Archimandrite Nicholas Pekatoros (+1996): The last of a generation with greater experiences of life!
In America, he began to serve as a priest in a Greek parish. Seeing however their worldly spirit, he did not stay there but returned to Greece. When Archbishop Michael sought to uproot him from his roots as requested by his parishioners, he responded boldly "let us be uprooted together, my Elder!" At one Parish Council meeting, one "hot blooded" council member lifted his hand and struck him, but soon he was lost in an accident.
He returned to Greece but left again for America, this time for good, when he received a request from the Archbishop of the Russian Church to found the Church of St. John the Forerunner in Washington DC. Initially, he served in a basement chapel of the National Cathedral in Washington, while they were completing the property on Shepherd St.
Despite tough economies, he managed to build the church, the priest's house and the Archontariki. "As soon as the dome was placed they told me that we didn't need one there", he mentioned regarding the push back that the priest received and he was forced to move to a small house that he bought with his funds in Virginia on Sportsman Drive. He occasionally served at the Greek Church of St. Catherine, and even less often at the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Washington and Sts. Constantine and Helen. There at St. Sophia on Massachusetts St., we met him the first time as he gave out blessings after the Divine Liturgy.
Regarding his life and achievements, Fr. Moses the Athonite wrote a book analytically with great love: "Fr. Nicholas Pekatoros: The Elder of America", published by Tinos press.
Please allow us to offer some of our experiences along with those of his spiritual children:
If there was one thing that characterized Fr. Nicholas the most, it was a spirit of freedom and his condescension. "This is a free country, my child", was one of his characteristic phrases when he sensed opposition.
"May God enlighten you". He never forced, never threatened, and did not show any resentment. This was his condescension, which he had as a sign of his fiery prayer after redemption and with a father's blessing which softened even the hardest hearts.
A man of few words, wisely held-back anger and a man of essentials. "While we are in this life, do not forget" was one of his common phrases. "Everyone comes to me saying that they met a good girl. Where do the bad women come from?" Or another time: "They asked me if they should get married or become a monk. I told them to get married, because if they wanted to become monks they wouldn't have asked me."
We remember our blessed mother who told him her pain regarding her daughter who became a monk. Fr. Nicholas had the unique ability to sense the mother's pain while at the same time honoring the girl's choice. He was condescending with the youth, even in cases when "their blood is boiling, but will calm down with time". He was wounded by the anger of his sister regarding the masses of people that fled to their house: "You are a monk, what do you know about life?" And she related this with a sweet complaint, without him judging her however.
We will never forget the azaleas which he planted at the entrance to his home, how he cared for them. He felt as him his whole life was like one butterfly caught by a child which died in its hands. He liked very much to walk through his neighborhood with his little dog Mindy.
He ate little and was ascetical, confessing also his weakness for skordailia [Greek garlic dip] of Mrs. Popi, "Skordalia is my favorite!"
Enflamed with a unique sense of humor, in one visit of Fr. Moses, he saw that the shrimp that he brought for dinner had "grown in size", and Fr. Nicholas mentioned in a Cephalonian manner: "Mrs. H., with the visit of Mount Athos, the shrimp have grown as well." He disliked greed (bearing in mind his experience during the German Occupation), thanklessness and the compromise of faith and principles.
He saw with great disbelief hierarchs in Russia that compromised with the Communist Government, "They are the Communists, the true priests were snuffed out in the prisons."
He attracted, magnetized and netted everyone. We remember the little animals in his garden that came to him for some bread and whom he took great care for. We remember our "lively" first-born, five-year-old son T. sitting for hours silently at his feet playing with silver wrappers from "Hershey kisses" that he kept in his house that were more delicious than others.
For doctors, nurses and those who worked in hospitals, he would stop to greet them offering a smile and a "God bless you" sister or doctor. We saw serious doctors and nurses turn to sheep before him, letting out goodness that they did not expect. We saw the compassionate nurse and pastor Mr. Herbert stand like a child before Fr. Nicholas in order to honor his faith, seeing him as a person, not as a protestant pastor. "Herbert, when I die, will you remember me?" "Of course Fr. Nicholas, you come to speak to me and I will answer you." But he retorted, "I will come Fr. Nicholas, but don't speak to me because I'm afraid!"
When he served Divine Liturgy, he came drenched, not being able to stop the rivers of his tears. His
Regarding St. John, he frequently invited him to his parish in Washington from San Francisco in the Western USA, saying that he set a bed for him, but he never laid down in it, while they always found the check that they would give him behind them icons in his home [i.e. he never took their donations]. After his formal canonization, he said that he was a "great saint", and he distributed little icons of the Saint with icons of the Holy Protection of the Theotokos, the feast of which he first served in Greece at Agios Artemios, and later, after his request to the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, moved to October 28th in order to coincide with their national holiday [Oxi Day].
About a decade before his venerable repose, he began to have problems with his health and for several years he needed to have nephrostomy tubes which needed to be changed every 6 months. The pain was unbearable, but he remained until the morning [in prayer] in order to not burden us at night. His patience, both before and after his surgery, was indescribable. His only fear was that he would not loose his mind from uremia, like his blessed mother. Ultimately, he did not pass from uremia, but left with will lucidity of spirit until the end. God allowed him to have a helper at night until his dormition in one of his spiritual children, which the Elder took great rest in, while during the day, he was helped by the sweet Mrs. Tania, a former protestant whom he baptized, together with her family. All the years of her service, Father did not speak to her of Orthodoxy with words, but with his example.
He reposed and was buried in Rock Creek Cemetary in Washington on a cold February day (2/26/1996), on Clean Monday. He constantly told us that he would want to die in winter because the soil is wet and "I will freeze." His funeral was festive, even resurrectional one would say. We all had the sense that all the Greeks, Russians and Americans had a Father who was reposed in the "dwelling-places of the righteous." Since then, 22 years have passed since his repose and once a year his spiritual children gather for his memorial service.
In short, the greatly astonishing life of Fr. Nicholas knew two world wars, two Civil Wars (i.e. in Russia and Greece), and fleeing for America, where he continued to live as he did in his youth in Russia, steadfast in the Orthodox Faith, but serving his flock with discernment, which had changed roots.
He offered characteristically: "A Russian Bishop once told me that in the old days, a shepherd went first and the flock followed him. Now, the flock runs forward and the shepherd hastens behind them trying to catch up with them." We still feel his "companionship" during our lives, so discerning and radiant. Fr. Nicholas, with ascetic experiences, witness against atheism and wordly mindset, amidst wars, death and famine, can cultivate in Russia, Greece and America a flock close to Orthodox rulers, without fanaticism and zealotism, not giving way to pressure from those in power but also neither wielding to corrosive secularization, uniting, there where and how it should be, his pastoral service.
Fr. Nicholas was born in Russia in 1899. Under the influence of an uncle, a well-known professor at the St Petersburg Theological Academy, he decided to become a priest, undaunted by the fact that the Church -- clergy in particular -- was at that time enduring severe persecution. He was ordained in 1922, and the following year was assigned to assist Archbishop Alexander and Bishop Onouphry (who died in 1938 as a New Martyr). However, because his father was Greek, Fr. Nicholas was considered a Greek subject, and in 1929 the civil authorities forced his dismissal from this position. That same year he left for Greece, where he soon received the monastic tonsure. He served for a number of years at the church of the former Imperial Embassy in Athens, before emigrating, in 1952, to the United States at the invitation of Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko). Appointed rector of the newly-formed parish of St John the Baptist, Fr. Nicholas worked selflessly, spiritually guiding and nourishing his flock, as well as directing the construction of a church and church house. In recognition of his exceptional service to the Church, the Synod of Bishops awarded him two gold pectoral crosses and the right to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with the Royal Doors open, as in a hierarchal service. In 1969 Ir. Nicholas was elected to become Bishop of Brisbane in Australia, but he had to decline this honor because of his weak health and responsibilities towards his invalid sister, who was living with him at that time.
Among those American converts fortunate to have met Pr. Nicholas is the author of the following
I first met Father Nicholas Pekatoros when I was staying with the family of Father George and Matushka Deborah Johnson in Washington DC. They were talking about some man who had been quite holy, and Father George remarked, "He looked almost transparent when he died." Then he added, "Father Nicholas is looking similarly transparent," This was the first I had heard of Father Nicholas.
Later that week, Matushka Deborah and I decided to visit Father Nicholas. He lived on a suburban
Over his faded black cassock, Father Nicholas wore a gray sweater-vest of the type that priests often wear. Hobbling to his hollowed armchair, he told us to pull close two fold-up chairs, and we
I was deeply troubled by the question of what happens to people who are not baptized. Father Nicholas answered, "I don't know," He motioned upwards: "God knows. But I believe that in the Lord nobody will fall by the wayside."
"No," he said. "Is it possible to become close to God when you are married?" "Yes, if you are with the right person. Pray to God: 'O Lord, and Queen of Heaven, send me a good person.' Marriage is a mystery. In it God's grace comes down like in an ordination. Saint John of Kronstadt lived with his wife like brother and sister, and she helped him." I told him about a friend in Russia, whom I wanted possibly to marry. "Go to Russia and come back," he advised, "Go two, three, four times before you marry him, to be sure that this is a person whom you can trust, who also wants to know God. I was chased out of Russia for being a foreigner (my father was a Greek) and a priest. Children made fun of me and the Komsomol destroyed icons and churches. There were great books people used just for paper. And people were so hungry that they would eat such books. Five people in my family died of hunger. There are good people in America, and there are bad people in America. There are good people in Russia, and there are bad people in Russia. They say that the people who destroyed the churches are the same ones now building churches. Welt, maybe it is for real -- if it lasts. May God help them. If not, well... Be careful."
When my questions had at last ceased, Father Nicholas said plainly, 'I am going to die Soon, and I
At midnight an angel was soaring on high,
And his chant seemed to rival the hush of the sky.
The stars and the moon and the clouds in a throng listened enrapt to the heavenly song.
He sang of the souls that are stainless and white,
Who in gardens of Paradise dream in delight;
His music rose high like a jubilant flame,
A luminous hymn to the Holiest Name.
He carried a soul to the portals of birth,
Down to the vales of the grief-harrowed earth;
But the sound of his chant the new soul had caught,
And forever retained its wondrous, great Thought.
And long that soul languished amid earthly woe,
Yearning for the song it had heard long ago,
And no weary earth-song could for it blight
The long-cherished chant of the angel in flight.
-- Mikhail Lermontov
Additional quotes from Archimandrite Nicholas Pekatoros:
-"Prayer should be from the heart, not with a cast down face...Prayer like Peter when he was sinking in the sea...Prayer which occurs while you're falling asleep is not pleasing to God."
-"The Lord sees the disposition of man and does not love it when we do something like a 'chore'."
-Remarking about the Parable of the First and Second Workers, he said: "God is our landlord, do not mess up work for God."
-"The Lord desires our salvation and shed His blood for us. Because of this, we should not hesitate to seek His help, nor should we be indifferent."
-"You should live in accordance with the commandments of God."
-"He who sows in the flesh will reap corruption in the flesh, he who sows in the spirit will reap eternal life."
-"The great loneliness of life in our final years, with all kinds of terrible afflictions and difficulties serve as a great preparation for man for his exit from this life to meet the Master Christ. Difficulties and afflictions become a "fount of regeneration", and become an "electroshock" treatment in order for final sins to flee."
-He frequently and greatly stressed that men should never be ungrateful. "Ultimately in life we must leave everything to the will of God. Things have come like this so that many times we don't have an explanation and this occurs according to the directive and goodness of God, that we might be humbled before His mighty will, for our good."
-"The deeds of men have worth before God when they are the result of patience, when they occur with purity and unselfish motives. The Lord sees the heart of man and his disposition, and if something that he does is "forced" out of duty with a heavy heart, or it occurs from love and philotimo and freedom."
"God gave me many long years of illness that I might think upon my sins."