In the Synaxarion, one of the saints which we commemorate today is Papa Nicholas Planas, a humble parish priest who achieved sainthood in the busy and noisy city of Athens.
Born in 1851 on the island of Naxos, even in his youth he was marked by simplicity and generosity. He gave away anything that came into his hands. He married at 17, but his wife died only a few years later. From that point on, his only aspiration was to serve in the Church, and to that end he served Liturgy, vigils and other services every day for over 52 years. He spent most of that time in a very small church, St. John the Hunter, located in a working class neighborhood in Athens. When he arrived there, the parish contained only eight families, and he was paid virtually nothing. Nonetheless, he never refused to commemorate and pray for anyone when he served, and carried in his pockets slips of paper containing thousands of names that he would pray for during the proskomedia and the Liturgy. Numerous stories are told of his being so lifted in prayer during the liturgy that his altar servers would see him raised off the ground in front of the altar. While he would begin Liturgy at eight in the morning, he typically would not finish until two or three in the afternoon. When, for whatever reason, he was not able to serve at St. John’s, he would serve elsewhere, even in country chapels which lay half in ruins.
When not serving, Papa Nicholas was always found attending to his flock: taking confessions, giving counsel, visiting the poor and sick. He was famously absent minded, engrossed in heavenly things, and was also well known for giving to the poor anything that anyone might give him. He was not an educated man by any stretch of the imagination, but was immensely holy, a humble righteous man who shows us by his example the way to theosis. He reposed, his face wreathed in a smile, in 1932, and thousands came to honor him.
When we were in Athens, we were fortunate enough to visit St. John the Hunter. A new church has been built, and his relics are contained there. Arising from his reliquary, we noticed a sweet, indescribable scent. Afterwards, we visited the old altar area of the original church, which has been preserved. Like most such shrines in Greece, people leave flowers, icons and small mementos when they come to light a candle and pray before the altar where God, through his servant Nicholas, performed so many miracles.