St. Sophia the Ascetic icon
Orthodox icon of Saint Sophia of Kleisoura Monastery, the Ascetic. Contemporary icon.
Commemorated May 6th.
Sophia Saoulidi, the "ascetic of the Panagia", was born of Amanatiou and Maria Saoulidi in a village of Trebizond in Pontus of Asia Minor in 1883. She was also married there years later in 1907 to Jordan Hortokoridou, but after seven years her husband disappeared (likely not of his own will) in 1914 and she was left with a newborn son who soon thereafter died. These tragedies helped shape her piety and repentant spirit, making her rely solely upon God. Her asceticism began in Pontus on a mountain away from her relatives. It was there that one day Saint George appeared to her and warned her to notify the villagers of a coming persecution and to flee, and in this way she saved the village.
Her soul breathed Christ and the Panagia with her simple and humble love. "One is the Lord and one is the Lady", she would say of Christ and the Panagia, "the rest of us are all siblings."
She was a teacher of the simple, especially of women, and every word that came from her lips was spoken with humility and love. As with many "fools for Christ" of the past, the proud and the educated didn't recognize her worth as much as those who possessed simple and humble hearts.
She came to Greece in 1919 as an exile. The name of the ship that carried her was Saint Nicholas, so when they arrived in Greece the Panagia appeared to her and said: "Come to my house." Sophia asked: "Where are you and where is your house?" The Panagia responded: "I am in Kleisoura." Therefore she went and settled at the Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos in Kleisoura of Kastoria when she was 44 years old. There the abbot of the Monastery was Gregorios Magdalis, an Athonite of great virtue. Sophia learned much from him and always spoke his name with the highest respect.
By the command of the Panagia, Sophia lived within the fireplace of the Monastery in the kitchen, which was also used to cook the food. She would sleep there two hours a night and the rest of the night pray on her knees. In the winter it was especially cold there, while during the rain water would drip on her. At times she would light a little fire, but this did not help much. At the window she would always have a candle lit before the fresco of the Panagia. This is where she ate and spent her time, and when visitors came to see her she would say their names before they even introduced themselves to her. People came from Thessaloniki and the surrounding areas, even as far as from Athens, just to see her. She would tell people their names and their family problems without being told beforehand. Among those who came was Fr. Leonidas Paraskevopoulos, who later became Metropolitan, and he would say: "You have a great treasure up there".
She dressed poorly and had a blanket with holes. Her sandals had holes also. Visitors would see how she suffered in the cold and humidity and give her clothes, but she would take them with one hand and give them away to the poor with the other. She also always wore a black scarf, and since her days in Pontus never bathed. Her fasting was constant and only allowed herself oil on the weekends. She cared little for what she ate, eating only to survive, and cared less about cleanliness so that she would even eat food without washing them. And despite the germs and the worms, she always remained healthy.
Visitors would often give her money, which she would hide anywhere she could. And when someone had need, she would go and give the money immediately.
She saw many scandalous things done by priests and lay people, but never criticized anyone. "Cover things, so that God will cover you", she would say.
Her popularity arose rapidly, so that people came not only from all over Greece, but even places like France and Israel to see her. Some villagers made fun of her however, calling her "Crazy-Sophia". To many she looked like Saint Mary of Egypt, as thin as a bone and all dried up. Within however she contained the same beauty of Saint Mary.