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January 5, 2016

Fr. Nicholas Pettas of Patras, the Sanctified Priest (+ 2000)

By Joanna K. Lymperopoulos

This was a contemporary humble and worthy priest, spiritual father, family man and a professor of technical education, who left himself in the hands of Christ to use him as an instrument in the salvation of humanity. And He made him a vessel of His Grace, granting him charisms/gifts of the Holy Spirit. Because as we know, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." My family had a relationship with both him, as well as his presvytera Anthi.

Fr. Nicholas A. Pettas was born in Patras in 1941. He was of Ionian origin, the son of a prominent family. His parents came to Patras after the great earthquakes hit the Ionian Islands in 1928. Nicholas' father was named Andrew Petrakas or Pettas from the city of Zakynthos on the island of Zakynthos and was a known industrialist of soap in Patras. His mother was Sophia Panagis Tzakis from Frangata, Kefallonia. He was the last of five children in the family. When he was young in age his mother departed this life. She had raised him in the admonition of the Lord, although she told him prophetically: "My little Nicholas, I want to taste a bite from your sanctified cassock!" She said this because an impression was made on her when he was an infant, when he refused to suck milk from her breast on Wednesday and Friday.

Nicholas and Anthi Pettas

Three dedicated girls baptized Fr. Nicholas, giving him the two names Nicholas Emmanuel. From an early age he engaged in the family business while his parents took care that he receive an education from a private school. Facts testify that from an early age he had living experiences of divine protection. A striking example is this: One day his sister Helen took him to their parish church of Saint Gerasimos in the Port of Patras, and on their return home a tall commanding woman in black said to his sister sternly: "Take the child and hide him in the reeds because a military tank will soon pass and press you both to death!" Indeed, along that narrow road a German tank passed and they were saved thanks to the intervention of the Panagia.

As Nicholas Emmanuel grew he had as a confessor and spiritual guide the known and venerable Archimandrite Gervasios Paraskevopoulos in Patras. During the difficult year of the occupation, because his family was wealthy and had the financial ability and his mother was merciful, they would gather the poor into their home and take care of them. During the same difficult period, there would gather in the home of Nicholas people from the circle of Fr. Gervasios and they would have constructive intellectual discussions.

Usually Nicholas would socialize with people who were older and wiser, but also had great sensitivity to children. He payed particular attention to the Orphanage of Skiagiopouleiou which was in his neighborhood. Typically, on feast days he brought orphaned children from this institution to his home. At the same time, he would catechize children, and many of those whom he catechized went on to be cassock-wearers.

When the time came, he served his military service and became a Sergeant of the Missal Squadron in Langada, Thessaloniki. His faith and what he experienced when he was younger he transmitted to his soldiers. Many of them he guided to elders and spiritual fathers. Daily there were services from the Horologion ("Book of Hours") in the military camp. During his service in Thessaloniki, he met in the hospital AHEPA our well known elder Paisios the Athonite. In the visits he made to the hospital to see the famous Monk Paisios, he would bring along other soldiers. Several of them confess that they came to know Christ and the sacramental life from the young Sergeant Nicholas, while some became cassock-wearers.

Admirable was the rich and diverse education of Fr. Nicholas. He combined something very rare, both the positive and theoretical sciences. He had the following degrees: Mechanics, Radio Technology, Foreman of Mechanical Installations, Theology, Engineering and Technology and Education Officer of Education Training. He was a man of many interests, a music lover, who loved reading and studied the manuals of many sciences.

He was appointed professor of Mechanical Engineering at the technical schools of Nafpaktos. Later he shifted and taught in the technical schools of Patras. As a teacher he was loving and graceful towards children. He knew how to educate well and the psychology of children, while his actions showed him to be a fine man. "His presence at the school was measured and with solemnity. He inspired respect in you to such an extent even as a layman, we imagined him in a cassock," wrote his colleague of years Mr. Haralambos L. Kontochristos. He continues: "For us professors he was a special and rare man, a model cleric and professor in his consistency and spirituality. Originally he caused an impression on students that he was both a cassock-wearer and professor in Engineering, and he would enter the factory in his cassock to teach by example. At first they would mock him, although he acted like he didn't understand. After the first few days there developed a strange spiritual bond between them and he was for them a father, a teacher and a consolation. When some colleagues troubled the children, Fr. Nicholas intervened and helped them to get their degree. He would help children without discrimination. Even people who stated they did not like him because he wore his cassock, would often approach him and ask for his advice for their various issues. This is because Fr. Nicholas did not despise or shun them, but pulled them in close because he was not afraid. With his modesty he combined bravery, and he won the appreciation and admiration of people one would not expect to ever respect the cassock. We often did some administrative and personal things in secrecy from him. But Fr. Nicholas in another way, in a deeper and more meaningful way, knew everything! Within the immense calm that characterized him, he understood every move and, with amazing God-given grace, understand not only what we said but even thought."

On May 7, 1970 he married his faithful and worthy wife Anthi H. Katrimpouza from Franga in Achaia. They were a very loving couple and acquired after much prayer twelve children, six boys and six girls.

As a family man and professor, Nicholas continued his rigorous spiritual life. At school, according to witnesses, he was a worthy successor of the treatment of parents to children. He was interested in students obtaining scientific knowledge, but also spiritual and moral that they may be useful to society and make proper families.

Sometime between the birth of their two children, Panagiotis and Maria, there began to be inflamed within him more than ever the flame that prompted him to become a priest. He confided this to his spiritual father to see where it would lead. For three years he accepted the heavenly call to become a liturgist of the Most High and eventually his spiritual father Fr. George Papastavros, and other Athonite fathers such as Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia, Elder Paisios, Fr. Ephraim of Philotheou, Elder Gabriel of Dionysiou, Fr. Theoklitos of Dionysiou and Fr. Haralambos of Dionysiou, convinced him to accept the divine call.

Revealing are the words of the late Metropolitan of Patras, Nikodemos Valindras, regarding the person of Fr. Nicholas, who on the 8th of April in 1979 ordained him Deacon and on the 15th of April the same year ordained him a Presbyter, giving him the name Nicholas. He said: "I have performed many ordinations, but what I felt at this ordination is something unique." This Hierarch said that at these two ordinations he felt like he was experiencing a Pentecost and he understood that Fr. Nicholas was indeed a recipient of God's mercy. The Metropolitan concluded his words saying: "Fr. Nicholas, I feel like I have obtained mercy from the grace of the Holy Spirit as I placed my hands on your head to convey to you the grace of the priesthood. Remember me and do a memorial for me, please, both in this life and in the next, when the Lord calls you."

Originally, the place of his ministry was the parish of Saint George in Krya Iteon, Patras. Later he transferred as the parish priest in the Church of Saint Basil in Zarouchleika, where his family lived. As a priest he was an ascetic and even more a lover of the divine services than before. He would perform solemn Divine Liturgies, while many believers observed several times that his feet were above the ground. At the same time he was a minister of the Mysteries, careful, not a lover of money, with a sense of responsibility for his mission and great interest in the spiritual and practical support of his flock. The most revered cleric of Patras, Archimandrite Nikodemos Petropoulos, in something he wrote about Fr. Nicholas (on October, 23, 2011), said among other things that he was a priest/man of God, harmless, simple, modest, a man of patience and humility who enjoyed the appreciation of the faithful and reminded many of Papa-Nicholas Planas. Indeed, a manifestation of the spiritual gifts of Fr. Nicholas is the following incident mentioned by Fr. Nikodemos Petropoulos: "In the parish I serve God once allowed an evil temptation by certain false brethren. Those moments in which I endured the trial with patience and much silence, to avoid scandalizing the faithful, while I was in the church with a spiritual child of mine, this humble levite came to me with tears, saying: 'My brother, I came to see you because Christ told me to go to Saint Paul's, to Nikodemos, because he is going through a great temptation.'"

Fr. Nicholas and Presvytera Anthi

Other times, as Fr. Stephanos Anagnostopoulos says in a book, when he ate at the family table, he suddenly stood up and would leave hungry. He took his car and went to a certain house where a couple was squabbling vigorously. Then he would enter and smooth things out and reconcile them. There are many testimonies from people who testify that Fr. Nicholas foretold trials, sicknesses, and other things that occurred depending on the case, and he would give the appropriate advice. However, whatever he revealed he did so for salvific purposes. Many facts reveal he had the gift of clairvoyance, says Fr. Haralambos Panoutsakopoulous from Patras in his personal website.

He loved prayer very much and longed for asceticism. A building on a construction site near his home he made into a hermitage with many icons, an oil lamp and his stole. For Fr. Nicholas this was a place of prayer and ascetcism. There he often held confessions and had many visitations and appearances from the Panagia and other Saints.

Many times he experienced revelations during the Divine Liturgy which are difficult to describe and report here. What is sure is that he experienced states of Grace. According to the testimony of the distinguished Fr. Anthony Roumeliotis from Patras, during most Divine Liturgies he saw on the Holy Altar, at the moment of the consecration of the Holy Gifts, the Lord Himself. And when he confessed with discernment these experiences, he considered himself unworthy of such visions. Moreover, after the bloodless sacrifice he could not come out immediately from the Holy Sanctuary.

Fr. Stephanos Anagnostopoulos says that Fr. Nicholas had revelations during the Divine Liturgy, and often was "removed" because he passed through the Heavens. This was the occasion for other clergy and chanters to misunderstand him, thinking that he had become a "fool" or had a mental problem. Not a few times was he deprecated and people had a critical and demeaning attitude towards him, even from people in the church environment. However, there are many who believe that after his death they received signs from Fr. Nicholas and felt the Lord had shut their intellect, because they would not be able to withstand these things or did not have the spirituality to understand.

Fr. Nicholas, Presvytera Anthi and their Twelve Children

Even the unfair loss of his first child, Sophia, in 1992 on the day of her feast due to a traffic accident, he saw during the proskomidi as he liturgized. He confessed himself that he saw before his eyes the loss of his child.

He was informed of his repose by St. Basil the Great, as he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in honor of the new year 2000. He was informed that in three days he would be in a heavenly state, and so it happened.

After the repose of Fr. Nicholas, a crowd of faithful gathered to bid their farewell, considering him an authentic cleric, a great struggler and a man of God. His body was flexible and maintained its natural temperature, while his face showed gladness. There are testimonies that after his repose people invoked him and he helped them with miraculous signs and healings.

Noteworthy is that fact that Fr. Nicholas had foretold that he would first depart for the next life and after his presvytera on a designated year and date, and that the children would be more hurt for the loss of their mother. Also, during her repose they will understand more about her spiritual height. Indeed, Fr. Nicholas departed on 4 January 2000 and his presvytera Anthi on 6 December 2012, twelve years after the repose of Fr. Nicholas. According to the testimonies of spiritual fathers, and as recorded by Fr. Stephanos Anagnostopoulos, seven months before the repose of the presvytera, although confined to bed with severe problems of movement and breathing, she heard heavenly Liturgies and angelic chants, and with these she heard the voice of her reposed husband, who prepared her saying: "My Presvytera Anthoula, because you are undergoing much torment like the much-suffering Job, it is the decision of our Christ that this year on my feast (that of St. Nicholas on December 6th) I will take you to the heavens to rest!" These words were verified on the December 6th that just passed when she reposed. The most-revered presvytera Anthi departed during the "Wisdom, arise!" at the Gospel reading of Matins, on the morning of the feast of Saint Nicholas, when she was in intensive care at the General Hospital of Athens.

May we have the holy prayers of these two rare Elders.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.