In Memoriam: Fr. Constantine Marinos. Link to a Fading Greece

Photo: Photo: Fr. Constantine Marinos—the blessed one—Ο Μακαρίτης, to use the manner and style with which we Greeks refer to our dead, was at his duties, at the helm, until the very end. I begin this Encomium by borrowing words Papadiamántis—the Father of modern Greek literature—penned for the Bavarian Doctor and Philhellene, Vilhelm Vilde. I believe these words define the blessed Fr. Constantine:

His experience was innumerable—time fails me to narrate his defeating Cholera at Dilos—his courage and sense of duty being unmatched. Even yesterday as a lively presbyter he was at his zenith, his countenance beautiful, vivid. His natural disposition, his effusive, extravagant nature bred a festive atmosphere; such a contagious pastime it was for us to observe him during the hours of our contemplation! How comely is the blessed one in death, as beautiful as his ethics were in life!

And Fr. Constantine also—beautiful in ethics and by his natural countenance, his effusive disposition, was no coward in any sense of the word—he feared not death nor men; throughout his long priesthood he spoke truth to a world which sought complacency and not service, laziness and not sacrifice, vanity and not holiness. The good Presbyter and preacher of Christ’s Gospel was loved by many; His ability to speak the truth ευκαίρως ακαίρως (“readily and in times inconvenient”)—words which he often repeated to me—stood amidst his most distinguishing qualities. And this is certainly in line with the Gospel: the priest is also a prophet who declares the Truth of God, eternal and always relevant, to the world, no matter the circumstances, no matter the cost. He was a Greek priest—one of a formidable, unrepeatable generation. Oftentimes, he battled the currents alone, an ambassador of the Papadiamántian tradition of a Greece which is, itself, fading before our eyes. With these values as his compass and from this living tradition, he served the immigrant Greeks in their sorrows and joys, here, in hospitable Canada (ο φιλόξενος Καναδάς)—as he referred to this land, seeking as the good shepherd to navigate a way for his flock to the Heavenly Kingdom.

The anxiety and strain of pastoral service and the many years of self-emptying in a Christ-like manner took its toll on the good Father. Many loved him for his soft manner of speaking, his paternal instinct, his prayerful nature. Our Fathers teach us by their entire being, their stance, and their prayers—not necessarily by words. Many misunderstood his ways. Whomever the Lord loves He chastises, were words often repeated by the blessed one to me. The good teacher is the tough teacher, and it was this modus operandi that the Greek clergy took traditionally. And no one can debate that Fr. Constantine was a priest of a school which is fading here, but which is, likewise, so necessary for Orthodoxy’s survival in this land.

Born in Samos at Vathi on February 28, 1936, he was ordained a deacon on May 30, 1982 and a priest on May 31, 1982 by His Eminence, Archbishop Sotirios of Canada. Father Constantine served first in Belleville, then Kingston, and for twenty-two years at St. Demetrius in Hamilton, where he touched many, countless lives. He then commuted weekly by train, despite his advanced years, to serve Holy Cross in Windsor (2006-2008). He also covered needs in many Greek Orthodox parishes regularly—he will be fondly remembered for his attendance at weekday services at Panagia in Hamilton, where he often chanted or served, and also at St. Catherine’s where he frequently substituted. We cannot fail, in addition, to mention Fr. Constantine’s love for St. Kosmas Monastery in Bolton where he often served for Abbess Alexia and the sisterhood whom he honored and loved.

This last decade found him serving at Prophet Elias in Brantford, a small community, which prior to his assignment there was somewhat unorganized, ecclesiastically speaking. Here, the blessed one served with sacrificial piety. The iconography that now decorates the small chapel from wall to wall is a testimony to his ecclesial taste and style, and to his ultimate love of God’s house. Yet, he did not accomplish such a restoration alone; this beautification of God’s house was simply an icon of the love of God that the blessed one planted in his flock’s hearts. In other words, the true fruit of his pastoral labor in Brantford is the conversion of hearts and minds.

Iconography in the Prophet Elias Church, Brantford Iconography in the Prophet Elias Church, Brantford   

And so, he was a loving pastor, a strict teacher, musically talented, serving exquisitely, with great attention to the spiritual element of the holy sacraments.

To witness the blessed one serve the Liturgy was to witness a priest enveloped in the Mystery of Christ’s Passion, entirely present, vigorous, alive—as he was at his last Liturgy, on July 4. This Liturgy occurred in a place where the blessed one found respite and refreshment serving: Prophet Elias in Brantford, where, for over a decade, he served prior to his untimely repose. I do not think his final assignment was by chance a parish dedicated to the Prophet Elijah; he spoke truths uncomfortable and eternal to a perishing world and conveyed God’s living judgment to an erring people in the spirit and power of Elijah, who convicted apostate Israel of idolatry and sin.

Indeed, he last served there July 4—if only his parishioners knew the mystery that occurred before their eyes, that they were witnessing the last Liturgy of this saintly priest who for ten years had served them and had truly become their father and shepherd. Despite the anguish and confusion caused by both the sudden manner and situation of the blessed one’s departure, I know that he met death calmly and bravely. In his final moments he left us an ordinance from his beloved saint, John the Theologian, under whose patronage he studied at Patmos over seventy years ago: Love one another.

The world is ignorant of the Gospel (so seeing they will not see) and the main, guiding principal of Christianity. The power of God and the wisdom of God are not of this world. Success in the priesthood is not measured by how big a parish you have or how much money it makes. Success in the priesthood is: laying your life down for your flock, inaugurating the Kingdom of Heaven in their midst through the Sacraments and especially the Holy Liturgy, and winning their souls for the Heavenly Kingdom.

The blessed one’s saintly character sowed seeds of righteousness in the hearts of thousands. His ministry continues so long as each one upon whom he had an impact lives. Countless Orthodox Christians were baptized by his hands—myself included. The Lord of the Vineyard is One; He sends many to labour, and they commission yet others to continue in the labor. This is the paradox of Christianity: you fail but you succeed. You possess nothing but have everything. You are a slave but you are free. You die but you still live. It is only at the end of days when the true extent and glory of the blessed one’s priestly ministry within the grace-filled vineyard of Christ will be revealed by the Judge of men’s hearts, when He gathers the wheat that grew from the seeds the blessed one sowed in moist soil.

Fr. Constantine baptizing the author, Fr. Ioannis. Fr. Constantine baptizing the author, Fr. Ioannis.     

Now, for us it remains to build. The blessed one told me last year “One builds, another continues, and I will die—and one day so will you—and others will continue the work after us. The main thing is to leave some good memories of your pastoral service in your parishioners’ hearts. So they can say: this priest brought God’s love to us all those years ago.”

As we lose those we love, and as the places we love disappear in the shadows of our lives we seek the years of our childhood, the moments familiar and dear to our memories. Fr. Constantine has and will always maintain a prominent place there, in our dearest recollections.

What distinguished the blessed one was his truly Papadiamántian character. Wherever you go brethren, wherever evil finds you—said Elítis—wherever your minds are muddled, remember Dionysios Solomós, remember Aléxandros Papadiamántis. And so, at the pain of separation, Papadiamántian images resonated in my mind.

He was the last of a living generation connected to the Greece we know and love; and not only connected to the Greece we know and love but to the formidable spiritual tradition of the Greece we know and love. The line from the Elítis’ Axion Esti rings in my ears when I recollect the inheritance bequeathed to us by the blessed one and by our grandparents: Greek the language they gave me, poor the house on Homer’s shores! The blessed one transmitted to us this formidable tradition, which was historically secured within our Greek language, and small and impoverished and insignificant are we—we that stand on Homer’s shores in front of the formidable tradition that comes from the poor house!

Earlier, I wrote that we remember a priest in the spirit and style of the priests of the Papadiamántian epoch.

In Fr. Constantine we see Papadiamántis’ Papá Nikóstratos, who indiscriminately gives charity and alms to the men of a nineteenth century Athenian kafenío. And we see the pious priest, Papá Mpefánis who goes to the by-gone chapel with Mpármpa Parthénis the Reader to chant the Royal Hours and Vespers on Christmas Eve by “holy vow and pious obligation” in memory of young mothers who died in childbirth and babies who died in infancy; and we see Papá Angelí who leads a group of mountain villagers on Holy Saturday night to the once-renowned chapel of St. Anastasiá, there to celebrate the Paschal midnight service; or we see Papá Vaggéli who trudges up and through the Skiathian mountains in a snowstorm on a December night to baptize a dying child;

Or—and most famously—we see Papá Frangkoúli from Papadiamántis story “To Christ, at the Castle”. Papá Frangkoúli decides to gather a small band of villagers on an arduous Christmas Eve journey through the winter seas of the northern Aegean to the Castle where is the once-renowned but now decrepit Cathedral Church of Christ’s Nativity. Papá Frangkoúli has a pious vow to celebrate Christmas there, at the once formidable enclosed town on Skiathos, where now some sailors and herdsmen are abandoned, on Christmas Eve, in a fierce snowstorm.

Many a childhood Christmas’ beside Fr. Constantine were resurrected in front of my eyes when I first read the following excerpt from Papadiamántis’ To Christ, at the Castle:

Old Alexander began the readings—Ah!—How the magnificent psalms of the Prophet-King became a superfluous unintelligible slur, butchered and tattered by Old Alexander! The old man belonged to an inimitable and yet dwindling breed of chanters. He chanted terribly; but with devotion and feeling. Barely could he annunciate the words of the hymns—musically or grammatically—and often, he mangled four hymns into two and two into one. Then the priest came to the choir and began, Come, Faithful, behold where Christ is born,” the icons of the melancholy saints brightened; Like the Magi those Three Kings who from the Orient are, now let us follow wither the star is proceeding,” the priest continued and Old Alexander, filled with enthusiasm took up the rod and set the polyeléos swinging with the candles alight, Angels there unceasingly hymn,”—and the whole church trembled from the thunderous voice of Papá-Frangoúlis as he chanted with passion, Glory in the highest to Him born today in a cave from the Theotokos and Pure Virgin in Bethlehem of Judaea…” The angels encircling the Pantokrátor in the dome bent their ears on hearing the hymn which was so familiar to them.

I see each of these Papadiamántian priests in the blessed one. You ask me, how did he maintain such a “link” to this living, colossal tradition from the poor house on Homer’s shores—a link that perhaps none among our contemporaries maintains? The blessed one was a faithful Greek priest who began his journey in the Church from the Holy Stavropegial and Patriarchal Monastery of St. John the Theologian at Patmos, where he completed his secondary education; the blessed one collected spiritual nectar from the great monastic elders of our Greek Orthodoxy, such as blessed Elder Ephraim of Philotheou and blessed Elder Athanasios Mitilinaíos, which he gave to us.

The righteous one held connections with our motherland, Greece, through the countless monasteries and orphanages (St. Tabitha’s in Livadiá is a prominent example) to which he consistently sent help; and lastly, but most pivotally, he was a lover of the sacred services and the Liturgy, which he celebrated piously, attentively and reverently, serving until his last days—on July 4 he served his last Liturgy, and he reposed on July 24 after receiving the Holy Mysteries and the last rites on July 22.

The Greeks’ ability to reach magnanimity and forgiveness both with God and man is because they are innately conscious of the fact that we must accept everyone with the good and bad side of each. The blessed one, especially at the end of his life, had cultivated this deeply and intimately as he exhibited the Christian virtues of r

econciliation with enemies, and humility. Lively until the end and serving without fatigue, visiting hospitals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when no one else was to be found, he was an example of a selfless servant of Christ. God ordained that a brief trial of illness be prepared for him, which would lead to his death. Through this short stadium of illness, he attained to the purification and the forgiveness and mercy of God, which he himself imparted to many. Overcoming the fear of death when he communed of the Holy Mysteries last Thursday, he was ready for the journey to life incorruptible and unending.

May the consolation of Christ cover Presbytera Asimina and Father’s children and grandchildren in their mourning, which is our common, collective sorrow. With piety and with the magnanimity that envelops our Greek Orthodoxy and lives within us, let us bow before the holy priest which walked in our midst, entreating that he never be far from us in prayer and intercession, there, across from us, in his dwelling place in the land of the living.

And with our profound bow let us pray that Christ our God, the Vanquisher of Death, keep his memory incorruptible and inviolable in our hearts and in the hearts of future generations amidst praise and glory.

Cee8/4/2021 3:29 am
May his memory be eternal! How wonderful to learn about such a true Orthodox priest in another tradition. We truly are all one.
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