Excerpts from Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis*
A Unique Witness to a Unique Opportunity
The Foreword by Hieromonk Alexis (Trader)
America is known worldwide as a land of great opportunity, but every American must discover this opportunity for himself and, once he has found it, must seize it in order to make it his own. The Holy Orthodox Faith is not simply an opportunity. It is the great opportunity for every man that comes into the world. It involves the opportunity to be healed of the harmful desires and deceptive thoughts that cripple the life of proud and selfish man. It includes the opportunity to become a new creation in Christ Jesus guided by humility and selfless love. It contains the opportunity to become a vessel of the Holy Spirit ceaselessly united with Christ in the heart. It encompasses the opportunity to truly become Christ-like by grace and, in turn, to humbly embrace all of creation with His boundless love. The Church is truly a land of opportunity. The “great cloud of witnesses”—the Saints throughout the ages—give testimony to the fact that this land of opportunity really exists, but every believer must still find his way into that promised land and make its great opportunity his own. This wonderful book on Alexandros Papadiamandis by Dr. Anestis Keselopoulos provides a map for this very quest.
Papadiamandis was not a bishop. He was not priest. He was not a monk. He was a simple yet genuinely Orthodox layman who observed those who seized upon the great opportunity and those who failed to do so. His observations, in turn, became the heart of his fictional, but not fictitious, writings. As a layman and as an artist, he had the freedom to explore the great opportunity from every angle and the boldness to point out the obstacles to that opportunity, which are created when the misguided misunderstand the eucharistic and liturgical aspect of ecclesial life that makes that opportunity possible and act on that misunderstanding. Dr. Keselopoulos makes it quite clear that Papadiamandis’s profound understanding of what liturgy is and what liturgy can do enable Papadiamandis to initiate others through his writings into the mystery of this great opportunity. Greece’s Dostoevsky will be, for many, the first step across the threshold of this mystery.
Liturgical renewal is not a new theme for Christians in the land of opportunity. Orthodox Christians in America are well aware of the importance of liturgical texts, sacred icons, and participation by the faithful in the divine services. Nevertheless, Papadiamandis opens another window by letting us see how the liturgy flowers, in all its manifestations, under the right conditions such as those that were present on his native island of Skiathos, and how it withers when fallen human interests deprive it of its proper soil and care. What makes this vision of Papadiamandis so compelling is that he does not merely offer us another philosophy of the liturgy or a new ideology for conservative or liberal reform. Instead, he offers us human examples taken from the experience of day-to-day life in Christ. His priests and lay folk are people with whom we can identify and to whom we can turn for guidance as we enter the same struggle to offer God the worship He is due.
This makes Greece’s Dostoevsky far more than a description of theological teachings contained within the literature of an important writer in modern Greece. It is a catechism. In fact, it is not only a catechism for those who know little about Orthodox liturgy and faith—it can also act as a compass for those who have some knowledge about Orthodox prayer and doctrine but are in need of criteria for evaluating authentic liturgical life today. In other words, this gift to America is both a catechism and a strategy for Orthodox evangelism that begins with the pulse of the heart of Orthodoxy—the liturgical life of the faithful. As a catechism, Greece’s Dostoevsky provides instruction on the ideal conditions that enable the grace of God to sanctify and transfigure the faithful in the eucharistic gathering. As a strategy, it warns those serving the Church of the pitfalls that prevent those conditions from being established and, by extension, prevent conversion and transformation of the faithful as well.
Liturgical Art and Life: East and West
Non-Orthodox readers might well be mystified by the importance of hymnography, architecture, iconography, and ecclesiastical music as sources of life and wisdom for Papadiamandis. They may be tempted to view Papadiamandis as a mystic or, even worse, as a religious fanatic.(i) Such a view would greatly diminish the value of Papadiamandis’s observations and could not be further from the truth. Papadiamandis was a normal, healthy Orthodox Christian. He was a realist and, one could say, an empiricist. By experience, he knew the transfiguring power of the ecclesiastical arts in the Orthodox Church, and the wisdom he gained therefrom entered his fiction in a most natural way.
Nevertheless, if those who are unfamiliar with the Orthodox Church are puzzled by his source of inspiration, they are certainly justified. Today in the West, Roman Catholics and Protestants are primarily instructed by listening to sermons, attending Bible studies, and reading theological works. Although some of these Western Christians consider the ecclesiastical arts to be praiseworthy expressions of individual creativity and piety, these arts remain external forms of only relative value and secondary importance. These arts can be easily altered or replaced by other quite different artistic forms without compromising the worship service whose essence is as nebulous as its changing forms. In fact, in terms of the elevating emotions evoked by art, the difference between an aria and the settings for a mass or between a religious painting and a secular masterpiece is relatively insignificant.
Other analogies are necessary in order to understand the fundamental role that art plays in the Orthodox East. Art is used to instruct the believer in a concrete Orthodox Christian approach to life in its manifold dimensions. The modern term for this ancient teaching technique would be the “multimedia experience,” with visual, musical, linguistic, and even olfactory dimensions. Each sense receives impressions that direct the entire soul to glorify God and repent for its own estrangement from the divine beauty that envelopes the soul during divine worship. Art is used not merely to educate the mind but, more importantly, to shape the heart and redirect its desires and ambitions.
In other words, the liturgical arts are the time-tested tools that the Church uses to heal the faithful and direct them to Christ. In Orthodoxy, the arts are not intended to provide religious entertainment for the senses but to purify them.(ii) The theological essence of Orthodoxy is quite precise, and the forms that protect the essence are necessarily precise as well. Those who attained to union with Christ either produced the liturgical arts or affirmed the fact that their use helps lead others to that same union. These artistic creations are the precious fruits of life in the Holy Spirit that lead those willing to be led to the spiritual life of Paradise. They have the purpose not only of opening the heavenly world of God’s glory to the believer, but also of opening up the believer’s own inner world so that he can see his passions and deceitful desires and, by God’s grace, defeat them. One hymn in the veritable sea of liturgical texts has the faithful chant (and thus confess), “many times when I am chanting hymns I am also committing sins; for while my mouth utters songs of praise, my soul is pondering unseemly things.”(iii) Even the modern psychologist would agree that this brutal honesty about our fallenness and recognition of our hypocrisy is the first step to overcoming them both.
Another aspect of Papadiamandis’s vision that may seem strange in the West is the absolute centrality of the Church as experience. The liturgical life consists of more than a Protestant Sunday worship service or even a Roman Catholic daily mass. It is the oxygen that infuses the atmosphere of the believer’s entire life, enabling him to breathe. The texts from the divine services are what help him make basic decisions in his daily dealings with others. The liturgical life gives meaning to the most basic aspect of created life – time, the coming of day in Matins and the coming of night at Vespers. Simultaneously, it takes the believer beyond time in the Divine Liturgy to the uncreated reality of the glory of the Holy Trinity. Each day in the liturgical cycle is a unique gift of God, a unique opportunity to approach Him in thanksgiving and repentance. This is also reflected by the central icon of the Saint whose memory is celebrated on any particular day as well as by the liturgical texts that change with the hour, the day, and the season.
In the Orthodox Church, worship is a source of joyful sadness that clears the mind and heart with a sober optimism. It is also a real struggle of body and soul. This athletic aspect of Orthodox liturgical life may also perplex the non-Orthodox reader. Although the importance of pilgrimage is a common theme in the religious texts of Western Christendom, the importance of vigils, which are also associated with pilgrimage, may not be so readily apparent. Vigils enable the believer to give his entire self over to the liturgical life of the Church for an extended period of time. The night hours during which visibility is lessened enable the believer to focus on turning inward. By devoting these hours of darkness to prayer, although they are the customary time for sleep, the believer offers a small sacrifice to God. In spite of the real struggles a vigil requires, the believer who turns to God for such an extended period of time does not feel as though he is offering God anything of particular significance, but that he is the fortunate recipient of mercy from God. The many blessed hours at prayer humble the soul, soften it, make it less selfish, and thus open it up to the grace of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing gloomy about these vigils. They are illumined by another light and quite naturally become a source of great joy; for, through such vigils, man can find his true self by finding the God of his heart.
Religious Fiction and Greece’s Dostoevsky
Throughout the ages, fiction has been used to convey ideas and experiences of ultimate import. In the West, there is a long literary tradition of addressing religious topics or using religious practices as a backdrop for fiction even before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the modern era, George Bernanos’s Diary of A Country Priest comes to mind as a Western counterpart to some of Papadiamandis’s literary explorations. The closest parallel to Papadiamandis’s short stories and novels, however, is found in large sections of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which are likewise saturated with Orthodox teaching taken, in many instances, from texts read during the liturgical services. While these sections in The Brothers Karamazov can be read without an in-depth knowledge of Orthodox spirituality and liturgical life, they only reverberate properly within that context. Only within the context of life in the Orthodox Church can the significance of many gestures be appreciated and the many subtleties distinguishing the exaggerated from the conventional be perceived. This same remark could be made of Papadiamandis and is, in itself, justification for Dr. Keselopoulos’s study. Like Dostoevsky, Papadiamandis looked deep into the human soul and found that its beauty and nobility depend not on the power of its intellect, or on the intensity of its desire, but on its genuine relationship with God.
There is, however, an important difference between Dostoevsky and his Greek counterpart. A book like The Brothers Karamazov explores the vast extremes of the human soul, from the most vulgar and sensual to the most refined and holy. Many who read The Brothers Karamazov in the educated West take more of an interest in Ivan, the intellectual, than in the devout Alyosha, the would-be monk, even though Alyosha is declared to be the story’s hero by the narrator himself. This shift in focus has made it possible for many, including such prominent figures as Freud and Sartre, to read and admire The Brothers Karamazov and completely miss its true import—that the Christ-like experience of transfiguration brought about by humble love and holiness within the Orthodox Church is the rebuttal to the atheist’s most brilliant philosophical arguments and the sensualist’s uncontrolled desires. From Dr. Keselopoulos’s descriptions of Papadiamandis’s sketches, it is clear that such a misinterpretation of the significance of Papadiamandis’s work would be much more difficult, and Professor Keselopoulos’s analysis of these sketches makes this misinterpretation well-nigh impossible. The analogy with Dostoevsky hinges on the realization that what is most precious in Dostoevsky is neither the tormented personality, nor conflicts with the subconscious, but Orthodoxy itself.
Although Papadiamandis is a well-known literary figure in modern Greece, his sizeable corpus remains relatively unknown in the West, where knowledge of Modern Greek literature hardly extends beyond the novels of Nikos Kazantzakis. In a secular age given to blasphemy, Papadiamandis’s works seem by comparison out of step. Nevertheless, what gives his works their strength is not the trendy doubts and passions of contemporary man, but the perennial possibility of transcending every doubt and passion by union with God. It is hoped that Dr. Keselopoulos’s study will initiate an interest in Papadiamandis as a literary figure, initially among Orthodox Christian readers, and lead to the translation and wider dissemination of Papadiamandis’s own works among the English-speaking public at large. Good literature is capable of leaving a mark on people’s choices and people’s lives. More than one soul has turned to Orthodoxy on account of the good seed sown by Dostoevsky’s works. The same can surely take place through Greece’s Dostoevsky as well. Professor Keselopoulos’s book is meant to ready that seed for sowing.
Some Significant Themes for Orthodoxy in America
Many of the themes covered in Greece’s Dostoevsky can be found scattered throughout Orthodox ascetic literature and lives of the Saints. What makes Papadiamandis’s treatment of these themes unique, apart from the use of the modern novel and short story as a medium, is that his vision is formed by the truly praiseworthy, though much-maligned, Kollyvádes fathers. These modern fathers, devoted to the tradition of the Philokalia, refused to separate liturgical practice from dogma and spiritual endeavor for the sake of secondary expediencies of convenience or practicality. They understood that the true goal of liturgy, dogma, and spiritual endeavor is union with Christ. All the details in the rich tapestry of Orthodoxy must serve that goal, or they fray into an incoherent tangled mass of strands leading nowhere at all. The Kollyvádes fathers were Papadiamandis’s teachers, and by experience he knew the benefits of following their guidance. Even a cursory glance at some of this guidance, gleaned by Dr. Keselopoulos from the writings of Papadiamandis, intimates what a blessing this unified vision of the spiritual life and authentic liturgical experience will be for Orthodox Christians in America and for all people whose lives are marked by the fractured and compartmentalized nature of society at large.
For Papadiamandis, the way the divine services are conducted and the texts and actions called for by these services form a unity. In particular, humility rather than ostentation is the guide for how the priest should serve, how the chanters should chant, and how the Church should be adorned. This humility is not a forced posturing but the natural outcome of serving the Eucharist with awareness that Christ is the One offering and being offered.(iv) Papadiamandis’s characters demonstrate that the beginning of humility is honesty with themselves, by admitting that they are sinners “and the chief of them,” and honesty with God. Their refreshing simplicity and forthrightness springs from their unified life in the Church nourished by liturgical texts, which encourage frankness in the believer’s approach to himself and to God.
Can an American living in such a complex society with people traumatized by a diversity of psychological disorders gain this honesty, simplicity, and humility? If he has the opportunity to immerse himself fully in the life of the Church and if the wise precepts of the fathers for the liturgical life and the life in Christ are implemented, all things are clearly possible through the grace of Christ. In fact, the point of Papadiamandis’s narratives is that the downtrodden, wounded, and despised can be transfigured into the glorious people of God through the Church’s divine worship.
Humility in liturgical celebrations enables the priest to be shepherded with his flock by Christ, the One True Shepherd. Humility enables the priest to console the suffering. Humility encourages the priest to be dedicated to the divine services and to celebrate them with the fear of God and precision [akriveia]. This precision and fear of God in serving the services as the typicon and sacred canons prescribe, in turn, sanctify the priest, crowning him with the wisdom and understanding needed to be a good physician to the souls under his care.
Of course, the issue of being precise or strict [akriveia] in contrast to making adjustments [economy] is highly debated by Orthodox Christians in America. Dr. Keselopoulos’s treatment of Papadiamandis makes it clear that strict adherence to the canons and typicon need not be legalistic. The canons and typicon are fruits of worship imbued with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and they aim at enabling each generation to enter into that same worship. Entering fully into this worship makes the pious fisherman of every age most wise through the grace of the Holy Spirit.(v) It enabled the “uneducated” priests of Skiathos to become illumined and full of understanding; it can do the same for the humble priests of America. When, however, the canons are disregarded, the Church cannot function properly. Economy serves the same aim as the strict application of the canons; it is not a carte blanche for changes or exceptions that fail to take into account the therapeutic aim of canon law. It should be noted that the faithful and careful celebration of the divine services gives the priest the understanding necessary to apply the canons appropriately in each situation that arises. In particular, the attentive reading of the priestly prayers kindles the priest’s zeal to do good. Unwavering obedience to the instructions for celebrating the divine services together with humility and self-reproach before the holy altar accustoms the priest to doing good according to the will of God. Together these blessed habits ingrain in him a patristic mindset and, more importantly, a receptivity to divine grace that provides the illumination necessary for the canons to be applied in a God-pleasing way. “God is not unjust and does not close the door against those who knock with humility.”vi The faithful and careful celebration of the divine services is among the most important ways in which the priest learns how to knock at the door of God’s tender mercy.
An issue related to the subject of liturgical precision is that of full-length monastic services. Orthodoxy in America is currently blessed with a flowering of monastic endeavor. This flowering, however, raises questions about the relationship between the services in parishes and in monasteries as well as the relationship between the monastic typicon and the so-called parish typicon. On this issue, Papadiamandis is particularly clear. The monastic services provide a model and serve as an inspiration that the parishes should strive to imitate as much as possible given the requirements of life in the world. “Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men.”vii There is no reason why monks should be the only Orthodox Christians to enjoy the sweetness of vigils that last throughout the entire night. There is no reason why the monks alone should feast on the plentiful banquet of divine services, while those in the world should be content with only a few crumbs from the Master’s table. Papadiamandis’s examples reveal that all-night vigils full of compunction and humility concluding with the Divine Liturgy are not only feasible for believers in a parish but can become as much their joy and source of strength as they are for any monk in a monastic community. In Orthodoxy, there is not one spirituality for the laity and another spirituality for the monastics. There is one unifying goal in the Church—union with Christ. The surest way to that goal is through the cultivation of a genuine liturgical ethos of repentance and thanksgiving. Since this ethos is directly dependant on the length of time spent at genuine prayer, the length and form of the services celebrated in the monasteries provide those living in the world with a concrete and detailed model for how this ethos can become their own.
In recent years, the patristic analogy of the Church as a hospital has been rightly stressed. There is a tendency, however, to view the priests exclusively as physicians and the laity exclusively as patients. Papadiamandis offers an important corrective to this tendency through his emphasis on lay ministry. First of all, everyone including the priest is a patient in this hospital under the care of Christ the Great Physician. Although the priest has a fundamental role as a physician, the staff, which includes nurses and technicians of various kinds, is also absolutely necessary. That staff, for Papadiamandis, is the laity, whose pastoral labors extend beyond the space of the Church building and time of the Church services.
On the other hand, Papadiamandis notes the dangers of laity assuming responsibility when they are infected with the spiritual diseases of vanity, vainglory, and acquisitiveness. Wardens or parish councils without an ecclesial and Eucharistic mindset can act like tyrants and sabotage the very work of the Church. Their relation to the ecclesial body and respect for the position of the ordained is also crucial for the unity of the Church.
In an age of plastic, disposable, virtual reality, Americans thirst for what is solid, enduring, and real. In a fractured, compartmentalized society, they long for unity and wholeness with God, with their fellow man, and with themselves. In Greece’s Dostoevsky, the American Orthodox Christian will not only be given a glass of water to quench this thirst, but he will also be directed to that fount of living water in the genuine and faithful liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church. Papadiamandis’s works bear witness to the fact that the solid, the enduring, and the real that unite all creation are ultimately found in the experience of Christ, nurtured in the Orthodox Church, the same yesterday, today, and forever. This is the great opportunity that Dr. Keselopoulos illuminates through Papadiamandis’s writings. May we all make this opportunity our own.
Father Alexis (Trader)
The Sacred Monastery of Karakallou
The Holy Mountain of Athos
i. One is, in fact, reminded of Dostoevsky’s hero in The Brothers Karamazov. “I must explain that this young man Alexei, or Alyosha, as we fondly call him, was not a fanatic, and in my opinion, at least was not even a mystic.” Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Book I, chapter 4, The Third Son (Signet Classic: New York: 1999) 29.
ii. In the first ode of the canon for Holy Pascha, Orthodox Christians are exhorted, “let us purify our senses and we shall see Christ in the unapproachable light of the resurrection.” This purification is the necessary first step towards the vision of Christ in glory, the stage of perfection or theosis.
iii. Taken from the Tuesday Matins Aposticha in the third tone (Octoechoes).
iv. In the silent prayer before the Cherubic hymn, the priest says, “For Thou art the Offerer and the Offered,” meaning that Christ is the true Celebrant of the mysteries and the Mystery being celebrated. In humility and the fear of God, the priest simply lends his hands and his mouth to Christ.
v. Apolytikion for Pentecost, “Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, for Thou hast shown the fishermen to be most wise by sending down to them the Holy Spirit.”
vi. Saint John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26:118 (Holy Transfiguration Monastery: Brookline, 1979), 179.
vii. Ibid., Step 26:31, 167.
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A Short Biography of Alexandros Papadiamandis
From the First Chapter of Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis*
One of the greatest figures in modern Greek literature, Alexandros Papadiamandis was born on the Greek island of Skiathos on March 4, 1851, “the second Sunday of Lent and the feast day of Gregory Palamas, while they were singing the triadiká(1) in church” (as we are informed by his fellow countryman Papa-George Rigas,(2) distinguished scholar of folk traditions and specialist of the liturgical typicon). While this first intimation of God’s favor appeared during Papadiamandis’s birth, the second took place during his Baptism:
“He was baptized on the Monday of Bright Week and named Alexandros. Something unusual happened while the priest, Papa-Nicholas, performed the Baptism; as he poured the oil in the baptismal font, the oil immediately made the form of the cross on the water. Papa-Nicholas interpreted this strange phenomenon, saying, “This child will be great.”
His father was the pious priest Adamantios Emmanuel. Papadiamandis writes that he was “a beneficent guide in all ecclesiastical questions and a sublime adornment of ecclesiastical celebrations” in the church of the Three Hierarchs and in the country chapels of Skiathos.(3) From an early age, Alexandros followed his father around the island helping him, sometimes in the altar and sometimes at the lectern as chanter. With his exceptional sensitivity, Alexandros treasured his experiences of sharing this liturgical service with his father. His heart was filled with and his nous(4) was instructed by images from the priestly life and the Church’s services. He was so influenced by them that most of the scenes he chose to paint as a child were taken from the life of the Church. Reflecting on this time, he writes in his autobiographical memoir, “When I was young I would paint Saints, or I would write [hymnographical] verse.”
From his childhood years, Alexandros had the opportunity to live the tradition of the Kollyvádes(5) fathers (those Greek Orthodox Athonite elders involved in the eighteenth century movement that inspired spiritual renewal and a return to more traditional liturgical and spiritual practices). This tradition had been preserved on Skiathos through the presence of a monastery built by the Kollyvádes, the Monastery of the Annunciation. Although the monastery was in decline during Papadiamandis’s later years, the diligently preserved kollyvadian tradition remained alive in the inhabitants of the island. He would later write, “In this small monastery [of the Panagia(6) of Kounistras in Skiathos] at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, six of my relatives were priest-monks.” Papadiamandis gives an account of the monastery’s spiritual life and foundation on Skiathos:
Papa-Gregory...the ascetic, descended from the heights of Athos(7) together with his elder, Papa-Niphon, and thirty other monks. They sailed to the island of Gregory’s birth [Skiathos], and there, in the gorge of Angallianous, they built a beautiful, awe-inspiring monastery—patriarchal, Stavropegic,(8) and coenobitic(9)—with an exquisite, very fine church, built with great care. It was so beautiful that during those years, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was famous and enjoyed great respect among the monasteries of Athos. These ascetics...were the so- called Kollyvádes, who were under persecution on the Holy Mountain, as they insisted on precisionx (regarding frequent communion), and on many other things.
The renowned Elder Dionysios was a distinguished spiritual father and learned priest-monk who lived on Skiathos, whose roots were in the kollyvadian tradition. Papadiamandis knew him personally and did not hide his admiration for him. He was “the inspired spiritual father in the small monastery of the Prophet Elijah.” Papadiamandis had such monks and monasteries in mind when he wrote, “the rule of prayer should be complete, following all the old typicons, with the vigils(11) and pre-dawn Matins, with all the appointed verses and readings from the Psalter.”
Papadiamandis was initiated into this kollyvadian—the genuine Orthodox—tradition, in his own home by his father, Papa-Adamantios, and by the broader world of the Church in Skiathos. In an unsigned obituary for his father, he wrote that
Papa-Adamantios, like all of the older priests of the island, was taught how to celebrate the Mysteries(12) by those venerable Kollyvádes, who, at the end of the last century, established the Monastery of the Annunciation...which became a seedbed of humble priests for our island, priests who were lovers of the divine services. Simple and virtuous, they enjoyed the love and respect of the inhabitants, having no affectations or hypocrisy, and displaying no vanity as they lived their lives as priests.
Seeds of spiritual struggle that had been planted in Papadiamandis during his childhood and adolescence at home and in the wider environment of Skiathos were brought to fruition when he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountainx(13) for a few months at the age of twenty-one. In one of his stories, we read about some of the events of his visit, mainly at the Skete(14) of Xenophontos, and we perceive how the charm of the Holy Mountain was an inspiration for him. While there, he met many ascetics and hesychasts(15) and became familiar with the liturgical life of the monks. He was enthralled by the vigils of the monastics and recorded in his heart not only the strict typicon and the Byzantine melodies but also the spirit that governed it all. In this way, Athos and its traditions affected the path his life took and enriched it with unforgettable memories.
Given his rich spiritual upbringing, experiences, and heritage, it is only natural that Papadiamandis would choose to spend his life within this rich Orthodox tradition, preserving the Orthodox liturgical ethos through his writings and life. The critics of his age believed that there was little value in a detailed description of “how a village priest went to celebrate the liturgy in a country chapel for a little community of peasants or shepherds, who and how many took part in the festival, and what their customs were like.” Papadiamandis, however, did not regard the celebrations as mere holidays, but himself lived the events and the life of the Church as the center and foundation of all events and all life.
Papadiamandis moved within this ecclesiastical environment and within the wider Greek tradition. He lived both aspects of this tradition, Ancient and Byzantine, in a diachronic unity, which spanned the ages. He had utter integrity, both as a person and as a Greek, within whose Hellenism was Byzantium and in whose love for Byzantium might be discerned Hellenism. In his texts, Ancient Greece resembles a flower that, wilting from its desire for the truth, then bears great fruit in the warmth of the Sun of Righteousness [Christ]. When history is viewed as a progression toward the discovery of the fullness of the truth of Orthodoxy, tradition truly lives, and history is kept from being fragmented. Other important figures in modern Greek literature such as Photios Kontoglou(16) and, even more so, Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis(17) would act from this perspective later on, with both their pens and their brushes. Together with our author, they are regarded as solid links in this tradition.
God favored Papadiamandis with many gifts, and he struggled to use them in a way that would bear the most God-pleasing fruit. The reverent and liturgical ethos expressed through Papadiamandis’s writings and life bear witness to the successful cultivation of his gifts. His desire to glorify God is shown even more in the way he ended his life and in his attitude toward death. In a prayer he offered at the end of a poem entitled, “To the Little Panagia in the Turret,” he beseeches her, “comfort me, as well, my Panagia, before / I depart and will be no more.” In a letter written by Papa-George Rigas, we learn about the last moments of Papadiamandis’s life on earth:
His repose took place as follows: He became ill on the 29th of November 1910. On the third day of his illness, he fainted. When he revived, he asked, “What happened to me?” “It’s nothing, a small fainting spell,” his three brothers who were at his side told him. “I haven’t fainted,” Alexandros said, “in so many years; doesn’t it seem that it’s a prelude to my repose? Get the priest immediately and don’t delay.”... Soon after, having been called [by his brothers], the priest and the doctor arrived at the same time. Papadiamandis was, above all things...a pious Christian. So, as soon as he saw the doctor, he asked him, “What are you doing here?” “I came to see you,” the doctor told him. “Keep quiet,” the sick man told him. “I will first follow the ecclesiastical path [and call upon the help of God], and then you can come later.”... He had control of his faculties until the end and wanted to write a story. Until the end, his mind was dedicated to God. On his own, a few hours before his repose, he called for the priest to come so he could partake of Holy Communion. “Perhaps later on I won’t be able to swallow!” he explained. It was the eve of his repose and, as irony would have it, it was the day they told him that he would receive the medal of the Cross of the Savior. On the eve of his repose, the second of January, he said, “Light a candle [and] bring me an [ecclesiastical] book.” The candle was lit. The book was about to be brought. However, Papadiamandis wearily said, “Don’t worry about the book; tonight I will sing whatever I remember by heart.” And he began to chant in a trembling voice, “Thy Hand Touching” [a troparion from the Hours of the eve of Theophany].
Papadiamandis sang this final hymn and, as day broke between the second and third of January of his sixtieth year, he wearily fell asleep. After passing through the furnace of pain and trials and tasting many of the bitter dregs of life while faithfully living the liturgical life of the Church, he now stretched out his strong wings to fly to the upper chapel of the angels, toward which he had oriented his whole life. It snowed on the following day and, like Uncle Yiannios in the story, “Love in the Snow,” Papadiamandis lay down his worn-out body, presenting himself, his life, and his work before the Judge, the Ancient of Days, the Thrice-Holy. This was, finally, the only judgment with which he was concerned as he passed through life. Though his life and struggle in this world have ended, his work will continue to give witness to his devotion to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church for generations to come.
1) Triadiká: A series of hymns sung in honor of the Holy Trinity.
2) Papa: A diminutive for a priest, used before his first name. It is often used as a term of endearment.
3) It is a common practice in Greece for the faithful to build small chapels throughout the countryside, often in gratitude for miraculous interventions by Christ, the Mother of God, or the Saints. The tiny island of Patmos, for example, has 365 chapels and churches. The chapels serve as places of prayer and pilgrimage and are the focus of worship on the feast day of the Saint or event for which the chapel is named.
4) The word nous has been translated as “reason” or “intellect,” but used in the patristic sense, as it is here, it refers to man’s spiritual faculty rather than his logical ability.
5) The name Kollyvádes is derived from the Greek word kóllyva, the boiled wheat prepared by the faithful to be blessed in church in memory of the reposed. The use of wheat as a Christian symbol for the soul is rooted in Christ’s words in John 12:24. The name Kollyvádes was derisively given to this movement of spiritual renewal because one of the issues addressed was the performance of memorial services for the reposed on Sundays. The kollyvadian fathers were opposed to this innovation, as it was not in accordance with the traditional resurrectional character of Sunday.
6) Panagia: This is perhaps the most popular term of endearment for Mary the Mother of God in the Greek language.
7) Mount Athos: A monastic republic in northern Greece, on a peninsula surrounded by the Aegean Sea.
8) A Stavropegic monastery is one that falls under the direct supervision of the most senior bishop in any given Church jurisdiction. In the case of large parts of Greece, a Stavropegic monastery would fall directly under the supervision of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In the same way, the monasteries of Mount Athos are also Stavropegic and enjoy a similar spiritual independence from the local bishop.
9) Coenobitic literally means “common life” and refers to a monastery where all members of the community share monastic life: in prayer, worship, and work. This is the most common form of monastic life.
10) Within ecclesiastical vocabulary, precision [akríveia] generally denotes the precise keeping of the Church’s traditions (canonical, liturgical, etc.) as opposed to the use of Economy—understood as a loosening of these traditions at a certain time, for a certain person (or persons), when precision obstructs the path to salvation.
11) The Greek word for vigil (agrypnía) refers both to one’s own private vigil in prayer as well as to the long night services (particularly for Church feasts) celebrated in the Orthodox Church. An Athonite monastery has an average of thirty-five vigils a year. A standard vigil lasts between nine and ten hours, while patronal vigils can last between twelve and seventeen hours.
12) The Greek word mystírion is translated throughout this work as “Mystery” rather than as “sacrament,” as it corresponds more closely to the theological meaning of the word. It is capitalized so as to differentiate it from the common meaning of the word.
13) Also known as Mount Athos, see above.
14) The most common type of skete is a type of monastic organization somewhere between a coenobitic monastery and a hermitage. In a skete, a group of small monastic dwellings are located around a central church.
15) Hesychasts are monastics that undertake the ascetic practice of hesychia, meaning “stillness.” It is an ancient spiritual tradition that helps the ascetic remain constantly in prayer.
16) Photios Kontoglou (1895-1965): A writer, artist, and iconographer. An important figure in modern Greek literature, he is best known for his study of Byzantine iconography and his great struggle to reintroduce traditional iconography into modern Greece.
17) Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis (1908-1993): A novelist, poet, artist, and pharmacist whose pharmacy in Thessalonica became a refuge for poets and painters in the mid-twentieth century. He is buried at the women’s monastery of Ormylia in Halkidiki.
*Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis, by Anestis Keselopoulos (Protecting Veil Press, 2011).