(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, Nektarios, comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
The title of saint is not easily come by in any age, but it was even more difficult in the twentieth century, when being a Christian presented none of the hazards of declaring faith in Jesus Christ which the early Christians met with such heroism, thereby earning sainthood. Nevertheless, there was a man in the last century whose spiritual light shone with such brilliance that he took his place alongside the saints, whose ranks have closed even tighter with the passing of the centuries. A man named Nektarios rose above the complacency of the Christian community into which he was born to attain the stature of a most holy man among holy men.
Nektarios was born in Selybria, Thrace, now a part of Turkey, in October 1846. He was an average figure in a prosaic setting – until he was fourteen, when he went to seek work in Constantinople. In that ancient capital, he found himself, and by the time he was twenty-one, he was an accomplished scholar and a most devout Christian. Conversant in the classics and in religious learning, he entered the monastery on the island of Chios.
Later, Nektarios entered the service of Patriarch Sophronios of Alexandria, Egypt, who gave him a scholarship to study theology at the University of Athens. After his theological studies he was ordained a priest to serve in Cairo, Egypt, where his success earned him elevation to the episcopate. The forces of envy, however, were shown by enemies in his very own Christian community. When so much pressure was brought to bear on Patriarch Sophronios, Nektarios was stripped of his authority and duty. This grievous injustice spurred him to greater achievements in Athens, where his great wisdom was reasserted. It was not long before his popularity as preacher and theologian brought countless invitations to preach in the many churches of the ancient capital and led to his appointment as dean of a theological school in 1894.
This appointment could have been an oasis for a less determined clergyman, but for Nektarios it was the launching pad for meteoric achievements in the service of Jesus of Nazareth. Among other things, he established a convent for nuns – a lovely cloister named in honor of the Holy Trinity – on a small island just off the coast of Piraeus known as Aegina. When he reached the age of retirement, he left behind the ease and comfort of the city to go to a small retreat he had seen on the tiny island.
A man who walked with God, Nektarios was sought out at his island retreat by many of the faithful and his kindness and piety were seen by the countless pilgrims he welcomed. A second chapel within the convent walls was erected and it was in this chapel that Nektarios was buried when he died on November 9, 1920. But the story of Nektarios does not end with his death. People continued to travel to the island to pray at what was then the shrine of a renowned bishop, but not yet a saint. With reports of miraculous cures at his grave, the stream of pilgrims continued and the island teemed with those who sought a closeness to God by proximity to the late bishop. The pilgrimages to the convent of the Holy Trinity continued through the years and culminated in 1961 when a proclamation of the Patriarachate declared sainthood for Nektarios, forty-one years after his death.
Considered as the patron saint of people stricken with cancer, heart trouble, arthritis and epilepsy, among other illnesses, Saint Nektarios reposes on his tiny island, venerated by Orthodox Christians everywhere. Many of the elderly faithful were privileged to have seen him and now glory in telling their children or grandchildren how they were in the company of a man who is now a saint of God.
The veneration of St. Nektarios is quite widespread in America and is increasing daily. More and more churches now display his icon, which can also be found in thousands of homes of Orthodox Christians.