December 28, 2023

Saint Nephon of Chios as a Model for our Lives

 By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Nephon was born in Chios in 1736. When he was still in his infancy, a plague epidemic loomed over the island and because of it many people departed this vain world, including his parents. Thus, Nicholas, this was his baptismal name, was orphaned of both of his parents, but God, Who "relieves orphans and widows", never left him, but was always with him and helped him in all circumstances of his life. The difficulties he faced helped him mature quickly. When he grew up, he went to Constantinople, where he worked for a short time as a merchant, however, after the death of his beloved friend at the hands of the Turks, he left for the Holy Mountain, where he became a monk under Elder Dionysios Stavroudas, with the name Nephon. Later he also received the grace of the priesthood.

During the period that he was on the Holy Mountain, a persecution broke out against the Philokalic fathers, the so-called Kollyvades, and thus Saint Nephon was forced to leave, together with other monks, from the Holy Mountain. First he went to his birthplace, Chios, then to Samos, Naxos and Patmos. Later he went to Leipsoi, where he founded the Sacred Monastery of the Annunciation of the Theotokos. Then he went to Icarus, where he also built a Sacred Monastery in honor of the Theotokos. Finally, he ended up, with his brotherhood, in Skiathos, from where one of the monks of the Sacred Monastery of the Annunciation in Icarus, Gregory Hatzistamatis, came from, who after the death of his father inherited a large fortune. Having, therefore, this property, Gregory convinced Saint Nephon to move to Skiathos, to establish a Monastery. In fact, in the year 1779 they built the Sacred Monastery of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, in which several monks dwelled, under the inspired guidance of the Saint.

He reposed in peace on December 28, 1809. During the translation of his sacred body, in 1812, his sacred relics "were emanating an unspeakable fragrance, and with the fragrance paradoxical healings took place."

His life and his conduct give us the occasion to emphasize the following.

The presence of the father in the family is definitely necessary, but the children are mostly orphaned by the mother. When both parents die, however, then the children are left completely unprotected. And when there are relatives or someone who loves them and has the possibility to raise them, then the children grow up and develop in a family environment. When, however, this possibility does not exist, then they are introduced and raised in various institutions. And the experiences of these children vary, depending on the "climate" that prevails in the family or in the institution that hosts them. However, beyond any care for people there is the Providence of God, Who never abandons His creations and above all people, whom He created with special diligence and care, in His image and likeness. And as a tender-loving Father, as a "good and philanthropic God" He is interested in all people, but even more, however, He takes care of those who are in greater need, such as the sick, the poor, the abandoned, the widows and the orphans. This is why the Prophet-King David, who experienced to a great extent God's love, compassion and philanthropy, will say with certainty that God "relieves the orphans and the widows."

God's love is manifested in different ways, and according to each case He sends the right people, whom He knows, sometimes He also sends angels, but always, however, to those who want it and ask for it, because He respects human freedom and does not violate closed doors. He stands discreetly in front of the "door and knocks", and then enters only when the door of the heart opens freely. And, surely, God's care is incomparably superior to that of men, because, when men do not submit to the will of God, Who acts through the Church, they are strict, many times even cruel, while God is "compassionate and merciful, good and philanthropic." He doesn't just have love, but He is love, and this love is perceived by the suffering people, each according to their receptivity and preference. That is why one should not be disappointed and despair, since God has never abandoned the human race. And after their fall into sin and the loss of Paradise, He continued to love the "fallen man" and to call him to repentance, in various ways and through His Prophets. And as many times as people responded to His love and repented, then as a tender-loving Father He received them with open arms, blessed them and protected them from all dangers.

In the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great, and specifically in the prayers that the Saint wrote and recited, and which are still recited by the liturgist, the High Priest or Priest, this truth is emphasized. Basil the Great says: "For You did not forever reject Your creature whom You made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but because of Your tender compassion, You visited him in various ways: You sent forth prophets; You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation have pleased You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants the prophets, announcing to us the salvation which was to come; You gave us the law to help us; You appointed angels as guardians." And it goes on to say, that when the fullness of time came, "God sent his Son", who became flesh, became a man to redeem mankind from the oppression of the devil, from sin and death and to lead him into communion with Him. Christ, with His incarnation, Passion, Cross, burial and Resurrection, opened Paradise which had been shut, deified human nature and gave man the possibility to defeat and overcome death within the limits of his personal life, and to become a citizen of Paradise again.

We must know that for one temptation that God allows, He then gives "thousands" of blessings, that's why no one should despair. We should be humbled, but not to lose hope in God, Who never forsakes "His creature", but "relieves the orphans and the widows."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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