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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saint Nikephoros of Chios (+ 1821)

St. Nikephoros of Chios (Feast Day - May 1)

Saint Nikephoros, the "most luminous star of the Church of Christ," who delighted the hearts of the faithful "with divinely inspired teachings," was born around 1750 at Kardamyla on the Greek island of Chios, and his family name was Georgios, or Georgos. When he was still very young, he became sick with a pestilential disease. His parents vowed that if he recovered, they would offer him to the Mother of God to serve Her at the famous Byzantine Monastery of Nea Moni, which was dedicated to Her. He did get well, and so the parents took him to the monastery, where he was placed under the guidance of the venerable Elder Anthimos Hagiopateritis.

Later, he was sent to the city of Chios to be educated in its schools by the priest Fr Gabriel Astrakaris and Fr. Neophytos Kavsokalyvitis (a Jew who had become an Athonite monk and later director of the school). St Nikephoros remained close to these priests throughout the period of his education in the city, where he developed a love for learning, and a respect for those who taught others. He also met St Athanasios Parios (June 24), who was the Director of the school in the city of Chios. The greatest influence on his life was St Makarios of Corinth (April 17), whom he met even before he met St Athanasios. St Makarios was at Chios in 1780, left for a time, then returned in 1790. St Nikephoros saw St Makarios frequently, and learned much from him. After finishing his education, St Nikephoros returned to the monastery and was ordained a deacon.

When St Athanasios Parios reorganized the school of Chios, he appointed Nikephoros as one of its teachers. At the same time, he was also given a blessing to preach the the gospel at Nea Moni and elsewhere.

While serving as a teacher, St Nikephoros was called to become the Abbot of Nea Moni. Until 1802, the monks had managed the monastery's affairs without any audits. In that year, however, the monastery was fined 600,000 piasters, and some of the monastery's estates had to be sold to pay the amount. Suspecting that the affairs of the monastery were not being properly administered, the citizens asked that Fr Nikephoros be made Abbot. They knew he despised worldly possessions, and so they had full confidence in him. They also decided that an audit of the monastery accounts would be made every year.

It was not easy for St Nikephoros to assume this burden, for he was not familiar with the many responsibilities of a Superior. He would have preferred solitude and study, but he applied himself to his new duties. During the next two years, he tried to resolve conflicts, and to raise the moral spirit of the monks by teaching and by personal example. There were many people above him and below him who did not appreciate his efforts, however, and they plotted against him. Unaccustomed to quarrels and intrigues, he was unable to complete his two year term in office. Therefore, he left and sought refuge in the Hermitage of St George at Resta.

Although he was unable to govern these monks, St Nikephoros did excel in his personal life, and in guiding many people to virtue. He also composed church services and hymns to various saints, including Sts Niketas, John, and Joseph (May 20), and St Matrona of Chios (October 20).

The companions of St Nikephoros at Resta were a retired priest (who had also been a teacher) called Fr Joseph, and St Makarios of Corinth. Fr Joseph had lived on Mount Athos for a while, then settled on Chios. He also composed church services, including one to the New Martyr St Nicholas the New (October 31), which had been published in Venice in 1791. In 1812, St Athanasios Parios retired as Director of the schools of Chios, and joined St Nikephoros and the others at Resta.

St Nikephoros devoted himself to spiritual struggles, study, and writing. He also engaged in physical work of an agricultural nature. He planted olive and fig trees, cypresses, and pines. He also encouraged others to plant trees, for he understood that a lack of trees led to poverty, and that by planting trees one's material resources could be improved. The saint would sometimes tell those who came to him for Confession to plant so many trees as a penance.

In 1805, on his deathbed, St Makarios entrusted St Nikephoros with the task of completing and publishing his book The New Leimonarion. This book contained the Lives and church services of various martyrs, ascetics, and other saints. It is remarkable in that three saints collaborated on this book about saints, St Makarios, St Nikephoros, and St Athanasios Parios.

By writing so many saints' Lives and church services, St Nikephoros showed that he considered them important and beneficial. Not only did he provide the biographical details about these saints, he also expressed the Orthodox view of God and man, the beauty of the virtues, and spiritual concepts such as theosis (divinization), inner attention, ceaseless prayer, purification, and asceticism in general.

Like St Makarios of Corinth, St Nikephoros was also known as a trainer of martyrs. Those who abandoned Christianity and embraced Islam, and later repented of their actions, went to him to confess their sin. He helped them to prepare to wash away their apostasy by shedding their blood as martyrs. Mindful of the Lord's words, "Whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in heaven" (Mt. 10:33) they believed that only after a public reaffirmation of their faith in Christ before the Muslim authorities (which inevitably resulted in a sentence of death) could their sin be forgiven.

St Nikephoros prepared them with prayer, fasting, prostrations, and by encouraging them to remain strong when they went to their deaths. Thus fortified, they endured the most horrible tortures with astonishing courage. Not only did the martyrs themselves receive grace and forgiveness from God, but their example encouraged others to remain firm in the Orthodox Faith.

In addition to those whom he prepared personally, many others were also inspired to martyrdom through his published Lives and services to the martyrs.

Although St Nikephoros had the grace of working miracles, this is not the only reason that he is venerated as a saint. His holy life and character are also important considerations. A saint is one who is free from all vice and possesses all the virtues through divine grace. The people of Chios recognized that St Nikephoros was humble, gentle, free from anger, and filled with love for others. That is why, even in his lifetime, they regarded him as a saint.

St Nikephoros was of medium height, with a pale and gentle face, and a large black beard. Although St Nikephoros probably reposed in the summer of 1821, his Feast Day is designated as May 1. He died in a home near the Church of St Paraskevi, where he sometimes stayed overnight when he was unable to get back to Resta. His body was brought back to Resta, and was placed in a grave where both St Athanasios Parios and the Monk Nilos Kalognomos had once been buried.

The holy relics of St Nikephoros were uncovered in 1845 when the monk Agathangelos of Hydra saw in his dream the place of his burial, and they were brought to the Metropolitan Church of Chios by Metropolitan Sophronios of Chios (later Patriarch of Alexandria). Many years later, the Guild of Tanners asked for the relics and placed them in the Church of Saint George. In 1907, an icon of St Nikephoros was painted (posted below), and a church service was composed in his honor.


From the Writings of Saint Nikephoros

- Fortunate is the man who has come to have God as his helper and to have his hopes in Him alone. Let the Devil bear malice towards him, let all men persecute him and plot against him, let all his adversaries fight against him - he never fears anyone, because he has God as his helper. He remains always a victor, always glorified, always happy, always rich, always cheerful and joyful, even if he happens to fall in extreme poverty and into a great many adverse and grievous circumstances of the present life. For inasmuch as he hopes in Almighty God, he does not despair, he is not sorrowful, is not anxious, but expects help from Above. Fortunate, then, is such a man and worthy to be deemed happy, just as the Prophet-King David regards such a man as blessed, saying: "Blessed is he whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God." Such were all the Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Holy Ascetics and all the Saints from the beginning of time.

- Although God's saints have no need of glory and honor from men, since they enjoy heavenly and divine glory, living in eternity according to Solomon, and their souls are in the hand of God, and their names are recorded in the book of life, nevertheless it is our indispensable duty to write their lives and achievements for their glorification and honor, and consequently to praise them and pronounce them blessed, as faithful servants of God, or rather as genuine friends of His. For according to Basil the Great, the honor that is given to the best of fellow-servants is proof of goodwill towards our common Lord. This is especially true if these good servants of God are not simply saints, if they did not simply struggle for their own salvation, but were also public benefactors, who struggled for the salvation of many, and made myriads of efforts towards this end.


Miracle


One local story still told of St Nikephoros is that, one day while he was away from the hermitage, his milk goat was stolen. He returned home to find his disciple angry and sorrowing over the loss. St Nikephoros calmed him saying: "Don't be angry. The thief may have been a poor man. We had the goat long enough, let someone else have her now." No sooner had he finished consoling his disciple than the theif arrived in tears, and confessed that he had slaughtered the goat but found it impossible to sell the meat. St Nikephoros freely forgave him the theft, saying: "Now go back and you'll sell the meat." On arriving home, the man's wife told him that it had already been sold. 



Apolytikion in Tone Four
Thou hast been shown to be, O Nikephoros, a most luminous star of the Church of Christ, an exceedingly rich meadow of His truth, and a melifluent clarion, delighting the hearts of the faithful with divinely inspired teachings. Wherefore intercede with Christ God for the salvation of our souls.


Kontakion

Today all of Chios honoreth Nikephoros who did take up the cross of Jesus courageously, drawing the Orthodox towards salvation, chanting with the righteous and the holy ascetics odes, songs and hymns, to offer glory to God in the highest.


Megalynarion

Let us honor with hymns the divine Nikephoros, the offspring of Chios and glory of the Monastery of Nea Moni, who did shine among priests, monastics and teachers, hymnographers and the wise.
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