A simple shepherd

by abbamoses

Photo of St Nicholas Planas

Today the Church of Greece commemorates one of its shining modern Saints: Papa-Nicholas Planas (+1932).

St Nicholas was a simple parish priest in Athens, humble, poor, and barely literate. He was born on Naxos in 1851 to moderately prosperous parents; but when his father died, his mother was reduced to near-poverty, and moved the family to Athens. St Nicholas married at the age of seventeen, but his wife died after a short time, leaving him with one son. He served the Divine Liturgy daily, never missing a day for fifty years, despite illness, storms, and war. His liturgies lasted for several hours, mostly due to the hundreds of commemorations that he included. The faithful would give him sheets of paper containing names to be commemorated; he would carry all the sheets with him in bulging satchels. A few of his spiritual children made it their task to go through the papers secretly and discard the oldest and most worn, so that the commemorations would not increase without limit.

In his conversation, the Saint had a simple and childlike manner, and he was often scorned by more sophisticated laymen, priests and hierarchs, never being appointed to any but the smallest and poorest parishes. Many, however, discerned his holiness, and a large synodia of spiritual children slowly gathered around him. Among these were the iconographer Photios Kontoglou and the writer Alexandros Papadiamantis; though both were respected intellectuals, they recognized in Papa-Nicholas the “savor of Orthodoxy” often absent in more polished clerics.

Once, a very young altar boy ran out from the altar while Fr Nicholas was serving and, trembling with fear, cried to his mother, ‘Mama, Father Nicholas is floating in the air!’ His mother, trying to comfort him, said ‘Don’t be afraid, all priests do that when they serve the Liturgy.’ St. Nicholas was often in difficulties with the hierarchy because he continued to keep the feasts according to the Old Calendar after the Church in Greece had adopted the New Calendar. Nonetheless, he never broke commumnion with the national church (nor they with him): his humility left no room for Church politics.  He reposed in peace in 1932.

What follows is a re-post of a 2010 post on St Nicholas.

Shrine to St Nicholas Planas in Athens. This is the altar of a tiny church in which Papa-Nicholas served. When that church was torn down and replaced by a larger one, the altar was preserved and made into this shrine. (Photo by Joel Brady)

Here are a few paragraphs from Photios Kontoglou’s foreword to Papa-Nicholas Planas: The Simple Shepherd of the Simple Sheep. Saint Nicholas Planas (+1932) spent most of his life as a simple parish priest living in poverty in and around Athens.

Let the world go its own way, “the broad way that leadeth to destruction.” The few who turn aside from that road, though they live hidden from the world, yet they have that blessed hope which is “full of immortality.” The others, according to the Apostle Paul, are they “which have no hope.”

For this reason also, the blessed and innocent Elder, whose life is written in this book, lived joyfully, as if he were a little child, “with cheerfulness,” in spite of all the bitterness he went through, since he had within him the Holy Spirit Who is called the Paraclete, that is, “the Comforter” — because whoever is enlightened by Him has that consolation which overcomes all bitterness and makes his face to shine. For him, disdain is welcomed with joy; poverty and privation become riches; ill-treatment is turned to honor, hate to love, despair to blessed hope, affliction to joy.

Truly, blessed and fortunate are all those who have quickly discerned the bitterness which is found in the joys of the world and have drawn near to Christ, Who blessed the poor in spirit, them that mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.