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The Pappades In My Life
Priests were a big part of my life.
When I was a kid, I was an altar boy at Kimisis Theotokou Church in Brooklyn, where Father Titos was the pastor. He was a nice man, who pretended to be angry with us when we talked too much during the service, so he would make us kneel in a ring around the altar, and we would stay there, knees creaking, as he swished around us in his silk vestments and muttered his prayers in a rapid whisper, and jingled his censor, that filled the air with sweet-smelling smoke.
Until he needed us to go hold the basket for the antidero, or hold the yiayiades back from storming the basket, or the mothers carrying kids that had enough of the service and were getting cranky, or the men in swanky suits who looked like they were important enough so you had to let them through just in case they were.
The priests in Chicago where we also lived, at the Assumption Church, were several, because the congregation was so large, and they became familiar figures because my father was a principal there and I would see them in their black blazers with their white collar sitting in my father’s office and catching up on parish news. One priest, Father Samaras, with a goatee and a wicked sense of humor, became a good friend of my dad’s because he never married and went on to become a bishop, I think. It seemed a lonely life, living in a room in a rectory, but my father said he was a scholar and liked his books.
And I had an uncle back in Chios who was a priest, Thio Pappa, or Pappa Kostis, and I remember him once going through the ritual of getting dressed, and transforming himself from an ordinary man wearing ordinary brown striped pants and a long-sleeve shirt, into this black, resplendent figure who floated through the whitewashed streets of the village like a swirl of smoke.
He was a priest in a church back in the village of Volissos in Chios, and one time, on a casual stroll, because he had business at the church during off hours, he let me and his son Laki (Vangelaki) tag along, Laki in his shorts and plastic sandals, me in my American sneakers from the bin at Woolworth’s. He cranked open the door for us, just for us, and we walked into the solemnity of the church, over the gleaming marble floors and past the glint of all the candlestands and the solemn icons in their panels, and then he went about his business. While Laki, who was mischievous, beckoned me over to a cabinet in the little room next to the altar, shoved aside some velvet curtains, and took out a matchbox and cradled it secretively in his palm. “You want to see something?” he said. And he slid back the cover of the matchbox–and showed me a tumble of old bones inside, like chicken bones left out too long and turning brown. “Saint Nektarios–!” he announced suddenly, and shoved around a little bone that supposedly belonged to the island’s patron saint. And then there were the bones of St. Dimitrios! and St. George! and St. Paraskevi! and St. Markella!: they all wound up in the matchbox!
Until Thio Pappa came and took the matchbox away, and put it back behind the velvet curtains, while I stood there in awe, of my Thio Pappa, who as a priest was the guardian of all the mysteries of life and death.
Hope you had a wonderful Easter.