Efi Sarri – the Greek pop singer transformed by a monastery
The following interview with Efi Sarri was recently conducted by “Down Town Cyprus” in the newspaper O Phileleutheros. Efi Sarri is one of the most popular singers in Greece who went through very difficult times over the past few years, that led her to search deep within herself and rediscover her faith. Translated by John Sanidopoulos at Mystagogy.
What led you to monasticism, Efi?
To start from the beginning: From my childhood my uncle was an integral part of my life. I often went to church with my parents until my teens, I fasted, I prayed, and I went to a priest who was my spiritual father – he was also the one under whom I studied the divine writings in catechism class – and I often confessed. Then, because of my involvement with music, things changed somewhat. But only apparently. Though I did not so often go to church because of my work, always in my dressing room was an icon of the Panagia – that somehow I think protected me from the pitfalls, so I felt that someone, somewhere up there, was watching and looking out for me.
What do you mean? While you were singing “in foreign beds you will dream of me” at the same time you were lighting candles?
Why? What is so strange? The sinless casts the first stone. Who will judge me? The one I did for a living and the other for my soul. Of course I was very careful with these things, because I did not want everyone in the venues where I sang to taunt me about my faith.
To go from believing in God and the Saints to enclosing yourself in a monastery is a very great distance.
I agree. But in a particularly difficult period for me, I came upon the writings of Nun Gavrilia through a trusted colleague of mine – a very famous singer with hits through Phoebus to her credit, but I will not publicly reveal her name – I felt that her words and her “ascetic love” was the hope I was looking for and was surprised to discover that it was only truly found in virtuous people.
When did this happen, Efi?
About four years ago, when Lakis Lazopoulos started mocking me through his show, doing outrageous things against me, raping my soul. It was at this moment that I called by myself one night a female monastery, in the eastern suburbs of Athens. I spoke with the Abbess, I told her who I was, and naturally she recognized me, and she told me that “the way of God is open to the whole world”. And from her voice alone over the telephone, I calmed down.
And then you finally went to a monastery?
For about four weeks I went almost every evening to this monastery and prayed. I spoke with some nuns there – one of these actually once did vocals on a CD I put out with Karvelas; her voice was very distinctive in “You want to leave me? Impossible!” – and slowly, day by day, I began to feel the monastery was my second home. I remember in those days I would go daily to the psychologist – I had various psychosomatic issues because of the mud thrown at me by Lazopoulos – and the space of the monastery became my refuge. It was as if I was in my natural field. So I felt.
When did you embrace monasticism?
Two months later since I grew in despair with the worldly, and I told myself: “Efi, now is a time to make a giant step in your life, to take a leap and overcome.” For a little while I looked at the beautiful dresses I had in my closet, I took a look at my gold discs, and I remembered a conversation I had with a nun that made me ashamed when she said to me “the ‘Naked in Greece’ you shouldn’t have said”. I smiled sweetly thinking of all the small sins I committed in my life, the people who unwittingly wronged me, and I thought that now I may be being punished for all my innocent mistakes, and so I made the great decision. I called the Abbess and announced my deepest desire, and she referred me to another nun who was running a new monastery, several kilometers away from Athens. I locked my house, grabbing only a small suitcase with some necessities, and I called a friend who took me straight there.
As a novice?
Exactly. All the nuns who were there – around twenty – received me and took care of me, giving me passages from the Holy Bible to read with reference to particular passages. Though I remember the Abbess, a holy woman without guile, put me to learn by heart the Second Letter to the Corinthians of the Apostle Paul, saying that these words must become my guide in life. Indeed, because she was an intelligent woman and had a high sense of humor, I remember she said to me characteristically: “In the same way you memorize your songs, so you will learn this as well.”
And from that day you participated regularly in the monastic life?
With the utmost regularity! The very next morning I got up at 5:00 to go to Orthros. I took a break during the Liturgy. I sat behind a stall, and I opened a book with the service of the day and I participated with my sisters in the chants. Ultimately nothing is wasted. My voice stood out from all the rest. They all gave me their congratulations. Then I went with a sister, who was in a way responsible for me in the monastery until I became a proper nun, to a large field, which, as the sister told me, belonged to the monastery for many years, and there we gathered olives. I will not hide that this was a little challenging for me, because never in my life had I done anything like this. But, I felt the salvation by thinking of the sharp teeth of my television oppressor, and it was nothing compared.
Did you have difficulties with the cassock?
Plenty. Mainly because it was summer, the month of June, and I was sweating a lot, and until then I was accustomed to getting around wearing a mini and my legs would get air. Despite these things, I endured because this was part of my test.
And could you wake up every day at 5, even though for many years that was the time you would go to sleep?
Most certainly! We would eat dinner around 8 – usually bread, olives, herbs – and right after we would say our prayers and sleep in our cells. Another world!
What did the other nuns say to you? Did they know you?
Everyone recognized me! From the first moment. I will not hide the fact that some were skeptical towards me, and I heard some say “artists do not fit in the House of God”, but the vast majority accepted me with great love.
And why didn’t you stay in the monastery?
In a conversation I had with the Abbess, she told me that I should struggle and dialogue with the world, that the monastery was always there for me, but that I had to find my way through that which troubled me among people and to solve it; that the monastery was a consolation for me as long as I lived there, but it couldn’t become a solution for my life. I was already there for 20 days, and then I gathered my things from my small cell which I shared with another novice and I returned to my home in Alimos.
You want to tell me that you lived all this because of a satirical show?
This particular man trampled my soul with his “humor”. The monastery was my resurrection.
In the end, was your stay in the monastery good for you?
Very much. I think I am another Efi now. My contact with the divine helped me to separate myself from many things within me, to pick out people and to categorize, and what I try to do is to forgive them. Even those who hurt me deeply.
Was the monastery perhaps a momentary last resort and nothing deeper?
Is there a way to measure faith and I don’t know it? Christ Himself says: “Whoever wants to follow Me, come.” And: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.”
Which of the two were you?
I thirsted for understanding; for a serene listener to the difficulties I encountered during that period. And I found this in the Sister Nuns. In my next CD I will refer to this amazing experience of mine.
In other words, you will interpret chants?
It is a combination of ecclesiastical hymns with my old sensational hits. I cannot say more about it.
Why did you decide to record now after all that you lived?
Because of all that Greece is going through now, but also because of the days of Pascha, and I also wanted to give an example to the world: that love and faith save. I who have never been in want of anything in my life tell you this. Because I had many loves, young men and old would fall at my feet begging for a fleeting touch, for money, for publicity, for unfathomable success, and yet, I only needed the evil words of one man to deregulate me and tell me that all I had won throughout the years and becoming one of the top singers in Greek folk songs, were all things of the wind. Without faith I was a nothing. I now know. I am not the Efi which you recognized. My life has separated now from pre-monastery to post-monastery. And believe me, this second season is clearly happier than the first.