hold the hand of St. Mary Magdalene who washed the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I feel that a relic can be like a time capsule that brings us viscerally in touch with the past, with the words and events in the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers.
Seeing the relics of St. Nectarios, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Spyridon, and reading their writings, their miracles, and their travails, causes me to feel a kinship with them, like they’re big brothers and sisters. Actually, it’s like they are reaching out to hold our hands, to bring us closer to God.
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