(Originally posted here)
St. Nektarios, Bishop of Pentopolis the Wonderworker, is a great saint. He has helped my husband and me countless times, and continues to help us. On one of our trips to his monastery a sister laid out sweets and coffee for us pilgrims (we were a bus load) and told us something that has remained with me, “The saint appeared to one of the sisters after his death and said: ‘No one can come to my monastery unless I first invite them.’ And so, since you are all here today that means the saint is here welcoming you himself.” Unworthy as we are, he invited us to visit him four times since living here in Greece. The first three times happened within one year. We didn’t plan it, it just worked out that way.
Icon of the monastery
In October of this year Fr. John and I once again went down to Athens with friends, and through the prayers of St. Nektarios, managed to visit his monastery for the fourth time. Canadian friends, now living in America, had come to visit us here for a few weeks, but that month had loads of protests and strikes in Greece. So, we put off our trip because the boats were all striking. When we finally did go down, we found out the strike had continued. We all begged the saint to help us get to his island.
On our last day we drove to Pireaus again (the port city below Athens) and thanked God when we saw the boats running. We parked our rental and bought our tickets. Once on the island we ran to purchase bus tickets to the monastery. And what did we find out? The buses were striking.
We walked over to a car rental place and asked how much a rental would be for a few hours – far more than we were willing to pay. So the six of us got into two cabs and off we went to venerate our dear, revered saint.
We arrived and went immediately into the Holy Trinity chapel, the chapel where St. Nektarios served his last Divine Liturgy. That particular day there were lots of pilgrims, some Russians, us Canadians, and a bus full of Romanians. The church was full of pilgrims waiting to venterate his skull, encased in a silver reliquary.
The ceiling in the particular chapel is covered in hanging oil lamps (candilia). They were all offered in honour of the saint’s miracles and answered prayers. They are votive offerings. (I write about tamas in my book The Scent of Holiness, actually I refer to these very oil lamps.) They make the chapel look even more endearing.
The saint’s holy relics, Holy Trinity chapel
Once we venerated we sort of went our own ways, exploring the monastery on our own. The actual complex that pilgrims are permitted entry is small. There is a courtyard, a book store, three chapels – this one, another directly beside it, and a third that held the saint’s tomb. The saint’s cell is the only other part of the monastery (besides the huge church dedicated to him, just outside of the moanstery) that is shared with the general public.
My personal favorite place at his monastery (unfortunately I don’t have a photo of this) is in the teeny tiny chapel that mostly consists of his marble tomb. His presence, though strong all over the whole island – not just the monastery – seems especially strong there. They say that many times pilgrims put their ears to his tomb and can hear the sound of his feet shuffling. Like many saints, St. Gerasimos, St. Nektarios is busy helping people.
After I was finished prayering, on my way to his cell, just outside the door, I saw a very small jasmine flower hanging from a vine above and it had the most beautiful aroma. I thought of how amazing it is that such a small flower could be so fragrant. As I was thinking this I looked down and there was another jasmine flower that had fallen from the tree. I picked it up and smelt it, it too, though ‘dead’ was fragrant. And I immediately thought of St. Nektarios. “Though thou hast reposed, Yet thou livest to eternity, and lo thy body is a source of grace, Thus clearly showing forth our Saviour’s victory over death” (Ode 5, Paraklesis to St. Nektarios). I asked one of the sisters for a blessing to keep that ‘dead’ jasmine flower, and she told me, “The saint planted that jasmine tree with his own hands.” I felt very blessed.
His cell is really two rooms, one that was clearly for entertaining – lots of books and photographs – and the other his rather small bedroom, with simple furniture and walls covered in icons. I spoke for some time with the nun who was attending his cell, she was Russian and interested in the fact that we are from Canada and studying in Greece.
After this we all walked down to the very large, very beautiful church dedicated in St. Nektarios’ honour. This is the largest church I have ever seen, with the sole exception of the Agia Sophia in Constantinople (living in Greece requires me to call it by this name). This photo is taken from above, on the pathway down to the church, it does not convey the church’s magnitude. I love how big and beautiful it is, so fitting for one so humble in life. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
Inside, the church is still being finished. The icons are magnificant (though the walls, still bare), the floor in front of the iconostasis is a mosiac of Aegina and the surrounding Aegean Sea with all the holy sites on the island marked. It’s very impressive.
Off to the right is another small chapel where another reliquary is held. The walls in this chapel are covered in exquiste icons: saints that clearly influenced St. Nektarios, and contemporary elders, clearly influenced by the saint. The silver reliquary has small images embossed all over it, they tell the saint’s life story.
MIA: the two Matthews
After we all took turns praying privately to the saint, we took out an old, taddered copy of his hymn “Agne Parthene” (O Pure Virgin). We hadn’t practiced, perhaps we should have, but we were really enthused to sing one of the saint’s own hymns in his honour – and of course in honour of the Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos. We did a fairly good job, until of course a group of Romanian women, overhearing us from inside the main nave, came in to watch and video tape us. That’s how life is I suppose, we’re more prone to mistakes when an audience is watching. It didn’t matter though, we sung as best as we could and we were all pleased to be able to do so in the presence of the saint, after such an unsure journey, not knowing whether or not he would receive us.
And so, this is how we finished our wonderful pilgrimage to the monastery in Aegina, to visit that great saint of our century, the Bishop of Pentopolis and Wonderworker.
To them that seek healing of thee with faith ,
Come hasten O Father,
And deliver them from all pain;
For thou art a merciful physician,
O most revered wonderworker, Nectarios.
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