My name is Jessie Parks. I am a photographer and illustrator currently living in Atlanta. It’s been two years now, but I spent several months on the island of Paros, Greece.
This was a journey that forever altered my perception of God’s unfailing benevolence and his care for me, especially during such a season of personal strife and mystery. Indeed, it is a journey I’ve yet to conclude.
I went to Paros to continue my study of photography and drawing, at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts. After spending a great deal of time photographing the people of the islands, I wanted to narrow my subject matter. After I pitched my thoughts to John, the director of the school, he thought of the Monastery Thapsana. A few phone calls were made, and the doors were opened to me.
The sisters were beautifully hospitable. After trust was built they acted as mothers and sisters to me, and were open to my camera
Once the project at Thapsana got underway, I received word via a Sunday Skype call that my mother’s health was failing, as she had been sick with a brain tumor since I was 12. My dad and sisters strongly advised me to get home by the end of the week or I might not see her again. I packed my apartment on Monday, and left Tuesday morning.
I was able to share my mother’s condition with Murtidiotisa, one of the two English-speaking nuns. She responded with gifts: an icon of Mary holding Jesus, from the Mother Superior, a prayer rope, a book written by the monastery’s founder, and a list of all the convents in the U.S. I was able to shoot a portrait of Murtidiotisa holding the icon moments after she gave it to me. She told me all the sisters had gathered to pray for my mom and family members, each one…by name. Boy, did I ever cry!
How profound it was to be loved and cared for in a season when I was surrounded by nothing natively familiar to me, no family within reach, and living with knowledge that my mother was 6,000 miles away breathing her last. The sisters weren’t bothered by the fact that I wasn’t schooled in Orthodoxy, nor that my Greek was so limited. Without hesitation, these women welcomed me as one of their own. They proved they know well what it is to give of their comfort and lives, just as Jesus did for them and for me. In doing so, they were nothing short of His incarnation.
I am most saddened not to have hugged farewell the beloved women of Monastery Thapsana, as I left the island without saying goodbye to most of whom I’d met. I only hope and pray to return sooner rather than later.