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Biographical Essay – Monk Christophoros Papoulakos (1770-1861)
The movement for Independence of the Greeks from the Ottoman Turks was a major event extant in Modern Greek history. What makes this event so great is not only the impact it had on the region and the results it produced for the Greek race but also the role of the people who initiated, supported and took part in the events that unfolded, especially between the years 1770 and 1831.
This biographical essay will study an influential figure of this period who played a major role in spreading the word of God and in speaking against the injustices of the government led by King Otto against the Church establishment and the populace in general. This influential figure, known to his friends and followers as “Papoulakos,” travelled throughout the Greek Peloponnese preaching to village people and filling their hearts with passion for their Orthodox faith and their Greek heritage.
It must be clarified that many Greek Orthodox monastics were given the surname or nickname “Papoulakos,” especially those in the category of fathers called “Kollyvades” who spoke out against various innovations in the Church, for example the offering of memorial services to the dead on Sundays instead of on Saturdays which is when they were traditionally done. Monks who were part of this movement were Εὐγένιος ὁ Ἁγιοπατέρας , a monk from Ittica, Χριστόφορος ὁ Μοναχός and ὁ Ἅγιος Ἰωακεὶμ ὁ Βατοπαιδινός . All three of these monks were given the name Papoulakos or Papoulakis, a derivative of the name “pappous” meaning grandfather, and all lived in the modern era of the Greek Revolution.
The second of the three, shown in the photograph above, will be considered in this dissertation, a man who is a hero and much-loved monastic of the Greek Revolution of 1821 and of Greek Orthodoxy in general. The photograph including here is a historical monument due to the fact that it is the only surviving photo to be passed down to us. Archimandrite Nektarios Moulatsiotis informs us in the prologue of his book that much like St Kosmas of Aetolia, Monk Papoulakos was filled with divine grace that was evident in his work, making many very obvious prophesies that have been fulfilled.
The Greek Revolution of 1821
For purposes of orientation, a small introduction will be given on the Greek Revolution and War of Independence of 1821; its purpose and the eminent results. The period of the Revolution was a time when men left their women and children and took up weapons against the prevailing Turkish yoke in an attempt to create an independent nation state. At this time, almost all of Greece was governed by the Turks; the remaining regions including the Ionion archipelago and part of Epirus were ruled by the Venetians. The Greek historian, Basileios Panagiotopoulos and those who co-operated with him, consulted old documents from the archive of Ali Basha and find details regarding the years just previous to the Greek revolution. Mr Panagiotopoulos said in an interview to the Kathemerine Greek newspaper that the documents include information regarding the Sultans day-to-day activities and that:
Ο Αλή Πασάς είχε καταλάβει ότι κάτι γίνεται, αντελήφθη ότι μέσα ήταν οι Ρώσοι... και προσπάθησε να αποκτήσει με τους Ρώσους κάποιες επαφές που όμως δεω ευδοκίμησαν.
The Turkish Sultan could smell the Greeks cooking something but did not comprehend the magnitude of their strategy. The prophecies of Agathaggelos mention a victory of the Greeks over the Turks in his work On the Future of the Nations: « Θα εξέλθουν πανστρατιά και θα εκδιώξουν τους Τούρκους εκ της Ελλάδος ...» In the 1830s, Greece was the first European country to attain full independence and the first to become a member of the European community.
It was a man named Rigas Velestinlis who first thought up plans to revolt against the prevailing Turkish yoke to free the Greek people. This was done not to free themselves but for their children to live in tranquillity and complete freedom. It was in March 1821 that General Alexander Ypsilantis conspired to overthrow the Sultan Ali Basha and began his campaign by first crossing the river Pruth. Consequently, violence broke out throughout the Peloponnese beginning the Greek War of Independence. Many heros of this war are remembered for their role in these efforts including Theodoros Kolokotronis, Nikitas Stamatelopoulos and the first Governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias.
The Birth and Upbringing of Papoulakos
An exact date of his birth is not known but it is estimated to be between the years 1770 and 1785, depending on which sources are consulted; some point to the lower end of this scale while others point to the upper end. Whichever it is, his place of birth is known to be a village of Kalabryta of North Peloponnesos called Arbouna. Precisely speaking, the village is located north-east of Klitoria and south-east of Kalabryta in the region of Achaia. On the map given above, his home town is indicated by his iconographic image.
Though he became known as Papoulakos, his name from birth was Christos Panagiotopoulos. There are differing opinions as to how he became known as Papoulakos, some say because he was of short stature and some because he was respectable. He would refer to himself though as Christophoros the Monk or Christophoros the Greek Preacher, while official documents of the public registry and circulars issued by the Holy Synod indicate reference to him by his name known to the public: Papoulakos. Later on though, after being recognised as a great ethno-hero and martyr for the faith, many appellations were associated to him, e.g. “The Saint of the Peloponnese” and “Saint of the Nation and of Orthodoxy.”
From his early childhood, he was a very quiet and serene person who lived a tranquil life learning to be a butcher, which was the family profession. He would kill animals (pigs, cows, and lambs) and prepare them for sale, travelling from village to village together with his other siblings to sell the meat to put food on the table for their family. This is all that is known of his life up until the age of 60 when he turned to monasticism and completely changed his lifestyle.
His turn to Monasticism and his Public Preaching
The age of 60 (approximately 1830) is the reference point given by primary sources that his life changed dramatically due to a vision. Though exact details of the vision do not exist, Archimandrite Nektarios Pettas gives the following account that caused the major change to his lifestyle:
… he lost consciousness for three days, remaining as if he were dead. On seeing his state the parents awaited a miracle. Their prayers were answered after placing his body in the Church of St. Athanasios, found north of his house. After regaining consciousness, this experience for Papoulakos resulted in changing the meaning of his existence.
At this point, he distributed his belongings to his siblings; his threes brothers Athanasios, Andrew and George and to his sister. The following are said to be his exact words upon gaining consciousness:
Θέλω πρώτα να μ’ ακούσετε κι ύστερα να με κρίνετε. Ήρθε η ώρα, αδέλφια μου, να χωρίσουμε. Το ξέρω πώς δεν το θέλετε, το ξέρω πώς τόσα χρόνια δουλεύουμε μαζί μονιασμένα. Αλλά τίποτα πια δεν μπορεί ν’ αλλάξει την απόφασή μου. Δεν θέλω να σας κρύψω πώς κουράστηκα να την πάρω, αλλά τώρα την πήρα και θα μισέψω. Όλο το έχει μου λοιπόν είναι δικό σας. Το μόνο πού δεν σας μοιράζω είναι η σακούλα μου, όχι όμως για να την πάρω μαζί μου, αλλά για να την μοιράσω σ’όσους δεν έχουν στον ήλιο μοίρα.
Subsequent to this, he left for the monastery of Mega Spilaio and was tonsured a monk there by his elder Archimandrite Ignatius Lampropoulos. He did not stay at this monastery long but departed for his village where he established the skete of the Dormition of the Theotokos. In his cell at this skete, Papoulakos remained for some 20 years, from approximately 1830 until 1851, learning to read and educating himself on the truths of the faith.
In the year 1848, Papoulakos sought permission from the Holy Synod to travel and preach. At this time, Papoulakos was in connection with a movement called the Society of Friends of Orthodoxy. As the Holy Synod was not communicating with this religious group, their consent was delayed for some time, being granted the all-clear only in 1851, with permission being granted only for the Peloponnesian districts of Arcadia, Lakonia and Messenia.
Upon receiving this authorisation, he began to travel from village to village in that region collecting money and goods for the poor (things he never boasted about) and simultaneously preaching to them against adultery, theft and on prayer. Before entering a village, he would send ahead a messenger to announce his arrival and people would come running out from their homes and the church bells would be rung to demonstrate their joy for the entrance of a great and holy man. His predecessor, St. Kosmas of Aetolia who is commemorated on the 24th August, did the exact same thing, travelling from village to village in North Greece, Albania and the islands spreading the Orthodox Faith. It was this period of rule under the barbarians that led to many figures like these holy men appearing to keep the faithful strong and filled with passion for their religion and their birthplace and not forcefully becoming apostates. Over time, Papoulakos also became known as a contemporary apostle of the faith and of the nation even though he was not educated and could not fill a higher clerical role and subsequently, especially after his passing, he was loved by more and more people and was perceived as a person one of a kind.
His preaching to the people of Greece had a great impact on them, increasing morale and reducing the rate of crime. He especially battled against the magicians and witches who deceived people into believing there was comfort in them and ultimately cast spells upon village-dwellers. He spoke also of politics, speaking against globalisation and relations with foreigners and against the evident Protestant missionaries who were infiltrating Eastern Europe. In one of his sermons outside of the province of Gytheio, he said the following:
“I have learned that the Synod has sent to me a Hierokeryka that speaks against me. I know of him and his name is Kastorches – he is good and educated in the diabolic universities. Let him come here and let him bring the Gospel and if he interprets it better than me then silence me but if I interpret it better, then silence him.”
Though his voice was soft and his sermons simple, which were spoken in the vernacular, his words infiltrated deep into their hearts and minds producing positive results.
His journey throughout Greece was extensive stretching from the Peloponnese in the south to Ithica in the north and also including many of the islands such as Aegina for example. In September of 1851, Papoulakos travelled throughout the villages of Olympia, Trifillea, and Arcadia. In October of the same year, he entered the city of Kalamata with grandeur, which aroused the suspicion of local authorities. Archimandrite Nektarios Pettas states that a Prefect of that time wrote that “almost all the inhabitants of the city came out to welcome him; to see, hear and be healed by him.” Priests would approach him and teachers with their students would come out of their classrooms to meet the elderly preacher. Parents would bring their newborn children to him to bless them after which, he would ascend upon a high point in the village and begin his sermon. Here he spoke about the government and its intentions to unify the districts of Greece saying: « η Κυβέρνησις εσκόπευεν να συνδέση όλας τας επαργίας του Κράτους με μίαν κλωσήν .» Thus, his battles were not only against the sins of the people but also the errors of the government and it is said that he believed that his mission and vocation was to instigate such a change. Subsequent to this visit to Kalamata, in April of 1952, he travelled to Argolis and then to Laconia, completing a clock-wise motion around the districts of the Peloponnese.
At this point of his preaching career, he had provoked the civil authorities to such a great extent that they were seeking his trial in court. Consequently, though he had acquired many followers, he had attracted just as many foes. Those who did not support his efforts labelled him an ἀγύρτη and consulted with the authorities to have him removed from the streets. His greatest trial caught up with him in the town of Mani where the army was ordered to have him arrested. It was in Mani that he gathered together huge support from the zealous citizens there, women, men and children shouting and calling his name in favour of his efforts. A great brawl erupted between his supporters and the army which ultimately allowed him to flee and seek refuge in the mountains of Mani, 500 of which were armed peasants. In the mountains of Mani, people protected him holding him refuge in the Monastery of Voivonitsis.
On 24th June 1852, Papoulakos together with his followers departed this Monastery and took refuge in another Monastery, the Monastery of Tzegkou in the district of Oetylos. Later on, unfortunately, in much the same way as Judas Iscariot did to Christ, he was betrayed by a priest who was trusted to watch over him in exchange for 6000 Drachmas (money which was spent on giving his children an education and burying his wife). Now in the hands of the civil authorities, Papoulakos was taken away and imprisoned in the fortress of Rio in Patras.
His next great test was his trial in the court of Athens by civil and Church authorities of Messenia, Arcadia and Olympia, occurring on 26th June 1853. This trial in fact invigorated him even more; calling the courthouse a « γυφτόσπιτο » upon entering it. Due to the huge support he had from both laity and clergy, the government did not dare charge him but rather applied further pressure on the Church Synod to take swift action. With success, the Church gave in and banished him to imprisonment in the Holy Monastery of the Prophet Elijah in Theras for a short period and then to the Holy Monastery of Panachrantos on the island of Andros, being his final resting place.
His Death and Legacy
Papoulakos spent the rest of his life in a cell in the Holy Monastery of Panachrantos. The faithful would come and visit him to get his blessing and receive a sacred message from him to liven their spiritual lives – this was all that was left of their connections with this holy man. Later on, even this was forbidden by the prison authorities and hence he was left to die in loneliness, occuring on the night of 18th January 1861 due to the atrocious conditions of his cell. On the night of his death, a vigil was held in his home town church of St Athanasios, which had just celebrated its feast day, and it is here where his relics are still held today while smaller portions are held in the Holy Monastery of Sts Augustine and Seraphim of Sarov in Nafpakto.
His relics continue to perform miracles today, especially healing demon possessed people. In addition to his day of commemoration on the 18th of January, he is also celebrated on the 18th August in remembrance of a procession of his relics that took place in the summer of 1974 in Achaea. A miracle is specifically noted to have occurred in the village of Spetsis where he appeared in a dream advising them where to find drinking water. Upon digging in the location he advised, clean drinking water was discovered.
During his lifetime, Papoulakos was ridiculed by public authorities and persecuted by the Church. The newspapers printed headlines such as « οχλαγωγού Χριστοφόρου » and the encyclicals of the Holy Synod written for the Orthodox faithful expressed disgust for him. On the other hand though, parish priests honoured him by commemorating Papoulakos in the Divine Liturgy in place of the King. To this day, such opposition exists where some discuss whether he should be granted the sainthood including the late Archbishop of Greece Christodoulos, while others have already done so and have composed hymns to him. Papoulakos has positively left his mark in the history books of Greece and has played his part in the revolution that gave Greece the freedom she has today.
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(Archimandrite) Nektarios Moulatsiotes, Ho Hagios Tes Peloponnesou, (Trikorpho Phokidos, Greece: Ekdose Holy Monastery of Sts Augustinos and Seraphim of Sarov, 2006), 55.
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Athanasios Martinos, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol 10, (Athens, Greece: A. Martinos, 1966), 15.
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Deacon Nectarios Joannou
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(Archimandrite) Nektarios Pettas, The Prophet o