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April 29, 2010

Saint Nektary of Optina and the Uncreated Light

By John Sanidopoulos

"That which is set in motion by the Holy Spirit becomes an eternal movement, living and holy; when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in a man, he who was previously only earth and dust receives the dignity of a prophet, an apostle and an angel of God." -St. Gregory Palamas

Professor Ivan M. Kontzevitch was one of the 20th century's most important students of Russian Orthodox sanctity, which was encapsulated in his excellent book The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia. His magnum opus, this book is a priceless sourcebook of all that he felt important to say about the prayer of the heart, communion with God, asceticism, and eldership. In it he combined careful, honest scholarship with a first-hand knowledge of saints with whom he had been in contact while in Russia, including the holy elders of Optina Monastery.

One particular elder whom Professor Kontzevitch came to know personally and was his spiritual father was the last elder of Optina Monastery before the 1917 revolution, Elder Nektary of Optina. In fact, Professor Kontzevitch's brother, Bishop Nektary of Seattle, was named after Elder Nektary and also had him as a spiritual father, and the mother of these two brothers, Nektaria, was a nun who had the Elder as a spiritual father as well. She witnessed the destruction of Optina Monastery and many other horrors of the Soviet system (her coffin was found above Elder Nektary's in Optina when his relics were discovered in 1992).

The book The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia is not only interesting for its contents, but is also a book which can be judged by its cover. It not only depicts many illumined fathers from whom the uncreated light emanates, but it is also in a peculiar color purple. We are told in the book by the author that this color was chosen with a purpose. He had seen Elder Nektary immersed in God's uncreated light, and this was the color that comes closest to it.