The heart of every Greek village is its church. Seared into each Greek psyche is reverence, respect and reliance on religion. Their Orthodox faith has buoyed Hellenes through wars, occupations, personal and natural disasters. Its traditions and holidays anchor life in a rythmn of peaceful repetition and steadfastness.
The soul of the village is its priest–the father (παπάς) of the congregation who ministers, counsels and guides his people. Together, the villagers and their beloved πάπα navigate mortality and attend to its holy sacraments.
I continue to be awed by the number of churches dotting the Greek landscape. Even the smallest villages may have several. Some are erected by families to commemorate a loved one; some are older and no longer attended except on its patron saint holiday; some are tiny holy places excavated within rock caves, and others are simple, small buildings. My village of Agios Ioannis has eight churches!
Not all churches have a priest serving every Sunday, but at some point in the year, most host at least one divine liturgy.
Today, priests are appointed and remunerated by the state. But this was not always so–before 1967, priests were commissioned and compensated by each village. Candidates were identified and elections were held with voters (e.g., heads of household) casting their ballots and choosing their new ecclesiastical leader. This practice resulted in a rare and exciting collection recently made available on GreekAncestry–Parish Voter Lists, which I wrote about here.
When I was digitizing marriage documents at the Metropolis of Sparta, I came across one that caught my attention because it did not appear to be wedding-related. It was a letter with three pages of signatures. I was able to read the words Αγιός Ιωάννης (St. Johns) which caused me to stop work immediately. This is my village and my curiosity was raised–what is this document? My colleague, Gregory Kontos, explained that it was a petition from the residents of Agios Ioannis to the Bishop, requesting that a second priest be appointed. There were over 200 families in the village and the villagers felt that having just one priest was not sufficient to meet the needs of the people. They proposed that a local man, Panagiotis Poulimenakos, be ordained.
This document, created in 1894*, was signed by 70 men and one woman. It is a historical and genealogical treasure. It supplements the 1872 Election Lists and fills gaps in the Male Registers of Agios Ioannis. Now preserved are the handwritten signatures of the parishioners–most of whom would have signed few, if any, documents during their lifetime. The document shows us who is literate, and who is not. The signature of Charifalitza V. Maltziniotou denotes that her husband, Vasileios, was deceased, and that the prominence of the Maltziniotis family in the village lended credence and weight to the parishioners’ petition.
Below is the document and its translation, for which I am forever indebted to Gregory Kontos. We now have a glimpse into the dealings of these humble people who are seeking a second priest to tend to the spiritual and temporal needs of their families.
To the Honorable Bishop of Monemvasia and Sparti
Received on April 27th, 1894
April 20th, 1894
It is known to you, your Eminence, that Agios Ioannis has over two hundred families, which, as follows, cannot be ministered by the current one priest with all the willingness he has, especially as the families are not concentrated, but are dispersed in neighborhoods, which are quite far from each other, about half an hour from where the priest is based. For this reason, we believe that one more priest has to be appointed and that the priest needs to be from this village and of general renown, so that through his position and his estimation from his co-villagers he will command respect and resolve many little disputes.
If you approve, we ask you to ordain our co-villager, Panagiotis Poulimenakos, a good and honest man of letters, valued by everyone, and also virtuous, pious and with ecclesiastical knowledge.
The residents of the village of Agios Ioannis
1. Panagiotis Papa[…]
2. D. P. Maltziniotis
3. P. Th. Ko[…]
4. Efstr. Charitakos
5. I. Ch. Tzirgotis
6. Th. D. Tsirigotis
7. Ioannis Gianniopoulos
8. Th. D. Kopanos
9. K [?] Haralambakos
10. Anagnostis V[…]lias
11. Dimitrios Moustakaros
12. Dimitrios Vasilakos
13. Georgios St. Laskaris
14. Ath. Voulgaris, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Geor. Laskaris.
15. Andreas Loumakis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Polyzois Loumakis.
16. Spyros Lampropoulos, illiterate. On his order and behalf, K. Theodoropoulos.
17. Nikolaos Bougadis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Theodopoulos.
18. Ilias Kyriazakis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, G. D. […].
19. Ioan. M[.]ltiad[.] [possibly Miltiades]
20. Nikolaos […]
21. Konstantis Psyrakis
22. Sarantos Stamatakos, illiterate. On his order and behalf, D. [?] P. Tsirigotis.
23. Zois [?] […]
24. Konstantis Panagianakos. On his behalf, Chatzipetros.
25. Ioannis Stamatakos, on his order and behalf.
26. D. Arniotis
27. Io. Papagiannakos
28. Ge. Aramel[…]
29. Io. Karkoulis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Geor. Laskaris.
30. P. Alevetzovitis
31. Antonios Mitilinaios
32. N. A. Roumeliotis
33. Christos Tagkalos
34. Ilias Zacharopoulos, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Geor. St. Laskaris.
35. Kargakos Tzounopoulos, illiterate. On his behalf, Geo. Tzounopoulos.
37. Ioannis Kopanos
38. Petros Gourgouris
39. Ant. Kritikos, illiterate.On his order, P. N. Liakakos.
40. Vasileios Karteroulis, illiterate. On his order, D. Kopanos.
41. Leonidas Sotirakos
42. D. Arniotis
43. Dimitrios Panagopoulos, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Efstr. Charitakos.
44. Le. Christou Spirou
45. Apostolis P. Politis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Efstr. Charitakos.
46. K. Argyropoulos
47. Alexandros Kelepouris
48. Christos Spyrou, illiterate. On his behalf, Dimitrios.
49. On behalf of D. Gravas [?, possibly Grivas], G. Kokoris.
50. On behalf of illiterate Konstas Kontakos, Th. D. Kopanos.
51. Dimitrios Kontakos, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Anagnostis Vougiouklas.
52. Anastatios Pantazos, illiterate. On his behalf, his son.
53. Konstantinos Pantazos, Nikolaos Charalampakos
54. Sarantos Kourkoulis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Efstr. Charitakos.
55. Them. Michalopoulos
56. An. Kokonis
57. Petros Soumakis, illiterate. On his order, A. Vougiouklis [?]
[58.] N. Lagchanikas [?]
[59.] Papasionis [?]
[60.] Ioannis Kontakos
[61.] N. N. Maltziniotis
[62.] Dimitrios Stamatakos
[63.] M. Arniotis
[64.] Panagiotis Pantazos, illiterate. On his order, A. Vougiouklis.
[65.] Pa. Papagiannakos
[66.] Sarantos Kourkoulis, illiterate. On his order and behalf, Efstr. Charitakos.[67.] Panagiotis Mourgokefalos, illiterate. On his order and behalf, G. Ch. Tzirgotis.
[68.] S. […]
[69.] Ioannis Pantazos
[70.] Spyros Pantazos
[71.] Charifalitza V. Maltziniotou, her son, Efstratios Maltziniotis
[72.] Panagiotis Mpolianitis, illiterate. On his behalf, S. Theodopoulos.
The authenticity of the above 70 signatures of all the residents of Agios Ioannis of the Municipality of Sparta is verified.
Sparta, April 12th, 1894
The Mayor of Sparta,
The Representative of Parori,
*The year appears on both the first and last pages. It is not clearly written and could be either 1874 or 1894; we are assuming it is 1894 as there is no line through the stem of the 7, which is how that number is always written in Greek.