December 22, 2009

My Grandfather and Saint Anastasia Pharmakolytria

St. Anastasia the Great Martyr and Deliverer from Potions (Feast Day - December 22)

By John Sanidopoulos

Originally my grandfather, John, was from Smyrna in Asia Minor. As a child in the early 20th century he was responsible for going daily to the nearby Church of Saint Anastasia the Great Martyr and Deliverer from Potions in order to light the oil lamps before the holy icons.

At some point he became deathly ill. His parents called for the doctor to come by the house to see what they could do, but all hope for his healing vanished. The doctor informed John's parents one evening that his condition was so bad that he would not see the sun rise the next morning.

As John was laying in bed that evening trying to rest, suddenly he heard a knock on the door.

"Come in" he said.

The door then opened and inside his bedroom walked a woman whom he did not recognize. Seeing John laying on his bed deathly ill, she said to him: "John, why are you lying down? Get up and go to my church to light the oil lamps." She then turned around and walked away.

Immediately John recognized this woman from the icon of St. Anastasia in the church, and that it was she who was asking him to go to her church. He got out of bed, not without difficulty, and secretly made his way to the church. After lighting all the oil lamps he returned home. The next morning, when he awoke, he was completely healed, to the relief and joy of his family.

When the population exchange took place between Turkey and Greece in 1922, my grandfather John settled in Patras, Greece where he met and married my grandmother who happened to be named Anastasia (because she was born on Easter and ironically died on Holy Thursday in 1997). There he became a successful Master Electrician, from whom my father learned the trade and followed in his footsteps of being a Master Electrician to this day.

Because he was one of few Master Electricians in 1940's Greece, during World War 2 he was taken prisoner by the German Nazi's as a hired prisoner to help them with their electrical work at Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany. Of course at that time he didn't know what was really going on at Dachau, but he was there for two years working as an Electrician. Because he was a hired prisoner, he lived away from the rest of the prisoners of the camp and enjoyed a bit more freedom than most and better food (similar to St. Nikolai Velimirovich when he was there, though I don't know if they knew each other). Slowly however he would notice prisoners disappearing and soon understood they were being executed. He would help his fellow, less fortunate, prisoners often by stealing potatoes from the kitchen and bringing it to them. On one occasion he also saved the lives of two Jews by helping them escape under a fence.

Though my grandfather was very successful in his business, he was not very rich. His family lived in a bad part of town (Agio Ioanni Bratsika area) because he would spend his money on food and drink with his friends. He had a reputation of being very generous among his friends, yet with his family he was often cruel. As an alcoholic he was abusive, especially to his wife and two sons. Despite this he was extremely reverential when it came to St. Anastasia. My grandmother told me that despite his alcoholism and blasphemous remarks, whenever he would look at the icon of St. Anastasia, even in his older age, he would take it in his arms and kiss it with tears.

He died Christmas day in 1974 because of complications with diabetes (one of his legs was amputated), after he received Holy Communion. He always wanted a grandson named after him, but I was not born until 1976.