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Topic of the Week – Persecution of the Faithful; An Example from the Life of St. Nektarios
Throughout Church history the faithful have been persecuted by those outside of the Church, but sometimes by those within the Church. While the former is mostly easier for the faithful to recognize at the time that it is happening, sometimes the latter is only revealed to the entire body of the Church years later. What is important for us to take away from these examples is the patience and humility with which the saints endured their predicament knowing that God who is all-seeing and all-knowing is aware of the truth even if the people are not. We should also be aware that sometimes situations where we think we know all the facts and what is going on, things are not always as they appear to be.
As St. Paisios said, “What I see around me would drive me insane if I did not know that no matter what happens, God will have the last word.”
Watch this short one minute clip about what you should do when you are persecuted When Men Persecute You, Go Outside and Dance – YouTube
“The more piously a man lives, the more the Devil forces men to anger against him, as was the case with Saul against the pious David. The more holy a person is, the more such a one is blasphemed…”
Excerpted from My Life in Christ: The Spiritual Journals of St John of Kronstadt p527
“A Christian without a cross is no Christian at all.” – St. John of Kronstadt
What does St. John of Kronstadt mean by this? Is he talking about the cross we wear around our necks? If not, what other cross is he talking about? Why is it that if we don’t have a cross, we are not a Christian?
Middle School/High School
“One beautiful spring day, five clerics and a well-dressed secretary were having a meeting of sorts somewhere in the office of the Patriarchate. The morning was very hot, the Liturgy was over, and an obsessive matter was preoccupying the clerics as they relaxed to drink their coffee. Three of these clerics were archimandrites who held offices at key posts in various communities; the fourth was the bishop of Nubia, and the fifth a young deacon.
“Are you so afraid of Nektarios?” the bishop asked quietly as he peeled his banana and wiped his long beard with a handkerchief.
“With all due respect, Your Grace, you cannot possibly imagine what harm and destruction the fanaticism which Nektarios has created can bring” one of the archimandrites replied.
“Nektarios” continued another, “wears blinders, like those of a race horse, and cannot see anything beyond the ascetic life. He has absolutely no understanding of the struggle that our country is going through, nor of our method of diplomacy. He would like to fancy that we live in the era of the Fathers of the Church, I believe. He is one of those… that you, Your Grace, once coined ‘soul savers’. You understand, of course, that with the attitude he has, what it would mean if he were made patriarch, everything we own would certainly be divided among the barefoot natives and beggars, and the coffers would be left empty. If such a thing happened… woe to us… woe to the Greek element.”
“Hmmmm… in one way you are right” the bishop murmured, swallowing his last bite of banana. “But His Beatitude the Patriarch, is proud of him and loves him dearly. He is his spiritual child, his creation. I know of no other whom he has taught with such zeal and fatherly love to be a theologian. I am afraid that I foresee complications, a struggle.”
“Well, not quite, everything can be arranged” replied that same archimandrite.
“I really do have my doubts… Tell me, how can it be arranged?” inquired the bishop.
“You doubt? You mean you haven’t been informed?”
“Well, I vaguely remember being told something…”
“Don’t you worry, once the old man is informed properly as to what he is up against… once Nektarios is accused by a respected person for the two-facedness of his character… And I just happened to have been his roommate. You realize, of course, that Patriarch Sophronios, may his years be many, is quite unforgiving when it comes to moral sins. He is most unmerciful when it comes to such things, and he does not hesitate to punish wherever he must. In fact, such punishing actually rejuvenates him… it makes him vigorous.”
“How do you know this… Have you seen something like what you are describing?” asked the bishop.
The converser cautiously looked around the room, took a deep breath, and replied:
“Has something like what I’ve described happened, you ask. It most definitely has. Archimandrite Amphilochios here is in a position to present several incidents. Have you anything to declare upon this disputed subject, Amphilochios?”
“Well, as for hypocrisy, our eyes have certainly seen everything,” he replied in his deep voice. “We of the Patriarchate are not easily deceived. It is extremely rare for us to be wrong on such matters.”
“What do you mean?” demanded the bishop.
“Well, I’ve seen him chat with the beauties that parade in here from dawn until dusk, supposedly for confession. I have also heard subtle implications made by him to the admiring girls who listen to his sermons. You must understand, we are most specialized in picking such things up…. The signs that give a person away never change.”
“Definitely, definitely,” the bishop agreed. “Others have also spread rumors that…”
“And what truly ruins him, of course, is his ambition… the ‘thank you’ that some say he said at the banquet was a disgrace.”
The third archimandrite who was sitting behind a desk cut in. “The thank you was not said by him, Amphilochios. It was actually added by some others. However I have associated with many wicked and ambitious persons in m life, and I swear that I have never before met anybody quite as bad as him. I am horrified, my brothers, absolutely horrified, and angry as well” he said as he looked around the room to the others, making sure that they were getting aroused. He then continued, “He works with a very clever method and downright fiendishness to arouse the public. What has been established here must definitely be carefully presented with proper interpretation to His Beatitude. Public outcry is unsilenceable. This man does not intend to overcome his opponents by virtues, but by properly and cleverly manipulating the crowds. He lets it be known that Patriarch Sophronios is almost ninety and because of his age has become incapable and useless.”
“Who exactly was present at this incriminating banquet?” asked the well dressed male secretary.
“Who?…. Well, just about everybody” answered the third archimandrite.
“Such as?” demanded the secretary.
“Amphilochios was there for one, and the deacon as well, isn’t that so Triphon?”
“Yes” the young deacon agreed sheepishly….
“The citizens of Cairo are talking… They are eagerly waiting for the opportunity to push Nektarios into overthrowing the holy old man, so that he can take the throne of the patriarch for himself” added one of the other archimandrites.
“Why, that is villainy!” the bishop exclaimed. “Then what are we waiting for, we must take our positions to protect the patriarch. However, I still cannot believe that he would have said something as self-incriminating as ‘thank you’ at the banquet. He is much too clever for that.”
“Indeed… It is for this purpose that holy Providence has put us here” Amphilochios asserted. “Only that…”
“Only that what?… Continue your thought” the bishops urged.
“Only that we need courage and care, so as to handle the situation properly.”
“And do you think that we lack these?”
“Not at all.”
“Then on with it” the bishop said happily. “Notify all others who have been initiated into the matter accordingly, and tomorrow evening I will request an audience with the patriarch. Prepare yourselves well, be ready to properly answer all questions that might be asked, and when doing so, by all means, make sure you are explicit and documentative. In no way are you to be confusing. If, by chance, something does go wrong and we fail, you do realize that we will have been better off if the desert swallowed us up, as the saying goes.”
“Relax, your Grace. The witnesses and the documentation that we shall have will make His Beatitude the Patriarch hurry to get his scepter so that he can chastise him. Metropolitan Nektarios of Pentapolis’ fate, now that you too are on the side of righteousness, has been sealed. He is in our hands.”
A choked laugh was heard from the area of the first archimandrite, and suddenly, on the branches of a tree just outside their office window, a desert dwelling bird came to sit. It cried three times. It cried strangely and sadly.”
Answer these questions:
What is the real reason the bishops conspire against St. Nektarios?
What are they going to do to create problems for him with the Patriarch? As Orthodox Christians, what should the hierarchs have done about their envy and jealousy instead of allowing it to direct their thoughts and actions?
Are the clergy and hierarchs immune from the passions that the rest of us have? How much more does the evil one try to ensnare them since their actions affect the entire Orthodox Church and all the faithful? In addition to praying for our family and loved ones, we need to pray fervently for our clergy and hierarchs!
“…A rumor that people wished him to succeed Patriarch Sophronios had been circulating. He had heard that not only people consisting of all the classes of Greeks, but Roman Catholics and Protestants as well, had been praising his virtues, he simple considered his duties or the most ‘elemental obligations’ of a monk, and no less for a patriarchal trustee as himself. The future he contemplated, however, as opposed to the people’s wish, was one in which he could achieve the things he considered truly important, such as extending his ministry to the unfortunate Arabs as well as to more of his own flock. These were things he hoped to do, dreams he hoped to come true when he was first ordained a priest. He now decided that he would finally do all these things, so he set upon making a plan to be able to accomplish them…[Just then the Patriarch’s deacon came in with a letter.]
“My respects to you, Your eminence. May I come in?” he whispered, holding back his thoughts. He bowed as is the required etiquette, and placed an envelope on the desk. The seal on the envelope was the familiar patriarchal seal. “Read it immediately, your Eminence, but do not get ready to go to the patriarch afterwards. He is ill, and will not receive you” he added quickly, as if he was reciting a special message.
“Where do you come from?” Nektarios asked.
“From his Beatitude….”
Nektarios opened the envelope and proceeded to read:
The Metropolitan of Pentapolis, Nektarios, is relieved of his duties as an Administrator of the Patriarchal Office of Cairo, as well as Patriarchal Representative and Member of the Synod of the Church.
His Grace is allowed, however, if he so pleases, to retain his room in the dormitory for sleeping, studying, and writing, to dine in the dining room with the other priests and to remain, in general, on the patriarchal grounds. Furthermore, he is allowed to perform the sacraments when called upon, such as matrimony, baptism, funerals, requiems, and feast days.
He is forbidden to travel to other cities within the jurisdiction of the patriarchate, even to the old city of Cairo, without authoritative permission.
Cairo, 3rd of May, 1890
+Sophronios of Alexandria
“Why?” his lips whispered in disbelief. His distressed face looked up at the deacon, searching his eyes for some answer.
“Don’t even go there. His beatitude will not receive you” was the deacon’s harsh answer.
“But, why?” Nektarios asked again.
“Hm, who knows… You probably did not make sure that you took care of your people. You know, your confidents over there. You should have thought more of keeping them pleased, so that they could be on your side” the deacon replied, as if doing him a favor. He dusted his robes and gazed harshly and painlessly at the tear-filled Nektarios.
“It is clearly jealousy and hatred, but I am shocked as to why anyone would be jealous of me” Nektarios said.
“Don’t go to Alexandria, but even if you do, the Patriarch will not receive you. Besides, he is ill.”
“Very well, my son. Go with the blessing of the Virgin, and take care that you never make our crucified Lord sorrowful.”
As the unexpected guest departed rudely slamming the door behind him, Nektarios’ hand which was still holding the paper just layed on his desk numb, almost dead. Streams of tears started flowing and Nektarios’ body stood still, motionless from the shock.
“And now what?” he whispered to himself solemnly. “Just like that, without reason, justification, or explanation? Not even an invitation to discuss the matter?” Then he thought to himself “Maybe I did something against the rules without realizing it. I think I recall that someone informed me that I responded with the word ‘thank you’ to the well wishes at the banquet. But that is certainly imaginary.”
“In any case,” he proclaimed loudly as he stood before his desk, “I respect him. I love him, and I shall never forget all that he did for me.”
It was then that he was overcome with anxiety and felt a bodily crisis of sorts come on… Just as he was about to reach the peak of this sick feeling, his tearful eyes looked towards the crucifix for strength, and he was immediately visited by a holy, calming feeling which caused him to sigh from relief. Sitting down to further relax, he suddenly became overwhelmed by a happy feeling. As he took out his handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to wipe his eyes, he whispered to himself “temptation”. The evil one had come like an unexpected crusader to bother Nektarios, but he was overcome. Nektarios silently prayed “Lord, do as Thy will… Thy will be done.” Just then, he remembered the second paragraph of the patriarchal paper.Just then he remembered the second paragraph of the patriarchal paper. “His Grace is allowed, however, if he so pleases, to retain his room in the dormitory for sleeping, studying and writing…”
“Patience” he thought to himself. He remembered Saint Clement of Alexandria who had spoken of patience as the tearsoaked robe of all hermits.
“Let me be humbled in the eyes of the people… It does not matter, I shall have patience” he uttered to himself. He then kneeled before the crucifix and made the sign of the cross.”
Answer these questions:
Sometimes when we are accused of something (whether true or untrue) our first inclination is to try to justify ourselves, our words and actions. What was St. Nektarios’ reaction to the Patriarch’s letter?
What would your reaction have been if you had received a letter like that and in terms of worldly thinking, you ‘didn’t deserve it’?
Sometimes when someone tells us something we don’t want to hear we become angry with them. What was St. Nektarios’ reaction to the deacon and, in fact, what were his final instructions to the departing deacon?
How did St. Nektarios find consolation in his situation?
What does how he reacted tell us about his character and his spiritual life? How can we try to be more like him when things don’t go the way we would like them to?
Why do you think God allowed these things to happen to St. Nektarios?
“By necessity people in the community began to find out about what happened to Nektarios. The first to learn that Nektarios was relieved of his duties as metropolitan were those who had dealings with the patriarchal office, then the members of the community who awaited the performance of certain church ceremonies, and most sadly, then the needy, poor, and destitute who depended on his charity. They were the persons who hurt, perhaps, most of all, because Nektarios, despite the high position that was bestowed upon him, did everything in his power to help them, and, for that, they were eternally grateful….As the days and weeks passed, more and more people started to find out about what happened to Nektarios. Many felt compassion for him, and most were perplexed.“I cannot understand” both rich and poor wondered out loud, “was the Patriarch swayed by the plotters just like that, out of the clear blue sky?”…
Answer these questions:
Why was the Patriarch so easily influenced by the jealous bishops?
If you read the rest of the book, and watch the movie, you will learn that St. Nektarios endured all the slander against him in silence (without lashing out at his persecutors) and with saintly patience.
A Message from Maria Spanos
I am passionate about our Orthodox Christian faith and seek to help others learn as much as they can about it. My purpose here is to share online resources that help strengthen our relationship with Christ and bind us closer to His Church. I believe they are invaluable in learning about our precious Orthodox Tradition, and are a great aid for teaching family members, friends and others about Orthodoxy. ~Maria
Two of my favorite quotes:
“A true Christian behaves in this life so that it may be a preparation for the future one and not only a life here below. In his actions, he does not think what will be said of him here but of what will be said there in heaven; he represents to himself that he is always in the presence of God, of the angels and all the saints, and remembers that someday they will bear witness of his thoughts, words, and deeds.” — Saint John of Kronstadt
“Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.”
— St. Theophan the Recluse