August 11, 2011

Saint Nephon II, Patriarch of Constantinople (+ 1508)

St. Nephon, Patriarch of Constantinople (Feast Day - August 11)

Saint Nephon, Patriarch of Constantinople, was born in the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece of mixed parentage, his mother being a noble Greek lady and his father a rich and learned Albanian lord. He was tonsured a monk at Epidaurus by his elder Anthony, and from Nicholas his name was changed to Nephon. After the death of Elder Anthony, he met up with the wise Elder Zacharias where they visited many places and strengthened the Christians. They settled in Ochrid at a monastery dedicated to the Theotokos. When Zacharias was chosen to be Metropolitan of Ochrid, Nephon departed for Mount Athos.

He went to Mount Athos, where he occupied himself with the copying of books. It is said that "he could not read an ecclesiastical book without shedding tears." He visited Vatopaidi, Pantocrator, Great Lavra and Dionysiou Monasteries. During this time he was ordained deacon and priest. He impressed all the Athonites with his simple wisdom and deep humility.

The Saint was later chosen Metropolitan of Thessaloniki in 1482, which he accepted against his wishes, and four years later occupied the vacant patriarchal throne in Constantinople until 1488. In 1498 he was enthroned Ecumenical Patriarch again, but he was banished by the Sultan to Jedrene where he lived in exile. The Wallachian [Romanian] Prince Radul (1496-1508) besought him from the Sultan and named Nephon as Archbishop of the Wallachians, where "they accepted him as an apostle of the Lord." He especially helped the Romanians escape the traps of papal propaganda. For his wisdom they named him the "New Chrysostom".

According to St. Nikolai Velimirovich: "The Wallachian Prince Radul was a just man and performed many good deeds. He brought St. Nephon out of bondage in Jedrene and made him the Archbishop of Bucharest. But suddenly, Radul committed a dreadful transgression: he gave his sister to be the wife of the corrupt Prince Bogdan of Moldavia while Bogdan's wife was still living. Radul did not heed the protests of Nephon. Nephon prophesied an evil end for Radul, publicly excommunicating him from the Church and departed from Wallachia. Shortly thereafter, there was a drought and a great famine in Wallachia and Radul fell into an incurable illness and his entire body was covered with sores. And because of the stench, no one was able to approach him. When Radul was buried, his grave shook for three days, as once did the grave of Empress Eudoxia, the persecutor of St. John Chrysostom." 

Nephon II served as Patriarch of Constantinople on three different occasions. His first term was from 1486 to 1488. He was then restored to the Ecumenical Throne from 1497 to 1498, and was restored again in 1502, the last time serving only one year. 

Banished under accusation, the Saint went to Mount Athos, at first to Vatopaidi Monastery, and then to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner (or Dionysiou). He concealed his rank and held the lowest position. By God's providence, his rank was revealed to the brethren of the Monastery. The Athonite Gerontikon says the following details about this: 

St. Nephon, the Patriarch of Constantinople, before he ascended the episcopal throne had been a monk at St. Dionysios' holy monastery (on Mt. Athos). After he had directed the Church of Christ for many years, he resigned from the throne and returned to the monastery where he toiled for his repentance, without revealing his identity. 

He said that his name was Nicholas and that he desired to be a monk. The abbot warned him first that it was customary in the monastery for every beginner to be assigned the task of caring for the monastery's animals. The saint accepted with joy and stayed outside where the stable was and took care of the mules, feeding, watering, and keeping them clean. He thus demonstrated insurmountable patience and humility. 

Every night the monks saw a pillar of light rising from the stable to the sky. They told the abbot about it, and the abbot in turn prayed to God to reveal to him the meaning of this supernatural happening. And indeed it was revealed immediately to the abbot that this person whom he had assigned the task of animal care, who also had to carry firewood from the forest, was the Nephon the Ecumenical Patriarch who long ago had been one of the brotherhood of the monastery. 

On the same night of this revelation to the abbot, who was overwhelmed by the Saint's total humility, he called all the priests and deacons and asked them to vest and to stand in line with the other monks carrying the liturgical fans, candles and incense, waiting to receive the Saint when he returned from the forest leading the animals and carrying firewood. When he arrived wearing his old raso and with dust on his uncombed hair, they all fell on their knees asking for his blessing and saying, "Our Patriarch, your humility is enough! Take your shepherd's staff and lead us all to the pasture of salvation!"

But even after this, the Saint shared various tasks with the brethren. He died in peace on August 11, 1508 at 90 years of age. 

The relics of St Nephon are displayed in a special crypt in the Katholikon of Dionysiou Monastery. His skull and right arm are in a Romanian monastery. His relics are responsible for many miracles. 

St. Nephon's biography was written in 1517 by his disciple Gabriel, the Protos of Mount Athos. John Komnenos wrote a Divine Service in his honor, which was supplemented by St. Nikodemos, especially with the Lamentation hymns. In 1782 a chapel at Dionysiou was dedicated to St. Nephon. 

In 2008 the 500 year anniversary since the Falling Asleep of Saint Nephon was celebrated on Mount Athos, which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attended between 21-24 August 2008. Below are photos from this event with the Patriarch venerating the tomb of the Saint and visiting his cave at Dionysiou Monastery. 

St. Nephon also composed the "Prayer of Absolution" read at the Burial Service by the Bishop:

"O Lord Jesus Christ, by Thy divine grace, as also by the gift and power vouchsafed unto Thy holy Disciples and Apostles, that they should bind and loose the sins of men - for He said to them: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit; whosoever sins you remit, they are remitted, and whosoever sins ye retain they are retained. And whatsoever you shall bind or loose upon earth shall be bound or loosed also in Heaven." By the same power, also, transmitted to us from them, this my spiritual child, [Name], is absolved through me, unworthy though I be, from all things wherein, as mortal [He-She] have sinned against God, whether in word or deed or thought and with all [His-Her] senses, whether voluntary or involuntary; whether with knowledge or through ignorance. If [He-She] be under the ban or excommunication of a bishop or if a priest; or has sinned by any oath; or has been bound, as a man, by any sins whatsoever, but has repented thereof with contrition of heart: [He-She] is now absolved from all those faults and bonds. May all those things which have proceeded from the weakness of [His-her] mortal nature be consigned to oblivion and be remitted to [Him-Her]. Through Thy loving-kindness; through the prayers of our Most-holy and Blessed and Glorious Lady Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary; of all the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles and all of the Saints. Amen." 

He also wrote the "Prayer For One About to Die":

"O Lord, the God of Powers, great and awesome, abundant in might and transcendent in goodness, full of mercy and compassion, incline and hear me who am vile and sinful. O my Christ, Who saved Jonah out of the belly of the whale and Daniel from the mouths of lions, deliver me at the time of death from the dreadful darkness of the prince of evil. Do not let the devil come over the deathbed of Thy servant. May my soul, O Lord, never see the darkness of the demons, neither in this life, nor in the future one, neither in the agony of death, nor at my ascent to heaven. May not the accursed dragon deride my miserable soul when it abandons this depraved body. Do not let the filthy spirit of fetor and stench snatch it, O my Lord, my Christ, my Jesus, my God, my Light, and carry it away to perdition. O my Master, God of Heaven and earth, may my eyes never see his hideous and darksome face. But at the time of my end, O my holy, thrice holy and glorified King, send me Thy mercy and truth. O my God, at that time send Michael, the commander-in-chief, over Thy servant. Send me Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, the great and bright generals, with all their immaculate and thrice-blessed army, to crush the insatiable dragon of Hades who gnashes his teeth and wants to snatch and devour anyone living piously. O my God, at the time of my departure, sink him and all his filthy army into the abyss, in Tartarus, into outer darkness and the 'gnashing of teeth.' At that time, O my Lord Jesus Christ, my delight, my Resurrection, send the merciful and philanthropic Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, to receive my own spirit in His incomparable sweetness and immortal holiness. Send him to strengthen me with a flaming sword preceding me and crushing the evil rulers of darkness. For, if these abominations of iniquity plunge into the fire, into darkness, into the abyss, into Hades, I will be able without pain to cross the ethereal spheres to come close to Thee, the Triune Sun, to fall before Thy compassion, to kiss Thy immaculate feet, to be filled with the Deity, with Thy Holy Spirit, and confess the countless wonders Thou didst for my sake: How Thou broughtest me to repentance, gave me life, "and out of the depths of the earth again Thou broughtest me up"! I will enumerate them all before the holy angels, that I may be overcome by the effulgence of the sweetest and most delightful divine pleasure. And transported by Thy ineffable fragrance, grace, and divine beauty, I shall chant to Thee then the great Song of Songs! Hear me, O my God, even though I may transgress Thy law before Thee every day. Hear me, my King, My Redeemer, and make me worthy to enter Thy glory, just as I beseech Thee night and day, and pray to Thee, and supplicate Thy immortal and life-giving majesty. O my Lord Jesus Christ, I ardently beg Thee again and always: at the time of my departure, send me the resplendent Virgin, the most pure temple, the sacred treasury of Thy wealth, O my Christ, to strengthen me. Send me at that time the holy Forerunner and Baptist John, the luminous stars - the Apostles - the prophets and the martyrs, the preachers and evangelists, confessors, ascetics, and righteous, that Thy creature may be glorified. Yes, immortal Lord, hear me, the sinner, and enable me to attain Thy inexpressible, never aging and thrice blessed glory. But, my Lord, give rest also to every servant of Thine in the throes of death, wherever this prayer will be heard, that the foul demons be disgraced. Crush them, O Master, with Thy mighty hand. Disperse them, O Mighty One, with Thy flaming sword. Burn them with the lightning of Thy fire-breathing power, O Thou Who art the plenitude of greatness, loftiness and awe. My God, may this prayer be for refreshment and comfort, repose and tranquillity, sweet fragrance and joy, support and refuge, courage and help to all those who are on their deathbeds. Yea, Lord, God of my holy Fathers, who pleased Thee from the beginning of time to the present, do not scorn my petition, O Holy One. Do not turn away from my supplication, O Compassionate One. But implant within my prayer a double-edged sword, divine, heavenly, deadly to the demons and vengeful against the spirits of wickedness; yet filled with sympathy, forgiveness, compassion and goodness. If by chance the one dying has many sins and this prayer is read over him, may Thou lighten his burden at that time, O Lord, have mercy on his soul, O Holy One, and sanctify his ascent toward Thee. Crown him with Thyr compassions, inscribe him in the book of Thy mercy, grant him the bliss of Paradise. Overlook his iniquities with the immensity of the wealth of Thy loving-kindness. Forgive him, have mercy on his miserable soul and save it. Have pity on him, help him, have mercy on him, shield and protect him according to Thy great mercy. Show him Thy love for man. Send him angels of peace. Send him Thy immaculate love. Open to him Thy glorious embrace, flood him with all the immaterial fragrances, that the loathsome and deceitful demons may flee from him in shame. O Lord, turn them into ashes in the fire of Gehenna, for they dare to disturb and frighten the poor soul. O Lord, let this take place wherever my poor supplication is heard. Yea, O Master, Jesus Christ, Light of light, hear me, O Good One, and impart grace and mercy to my prayer. Be a helper and protector for salvation to everyone who invokes the name of vile Nephon. Hear me, O Lord; Hear me, O Lover of mankind, Holy One, and grant my request beseeching Thy mighty Name. Amen!"