Papadiamandis’s extensive knowledge of the canons of the Church (another important aspect of ecclesiastical tradition) also becomes apparent through his stories and articles. For example, when referring to the very strict fast of Great Saturday, which has always been observed by the Church, he refers to the sixty-sixth apostolic canon and to the fifty-fifth canon of the Penthektis Synod, which state that there “is no fasting on Saturday and Sunday, except on only one Saturday” He does not, however, stop there. Because the canonical tradition began in the gatherings of ecclesiastical worship and was completed in the gatherings of the Fathers—the Synods—he connects the canons with the liturgical tradition of the Church. Consequently, in the continuation of the text, he cites the canon’s rationale based on the liturgical practice and on the theology of worship. “Some ancient Christians didn’t eat anything at all on Great Saturday; formerly, on this day, the catechumens would be baptized. All night long a vigil would be served.”39 He also shows that the instruction provided by the God-inspired canons permeates all of life, such that worship continues beyond the bounds of the worship gathering, as a liturgy after the Liturgy, transforming all of life into the worship of God. For him, the canons are not historical texts or dry forms, unable to influence the life of the Church. Rather, he discerned that their neglect and the arranging of the life of the Church according to the laws of the State was the beginning of the disaster that obstructed and continues to obstruct the path toward the proper functioning of the Church in Greece.
While Papadiamandis is against the systematic violation and infringement of the Church’s canons, he does not, however, approve of their observance just for the sake of appearance or the folk superstitions that have grown up around them. He also disagrees with the mentality that only clerics are qualified to know the canons and The Ruddervi and that laymen should not have an immediate and personal knowledge of them, a mentality according to which “the people never take The Rudder into their hands, to see how many and which canons it contains.”40 According to this mentality, The Rudder and the Nomocanonasvii are considered to be sacred, and the use of them by laymen is forbidden, lest they desecrate them by holding them in their hands.41 Papadiamandis addresses this mentality with pointed irony in the following dialogue between the wife of a priest and a simple townsman who dares to ask her for The Rudder:
“And what do you want with this book?” Papamanolaina asked him.
“Don’t you worry,” Minas answered. “I want to read something and I’ll give it right back to you.”
“Isn’t this the book that has the Nomocanonas?”” the suspicious presbyteraviii asked once more.
“Yes,” cousin Minas said, wincing.
“My priest says that it isn’t right for anyone that’s not ordained to take hold of it.”
“Don’t take it with your naked hand,” cousin Minas answered. “Use a clean towel.”42
Papadiamandis argues that the conscience of the people and their needs should be placed above the letter and theory of the canons. “This [pious] impulse [of the people] prevailed over the stricter and more canonical view.”43 If, however, he rejects both the devotion to the letter and the distancing from the spirit of the canons, even more so does he condemn the elasticity and Economyix dictated by sinful expediencies.
39. Apanta, vol. 5:90
40. Apanta, vol. 2:85
41. This issue appears in “The Widowed Priest’s Wife,” where the authority of the folk tradition overshadows that of the Church’s canonical tradition. “It seems certain that no canon is recorded in The Rudder that forbids widowed priests’ wives to re-marry. But [the people] regarding the superstition and the tradition, both composed together, as having essentially equal weight as an apostolic or synodal canon.” Apanta. vol. 2:86.
42. “The Widowed Priest’s Wife,” Apanta vol. 2:85
43. “At St. Anastasa’s,” Apanta, vol. 2:353. Papadiamandis’s position regarding the canons also appears in his stories “The Orphan,” “Alone Among Strangers,” and “The Promiscuous One.” See Apanta, vol. 4:59, 83.84 and 350, respectively. [The Boundless Garden, 190.]
vi. The Rudder is a collection of the Church’s canons compiled by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain (one of the leaders of the Kollyvades movement) in the eighteenth century.
vii. The Nomocanonas is a compilation of the ordinances and decisions of the Holy Synods.
viii. Presbytera is the Greek title for the wife of a presbyter (priest).
ix. The Church’s use of this word derives from the “Economy” of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was His Divine Condescension, as God, to become man (without confusion) in the Incarnation. Though man deserved death, God reached out to man in love, to save him. Economy involves the altering of a given rule, requirement, or practice in a specific concrete case so that the therapeutic aim of the rule can be fulfilled.
—The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis (Chapter 4, pages 104-106)