The New Year rang in sad tidings this year: Biblical archaeologist Vassilios Tzaferis passed away on January 1, 2015, at age 78. He died on St. Basil’s Day (Agios Vasilios), the nameday of the saint whose name he bore.
Originally from the island of Samos, Greece, Tzaferis left his home and moved to Jerusalem in 1950—at the age of 14—to study theology with the intention of becoming a monk. At the age of 20, he took the vow of monasticism and became an ordained deacon in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
After serving in the Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth, he pursued a degree in Biblical studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in the history of ancient Israel and archaeology. Later he earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in classical archaeology.
In 1964, while still studying at the Hebrew University, Tzaferis recanted his vow of monasticism—but remained a devout Greek Orthodox—and pursued a career in archaeology. Much of his scholarship focused on early Christian periods: He wrote about monks and monasteries of the Byzantine period, and his Ph.D. dissertation, which was submitted to the Hebrew University in 1970, examined the development of the cross as a Christian symbol.
After leaving the deaconate, he married and had two children.