May 3, 2018

Fr. George J. Nasis, the Greek-American Priest to Whom Saint Xenia of Kalamata Revealed Herself

By John Sanidopoulos

Among the first Orthodox Christian books I ever read was a four volume set titled Orthodox Saints: Spiritual Profiles for Modern Man by Fr. George Poulos. I read from this book daily when I was around 16 years old, and one of the great surprises I came across while reading these volumes was the entry for May 3rd, in which Fr. Poulos gives the account of Saint Xenia of Kalamata. There he presents information about this Saint you can't find anywhere else, though it is highly significant for Orthodoxy not only in America and Kalamata, but universally.

Fr. Poulos wrote the following:

One of the sweetest saints in all Orthodoxy remained for seventeen centuries in comparative oblivion unknown, unhonoured, and unsung -- until she chose, at the bidding of God, to reveal herself to a humble priest, in the bustling City of New York.

The name of this Greek girl, who had been sainted but ignored for altogether too many centuries, was Xenia; and the name of the devout Christian to whom she made herself known was the pious Father George Nasis, the highly respected priest of the Greek Archdiocese Annunciation Church in New York City.

Why Xenia remained screened from Greek Orthodoxy for so long a time is attributed to the will of God, the same will that selected a comparatively obscure twentieth-century priest as the herald of the unacknowledged saint. The amazing disclosure would have been more plausible had some archaeologist unearthed St. Xenia's earthly remains, but that was not the choice of the Lord whose acts often puzzle the will of man, but whose truth is borne out in one way or another. The comparative simplicity of the occurrence merely dramatizes the way of heaven and the truth of Jesus Christ.

In yet another incredible incident, Father Nasis acquired laurels which he never wished for and which he thereafter chose to minimize rather than exploit. In one of his customary periods of meditation and prayer there appeared before him a very lovely girl who announced herself as Xenia, a martyred saint of the Church. Not only did she reveal herself for the first time in 1700 years, but she bade the good priest to paint her likeness, asking that in the icon her hands appear clasping a Cross.

At first Father Nasis kept the incident to himself, lest he be ridiculed; but finally he could contain himself no longer. He told his superiors about the appearance of St. Xenia with such conviction that scholars went in search of her in ancient manuscripts, even going back to the oldest of calendars in a vain effort to find the name Xenia mentioned. The credibility of the priest was on the wane when at long last St. Xenia was found in an ecclesiastical work entitled "O Megas Synaxaristes," comprising twelve volumes of the history of the saints of Orthodoxy by the scholar and monk, Victor Mattheou. In such a massive work Xenia was not easily found, but in the end Father Nasis was vindicated.

Mattheou's work describes Xenia as having long, golden-blonde hair, blue eyes (as witnessed by Father Nasis), and beautiful features. Moreover, when she was born in 291 AD, to parents named Nicholas and Despina, in the town of Kalamata, Greece, it was determined that she be raised in the faith of Jesus Christ. At maturity her depth of faith outshone her physical beauty, and she was looked upon with great admiration by the Christian community.

The roving eye of Magistrate Domitianos of Kalamata happened to fall on the lovely Xenia who stirred within him more than admiration. It was love at first sight and he soon offered a proposal of marriage. This proposal was rejected, however, because Domitianos had refused to accept Christ and clung to ancient idolatry with a tenacity which Xenia saw as folly and superstition. It was decided that a prison would change her mind. All else having failed, she was jailed on spurious charges with the stipulation that she could be released if she changed her mind.

When months of incarceration and abuse failed to move Xenia, she was put to death. Soon after, she was sainted because of the many miracles attributed to her, and was given a feast day on May 3rd. This date somehow failed to appear on the Greek Orthodox calendar, although it is a matter of record as indicated by the research of the monk Mattheou.

The icon of St. Xenia still adorns the Annunciation Church and has for forty years been the site of miracles, and miracles in this twentieth century have been hard to come by. Father Nasis, who never sought public acclaim and managed to remain his humble self throughout, was a priest of the Annunciation Church for more than thirty years, passing on in 1974. His many writings, and supplications in honor of St. Xenia give testimony to his faith. His discovery remains in his beloved church, and many a gaze will be fixed upon the sweet St. Xenia who was cloaked in anonymity for seventeen centuries, but whose memory will now be honored for as long as there is Greek Orthodoxy.

As an American teenager who had traveled throughout Greece the previous summer hunting down stories like these, I was shocked by what I read of a Saint who revealed herself for the first time in centuries to a priest at a parish only about a four hour drive from where I was born and raised. Not only this, but it was a Saint who was born and martyred in Kalamata, a city in Greece where my own mother was born and raised before she emigrated to America at the age of fifteen. The following summer, when I embarked on further travels throughout Greece, I went in search of Saint Xenia in Kalamata, but all I could find were recent icons of her at the Convent of Saints Constantine and Helen near the Cathedral of Ypapanti. Many years later I found out that the first chapel dedicated to her in Kalamata was built a year after my visit, in 1993.

I was also fascinated by this little-known-to-me priest to whom Saint Xenia appeared, Fr. George Nasis. Before the internet, it was difficult to come across information on him unless you actually went to New York and did the research. So I let it go. But recently I decided to do a little internet research on him, to see what I could find. Here is what I discovered.

Fr. George J. Nasis (also spelled in some sources as Nassis) was born 24 March 1880, received the Social Security number 117-30-5369 (indicating New York), and he died in Dover, New Jersey on Sunday 5 May 1974. Interestingly, the day of his death was only two days after the commemoration of Saint Xenia.

In a New York Times obituary, dated 8 May 1974, we learn the following:

The Rev. George J. Nasis, who retired five years ago as pastor of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, 302 West 91st Street, died Sunday at his home in Dover, N.J. His age was 86.

The Rev. Mr. Nasis had served at the church for 25 years, following a pastorate at St. Constantine and Helen Church, Reading, Pa. He was at the Holy Trinity Greek Cathedral, 319 East 74th Street, from 1940 to 1942, and at St. Constantine and Helen Church in Orange, N.J.

He leaves his wife, the former Anthippi Thotiades; two daughters, Mrs. Evelyn Somkopoulos and Mrs. Coralia Pappas; a son, Homer, and seven grandchildren.

On the website of Saint Constantine and Helen Church of Reading, Pennsylvania, the following information is given to us about their former pastor:

In 1929, a man who had served here as a Greek School teacher was ordained and assigned to this Parish. His name was Father George Nassis and he served here until 1937. He was a well-educated man with a terrific voice, a good knowledge of music and was a most devoted individual. He trained our first choir and to hundreds of young boys and girls of the first generation born in this country, he was and still is today, THE priest. Their respect and admiration of him grew with the years and although he left in 1937 and eventually passed away in 1976, to that generation he remains a holy figure. Among the many wonderful blessings he brought to our community, he was blessed with a vision that helped rediscover a saint who had been forgotten for over 1500 years. Saint Xenia came to him in a vision, and he had an icon written of his vision. It is because of this vision that our Philoptochos choose St. Xenia for its Patron saint.

Though this paragraph provides much interesting information, such as the fact that he was a Greek school teacher at this parish before being ordained to serve there as a priest, it also provides some misleading information. First, he died in 1974, not 1976, and also the vision took place many years after he served in this parish. Fortunately, this website provides for us the only photo I could find of Fr. George.

From Reading, I am not sure where Fr. George served the next three years, but from 1940 to 1942 he served at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City. Then in 1942 he began to serve the Church of the Annunciation until 1967. In one record I found that, at least in 1956, he resided at 325 West 85th Street, New York, New York. It was here, at some point, he received his vision of Saint Xenia. The website of the parish provides the information Fr. George Poulos wrote, and also provides a photo of the icon of Saint Xenia that Fr. George commissioned, which is a source of miracles till today. I believe from here he went on to serve at St. Constantine and Helen Church in Orange, New Jersey, and in 1974 he reposed in Dover, New Jersey.

My hope is that this information will prompt those who know more to send along further information, and as I find out more I will update the above information.