November 9, 2013

Saint Nektarios as an Immigrant

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The late Fr. Theoklitos Dionysiatis, in his important book about Saint Nektarios titled Saint Nektarios the Wonderworker, writes:

"The Venerable One saw that he was departing for his true homeland, in which he had 'citizenship' from the time of his pure youth as a 'fellow citizen with the saints in the house of God'. This is why he passed his Spirit-bearing life as an immigrant, as a stranger in this world in which he was a foreigner, not as a friend of the world, nor a friend of one who embraces the 'world that lies in the power of the evil one'. For this reason, those who are of this world fought against him, persecuted him and slandered him. For his passing from this earth was the passing of a Saint, 'and his path was crooked', the path of a stranger and a sojourner."

Saint Nektarios lived as an immigrant in two senses: First, he lived and died far from his homeland and, second, he felt as a stranger and sojourner, far from his true homeland, in heaven.

Saint Nektarios was born in Selybria in Eastern Thrace, went to Constantinople, then to Chios, from there he went to Athens, then traveled and remained in Alexandria, went up to Athens for theological studies and again returned to Alexandria, eventually returned to Greece in order to minister in Halkida, Fthiotida, Phokida, the Rizarios School in Athens, and finally Aegina. He was not born in what was then the free State of Greece, and he passed through many cities and lived as a stranger and sojourner.

In his will, which he drew up in Aegina, he writes among other things: "The undersigned Hierarch Nektarios Demos Kefalas, Metropolitan of Pentapolis, sojourner in Greece and residing as a resident in Aegina as a private citizen in the area of Xantos, of sane mentality and health of mind, writes today in Aegina on the second of the month of January 1920...".

From this passage we can emphasize the phrase "sojourner in Greece and residing". Sojourner means "to remain temporarily in a foreign place". Greece hosted Saint Nektarios, following the adventures he had in his life, and the Saint glorified the place of his hospitality and made it worldwide, as many Orthodox Christians from the ends of the universe come to Greece to honor the Saint and ask his help, while others for now build churches around the world in his name.

Saint Nektarios, therefore, came as an "immigrant" to Greece and lived as a stranger and sojourner, because his true homeland was in heaven. The saints live as "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb. 11:13). The Apostle Peter urged Christians: "Beloved, I plead with you as a foreigner and sojourner..." (1 Pet. 2:11). Saint Nektarios also viewed things like this not only with regards to Greece, but throughout the world.

Even during the time of his last trial, when he was ill, despite the fact that he was a Hierarch, he lived as a stranger, as inconspicuous. Fr. Theoklitos Dionysiatis writes: "So, therefore, the God-bearing ascetic and hierarch, 'the poor one who enriched many', remained inconspicuous in the hospital, waiting for God's will in a sea of bliss." This "sojourner of Greece", the "immigrant" and "stranger in this world", the "inconspicuous amid the inconspicuous", became universal, ecumenical, a wonderworking Saint who enriches those who run to him with faith and reverence.

And because lately there has been talk about immigrants and foreigners, about racism, we should be troubled about seeing the "immigrant" Saint Nektarios. Of course, no one is overlooking the problems that are arising for the State, especially from illegal immigration, which should be treated with discernment, sensitivity, respect for cultural traditions of the country, and with justice. This is the work of the State, but the case of the "immigrant" and the "sojourner of Greece" and the hosted by Greece Saint Nektarios should make us carefully aware. In every immigrant we should see the pain, the wounds, the suffering, the trials accumulated, the evils and problems of the people, and we should have sensitivity and offer comfort to the soul. This is the work of the Church.

Ultimately, though, we all need to feel that we are strangers in this world, that our homeland is elsewhere, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). When Christians live as if in a foreign land, as wanderers, then they will understand every stranger, every sojourner, every immigrant.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο άγιος Νεκτάριος ως μετανάστης", November 2012. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.