June 14, 2023

The Chapel of the Prophet Elisha in Athens: A Monument of True and Unadulterated Orthodoxy

A Monument of Orthodox Spirituality

By Kostis Bastias

The Church of the Prophet Elisha (Elissaios) was built on the way towards Aerides near the old Stratona, on a private plot of land. It is a small chapel. A few years ago there were many small private churches both in Athens and in the rest of Greece. Simple and pious people lived at that time, who turned their excess and more often their deficiency into praise and glorification to their Creator, honoring one of His saints. Today, however, even if a pious person wants to build a chapel and honor a saint, he cannot. A thousand laws prevent him. They need special permits that no one gives them, they need approval of plans and a bunch of other difficulties that frustrate even the most zealous. Quite a few of the restrictions, to be fair, had as an occasion the private exploitation they made with these private chapels. Some of them had turned it into businesses that didn't pay much, and that once made for a dangerous retaliation to the parish churches. However, this is one thing, for which there are a thousand ways to deal with it, and the abolition of memory is another.

This Chapel of the Prophet Elisha has a whole history. A saint, Papa-Nicholas Planas, officiated in it for years and years and two top spiritual figures stood as chanters: Alexandros Papadiamantis on the right, and Alexandros Moraitides on the left. A multitude of people, men and women, gathered around this wonderful triad of men, who have written beautiful history and have truly adorned the Chronicle of Orthodoxy during the late 19th century and half the 20th century, who stood as the renewers and the bright supports of the monastic life in our struggle. The vigils at Saint Elisha were historic, with Papa-Nicholas Planas officiating and the two Alexanders chanting, also with Philotheos Zervakos, the current and for many years abbot of the wonderful Monastery of Longovarda in Paros, as well as Papa-Stamatis of Vrysis and a host of other pious men and women who adorn modern Greek monastic life. During the years of Papadiamantis, this Chapel of the Prophet Elisha experienced liturgical glories, it revealed all the beauty of the sacred services of Orthodoxy, it experienced wonderful matins and solemn vesper services, innumerable supplications, unique vigils, which would be envied even by the strictest monastic tradition, as well as confessions and memorial services of simple people of God. It became a place of worship for pious people and because it happened that such personalities were part of the services with an organic and valuable participation and contribution, it aroused the interest of the curious who have little faith, who, although they were not in a position to appreciate the essence of what was happening in Saint Elisha, they were able to admire the sacred graphics, the simple and essential poetry of the church, its minister and the congregation. Scholars and men of the world, vagrant wealth and social ascension noted their fleeting presence and bestowed their shallow praise.

This chapel had become a monument of true and unadulterated Orthodoxy and an inimitable jewel and gem. Once, however, Papa-Planas and Papadiamantis, and Moraitides and other regular vigil attendants of Prophet Elisha had departed to the Lord, a large part of them, who have survived, are in the monasteries. No one took care to preserve this Ark with such a sacred and fruitful history. This nursery, this holy refuge that warmed the living incarnations and expressions of Orthodoxy, was demolished by the spade of material expediency. So much was the pressure of interests, so imposing was Mammon, that before long the Chapel of Saint Elisha no longer existed. Meanwhile, there was the administration of the Church, there were services of the competent ministries, there were political and spiritual leaders. No one was moved, no one was indignant, no serious protest was heard. And yet, with a little money, the space could be expropriated and the Chapel of the Prophet Elisha could be described as a monument, where the tradition that had been initiated and established by the sanctified trinity of the two Alexanders and Papa-Planas could continue.

The memory of the people has been left behind! When I was in Frankfurt years ago, a government official came to us and showed us a house. It was the house where the first manufacturer of the famous Frankfurt sausages made his first sausages. This house that housed an insignificant history had been turned into a museum, it had been preserved, it had been arranged with all the best technical means, from an old kettle to a ladle. Sausages found preservers of their history. For a wonderful and superior story of spiritual content, neither a conservator was found, nor a crusader, nor great interest. It has faced indifference, forgetfulness, erasure, the spade of destruction. Bravo to us.

Source: Published in the newspaper Ἡ Βραδυνή on 16 January 1963. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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