.. and Charles Dickens
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 in church” (as we are informed by his fellow countryman Papa-George Rigas, distinguished scholar of folk traditions and specialist of the liturgical typicon).
[For those in a hurry, you may skip the short biography, and go straight to his short story link at the bottom of the page]
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.
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 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 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 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, and coenobitic—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 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 (http://orthodoxwiki.org/Kollyvades_Movement), 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 Mountain 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 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 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 and, even more so, Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis 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.
“It was in 1887 that he found what could be described as his spiritual bolt-hole in the turbulent and often harsh world of the metropolis: the small church of the Prophet Elisha, set in the courtyard of a private house in the old part of the city, under the rock of the Acropolis. There Papa-Nicholaos Planas, a simple priest born in the same year as Papadiamandis, a man of prayer and of great spiritual gifts, would regularly hold vigil services, gathering people from all walks of life into the crucible of the little church. Papa-Nicholaos was canonized in 1992.
Papadiamandis never married. He was a shy and retiring man, as the few extant photographs of him testify, a man seemingly not of this world despite his acute observations of it. He also had to provide for his unmarried sisters at home. But despite his introspective nature he had a small circle of close friends, including Pavlos Nirvanas and Yannis Vlachoyannis, well-known Athenian men of letters who on various occasions undertook the role of literary agents and helped him during hard times.” (http://deniseharveypublisher.gr/people/alexandros-papadiamandis)
Papadiamantis’ longest works were the serialized novels “The Gypsy Girl,” “The Emigrant,” and “Merchants of Nations.” These were adventures set around the Mediterranean, with rich plots involving captivity, war, pirates, the plague, etc. However, the author is best remembered for his scores of short stories. Written in his own version of the then official language of Greece, “katharevousa” (a “purist” written language heavily influenced by ancient Greek), Papadiamantis’ stories are little gems. They provide lucid and lyrical portraits of country life in Skiathos, or urban life in the poorer neighborhoods of Athens, with frequent flashes of deep psychological insight.
Papadiamantis’ deep Christian faith, complete with the mystical feeling associated with the Orthodox Christian liturgy, suffuses many stories. Most of his work is tinged with melancholy, and resonates with empathy with people’s suffering, regardless of whether they are saints or sinners, innocent or conflicted.
His work is seminal in Modern Greek literature. … It is a body of work, however, that is virtually impossible to translate, as the magic of his language is founded on the Greek diglossia: elaborately crafted, high Katharevousa for the narrative, interspersed with authentic local dialect for the dialogue, and with all dialectical elements used in the narrative formulated in strict Katharevousa, and therefore in forms that had never actually existed.
Papadiamandis 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.
A Short Biography of Alexandros Papadiamandis, From the First Chapter of A. Keselopoulos, Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis (2011)
Unfortunately not many of his stories are online, but I found one titled “The Gleaner: A Christian Story” from 1889 at http://deniseharveypublisher.gr/assets/0000/0372/PAPADIAMANTHS_-_The_Gleaner.pdf