The Poor, Maimed, Blind, and Lame Fill God’s House with Glory: Homily for the Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ in the Orthodox Church, Fr. Philip LeMasters (Ancient Faith)

Colossians 3:4-11; Luke 14:16-24
Earlier this morning in Orthros, we heard the following reading from the Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ:
“We remember all the holy Patriarchs of the Old Testament who prefigured or foretold Christ: Adam the first Father, Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, the friend of God, Isaac, the fruit of the Promise, Jacob and the twelve patriarchs. We then commemorate those who lived under the Law: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, David, and the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; the twelve minor prophets; Elijah, Elisha, Zachariah, and John the Baptist; and finally the Virgin Mary, the intermediary between mankind and her divine Son. Indeed, the Lord Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to redeem humanity which bemoaned the weight of evil since Adam; to realize the promise made to Abraham; to change the Law of Fear into the Law of Love; and to give Resurrection and Life to mankind. This feast prepares us for the Nativity of Jesus Christ, placing before us the anticipation and hope for His coming among us.”
Throughout these weeks of Advent, we are preparing to celebrate how God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham are fulfilled and extended to all people in Jesus Christ. He is the New Adam Who, by becoming one of us, restores the common vocation of all who bear the divine image and likeness to be united with God in holiness, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. The promise to Abraham was that “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18) Christ is his seed or heir, and all who have faith in Him inherit the fullness of the promise as the beloved children of God. (Gal. 3:29)
Our Lord’s ancestors did not prepare His way by relying on their ethnic identity or mechanically obeying a set of rules. They did so by faith and faithfulness as they anticipated the consummation of God’s gracious purposes for them and for the entire world. However, the story of the Old Testament gives ample evidence that many of the Hebrew people refused to accept their responsibility to get ready for the coming of the Messiah. Like those in today’s gospel reading who asked to be excused from the banquet because they owned land or livestock and had families, they were so focused on the things of this world that they refused to accept the great blessing God intended for them. They distorted the great heritage that was theirs through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets in order to make their passions for pride, power, and pleasure their true gods. The religious leaders who rejected the Savior, and handed Him over to the Romans for crucifixion, did so for the same reasons. Though God called them all to embrace their role in preparing for the banquet of the Kingdom, few chose to respond. That is why the parable concludes with this statement: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Prophet Haggai was one who did respond faithfully. A Hebrew prophet of the 6th century, he called for the Jews to finish rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem after their return from exile in Babylon. He spoke the word of the Lord, saying, “I will shake all nations, and the choice things of all the nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory.” (Haggai 2: 7) In today’s parable, the householder, whose invitation was rejected by those first called, sent his servant out into the streets to invite “the poor and maimed and blind and lame” to the celebration so that his house would be filled. Here is a sign of the fulfillment of Haggai’s prophecy in the Church, in which all the peoples of the world are now called to participate in the Heavenly Banquet as members of the living Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this Church, as St. Paul wrote in today’s epistle reading, “there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.” As he also wrote to the Ephesians, Gentile Christians “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints, and…of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2: 19-21)
We must not, however, take the good news of our membership in Christ for granted. If some of our Lord’s ancestors chose to place fulfilling their self-centered desires before being faithful, we are susceptible to the very same temptations. That is why St. Paul reminds his audience to “Put to death…what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Regardless of what we say we believe or how religious our lives may appear outwardly to be, we will not be able to respond faithfully to the invitation to share in the life of Christ if we embrace thoughts, words, and deeds that strengthen our own addictions to pride, power, pleasure, and other passions. If “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk” become characteristic of who we are, then we are living according to “the old nature” of slavery to sin and death. To do is a clear sign of rejecting the invitation to participate in the Heavenly Banquet of the Messiah.
Our calling in the remaining days of the Nativity Fast is to do everything that we can to accept the great invitation that is ours at the birth of the Savior. There is nothing wrong at all with putting up a Christmas tree and other decorations in our homes this time of year, but what really matters is becoming a better living temple of Christ. If we accept the invitation to receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, then we must live as those in intimate communion with Him, as those who share in His holy, divine life by grace. There should be no room in us for anything that we cannot offer faithfully to the Lord for blessing in fulfilling His purposes for us and for the world. We do not offer only bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy, but ourselves in union with our Lord’s great Self-Offering for our salvation. “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”
As we pray, fast, and give of our time and resources to our neighbors with humble faith this Advent, we will find strength to turn away from the distorted habits of thought, word, and deed that so easily become excuses not to enter more fully into the great joy of Christ’s Kingdom. The only way to welcome the Savior into our lives at Christmas is to offer ourselves to Him in faith and faithfulness. Like those who prefigured or foretold Christ in the Old Testament, we must remain focused on receiving Him as the fulfillment of God’s gracious purposes for all who bear the divine image and likeness. That is why we need the forty days of the Nativity Fast to focus our attention in practical ways on what is at stake in how we respond to the great calling that is ours through the Messiah born in Bethlehem. While it is possible to say that we have better things to do than to do prepare our hearts for Him, that would be a grave mistake that reveals only our own enslavement to our passions. For His birth makes possible our deliverance from bondage to sin and death and the fulfillment of what it means to be a human person in His image and likeness. As “the poor and maimed and blind and lame,” let us accept the invitation that is ours at Christ’s birth. Otherwise, we risk shutting ourselves out of the greatest banquet of all.

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Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker (Abbot Tryphon, Ancient Faith Blog)

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.
As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. St Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.
From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock.
In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor.
There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom St Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desparation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man’s poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. St Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction. In bestowing charity, St Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.
The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to St Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. St Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.
When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, St Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, St Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, “Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there.” So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia.
Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. “What is your name, child?” he asked. God’s chosen one replied, “My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant.”
After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of St Constantine (May 21) as emperor, St Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor.
Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, St Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.
In the year 325 St Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Sts Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council.
St Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the saint was pleasing to God, and restored the saint to the office of bishop.
Having returned to his own diocese, the saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies.
Even during his life the saint worked many miracles. One of the greatest was the deliverance from death of three men unjustly condemned by the Governor, who had been bribed. The saint boldly went up to the executioner and took his sword, already suspended over the heads of the condemned. The Governor, denounced by St Nicholas for his wrong doing, repented and begged for forgiveness.
Witnessing this remarkable event were three military officers, who were sent to Phrygia by the emperor Constantine to put down a rebellion. They did not suspect that soon they would also be compelled to seek the intercession of St Nicholas. Evil men slandered them before the emperor, and the officers were sentenced to death. Appearing to St Constantine in a dream, St Nicholas called on him to overturn the unjust sentence of the military officers.
He worked many other miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment.
Having reached old age, St Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1087, his relics were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (See May 9).
The name of the great saint of God, the hierarch and wonderworker Nicholas, a speedy helper and suppliant for all hastening to him, is famed in every corner of the earth, in many lands and among many peoples. In Russia there are a multitude of cathedrals, monasteries and churches consecrated in his name. There is, perhaps, not a single city without a church dedicated to him.
The first Russian Christian prince Askold (+ 882) was baptized in 866 by Patriarch Photius (February 6) with the name Nicholas. Over the grave of Askold, St Olga (July 11) built the first temple of St Nicholas in the Russian Church at Kiev. Primary cathedrals were dedicated to St Nicholas at Izborsk, Ostrov, Mozhaisk, and Zaraisk. At Novgorod the Great, one of the main churches of the city, the Nikolo-Dvorischensk church, later became a cathedral.
Famed and venerable churches and monasteries dedicated to St Nicholas are found at Kiev, Smolensk, Pskov, Toropetsa, Galich, Archangelsk, Great Ustiug, Tobolsk. Moscow had dozens of churches named for the saint, and also three monasteries in the Moscow diocese: the Nikolo-Greek (Staryi) in the Chinese-quarter, the Nikolo-Perervinsk and the Nikolo-Ugreshsk. One of the chief towers of the Kremlin was named the Nikolsk.
Many of the churches devoted to the saint were those established at market squares by Russian merchants, sea-farers and those who traveled by land, venerating the wonderworker Nicholas as a protector of all those journeying on dry land and sea. They sometimes received the name among the people of “Nicholas soaked.”
Many village churches in Russia were dedicated to the wonderworker Nicholas, venerated by peasants as a merciful intercessor before the Lord for all the people in their work. And in the Russian land St Nicholas did not cease his intercession. Ancient Kiev preserves the memory about the miraculous rescue of a drowning infant by the saint. The great wonderworker, hearing the grief-filled prayers of the parents for the loss of their only child, took the infant from the waters, revived him and placed him in the choir-loft of the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) before his wonderworking icon. In the morning the infant was found safe by his thrilled parents, praising St Nicholas the Wonderworker.
Many wonderworking icons of St Nicholas appeared in Russia and came also from other lands. There is the ancient Byzantine embordered image of the saint, brought to Moscow from Novgorod, and the large icon painted in the thirteenth century by a Novgorod master.
Two depictions of the wonderworker are especially numerous in the Russian Church: St Nicholas of Zaraisk, portrayed in full-length, with his right hand raised in blessing and with a Gospel (this image was brought to Ryazan in 1225 by the Byzantine Princess Eupraxia, the future wife of Prince Theodore. She perished in 1237 with her husband and infant son during the incursion of Batu); and St Nicholas of Mozhaisk, also in full stature, with a sword in his right hand and a city in his left. This recalls the miraculous rescue of the city of Mozhaisk from an invasion of enemies, through the prayers of the saint. It is impossible to list all the grace-filled icons of St Nicholas, or to enumerate all his miracles.
St Nicholas is the patron of travelers, and we pray to him for deliverance from floods, poverty, or any misfortunes. He has promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna.
Wishing all of you a blessed Feast of Saint Nicholas the Wonderwork of Myra.
With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Life of St. Katherine of Alexandria (Commemorated November 24))(http://stkatherine.net/about-st-katherine/)

 

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St. Katherine Monastery in Mount Sinai Egypt

The Holy Great-Martyr Katherine was the daughter of Constus, the governor of Alexandrian Egypt, during the reign of the emperor Maximian (305-313). Living in the capital — the center of Hellenistic knowledge, and possessed of an uncommon beauty and intellect — Katherine received a most splendid education, having studied the works of the finest philosophers and teachers of antiquity. Young men from the most worthy families of the empire sought the hand of the beautiful Katherine, but none of them was chosen. She declared to her parents that she would be agreeable to enter into marriage only with someone who surpassed her in illustriousness, wealth, comeliness and wisdom.
Katherine’s mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual father — a saintly elder pursuing prayerful deeds in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Katherine, the elder said that he knew of a youth, who surpassed her in everything, such that “His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world — this however did not diminish but rather added to the inexpressible loftiness of His lineage“. The image of the Christ produced in the soul of the holy maiden an ardent desire to see Him. Truth, to which her soul yearned, revealed it to her. In parting, the elder handed Katherine an icon of the Mother of God with the God-Child Jesus on Her arm and bid her to pray with faith to Mary for the bestowing of the vision of Her Son.
Katherine prayed all night and was given to see the Most Holy Virgin, Who sent Her Divine Son to look upon the kneeling of Katherine before Them. But the Child turned His face away from her saying, that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person — not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Katherine returned again to the elder deeply saddened. He lovingly received her, instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the sacrament of holy Baptism. And again Saint Katherine had a vision of the Most Holy Mother of God with Her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring — a wondrous gift of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
At this time the emperor Maximian was himself in Alexandria for a pagan feast day. Because of this, the feast was especially splendid and crowded. The cries of the sacrificial animals, the smoke and the smell of the sacrifices, the endless blazing of fires, and the bustling crowds at the arenas filled Alexandria. Human victims also were brought — because they consigned to death in the fire the confessors in Christ, those not recanting from Him under torture. The Saint’s love for the Christian martyrs and her fervent desire to lighten their fate impelled Katherine to go to the pagan head-priest and ruler of the empire, the emperor-persecutor Maximian.

Introducing herself, the saint confessed her Christian faith and with wisdom denounced the errors of the pagans. The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor. In order to convince her and show the superiority of pagan wisdom, the emperor gave orders to gather 50 of the most learned men of the empire, but the Saint got the better of the wise men, such that they themselves came to believe in Christ. Saint Katherine shielded them with the sign of the cross, and they bravely accepted death for Christ and were burnt by order of the emperor.
Maximian, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame. Having received an angry refusal, the emperor gave orders to subject the saint to terrible tortures and then throw her in prison. The Empress Augusta, who had heard much about Katherine, wanted to see her. Having prevailed upon the military-commander Porphyry to accompany her with a detachment of soldiers, Augusta went to the prison. The empress was impressed by the strong spirit of Saint Katherine, whose face glowed with Divine grace. The holy martyr explained the Christian teaching to the newly-arrived, and they in believing were converted to Christ.

On the following day they again brought the her to the judgment court where, under the threat of being broken on the wheel, they urged that she recant from the Christian faith and offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. The saint steadfastly confessed Christ and she herself approached the wheels; but an Angel smashed the instruments of execution, which broke up into pieces with many pagans passing nearby. Having beheld this wonder, the empress Augusta and the imperial courtier Porphyry with 200 soldiers confessed their faith in Christ in front of everyone, and they were beheaded. Maximian again tried to entice Saint Katherine, proposing marriage to her, and again he received a refusal. She confessed her fidelity to the Heavenly Bridegroom — Christ, and with a prayer to Him she herself put her head on the block under the sword of the executioner.

In the VI Century, through a revelation, the relics of Saint Katherine were found and transferred with honor to a newly constructed church of the Sinai monastery, built by the holy emperor Justinian (527-565). The church and monastery remain to this day.
With her wealth, beauty, education, and high social class, it would have been very tempting for Saint Katherine to deny Christ, save her worldly life, and go back to an easy, privileged lifestyle. Instead, she chose to follow her faith.

On the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple, by St. Gregory Palamas- (Celebrated November 21)

“If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Lk. 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.

In the beginning, there was one who rose up against us: the author of evil, the serpent, who dragged us into the abyss. Many reasons impelled him to rise up against us, and there are many ways by which he enslaved our nature: envy, rivalry, hatred, injustice, treachery, slyness, etc. In addition to all this, he also has within him the power of bringing death, which he himself engendered, being the first to fall away from true life.

The author of evil was jealous of Adam, when he saw him being led from earth to Heaven, from which he was justly cast down. Filled with envy, he pounced upon Adam with a terrible ferocity, and even wished to clothe him with the garb of death. Envy is not only the begetter of hatred, but also of murder, which this truly man-hating serpent brought about in us. For he wanted to be master over the earth-born for the ruin of that which was created in the image and likeness of God. Since he was not bold enough to make a face to face attack, he resorted to cunning and deceit. This truly terrible and malicious plotter pretended to be a friend and useful adviser by assuming the physical form of a serpent, and stealthily took their position. By his God-opposing advice, he instills in man his own death-bearing power, like a venomous poison.

If Adam had been sufficiently strong to keep the divine commandment, then he would have shown himself the vanquisher of his enemy, and withstood his deathly attack. But since he voluntarily gave in to sin, he was defeated and was made a sinner. Since he is the root of our race, he has produced us as death-bearing shoots. So, it was necessary for us, if he were to fight back against his defeat and to claim victory, to rid himself of the death-bearing venomous poison in his soul and body, and to absorb life, eternal and indestructible life.

It was necessary for us to have a new root for our race, a new Adam, not just one Who would be sinless and invincible, but one Who also would be able to forgive sins and set free from punishment those subject to it. And not only would He have life in Himself, but also the capacity to restore to life, so that He could grant to those who cleave to Him and are related to Him by race both life and the forgiveness of their sins, restoring to life not only those who came after Him, but also those who already had died before Him. Therefore, St. Paul, that great trumpet of the Holy Spirit, exclaims, “the first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).

Except for God, there is no one who is without sin, or life-creating, or able to remit sin. Therefore, the new Adam must be not only Man, but also God. He is at the same time life, wisdom, truth, love, and mercy, and every other good thing, so that He might renew the old Adam and restore him to life through mercy, wisdom and righteousness. These are the opposites of the things which the author of evil used to bring about our aging and death.

As the slayer of mankind raised himself against us with envy and hatred, so the Source of life was lifted up [on the Cross] because of His immeasurable goodness and love for mankind. He intensely desired the salvation of His creature, i.e., that His creature would be restored by Himself. In contrast to this, the author of evil wanted to bring God’s creature to ruin, and thereby put mankind under his own power, and tyrannically to afflict us. And just as he achieved the conquest and the fall of mankind by means of injustice and cunning, by deceit and his trickery, so has the Liberator brought about the defeat of the author of evil, and the restoration of His own creature with truth, justice and wisdom.

It was a deed of perfect justice that our nature, which was voluntarily enslaved and struck down, should again enter the struggle for victory and cast off its voluntary enslavement. Therefore, God deigned to receive our nature from us, hypostatically uniting with it in a marvellous way. But it was impossible to unite that Most High Nature,Whose purity is incomprehensible for human reason, to a sinful nature before it had been purified. Therefore, for the conception and birth of the Bestower of purity, a perfectly spotless and Most Pure Virgin was required.

Today we celebrate the memory of those things that contributed, if only once, to the Incarnation. He Who is God by nature, the Co-unoriginate and Coeternal Word and Son of the Transcendent Father, becomes the Son of Man, the Son of the Ever-Virgin. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), immutable in His divinity and blameless in His humanity, He alone, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, “practiced no iniquity, nor deceit with His lips” (Is. 53: 9). He alone was not brought forth in iniquity, nor was He conceived in sin, in contrast to what the Prophet David says concerning himself and every other man (Ps. 50/51: 5). Even in what He assumes, He is perfectly pure and has no need to be cleansed Himself. But for our sake, He accepted purification, suffering, death and resurrection, that He might transmit them to us.

God is born of the spotless and Holy Virgin, or better to say, of the Most Pure and All-Holy Virgin. She is above every fleshly defilement, and even above every impure thought. Her conceiving resulted not from fleshly lust, but by the overshadowing of the Most Holy Spirit. Such desire being utterly alien to Her, it is through prayer and spiritual readiness that She declared to the angel: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto Me according to thy word” (Lk. 1:38), and that She conceived and gave birth. So, in order to render the Virgin worthy of this sublime purpose, God marked this ever-virgin Daughter now praised by us, from before the ages, and from eternity, choosing Her from out of His elect.

Turn your attention then, to where this choice began. From the sons of Adam God chose the wondrous Seth, who showed himself a living heaven through his becoming behavior, and through the beauty of his virtues. That is why he was chosen, and from whom the Virgin would blossom as the divinely fitting chariot of God. She was needed to give birth and to summon the earth-born to heavenly sonship. For this reason also all the lineage of Seth were called “sons of God,” because from this lineage a son of man would be born the Son of God. The name Seth signifies a rising or resurrection, or more specifically, it signifies the Lord, Who promises and gives immortal life to all who believe in Him.

And how precisely exact is this parallel! Seth was born of Eve, as she herself said, in place of Abel, whom Cain killed through jealousy (Gen. 4:25); and Christ, the Son of the Virgin, was born for us in place of Adam, whom the author of evil also killed through jealousy. But Seth did not resurrect Abel, since he was only a foretype of the resurrection. But our Lord Jesus Christ resurrected Adam, since He is the very Life and the Resurrection of the earth-born, for whose sake the descendents of Seth are granted divine adoption through hope, and are called the children of God. It was because of this hope that they were called sons of God, as is evident from the one who was first called so, the successor in the choice.This was Enos, the son of Seth, who as Moses wrote, first hoped to call on the Name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26).

In this manner, the choice of the future Mother of God, beginning with the very sons of Adam and proceeding through all the generations of time, through the Providence of God, passes to the Prophet-king David and the successors of his kingdom and lineage. When the chosen time had come, then from the house and posterity of David, Joachim and Anna are chosen by God. Though they were childless, they were by their virtuous life and good disposition the finest of all those descended from the line of David. And when in prayer they besought God to deliver them from their childlessness, and promised to dedicate their child to God from its infancy. By God Himself, the Mother of God was proclaimed and given to them as a child, so that from such virtuous parents the all-virtuous child would be raised. So in this manner, chastity joined with prayer came to fruition by producing the Mother of virginity, giving birth in the flesh to Him Who was born of God the Father before the ages.

Now, when Righteous Joachim and Anna saw that they had been granted their wish, and that the divine promise to them was realized in fact, then they on their part, as true lovers of God, hastened to fulfill their vow given to God as soon as the child had been weaned from milk. They have now led this truly sanctified child of God, now the Mother of God, this Virgin into the Temple of God. And She, being filled with Divine gifts even at such a tender age, … She, rather than others, determined what was being done over Her. In Her manner She showed that She was not so much presented into the Temple, but that She Herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within Her, wished to set Her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent Her mystical food, with which She was strengthened in nature, while in body She was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during Her youth, so that through Her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in Her miraculous birthgiving.

So it is, and this is why She, from the beginning of time, was chosen from among the chosen. She Who is manifest as the Holy of Holies, Who has a body even purer than the spirits purified by virtue, is capable of receiving … the Hypostatic Word of the Unoriginate Father. Today the Ever-Virgin Mary, like a Treasure of God, is stored in the Holy of Holies, so that in due time, (as it later came to pass) She would serve for the enrichment of, and an ornament for, all the world. Therefore, Christ God also glorifies His Mother, both before birth, and also after birth.

We who understand the salvation begun for our sake through the Most Holy Virgin, give Her thanks and praise according to our ability. And truly, if the grateful woman (of whom the Gospel tells us), after hearing the saving words of the Lord, blessed and thanked His Mother, raising her voice above the din of the crowd and saying to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps Thou hast sucked” (Lk. 11:27), then we who have the words of eternal life written out for us, and not only the words, but also the miracles and the Passion, and the raising of our nature from death, and its ascent from earth to Heaven, and the promise of immortal life and unfailing salvation, then how shall we not unceasingly hymn and bless the Mother of the Author of our Salvation and the Giver of Life, celebrating Her conception and birth, and now Her Entry into the Holy of Holies?

Now, brethren, let us remove ourselves from earthly to celestial things. Let us change our path from the flesh to the spirit. Let us change our desire from temporal things to those that endure. Let us scorn fleshly delights, which serve as allurements for the soul and soon pass away. Let us desire spiritual gifts, which remain undiminished. Let us turn our reason and our attention from earthly concerns and raise them to the inaccessable places of Heaven, to the Holy of Holies, where the Mother of God now resides.

Therefore, in such manner our songs and prayers to Her will gain entry, and thus through her mediation, we shall be heirs of the everlasting blessings to come, through the grace and love for mankind of Him Who was born of Her for our sake, our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honor and worship, together with His Unoriginate Father and His Coeternal and Life-Creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

The Life of St. Nektarios, Patron Saint of Cancer Sufferers (Feast Day November 9)

O Virgin Pure, composed by St. Nektarios of Aegina
His Childhood Years

Anastasios Kephalas, son of Dimosthenis and Vassiliki, was born on October 1st, 1846, in Eastern Selyvria of Thrace (Now Turkey). He was one of six children. His parents were very poor but pious Christians who brought up their children according to the teachings of our Church. When his mother taught him Psalm 50, he liked to repeat the verse: I shall teach thy ways unto the wicked and sinners shall be converted unto thee. His early years were spent at the local elementary school in Silivria. Upon completion of his school curriculum there were no schools in the area for him to continue his academic studies and he was too poor to study abroad. But he did have a thirst for knowledge and a love of God. This love urged him on for he wanted to become a theologian. He wanted to educate himself so that he could love the Lord even more, and as such, serve him better. Sadened by the state of poverty that his parents were in and urged by his ever-growing love for our Lord Jesus Christ, at the age of fourteen and with his parents’ blessings, Anastasios went to Constantinople to find work for their financial assistance and in hope that he would be able to continue his studies and fullfill his dreams.

The young Anastasios set off then for the seaport where he would board a boat to Contsantinouple. He was faced with a problem, however. Anastasios did not have the money to pay the required fare for the boat. Nevertheless, as the boat for Constantinople was ready to sail Anastasios bravely walked up to the captain and asked to take him along. 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 to walk away sadly. The captain turned on the engines in order to sail. The engines were propelling, 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. In his helplessness the captain glanced up, and his eyes met the gaze of the boy who was standing on the shore in sorrow. 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 again became engrossed in how to make the ship move. But he did not have a chance to worry long, for it began to move immediately, since it had received its “special passenger.”

The ship rushed along now in open sea on route to Constantinouple and 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.” His cheeks glowed red for Anastasios was very embarrased. But, as our Lord does not abandon those who believe in Him, the sailors felt sorry for young Anastasios and let him go. Other passengers heard his story and went to his aid. They listened to his story, his problems. One man in particular, a cousin of a very rich man, John Horemis was particularly impressed by the young boy’s courage and dedication.

Sure enough, young Anastasios Kephalas reached the port of Constantinouple and the very next day went looking for work. But he found mostly rejection and indifference. Eventually he found employment in a factory with a tobacco merchant. However, he was a young boy and his pay would barely be enough for his daily meals as he walked about barefoot and with ragged clothes. He found his comfort in prayer for he had much faith in God. The boy did not become entangled in worldly cares, but fixed his mind entirely upon building up the inner man in the image of Christ by prayer and meditation on the writings of the Holy Fathers. With his childlike mind and guileless heart, when he saw that his employer wrote and received many letters in his business, Anastasios also wanted to write a letter, for he had much to say. But to whom? He had no acquaintances. He could not write to his mother, because mail was not taken to the small villages. Yet he felt the need to write. He wanted to write grievances. To tell how he would work and they would not pay him. How he wanted to eat and be clothed and the money would not suffice. He did not abandon his hope in God, and one day in order to make his prayer more living, he thought of writing a letter to Christ and telling him of his needs. And truly, he lost no time. He took a pencil and paper and wrote:

“My Little Christ, I do not have an apron or shoes. Please send them to me. You know how much I love You. Anastasios “

He sealed the letter with confidence and wrote on the envelope: “To the Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven.” He took his letter and went to mail it right away. On the way, by divine economy, he met the owner of a merchant shop that was opposite where he worked. This man knew him well and, knowing very well of the boy’s innocence and diligence, had come to feel great compassion for him. He also was going to the post office. “Anastasios, where are you going?”, he said to the boy. Anastasios became troubled and whispered something, holding the letter in his hands. “Give it to me so I can mail it, and you won’t have to go all the way.” Frightened and unthinking, the little Anastasios gave him the letter. The merchant took the letter with much love, patted him on the head and told him not to worry while he put the letter in his pocket with his own other letters. He told Anastasios to go back and that he would take care to mail the letter safely.

Anastasios cheerfully returned to his work, and the merchant continued on his way full of happiness over that good and exceptional boy. As he was about to mail the letter the merchant noticed the address noted on Anastasios’s letter. Thunderstruck, he stopped and, conquered by the temptation of curiosity, opened and read it. He was overwhelmed with emotion as the man began to cry. He put an amount of money into an envelope and sent it, anonymously, to the boy along with fatherly advice on how the money could be spent wisely. Anastasios was filled with joy when he received it, and gave many thanks to God.

The next day Anastasios set out to purchase new clothes. Upon his return, his employer noticed him and thought that the boy had stolen the money from him. Therefore, he was going to beat him and fire him. But Anastasios cried: “I have never stolen anything in my life! Don’t hit me! My little Christ sent them to me!” The merchant across the street overheard the commotion and took Anastasios’ employer to the side in order to explain the matter to him.

Therefore, as a shop assistant of a tobacco merchant Anastasios spent long and hard hours. He started early and finished late but somehow made the time to continue his studies late at night. He read as much as he could the Holy Scriptures and Writings of the Holy Fathers, and made a collection of wise sayings, which he used to write on the paper used to wrap his customers’ goods since he did not have the money to buy paper. Later he worked as a teacher of the lower grades in the orphanage of the All-Holy Sepulchre.
His Years as a Young Adult

When he was twenty, 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 fullfill 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. Even harder now he studied, prayed and fasted day and night. Many nights he would pray till sunrise without sleep and then continue praying for the rest of the day. Two years later he was ordained deacon by Metropolitan Gregory of Chios, due to his great virtues and his piety. It was at his ordination as deacon that he was given the name Nectarios. 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. Nectarios Kephalas had only completed elementary school, therefore, Elder Pachomios convinced him to complete his high school studies in Athens. This was made possible through the financial support of a wealthy local benefactor, Mr John Horemis.

John Horemis was the uncle of that unknown man who was on the boat when the young Nectarios was travelling to Constantinople, those many years ago. Horemis had heard of Nectarios and wished to meet him. With the help of God it was not long before a meeting was arranged. Horemis’ first impressions were excellent. He wanted to find someone to sponsor, to educate, with the aim of leading Greece’s uneducated masses. He saw in Nectarios not only the man for the job but a man who he could totally trust. Eventually Horemis told Nectarios of his plans. Nectarios gratefully accepted.

So Nectarios Kephalas went to Athens to begin his studies and upon finishing went to Alexandria in Egypt, near the Patriarch Sophronios, carrying with him the excellent reference of his sponsor John Horemis.

The Patriarch was deeply impressed with the humility and the holiness of Nectarios. The Patriarch asked him if he wanted to continue his studies at the Theological school in Athens, so that he could then return and take better care of the needs of the Orthodox Christians of Alexandria. Nectarios accepted and duly enrolled at the school. Day and night Nectarios thanked God for everything. He prayed for Sophronios and all who had helped him.

It was at this time that Nectarios Kephalas lost his close friend and benefactor-John Horemis. But thanks to the generosity of this pious islander and to the protection of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, Nectarios Kephalas was able to complete his studies in Athens and to obtain the diploma of the Faculty of Theology. In 1885, he arrived in Alexandria where he was soon ordained priest, then consecrated 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.

Our venerable Saint Nectarios lost nothing of his humility through these honors, and was able to inspire his flock with zeal for the evangelic virtues.
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 (Matt. 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 mistreat 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 againsts 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 dispised, 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 beleiving 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 most 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 as 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 sadened. 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 Vitineia and Euboiea.

Can one imagine? The former Metropolitan of Pentapolis now a mere preacher! Something which a simple monk can do. Something which even a layman that has a gift can be given permission by the Synod to do. Yet he did not at all think that this was humiliating for him, or that it was a small thing. His yearning and desire to help others made him consider this opportunity as one of the greatest things…to be able to preach the Word of God to the people. He did not consider that he was merely given a crumb from the table that was being thrown down to him as if he were 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 one church to the other.

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 how ever able was He 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 ascesis, 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.
His Final Years

However, there glowed in the depths of his heart a burning love for the peace and quiet of life in the monasteries. Seeing that there was much ado in the capital, many intrigues, many words, much noise spiritually and physically, he, being a quiet person, wished to retire from all this and go to a place where he could be with God and pray according to his heart. Thus he began to look around outside Athens to find a suitable place. He went to the island of Aegina where he heard that there were many small monasteries and churches that were in disuse. This led him to respond warmly to the desire expressed by some of his spiritual daughters that he should found a women’s monastery on this island. This he did between 1904 and 1907 and he retired there in 1908, on his resignation as director of the Rizarios School. In Aegina, about two hours by foot from the main city down by the sea, He founded 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 little church. A blind nun, Xenia, at that time came to know the Father, and he respected her very much. He made her mother superior of the first little community. A few other souls came, and thus the holy Father Nectarios with the blind mother and these few souls began their little convent. Despite countless cares and difficulties, Saint Nectarios saw to the restoration of a type of life that was wholly in the spirit of the ancient Fathers. He gave his utmost bodily and spiritual strength to the construction of the buildings, to divine service and to the spiritual direction of each one of his disciples. Because the Father was truly a gifted man, especially in the matter of confession, many would flock to him even from the capital. Thus he truly became a light on the island of Aegina and the foremost confessor and spiritual father of the country of Greece at His time. Through the help of his spiritual children and donations of the other people who came to understand their godly way of life, they were able to expand their little convent so that little by little a community of thirty nuns was gathered. The Saint would say: “I am building a lighthouse for you, and God will put a light in it that shall 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 trying to tell them. It was only after the recovery of his holy relics and miracles that he began working in such abundance that they understood. He meant that his way of life, his very holy body, were the lighthouse, and if God pleased He would send his light, and it would shine throughout. Thus the words which the Saint used to say to them have been fulfilled.

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.

Therefore, on the afternoon of September 20, 1920, a nun by the name of Euphemia brought a little rassa-clad old man, who was convulsed with pain, to the Aretaieion Hospital of Athens, a state hospital for the poor. The intern of the hospital asked the nun for information about the little old man so that he may register and enter into the hospital register. “He is a monk?”

“No. A bishop.”

The intern laughed sarcastically. “Leave off the joking, Mother. Tell me his name so I can put it in the register.”

“He is a bishop, my child. He is the Most Reverend Metropolitan of Pentapolis.”

“For the first time in my life I see a bishop,” muttered the intern to himself, “without Panagia, gold cross, and — most significant of all — without money!” “Indeed he is a bishop,” repeated the nun. “The Metropolitan of Pentapolis. This metropolis belongs to the Patriarchate of Alexandria. He is the Most Reverend Nectarios Kephalas. Some time ago he left Egypt and came here, close 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 of his protests, we brought him here.” She then showed the intern his credentials which proved him to be the Metropolitan.

The intern of the hospital, amazed by everything he had heard and seen, shrugged his shoulders and told the nurses to place the sick man in a third-class room where there were several beds for the destitute. The doctors diagnosed that the sick little old man was suffering from severe systitis, a disease of the bladder. For two months the Hierarch Nectarios Kephalas lived in the midst of terrible pains, and at ten thirty in the evening of the eighth of November, 1920, in peace and at prayer he gave up his spirit unto God at the age of seventy-four.

In the final days of his life, the Saint was kept in the ward of the incurable in the midst of many poor, sick people who were about to die. Next to his bed there was a man who had been paralyzed for many years. As soon as the Saint gave up his spirit, a nurse of the hospital and the nun who had accompanied him prepared his sacred tabernacle for the transfer to Aegina for burial. For this purpose they dressed the Saint in clean clothing. When they took off the Saint’s sweater, they placed it on the bed of the paralytic to get it out of their way and continued preparing the Saint’s body. And O, strange wonder!, the paralytic immediately began to gain strength and arose from his bed healthy, glorifying God.

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 were 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 the our Saint’s mitre 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.

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 that 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. His veneration was formally recognized in 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.

Sources:
Holy Transfiguration Monastery Brookline, MA
Saint Nektarios of Aegina (G. Georgiou)
Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, Orange, CN
The Life of Saint Nektarios (Nektarios Stellakis)

Church of Agios Nectarios, Aegina1280px-Agios_Nectarios_church01

Holy, Glorious Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica. (OCA) Commemorated on October 26.

The Great Martyr Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica was the son of a Roman proconsul in Thessalonica. Three centuries had elapsed and Roman paganism, spiritually shattered and defeated by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of the Savior, intensified its persecutions. The parents of Saint Demetrius were secretly Christians, and he was baptized and raised in the Christian Faith in a secret church in his father’s home.
By the time Demetrius had reached maturity and his father had died, the emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne (305). Maximian, confident in Demetrius’ education as well as his administrative and military abilities, appointed him to his father’s position as proconsul of the Thessalonica district. The main tasks of this young commander were to defend the city from barbarians and to eradicate Christianity. The emperor’s policy regarding Christians was expressed simply, “Put to death anyone who calls on the name of Christ.” The emperor did not suspect that by appointing Demetrius he had provided a way for him to lead many people to Christ.
Accepting the appointment, Demetrius returned to Thessalonica and immediately confessed and glorified our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of persecuting and executing Christians, he began to teach the Christian Faith openly to the inhabitants of the city and to overthrow pagan customs and idolatry. The compiler of his Life, Saint Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9), says that because of his teaching zeal he became “a second Apostle Paul” for Thessalonica, particularly since “the Apostle to the Gentiles” once founded at this city the first community of believers (1 Thess. and 2 Thess.).
The Lord also destined Saint Demetrius to follow the holy Apostle Paul as a martyr. When Maximian learned that the newly-appointed proconsul was a Christian, and that he had converted many Roman subjects to Christianity, the rage of the emperor knew no bounds. Returning from a campaign in the Black Sea region, the emperor decided to lead his army through Thessalonica, determined to massacre the Christians.
Learning of this, Saint Demetrius ordered his faithful servant Lupus to distribute his wealth to the poor saying, “Distribute my earthly riches among them, for we shall seek heavenly riches for ourselves.” He began to pray and fast, preparing himself for martyrdom.
When the emperor came into the city, he summoned Demetrius, who boldly confessed himself a Christian and denounced the falsehood and futility of Roman polytheism. Maximian gave orders to lock up the confessor in prison. An angel appeared to him, comforting and encouraging him.
Meanwhile the emperor amused himself by staging games in the circus. His champion was a German by the name of Lyaeos. He challenged Christians to wrestle with him on a platform built over the upturned spears of the victorious soldiers. A brave Christian named Nestor went to the prison to his advisor Demetrius and requested a blessing to fight the barbarian. With the blessing and prayers of Demetrius, Nestor prevailed over the fierce German and hurled him from the platform onto the spears of the soldiers, just as the murderous pagan would have done with the Christian. The enraged commander ordered the execution of the holy Martyr Nestor (October 27) and sent a guard to the prison to kill Saint Demetrius.
At dawn on October 26, 306 soldiers appeared in the saint’s underground prison and ran him through with lances. His faithful servant, Saint Lupus, gathered up the blood-soaked garment of Saint Demetrius, and he took the imperial ring from his finger, a symbol of his high status, and dipped it in the blood. With the ring and other holy things sanctified by the blood of Saint Demetrius, Saint Lupus began to heal the infirm. The emperor issued orders to arrest and kill him.
The body of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius was cast out for wild animals to devour, but the Christians took it and secretly buried it in the earth.
During the reign of Saint Constantine (306-337), a church was built over the grave of Saint Demetrius. A hundred years later, during the construction of a majestic new church on the old spot, the incorrupt relics of the holy martyr were uncovered. Since the seventh century a miraculous flow of fragrant myrrh has been found beneath the crypt of the Great Martyr Demetrius, so he is called “the Myrrh-gusher.”
Several times, those venerating the holy wonderworker tried to bring his holy relics, or a part of them, to Constantinople. Invariably, Saint Demetrius made it clear that he would not permit anyone to remove even a portion of his relics.
It is interesting that among the barbarians threatening the Romans, Slavs occupied an important place, in particular those settling upon the Thessalonian peninsula. Some even believe that the parents of Saint Demetrius were of Slavic descent. While advancing towards the city, pagan Slavs were repeatedly turned away by the apparition of a threatening radiant youth, going around on the walls and inspiring terror in the enemy soldiers. Perhaps this is why the name of Saint Demetrius was particularly venerated among the Slavic nations after they were enlightened by the Gospel. On the other hand, the Greeks dismiss the notion of Saint Demetrius being a Slavic saint.
The very first pages of the Russian Primary Chronicle, as foreordained by God, is bound up with the name of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonica. The Chronicle relates that when Oleg the Wise threatened the Greeks at Constantinople (907), the Greeks became terrified and said, “This is not Oleg, but rather Saint Demetrius sent upon us from God.” Russian soldiers always believed that they were under the special protection of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius. Moreover, in the old Russian barracks the Great Martyr Demetrius was always depicted as Russian. Thus this image entered the soul of the Russian nation.
Church veneration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius in Russia began shortly after the Baptism of Rus. Towards the beginning of the 1070s the Dimitriev monastery at Kiev, known afterwards as the Mikhailov-Zlatoverkh monastery, was founded, The monastery was built by the son of Yaroslav the Wise, Great Prince Izyaslav, Demetrius in Baptism (+ 1078). The mosaic icon of Saint Demetrius of Thessalonica from the cathedral of the Dimitriev monastery has been preserved up to the present day, and is in the Tretiakov gallery.
In the years 1194-1197 the Great Prince of Vladimir, Vsevolod III the Great-Nest (Demetrius in Baptism) “built at his court a beautiful church of the holy martyr Demetrius, and adorned it wondrously with icons and frescoes.” The Dimitriev cathedral also reveals the embellishment of ancient Vladimir. The wonderworking icon of Saint Demetrius of Thessalonica from the cathedral iconostas is located even now in Moscow, at the Tretiakov gallery. It was painted on a piece of wood from the grave of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius, brought from Thessalonica to Vladimir in 1197.
One of the most precious depictions of the saint, a fresco on a column of the Vladimir Dormition cathedral, was painted by the holy Iconographer Andrew Rublev (July 4).
The family of Saint Alexander Nevsky (November 23 also venerated Saint Demetrius. Saint Alexander named his eldest son in honor of the holy Great Martyr. His younger son, Prince Daniel of Moscow (March 4), built a temple dedicated to the holy Great Martyr Demetrius in the 1280s. This was the first stone church in the Moscow Kremlin. Later in 1326, under Ivan Kalita, it was taken down and the Dormition cathedral was built in its place.
The memory of Saint Demetrius of Thessalonica is historically associated in Rus with the military, patriotism and the defense of the country. This is apparent by the saint’s depiction on icons as a soldier in plumed armor, with a spear and sword in hand. There is a scroll (in later depictions) on which is written the prayer of Saint Demetrius for the salvation of the people of Thessalonica, “Lord, do not permit the city or the people perish. If You save the city and the people, I shall be saved with them. If they perish, I also perish with them.”
In the particular spiritual experience of the Russian Church, veneration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonica is closely linked with the memory of the defense of the nation and Church by the Great Prince of Moscow, Demetrius of the Don (May 19). “An Account of the Life and Repose of the Great Prince Demetrius of the Don, Tsar of Russia,” written in the year 1393, already regards the Great Prince as a saint, as also do other old Russian histories. Great Prince Demetrius was a spiritual son and disciple of Saint Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow (February 12), and a disciple and associate of other great figures of prayer in the Russian Land: Saint Sergius of Radonezh (September 25), Demetrius of Priluki (February 11), Saint Theodore of Rostov (November 28). The Account states:

He [Great Prince Demetrius] worried much about the churches of God, and he held the territory of the Russian land by his bravery: he conquered many enemies who had risen against us, and he protected his glorious city Moscow with wondrous walls. …The land of Russia prospered during the years of his reign.

From the time of the building of the white-walled Kremlin (1366) by Great Prince Demetrius, Moscow was called “White-Stoned.”
By the prayers of his Heavenly patron, the holy warrior Demetrius of Thessalonica, Great Prince Demetrius, in addition to his brilliant military victories, also gained the further prominence of Russia. He repelled the onslaught of the Lithuanian armies of Olgerd, he routed the Tatar army of Begich at the River Vozha (1378), and he smashed the military might of all the Golden Horde at the Battle of Kulikovo Field on September 8, 1380 (the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos), set between the Rivers Don and Nepryadva. The Battle of Kulikovo, for which the nation calls him Demetrius of the Don, became the first Russian national deed, rallying the spiritual power of the Russian nation around Moscow. The “Zadonschina,” an inspiring historic poem written by the priest Sophronius of Ryazem (1381) is devoted to this event.
Prince Demetrius of the Don was greatly devoted to the holy Great Martyr Demetrius. In 1380, on the eve of the Battle of Kulikovo, he solemnly transferred from Vladimir to Moscow the most holy object in the Vladimir Dimitriev cathedral: the icon of the Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonica, painted on a board from the grave of the saint. A chapel dedicated to the Great Martyr Demetrius was built at Moscow’s Dormition Cathedral.
The Saint Demetrius Memorial Saturday was established for church-wide remembrance of the soldiers who fell in the Battle of Kulikovo. This memorial service was held for the first time at the Trinity-Saint Sergius monastery on October 20, 1380 by Saint Sergius of Radonezh, in the presence of Great Prince Demetrius of the Don. It is an annual remembrance of the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, among whom are the schemamonks Alexander (Peresvet) and Andrew (Oslyab).
Saint Demetrius is regarded as a protector of the young, and is also invoked by those struggling with lustful temptations.