50 years of Service to the Church and the People of Fr. Nickolas Kossis

Father Nicholas Kossis was born in the village of Vrisa, Lesbos, in 1928. His father Eustratios worked as a baker in Smyrna. After the exchange of populations, he settled in Vrisa where he married Maria, the jewel of the village. When Nicholas was two-and-a-half years old, his mother and the infant died during childbirth in the presence of the midwife, and her best friend and neighbor Myrsina. The last words to her best friend were: “Please take care of my son!”

Things were very difficult for young Nicholas, who spent most of his time in his father’s bakery and with his grandmother Lemonia. When he was 5 years old he got badly hurt while playing and he was crying, calling out for his mommy. A young widow named Photini became so heartbroken by this that she took him in her arms, carried him to the bakery and told his father, ”I want to become this boy’s mother!” His father agreed with the idea, and they soon were married. Photini became a great buffer between Nicholas and his father, who was quick to use the strap, as many fathers did in those days.

Photini raised Nicholas as her own son, and she insisted on having him educated, even though his father’s plan was to keep him working in the bakery following elementary school. His father gave in, and Nicholas travelled to Mitilini to attend Gymnasio (Junior HS). At that time, the Metropolitan of the island, Iakovos – in collaboration with the physical education teachers – hired several wrestling coaches from Athens to train those who were athletically inclined. Nicholas joined the wrestling club and excelled in the national competitions. The wrestling matches became very lucrative fundraisers, which helped the Metropolitan to complete the Mpostanio hospital in Mitilini. When Nicholas was sixteen, his high school was shut down for two years due to the German occupation. He finished High School when he was twenty years old; and after that, he began his mandatory term of service in the Greek military. He soon was promoted to Officer of the Special Forces due to the needs created by the civil war and was sent to the border of Albania. At the end of his mandatory term he was offered a permanent career in the military, and he was considering it.  A month later, however, he received some sound advice from a Senior Officer from Mitilini: “Nicholas, I am married and I haven’t seen my family for 5 months.” … This was a turning point for Nicholas, who already was in love with his future wife and presbytera Maria. God may have protected Nicholas, who most likely would have been sent to the war in Korea.

After his release from the armed forces, Nicholas worked in Athens and continued his education. In April of 1957 he married presbytera Maria; and shortly thereafter he was hired by the Department of Immigration and Homeland Security.

Less than a year later, in March of 1958, he fainted while on the train to go to his office. He was immediately transferred to the nearest hospital. Strangely enough, he suffered a severe gastrointestinal bleed even though he was in great physical shape with no previous ailments. The surgeons performed an emergent partial resection of the stomach in order to control the bleeding. The surgical intervention scheduled the following morning however proved unsuccessful. The bleeding stopped for approximately eight hours. That same evening another massive gastrointestinal bleeding was in progress leading to acute blood loss anemia and a severe drop in his blood pressure. His condition became desperate as the doctors had exhausted all possible options, and at some point Nicholas overheard them offering their condolences to the newlywed Maria, suggesting to her that she begin his funeral arrangements. The medical assistants moved the already comatose Nicholas to a side room and covered him with a sheet. His wife Maria, who had given birth to their first child Vasiliki only two months before this ordeal, was understandably inconsolable.

Shortly before midnight, Nicholas heard a voice in his subconscious saying, “Nicholas, get up!” This took place twice. The third time, the voice said, “Nicholas, get up and be my servant!” Immediately a powerful hand grabbed him by the shoulder, and Nicholas found himself sitting on the bed. He felt perfectly healthy, and soon the news of his “resurrection” spread to the entire hospital staff, which attributed his cure to a great miracle. Along with a cured stomach, the Lord also created a new heart, a heart full of divine zeal for the up-until-now unchurched Nicholas, who did not understand any of this up to this point.

A day later, while Nicholas was still in the same hospital room, an elderly man approached him and asked him to buy any one of the man’s spiritual books. Nicholas said, “I am sorry, but I don’t have any money.” The elderly visitor placed a book in his hands. Nicholas touched the New Testament for the first time in his life. He opened the Holy Scriptures, and his eyes fell upon this very pertinent verse: Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). A few moments later, when Nicholas raised his eyes to thank his visitor, the elderly man was nowhere to be found.

Nicholas did not know what to make of all this, since he had no ties with the Church. He was bewildered, to say the least, and very much at a loss. His wife Maria gave him courage and told him that she knew a very nice elderly priest who would read some prayers over him and that everything would be OK.

The priest was very helpful, and after Holy Confession Nicholas’ eyes were opened. The priest said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has worked a great miracle for you, and you need to glorify Him with your life.”

Soon enough, Nicholas’ heart was ablaze with godly zeal, and the simple priest could not keep up with his endless questions about the faith and the life of the Church; so he turned him over to a much more knowledgeable spiritual father and theologian, Father George Kritikos of the Church of Agioi Anargyroi, in Peireas.

Fr. George saw Nicholas regularly and guided him on the path to repentance. Nicholas sought out the best preachers in Athens the likes of Augoustinos Kantiotis,Chrysostomos Yialouris  and Panagiotis Trembelas and began to attend every lecture and homily possible. He soon became a menace to all the unruly co-workers in the Department of Immigration, reprimanding them for their cursing and reminding them about their slumbering souls.

When Vasiliki was two years old, there was a strong epidemic of smallpox in Athens, and she needed to be vaccinated. It seems she had an adverse reaction to the vaccine, for she came down with a very high fever. Her parents did not realize then that this allergic reaction permanently had affected her hearing. They knew something was terribly wrong when Vasiliki slept through her younger brother Stratos’ baby-cries in their shared bedroom. In his diagnosis, the Athenian doctor explained that the damage was permanent and that the odds of a successful surgery were very low in Vasiliki’s case. Nicholas was not totally convinced, so he discussed with his wife the option of taking Vasiliki abroad. With full access to the immigration process, Nicholas easily acquired a permanent visa for Canada and travelled to Toronto. He sought gainful employment, and in a few months he was gainfully employed as a licensed welder. He soon rented an apartment and brought his family to Toronto in hopes of improving Vasiliki’s condition.

In Toronto, Nicholas attended Panagitsa, a well-known Greek Orthodox Church in that city. The Proistamenos, well known to us, was the late Fr. George Dimopoulos, who served in Wilkes-Barre and Upper Darby and who taught theology at St. Tikhon’s Seminary. Nicholas was attending every service he could, assisting Fr. George, who was now his new confessor. His zeal to serve Christ did not go unnoticed by his local Bishop Timotheos, who asked Nicholas to serve in the Priesthood. Presbytera Maria, who was not in favor of being married to a priest and had rejected the idea up until that point, finally gave her consent; and Nicholas became a seminarian at Holy Cross in Boston in 1964. He sent his wife and children back to Athens to his in-laws, and he moved to Boston.

From his years at Holy Cross, Father Nicholas fondly remembers his teachers: Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. John Romanides, Bishop Gerasimos, Dr. Angelo Phillips, Archimandrite Maximos (our former Metropolitan of Pittsburgh), George Bebis, Dimitrios Zacharopoulos, and the Dean, Archimandrite Panteleimon Rodopoulos (who later was enthroned Metropolitan of Thessaloniki). Nicholas attended school during the day, and in the evenings he worked at the Pier Restaurant. He graduated in June of 1967. The evil one tried to sidetrack Nicholas by using the Greek restaurant owner, who clearly admired Nicholas’ overall character and honesty, offering him a tremendous amount of money to be his full-time manager. The owner soon became belligerent and called him all sorts of names when Nicholas refused his offer and explained that his desire was to serve the Lord. “A priest! You’re turning down this great opportunity to be a priest?! You’re crazy! Fige ape tho (Get out of here)!”

A week after his graduation from Holy Cross, Nicholas was ordained to the Diaconate, and a day later to the Order of the Holy Priesthood; the week following his ordination to the Priesthood, Father Nicholas was assigned to the parish of the Kimisis of the Theotokos in Aliquippa, with barely any liturgical experience. He practiced the Liturgy once or twice during the week with Bishop Gerasimos, and now he was on his own in a mostly English-speaking parish. His external capabilities left much to be desired. His English was inadequate and even terrible, according to some who made fun of him, no doubt. He would have had a difficult time with most of today’s parish councils, who rate their future priests mostly on intellectual capability, appearance, age and homiletics. If our Church were a secular organization, Fr. Nicholas should have failed in a month or two. Thankfully, the uncreated grace of God does not need to rely on our humanist crutches. That voice which resurrected him was at the forefront, and Fr. Nicholas humbly followed… “Nicholas, you will be My servant!”

On the day of his arrival at Kimisis, Father Nicholas was greeted by three wonderful young women, Maria, Penelope and Adrianna, all from Rhodes. They said, “Father, we are at your service! We will do all we can to help.” Like three angels, they immediately began to write and publish the Church Bulletins, translate sermons and organize church events – always at the direction of their new shepherd. In a few months presbytera and the children arrived, and the team was now complete. The entire parish embraced the presbytera, who was at her happiest. For the rest of her life, honey would be dripping from her lips whenever she would reminisce about her beloved parish of Aliquippa. Father often raves about Paulette, a young woman from Ambridge who spent untold hours assisting him in his ministry. He also speaks about the once unruly young man Stamatios, Violet’s brother, who was the first of his spiritual children to become a monk, and who today is senior monk Herman at the Monastery of St. Nektarios in Roscoe, New York. Five more of his spiritual children would follow later: Fr. Ilarion and Fr. Prodromos, now at St. Anthony’s in Florence, Arizona; Fr. Joseph (a cook from Easton), now at the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Harvard, Illinois (near Chicago); and Manolis Palis and Pantelis Microudis, now at St. Nektarios. Fr. Nicholas always had great love for St. Nektarios of Aegina. He remembers risking his life to sail to Aegina under extreme weather conditions in order to be present at the canonization of the saint. Every Tuesday night he held the Paraklisis to Saint Nektarios. Many healings were taking place, and at some point the saint started to appear, standing at the window with his archieratical vestments and attending the entire service. This unexplainable phenomenon was repeated at every Paraklisis service and was witnessed by everyone present. Bishop Gerasimos caught wind of this and asked… “Father Nicholas, what is this that I hear about your parish?” Fr. Nicholas simply answered, “Theophilestate, come and see for yourself.” This ongoing miracle was witnessed and acknowledged by Bishop Gerasimos, who was benefitted very much by St. Nektarios and the love of the saints for us, the members of the Church Militant. In Aliquippa Fr. Nicholas became very close with Fr. Theodore Sideris, the parish priest of Ambridge. Fr. Sideris was a very knowledgeable and well-educated priest, and he was very helpful to Fr. Nicholas in the early years. Fr. Sideris was transferred to St. Nicholas in Bethlehem in the mid-seventies, and the two men of God continued their brotherly love and friendship. Presvytera Maria and presvytera Anna also were very close, and they continued to spend some holidays and vacations together.

In the early eighties there was some unrest in the Annunciation parish in Easton, Pennsylvania; the priest had left, and the divided parish did not have a permanent priest for a year. Fr. Sideris repeatedly suggested to Fr. Nicholas that he transfer to Easton so that they could be close again. Bishop Maximos (enthroned in 1978) rejected the idea and refused to let Fr. Nicholas walk away from the thriving community of Kimisis. The Bishop had to change his mind when he realized that the Panagia was calling Fr. Nicholas to serve her in Easton. One night, Fr. Nicholas dreamt that the Church of the Annunciation was engulfed in flames, and that he was standing on the sidewalk, watching numerous parishioners carrying buckets of water in an attempt to put out the fire. While he was watching all this dumbfounded, he saw the Panagia standing at the top of the steps. She told him, “Father Nicholas, shame on you! Everyone around you is trying to put out the flames, and you are just standing there!” When Fr. Nicholas awoke, he told his presbytera that the Panagia was directing them towards Easton, PA. The Aliquippa parishioners were totally devastated, but the Panagia’s request needed to be fulfilled at all costs.

The small parish of the Annunciation was facing multifarious challenges, and they needed a priest of Father Nicholas’ caliber. Presbytera worked side by side with Father, and in a few years they won the hearts of the people. Tuesday night Paraklesis services to St. Nektarios; fiery sermons on Sundays and Feast Days; and bicycle excursions for the youth, having their mothers by his side: all of these activities soon began to bear much fruit. Every Holy Week, Fr. Nicholas would hire excellent chanters from Athens, Greece, to elevate and move his parishioners with the most melodious and compunctionate hymns of the Church Year. By the mid-eighties, he had developed quite a spiritual nucleus. The families of John Chrousis, Sotirios Mikroudis, Athanasios Lykos, Constantine Zalalas, George Manolas and Philemon Patitsas slowly began to develop under the spiritual guidance of Fr. Nicholas, as they served on the parish council and chanted and assisted in the church school programs. In March of 1989, Fr. Nicholas bought his first house ever, in Bethlehem Township. The finished office space in the spacious garage soon was transformed, and it housed the Newly-appeared Saints of Lesbos, Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Eirini. The chapel soon became the confessional, and crowds of people came from Philadelphia, New Jersey, Aliquippa and elsewhere to pray to the saints and have their confessions heard. In the early nineties, as many as 20 to 25 people would gather on some Saturdays in the basement of the house, where Presvytera Maria was a most hospitable hostess. After the initial fellowship and lunch, Fr. Nicholas would begin the confessions, and Constantine Zalalas would speak and answer questions on the Faith for hours. The feast day of the Chapel is celebrated every Bright Tuesday with great attendance and much joy. In 2001, Fr. Nicholas was assigned by Bishop Maximos to the neighboring community of St. Nicholas in order to assist Fr. Michael Varvarelis. Fr. Constantine Papadopoulos, who was in Bethlehem temporarily, became the Proistamenos of the Annunciation Parish in Easton, Pennsylvania. In Bethlehem, Fr. Nicholas was relieved from the administrative duties of the parish and was able to place more emphasis on the spiritual arena of our Faith. On October 28, 2016, Father Nicholas’ most beloved presvytera Maria slept in the Lord after a short illness. May her memory be eternal and may God grant Father Nicholas many years.

CZ