August 17, 2023

Father George Aspropoulos (+ 1929), the Priest Who Baptized Saint Joseph the Hesychast

On March 5, 1929, Father George Aspropoulos (1863 -1929), the virtuous priest of Lefkes on the island of Paros, who baptized the well-known Saint Joseph the Hesychast (who was baptized with the name Francis) and had a very positive effect on his subsequent course, reposed.

Father George was poor and suffered much in life, but he was full of mercy and good works and served his parishioners sacrificially as a humble shepherd. He was a model of faith and virtue, a bright lamp for all who knew him in the difficult times he ministered. This inspired young Francis to respect the cassock and its incalculable value.

In his 31st Epistle, Saint Joseph would later make a reference to Father George, who appeared to him once in a vision:

"I once saw the Priest who baptized us all in the homeland. What a holy man he was. He kept his virginity. He did much almsgiving. And in my sleep he said to me: 'When I was alive I thought that only Liturgies take souls out of Hades, but now that I have died, I have seen in practice that even the prayers you say take souls out of damnation. So don't stop praying for souls. Because the merciful God looks for cause and occasion to save a soul.'"

His testimony from the other world to Elder Joseph reveals that his loving heart did not cease to care and provide for the salvation of the immortal souls of his flock and amply proves the great reward he was entitled to receive from God as a reward for his labors and of his virtues.

While he was alive, Father George served the bustling city of Lefkes on the island of Paros, which was divided into three parishes. He served in the Church of Saint Katherine. This church was maintained in good condition and was known for being warm during the winter months and exuded a devout and solemn atmosphere one usually only encounters in monastery churches. These factors played an additional role in Father George having a large flock to minister to, and which he embraced with love and warmth.

Father George was not only a parish priest, but due to his medical knowledge he also was a doctor, and an unmercenary doctor at that since he was never paid for his services. During those difficult years he covered the health needs of his fellow villagers very effectively. This is also evidenced by the inscription on his tombstone, which describes him as a "physician of souls and bodies."

In the difficult hours of pain, he was the angel of hope for everyone. Full of love and kindness he stood at the bedside of the sick and his paternal words were a balm of consolation for their anguished souls. His essential form conveyed the Grace of God that lived richly within him. His advice was happily received by the simple villagers, who considered it god-sent and therefore perfectly applicable.

Young and old respected him and called him a saint, a man of God. They considered it a great blessing for him to enter their poor houses for a visit, to take something from his holy hands, to offer him coffee after the Divine Liturgy. His luminous countenance was a living sermon as he was the personification of the Good Shepherd. Long-suffering, tolerant, meek, noble, smiling, peaceful, despite the many temptations he faced, even within his own home. He put everyone at ease and easily won their trust and love.

Humble look, low voice, few and wise words. He was distinguished for his many virtues and was adorned with many spiritual gifts such as his zeal for God, his reverence and devotion to the Divine Liturgy, his gentle and merciful heart towards all his fellow men.

He was for all the solid rock upon which they could safely lean to be saved from the raging waves of "the calamities of life." He was very happy to say that God found him worthy to worship in the Holy Land, in those places where the Lord of Glory suffered for us. He considered the title "Hatzis" (a pilgrim of the Holy Land) very honorable. In his personal life he experienced the holy Passion of our Lord and was very hurt when his only daughter Maria passed away at a young age, defeated by the then incurable disease of tuberculosis. He immediately headed to the Church of Saint Katherine and kneeling down prayed fervently to receive "consolation from on high".

Because he was very poor, his blessed presvytera tried to hinder him in his work of alms, but his loving heart always found a way to benefit generously and with great distinction.

One man who knew Father George in those days as a child testifies:

"In those years, my child, there was great unhappiness in the village. We children were very hungry, that's why we kept getting various diseases. When they gave us two or three dried figs, a handful of almonds or some blackberry, it was our best treat. As if they were giving us the sky with the stars! Presvytera had a good property, important fields. But she would not let the priest command. Papa-George was a money-scatterer, he distributed everything, that's why she was constantly complaining to him. One time when I swept his yard he gave me a handful of almonds and she complained to him because she was afraid there wouldn't be enough to see them through the winter. But he didn't pay attention to her. He was very charitable, he loved us and felt sorry for us children who were unhappy. If it were possible, he would take out his soul to give it to us."

Likewise Father George left an indelible mark on the souls of all his parishioners and on the innocent childish soul of Francis Kottis as well, the future Saint Joseph the Hesychast. 

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