November 9, 2015

Saint Nektarios on Saint Augustine of Hippo

By John Sanidopoulos

Saint Nektarios knew well the theological errors of Saint Augustine, which he does not hesitate to mention in his writings, but he also greatly admired his love for God. He especially loved a book first translated into Greek by Eugenios Voulgaris (1716-1806) called the Kekragarion of the Divine and Holy Augustine (printed in Leipzig in 1804 and reprinted in Moscow in 1824), which is more popularly known in the West as the Meditations of Saint Augustine. Some have assumed that this work was a Greek translation of Augustine's Confessions, but both the Confessions and the City of God by Augustine were not translated into Greek until the 20th century (both by A. Dalezios).

The Meditations of Saint Augustine were immensely popular during the middle ages and seem to have provided food for the prayer of many generations of Christians in the West, and especially of many monks and nuns. However, the meditations presented in this book are not the work of Saint Augustine of Hippo, but were merely inspired by his writings and thought. In the middle ages it was customary to copy or edit the works of great people and pen their name to the finished product. These meditations inspired by Saint Augustine were repeatedly copied and passed down from hand to hand throughout Europe down to the fifteenth century; they were sufficiently well known that soon after printing was invented they were published at Milan as early as 1475.

Saint Nektarios, especially in his latter years, was a great poet and hymn writer of the Church, inspired by his great love for God, the Theotokos and the Saints. If one reads his Triadikon, which are odes and hymns to the Holy Trinity, they are somewhat reminiscent of the theological poetry of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, a writer, incidentally, whom he does not seem to have studied. Yet both of these Orthodox poets wrote poetry vibrant with Divine Love or Eros. They are hymns that not only are prayers to God, but they praise Him and exhort fellow Christians to lead a godly life. Books like the Triadikon and Theotokarion, which is a book of odes and hymns to the Theotokos, were written by Saint Nektarios to be used by pious Orthodox Christians as an aid in their private prayers.

The Meditations of Saint Augustine, which were inspired by the writings of Saint Augustine and not his own work, have a similar flavor to the poetic works of Saint Nektarios. Thus, in 1910 he produced a two-volume poetic version of the Meditations of Saint Augustine, based on the translation of Eugenios Voulgaris, which he also titled the Kekragarion. The term kekragarion is employed by Greek Orthodox to denote Psalms 140,141,129 and 116, that are chanted at Vespers. It is derived from the opening words of Psalm 140: "Kyrie ekekraxa pros se" ("Lord I have cried out unto You"). It is used as the title of this book because its contents are in the spirit of these Psalms. The full title of this work is: Kekragarion of the Divine and Holy Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Put Into Verse in Accordance with the Tonal Base, Following the Translation of Eugenios Voulgaris. This is not a liturgical book, nor is it designed to be chanted, but it is to be simply read for edification, which is why he found it necessary to clarify the translation of Voulgaris. At the end of the second volume, Saint Nektarios appends one of his own poetic creations, a beautiful and very moving set of hymns meant to be chanted, in which he calls upon our Lord Jesus Christ and His divine mercy.

Unaware that this was not in fact a work of Saint Augustine, Saint Nektarios expresses high praise to Saint Augustine for this work in his Prologue. He praises it as being authored by a man filled "with divine love and divinely inspired eros" who "worshiped the divine with all his strength, and expressed his divine desire by raising his mind and heart to the divine Creator of the Universe." He "seeks to understand the glory of the divine majesty and is satisfied. Here shines with divine light the spirit of the sacred writer, his great and pure mind." Lastly he calls it a "wonderful sacred book."

To download a copy of this book by Saint Nektarios in Greek, see here.