Nektarios of Aegina & the Ship’s Engine

On Monday 9 November the island of Aegina, where we are based, was buzzing. Thousands of people visited for one of the last great holidays of the year – the Feast Day of St Nektarios of Aegina. The day always seems to be sunny for the procession and this year was no exception.

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So what’s it all about? Who was this St Nektarios?

Nektarios is the most recent saint of the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived on Aegina within living memory. His is an unusual story as, although he eventually became a saint, he was unpopular within the church during his life. It’s also a story of overcoming poverty and rejection, which resonates strongly in modern Greece.

Anastasios Kephalas was born in 1846 in the harbour town of Silivria in what is now Turkey. He was the fifth of six children of poor but very pious Christian parents.

Anastasios attended elementary school in Silivria. He wanted to become a theologian but there were no schools in the area for higher academic studies and his parents could not afford to send him elsewhere.

At the age of 14, with his parents’ blessing, he set off for Constantinople (modern Istanbul) to find work to help his parents, and hopefully also to continue his education and fulfil his dreams.

There’s an interesting story told about the young Anastasios that involves a boat …

Arriving at the port, he found a boat heading for Constantinople that was ready to sail. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough money for the fare. Anastasios walked up to the captain and asked to be taken along. The captain said to him jokingly, “Take a walk, my little one, and when you come back I will take you.” The boy began to walk away sadly.

The captain turned on the engines in order to sail … but the boat would not move. He increased the power to the engines, but to no avail. Even at full throttle, the ship still would not move. The captain glanced up and his eyes met those of the boy standing on the shore in sorrow. Against his will he was moved and, relenting, he told him to come on board. Anastasios jumped into the boat and the captain turned his attention back to trying to make the ship move. He didn’t have to worry, for it began to move immediately once it had its “special passenger” on board!

During the journey, it is also said that the crew conducted a ticket inspection. The young boy became terrified since he did not have a ticket nor any money to purchase one. He looked about for the captain who knew his secret but he had stepped away. “I will tell the truth”, he thought to himself. When asked for his ticket he said, “I am poor. I have no money. I have left my poor parents to seek work, so that I can help them.” The sailors felt sorry for young Anastasios and let him go. Other passengers heard his story, including a relative of a very rich man, who was impressed by his courage and determination.

Upon arriving in Constantinople, Anastasios looked for work and was eventually employed by a tobacco merchant. He lived in great poverty but managed to study sufficiently to eventually become a teacher. At the age of 30 he finally achieved his ambition to enter the monastic life. Two years later he was ordained Deacon, due to his great piety. It was at this ordination that he was given the name Nektarios.

He had still only completed elementary school, but he later attended high school in Athens. This came about due to a wealthy benefactor, John Horemis, who was the uncle of the man on the boat when the young Anastasios was travelling to Constantinople. Horemis wanted to find someone to sponsor with the aim of leading Greece’s uneducated masses. Eventually Nektarios also attended the University of Athens and wrote many books, pamphlets and Bible commentaries.

His life story is one of overcoming poverty and prejudice through virtue, piety, and devotion to his faith. Perhaps that is why he has particular appeal in 2015 when a great many people in Greece are having to find the resolution to live in poverty due to the economic crisis.

One of the other interesting things about Nektarios is that he spent much of his life outside Greece, in Egypt, and what is now Libya. That wasn’t particularly unusual in those times.

He was known for his humility and piousness and was extremely popular with his flock, but he was also different from many other priests, and suffered for this. He was the subject of slander, humiliation, and rejection by the church during his life.

In 1904, at the request of several nuns, he established Holy Trinity Monastery for them on the island of Aegina. In 1908, at the age of 62, Nektarios himself withdrew to the Holy Trinity Convent on Aegina, where he lived out the rest of his life as a monk. He wrote, published, preached, and heard confessions. He also tended the gardens, carried stones, and helped with the construction of the monastery buildings, using his own funds.

He died on November 8, 1920, at the age of 74. His funeral was attended by multitudes of people from all parts of Greece and Egypt. He endured a life of persecutions and false accusations but remained revered by the population.

Since his death, there have more than 2,000 miracles attributed to him and he was officially recognized as a Saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961.

His shrine at Aegina has become one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in Greece. Each month, thousands of people visit the tomb of Agios (Saint) Nektarios, to pray to him, or ask for his blessings, which always seem to be answered. His memory is celebrated by the Church on 9th November, which is the nameday of Nektarios. There are services in the church and a special procession in the morning, where his remains are carried through the streets of Aegina town. Nektarios is now the patron saint of the island.

You can see a photograph from this year’s procession on the Aegina Greece Facebook page.

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An enormous cathedral was built on Aegina in honour of St Nektarios. It stands on a hill in the heart of the island and is well worth a visit. You can see reviews of the church and monastery on TripAdvisor. It’s No2 of the things to do and see on the island … by the way, we are No.3!

Although the church has been consecrated, the painting of the inner great dome has not yet been completed so be prepared for some scaffolding inside.

You can visit the church, monastery, and shrine, during your stay in Aegina. It’s too far to walk but can easily be reached by taxi or bus. The area is called Kondos and is 6 km (10 minutes by car) from Aegina. The church and monastery are open daily. You should make sure your arms and legs are covered when you enter the buildings and skirts are available at the entrance of the monastery and church. Entry is free of charge.

You can read an account of a visit to the monastery here.

Aegina / Greece- General Interest
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