March 2, 2010

Recollections of St. Nicholas Planas by Alexandros Papadiamantis

By Alexandros Papadiamantis

Among the present-day priests in the cities and villages, there are still many who are virtuous and good. They are village-types, beneficent, respected, and venerable. Even though they may expound words, they know another manner of teaching the flock. I know of a priest in Athens. He is the most humble of priests and the most simple of men. For any divine service, if you give him one drachma, half a drachma, or one tenth, he takes it. If you do not give him anything, he does not ask. For three drachmas he does an all-night service: Compline, Vespers, Matins, Hours, and Liturgy, the whole thing lasting nine hours. If you give him only two drachmas, he does not complain. Every list bearing the names of the dead to be commemorated, when once given to him, he keeps always. For two and three years he continues to commemorate the names. At every Prothesis he commemorates two or three thousand names. He never becomes weary. His Prothesis lasts two hours. The Liturgy another two. After the dismissal of the Liturgy, he distributes to all present whatever pieces of prosphora or antidoron he has in the sanctuary. He keeps practically nothing.

Once, it chanced that he owed a small amount of money and wanted to pay it. He had ten or fifteen drachmas, all in copper. For two hours he counted, counted, counted, and could not determine how many drachmas there were. Finally, another Christian took on the effort to count them for him. He stutters a little, and is almost illiterate. In the prayers he says most of the words correctly, but in the Gospel most of them incorrectly. You will say, "Why this inconsistency?" He says the same prayers every day, whereas a certain portion of the Gospel he reads once, twice, or at most three times a year, with the exception of frequent portions which recur occasionally, as in the Blessing of the Waters and at the Paraklesis. The mistakes which he makes in reading are oftentimes comic. Yet, of those who hear, out of all the congregation, not one of us laughs. Why? We have become accustomed to him and we like him. He is worthy of love. He is simple and virtuous. He is worthy of the first Beatitude of the Saviour.

Now, suppose that this same priest had come out of some theological school, old or new. Would the difference in him be to the better? He would be smeared with a few imperfect, ill-digested, and confused teachings, with more pride and more demands. Would he be better for us?

From The Songs of God:

After three days we accompanied little Koula to the grave. The "professional" priests and the chanters chanted the usual hymns from the "Blessed are the blameless in the way" up to the "Let us give the final kiss". Papa-Nicholas, from the Island of Naxos, of the Church of Saint John in the Field, appeared as though he were doing a separate service. He murmured to himself, and his eyes seemed filled with tears. "What are you murmuring, Father?" I asked him from behind the stall on which he leaned. "I am saying the Funeral Service for Children to myself," answered Papa-Nicholas. The Service for Children befits this guileless man.