Recollections of My Grandfather: Fr. Joseph Xanthopoulos

Fr. Joseph Xanthopoulos as a young priest (from the website of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA)

Fr. Joseph Xanthopoulos as a young priest (from the website of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA)

Editor’s note: In June, I published a biography of Fr. Joseph Xanthopoulos, an remarkable (and even saintly) Greek priest who first served in an Antiochian parish under St. Raphael before eventually joining the Greek Archdiocese. Fr. Joseph’s story is both amazing and inspiring, and the more I learn about him, the more impressed I am. I was privileged to speak with his granddaughter shortly after the article was published, and recently, I received an email from his grandson and namesake, Joe Xanthopoulos, who send me some recollections of Fr. Joseph. The younger Mr. Xanthopoulos has given us permission to share his memories here. To read my original biography of Fr. Joseph, CLICK HERE. For Joe’s stories of Fr. Joseph, read on below.

Good Deed My Great Grandfather’s trade was importing and exporting goods throughout the middle east. He took my Grandfather with to Turkey on a trade excursion. In Turkey my Great Grandfather was told there was a Greek businessman being held in a Turkish prison. He contracted an ailment in prison that required someone stay with him throughout the night to wake him and give him severely needed medication. My Great Grandfather asked my Grandfather to stay with the man and care for him so he did so.

Now, fast forward many years to my Grandfather and Grandmother arriving at Ellis Island (I believe with Uncle Milton who was a baby at the time).  Their “sponsor” a relative I recall of my Grandmother was not there and the authorities gave my Grandparents a difficult time because of this. An issue was the authorities were telling my Grandfather they would be changing his last name to Poulos and my Grandfather strongly stated this was unacceptable and his name was Xanthopoulos. A Greek American man there to sponsor other people from Greece overheard the conversation. He asked my Grandfather his full name and for the name of his Father (my Great Grandfather). When my Grandfather answered the man, the man hugged my Grandfather and said something to the effect of, “You saved my life many years ago in a Turkish prison!”  The man “sponsored” my Grandparents and helped them get settled until they connected with family and friends.

The Miracle When my Papou died, there were many memorial wreaths and flower arrangements. I was a teen at the time and one very large wreath stood out from the rest as it said, “Thank you Fr. Joseph for “The Miracle.” I asked my Dad what this was referring to. As I recall it, my Dad said that this wreath was sent from people in a town (I believe it was Lowell, Massachusetts) who knew my Papou and were very grateful to him. Apparently a well-known Greek businessman in the town owned a grocery store and he had a daughter believed to be possessed by demons. My Grandfather went to the house and was asked to perform an exorcism by the parents of the girl. He apparently did so and the girl was “healed.” A few years before my Grandfather passed, he showed me his “Exorcism Kit” which included: holy oil, holy water, a prayer book, a copy of the Bible, incense, a censor, and candles. I asked him then if he ever performed an exorcism. I recall he said a few but most were just young people who were struggling and needed good friends, prayer and often professional help. When I pressed him on what about the ones who were truly possessed I believe he said he would not talk about them but continues to pray for them and believes they are well now.

George and Sophocles I have vague recollections of my Grandfather’s brothers George and Sophocles who are now both deceased. I believe George’s son Philip is still alive and living in Oregon but must be in his eighties. My Papou was recognized for his many years of service by St. John’s the Baptist in Des Plaines, Illinois. I believe my Great Uncles were there and shared that both were on the run within Turkey and were being “hunted” by the Turkish government. Apparently according to their story and what I recall, my Grandfather arranged for their escape which included my Grandfather tracking them down in Turkey and marching across a dessert area for miles to freedom. I remember my Great Uncles saying, “If it wasn’t for your Papou we would be dead now.”

Additional Recollections I recall at St. John’s he was beloved. Little children thought he was Santa Claus. He would come out and distribute communion (when he could) and always Antidoro at the end of the service. Retired priests Fr. Lionikis (St. John), Fr. John Chekos (St. John now in Pittsburgh I believe), Fr. Treantafeles (Assumption, St. John) may all have memories of my Papou. Fr. Bill Chiganos (Holy Apostles) my spiritual Father often invited my Papou to serve at Holy Apostles and worship with us as well.

Two “smaller” stories that suggest the kind of man my Grandfather was:

“Mr. D” – George Demetralis is a wonderful teacher of our faith and the bible at Holy Apostles. He ad I became close when I began attending his Young Adult meetings at his home. Mr. D is blind. He shared that when he was worshiping at Assumption in Chicago he asked the Priest at the time if he would be allowed to teach Sunday School and Bible Studies there. The Priest allowed him to teach Sunday School and almost immediately, the Parish Council forced the Priest to relieve Mr. D of this duty due to his blindness (hard to believe these days). Mr. D said that my Papou went to the Parish Council and as he shared, stood up for me quite vehemently and got Mr. D reinstated. Unfortunately according to Mr. D he continued to be pressured by a group of parishioners and my Grandfather suggested he talk with Fr. Bill at Holy Apostles and in a short time, Mr. D moved to Holy Apostles where he continues to bless all who know him.

Korean Priest” – In the Chicago Diocese there was a Greek Orthodox Priest of Korean descent and origin. I cannot recall his name. My Papou learned that he was struggling to be accepted and took him under his wing at St. John’s in Des Plaines for a number of years until he found his calling. Many years later this Priest and his family would talk to others about how much they appreciated my Papou for all he did to help them.

As a Papou, I recall a strong man of few but important words and a constant smile and gleam in his eyes. He was visibly bothered by wrongdoing and addressed it in a manner that would not bring attention to himself but focus on the problem and defining solutions.

When he was 92 he knocked on the door of my room and I was exercising at the time. I had just been using this spring pull apparatus with the maximum number of spring coils. I could pull it apart twice. My Papou asked me to show him how it worked and I did. Surprisingly he picked it up and pulled it apart about ten times. Then he put it down and just smiled at me and left. He amazed me in so many ways! He loved to watch sports especially the Boston teams.

In my youth I stopped going to Sunday School. I felt it was boring. My Dad in front of me asked my Papou to tell me how wrong I was and how bad this is. My Papou smiled and said, “Go because you want to go. There will be a time as you grow up that you will realize how important faith is to you and you will engage then.” He was spot on.

At night every night he would go to bed around 8 pm but he would go to sleep hours later. I would peek into his room and he was on his knees praying. I asked him once how come his prayers take so long. He said, “I have lived many years and know many people. I prayer for each of them as well considering issues of the world, asking God for direction and giving thanks to him.”

I was named after my Papou and many people thought I would follow in his foot-steps and become a Priest. My Grandfather would tell me that God has a plan for me and whatever that plan is, I needed to be a good person and focus on helping others. This has been my driving force in my profession and the desire to take the gifts God has provided and have a positive impact in this world as my Papou did, means everything to me.

Many, many thanks to Joe Xanthopoulos for these recollections. To read more about Fr. Joseph, check out my article from June. If anyone else remembers Fr. Joseph and would like to share their stories, please let me know at mfnamee at gmail dot com.

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