Saint Nectarios of Aegina

Άγιος Νεκτάριος

Saint Nektarios of Pentapolis was born on Tuesday, October 1st, 1846, in Silivria of Thrace (then Turkish-occupied), from devouted and poor parents – Demos (Demosthenes) and Balou (Vassiliki) Kefala. His father was from Ioannina, a seafarer by profession, and his mother was from Silivria. He was the fifth child of the family and he had five or six siblings: Demetrius, Gregory, Smaragda, Sevasti, Mariora and Charalambis (whose name and existence appear in the Saint’s will, while some sources want him to replaced Saint Nectarios as a teacher in the village of Lithi, Chios). At his baptism he was given the name Anastasios.

He learned greek language along with Christian teachings from his mother. He went to primary and secondary school in Silivria. He was an intelligent kid with very strong memory, and from early age he showed his teaching and theological inclinations. It is noteworthy that when Saint Nektarios was only seven, he sewed sheets of paper together to create books to write the words of God, as he said to his mother.

He went to Constantinople, where he worked initially in a tobacco shop, both to help his family financially and to continue his studies. At that time he began to study and collect quotes and excerpts from the Holy Fathers and classical philosophers, which constituted the two-volume book, “Treasures and Philosophical Treasures”, which he published in 1895. He collected them not only for himself but also to help other people. A typical example of this aspect of his character, is that he wrote some of these quotes on the tobacco shop’s paper bags, so that people could read them and benefit those who used them. This practice also solved the problem of their publication, because he lacked the necessary financial resources.

Before becoming 20 years old, he was hired as a pediatrician at the School of the Holy Sepulcher in Constantinople (the school director was his uncle Alexander Triantafyllides). While working there, he also studied and teached. In the same period the first miracle of St. Nectarius took place. While traveling from Constantinople to his home country – to celebrate Christmas with his family – the ship was caught in a horrible storm. However, with the prayers of Saint Nektarios, the ship was able to reach its destination, and of course all the passengers got there safe.

After Constantinople, the island of Chios would host the “20th Century Saint”. He began working there as a teacher in the village of Lithi, and preached in the local Churches.

After seven years, he entered as a novice monk in the New Monastery of Chios, at the age of 27. Three years later he became a monk (on November 7, 1876) and was given the name Lazarus, and began working as a secretary of the monastery. A few months later (on January 15, 1877) he was ordained a priest by the then Metropolitan of Chios, Gregory. During his ordination, he was given the name Nektarios.

In the same year (1877) he left New Monastery on leave and went to Athens to continue his studies. It is worth mentioning here that the expenses of his studies were covered by the brothers Choremi-Ioannis and Demosthenes Choremi. He returned to the island of Chios after three years with his high school diploma in his luggage.

At the end of September 1882, he went to Alexandria where he was presented to Patriarch Sophronios and expressed his desire to continue his studies, giving him a letter of recommendation from Nikiforos, the Abbot of New Monastery. Sophronius did indeed help him (assuming part of the expenses of his studies, the rest was covered by the Choremis brothers). Nektarios set himself a condition, when he would complete his studies, he would return to Alexandria and work for the Patriarchate.

So Saint Nektarios once again took the road to Athens. He enrolled in the Athens Theological School, and graduated three years later. At the Theological School he taught: Doctrinal, Ethical, Old Testament, Hebrew, New Testament, Pastoral, Pathology, Christian Archeology, Catechism, Symbolic and Doctrine History. During his studies he served as a Deacon in the temples of Agia Eirini (Aeolou), Pantanassa (Monastiraki) and Agios Nikolaos (Pefkakia).

It was late 1885 or early 1886 when he returned to Alexandria, having completed his studies at the Athens Theological School. Arriving there, he immediately took on the duties of preacher. On March 23, 1886 he was ordained a Priest in the Church of Saint Savva by the Patriarch of Alexandria, while in August of that year he ascended to the post of Archimandrite. He served as secretary of the Patriarchate and then as Patriarchal Commissioner in Cairo.

In January 1889, Patriarch Sophronios, recognizing the worth of the Saint and seeing the love that the faithful had surrounded him, ordained him Metropolitan (Bishop) of Pentapolis. The Saint performed his duties zealously and exemplarily. As a result, his flock increasingly loved him, while – in contrast – some in the Patriarchal environment began to slander him – envying the love the Christians had for him and the greatness of his character.

The slanderers dropped their seeds, and they found fertile ground in the old Patriarch and sprouted. As a result,Saint Nectarios was removed from office, and was only allowed to stay in his room, without being permitted to move around the Cairo area and the surrounding cities. But the slanderers were not satisfied. They continued their lewd work, and on July 11th, 1890, the Patriarchate of Alexandria issued a “decree” which obliged the Saint to leave Egypt, even though he had completely complied with Sophronius orders. It is noteworthy that his “dismissal” was not in accordance with the rules of the Church – no church trial had taken place – and the salaries owed to him by the Patriarchate of Alexandria had not been given to him since he was ordained Metropolitan of Pentapolis.

So Saint Nektarios took the road to Athens for the third time. The slanderers had achieved their goal.

Once he arrived in the Greek capital, he began looking for a place that would allow him to offer his services to people once again. After one year – difficult because of his poor financial situation – he was ordained by the Church of Greece as a preacher of Euboea on February 15, 1891. He stayed there for two and a half years, until August 1893, where he was transferred to Fthiotida and Fokidos. He remained only for six months in his new position.

His morality, his exquisite character, his piety and his actions, made his flock love him as a father and his reputation continued to grow. When this rumor reached Athens, it was decided that Saint Nectarios would be appointed director of the Rizarios School, which was done in March 1894.

He worked at Rizarios School for 14 whole years. During these years he gave a new impetus to the institution and helped educate and promote a large number of clergy and scientists. At the same time, he continued – with greater intensity – his writing work. An occupation that has accompanied him since his youth and has given us spiritual treasures born in the mind and soul of St. Nectar.

He spent most of the day working for the school’s needs and devoted his spare time to prayer, study, writing and his favorite occupation: caring for flowers and trees.

During the summer vacations of the school, in the summer of 1898, Saint Nektarios visited Mount Athos, where he traveled to the monasteries for almost two months. During this time he studied extensively the manuscripts in the libraries of the monasteries in search of material for his scientific work.

Along with the duties of the director of the Rizarios, he also undertakes charitable work helping those in need at a spiritual and material level. The intense physical and mental activity of those years had a negative impact on the health of the Saint, who became increasingly ill. It was then that the idea of ​​returning to monastic life was born in his mind and he asked the New Monastery of Chios for eulogy, so that he could serve as a monk wherever he wanted. This was sent from New Monastery to Saint Nectarios on November 24, 1900.

When, at some point, Saint Nektarios met Chrysanthis Strongylou (who later became an abbess), a blind and pious woman, she became the first stone to set up the monastery in Aegina. Chrysanthi along with a few other women wished to unite and seek a spiritual guide, which they found in the face of St. Nectarios. With his enthusiasm, they began searching for a place to build a monastery, and eventually ended up in a ruined monastery – dedicated to the Zoodochos Pigi and demolished in 1834 by a Bavarian decree – in Aegina. When the Saint also visited that place, it was decided to repair the old buildings of the monastery and bring the monastery back into operation. Work began for this purpose in 1904, and the monastery would be dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The Saint from Athens – still a director at Rizarios – guided the nuns and whenever he found time, he visited the monastery where he would spend the last years of his life.

After four years, having now decided to retire to the monastery of Aegina and to deal with its organization and the spiritual guidance of the nuns, he submitted his resignation to the board of Rizarios on February 7, 1908. The resignation was accepted by the council, which retired him – with recognition of his work – granting him a pension of 250 drachmas a month.

He settled in the monastery after Easter that year, remaining in the position of director of Rizarios until a replacement was found.

At his own expense he built a mixed house, near but outside the monastery, in which he would reside. It must be noted that he took an active part in building, carrying dirt or mud and digging, assisting the craftsmen. He has never, in all his life, considered any work not worthy. He always did everything in his power, with great joy, zeal and humility!

One case in which he dedicated his time and effort was the official recognition of the monastery by the Church of Greece. Recognition finally achieved four years after his death, and was announced to the nuns by letter of Archbishop Chrysostom on May 15, 1924.

In the last years of his life, Saint Nectarios suffered from chronic prostatitis, which caused him unbearable pain. He finally agreed to the doctors’ recommendations and came to Athens at the Aretaieio hospital. There he was hospitalized – in the 2nd room of the 2nd floor (it was C class, for poor people) – for almost two months. At his side, throughout his sickness, the Euphemia and Agapia nuns constantly stood by him – changings shifts helping him. He finally left this world to got to Heaven, at midnight on the night of November 8 to November 9, 1920 at the age of 74.

His body was transferred to Aegina. The faithful carried him in theirs hands, from the port to the monastery. The whole island was mourning, and even more mourned the nuns who lost their father and guide. His sacred body had already begun to give off fragrance. His burial took place in the courtyard of the monastery next to his beloved pine tree.

When, after six months, the memory was opened for the placement of a tombstone – donated by Rizarios – his scent was still fragrant without the slightest sign of deterioration. One and a half years later the memory was re-opened and his sacred remains still indestructible and fragrant. The same thing happened three years after his death. Overall his staging remained in this state for twenty whole years!

Thirty-two years after his death, Bishop Prokopios did the Translation of his Relics on September 2, 1953.

Its official recognition as Saint of our Orthodox Church was made in 1961 by the Patriarchal Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Then 9th of November was designated as the feast day of Saint Nectarios.

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