His Childhood Years
Saint Nectarios of Aegina, is one of the most widely known of Greek Orthodox Saints. Anastasios Kephalas, son of Demosthenes and Vassiliki, was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selvyria of Thrace (now Turkey). At Holy Baptism, he was given the name Anastasios. His parents were simple pious Christians. They brought him up in a manner pleasing to God, and did what their very limited means allowed for his formal education. Having completed elementary school in his hometown, he left for the great city of Constantinople at the age of 14.
There, he found employment as a shop assistant of a tobacco merchant and was able to earn a meager living. As well as regularly attending the Divine Liturgy, he also read the Holy Scriptures and Writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church on a daily basis. From his wide reading, the young Anastasios made a collection of wise sayings, which he fervently spread to the customers of his store by writing them on the paper used to wrap their goods. He was selected to teach the lower grades of the orphanage of the All-Holy Sepulcher in Constantinople. This allowed him to continue his studies, for he longed to become a Theologian.
His Years as a Young Adult
In 1866, at the age of 20, Anastasios, now a handsome young man, went to the Island of Chios where he was appointed teacher at a village named Lithi. He was always present at church services and was never far from those in need. All who knew him spoke with the highest regards for Anastasios as he had earned much respect for his wisdom and example as he tirelessly served his church and community and instilled in his students the Word of God. Seven years later, at the age of 30, he entered the great and renowned monastery of Nea Moni, for Anastasios had long yearned for the monastic life for it would allow him to study the Holy Scriptures ever-harder and fulfill his dream of the priesthood. After completing three years as a novice under the care of the venerable Elder Pachomios, on November 7, 1875, he became a monk and received the name of Lazarus in his tonsure. A year later, he was ordained Deacon and received the name Nectarios. Elder Pachomios, and John Horemis, a wealthy local benefactor convinced the young monk to complete his high school studies in Athens. From there, Deacon Nectarios went to Alexandria, where he was cared for by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Sophronios. The Patriarch insisted that Nectarios complete his Theological studies, and so in 1885, he graduated from the School of Theology in Athens. The Patriarch of Alexandria ordained Deacon Nectarios to the Priesthood in 1886. His great service to the Church, prolific writings and teachings, energy and zeal led Father Nectarios to be consecrated and ordained as the 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.
His Later Years
But the love and admiration of the people for him turned to his disadvantage. Because of his holy virtues, because of the spotless life that he led, because of his holy sermons, and because of all those things which made him stand out, immediately malice arose among his colleagues who were also Metropolitans of the See of Alexandria, and amongst the bishops and higher clergy. They did not like St. Nectarios because he was different from them. For this reason, they slandered him to the Patriarch, Sophronios, saying that the holy Father had his eye upon the Patriarchal Throne, because he had this "false show of piety," as they called it. They did not want to recognize his true virtue and unmatched spiritual beauty. Instead they said that all his virtue was only a show so that he would be considered holy by the people. He was accused of using his popularity with the people to dethrone the Patriarch. Since our Holy Father was truly so popular with the people, the Patriarch was easily convinced that he was in danger. For if the people rose up, truly Nectarios would have much power. Little did they know the true worth of the man. Little did they understand that he was not a proud man, and not ambitious, as they were, for positions and for power and for glory. 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 (Matthew 5:11)
In this way, and for such reasons, they suspended the Holy Father as Metropolitan of the throne of Pentapolis. The Patriarch himself, who was a very great "friend" of the Father, wrote that ambiguous letter of suspension, which later became the cause of much scandal, saying that for "reasons known to the Patriarchate" he was suspended from the Metropolis of Pentapolis, but that he was allowed to remain at the Patriarchate and to eat at the common table. This way he could become wearied of St. Nectarios and mistreated him. St. Nectarios was essentially deprived of all means of lodge and shelter. If St. Nectarios was called by individuals to bless marriages or baptisms, he could officiate only if canonical permission was granted by the bishops in those places, or by the Patriarchate. Thus, he was not defrocked per say, nor was he suspended from ecclesiastical functions, but he was taken away from his throne to be without position. The holy Father very humbly endured these slanders and the suspension from his throne but because he was popular with the people, there were grumblings and intrigues that arose from the people to demand what was the cause for the holy Father's suspension. But so ever venerable was our holy Father, that he secretly left for Greece, so that his popularity would not be a disturbance in the Church of Alexandria. He was given a letter of dismissal that only complicated matters since those against him knew that they would be embarrassed if the truth were known about the true matter of his dismissal. Therefore, they sent letters, both anonymous and signed, to influential people in Greece, slandering the Father as being unethical and immoral, that he was not an upright person, and that for these reasons, he was suspended from his position.
Alone, ignored and despised, our Holy Father embarked for Athens. Many days he would lack even his daily bread, as he kept nothing for himself and gave all the little that he had to the poor. When the Saint appeared in Athens with this paper of suspension and with the negative rumors already broadcasted before he even arrived, there was truly cause for most people to believe that there must have been good reason for his suspension. For behold, they saw a paper which said that he was suspended "for reasons known to the Patriarchate," Hence, when bad rumors go around about someone, outsiders to the situation usually fall victims of believing them. Such was the case with our Saint as both the state and the Church authorities refused to give him a position in the Church of Greece. St. Nectarios was left without means of support, a stranger amongst his own, without lodging, without food, without even the simple means of subsistence. Every day he would go to the office of the Minister of Religion so that something might be done for him and every day he was turned away. He thought about going to Mount Athos for monastic retreat but gave up the idea he wanted to help others more than he wanted to help himself.
The Lord does not abandon those who trust in Him, and one day as our holy Father was sadly going down the stairs of the office of the Minister, having been told once more that his case was being looked into, and that they would let him know when something came up. He was met by a friend who had known him in Egypt, and knew his former glory and virtue. He was surprised to see him in such a state, and very saddened. When he learned the cause of his sadness, he could scarcely believe it. He went and interceded with the Minister of Religion and Education, and they appointed the Saint to be preacher of the diocese of Vitneia and Euboiea.
But rumors of our Father’s slanders had reached Euboiea too about this just and blameless Saint who asked nothing for himself and everything for others. Many times, when he was preaching, people would begin to smirk and laugh and whisper to the degree of causing commotion. At the beginning the Saint did not understand, for he was truly a humble and simple man. Later he understood that they were talking about him, and that they were laughing about him because of the slanders of being immoral and unethical. Thus, he saw that, instead of fortifying souls, instead of edifying souls, instead of being able to really teach the Word of God, he was doing harm. The people believed the rumors, and when they heard him preach good things, they were more scandalized than if he did not preach at all. Therefore, even though he had no other means of support except this position which had been given to him, he resigned from his own will in order to not further scandalize the people, and returned to Athens.
By that time there were a few people who had come to know Him and to understand that he was truly a good man that had been slandered. They had come to love Him because they did not see in His way of life or in His conversation anything that would evidence the things that were slandered about in Egypt. These people were influential in having Him appointed dean of the Rizarios Seminary in Athens. He would liturgize in the seminary church of St. George, the Great Martyr and Trophy-Bearer, as a bishop-priest. The clergy and students at Rizarios were well aware of the rumors surrounding our holy Father but however, he was able to gain the love and respect of those around him. He would teach the students, for he was truly a wise man and very learned, as is shown by the many works which he has left us on the state of the souls and the resurrection of bodies. About why we have the memorial services, and many other subjects. 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 asceticism, 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 Greater Athens region. There the Blessed Metropolitan continued to write his now famous books. In 1894, Nectarios became Director of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School, where he was to remain for 15 years. As an educator, the chief concern of the venerable Hierarch was to incite and guide youth to become good Christians. His fifteen years at Rizarios were also productive for the writing of many more books and teachings.
His Final Years
In 1904, our Saint founded a monastery for women in Aegina, the Holy Trinity Convent. Under his guidance the Convent flourished. In 1908, the Blessed Nectarios, at the age of 62, retired from the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School and withdrew to Holy Trinity Convent in Aegina. There, for the rest of his life as a true monk and ascetic. He served as a confessor and spiritual guide to the nuns and even priests from as far as Athens and Piraeus. His Holy and pious life shone forth like a guiding light to all near him. Many would come to him for healing. Saint Nectarios was a great Wonderworker even while alive.
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 from their sicknesses, and brought rain to the island in a time of draught. He comforted, consoled and encouraged. He became a true miracle worker 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 Nectarios 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 Nectarios 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.
On September 20, 1920 one of the nuns took him to the local hospital, in spite of his protest. He was convulsing in pain from a long-standing ailment. He was admitted, and placed into a ward reserved for the poor and unwanted. There he stayed for two months among the sick and dying. At 10:30 in the evening of November 8th, although in the midst of terrible pains, in peace and at prayer he gave up his spirit unto God at the age of 74.
As soon as the Saint gave up his Spirit, a nurse came to prepare him for transfer to Aegina for burial. As the nurse removed the Saints sweater, she inadvertently placed it on the next bed, on which a paralytic lay. And O, strange wonder! The paralytic immediately began to regain his strength and arose from his bed healthy, and glorifying God.
The Holy Relics of Saint Nectarios
Many people had regarded Nectarios as a Saint whilst he was still alive, because of his purity of life, his virtues, the nature of his publications, his gift of foreknowledge and the miracles he performed. The recognition of him as a Saint spread rapidly after his repose. God confirmed the Sanctity of Nectarios at his repose and by the miracles attributed to the Saint after his repose.
The day he reposed, the whole hospital was filled with such a fragrance that all the patients, nurses, and doctors would come out in the halls to ask where such a fragrance was coming from. For some days after, they could not use the room where they placed his relics because of the fragrance, even though they kept the windows opened, so strong was the fragrance. This room is now a chapel dedicated to the Saint.
They took his relics to Piraeus and put them in the Church of the Holy Trinity while they prepared a small, wooden coffin. From there they took him to Aegina where they gave him a simple burial at the Convent of the Holy Trinity.
Some years later, as is the custom in Greece, his grave was opened to take the relics out. When they opened the grave, what should they see but that the Saint was whole and fragrant. Not even his vestments had changed in any way. It was just as if he had fallen asleep and been buried that very day. They had not told the people of Aegina, because he had already worked many miracles and become very beloved, and a very large crowd would have gathered -- even from Athens and other places where he was known -- for the opening of his grave. So, early in the morning, as soon as they were finished with the Divine Liturgy, as it was dawning they went and began to open the grave. At the same time, there was a taxi coming by on the road below the convent. Inside was a woman who had been to some resort place. She was not a woman of good repute, but of ill repute and many sins. As soon as they approached the Holy Trinity Convent, there was such a fragrance in the air that she told the driver, "Stop. What is that fragrance?" So, he stopped and looked around. "Oh," he replied, "here is the convent of the Holy Nectarios. What else could such a fragrance be but that they are opening his grave today, and the fragrance is coming from the grave. For many times a fragrance came from his body before they buried him. And even from the grave it comes sometimes." Immediately she opened the door of the taxi and ran to go and see. She went up to the convent at the moment that they had opened the coffin and found the relics whole. She was very moved by this and by the fragrance, especially. She began to weep and publicly confess her sins. Thus, she was corrected and became a prudent and Christian woman in her way of life. At that time, they telegraphed to Athens to the Archbishop Chrysostom Papadopoulos, and he went to the island to see the relics for himself. After examining the relics, he irreverently counseled the nuns to leave the relics out in the sun and air for two or three days and then rebury him so that he would dissolve. Thus, it is with those who pretend to be pious, and yet in their hearts have but the smell of corruption, the stench of death. They cannot understand the things of God, but blaspheme against the very Holy Spirit by such words and actions. The nuns, fearing the censure of the archbishop and also being simple, did as they were told. For two days, they put him outside in the sun and air and then reburied him. But within a month or two they opened the grave a second time and took out the relics which are still whole and put them in a marble sarcophagus.
In 1934, fourteen years after the repose of the Saint, a doctor was coming from one of the villages on horseback and was caught in a very heavy rain in the area of the convent. He got down from his horse and went and stood under a tree. It was raining so hard that he saw it would not let up for a long time. Therefore, he decided that as there was nowhere else nearby, he might as well go to the convent. He had known holy Father Nectarios while he was living, but being a man who did not believe much in such things, he did not reverence the Father much. So, he went and knocked at the convent and the nuns opened and put him up for the night. It was evening, and they would not keep any man inside the convent, even the priest of the convent, as it is forbidden by the canons, but they had a little place outside for guests. But as the gates of the convent had not yet closed, he wanted to investigate what he had heard about miracles and incorrupt relics now that he had come to the convent. So, he went while it was still light to where the sarcophagus was outside of the church. He began to pull off the heavy marble slab which was on top, as it was not fastened in any manner. He pulled it down to the waist of the Saint. At that very moment, a nun happened to come by, and she began to cry out, "What are you doing there? What are you doing, opening our Elder's grave?" And he replied, "I just wanted to take a look." "But you did not have permission," she insisted and began making a commotion. But in the meantime, anyway, he investigated the relics. [Later he said, "I was very amazed to see that it was the Father Nectarios that we all knew. And that he could still be recognized from his face and expression. Even his beard was intact; I pulled at some of his beard, but it would not come out. I touched his hand and saw that it was skin. It had remained so well on the bones (there was not much flesh) and had not shriveled up. He could be recognized by anyone who had known him when he was alive."] Then they closed the marble sarcophagus right away.
By the will of God, years later the relics of the Saint dissolved, and what we have now are his Holy bones. They have since been encased in our Saint’s miter in Aegina. The top opened so one can kiss the crown of his head. The other parts of his relics, which have much fragrance, are located in a silver box.
Orthodox Church’s Proclamation as a Saint
He endured a life of 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 than 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 Nectarios has been received by God into the abode of the righteous. The Orthodox Church proclaimed him as a Saint on April 20, 1961.
The list of his miracles grows longer every day, and his shrine at Aegina has become a most popular place of pilgrimage in Greece. His Blessed memory is celebrated by the Church on November 9th.