When we think of saints, we often think of people who lived centuries ago. St. Nektarios, on the contrary, lived and died in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Born in Selyvria, Thrace (part of present day Turkey), in October of 1846 as Anastasios Kephalas, Nektarios (his ordained name) began working and studying in Constantinople at age 14. Six years later he traveled to the island of Chios and entered a monastery. From there, he went to serve under Patriarch Sophronios, of Alexandria, Egypt.
Patriarch Sophronios liked Nektarios very much and sent him to study theology at the University of Athens, Greece. After he finished his studies, the patriarch appointed him priest and preacher in Cairo, Egypt. Soon thereafter, Nektarios was ordained Bishop and assigned in Cairo. It seemed as though Bishop Nektarios had one success after another, but people do not become Saints without difficulty and many thorns. So it was with Bishop Nektarios. Some people who disliked him and were jealous of his success made up lies about the good bishop. Patriarch Sophronios was swayed and took everything away from Nektarios. Nektarios returned to Athens where he was invited to preach at different churches. In Athens his great wisdom was realized and he became Dean of a theological school there in 1894.
Bishop Nektarios’ spiritual callings were perhaps more fulfilled when he started a convent for nuns on a small island not too far from the seaport of Piraeus, Greece. On Aegina, Bishop Nektarios founded the Convent of the Holy Trinity. It was here at his convent that Nektarios would make his greatest contributions to the Orthodox Church. In 1910 Nektarios retired to the Convent of the Holy Trinity to spend his last years. People flocked to Aegina to worship with the bishop, to listen to his sermons, and to be healed from different illnesses.
St. Nektarios died on November 9, 1920 and was buried in a special chapel which he had built. People continued to flock to the Convent of the Holy Trinity, to pay their respects at the Shrine of St. Nektarios. Miracles continue to take place at his grave site year after year. Eventually, the Patriarchate of Constantinople proclaimed Nektarios a Saint in 1961. St. Nektarios is considered the Patron Saint for people who have cancer, heart trouble, arthritis, epilepsy and other sicknesses. Visitors to this shrine leave filled with the love and peace that St. Nektarios gave to all when he lived.
St. Nektarios is a true icon of Christian love and patience. We are all called to love all people and to encourage them. As people of faith, we offer prayers as a means of help for all. St. Nektarios encouraged others by being with them at difficult times. He prayed to God to give them peace and courage to face their problems. We take him as our example.
St. Nektarios is honored and remembered annually on November 9.
Saint Nektarios, Archbishop of Pentapolis
Life of the Saint
Our holy Father Nektarios was born on 1 October 1846 at Selymbria in Thrace. His parents, Dimos and Maria Kephalas, were pious Christians but not rich in this world’s goods. Their son was baptized Anastasios and, from infancy, showed great piety and love for study. When his mother taught him Psalm 50, he liked to repeat the verse: I shall teach thy ways unto the wicked and sinners shall be converted unto thee. After finishing elementary school, he was sent by his parents to Constantinople to continue his education, at the same time as working in a shop. The boy did not become entangled in worldly cares, but fixed his mind entirely upon building up the inner man in the image of Christ by prayer and meditation on the writings of the holy Fathers.
When he was twenty, he left Constantinople for a teaching post on the island of Chios. The young people and villagers where he taught were encouraged to live in piety and virtue by his words and above all by the example of his ascetic, prayerful life. On November 7, 1876, he became a monk in the famous Monastery of Nea Moni, for he had long desired to embrace the Aesthetic life. Seeking only those things which are above, he was beloved by all the brethren as the very pattern of gentleness and obedience, and was ordained deacon after one year. Thanks to the generosity of a pious islander and to the protection of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, he was able to complete his studies in Athens and to obtain the diploma of the Faculty of Theology. In 1885, he arrived in Alexandria where he was soon ordained priest, then consecrated Metropolitan of Pentapolis (an ancient diocese in Cyrenaica, in what is now Libya). He was appointed preacher and secretary to the Patriarch, whose representative he became in Cairo, where he had charge of the Church of Saint Nicholas.
Nektarios lost nothing of his humility through these honors, and was able to inspire his flock with zeal for the evangelic virtues. But the love and admiration of the people for him turned to his disadvantage. Certain members of the Patriarchate became jealous of his success and, led on by the Devil, put it about that he was currying favor with the people with the aim of seating himself on the patriarchal throne of Alexandria. The Saint made no attempt to justify himself but placed all his hope in the promise of Christ who has said: Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Matt. 5:11). He was dismissed from his Episcopal Throne; and he embarked for Athens where he found himself alone, ignored, despised and even lacking his daily bread, for he would keep nothing for himself and gave away what little he had to the poor. The meek and humble follower of Jesus Christ planned at first to withdraw to Mount Athos but gave up the idea, for he put the salvation of his neighbor before his own love of monastic retreat. He spent several years as a preacher (1891-1894) and was then appointed director of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School for the education of priests. The School’s spiritual and intellectual standing rose rapidly under his direction. The students found in him a teacher with a deep knowledge of Scripture, of the holy Fathers, and even of secular learning, and a director who exercised his authority with great kindness and consideration. His administrative and teaching responsibilities – he taught pastoral theology – did not prevent him as a monk from living a life of ascesis, meditation and prayer, nor from fulfilling the high calling of preaching and serving regularly the holy Mysteries, at the School as well as in the Athens region.
However, there glowed in the depths of his heart a burning love for the peace and quiet of life in the monasteries; and this led him to respond warmly to the desire expressed by some of his spiritual daughters that he should found a women’s monastery on the island of Egina. This he did between 1904 and 1907 and he retired there in 1908, on his resignation as director of the Rizarios School. Despite countless cares and difficulties, Saint Nektarios saw to the restoration of a type of life that was wholly in the spirit of the ancient Fathers. He gave his utmost bodily and spiritual strength to the construction of the buildings, to divine service and to the spiritual direction of each one of his disciples. They would often see him in his worn-out cassock working in the garden or, when he disappeared for many hours, they would guess he had shut himself in his cell to raise his intellect to God by bringing it down into his heart, to taste there the sweetness of the holy Name of Jesus. Although he desired to flee all contact with the world and strictly limited visits to the Monastery, the fame of his virtues and of his God-given graces spread in the region, and the faithful were drawn to him like iron to a magnet. He healed many lay-people and nuns of their sicknesses, and brought rain to the island in a time of draught. He comforted, consoled and encouraged; he was all things to all men. He could do all things through Christ who dwelt in him by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. He kept company with the Saints and with the Mother of God, and they often appeared to him during the holy Liturgy or in his cell. During the difficult years that followed the First World War, he taught his nuns to rely from day to day on the mercy of God. He utterly forbade them to keep any food in reserve for their use, instructing them to give away to the poor everything that remained over. Saint Nektarios also found time to write a large number of works on theology, ethics and Church history, in order to strengthen the Church of Greece in the holy tradition of the Fathers, which was often unknown in those days because of Western influences.
Saint Nektarios lived like an angel in the flesh with the rays of the uncreated light shining around him, yet once again he was calumniated by certain members of the hierarchy who made malicious accusations about his monastery. He bore these latter trials with the patience of Christ, meekly and without complaint, as he did the painful illness which afflicted him for more that eighteen months before he spoke of it. He thanked God for putting him to the test in this way, and did his best to keep the pain he suffered secret until the last days of his life. After a final pilgrimage to an icon of the Mother of God venerated not far from the monastery, he told his disciples of his coming departure for Heaven and was taken to a hospital in Athens where, after fifty days of suffering borne with a patience that edified all who visited him, he gave up his soul in peace to God on November 8. 1920.
The faithful of Egina, the nuns of his monastery and all the Christians who had come close to him, mourned the loss of the meek and compassionate disciple of Christ who, in the likeness of the divine Paso of his Master, endured all his life calumnies, persecutions and false accusations. But God has glorified him, and miracles have abounded since his departure for those who approach his relics with faith or who rely on his powerful intercession. His body remained incorrupt for more that twenty years, distilling a delicate, heavenly scent, and then returned to the earth in the usual way. His relics were strongly redolent with the same perfume at the time of their translation in June 1953. This perfume has continued ever since to rejoice the faithful who come to venerate his precious relics with the assurance that Saint Nektarios has been received by God into the abode of the righteous. His veneration was formally recognized in 1961. The list of his miracles grows longer every day, and his shrine at Egina has become the most popular place of pilgrimage in Greece.
Apolytikion of St. Nektarios in the First Tone
Since his family was poor, Anastasius went to Constantinople when he was fourteen in order to find work. Although he had no money, he asked the captain of a boat to take him. The captain told him to take a walk and then come back. Anastasius understood, and sadly walked away.
St Nectarius was not deposed from his rank, however. He was still allowed to function as a bishop. If anyone invited him to perform a wedding or a baptism he could do so, as long as he obtained permission from the local bishop.
St Nectarius bore his trials with great patience, but those who loved him began to demand to know why he had been removed. Seeing that this was causing a disturbance in the Church of Alexandria, he decided to go to Greece. He arrived in Athens to find that false rumors about him had already reached that city. His letter of suspension said only that he had been removed “for reasons known to the Patriarchate,” and so all the slanders about him were believed.
Since the state and ecclesiastical authorities would not give him a position, the former Metropolitan was left with no means of support, and no place to live. Every day he went to the Minister of Religion asking for assistance. They soon tired of him and began to mistreat him.
One day, as he was leaving the Minister’s office, St Nectarius met a friend whom he had known in Egypt. Surprised to find the beloved bishop in such a condition, the man spoke to the Minister of Religion and Education and asked that something be found for him. So, St Nectarius was appointed to be a humble preacher in the diocese of Vitineia and Euboea. The saint did not regard this as humiliating for him, even though a simple monk could have filled that position. He went to Euboea to preach in the churches, eagerly embracing his duties.
Yet even here, the rumors of scandal followed him. Sometimes, while he was preaching, people began to laugh and whisper. Therefore, the blameless one resigned his position and returned to Athens. By then some people had begun to realize that the rumors were untrue, because they saw nothing in his life or conversation to suggest that he was guilty of anything. With their help and influence, St Nectarius was appointed Director of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens on March 8, 1894. He was to remain in that position until December of 1908.
[The following story is illustrative of the great love and humility that St. Nektarios bore throughout his life:
“[St. Nektarios] had once again fallen ill and suffered for fifteen days. He had headaches, dizziness and weakness. He literally dragged himself to his lectures [at Rizarios school]. His illness had probably been brought about by the extra work load he had secretly undertaken for the school custodian Loukianos. Loukianos had suddenly fallen ill due to failing kidneys, and having been overcome by excrutiating pain one day on the job, he had to be taken to the Evangelismos Hospital across the street. He then underwent a dangerous and painful operation and was ordered by his physicians not to return to work for at least two and a half months. Nektarios felt deep pity for the man and decided that he would do the work for him until he was able to come back. So, Nektarios would wake up at dawn and take to cleaning toilets and floors and whatever work was left undone by the assistant janitors.”
(from The Saint of our Century by Chondropoulos)]
The saint celebrated the services in the seminary church, taught the students, and wrote several edifying and useful books. Since he was a quiet man, St Nectarius did not care for the noise and bustle of Athens. He wanted to retire somewhere where he could pray. On the island of Aegina he found an abandoned monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which he began to repair with his own hands.
He gathered a community of nuns, appointing the blind nun Xenia as abbess, while he himself served as Father Confessor. Since he had a gift for spiritual direction, many people came to Aegina to confess to him. Eventually, the community grew to thirty nuns. He used to tell them, “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God shall put a light in it that will shine forth to the world. Many will see this light and come to Aegina.” They did not understand what he was telling them, that he himself would be that beacon, and that people would come there to venerate his holy relics.
On September 20, 1920 the nun Euphemia brought an old man in black robes, who was obviously in pain, to the Aretaieion Hospital in Athens. This was a state hospital for the poor. The intern asked the nun for information about the patient.
“Is he a monk?” he asked.
“No, he is a bishop.”
The intern laughed and said, “Stop joking and tell me his name, Mother, so that I can enter it in the register.”
“He is indeed a bishop, my child. He is the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Pentapolis.”
The intern muttered, “For the first time in my life I see a bishop without a panagia or cross, and more significantly, without money.”
Then the nun showed the saint’s credentials to the astonished intern who then admitted him. For two months St Nectarius suffered from a disease of the bladder. At ten thirty on the evening of November 8, 1920, he surrendered his holy soul to God. He died in peace at the age of seventy-four.
In the bed next to St Nectarius was a man who was paralyzed. As soon as the saint had breathed his last, the nurse and the nun who sat with him began to dress him in clean clothing to prepare him for burial at Aegina. They removed his sweater and placed it on the paralyzed man’s bed. Immediately, the paralytic got up from his bed, glorifying God.
St Nectarius was buried at the Holy Trinity Monastery on Aegina. Several years later, his grave was opened to remove his bones (as is the custom in Greece). His body was found whole and incorrupt, as if he had been buried that very day.
Word was sent to the Archbishop of Athens, who came to see the relics for himself. Archbishop Chrysostomos told the nuns to leave them out in the sun for a few days, then to rebury them so that they would decay. A month or two after this, they opened the grave again and found the saint incorrupt. Then the relics were placed in a marble sarcophagus.
Several years later, the holy relics dissolved, leaving only the bones.*** The saint’s head was placed in a bishop’s mitre, and the top was opened to allow people to kiss his head.
[***Note: The dissolution of St. Nektarios’ relics (just as their previous incorruption) was truly by the will of God. The following story illustrates this:
“There was a rich old lady who had met Nektarios at the monastery and he was her confessor several times. She was now living in Piraeus alone, and cried both day and night over the fact that Nektarios’ body had dissolved. She hoped that Nektarios’ body would be eternally intact, like the relic of Saint Dionysios on her native island of Zakynthos. She thought that this would be a tribute to Orthodoxy. One night, the old woman saw Nektarios alive at her bedside. He smiled lovingly and sweetly at her. “Why are you so sad?” he asked her. “It was I who prayed to God to allow the decomposition of my body. I did this for all the pious Christians, for whose consolation the relics will now be able to be sent around Greece and around the world.” The old woman awoke a bit shaken, but was nevertheless filled with gratitude at seeing her beloved confessor alive and speaking to her.”
(from The Saint of our Century by Chondropoulos)]
St Nectarius was glorified by God, since his whole life was a continuous doxology to the Lord. Both during his life and after his death, St Nectarius has performed thousands of miracles, especially for those suffering from cancer. There are more churches dedicated to St Nectarius than to any other modern Orthodox saint.”