By Catherine Tsounis
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of other,” said Pericles. Rev. Anastasios Diakovasilis, Presbyter Economos of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church of flushing , New York passed away on Monday evening, January 16th. His viewing was held at St. Nicholas Church: Wednesday, Jan. 18, 7 pm- 9 pm; Thursday, Jan. 19, 11 am – 9 pm; Friday, Jan. 20, Orthros: 7:30 am; Liturgy: 8:30 am; Funeral Service: 11:00 am followed by Interment at Flushing Cemetery.
“Jesus, give me faith and strength,” (“Γι’αυτόπίστη καιδύναμη Χριστέμου πάλιδώσ’ μου”), wrote Rev. Tasos Diakovasilis in his poem, ‘The Tomb of Christ’. These words summarize the ministry of Rev. Tasos (as he is known to his congregation). He knew how to inspire persons with words that reinforce a positive outlook in life. When everything is hopeless, Father Tasos would say, “Do not listen to negative thinkers. God is great. St. Nicholas will help you.” These words inspired parishioners to overcome physical and spiritual obstacles.
A priest strives to offer material and moral support to the needy, sick and infirm within his community. He sacrifices to build the spiritual lives of young and old. Parishioners in the “Old Country” as well as 20th century America know the local parish priest is there during difficult and prosperous times. Father Tasos epitomized the best in the priesthood.
Father Tasos was born in Nisyros, a beautiful Aegean island off the coast of Asia Minor on February 29, 1936. He lived through the horror of W.W. II. His beloved older brother lost his life in the mountains of Albany in Greece’s historic victory against the Axis Powers. Heroism and patriotism imprinted itself on Father Tasos’s the childhood mind. He attended Nysiros High School where his outstanding talent for singing was noticed. All these factors contributed to his decision to attend the ecclesiastical seminary in Rhodes for four years. He graduated with honors. Father Tasos’ attended Richard Bland college in the United States, studying Psychology.
After graduation from the Seminary, Father Tasos donated his services to Bishop Spyridon of Rhodes. Father Tasos began his religious education career as a teacher at the boys orphanage at Arenou Rhodes. In 1960, he married his wife Maria. They have three children: Eugenia Samaras, Eleni Sergiou and Paul Diakovasilis. All his students graduated from college.
In 1963, Father Tasos and Presvitera Maria immigrated with their family to Astoria, New York. He served as a deacon at Demetrios Church in Astoria , that was the largest community of Greek-Americans outside of Athens, Greece. On March 16, 1975, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Philotheos of Meloas in St. Demetrios Church. His first assigned parish was at Hopewell, Virginia for 21/2 years. During his ministry, he was honored by the Prince George County chapter of the American Red Cross chapter. Father Tasos was cited for “for unselfishly giving of his time and energy to make a better community to all.” His next assignment was at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Washington D.C. for seven years.
In January 1984, Father Tasos was appointed as Assistant Pastor to St. Nicholas Church, Flushing, New York. He has served the community for over fifteen years. His many posts included: several years as religious adviser to the William Spyropoulos Day School and the Greek Afternoon School; fifteen years teaching bible studies; served all liturgies; visits to nursing homes, hospitals, blessing parishioner’s homes, giving communion to the sick; aided in the expansion of the church; helped in the success of the Greek Festival through the sale of raffles and recruitment of help from Diner owners.
Father Tasos has been honored on numerous occasions during his ministry. On December 23, 1984 he was bestowed the title of Sakellarios and Exomologos. On Feb. 1, 1992, the P.T.A. of the Greek Language Institute of St. Nicholas Church presented him with a plague for “his dedication, guidance and leadership to the children of our school and for the perpetuation of the ideals of Greek Orthodoxy.” On June 5, 1996, Father Tasos was recognized for “outstanding spiritual guidance, untiring efforts, and unselfish dedication to academic excellence in Hellenic Education and the beliefs of the Greek Orthodox Church.”The Franklin Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in 1997, presented the beloved priest with a certificate of recognition “in appreciation for dedicated volunteer service to the residents.” In 2007, He was honored at a local University for promoting Modern Greek Language studies.
Father Tasos has a unique gift in composing poetry. His works have been published in Greek-American newspapers and periodicals in the United States and Greece. His poetry reflects his faith in God and commemorates uniwgue events in the life of his congregation. “We live in a land of freedom. We must hold on to our Greek legacy and cherish its significance,” said Rev. Anastasios Diakovasilis at one of his Poetry readings. The internationally famous poet presented severa books entitled, «Ποιητική Ανθολογία» (Anthology of Poetry) to the New York City Greek-American community.
The Anthology is divided into seven sections: church personalities; patriotic and religious poetry; community leaders; community events; personal family poetry; Cyprus and its invasion, and poems in memory of deceased friends. All poetry is written in Modern Greek that can be understood by the average native speaker. The poet gives us an insight into the life of a Greek-American community.
Father Anastasios had a unique gift in composing poetry. His works have been published in Greek-American newspapers and periodicals in the United States and Greece. His poetry reflects his faith in God and commemorates unique events in the life of his congregation. “I feel at peace,” he said. “I do not have major responsibilities. I use my free time to write poems.
“Since my retirement in 2000, I continue to serve the community of St. Nicholas as ‘Priest Emeritus,” he said. “During the past five years, I spend my time traveling to Greece and Florida.” My village of Nikia, in Nysiros does not have a priest. I perform services in the summer.” His wife, Presvitera Maria, has shared in the success of his ministry. She has a pleasant smile and gives comfort to all who need hope. Father Tasos and Presvitera Maria are unforgettable persons who stand out in their generation.
Congressman Gary Ackerman declared June 1st 1999 as Father Tasos Day in the 5th Congressional District upon his retirement. “I know there are not enough words to describe Father Tasos’ dedication, guidance, leadership and untiring efforts to academic excellence in the Hellenic education and the beliefs of the Greek Orthodox Church,” he said. “I know that the parishioners and community will feel the loss of this outstanding and unforgettable person.” His words apply today in 2012.
Three generations of my family have known Father Tasos since his immigration to the United States in 1963. My late grandmother, Despina Gagas Pappas, always said “the only person who has a unique heart for all is Father Tasos Diakovasilis.” His sympathy, compassion and positive attitude will remain with all who had the honor of knowing him