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papadiamantisPapadiamandis’s views on the education of the clergy are expressed indirectly through his stories, as in the preceding examples, and more directly and extensively in his article, “Priests of the Cities and Priests of the Villages.”

When they speak of the education of the clergy, what do they mean by education? Don’t they mean book learning? The priests of the generation before this one were often undereducated. They weren’t formally educated, but they were well rounded and educated through their work. They were respected and virtuous. But they weren’t able to give sermons, you say? So much the better for them and for the faithful; they taught by their example….They would speak little, say few things, but make a deep impression.

Papadiamandis does not, of course, praise the illiteracy of the clergy but, rather, their simplicity and virtue. He does not reject religious education or “any attempt made from good intentions.” However, he does not separate the question of clerical education from the person of the cleric. He does not believe that knowledge can, by itself, change a reprobate or incapable cleric. For this reason, he accords education “only relative worth,” while in another text he states that “it is better to be unschooled than full of oneself.” The type of education he considers most important is that possessed by the old, thoroughly practical priests, those priests deeply imbued with the liturgical life and praxis of the Church, despite the fact that they were called uneducated by university graduates of Papadiamandis’s time. These priests knew how to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, the Mysteries, and the Church’s other services with precision because they had within themselves a spring of devotion for, and fear of, God. He contrasts them to the “swarm of priests, many [spiritually] unrefined and uncultivated men, whose ordinations were imposed by corrupt politics upon the eminent hierarchs.” Because they have “badly served or, rather, done badly in neglecting the typicon and rejecting the Church’s order of the services, they are incapable of true Orthodox pastoral care, which must be centered on worship.”


St. Papa-Nicholas Planas

Papadiamandis knew that during the period of the Turkish occupation priests or monks undertook responsibility for the education of the people. Although many intellectuals influenced by Western ideas criticized them and their kollyvográmmataas supposedly simple, these priests and monks kept the Romyoívi† within the Orthodox tradition, teaching the people a sense of philanthropy and shaping them in the fear of God. In Papadiamandis’s day, as well, there were priests who, though nearly illiterate, were virtuous in their simplicity and educated the people through their example. One of these, who made a deep impression on Papadiamandis and on all who came to know him, was Papa-Nicholas Planas, who was formally glorified by the Church as a Saint.

I know a priest in Athens. He is the humblest of priests and the simplest of men. If you give him a drachma, or fifty cents, or ten cents,vii he will do any ieropraxíaviii you want. If you don’t give him anything, he won’t ask. For three drachmas, he will do a complete all-night vigil—Compline, Vespers, Matins, Hours, Liturgy. The whole thing lasts nine hours. If you give him two drachmas, he won’t complain.ix

Once you give it to him, he keeps every prayer list,bearing the names of the reposed to be commemorated, forever. For two, three, four, five years, he continues to commemorate the names for the twenty cents you had once given him. In every preparation of the gifts,xi he remembers two or three thousand names. He never gets troubled. When he does the preparation of the gifts, it takes two hours. The Liturgy takes another two hours. At the dismissal of the Liturgy, he distributes whatever bits of bread he has in the altar, from the altar breadxii or from the artoklasía,xiii to those who happen to be there. He holds onto nearly nothing. One time, he owed a small sum of money and wanted to pay his debt; he had ten or fifteen drachmas, all in coins, which he counted for two hours, but he couldn’t figure out how much it was. Finally, a Christian man helped him undertake the counting….The mistakes he makes while reading in church are often humorous. Despite this, however, among all those listening, among the entire congregation, not one of us laughs. Why? We have gotten used to him, and we like it. He is loveable. He is simple and virtuous. He is worthy of the first of the Savior’s Beatitudes.xiv

The liturgical and worshipful ethos of Papadiamandis’s priests serves as the proper foundation and orientation for their pastoral service. The celebrants actively participate in what they perform and proclaim liturgically. They accept the gentle correction that the Divine Liturgy and all the Church’s services bring about in their everyday lives. With eagerness and a servant’s spirit, they pastor the people whom God has entrusted to them, for the altar, and the experiences it provides, are at the core of their pastoral care. It is where they live the mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ. They implement the words of the Apostle Peter in their everyday actions: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” The priests, being lovers of the services, implement and realize within their own lives that for which the Church prays during the ordination service: “Give to him love for the beauty of Thy house, to stand before the gates of the temple of Thy holiness, to light the lamp of the glory of Thy tabernacle.” The priests of Skiathos serve vigils, Divine Liturgies, Matins, and Vespers in the two parish churches in town, the Three Hierarchs and Panagia Limnia, and at the many country churches around the island. They are in church daily, “celebrating the apportioned holy public services and rites, throughout the Church year, as defined by the ecclesiastical governance.”

When performing other sanctifying actions outside of the church, Papadiamandis’s priests display the same liturgical ethos and pastoral responsibility as they do when celebrating the Mysteries. Though they have not studied the theology of worship at a university, they attempt to preserve the precision and meaning of what is being done during their daily services. In this way, the seriousness and ethos of the Church’s services are preserved. In the story, “The Wedding of Karahmet,” which takes place in the pre-1821xv Skiathos of the Castle,xvi Papa-Stamelos is a fine example of the seriousness with which the priests of Skiathos treat the services of the Church. Papa-Stamelos is tricked by Koumbi Nicholas, “one of the first among the dignitaries of the village,” who has good relations with the Turks “and a great talent for coercing people.” The priest is summoned to the flagship of the Pashaxvii to perform the blessing of the waters, but, upon arrival, he is instead asked to perform a wedding—the marriage of Koumbi, who has abandoned his wife, to the guileless Lelouda. Papa-Stamelos is initially frightened and hesitant. He thinks of resisting but, finally, decides to perform the service for a second marriage. When the Greek (Phanariot)xviii secretary of Captain Pasha intervenes and orders him to perform the service for a first marriage “as they do at the Phanar,” the Skiathan priest insists, “I don’t know what happens at the Phanar. I’m going to read the service for a second marriage.” The Pasha’s secretary threatens to hang the priest from the mast of the flagship, but finally gives in before the priest’s insistence.

For reasons of pastoral responsibility and liturgical consistency, the simple Levite believes that the service of crowning for a second marriage must be read. When he understands the whole situation, he knows it is necessary for the prayers of repentance and forgiveness included in that service to be heard. He believes there is an unbreakable unity between what is said in the service and what is lived before and after the service. He cannot in good conscience chant the hymn, “Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor,”xix since Koumbi has left his lawful wife. It does not matter that “the bride is a virgin and is entering into a first marriage,” as the Pasha’s secretary argues. Papa-Stamelos is obviously more interested in the truth than in pleasing powerful people. The story makes it clear that the priest has no more room to resist than he does and that further resistance would be futile and dangerous. Still, with the position he takes, he asserts that the Church must not yield to the pressure of worldly or political expediencies.

The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis (Chapter 2)


Kollyvográmmata: This is a term that refers to spiritual and intellectual formation by the Kollyvádes. This education was usually undertaken secretly in underground schools, as the Turkish occupiers forbade the Greeks to learn their native language, traditions, and faith.

vi The term Romyoí or simply, roman, is arguably the most accurate way of referring to Orthodox Christians within the area and tradition of what is today known as the Byzantine Empire. For more on this issue, see the works of Fr. John romanidis.

vii Greek currency. Before being replaced by the Euro, the exchange rate was about 365 drachmas to the American dollar. The drachma, in turn, was made up of 100 cents.

viii In addition to the Mysteries of the Church, this word includes every ecclesiastical service a priest undertakes.

ix At the time Papadiamandis was writing, priests were dependent on income from parishioners. The situation was particularly difficult for priests in the cities, where they did not have the opportunity to cultivate a garden or provide for themselves in some other traditional way.

Paper containing the names of those (living and dead) for whom intercessory prayers are to be made by the priest.

xi The preparation of the elements of bread and wine before the Liturgy.

xii The altar bread is leavened and made with wheat flour and is used for the Eucharist. It is common in Greece for the faithful to bake these loaves and bring them to the priest along with a list of names to be commemorated during the Liturgy. Usually the number of loaves far exceeds the number necessary for the Eucharist, so they are either kept by the priest or distributed to the faithful at the end of the Liturgy.

xiii The Vespers Service for an important feast includes artoklasía, or the blessing of the five loaves, which are distributed to the faithful at the end of the service.

xiv “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3.

xv In 1821 the Greek revolution began at Kalavrita in the Peloponnese.

xvi A period during which the Greeks of the island lived in the island’s castle, so as to protect themselves from the Turkish occupiers.

xvii Pasha: This was a title bestowed upon high-ranking members of Ottoman Turkish society. It may be compared with the title “Lord” in Britain.

xviii It is the name given to one who is from the Phanar, which is the section of Constantinople (Istanbul) where the Patriarchate is located.

xix This is a prayer from the Orthodox service of a first marriage.


Blogged with the kind permission of Dr. Herman A. Middleton. (@ProtectingVeil)