St. Nectarios of Aegina is one of the most well known Greek saints of modern times, glorified by many miracles. He was born in 1846, became a monk in his youth, and later became the bishop of Pentapolis in the Alexandrian Orthodox Church. Due to intrigues and false accusations from detractors the saint was sent into retirement and exiled. Moving to Greece, he labored as a simple preacher in province of Euboea, and later founded a woman’s monastery on the island of Aegina. The bishop and elder reposed in 1920 and was ranked among the saints of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1961. Below we publish extracts from the saint’s letters, compiled by the monastery of the Paraclete in Oropos (Attica).
The Path to Happiness
There is nothing greater than a pure heart, because such a heart becomes the throne of God. Is anything more glorious than the throne of God? Of course not. This is what the Lord says to those who have a pure heart: I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (2 Cor. 6:16). Thus, who can be happier than these people? And what blessings could they lack? Aren’t there all blessings and all gifts of the Holy Spirit in their blessed souls? What else could they possibly lack? Nothing, verily nothing! Because they have the greatest goodness in their hearts—God Himself!
How those people err who seek happiness outside themselves—in foreign countries and travels, in riches and glory, in large properties and delights, in pleasures, abundance, and in empty things, which end in bitterness! Erecting a tower of happiness outside our own hearts is the same as building a house in a place that is constantly subjected to earthquakes. Such a building will soon collapse…
Brothers and sisters! Happiness is in us ourselves, and blessed is the one who has understood this. Search your hearts and be watchful of its spiritual state. Perhaps you have lost boldness before the Lord? Perhaps your conscience reproaches you for violating His commandments? Perhaps it reproaches you for injustice, for falsehood, for not fulfilling our obligations before God and neighbor? Search yourself; perhaps evil and passions have filled your heart; perhaps it has turned away to the crooked and impassible path…
Unfortunately, whoever has left his heart without attention has lost all blessings and fallen into a multitude of evils. He has cast out joy and been filled with bitterness, sorrow, and vexation of soul. He has cast out peace and gained depression, worry, and horror. He has cast out love and gained hatred. And finally, he has cast out all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that he received at his Baptism, and become kin to all evil-doing that makes a man pitiful and accursed.
Brothers and sisters! The All-Merciful God wants us all to have happiness in both this life and the next. For this He has founded His holy Church, so that it would cleanse us from sin, illumine us, make peace between us and God, and give us heavenly blessings.
The Church’s embrace is always open to us. Let those whose conscience is heavy hasten to this embrace. Let us hasten, and the Church will take up the weight of our burden, give us boldness before God, and fill our hearts with happiness and bliss.
As many of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).
What a great truth does the apostle Paul show us by these words!
Baptized Christians do not wear the old man with the passions and lusts, but have put on the new man, have put on Christ Himself, Who now lives in their hearts. And the words, “put on” do not refer to some simple and external garments, but to something deeper, something essential and inalienable.
Through our faith in Christ and through our Baptism we put on Christ Himself and become children of God, the habitation of the All-Holy Spirit, temples of God, holy and perfect, gods by grace. Thus have we thrown off corruption from ourselves and been clothed in incorruption. We have put off the man of sin and put on the man of righteousness and grace. We have cast out death and put on immortality…
But have we understood our great obligation, which through Baptism we have taken upon ourselves before God? Have we recognized that we should behave like children of God and brothers of our Lord, that we must make our own will the same as God’s will; that as children of God we must abide free from sin, that we must love Him with all our strength from the depths of our hearts and souls, that we must worship Him and impatiently await being united with Him forever? Have we thought about the fact that our hearts should be so filled with love that it will pour out upon our neighbors? Do we have the feeling that we are obligated to become saints and perfect, the image of God, children of God, and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven?
For the sake of all this we must struggle, so that we will not turn out to be unworthy of God’s call and be rejected. Yes, brothers and sisters, let us struggle with zeal and self-denial, that we might be victorious. Let none of us lose his boldness, so that we might not neglect our duty, or be cowardly, not lose heart in the face of the difficulties of spiritual battle. Therefore do we have God as our helper, Who will strengthen us on the difficult path of the virtues.
The goal of our life consists in becoming perfect and holy, to be shown to be God’s children and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us be vigilant, that for the sake of this life we might not lose the future life; that in our daily cares and fuss we might not neglect the goal of our life.
Fasting, vigil, and prayer do not by themselves bring the desired fruits, because these are not the goal of our life but the means for achieving the goal.
Adorn your lamps with virtues. Struggle to cut off emotional passions. Purify your heart of all defilement and preserve it in purity, so that the Lord would come down and abide in you; so that He would fill you with the Holy Spirit and divine gifts.
My beloved children, all your zeal and efforts should be aimed at this. This should ceaselessly be your goal and striving. Pray for this to God.
Ask the Lord every day, but within your heart and not outside of it. And when you find Him, stand in fear and trembling like the cherubim and seraphim, because your heart has become God’s throne. But in order to find the Lord, humble yourself to the ground, because the Lord hates the proud, but loves and visits the humble of heart.
If you struggle in the good fight, God will strengthen you. In struggles we discover our weaknesses, our inadequacies, and our defects. It is the mirror of our spiritual state. Whoever does not struggle will not come to know himself.
Be attentive also to your insignificant falls. If from inattentiveness some sin happens with you, do not despair but immediately take yourself in hand and fall down before God, Who has the power to raise you up.
In excessive regret pride is hidden. Therefore it is harmful and dangerous, and is often made even worse by the devil, in order to stop the progression of the struggler.
The path that leads to perfection is long. Pray to God that He would strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls, and having immediately arisen, run [to God], do not stop like children who sit in the place where they’ve fallen, crying and sobbing inconsolably.
Be vigilant and pray, so that you would not fall into temptation. Do not despair if you continually fall into old sins. Many of them are strong in essence, and come from acquired habit. Nevertheless, they are conquered with time and zeal. Let no one deprive you of your hope.
Temptations are sent to us in order to reveal our hidden passions and so that we would struggle against them, and in this way heal our souls. They are also a sign of God’s mercy; therefore, give yourself into God’s hands and ask His help, that He would strengthen you in your struggle. Hope in God never leads to despair. Temptations bring humble-mindedness. God knows how much each of us can bear and allows us temptations according to the measure of our strength. But we must also take care to be vigilant and attentive, and not lead our own selves into temptation.
Trust in God Who is Good, Strong, and Living, and He will lead you to a place of rest. Remember, that after temptations come spiritual joy, and that the Lord watches after those who endure temptations and suffering for the sake of His love. Thus, do not be fainthearted or afraid.
I do not want you to suffer and be confused by all that is happening against your will, no matter how just it might be. Such suffering testifies to the existence of egoism. Watch out for egoism, which hides under the façade of correctness. Watch out also for inappropriate regret, which springs up after deserved rebukes. Excessive distress [over this] is a temptation. The only true [proper] distress is what we feel when we are well aware of how wretched the state of our soul is. All other distress has no relation whatsoever to God’s grace.
Take care to preserve the heart, in order to guard the joy of the Holy Spirit and not allow the evil one to pour his poison into us. Be attentive, so that paradise, which is within us, would not turn into hell.
Man’s most important labor is prayer. Man was created to glorify God. This is the labor worthy of him. Only this is capable of revealing his spiritual essence. Only this justifies his extraordinary status in all the created world. Man was created in order to honor God and to be a participant in His divine goodness and blessedness.
As the image of God, man desires God, fervently strives for Him and thirsts to be raised up to Him. Through prayer and hymns, he exalts. His spirit rejoices, his heart leaps, and the more he prays, the more his soul casts off worldly lusts and is filled with heavenly blessings. And the more he separates himself from the earthly and delights of this life, the more he delights in heavenly exaltation. Our experience proves to us that this is the truth.
God accepts those prayers raised up in the proper manner; that is, with a feeling of our imperfection and unworthiness. But in order for this feeling to exist, there must be complete self-renunciation of our low selfishness, and submission to God’s commandments; there must be humility and ceaseless spiritual labor.
Entrust the Lord with all your cares—He provides for you. Do not be fainthearted and do not fret. He Who searches the hidden depths of the human soul also knows about your desires, and He has the power to fulfill them as [only] He knows how. But you must ask God and not lose boldness. Do not think that because your striving is holy you have a right to complain when your prayers are not heard. God fulfills your desires in ways that you do not know about. And so, be at peace and call out to God.
Our prayers and requests do not lead us to perfection by themselves. The Lord Who comes and abides in us leads us to perfection when we fulfill His commandments. And one of the first commandments is that in our lives, not our will but God’s be done; and that it be done exactly, as in heaven with the angels. So that we too could say, “O Lord, not as I wish, but as Thou willest, may Thy will be done on earth and it is in the heavens.” Thus, without Christ in us, prayer and requests lead us to prelest [spiritual delusion].
Acquire love. Ask God every day for love. Along with love comes a whole multitude of blessings and virtues. Love, so that you also might be loved. Give God your heart, so that you would abide in love. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him (1 Jn. 4:16).
You must maintain great caution in your relationships with others and respect each other as sacred images. Never look at his body or beauty, but watch after his soul. Be attentive to the feeling of love, because if the heart is not warmed by pure prayer, love risks being fleshly and unnatural; it risks darkening the mind and scorching the heart.
It is necessary to confess every day—perhaps our love [for another] does not proceed from our bond with Christ, does not flow from our complete and total love for the Lord. Whoever is attentive and preserves love in purity is protected from the snares of the evil one who tries to gradually turn our Christian love into general love and sensual love.
Good Christian manners
Christians, according to God’s commandments, should become saints and perfect. Perfection and sanctity are first engraved deep in the soul of the Christian, and only later are they also imprinted in his desires, speech, and deeds. In this manner, God’s grace, which exists in the soul, is poured out upon his entire outward personality.
A Christian must be polite with everyone. His words and deeds should breathe the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul; so that in this way his Christian life would be witnessed and the name of God be glorified.
He who tests every word also tests every deed. He who searches the words he is about to speak searches also the deeds he intends to commit, and he never oversteps the boundaries of good and virtuous behavior.
A Christian’s grace-filled speech is characterized by sensitivity and politeness. This is what gives birth to love, and brings peace and joy. On the contrary, rudeness gives birth to hatred, enmity, grief, the desire to win [arguments], disorder, and wars.
Thus, let us always be polite. May no base words proceed from our lips—words that are not filled with the salt of God’s grace—but may our speech be always filled with grace, with goodness; speech that witnesses to politeness in Christ and a developed soul.