By. Fr. Nick Kotsis - I attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology from 1996-2000. I loved the experience at the seminary, and I became friends with many good people there; koumbaroi with a few. I miss seeing those people on a regular basis, even to this day. Mostly, I miss the atmosphere in the chapel with the daily Orthros and Vespers services.
In those years, however, as Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” There was a lot of upheaval administratively. During those four years, we had four Presidents, four Deans of Theology, two Deans of Students, and two registrars. Three professors/priests were removed, and two years later, brought back. The summer I left, Bishop Timothy had retired and Metropolitan Maximos was the locum tenens for Detroit, and in 1999, Metropolitan Nicholas was enthroned. Archbishop Iakovos had also retired and Archbishop Spyridon had just been enthroned. The incoming students, on the feastday of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (September 14), receive their small crosses from the seminary on that day. It was Metropolitan Soterios of Canada who filled in that day. On the same feastday my senior year, the final-year students received their rassa. It was Bishop George of New Jersey who filled in since Archbishop Spyridon had been reassigned. Two weeks later, Archbishop Demetrios was enthroned and eventually presided over our graduation in 2000. “And a partridge in a pear tree…”
During all four years there, I worked on campus. For the first three years, I worked in the cafeteria washing dishes, sweeping, mopping, and wiping down tables at night. My second year, I also worked in the Office of Admissions. My third year, I was a Resident Advisor, but they let me continue work in the cafeteria. My senior year, I only worked as an RA.
During my second year, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver was the President of Hellenic College/Holy Cross. He is still the Metropolitan of Denver. He came to the school as often as he could from Denver, and it’s incredible to think how often he was there despite the distance from his Metropolis. He was an excellent president and respected by all. He was very approachable to the students and was a shining light spiritually and administratively during that year.
One night in the late fall of that year, I was working in the cafeteria. It was a Thursday night which meant that the married students and their families, who normally were not a part of the dinner meal plan, were invited to the cafeteria so we could all be together for at least one night during the week. It was extra busy. The following day, we had a Liturgy (Orthros for a Liturgy during the week started at 6:30am). It was also near the end of the semester so the last round of exams before finals were being administered and I had two the next day also. It was going to be a busy night.
After the Great Vespers, I rushed back to my room, changed into jeans and a tee-shirt, put on my sneakers, and threw on one of my hats (I always wore a hat with U of M on it or a hat from one of the Detroit professional teams. There were only four of us at the seminary from the Diocese of Detroit at the time, so I had to represent…).
I ran down to the cafeteria, punched in, threw on the apron, and headed to the washing machine to get crackin’ on the pots and pans before the students were done with their plates and utensils. However, one of the servers called in sick, so I was pulled from dish-duty to help with the longer-than-usual-line. No problem, on Thursdays there were always two dishwashers, so the other guy was going to be there soon.
When I was serving, I noticed the other guy who was supposed to work with me that night coming up to get his meal, still in his anteri. I asked him what he was doing since he was supposed to work with me that night. He said he couldn’t work because he had two exams the next day.
I was fuming. I said, sardonically, “Wow, two exams tomorrow. Good thing you took the night off.” Of course, he had two exams, we were in the same class and took the same courses! I took the spoon and slapped his plate with whatever slop we were having that night. I guess I’m the fool… (Admittedly, I should not have slapped his plate with the food. That was not right.)
As the line started to dwindle, I looked behind me and started seeing all the pots and pans piling up; and the window through which the students put their trays, dishes and utensil also starting to resemble a large mound of anger and resentment.
I didn’t bother with the pots and pans but started on the trays and dishes. The pile was too big and was starting to clog the window. Things were going alright, though, I was keeping up a good pace.
Finally, the last student put his tray through and Metropolitan Isaiah came by. He poked his head through the window to say “hello” and asked me if I was working alone. I said “yes,” and he asked if I needed help. I told him “no, thank you” and he smirked and left.
It wasn’t five minutes later than the washing machine broke. It just stopped working. “Oh, come on! You’re kidding me?!” I cried aloud. I tried desperately to get it going again, but I didn’t know what was really wrong with it. After a few minutes of fiddling with it, I stopped. I looked at the pile of dishes, utensils, trays, pots, and pans that I would have to wash all by hand. My anger started to rise, and I could feel my ears getting hot (my ears are a tell-tale sign of anger or embarrassment when they turn red). I pulled my arm back and punched the machine – hard enough to make a small dent. But I also cut my fist.
Now, I was no longer angry, but apoplectic. Not only did I have to finish those nasty dishes, but now with nice gash across my fist. Everything seemed to want to pour out of me at that point. I took the spray hose that hung over the sink, and with my bloody right hand threw it as hard as I could against the wall, crying out the expletive of the male offspring of a female dog.
Funny thing: that sprayer had a rubber ring around it. It bounced off the wall and very quickly came back at my head. I ducked as quickly as possible, turning and lowering my upper body. The hose knocked my hat off, narrowly missing my head. In the process of turning and ducking, I slipped on the wet floor and fell flat on my tail.
I was facing the back of the kitchen area, leaning on my side, with my left arm propping my up and my legs stretched out before me. I said aloud, “Nick, you’re an idiot!” and started laughing at my own folly. I straightened myself out, pulled my legs close to my chin, tilted my head down and continued laughing. I looked at my wrist and started laughing even more!
I slowly composed myself, turned to my right and picked up my hat. I put it on and slowly stood up. As I straightened out my apron, I looked up. Standing at the front of the kitchen, was a smallish figure, all in black. Metropolitan Isaiah is not particularly tall. He has a full head of white hair, a white goatee, and he was wearing his rasson and kalimafhi (the black hat with the black veil). He was holding his ravdo (his walking staff, which was black with a silver top; the taller, fancy staffs are only for Liturgical services), left hand on top of right on the top of the staff. His head was bent downwards, and his whole body was moving to the rhythm of his laughter.
I thought to myself, “Now, I’m really busted. He heard my cuss, he saw may anger, and then he saw me laughing at myself as if I were Loony Tunes. Man, I’m never getting ordained.” In a split second I composed myself, and walked towards him, calling out, “Your Eminence! Good to see you!” And I took my hat off out of respect.
He looked up, with tears in his eyes, still laughing, and now shaking his head.
“Your Eminence, how long have you been there?” I asked sheepishly.
Laughing even harder, he said, “Oh, Nico, I saw everything!”
Inquisitively, I asked, “And how’s your hearing?”
Immediately he answered, “It’s perfect!” and he continued to laugh.
“Well, I’m glad you’re in good health, Your Eminence!” I proclaimed, trying to keep things light. Metropolitan Isaiah, as I mentioned, was good with the students. He wore cowboy boots, drove a Harley in his younger days, and served in the Marines. I was counting on some of those traits and experiences at that moment.
“Oh, I’m sure you’re glad!” He slowly stopped his laughing and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Nico, are you okay?” he said with a smile and tenderly, with true concern.
“Yes, Your Eminence. It was just a difficult moment, I lost my cool, and then made a fool of myself. I deserved it. And I am truly sorry you heard and saw it.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Nico. I’d be more worried about you losing that fight with the dish washer!” and he chuckled again.
I smiled and laughed with him. He said, “why don’t you go upstairs and let the guys finish this in the morning?”
“Thank you, Your Eminence, but I really need to finish these things now otherwise the dishes won’t be ready for breakfast. Besides, it’s not fair for the morning crew to have to finish my job. Don’t worry, I’ll get it done, and I’ll be fine.”
“Well, I do appreciate that sentiment. You sure you don’t need any help?” he asked, once again.
I smiled and replied, “No, thank you. Really, I’m fine and I’ll get everything done.”
“You know,” he said, as he started to leave, “there are a multitude of lessons in this. Maybe one day you’ll be able to preach on them.”
“Oh, I know, Your Eminence, I know!” I replied as he chuckled his way out of the cafeteria. Whew, he wasn’t angry, and he wouldn’t hold up my ordination!
Well, my friends, one of the lessons is this: when we lose control of ourselves, we make fools of ourselves. In this case, I let anger get the better of me and the consequences were laid bare before me.
If we don’t take care of our passions, then they will take care of us. In other words, we have to be able to control ourselves and, thereby, do our best to avoid sin.
I don’t remember one time when I let my anger loose and didn’t feel the consequence of the ensuing reaction. Similarly, if I have let myself get to the point of such anger and did everything but let it out physically or verbally, I still sinned in thinking terrible things of others. Anger always makes things a big mess.
Jesus was angry on two occasions: when he drove the money changers out of the temple (John 2:14 – though the word “anger” is not used) and when He saw the hardness of hearts of those not willing to see someone healed on the sabbath (Mark 3:5). But Jesus is the only one who can truly express righteous indignation since He’s the only one with all the facts on any given subject or person.
The same holds true for any of the passions; if we don’t watch ourselves when we feel them coming on, we will lose ourselves to the consequential sin. It is inevitable.
My friends, especially in these days, it’s good for us to practice patience, forbearance, peace, humility, and love with one another. It’s too easy to slip into the passions and hurt others, especially the ones we love. We will, however, remain determined and strong not to let the passions get the best of us.
And if we do fall to a passion and can recognize it before it’s too late, take some time away from the situation and cool off for a while. That’s usually all it takes to think more clearly and to get back on a more righteous path.
And whatever you do, do punch a machine, or throw anything that can bounce off a wall… especially with a bishop watching.