Katina was in the second year of her IT degree at UTS and I had started on another postgraduate programme this time with Macquarie. I needed to find some payable work, we were managing but our personal finances were starting to run low. My pride and self-belief suffered another severe blow when I joined the ranks of those on unemployment benefits. I was now no longer someone who was greeted with the respect accorded to a professional, let alone a member of the clergy. The consequences of my decision inside my own community where very often even more wounding. From Reverend or Father I was now a “number” doing the rounds knocking on doors and looking for regular work. It was humbling to be asked if I understood or knew how to complete the paperwork relating to my new found unemployment. Things were made all the more grim, for my former “employer” the Archdiocese would not supply me with a reference, especially given that it was I who had asked to be relieved of the diaconate. I was “disrespectful” of authority they said, a “trouble-maker”. In the end they would call me “mad”. The exception was the heroic Father Themistocles Adamopoulo, who by this time was himself out of favor and set to join the ranks of the persona non grata.
Anyone who questioned the High Porte was mad. I asked some other good men from within those walls, but their support was qualified. They wanted to know beforehand “where” their testimonials would be going. I understood their predicament yet had to decline. Two generous souls from the clerical fraternity who were outside my immediate environment, but who did supply me with wonderful references at a vital time not long afterwards to greatly lift my spirits, were my former lecturers from the University of Sydney, the Reverend Dr David Coffey and Bishop Paul Barnett. Such grace and charity touch you for life and are not to be easily forgotten. They must be paid forward. There is to be found one of the great joys of living.
It took some weeks getting used to, but I began to love going to my new job at Paddy’s Markets in Flemington, near Homebush Bay. It was a time of long stretches of peace and a new type of learning. I was hired as a cleaner: toilets, floors, potato conveyers, fruit crates, large vats, giant coleslaw mixers, windows, walls, and more. If it had to be cleaned, I was the man! I was also proud of my new ‘vestments’: a pair of weatherproof boots, gloves, overalls, and a yellow raincoat with a hood. The hours as well, they suited an old night-owl like me. Work started eleven at night and I would clock off the following morning around seven, it was not full-time so I had rest days in between. There were many things I enjoyed during those few months that I was able to stay at Paddy’s before I left to focus on the dissertation, the one dealing with the “666” conundrum and the tradition history of antichrist. Each night I looked forward to greeting my new ‘con-celebrants’: the Asians who would cut and prepare the salads; the sunburnt farmers; the busy stall owners; the testy truck drivers; and every now and then the pest-control fellow who would also moonlight as a Reiki Master.
The coffee-breaks were history classes in themselves. I heard many stories in that small kitchenette by well-weathered men who had seen much and done it all. These were tough but honest folk, people you could trust and where you quickly learnt to call “a spade a spade and a spud a spud.” They would remind me of the abattoir workers I used to help load the meat trucks in the early hours of the morning when I was a student in Thessaloniki. They were also not lacking in the stories department. During this time at the markets I would read whenever I could steal a few minutes during the morning breaks or in between my scheduled jobs. The Philokalia and the Art of Prayer were invariably within reach, together with the lives of two saints whose personalities had especially attracted me, Saints Seraphim of Sarov and John of Kronstandt. Yet again I would be taught that marvellous and encouraging lesson often heard on Mount Athos: it is not the place, but the Way. Other times it might be as simple as the positive energy good spirits release into the air.
Given my earlier life at the café this was not unfamiliar territory. I was in my element in these environments. I look back thirty years when I first put on the cassock and I realize it is with these ‘straight-talking’ people at places like Paddy’s markets and Egnatia Odos and King Street, Newtown, where I am most happy and comfortable. And I would have stayed at Flemington for much longer if not for my pride “this perpetual nagging temptation” according to C.S. Lewis and because I knew there was some unfinished business as Martin Heidegger might say.
And Secretly Bless Them
The young priest, Grigori Mikhailovich, was now unemployed. It seemed that there were two Gospels; they should have informed him of this during orientation week he had thought. He made the hard decision to keep on with the traditional version. Unemployed priests who chose to receive the “older story” would find some few hours of work at Flemington Markets. The young priest Grigori chose the graveyard shift where he was introduced to other exiled cleaners. He would put on his yellow uniform and waterproof overshoes with pride and honour. He remembered the “putting on of the vestment prayers” when he would prepare for the Divine Liturgy, and these he would now recite once more. Though no one knew that he was once a priest, they would instinctively call him “Father” and he would rejoice and secretly bless them through the soap suds and the potato crates.
 M.G. Michael, Southerly, Golden Tongues: The Arts of Translation, 70/1 (2010), p. 32f.