Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Case of Vampirism in the Life of Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos

The following story is one we often encounter in stories that take place in Greece during the Turkish occupation - a sinner who is excommunicated cannot decompose and find rest in the afterlife unless they are pardoned and the excommunication is lifted. In the story we are not told why the body was exhumed. It is probably because people believed the excommunicated woman was a vrykolakas, which is a Greek equivalent of a vampire, an excommunicant who was believed to rise out of the grave at night and haunt people.

Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos and the 
Dead Woman Under Excommunication

One one occasion, when Saint Dionysios found himself in the city, a funeral was being conducted in the cemetery of the Church of Saint Nicholas of the Strangers. The church was named this way because many strangers were buried in that plot of land. This church was also the Metropolitan Cathedral of Zakynthos. It happened that the people opened a certain grave, so that they might bury someone else inside. There they discovered a woman who had long been dead, but whose body and clothing had not decomposed. The reason for this was because this wretched woman had died under the ban of excommunication.

The relatives of that deceased woman therefore went and prostrated themselves before the feet of their holy bishop, beseeching him with tears, saying: "Go, O Master, to the Church of Saint Nicholas and read a prayer of forgiveness over that body which is under a ban; and perhaps the Lord may hearken to your entreaty." The holy Dionysios was moved to compassion before their abundant tears. That night, very late, he went to the Church of Saint Nicholas of the Strangers, accompanied by his deacon and the parish priest of that church.

Arriving there, he beheld that woman's corpse and commanded that they remove it from the tomb and set her upright inside one of the stalls of the church. After the bishop put on his epitachelion and omophorion, he knelt and prayed for a considerable time. With fervent tears he entreated God to loosen the ban of excommunication over that undissolved body. While the Saint was praying the prayers of absolution over the corpse, it was observed that the head of the dead woman bowed in an attitude of reverence toward the Saint, as though thanking him for the great gift received. The body then collapsed to the floor and utterly dissolved into dust and bones. The Saint, as one who was humble-minded, put those present under penance if they should reveal to anyone, while he was still alive, what had taken place.

It should also be noted that a similar miracle, involving an excommunicated man, was also wrought through the Saint in the village of Katastari, some fifteen kilometers north of Zakynthos.