The monastery of
Text by Souzana Raphael
A massive, recently-built church sits up on a hill in the inland area known as Kontos on Aegina island, just a few miles from the port. Built for the most recent Greek Orthodox saint - Agios Nektarios - it is visited by large numbers of people every year, many of them seeking help from this miracle-working saint, who died in 1920. Near the church is a complex of buildings which include chapels, a store selling icons, holy oil, candles, postcards and the like, the old house in which the holy man lived, and the monastery inhabited by a small community of nuns who tend to the spiritual needs of those who come to seek solace and healing.
I spoke with one of the “sisters”, who greeted me with such sweetness and answered my questions so graciously, that I was sure that those coming to unburden themselves must find in her much comfort. I asked her about the daily routine of the sisters, and learned that they rise at 4:00 - 4:30 in the morning, attend church services between 5:00 - 8:30, and that the doors to the church open at 5:30 am. At 8:30 they eat a small breakfast and then go about their various chores - called diakonima - works in the service of God), in kitchen, office, guest-house, vegetable garden, with the chickens and their two goats, whose milk they drink, speaking with/listening to those who come in pilgrimage to the church to seek help.
They eat their midday meal at 13:00, during which time they listen to readings of the words of “the fathers” (of saints and holy men of the church). During the mid-afternoon hours (mesimeri), they may rest if needed and if time allows, though always they must dedicate time to praying for those who have asked for help during the course of the day. The sister with whom I spoke stressed that there is much work to be done in the monastery, with some employed helpers to assist the nuns. During summer there is an ‘esperino’ service at 18:30-19:30 (esperino being the evening star). The evening meal is at 20:30, and the gates to the church also close at that time for the night.
I asked if the sisters who come to live and work in the monastery come there for life, and she seemed surprised by my question. “If you love God, there is no end,” she told me. New sisters are accepted, both young and old. “And how are your economic needs supported?” I asked her. She told me that the books, candles and icons sold in the little church store are their main means of support. “Donors have given the church money for large works,” she added, “and visitors sometimes bring us gifts of food. Once, a coach from Macedonia came and unloaded many crates of cherries for us!”
“Does the monastery provide lodging for guests?” I asked. “Only for one night, or sometimes for two for those who have come a long distance.” The procedure for requesting lodging is via FAX, the number: (+30) 22970 53998. One must state the number of guests seeking lodging and give a return FAX number. “We don’t accept money. We are a hospital of the soul,” I was told. “People come here to have us hear their pain.”
The church of Agios Nektarios supports her foundation known as Leousio Foundation "Agios Nekatrios"
which provides daily meals to those in need (many of them elderly or disabled people), numbering 55 households, to whom the food is delivered from the “sisitio” kitchen. (I might add here that many local citizens provide the volunteer labour for preparation and delivery of these meals, with many ingredients donated by the local supermarket chain, Kritikos. There are also events held as benefits to support this admirable effort.)
I learned too that the church built the local hospital (of Agios Dionisios), and plans to turn the building where meals are prepared into a “gerokomio” (old people’s home). Trained sisters have served for periods of time as nurses in the hospital, and also as teachers for local children. A seaside campsite supervised by the church is located in the area called Tourlos, near Vagia. The church is also restoring an old building in Aegina, which will become a children’s center, for lessons, games, and other activities. “But the church doesn’t involve itself in politics,” the sister added.
“How many visitors come here every year?” I asked.
“That’s difficult to say, but this year there have been less people.”
Those who wish to have icons and other items mailed to them from the church store can request such items via FAX (+30) 22970 53998 and should include their address in the request. Holy oil is free, though books and other items require payment. Some phone numbers for the monastery: Mother Superior (Gerontissa): (+30) 22970 53806; Office: (+30) 22970 53800; Guesthouse: (+30) 22970 53821.