Friday, July 15, 2016

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite (1749-1809)


By Monk Moses the Athonite

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite is one of the greatest theological and instructive figures of the Turkish occupation. His works elevated the morals of monastics and all the faithful by making known the wisdom of the holy fathers, the fragrance of hagiography and the grace of hymnography. Rightly is he the boast of the Holy Mountain and the glory of the Orthodox Church.

According to his virtue-loving spiritual brother and excellent biographer Hieromonk Euthymios, he was born in Naxos in 1749 to virtuous parents, Anthony and Anastasia, the latter of whom completed her life as a nun named Agathi at the Monastery of Saint John Chrysostom in Naxos. The excellent gifts that adorned him were made manifest early on. His sharpness, love of learning, strong memory and purity made him an excellent student of the priest-teacher of his parish and a server at the sacred services and divine liturgies. Such intelligence and performance also appeared while he attended school in the town of Naxos.

As soon as he turned sixteen he entered as a student the famous Evangelical School of Smyrna, having as teachers the esteemed Hierotheos Dendrinos and Chrysanthos Karavias of Ithaca. Returning to his homeland he enriched his knowledge with the famous and very good teacher Chrysanthos the Aitolos (+ 1785), brother of the Hieromartyr Kosmas the Aitolos. The Metropolitan of that place, Anthimos Vardis, who appreciated and hoped in him, hired him as his secretary. His biographer notes: "There he met certain Athonite fathers, the Hieromonks Gregory and Nephon, and Elder Arsenios, a man of truth possessing much virtue and modesty, by whom he became attracted to the monastic profession and was taught noetic prayer. From there, I do not know when, he went to Hydra. There he found the holy man of Corinth lord Makarios, shining with every virtue and holiness. He also found Elder Sylvestor, the high and broad minded, from Caesarea, the honey of quietude who was fed on theoria, outside of Hydra, in a very narrow and shut shelter, from where he bore the fruit of all the virtues of the solitary life." These were self-exiled Athonites known as Kollyvades, who, as we mentioned, were followers of the philokalic movement, that spoke of a return to the proper and genuine ecclesiastical tradition. From these very virtuous elders the young Nicholas Kallivourtzis (later Nikodemos) was initiated into the secrets of noetic prayer and he loved Athonite monasticism.

In 1755 "he came as a monk to the Holy Mountain, where he was tonsured a monk at Saint Dionysios, and was renamed Nikodemos from Nicholas. There he was appointed Reader and Secretary of the Monastery, and departed from the Monastery after seven years, occupying himself in a certain Cell, near the Sacred Monastery of Pantocratoros, where he was distinguished by his ascetic life and love for hard work, and there for six years he lived in quietude and study, becoming a tested interpreter of the Divine Scriptures." His desire for exalted spiritual work urged him to go to Romania, to the worker of noetic prayer Saint Paisius Velichkovsky (1794), but it did not come about, so he went to the deserted island of Skyropoula near the Holy Mountain, where for one year he lived near Elder Arsenios Kollyvas, and there he composed the Handbook of Counsel without any aid.

His biographer insists on mentioning his many and long labors in writing his soul-benefiting books, such as the famous Philokalia, Evergetinos, Concerning Continual Communion of the Divine Mysteries, Works of Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Exomologetarion, Theotokarion, Unseen Warfare, New Martyrology, Spiritual Exercises, Complete Works of Saint Gregory Palamas (which unfortunately was lost), Rudder, Christian Morality, Euchologion, Garden of Graces, Dialogues of Barsanuphios, Synaxaristes, Alphabetalphabetos of Saint Meletios, New Eklogion, Heortodromion, New Ladder. There are yet more hermeneutical, liturgical, hymnographical and apologetical works, with epistles and canonical, ascetical, mystical, moral and saintly writings, as we mentioned, and these arrive all together to about a hundred works with many editions.

Having lived in different huts in the desert of Kapsala, which belongs to the Monastery of Pantocratoros, he endured many temptations with continuous fasting, poverty and great asceticism, and he became a pole of attraction to many. "All those wounded by their sins left the Hierarchs and Spiritual Fathers and they all ran to the shabbily dressed Nikodemos, to find healing and comfort in their sorrows, not only from the Monasteries and Sketes and Cells, but many Christians came from different lands to see him and take comfort in their tribulations by Nikodemos." While suffering to help others, as can be seen from his instructive books, the large amount of people tired him, because they removed him from his beloved prayer, as his wonderful biographer again beautifully says: The people "prevented him from this divine work and the longing to occupy himself night and day in divine and noetic prayer. For he occupied himself in these two works that he dedicated himself to at all times, throughout all the hours of the day and night, either explaining any meaning of Holy Scripture or bending his head to the left part of his breast and placing his nous in his heart while crying out noetically the 'Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.' For this reason he often said to us: 'Let us go, my fathers, to a certain solitary place to be rescued from the people.'"

Just as his fellow traveler Saint Makarios the Notaras, so also was he connected with Vatopiadi Monastery, visiting its rich library. He was also connected with the school of the Monastery, Athoniados Academy. When the school was going through difficulties in 1801, the Holy Assembly of Athonite Fathers appointed among others the very wise and virtuous Saint Nikodemos as a member of the of the board of three, who were responsible for the smooth operation of the school. The offering of the Saint was "very valuable both administratively as well as spiritually and morally for the rectification of things in the school." The three-member committee consisted of the former Metropolitan of Trikki Ambrose and the very virtuous Athonite teachers Christophoros Prodromitis and "the boast of Mount Athos" Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who "more than others was a beneficial presence at Athoniada." Saint Nikodemos contributed to the economic improvement of the school and "zealously worked for the progression of the school allowing for it to remain in operation until the brink of the Revolution in 1821." There exist letters of Saint Nikodemos at Vatopaidi Monastery.

Saint Nikodemos was indeed "a theologian of the movement of the Kollyvades," a "chief leader" of it, and was "the first ecclesiastical man, researcher and author, based on various manuscripts, after the fall of Constantinople. He cared for the publication of the works of Saints Gregory Palamas and Symeon the New Theologian. Writings of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite have been translated into the Turkish, Russian and Romanian languages," as well as other languages. It is a fact that "the writings of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite circulate and are read in our days by thousands of Christians."

Saint Nikodemos, besides all we have mentioned, had a relationship with the Hieromartyr Gregory V (+ 1821), who was at Iveron Monastery, and who helped in publishing his works. Saint Gregory sent to Saint Nikodemos the Neomartyr Constantine of Hydra (+ 1801) to catechize him and prepare him for martyrdom, and afterward he wrote his life. There would come also to his Cell in Kapsala several heterodox, and he introduced to them Orthodox theology, worship and life. One of them, much later on, wrote of him: "Nikodemos, as a writer of books related to canon law, liturgics, the biographies of the saints and the ascetic life, as well as an editor, is one of the most prolific writers and certainly the most hard working of the monks that the Greek Church could boast of for centuries." Saint Nikodemos undoubtedly "was a teacher in the narrow and broader sense, as a teacher of his peers at Smyrna, as a home teacher, as a Member of the School Board of Athoniados Academy, as a teacher of novice monks and the Athonite State in general, as a teacher of Clergy who lived outside the Holy Mountain, as a teacher of lay brothers, as a teacher of those who denied their religion and catechist of neomartyrs, as a teacher of the Orthodox people, and especially as a teacher, educator and illuminator of the enslaved Greeks; in short, he was the Great teacher of the Nation."

This truly great teacher of the Church and Nation unfortunately was zealously slandered hard by some of the ignorant, who accused him and slandered him with improbable and fantastic theories. Thus he was forced to write a Confession of Faith to prove his correct beliefs and his devout and exact faith. The Saint says somewhere: "In order to universally proclaim, all that the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Eastern Church of Christ, our common and spiritual mother, has accepted and confessed, so also we accept and confess, and whatever it abhors and renounces, we similarly abhor and renounce, as her sincere and genuine children." The Holy Community of Mount Athos in an announcement on 13 January 1801, among other momentous things, states the following regarding our Saint: "All of us together proclaim and confess him to be most pious and most Orthodox, who was nourished on the dogmas of the Church of Christ, as is demonstrated by his sacred and commonly beneficial writings, which contain no heretical beliefs. Therefore we testify that he is Orthodox, even so everyone may know him as being of the truth."

The brave athlete of Christ, the fervent confessor of genuine holy patristic Orthodox tradition, the lover of the Theotokos, the friend of the saints and singer of their praises, who labored much for the truth, and was hassled by slanders and not his secret asceticism and hardships of many years, fell ill and sensed his death approaching. He was in his beloved, hospitable and ascetic Cell of Saint George, with friends, brothers, like-minded, fellow travelers and publishers of his works in virtuous Skourtaios. He confessed, did unction, communed daily, prayed continuously, constantly having on his sweet lips the name of Jesus. On the night of the 13th of July in 1809 he communed for the last time, sensing his end was near. When the brothers asked him: "Teacher, how are you? Are you resting?" He responded: "I put Christ in me, so how can I not be at rest?"

His excellent biographer writes about it justly, and characteristically praises: "On the fourteenth, as the sensible sun rose on the earth the noetic sun of the Church of Christ was setting. The guiding pillar of the new Israel to piety was no more, the refreshing cloud of those melting in the furnace of their sins is hidden. Friends and acquaintances and all Christians mourned, among whom was an illiterate Christian, who said the following: 'My fathers, it would have been better for a thousand Christians to die today and not Nikodemos.'... But the radiance of his teachings are with us and they illumine us and illumine the Church." The beautiful life of the God-bearing Saint Nikodemos was written by Hieromonk Euthymios (+ 1829). Another brief life was written by Monk Onouphrios Iveritis, who states: "His way was simple and forbearing, his morality sweet and graceful, being landless and undisturbed. He had such a memory, that he could repeat all the chapters of Scripture, with verses and sayings and pages and testimonies and opinions of the Fathers, knowing by memory the place of their discourses and volumes." All later writers base themselves on these two biographers, who dealt with his life and works.

A full Service of Praise with Salutations were composed by Monk Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis, Metropolitan Nikodemos Vallindras of Patras and Metropolitan Iakovos of Mythimna. The honorable skull of the Saint is kept today at the Sacred Monastery of Great Lavra. There are many and different icons of his in various monasteries, churches and houses. The oldest depiction of the Saint survives today as an etching from 1818. It was drawn in Venice and adorns many first editions of the works of the Saint. On this etching there is an iambic epigram, which is a poem of the "All Venerable and Most Wise of Sacred Teachers lord Joseph the Peloponnesian, Holy Archimandrite of the Sacred Royal and Majestic Monastery of Vatopaidi, ratifier of this present new Synaxaristes, which this lover of hard labor sent." This is another confirmed testimony of the relationship of the Saint with Vatopaidi Monastery:

Nikodemos, the great boast
Of Orthodox and the wise of Mount Athos,
With this Book grant a goodly nature, beloved
Man of Naxos; praise to your good nature.

His works have known repeated editions and translations. His formal recognition and canonization took place in 1955. His memory is honored on the 14th of July.

Source: Βατοπαιδινό Συναξάρι, έκδοσις Ιεράς Μεγίστης Μονής Βατοπαιδίου, Άγιον Όρος, 2007. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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