Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Priest Who Tried To Investigate the Skull of the Apostle Andrew

My father was born and raised in Pratsika, a Greek neighborhood in the southern part of the city of Patras. This was a poor neighborhood where my grandfather John and grandmother Anastasia settled after they got married, soon after coming to Greece as refugees during the Asia Minor population exchange of the 1920's. When my father was growing up after the German occupation and the Greek civil war, Pratsika was known for being the worst part of the city to live in, not only because it was among the poorest, but it was also among the seediest, with prostitutes walking the streets, and the youth often causing problems. However, it was by choice that my grandfather stayed there, since he actually made a lot of money as one of the best electricians in the region, bringing electricity to places often for the first time. His reputation as an electrician was so good, that when the German Nazi's came rolling into town, he was forcefully taken by them and brought to Dachau Concentration Camp to be the electrician there for two years. But upon his return, he became an enraged alcoholic at home and spent all his money taking care of his friends at the coffee houses, which is why it was said of him that he was a great friend but a terrible family man.

In 1991 I spent about a month living in this neighborhood, since my grandmother still lived there. At that time it was a much improved neighborhood, though still poor even for a Greek city standard. As people in the neighborhood got to know me, many would say that I reminded them of a certain local priest who grew up in the neighborhood at around the same time as my father. He still lived in the neighborhood and served in the Church of Apostle Paul not far from my grandmother's house. This priest, when he was a boy, was not like the other boys of the neighborhood, but he would often visit, like me, a cave-chapel under the Church of Saint John the Baptist, which was around the corner from my grandmother's house. He would go to pray there for hours on end. He was respected by all, young and old, including my father. Everyone knew he would one day become priest. And he did.

On September 26, 1964 the Vatican returned after many centuries to the city of Patras the skull of the Apostle Andrew as a gesture of goodwill. There was a massive parade, the entire city was there, and my father even remembers seeing the King and Queen of Greece attend the event. The young priest or deacon (not sure which) also was there, but he was not celebrating. Instead, he and others with him did not believe that the Vatican gave the real skull of the Apostle Andrew to Patras, so they plotted together to break into the church one night and do an investigation. They indeed broke in, and though I don't know what happened when they broke in, whether they did an investigation or not, what I do know is that they got caught, and for this they were disciplined by the Metropolitan. The rumor I heard was that, since he was a celibate, he was made to live in a monastery for a time.

Eventually he came back to Pratsika as an archimandrite and parish priest and served there locally. One thing he was known for doing was staying up all night every Saturday into Sunday sitting on a swing outside. When he was asked why he did this every Saturday night, he responded that he did it in imitation of Saint John Chrysostom, who instructed priest's to keep vigil the night before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, and by sitting on a swing it assured him that he would not fall asleep, since if he nodded off he would immediately fall to the ground. He was also known for being a strict priest, who kept men and women apart in the church, with the men on the left side and the women on the right, and the communion line and antidron line had to be orderly, or he would publicly yell about it till it was, since in Greece it is often very disorderly and chaotic.

When I heard these stories, I asked my grandmother if we could attend his church that Sunday for the Divine Liturgy so I could see how he does things. The church was fairly large and pretty full. I took my place on the left side while my grandmother took her place on the right. This was the first and I believe the last time I ever attended a parish church where men and women were separated, and I remember it gave an order to the church service like I never experienced before. Since then, I have always viewed church services where men and women sit together as disorderly. Having heard so much about the priest and being eager to see him, when I saw him he had the aura to me like a celebrity. One of the main reasons was because he had a very charismatic presence, who you knew celebrated each liturgy as if it was his last, and it was truly a celebration and not boring at all. I believe this is why his church was so full. Everyone knew that he was a priest for the right reasons.

For example, there were three giant Byzantine-styled chandeliers in the church, the biggest I have ever seen, and during the Doxology at Matins, and I believe a few other times, he himself would come out and swing these giant chandeliers, which made the whole church and all the frescoes on the walls look like they were dancing. When it came time for communion, not only did many people receive, which was unheard of in Greece at the time, though slowly becoming more popular, the men had to be in one line and women in another. I think I was too nervous to receive communion, since I had been disciplined (rightly so) in front of everyone a few weeks earlier in Kefallonia by another priest for not wiping my lips correctly on the cloth afterwards, and I didn't know what to expect from this priest. Nonetheless, the whole thing was a unique and profitable experience.

My only regret was not talking to him afterwards and finding out what exactly did happen with the investigation of the skull of the Apostle Andrew, and whether or not he now believed that it is his real skull in the Cathedral of Patras.