Saint Filotheï was born in Athens to illustrious parents, the only child of Angelos Benizelos and his wife Syriga. She was called Filotheï when she became a nun, but before then her name was Revoula. Her mother had been barren and had begged God to give her a child. One night, she saw a powerful light emerging from the icon of the Mother of God and entering her womb. And that light was, indeed, the soul of her saintly daughter, who was born nine months later.
Even as a young child, she demonstrated by her behaviour and feelings what she would later become, adorned with every kind of virtue. Her guide in her devotions was her own mother, who made her a most God-fearing person. When she reached the age of 12, a certain local dignitary asked for her in marriage but the girl did not wish to marry. On the other hand, her parents were pressing her and her gentle soul was such that she couldn’t bear to make them sad by ignoring their wishes, and so, in the end, she agreed to marry this wealthy person, who was, however, anything but rich in his soul. He was a perverted and wicked man. Revoula lived with him for three years, putting up with his sudden mood swings, until he died and she became a widow. Her parents wanted to marry her off again, but she was adamant that she wanted to become a nun.
When her parents died, ten years after she herself had been widowed, she gladly took up her ascetic struggle, with fasting, prayers, vigils and acts of charity. She gave spiritual instruction to her servants and made them vessels of the Spirit. She saw Saint Andrew in her sleep and, in accordance with his will, built a monastery, the church of which was dedicated to him. This is the church which still stands to this day, next to the location of the episcopate on Saint Filotheï Street. When the monastery had been built, Revoula was tonsured a nun with the name of Filotheï. The first nuns who lived with her had been servants in her parents’ house. As time passed, however, a great many other young women flocked to the monastery, some of them from illustrious families, and took the monastic habit. They all lived their ascetic life under the direction of their abbess, who guided them along their path as if she were another Saint Synklitiki. She had the gift of inspiring them through her words and they blossomed under her tutelage. And her words and works were confirmed, as it were, by Christ, Who said “whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Math. 5, 19).
If she heard of someone poor, unhappy, sick, at death’s door, she would hurry to their side with greater goodwill than if she were receiving help from someone else. She built hospitals and old people’s homes near the monastery, and took care not only of the patients’ medical requirements and bodily food but also of their spiritual needs. As time passed, the number of nuns increased greatly, which brought great hardships because the abbess couldn’t meet the vast expenses, and the nuns began to complain. But the saint calmed them with words of patience and God sent His help in one way or another, so that the difficulties were overcome.
Apart from the local girls whom she gathered at her monastery, she also provided shelter for women who had come to Athens from a variety of places as slaves to the Turks. It’s not possible in this brief text to describe in detail the risks she ran and the torment she felt over hiding them. Four of these slaves had heard of Saint Filotheï and, since they were being maltreated by their masters in an effort to make them renounce their faith, they slipped away and sought refuge in the monastery. The saint took them in, confirmed them in their faith and waited for an opportunity to send them back to their proper homes. But the Turks who had lost the slaves learned that Filotheï had taken them in and burst into her cell in a raging fury. She was lying there, ill, but they dragged her out and brought her before the pasha. He ordered that she be thrown into prison. The saint wasn’t afraid, but prepared to spill her blood for her faith in Christ. The next day, a large number of Turks gathered and began shouting that they should kill the saint. The pasha ordered that she be brought out of prison to appear before him. He told her to choose: she could either renounce her faith or lose her head. The saint replied fearlessly, however, that she was ready to be martyred for Christ. The pasha would have declared the verdict, but a group of eminent Christians arrived and, through their pleading, succeeded in changing his mind and he gave orders instead for her release.
On her return to the monastery, the saint continued, as before, to walk in the path of Christ. And since her disciples were becoming ever more numerous, she built another monastery in Patisia, also in the name of Saint Andrew. She also built dependencies in Tzia and on Aegina and would send there any nuns who had to be got out of Athens, for whatever reason. In all their monastic houses, the nuns worked at the loom or did other handiwork like bees busy in a hive. Poor or orphaned girls found protection and work in these shelters. On all the land she had inherited from her parents she built monasteries and poor houses. And she was, indeed, very rich. One of her great-grandfathers had married the “daughter of the boss of Athens and was given the whole of Kivisia and the Akhladokampos before Khaliantri as a dowry”. On the land she had in Perisos, she built another monastery on the site they now call Kalogreza (Nun). All the poor of the region had her as a caring mother. She tried with all means at her disposal to bring relief to the wretched: she fed them, opened up wells for them so that they had water, healed them and found them work. People called her “Lady Teacher”.
(to be continued)