THE SAINT OF AFFECTION AND FORGIVENESS
The Holy of Christ Orthodox Church will never cease bringing out Saints until the end of time. The Church is full of joy for the recently canonized Saints, and especially for the sweet nectar of virtuous life, the precious vessel of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the God-bearing Hierarch, the Saint Bishop Nektarios of Pentapolis.
The Saint of God, was born on October 1, 1846 in Silivria of Eastern Thrace and took the name Anastasios. His parents were Demosthenes Kefalas and Maria Kefalas. His mother was very devout, and when the Saint was five years old she taught him the psalm 50 of David. When Anastasios reached the verse “Then I will teach transgressors your ways” he would repeat it many times, as if he knew how crucial its role will be later.
For economic reasons after finishing primary school in his homeland, he left at the age of fourteen years for Constantinople, and was hired as a clerk in a store of a relative with his only pay being shelter and food. Despite the difficult conditions, he found refuge in study, the permanent company in his life and indeed many of the sayings that he considered beneficial for his buyers, he wrote them on the tobacco wrappers. Later he worked as a supervisor in the Hagiotaphic dependency of Istanbul, where the manager was his uncle. He loved and attended almost every day on the church services. His desire for the life of the monk was fervent.
In 1868 at the age of twenty he leaves Constantinople, and goes to Chios to serve as a teacher in Lithi until 1873, where he goes to the Nea Monastery and after three years of testing on November 7, 1876 he takes the Angelic Schema with the name Lazarus. On January 15 (the day of his baptism) in 1877 he was ordained deacon by the bishop of Chios, Gregory and is renamed Nektarios. In Chios he attends in Secondary School, but the earthquake of 1881 forces him to come to Athens, where he gives the certificate examinations in Varvakeio as a home taught and gets the diploma.
In 1881 he travels to Alexandria, where he meets the patriarch Sophronius, who urges him to study at the university, which is made possible with the financial support of the Choremis brothers. In 1882 he got the scholarship endowment A.G. Papadakis. He graduated in October 1885 with a grade of “good”.
On March 23, 1886 he was ordained presbyter by Sophronius of Alexandria. On August 6 of the same year, he becomes a Grand Archimandrite and a Spiritual Father and is placed in the Patriarchal Delegation of Cairo. He is constantly working with zeal and self-denial. The Church of Alexandria rewards him with the highest office.
On January 15, 1889 he was ordained bishop of Pentapolis, in Agios Nikolaos of Cairo (which was radically renovated by the Saint), by Patriarch Sophronius, the former Metropolitan of Corfu Anthony and of Sinai Porphyrius. As a Metropolitan he continued to perform the same tasks, even without being paid because of the dire economic situation of the Patriarchate.
He took an active part in the events of the 50th anniversary of the prelacy of the benefactor and protector of the Patriarch, who was to become his persecutor. With great humility he accepted the office of the prelacy and it is noteworthy to mention what he said to the Lord:
“Lord, why did you give me such a high office? I only asked you to become a Theologian not a Metropolitan. Since my young age I asked You to become a simple worker of Your Divine Word, and You, Lord, now test me with so many things. But I surrender, Lord, to Your will, and I pray: cultivate within me the humility and the seed of the rest of the holy virtues, by the ways that You know, and grant me to live all my days on this land according to the words of the blessed Paul, who says: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
And the Lord heeded the prayer of the humble Hierarch. The virtues of the Saint spread everywhere and all spoke with admiration for the treasure that God gave them. But the creator of evil, the devil, didn’t delay in making his appearance.
Indeed some ambitious clergymen who had penetrated into the environment of the ninety year old Patriarch slandered the Saint that he supposedly stirs the people and seeks to take over the Throne of Alexandria. They even insinuated moral aberrations of the just Nektarios.
This resulted in the cessation of the Saint from the Department of the Patriarchal Office, and he was allowed to take a portion of food from the common table after the priests had dined, and to live in the building of the Patriarchal Committee. After awhile he was dismissed from Egypt on the grounds of “not being able to adapt to the climate of Egypt“. In vain he requested to meet the Patriarch. The faithful were saddened that they were deprived of “the most likeable of bishops, and the purest, and most active of the clergy“.
The holy father accepted this unjust and bitter trial with much gratitude to the Lord and departed from Egypt and came to Athens in 1889, without money and started disappointed to search for work, unable to even pay the rents in Neapolis (Exarchia). After struggles he manages to get a preacher position in Euboea.
In July 1893 he was transferred to the county of Fthiotofokidos where he tirelessly worked for just six months, leaving an excellent impression. In March 1894 he assumes the direction of Rizarios Church School. He works with God’s zeal for the implantation of the holy zeal of the priesthood to his seminarians, and also helps them to find employment, reforms the curriculum of the school program, even works for the improvement of food and exercise.
He managed to have four scholarships to be granted annually for students coming from Asia Minor. The main thing is that he set for them a living example. He gave particular emphasis in the life of worship and he brought out both the Temple of Saint George of Rizarios as a place of worship, and the school as a cultural institution by inviting scientists to give lectures.
His prayer was the most important fertilizer for the blossoming of the school. At the same time he also exercised a liturgical, preaching, confessional and charity work. He becomes associated with father Planas and takes part in the vigils in the chapel of Saint Elisha where Papadiamantis and Moraitidis chanted.
In July 1898, he visits for the first time Mount Athos. He stayed for a month and visited the main monasteries and sketes. He became especially bonded with the Elder Daniel with whom he maintained a long lasting friendship. Also he was connected to father Hieronymus Simonopetritis who later succeeded Saint Savvas of Kalymnos in the spiritual guidance of the monastery in Aegina.
The following summer (August 1898) he traveled to Constantinople and his hometown Silivria. He had the opportunity to worship the icon of the Virgin of Silyvrianis and the graves of his parents. In 1904 his desire to establish a female monastic fraternity became a reality, originally consisting of four sisters. The Saint never ceased to guide them spiritually, and to support them morally and financially. On February 7, 1908 he submitted his resignation from the management of Rizarios due to illness.
He becomes dedicated to the guidance of the monks, the reconstruction of the monastery, to writing and to the intellectual and financial support of the weak inhabitants. But the trials didn’t stop. For various reasons the formal recognition of the monastery came only after the Saint had slept. Furthermore, he was accused of immorality by the mother of a girl who went to the monastery to become a nun. All these trials he experienced with absolute trust in God and it is characteristic that one of his cherished occupations was to decorate crosses in which he wrote “A cross is my share in life.”
The health of the Saint was always fragile. Since early 1919 his prostate condition began to worsen. At the request of the monks he was admitted on September 20 to the Aretaeio hospital in Athens, where he was hospitalized for fifty days.
On Sunday, November 8, 1920, at midnight he delivered in complete divine serenity his blessed soul into the hands of the living God, Whom he loved from youth, and praised throughout his life, at the age of 74 years. The holy relic of the Saint had a fragrant scent, and fragrant myrrh poured from his face. On the same day he was transferred to Aegina, in his beloved Monastery, where his funeral service was chanted, and he was buried after crowds of clergymen and people.
His grave was opened repeatedly during the following years, and for more than twenty years his body was whole and incorruptible, pouring the indescribable fragrance of holiness as myrrh case of the Holy Spirit. But afterward it dissolved, as many incorruptible relics of saints dissolved.
On September 2, 1953, the relocation of his grace-pouring relics under the Bishop of Hydra Prokopios, with bystanders and other clerics, monks and crowds of people. An indescribable scent flooded the area. In 1961 the Saint was officially canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
“Great is our Lord and His Majesty has no end, praising those who praise him” as was truly recited. Indeed Saint Nektarios is the Saint of our century, the sweet, the meek, the unresentful, the humble and for this he received and receives so much grace from the Lord of Glory. May the beloved Saint provide everyone, everywhere, and always his paternal and saving understanding and aid.
The ministry in Rizarios
Saint Nektarios despite the various adversities that came from both the nature of his pedagogical work and the variety of origins of his students (the school was attended by children of many wealthy Athenian families etc., that were not interested in priesthood but apprenticed because the school’s quality level was very high), as well as the infidelity of our times, but also from interventions of the School Council, he managed the most important after the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens ecclesiastical educational establishment, for fourteen consecutive years, without ever being absent from his post, with humanitarian feelings as he knew them from the profuse study of ancient writers, with Christ’s love, with paternal affection, a lot of wisdom and tireless interest, with constant prayer, in order to achieve his mission.
He reported that when a student made a serious misconduct, the Saint considered himself responsible, prayed extensively, while undergoing rigorous fasting. This measure had an impact on the sensitive students, who would usually repent and avoid repeating their mischief. But when, rarely, he was forced to impose a penalty, he would be very sad, especially when he saw many important people to intervene in their favor.
He wrote to the nuns of Aegina: “Beside this grief (having no money to send to the monastery) I had an another great one today. I expelled four students, two from fourth grade and two from fifth, who after exactly one month from now would have received their diploma. Their supporters were powerful, but today they were finally expelled, but without the expulsion paperwork, which would stigmatize them and follow them in their careers.
The Bishop of Pentapolis was never vindictive nor wanted to exterminate those who misbehaved, but nevertheless ηε was adamant in preserving the morality and the validity of Rizarios as an Ecclesiastical School.
The Dormition and burial of the Saint
In the distant at the time hospital of Athens, Aretaeio, the secretariat was taking from the outside the order to hold a bed in the small pathological chamber for an elder monk from Aegina.
One midday they brought him, two nuns and a moderately tall forty year old man, who from the moment he entered, he was worried and hiding his tears. They made the formalities of entry and stay in the hospital and one of the two nuns left.
In the room that he was placed, there were another four beds but only two were occupied. Beside the elder of Aegina rested a man about forty years old suffering from paralysis of the lower limbs. He was a provincial family man, he had fallen off a cliff by his animal, got injured and since then he was dragged around with carriages. In the other bed there was a retired elderly teacher,who also had a urological condition.
“What do you think Gerontissa Euphemia”, the man said somewhere in the antechamber, breathing slowly and wiping his tears, “will he do the surgery, will he stand the knife?”
She continued contemplating.
“What will happen to us without his blessed guidance, how are we going to live without his prayer?” the man continued.
“I hope, Mr Sakkopoulos”, the nun finally responded half-upset, “the good God will spare the sisterhood, He will not allow twenty-eight souls to become orphan“.
“Oh sister Euphemia, to him I owe everything. And mainly the treasure of my soul. He introduced me to the breadth, the height and beauty that the Lord has. From early on I lost my mother and got over it, two years ago my father also rested, a man full of selflessness and kindness and I swallowed it. Should the holy elder abandon us, our spiritual father and guide and mediator to God, I will become miserable, I will remain a tree in the desert…“
The nun looked at him and shook her head.
The first month passed, and so did the second.
He did not make it to surgery, he did not go through the knife.
Athens was rocked by cries and howls for the electoral defeat of Venizelos, for the changes in the government, for the restoration of the exiled king Constantine, the church circles were discussing, commenting the fall of Meletios and the re-enthronement of Theoklitos, when the pale ascetic elder, the monk of Aegina, suddenly saw right in front of him the opened heavens and the angels in their thousands greeting him.
He stood just before dying and listened. From up high, a familiar voice, a sweet voice in a foreign country, was calling him.
“Enter son, enter into the joy of thy Lord. The crown of righteousness awaits you”.
“To me, to me you say Lord?“ His lips managed to whisper for the last time.
And opening his mouth to breathe, he saw that he was being moved. He delivered his holy and patient soul to his beloved Lord. The Lord of the celestial, the terrestrial and the subterranean.
Gerontissa Euphemia was upset.
“Your Eminence, your Eminence”, she exclaimed with sobs, “Mr Sakkopoulos, where is mr Sakkopoulos?… The phone please, the phone…”
A woman responsible for the burial shrouds came from the hospital staff to help the Gerontissa. The dead body had the scent of myrrh… God and Lord! The Gerontissa tried to say something but couldn’t. In a moment they took the woolen flannel and roughly threw it on the next bed. And while they proceeded to finish with the burial shrouds, the adjacent sick man who suffered from paralysis of the lower limbs moved, jumped up, wobbled, stood on his feet and made the sign of the cross.
“I stood up, I am walking!” he exclaimed loudly, “my God, I became well! What is this flannel?”
For behold, he was really up, walking!
They couldn’t understand, they stood there with their mouths open. The dead body had the scent of myrrh… The Gerontissa took the flannel, made it into a ball and put it in her robe. Her hands trembled.
The doctors were amazed, and the hospital staff was also baffled when they learned that the poor rasofor from Aegina, was formerly the general manager at Rizarios and a bishop!
Gerontissa Euphemia went through a grieving night.
Late in the morning an Archimandrite arrived, a friend and preacher named Panteleimon Fostinis and a little later so did the Protopresbyter Angelos Nisiotis, one of the Saint’s chosen pupils of Rizarios and later the founder of many Sunday Schools. Kostis Sakkopoulos also arrived, a real human wreck. They ordered the coffin, the hearse and afterwards they left to Piraeus.
The line boat “Pteroti“ would lift anchor for Aegina at exactly two o’clock. The hearse with all kinds of formalities that had to be done, reached the front of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Piraeus, a little after twelve o’clock. The temple was closed, all the people in charge and the sexton were missing for their midday break.
People spontaneously gathered all around the sidewalk. From word to word, it was heard, and it was spread to the hard working city, the news of the death of the elder of Rizarios. And a crowd of people surrounded the coffin.
As it was brought close to the temple stairs to get at least one photo with the city and at the place that he had preached and loved and opened the lid, they became numb, speechless… they noticed something unusual, amazing. From the calm and serene form something dripped like sweat that had the scent of myrrh… God and Lord!
Kostas Sakkopoulos ran while still being perplexed, bought a cotton pack from the kiosk and slowly and gently wiped from the Saint’s face the fragrant sweat. Some people then fell upon him, snatched the cotton balls, placed it reverently on their foreheads, others hid it in their pockets, and others shoved it into their chests.
“He has no weight, he has no weight, he is light as a feather“, yelled the men who lifted the coffin, ready to bring it back to the hearse.
The line boat “Pteroti“ arrived a few minutes before four o’clock in the afternoon in Aegina, with its flag halfway up in the foremost mast.
Right before arriving at the pier, the captain whistled three times mournfully and in a coded manner.
On the blue waters of the Saronic Gulf the sacred relic of a man of God traveled. A cleric who never boasted about something of his own. A monk who offered joy to the Holy Throne through his obedience, humility, patience, faith, and love.
Countless of people flooded the beach. Nearly all the clergymen, all the monks, all the nuns from the local monasteries.
The women wept silently, some sighed, some lamented.
“Our dear father, protector of the poor, what will happen to us now that you left us orphaned and alone?“
Two hundred men argued for who will pick up the coffin. They where his friends, the fishermen of the sea, the sponge divers who traveled and dived over in Tzimperalta and Tounezi and brought sponges of blessing with the Holy Cross engraved in their middle, laborers who worked in the monastery and ate bread from his hands, builders, farmers, professionals and wandering salesmen.
The mayor with the policeman in their effort to put the men in order, parted them in fours and calculated the street to be about two hours and something, till the monastery.
Soon everything was arranged and the procession began.
It was a shivering and touching experience. Never before could Aegina remember such a funeral.
Spontaneously the people embraced the treasured relic of their chosen child and brought it with a tight breath to the location of Ksantos.
A mournful decoration roamed the city and the beach. The bells in the temples tolled slowly like it was Holy Friday. Incense was burning on all doors and fresh flowers were falling from old and young women and maidens. A crowd of young rasofor Rizarites followed silent.
“He has no weight, he has no weight, he is light as a feather”, yelled every once in a while the men from the crossroads and the ravines, as they lifted the coffin and were preparing to change shift.
The monastery was full of people. An endless line of ants, all kinds of people, acquaintances, strangers, passers by of the mountain, the forest, the coast. All of them were willing to present themselves, to pray, to stay out late, to cry.
In all this crowd and the nuns of the sisterhood that cried like little young women, stood the figure of the igumenia, Osia Kseni the blind.
She stood at some point right in front of the coffin, over the peaceful and gentle form, that seemed like it was lightly sleeping, the form of the spiritual father and guide, the benefactor and patron, and being unable to see with her blind eyes, to watch the sweat–myrrh that flowed from the forehead, felt it like a scent, like a fragrance and as she stood motionless, she made three times the sign of the cross, and said:
“Our father is not dead. He lives, sees us and prays tonight for us. Our monastery will thrive and will not be abandoned by the Lord. When he lived and his presence was enjoyed by us, he was near us, a lighthouse and a guide, this he always told us. This prophecy: From now on, he told us, my daughters from this wilderness, in a few years there will be crossing carriages and numerous people will pass with votive offerings, gold and candles. And we were standing idly, feeling ambivalent, startled. Could His Eminence be talking nonsense, we wondered with concern. My sisters, do not cry, my brothers do not mourn. Aegina and Greece acquired a saint, a modern supplicant in front of the Crucified“.
Her words covered her secret sobbing of a divine power and grace. Her words fell into the crowd with such harmony, that sweetened immediately all the hearts around her and for some length of time the night the melancholic thoughts of death were cast aside.
Three days and three nights the people’s pilgrimage lasted. And the relic uninterruptedly dripped sweat and myrrh and spread everywhere a fragrance!
One of the members of the sisterhood was worried.
“We will have to hurry the burial” she said speedily to Osia Kseni. “It can’t be, my Gerontissa, it’s a body and it will start to stink“.
The night she slept, she saw alive near her the elder, dressed in his sacerdotal vestments.
“Your Eminence,” she exclaimed. And she knelt to embrace his hand.
“Does my hand stink, my child?“ he asked her reproachful.
“It has a fragrance Your Eminence,” she whispered.
“What does it smell of?“
“Incense and aloe.“
“Then don’t fear for my relic“.
She woke up frightened. She ran to the coffin, kissed three times the slim fingers of the hands. And noticed once more the sweat-myrrh that kept running.
Naturally they also took care of the burial. They would place him there by the temple, low to the pine. By the green and fluffy needle leaf tree that he was so proud of and loved. There, where once the first resident the Gerontissa, as she was digging to plant it, tiny and small, she heard the strange voice: “Leave some space for a grave.” Yes, now everything was made clear. The good Lord had pre-picked a place for the relic of his chosen child.
Before they would cover the coffin for burial, almost all of the schoolgirls and spiritual children brought and threw lemon blossoms, from the little lemon trees which had been planted by the elder with his hand, in various flower beds around the temple and outside.