October 27, 2010

Haralambis the Fool For Christ and My Family

Haralambis Papadogiannis was born in 1896 in Dyrrachi, which is a village in the west-central part of the Arcadia prefecture in Greece. His father Haralambi died in his infancy, and thus took on his name. His mother remarried and moved to a nearby village, but left Haralambi behind with his paternal relatives. After a few grades in Elementary School he grew up working in the fields. In 1916 he evaded his military service, some say he received a theological education and became learned in foreign languages. Little if anything else can be verified of his early life until he appeared as an ascetic around 1924 following the Calendar reform.

In the world he lived as the ascetics and fools for Christ of old. He confessed that "God wants people to call me crazy and a fool." He also said: "God told me to wear old clothes, not costumes." His constant message was to "never leave the path of God." According to Saint Paul: "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Everyone who remembers him remembers his appearance most of all. He would walk around barefoot everywhere, whether in winter or summer. Around his waist he wore a bag in which he kept oil to light the oil lamps in the surrounding chapels and food which he begged from those who were well-off which he would give to the needy (he himself lived on very simple foods such as rice and tomatoes). His hair was uncombed and unwashed and his clothes were old. Around his neck was a wooden Cross which he had made. Sometimes he would walk around with a lamp that contained the flame of the Holy Light from Jerusalem. At night he would sleep in chapels and caves, and during the day he would go from village to village in the area of Kalamata begging for money and food to give to the needy.

Besides all this, he would often dance in public to appear he was crazy. Once when he scandalized some by his dancing with girls, he would respond: "I am imitating Andrew the Fool". Whenever someone would beat him or make fun of him, terrible consequences resulted.

The Orthodoxy of Haralambi was very simple and his personal piety was one of exactitude. He believed the Calendar reform caused much confusion and was a hard-line enemy of the change to the New Calendar. When the so-called "Genuine" Orthodox Church created a schism with the Church of Greece, he joined the schismatics and was closely associated with Panagoulaki Monastery in Kalamata. However, his adherence to the Old Calendar was out of his great love for Orthodoxy and his simplistic way of life. His purity of heart allowed him to transcend the Calendar issue so that he became a vessel of grace to the people of Kalamata. This allowed him to work many miracles and emanate the uncreated light of the Holy Trinity. Without anyone to properly correct him, God overlooked his errors as He has done with other such examples in Church history and gave him a prophetic spirit and the clear eye of clairvoyance.

He fell asleep in the Lord on 10/23 October 1974. His grave is located at the Monastery of Panagoulaki, in Kalamata.

A Miracle Witnessed By My Grandfather and Other Experiences

My grandparents on my mother's side were both from villages in the northern areas of Peloponnesos, but when they were married they moved to Kalamata where my mother and her siblings were born. All of them have fond memories of Haralambi.

Among the most astonishing memories comes from my grandfather Vasili. According to him, one day during the German occupation of World War 2, the Germans gathered the men in the center of Kalamata. Among those present was my grandfather. Haralambi also came, but payed no attention to the orders of the German soldiers; he walked through the crowd and kept on walking. The Nazi soldiers began yelling at him to stop, but he kept walking courageously as if going about his daily business and would not even turn around. When the Germans saw his disobedience they opened fire on him with machine guns to make an example of him. All the Greeks of Kalamata who reverenced Haralambi, were amazed when they saw that not one bullet touched him, despite the Germans being experienced gunmen. The Germans were dumbfounded and went to capture him. When they saw he was an ascetic, they let him free.

Whenever my grandfather relates this story which he saw with his own eyes and which is recorded by others in Haralambis' biography, astonishment still comes over his face. Many years later, after I read the biography of Haralambi, I told him some extra details that he did not know. When Haralambi later went to the various houses on his daily route, people would ask him what happened. He would then reach into his pocket and show them a handful of bullets. He would say that the bullets bounced off him and ended up miraculously in his pocket. When I told my grandfather this he just about fell silent with awe.

My mother Panagiota, who was baptized with the Old Calendar in the Monastery of Panagoulaki in the mid-1950's, remembers Haralambi as a little girl walking through Kalamata. His appearance, described above, was most striking to her, but she says that she was never afraid of him but saw him as a holy man. Once he even blessed her. She told me that she would feel sorry for him when she would sometimes see young boys throw rocks at him and wondered where he was in the winter. She also remembers him preaching about the end of the world. Even today one of her fondest childhood memories growing up in Kalamata was seeing Haralambi.

Interestingly, in 1998 I was speaking with Fr. Panteleimon at the schismatic Old Calendar Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Brookline, MA, and he told me that he also knew Haralambi in his youth in Kalamata. According to him, he told me that his relics had been lost and were in a room with many other relics of monks at Panagoulaki Monastery. When visiting he was determined to find the relics. Entering the room he noticed a sweet fragrance. Following the fragrance he came to a box which said "Haralambi". He acquired the jaw of Haralambi and to my surprise it was at Holy Transfiguration. After requesting to venerate it, he brought it out for me. A few weeks later I brought my mother and grandmother to venerate his jaw as well, which they did with much joy.

See also the videos in my post "A Tour of Panagoulakis Hermitage in Kalamata" in which Haralambi is also discussed.