The legacy of the Anargyroi

The Anargyroi are not simply a phenomenon of the early Christian era or the Byzantine centuries. A cursory look at the Orthodox calendars demonstrates that an active witness, represented in this instance by the Anargyroi, has always complemented the contemplative tradition in the Orthodox East.

In the twentieth century Elizabeth Feodorovna, guided by the Pskov elder Gabriel of Eleazar (d. 1915), established a hospital in her Moscow convent of Saints Mary and Martha. The very dedication of the new convent was intended to draw attention to the links between the active and contemplative traditions of the Church. Elizabeth, a German Grand Duchess and niece of Oueen Victoria, was martyred by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and canonized in 1981. In Paris, Mother Maria Skobtsova emphasized ministering to the sick, refugees, homeless and persecuted. She ended her life in 1945 at the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she took the place of a Jewish woman condemned to the Nazi gas chambers.

In the closing years of the twentieth century the Ecumenical Patriarchate canonized Anthimos Vayianos (1869-1960), a priest who worked tirelessly amongst the lepers, infirm and poor refugees of Chios Island, Greece. Like Elizabeth Feodorovna, he founded hospitals and organized a monastic community (dedicated to Our Lady of Help) to work amongst the needy. Archbishop Luke of Simferopol and Crimea (1877-1961) is a clear example of a modern 'unmercenary physician'. He was both an outstanding surgeon and Orthodox Christian minister and elder who can be viewed as operating entirely within the tradition of the Anargyroi saints while ministering in the context of the strictly atheist Soviet Union.

In Greece, the Cretan monk Chrysanthos Katsouloyiannakis worked exclusively amongst the lepers of the notorious Spinalonga colony. Chrysanthos ended his life as a revered hermit and elder in 1972, thus uniting in himself two traditions that are often thought to be disparate in the wider Christian context. More controversially, the Athenian surgeon Dimitrios Lekkas (1947-79) became the focus of popular veneration and pilgrimage shortly after his death from cancer. The Church has been uncomfortable with the emergence of an unrecognized cult but the spontaneity of this movement indicates the abiding popularity of Anargyroi figures in the contemporary, secular world.

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