St. Nectarios and Grandma Tatiana in Korea

‘Grandma Tatiana,’ as we used to call her, was one of the first women who received Holy Baptism in Korea. She was the daughter of Fr. Alexi Kim, who was captured by the North Koreans and disappeared on the 9th of July, 1950. With her death, the last representative of the ‘first generation’ of Orthodox Koreans ended its existence on earth.

During the final 10 years of her live, she lived in the Metropolis Center for the Elderly, which is affiliated with the parish of St. Boris in Chuncheon.

When the biography of St. Nectarios was published, in 2010, by the press of the Holy Metropolis of Korea, “Korean Orthodox Editions,” Grandma Tatiana Kim liked the book so much that she immediately started translating it into Japanese, without telling anyone about her project. The unforgettable Tatiana knew Japanese well because she lived during the Japanese occupation of Korea, studied Japanese in school, and even lived and worked in Japan for a while, working as a teacher.

One day, a year after the publication of the life of St. Nectarios in the Korea language, Grandma Tatiana suddenly appeared in Seoul to deliver the hand-written manuscript of her Japanese translation of the Saint’s life to His Eminence Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea. She also presented him with an icon of St. Nectarios which she had beautifully drawn in pencil based on the Korean version’s cover image.

After the initial moment of surprise and joy, a concerted effort was made to have the book published by Korean Orthodox Editions for the spiritual edification of our Japanese Orthodox brothers and sisters knowing from those who visit Korea that there are few resources available to them in Japanese.

Another beautiful feature of the book was the Prologue, in which Grandma Tatiana describes in her own words the ways that St. Nectarios’s life and struggles touched her heart and inspired her in her faith. She concludes her reflections with the following moving words, “If I had known the life of St. Nectarios in my early years, my own life would have been different.”

Grandma Tatiana had an awareness of her imminent death and she kept in close communication with those at the press who were working on publishing her translation. In fact, she was even sending them small donations from her meager pension to facilitate the book’s completion. She expressed her concern, “I will die soon, and will not see the book in its published form.”

By the grace of God, and the intercessions of St. Nectarios, the Japanese translation of the saint’s life was published in April 2015, about 1 month before the falling asleep in the Lord of Grandma Tatiana. When she received a copy in her hands she responded with the words of Symeon (Luke 2:29), “Now let your servant depart in peace, O Lord.”

Indeed, on the morning of May 6, 2015, as she walked to the local bank, Grandma Tatiana had a stroke. She was transported to the hospital and, at 10:00pm that day she gave up her spirit in peace.

During the final month of her life, she came to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Seoul in order to say goodbye to her faithful friends of many years, saying to them, “it is the last time that I will be in this Church.”  She also visited the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Kapyeong to see her beloved spiritual father, Metropolitan Soterios, repeating to him the same message about her approaching death. Furthermore, she wrote a letter to His Eminence in which she explained her funeral wishes in detail, including the money with the letter that would be needed for her burial expenses.

Much to her sorrow, she became sick during Holy Week and was unable to participate in the divine services at the monastery of the Holy Transfiguration, as she had hoped. She was instead in the hospital.  But on Easter night, the night of the Resurrection of our Lord, she did not go to sleep until midnight. And when the clock struck 12, she slowly got up from her hospital bed, walked quietly down the corridor (so as not to disturb the others) and chanted the Easter hymn, “Christ is Risen!” in Korean. During Bright Week, her health had improved and she returned to her room in Chuncheon, where—with profound joy—she received a copy of her newly published translation.

Up until the day before her departure for heaven, she communicated by phone with the faithful of Seoul, conversing about the flowers that she was caring for in the St. Boris gardens and, of course, about the publication of her book on her beloved St. Nectarios. It brought her special joy when she learned, in her final few days on earth, that the book had reached the hands of the Orthodox faithful in Japan.  We can image her indescribable joy when, after her repose, she met St. Nectarios and witnessed his participation in the holy services at the heavenly altar of God.

May the blessings and prayers of St. Nectarios continue to flow toward the faithful of Korea, Japan and throughout the world! The book of his life has truly become a bridge of better spiritual communication and connection among us all.

  • Published in Light of Nations 2015
  • Written by Athanasia Kontogiannakopoulos