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March 2, 2011

Recollections of St. Nicholas Planas by Elder Philotheos Zervakos

By Elder Philotheos Zervakos

At the Vigils there used to come a certain man named Alekos who chanted, but who also used to drink; and when he was drunk, he chanted with compunction and with tears. Whenever he heard him chanting compunctionately, Papadiamantis, who knew him, used to say, "Alekos has wino-compunction," and many times he would chase him out of church. But in accordance with the words of the wise author of Proverbs, "a guileless man believeth in all" (Prov. 14:15). Papa-Nicholas, as one simple and guileless, used to say, "He's good, he's good, Alekos is a good man," and right after the Vigil, he would give him a small reward also. This became the cause for Alekos to become closer to Papa-Nicholas, and familiar with and inseparable from him. But for those of us who knew him, he was also the cause of scandal to certain brethren and to me, who was a young man of twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. Certain ones told Papa-Nicholas to get rid of Alekos, because he was a drunkard and a cause of scandal to the brethren. But with his customary simplicity, Papa-Nicholas would say, "He's good, he's good, Alekos is a good man; he loves the church, he chants well." As a result Alekos grew bolder, and would deftly put his hand into Papa-Nicholas' pocket and take the money which the pious Christians gave him for the commemoration of the names of their beloved parents, children, brothers, sisters and kinsmen during the Vigils and Liturgies. On one occasion, Papa-Nicholas had a considerable amount of coins in his pocket, and Alekos put his hand in and tried to take them all. Papa-Nicholas perceived this and without growing angry, without insulting him or rebuking him, was content only to say meekly, "Aleko, easy, easy; easy Aleko, I'm ticklish." Alekos continued fearlessly, and later began to enter even into the holy sanctuary and would take whatever he had. Since Papa-Nicholas was the parish priest of the Church of Saint John, he would often leave after the Vigil, and, in order to get to his parish on time, he was often obliged to go by cab. It so happened one day that he got down from the carriage, and prepared to pay the carriage-driver; he searched his pockets well. He couldn't find even an obol! Good Alekos had taken everything! He said to the cab-driver, "I don't have any money now. I'll have to pay you another time." "You're going to pay me now," said the cab-driver angrily. "But - since I don't have any?" "Since you don't have any, you shouldn't have asked to come by cab. I want you to pay me, and if you don't have any money, I'm going to take your raso." Papa-Nicholas took off his raso and gave it to him with pleasure, and they parted. As for Papa-Nicholas, he went on his way to church without a raso in order to serve the Liturgy. The carriage-driver, on the other hand, headed for home, contemplating how and where he might sell the raso and make a seven-fold profit from it. But after five minutes, at the very moment when Papa-Nicholas was entering the church, the carriage-driver returned hastily and shouted to him, "Papa-Nicholas, take back your raso, and I don't even want any money!" Who knows what happened to him!

Whenever he served the Liturgy, Papa-Nicholas had the habit of saying three or four Gospels. I would say to him, "The Typicon of the Church specifies one Gospel; in the monasteries they say two. Here, since the Vigils and services are celebrated as they would be in the monasteries, two Gospels should be said." And Papa-Nicholas replied, "Let's say one for this saint, and one for that saint, so that they'll be pleased!" Thus I would give in. When he commemorated names at the holy prothesis, he would commemorate for hours on end. When he commemorated the saints, he wished, if it were possible, to commemorate every single saint - as many as were found in the Synaxaristes, each one separately by name. Since much time was consumed, some would begin to cry out to him, "Papa-Nicholas! say '...and of all Thy saints!'"; but he, without becoming troubled in the least, would continue to the end.

From Papa-Nicholas Planas: The Simple Shephard of the Simple Sheep, by Nun Martha, 1981, pp. 95-96.