Reading in commemoration the names of 14 men who served as altar boys in his parish, Father Nicholas Vieron paused to compose himself.
Although he’s 86 years old, the former pastor of Memphis Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church still speaks with clarity, charisma and power.
But Sunday morning at the church, while reading the names of those 14 disciples who have passed away, his voice cracked.
“Give rest, oh Lord, to your servants, your altar boys, your acolytes…,” Vieron prayed, candles lit for each of the departed flickering beside him.
Also by Vieron’s side were 42 other former altar boys — ages 30 through 70 — who joined him for a reunion at the church Sunday to honor their pastor and deceased peers. Some traveled from as far as New York and Florida for the gathering.
“Each one of these men brings back precious memories from when they were little boys,” Vieron said. “And I get emotional with them being alive, so you can just imagine my thinking because I buried each and every one of the others … but it’s also nice to see these young men, how they’ve progressed in their lives.”
Vieron retired as pastor of the church in 1991 after 36 years of leadership, but still serves as pastor emeritus. Sunday’s reunion was the second such gathering since he stepped down. Vieron expects it will also be the last.
The occasion was bittersweet for several former altar boys who moved away from Memphis. Others who stayed in the area, including 70-year-old George Karkatsugas and 68-year-old Dimitri Taras, found it difficult to leave Vieron’s steadfast spiritual guidance.
The two served as altar boys under Vieron into their early 20s.
“We didn’t even want to leave and we were in college,” Taras said. “That’s how much we liked it, how much we enjoyed it.”
“The thing is, when you’re in the altar — and I saw it today — you feel different. You’re right there. You’re right there with the Liturgy; you’re right there with the sacrament. It’s special.”
Karkatsugas shared Taras’ sentiment, adding that the bond the altar boys formed with Vieron was also formed outside the church. Softball games, footraces and other athletic activities between Vieron and the boys were regular happenings.
“He taught us a lot of good things about life and how to conduct our lives, to do what we’re supposed to do and what’s right,” Karkatsugas said.
Between parishioners greeting him with hugs and “thank you’s” after Sunday’s service, Vieron paused again.
But this time it was to smile.
“Here I am 86 years old, and they still embrace me,” he said, walking cane in hand. “Not just in words, but in many ways. I’m so grateful.”
– Scott Carroll: (901) 529-2623