Buried in a hilltop monastery on a small Greek island, Saint Nektarios — one of the most widely known and venerated Greek Orthodox saints — draws thousands of pilgrims each year, and is known for his writings and miracles. The Greek Orthodox Church is part of the larger body of Eastern Orthodox Churches, who share a common doctrine and form of worship with each other. Although the majority of Greek Orthodox live in Greece and in the southern Balkans, they are also present in Cyprus, Anatolia, southern Caucasus and Turkey, where their patriarch and head — Bartholomew I — lives. Agios Nektarios of Aegina was born Oct. 1, 1846, in Asia Minor, now a part Turkey, into a simple but pious Christian home and given the name Anastasios. Although family funds were limited, Nektarios completed elementary school in his hometown before leaving for Constantinople (now Istanbul) at the age of 14, where he worked as a shop assistant. He regularly attended the Orthodox Church's Sunday Divine Liturgy, and was an avid reader of scripture, as well as the writings of the Orthodox Elders of the Church. In 1866, at the age of 20, Nektarios went to the island of Chios, where he was appointed a teacher. After seven years he entered the local monastery. Three years later he was made a monk, taking the name Lazarus. After a just one year he was ordained a deacon and given the name Nektarios. Having completed his studies thanks to the help of a wealthy benefactor, the deacon moved to Alexandria, where he served under the guidance of the then-Patriarch of Alexandria, Sophronios. With the patriarch's urging, Nektarios went on to complete his theological studies, graduating in 1885 from the School of Theology in Athens. He was ordained a priest in 1886. After quickly becoming known for his dedication to the Church, his prolific writings and teachings and his energy and zeal, Fr. Nektarios was soon ordained bishop, overseeing the Orthodox diocese of Pentapolis in Egypt. As a bishop Nektarios became highly admired for his virtue and purity, and was greatly loved by his flock. However, after his popularity evoked envy in higher officials, the beloved bishop was removed from office in 1890 without an explanation or trial procedure. Nektarios then returned to Greece to where he served as a monk and preacher, continuing to write his now-famous books. In 1904 he founded a monastery for women on the small island of Aegina, one of the Saronic Islands of Greece located roughly 17 miles from Athens. Named the Holy Trinity Convent, the monastery flourished and was the place where Nektarios withdrew after retiring from his teaching position at the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School in 1908, at the age of 62. He lived the rest of his days at the monastery, serving as a confessor and spiritual guide for the nuns and also priests who would come from distant cities. Known for his holiness and piety, the bishop would receive many visits from people asking for healing. In September 1920 he was taken to the local hospital by one of the nuns in the convent, despite his protest, due to the great pain he was experiencing linked to a long-standing illness. Placed in the same ward as the poor, Nektarios remained among them for two months before passing away the evening of Nov. 8. The first miracle attributed to the saint came soon after his death when a nurse came to prepare his body for its transfer to Aegina for burial. When the nurse removed the sweater Nektarios had been wearing, she placed it on the bed next to his, which was occupied by a paralytic. As soon as the sweater touched the bed the paralytic immediately regained his strength and stood up, giving glory to God. He was officially recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961, and his feast day is celebrated Nov. 9 in the Greek Orthodox Church. Each year on that day services are held at the monastery and a special procession takes place in the morning, during which the saint’s remains are carried through the streets of Aegina. Pilgrims who come to pray at Nektarios’ tomb follow the Orthodox custom of making a threefold sign of the cross and kiss icons with the saint’s image. In another Orthodox practice visitors often lay their head on the saint’s stone tomb, wet from the humidity, while offering prayers that are usually answered. Since Pope Francis’ election in March 2013, he has met Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I on several occasions, with the aim of strengthening ecumenical ties between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In addition to signing two join-declarations last year, the two experienced a shared moment of prayer in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the Roman Pontiff’s trip to the Holy Land in May 2014. They reunited a month later at the Vatican for a June 8, 2014, invocation for peace between Israel and Palestine. Francis and the patriarch also shared an emotional embrace during the Pope’s visit to Turkey in November 2014, which was a trip made largely upon the patriarch’s invitation to participate in the celebration of the feast of St. Andrew. Since then Francis has spoken on several occasions about the steps that need to be done in continuing to strengthen relations between the churches, and has mentioned that finding a common date for the celebration of Easter is a priority that could happen in the near future.
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