The Holy Nektarios of Aegina was born on October 1, 1846, in Silyvria, Eastern Thrace and is considered one of the most widely known and beloved Greek Orthodox Saints. His parents Demosthenes and Vasiliki were poor, humble and pious Christians having been blessed with seven children. He was the third child and at Holy Baptism was named Anastasios. As a young child, he was very humble and obedient to his parents who brought him up in a God pleasing manner. His faith was also cultivated by his devout grandmother who played a significant role in his spiritual upbringing.
After completing primary school in Silyvria, he left home at the age of fourteen and decided to go to Constantinople to work and continue his education. The only way to get to Constantinople was by boat and because he didn’t have enough money for the journey, the captain told him he was unable to travel. Anastasios then sat on a park bench feeling sad and dejected. However, God who loved him, did not allow the ship to budge without him. The captain soon realised that they couldn’t leave because of Anastasios, and allowed him to get on board. As soon as he stepped on the ship, the boat began to pull away from the port and float smoothly on the sea. However, during his journey there was a great storm, the boat was being tossed around and many of the passengers were afraid of their lives. Anastasios then took his cross off and began to bless the waters when all of a sudden, the cross fell from his hands into the sea and all was calm and the ship went peacefully on its way. Interestingly, there was a noise on the hull of the ship, and the captain wasn’t sure if something was wrong until upon investigation, they find a cross attached to the side of the ship tapping against it. Anastasios explained what happened and was given his cross from the captain and wore it for the rest of his life (see image below). The important fact is that his faith was in holding onto that cross. It wasn’t in the captain or the boat but in God who took him along with all the passengers safely to Constantinople.
Upon arriving in Constantinople, he continued with his high school education and took a job in a tobacco shop, and whilst in the midst of worldly distractions, he did not neglect prayer, church attendance and reading holy books. He found a way in expressing his faith by writing holy passages on packages and wrappings, so that the customers of the store might read them and profit spiritually. However, the income he received was not enough for food and clothes which deeply saddened him. Young Anastasios then decided to write a letter to Jesus to tell him of his sorrows and asked for His protection. In this letter, he wrote “Please help me my Lord, my shoes and clothes are torn, and I am hungry and cold. Forgive me for troubling you, I bow down to you and love you. Yours, Anastasios.” On the envelope he wrote “To our Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven”. While he was carrying the letter to the post office, God sent a kind-hearted man to pass him on the way and upon finding where Anastasios was going, offered to deliver the letter for him. Amazed to see Whom it was addressed to he opened the letter and began to read it. His heart was filled with compassion for the boy’s poverty and sent him new clothes and shoes along with a reply with the words “From the Lord Jesus Christ to Anastasios”. His heart was so full of joy that he couldn’t stop thanking the Lord. Soon enough, this good man, named Themistocles, took Anastasios to work in his shop and helped him financially with his education.
At the age of 20 he went to the island of Hios where he became a primary school teacher. He began teaching young children not only to read and write but instructing them in our faith. Later on, he decided to enter the monastic life and was tonsured a monk, and then ordained a hierodeacon, receiving the name “Nektarios”. He remained seven years in that monastery learning and studying theology and valued the monastic life seeing it as a primary value within the life of the church. Soon afterwards, St Nektarios was financially assisted by a rich merchant named John Horemis from Hios to further his studies in Athens as he had a burning desire to study his faith and get a degree in theology and with God’s grace was also given a scholarship to complete his studies. Having an illuminated mind and full of wisdom, he started writing books about the life and teachings of our Lord and poems such as the Theotokarion. It is important to note, that St Nektarios valued education and our saints are not ignorant saints but many were educated as they would see this as an important step in their growth in Christ.
John Horemis then took the Deacon Nektarios to the Patriarchate of Alexandria where he introduced him to his personal friend, Patriarch Sophronios. The Patriarch loved St Nektarios very much because of his great humility, spirituality and his wonderful work that he ordained him a priest at the age of 40 and his fame began to show throughout Alexandria for his great love and kindness to people. He built orphanages, provided meals and clothing for the poor which he collected from the wealthy. Three years after his ordination to the priesthood, in 1889, the Patriarch elevated him as Bishop and enthroned him as the Metropolitan of Pentapolis in Egypt. However, what happens when you have great love, out of it can come good or evil. Certain malicious clerics were very jealous of St Nektarios’ love for the people that they went and whispered to Patriarch Sophronios that he was becoming more great and powerful than even the Patriarch himself and was looking to take his role. Immediately, the Patriarch wanting to protect his role believed the words of the clergy and jealousy was created and what was painful to Nektarios was the bitterness and hatred from his fellow clergy.
The humble St Nektarios was banished from Egypt, farewelled his spiritual children with tears in his eyes and a heavy heart and returned to Greece. The lies of the clergymen of Egypt reached all the way to Greece where he was received ungraciously and not allowed to serve in Church to teach the word of God. However, he was steadfast in his faith but at some point, he was penniless and hungry. In his great sadness, he lifted his hands to Heaven asking God to help him with his troubles and be given at least one place where he could speak about the Faith. God heard his beloved servant’s prayer and his patience and soon after, was allowed to preach on the island of Evia. Although he wasn’t received warmly by the people of Evia because of the evil slanders, St Nektarios’ prayers and patience softened the people’s hearts and they began to love him.
In 1904, St Nektarios was given the position of dean at the Ecclesiastical School of Rizarios and remained there for 14 years. He loved his students so much and when something went wrong in relationships between the students, he would fast, pray and go into seclusion for those students instead of punishing them and the students loved him. One day the school’s janitor fell ill and in order to show how faith must be accompanied by good deeds, St Nektarios cleaned the school secretly so he wouldn’t lose his job. Therefore, showing his students, that no work is shameful but teaching them to become prudent servants of Christ. As in Egypt, he did his best to help the poor and sick people providing for their material needs and comforting their pain. He was also a spiritual father to many people who patiently listened to the confession of their thoughts and deeds, and reconciling them with God.
In 1908 St Nektarios retired from his position as a dean and decided to settle on the island of Aegina where he built a monastic community for women in which he carried out most of the physical works and became their spiritual father.
In 1919, St Nektarios became very ill and was preparing himself to leave this world and go to God Whom he loved so much. In 1920, the sisters of the monastery took him to a hospital in Athens. He was not taken in the higher wards where important people are sent but taken into a lower ward where peasants were sent and died late in the evening of November 8.
After St Nektarios passed away, the nurse who prepared his body threw a portion of his clothing on the bed of a paralysed man and a miracle happened where he was completely healed and was able to walk again. The entire ward was permeating with a beautiful fragrance coming from the body of St Nektarios. This was the first miracle immediately after his death. The body was then taken to Aegina to his beloved monastery for burial. Six months after his death, in order to honour their beloved dean, the Rizarios School sent a delegation in order to do a tomb. To do so, they needed to dig up the body and found that the body was preserved. He was reburied and placed the tombstone. Three years later, they exhumed the body and it was still incorrupt. This went on for a number of years until 20 years later when they exhumed the body, it had disintegrated. There was a stream of water near his tomb and many people with ailments would drink the water and be healed. The nuns of the monastery would record all these miracles and presented these writings to the patriarchate, and soon it was proclaimed that St Nektarios was no ordinary priest but a holy and saintly man. He is known as the patron saint for cancer, and through his intercessions many people have been healed. He is truly the saint of our age and was proclaimed and canonised a saint of the Orthodox church on 20 April 1961 for his great humility, unconditional love and obedience in Christ in whom he imitated in every way. The blessed St Nektarios was infinitely loved by an infinite God!
Silyvria’s offspring and Aegina’s guardian, the true friend of virtue, revealed in these last times, Nektarios let us, the faithful, praise as inspired servants of Christ; for he pours out healings of every kind for those who devoutly cry: Glory to Christ who gave you glory! Glory to Him who made you wondrous! Glory to Him who through you works healings for all!