I had long been informed that on December 9 the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece would honor my philology professor, Nikos D. Triantafyllopoulos, with the Golden Cross of the Order of St. Paul the Apostle.
I was impressed by their decision. I don’t think there are many who deserve to be honored more than him. He is a legend as an educator and as an intellectual in Greece.
So I could not miss this opportunity to be with him at a significant moment in my professor’s life, which, to some extent, is related to my own.
His Beatitude Ieronymos, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, in his address during the presentation of the medal, said that Nikos D. Triantafyllopoulos was being honored “as a sign of deep respect for the all-round great work you have been doing for many decades as a distinguished philologist, teacher, poet, short story writer, and eminent scholar of our modern Greek literature.” He added: “Of course, the Church honors you today, in particular, for your long and very successful involvement with the work of the leading figure of our Greek Literature, Alexandros Papadiamantis.”
It has been a few years since I last saw my professor, as he lives on the island of Evia. In my mind I have kept the image of him from my school days on the island of Lemnos, in the Gymnasium, as a young, tall, vigorous teacher, with a sweet smile and a neck that turned red the few times I saw him angry, who had long and quick strides as he walked.
I didn’t find him much different, despite the fact that in a few months he will celebrate his 90th birthday.
I did, however, see him being emotional about the rare honor being bestowed upon him by the Church of Greece. He understands fully what it all means.
He was also honored by the then-President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a few years ago.
Thus, the State and the Church came to the same conclusion: Nikos D. Triantafyllopoulos is an intellectual of rare ethos and unusually significant contributions, and as a result, it would be a breach of their duty if each institution had failed to recognize him with its own medal.
I have written about my professor on other occasions and so I will not repeat the part he played generally in the life of my class and personally in mine.
So, back at the ceremony: My professor’s expression during the award of his medal was one of near-pain at being so honored, and accepting the honor. His eyes were often closed, as if he were engaged in a constant prayer of gratitude to God, but also as if he were asking for forgiveness if he strayed even the slightest bit from the humility that characterized him.
“I stand before you embarrassed and awed,” he said, “by the extraordinary distinction bestowed upon me, the award of the Golden Cross of the Order of St. Paul the Apostle. I find it difficult to interpret the exaggerated esteem in which His Eminence the shepherd of Chalcis holds me, thanks to which I stand before you today… I would say that the honor to my person today also belongs to the great Alexander Papadiamantis of Skiathos – indeed, he is the one now being honored.”
Nikos D. Triantafyllopoulos proved once again, in the way he handled this great honor and recognition, that he never stopped teaching. Young and old.