Biography of Saint Nectarios

This holy Father was born Anastasios Kephalas in October of 1846, in Selevria of Thrace.

Because of the poverty of his parents, at the age of 14 Anastasios went to Constantinople to find work for their financial assistance. He did not have the fare for the boat but, he approached a boat which was ready to sail and asked the captain to take him. The captain, however, seeing him so young said to him jokingly, “Take a walk, my little one, and when you come back I will take you.” The boy understood what the captain was actually telling him and began walking away sadly. The captain turned on the engines in order to sail, but, although the engines were running, the ship would not move. The captain increased the power, but to now avail. In his helplessness the captain glanced up and his eyes met the gaze of the boy who was standing in sorrow on the shore. Against his will he was moved, and relenting, he told the boy to get on the boat. Anastasios jumped into the boat and the captain became engrossed in getting the boat to move, but, he did not get the chance as the boat began to move immediately, since it had received its “Chosen Passenger.”

Icon depicting his journey to Constantinople

In Constantinople Anastasios found work with a tobacco merchant who did not pay him as he should, therefore, he went about barefoot and in ragged clothes. But he had so much faith in God, and prayer was his only consolation. When he saw that his employer wrote and received many letters, Anastasios with his childlike mind and guileless heart, wanted to write a letter also, for he had much to say. But to whom would he write? He hadn’t any acquaintances, and he could not write to his mother because mail was not taken to the small village. And yet he felt the need to write. He wanted to write about his grievances of work and no pay, he wanted food and clothes but, he did not have the money. He did not abandon his hope in God and so he thought of writing a letter to Christ and telling him of his needs. He took his pencil and wrote: My Little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. You send them to me. You know how much I love You. Anastasios. He closed the letter with confidence and wrote on the envelope: “To the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven.” On the way to mail the letter he met the owner of a merchant shop that was across the street from his work . This man knew him well and, knowing of the boy’s innocence and diligence, had come to feel great compassion for him. He was also on his way to the post office and said, “Anastasios, where are you going?” Anastasios mumbled something holding the letter in his hand. “Give ti to me so I can mail it and you won’t have to walk all the way.” Frightened and unthinking, Anastasios gave him the letter. The merchant took the letter and put it with the letters he was going to mail, patted Anastasios on the head and told him to go back and he would take care and mail the letters safely.

Anastasios cheerfully returned to his work and the merchant continued on his way full of happiness over that good and exceptional boy. The merchant’s curiosity overcame him as he went to mail the boy’s letter and he read the address. His curiosity peaked and he opened the letter and read it. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he took out some money, then put it in an envelope and sent it anonymously to the boy. Anastasios was filled with joy when he received the letter and gave thanks to God.

Some days after this, his employer saw him dressed better than usual and thought, he must have stolen money from me. He was going to beat him then fire him. But, Anastasios cried, “I have never stolen anything in my life! Please don’t hit me! My little Christ sent them to me!” The merchant across the street heard the commotion and ran over and pulled the employer aside and explained the story to him.

While Anastasios was still young, he visited the Holy places to worship. During one voyage there was a great storm in which the ship was in danger of sinking, the captain, faced with an impasse, gave orders that the lifesaving equipment be prepared for use, and “may God be our helper.” If anyone were able to save himself, well enough, otherwise, the ship would sink with every man aboard.

The Saint (little Anastasios Kephalas, then) looked at the sea, heard the captain and his despairing commands, and his eyes filled with tears, seeing that truly there was no way out. Then, at a moment when even the last hope of salvation had been lost and all were awaiting the captain’s command to abandon ship, Anastasios spontaneously went up next to the captain, and taking hold of the ship’s helm, crying and looking toward heaven, he prayed, saying, “My God, I do not want to die, I want to preach You. Why do You permit this?” He repeated these words many times. He then let go of the helm, took out a Cross he wore, which his grandmother had given him, and which contained a piece of the Venerable Cross, tied it to his belt, and went to the side of the ship and dipped it in the water, and commanding the sea, as the Lord did, with the words: “Silence! Be still.” He repeated this thrice, whereupon, O Thy wonders, Christ God!, after the third immersion and exhortation, the wind ceased and a great calm followed to the amazement of all. They continued their voyage with great joy after first, glorifying God — except for the little wonderworker, Anastasios, who was saddened for the Venerable Cross, which was a gift from his grandmother, had fallen into the sea.

As they sailed on, there were heard strange knocking sounds from below. The captain sent sailors to investigate the cause, but they could find nothing. When they reached the harbor all began disembarking, the little wonderworker Anastasios among them. As they were disembarking, knocking sounds were heard once more from the hold of the ship and the captain again ordered a search to find the cause and he also commanded that they take a small boat and examine the hull of the ship. While examining the hull, one sailor discovered the lost Venerable Cross of Anastasios where the knocking was coming from.

One can only imagine what took place then. The sailor immediately reported his findings, and the captain began calling little Anastasios who had gotten off the ship and was some distance away. He shouted to him, “Kephalas, Kephalas! Turn back. Come here!” and waved to him. Little Anastasios returned and received “his Treasure,” and he wore it always thereafter. This Cross is most conspicuous in the picture where the Saint is wearing his monastic skoufa.

Real Picture of Saint Nectarios wearing the The Cross
(bearing Fragments of Cross that Jesus Christ was Crucified on

When he was in his twenties, he went to the Island of Chios, where he entered the great and renowned monastery of Nea Moni. There he became a monk on November 7, 1875, and received the name Lazarus in his tonsure. After 2 years of being a monk, he was ordained deacon by Metropolitan Gregory of Chios, because of his great virtues and his piety, and it was at his ordination he was given the name Nektarios. Truly it was a prophetic name, a name that would give one an intimation of the divine nectar that the holy Father was to become, through his holy sermons, and especially through his holy way of life, to the pious Christian people. Thus it was that the holy Father was ordained deacon and later priest.

Icon depicting the Saint being Orained as a Deacon

He left Chios, because of the times and of Muslim rule, and went to Egypt. There he was elected Metropolitan of the ancient city of Pentapolis. He was then made Bishop of the holy city and truly the lamp was put upon the lamp stand and it shone for all, far and wide. But because of his holy virtues, his spotless life that he had, his holy sermons, and because of all those things which made him separate from the rest of them, immediately malice arose toward him among his colleagues who were also Metropolitans of the See of Alexandria, and amongst the Bishops and higher clergy. They did not like Saint Nektarios because he was different from them. For this reason they slandered him to the Patriarch, Sophronios, saying that he was eyeing the Patriarchal Throne, because he had this “false show of piety,” as they called it. For they did not want to recognize his true virtue, and that he was a higher person, and his virtue was only show so he would be considered holy by the people. And by virtue of his popularity with the people he would be able to have the Patriarch dethroned, and all of the Orthodox Christians of Egypt would rise up to have Nektarios made Patriarch and since Nektarios was very popular with the people, the Patriarch, Sophronios was easily convinced that he was in danger. Little did they know the true worth of the man, nor understand that he was not as ambitious as they were for positions and for power and glory.

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 so much scandal, saying that for “reasons known to the Patriarchate” he was suspended from the Metropoly of Pentapolis, but that he was allowed to remain at the Patriarchate and to eat at the common table so that he would have lodging and shelter. Also if he were asked by people to bless marriages or baptisms he could officiate if canonical permission was granted by the Bishops in those places or by the Patriarchate. Thus he was not defrocked nor was he suspended from ecclesiastical functions, but he was only taken away from his throne to be without position.

When the Saint appeared in Athens with the paper of suspension, and these false rumors having been broadcast before he arrived, even innocent people believed the scandalous rumors because they saw a paper which said “suspended for reasons known to the Patriarchate” so it must be true. As a result both the state and the Church authorities refused to give him a position in the Church of Greece and so he was left with no means of support. He found himself in a strange country, a stranger among his own people, without food, lodging and without even the most simple means of subsistence. Everyday he would go to the office of the Minister of Religion hoping something could be done for him. They finally wearied of him and began to mistreat him and disrespect him as a Metropolitan.

One day as he was walking down the stairs of the office of the Minister, and after being told once again that his case was being looked into and they would let him know, he met an old friend from Egypt who knew of his former glory and virtue. His friend was surprised to see him in such a sad state, and when he learned the cause of his sadness he interceded with the Minister of Religion and Education, and they appointed the Saint to be preacher of the Diocese of Vitineia and Euboiea. Can you imagine the former Metropolitan of Pentapolis reduced to a preacher, something so simple a monk can do it, even a lay person that has a gift can be given the permission by the Synod to do. Yet he did not think that this was humiliating at all, nor did he think it was a small thing, instead he thought it was one of the greatest things to be able to preach the Word of God to the people. He never thought it was a crumb from the table that was being thrown down to him like a dog, but he immediately took it up and putting his heart into it, became earnest in his work of preaching to the people. Thus he arrived on the Island of Euboiea, and there he began to preach from church to church.

Icon depicting Saint Nectarios preaching the Word of Jesus Christ

But as if it were not enough that the slanders had reached Athens, they also reached Euboiea. Sadly some of the Island people rejoiced and delighted in slanderous gossip and rumors about clergy. Rumors and slanders spoken by the ungodly Bishops of Alexandria against the just and blameless St. Nektarios spread like wildfire throughout the whole Island. Many times as he was preaching, people would smirk, laugh and whisper to such a degree that it would create a big commotion in the churches of Euboiea. In the beginning the Saint did not understand, for he was truly a humble and simple man, but he later he understood that they were talking and laughing about him. Thus he saw that, instead of fortifying and edifying souls, and instead of being able to teach the Word of God, he was doing more harm than good since those people believed the rumors and would not listen to his preaching. He therefore decided to resigned, even though he had no other means of support but only his position, and in order not to further scandalize the church, he went back to Athens.

By that time there were a few people who had come to know him and realize that he was truly a good man and had been slandered with no justification. They came to love him because they could in no way see in his way of life, his conversations any evidence of the slanderous things being said about him in Egypt. These few people who came to love him were influential and helped get him appointed Dean of the Rizaries Seminary in Athens. He would liturgize at the Seminary Church of Saint George, the Great Martyr and Trophy-Bearer, as a Bishop-Priest. He would also teach the students for he was truly a wise and learned man, as is shown by the many works he has left us on the state of the souls and the resurrection of bodies, why we have the memorial services, and many other subjects.

Photo of Bishop Nectarios at
The Rizarios School in Athens

Because there was much ado in Athens, many words, much noise spiritually and physically, seeing this he, being a quiet person, wished to retire from all this and go to a place where he could be with God and to pray according to his heart. Thus he began a search for a suitable place outside of Athens and he went to the Island of Aegina. He heard that there were many small monastaries and churches there that were not being used. He found one about a two hour walk by foot from the main city, down by the sea, a little church which was once a small monastery dedicated in honor of the Most Holy Trinity. With his own hands the Father began to rebuild a few of the cells that were around the church. A blind Nun, Xenia, came to know the Father and he greatly respected her. He made her Mother Superior of the first little community. A few other souls came, and thus the holy Father Nektarios with the blind Mother and these few souls began their little convent. Because the Father was truly a gifted man, especially in matters of confession and had much discretion in spiritual matters, many would flock to him, even from the capitol. Thus the Father truly became a light on the Island of Aegina and the foremost confessor and spiritual father of Greece. Through the help of his spiritual children and donations of people who came to understand their godly way of life, they were able to expand their little convent to thirty or more Nuns and others gathered to listen to St. Nektarios preach the Word. The Saint would tell them, “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that will shine unto the breadth and length of the whole world. Many shall see the light and come here to Aegina.” But the Nuns could not understand what he was saying to them, and only after the recovery of his Holy Relics and miracles he began working did they finally understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God was pleased He would send His light, and it would shine throughout the world. And those words he spoke to them have been fullfilled.

When the Saint went to Aegina for the very first time, there was a boy there who used to fall into trances and see prophetic things. He would go to sleep at the Royal Gates and when he awoke he would relate his dreams and they would come true. People thought his revelations came from God, but in fact he had a spirit of divination, as recorded in the New Testament, of those who prophesied through demons and so when the Father was coming on this first trip to Aegina, the boy shouted, “A Saint is coming. Go down to the seashore to meet the man of God.” He even gave his name, where he was coming from and for what purpose he was coming. So they all went down to the seashore to meet him and he was amazed at all the people who had gathered to meet him and he asked them what was wrong. The told of the boy and his revelation and the Saint immediately understood that it was a demon speaking and not God. The father saw the boy and blessed him then commanded the demon to come out. The demon came out and the boy no longer spoke of visions or uttered prophecies.

On September 20, 1920, a Nun by he name of Euphemia brought a little rassa-clad old man, who was convulsed in pain, to the Aretaieion Hospital of Athens, a state hospital for the poor. The intern asked the Nun for information to enter into the hospital register. He asked, “He is a monk?” “No a Bishop.” the Nun replied. The intern laughed sarcastically and said, “Leave of the joking Mother. Tell me his name so I can enter it in the register.” “He is a Bishop, my child. He is the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Pentapolis.” The intern muttered to himself, “For the first time in my life I see a Bishop, without Panagia, gold cross, and most significant of all,. without money!” The nun once again said, “Indeed he is a Bishop. The Metropolitan of Pentapolis. This metropoly belongs to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. He is the Most Reverend Nektarios Kephalas. Some time ago he left Egypt and came to you, as a matter of fact, because he directed Rizarios School. For some years now, however, he has lived as a monk in the convent of the Holy Trinity on Aegina. There he became gravely ill and in spite or his protests, we brought him here.” She then showed the intern the Saints credentials to prove who he was.

The intern, amazed by everything he had heard and seen, shrugged his shoulders and told the nurses to place the Saint in a third-class room were there were beds for the destitute. He was diagnosed by the doctors as having severe systitis, a disease of the bladder. For two months the Hierarch Nektarios Kephalas lived with constant, terrible pains and at 10:30 PM on the evening of November 8, 1920, in peace and at prayer he gave his spirit unto God ant the age of 74.

In the final days of his life, the Saint was in the incurables ward in the midst of many poor, sick people who were brought there to die. In the bed next to his was a man who was paralyzed for many years. As soon as the Saint gave up his spirit, a nurse and the Nun who had accompanied him, prepared his sacred tabernacle for the transfer to Aegina for burial. For this they dressed the Saint in clean clothing and in doing so they placed the Saint’s sweater on the bed of the paralytic to get it out of their way. And O, strange wonder! The paralytic immediately gained strength and arose from his bed, healthy and glorifying God.

The day he reposed, the whole hospital was filled with a strong fragrance that all the patients, nurses and doctors would come out in the halls to ask where the fragrance was coming from. For quite a few days they were not able to use the room where they had placed the relics because of the strong fragrance even though they had kept the windows open all day long. This room is now a chapel dedicated to the Saint.

They took his relics to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Piracus while they prepared a small wooden coffin for his burial. They then took the Saint 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 and to their amazement, as they opened the grave they saw that the Saint was whole and fragrant. Not even his vestments had changed in any way. It was if he had just fallen asleep and been buried that same day. They did not tell the people of Aegina about the opening of his grave because he had already worked many miracles and had become very beloved and a very large crowd would have gathered even people from Athens and other far places where he was known. So, early in the morning, as soon as they were finished with the Divine Liturgy, as it were dawning, they went to open the grave.

At the moment they were opening the grave a taxi was going by on the road below the Convent and inside was a woman of ill repute and very sinful who had just come from a resort. As they approached the Holy Trinity Convent, the fragrance was so strong she told the driver, ” Stop. What is that fragrance?” So he stopped the taxi and replied, ” Oh, here is the convent of the Holy Nectarios. What else could the fragrance be but that they must be opening his grave today and it must be coming form his grave. For many times a fragrance came from his body before they buried him, and even from the grave it comes sometimes.” She got of the taxi and ran to go see. She went up to the Convent just as they opened the coffin and saw the relics whole. She was so very moved by this and especially the fragrance that she began to weep and publicly confessed her sins. Thus she was corrected and became a prudent and Christian woman in her way of life.

At that time they telegraphed Archbishop Chrysostom Papadopoulos in Athens and he went to the island to see the relics himself. After examining the relics, he irreverently counseled the Nuns to leave the relics in the sun and air for two or three days and then rebury them so they 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. After he had been out in the sun for two days they reburied him, but within a month or two they opened the grave again and took out the relics which were still whole and placed 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 rainstorm in the area of the Convent. He took shelter under a tree but, it was raining so hard that he thought it would not be letting up soon so since the only shelter he could see was the Convent and he decided to go there. He had known the holy Father Nectarios while he was living, but being a man who did not believe, he did not reverence the Father that much. He went and knocked on the door of the Convent and the nuns put him up for the night, but since it was evening and it was forbidden by the canons to keep any man inside the Convent in the evening, not even the priest of the Convent, they put him up in a little place outside for guests. But as the gates of the Convent had not been closed yet, he wanted to investigate what he had heard about miracles and incorrupt relics as long as he was there at the convent. So he went to were the sarcophagus was and began to pull the heavy marble top down as far as the waist of the Saint. Just then a nun came by and she yelled, “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 to make a commotion. But in the meantime he investigated the relics anyway. (Later he said, “I was very amazed to see that it was the Father Nectarios that we all knew. And that he still could be recognized from his face and expression. Even his beard was intact. I pulled 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.

But whether for our sins or some other reasons, some years later the relics of the Saint dissolved, and what we have now are his holy bones. They encased his holy head in a Bishop’s mitre and opened the top so one can kiss the crown of his head. The other parts of his relics, which have much fragrance, they put in a silver box.