December 31, 2010

Priest-Monk Nestor the New Martyr of Zharky (+ 1993)

In 1960, Nestor Savchuk was born in the province of Crimea in southern Russia. He was never close to his family but was always distant from them. As he grew into a young man, he began to channel all his energy into wrestling, boxing, and the martial arts. He possessed a keen awareness and stood out above his peers.

In his early twenties, Nestor travelled to Odessa to work as an apprentice painting religious murals. In Odessa he became friends with the older artists, who began to inspire him with stories of righteous men and women who glorified God through their courageous labors in the monasteries of Russia over the last 1,000 years. It was the early 1980's, Russia was Communist, and the ancient Orthodox Christian faith had been all but forgotten by the Russian people. Suddenly a spark was kindled in Nestor;s heart. He began to burn with a desire to flee the vanity of the world and tap into his ancient Christian roots.

Making the resolve to give his life wholly to God, Nestor left Odessa for the ancient 13th-century Pochaev Monastery. Here Nestor began laboring in dedication of heart as a monk. As providence would have it, Nestor discovered that he had two long-lost great-uncles who served at the monastery. One was a married priest who lived with his family in the town, and the other was a greatly revered old monk who had been known for his righteous life.

At that time, the monasteries in communist Russia were regulated by the government. All the monks were required to be registered with the state which was atheist. Nestor, being against atheism never registered. in the mid-1980's the government began to persecute the monastery - some monks were taken to prison-camps, while others simply "disappeared". Because he was not registered with the state, Nestor knew he would be put in prison or killed if he were found by the government officials. And so Nestor continued on struggling in the war-like conditions, living in hiding as an "illegal" monk. Nestor, having a strong and brave soul was soon ordained a priest-monk at an extremely young age.

Eventually the conditions at Pochaev Monastery became so severe that most of the monks had either left, been taken away to prison-camps, or killed. Not knowing what to do, Nestor turned to his spiritual father, the elder John Kristiankin, who told him to go to the isolated village of Zharky. Following his advice as divine guidance, Nestor headed out across the great expanse of Russia's countryside.

After a long journey Nestor arrived in the little village of Zharky. Because it was surrounded by vast wilderness and the roads were flooded in winter, Zharky was accessible only during the summer months. Few believers remained in the village. Upon arriving at this desolate village in the Russian wilderness, Nestor went straight to the church where he would be serving. It was old and run-down, but had many ancient icons. Nestor's original inspiration had come from religious images and later he died for these ancient images (icons) of Christ and the saints. Ever since he became a monk his heart burned for Christ and the other world they represented. Nestor looked at icons and images of Christ in a unique way. He didn't see wood and paint, but rather his heart was transformed and he felt the eternal Kingdom of God within himself. To understand the image (icon) of Christ is to understand the incarnation of God.

At one time, two righteous fools-for-Christ's sake had been martyred at this church. Before they were murdered they prophesied saying that, "The priest who shall serve here until the end will be saved." Not aware of the prophecy but sensing a mystical air about the old church, Nestor immediately said he loved the place with all his heart and wanted to stay there the rest of his life.

As is the lot of those who pursue righteousness, suffering awaited Nestor. The police warned him of an icon-stealing ring run by the Russian Mafia - gangsters from Odessa who would steal icons from rural churches and sell them on the black market for big money. Nearly all the churches in the area had been burglarized.

Other difficulties came from local hooligans who hassled him because he was a priest. One day, Nestor tucked in his long hair and beard as was his custom, so as to keep a low profile, and headed out for the bus stop with some important documents. At the bus stop, three drunken youths approached him and began to harass him. "Show me your cross," they taunted him, and began grabbing under his jacket to get at his cross. So as not to allow them to defile his cross, Nestor was forced to deflect their hands. Not knowing that Nestor was skilled in martial arts, the youths tried to attack him. But he dodged their punches, making the fight look more like a dance. Suddenly, remembering that his documents were unguarded, Nestor hesitated; at that moment he was hit by a blow in the eye. Soon the police arrived, but Nestor told them to let the youths go. He hadn't forgotten that he too had once been a rebellious youth. A month later the youth who had punched Nestor in the eye came to his house to say he was sorry. After talking with him for a while the young Andrew decided to join forces with him, moved into his house, and began to follow his strict way of life.

With his youthful zeal he had brought life to the desolate village of Zharky. Nestor also travelled to several other churches in the surrounding region, helping all in need, Christian or non-Christian. To the Russian people, the young Nestor was a reminder of their ancient Christian roots.

In addition to his selfless work for others, Nestor maintained an austere life of prayer. After traveling to visit his spiritual children in other villages, Nestor would walk home at night. He didn't like to travel in cars; these late-night walks were the only time he had to himself. Even through the winter snow, he would walk as far as twelve-miles to get home. This was his time to be alone with God; he would immerse himself in prayer, losing track of time. Nestor would return home to complete his rigorous prayer rule, which consisted of hours of singing ancient chant, and kneeling in prayer with tears.

In time, Nestor travelled to the war zone of Abkhazia, Georgia (a small country bordering souther Russia, formerly part of the Soviet Union) in order to help the suffering people there and to spread the light and truth of Christ. He began to thrive in the warlike conditions, and the ultimate sacrifice a Christian can give was born in him - the desire to be martyred for faith in Christ. Knowing that death was imminent in the hostile land of Abkhazia, Nestor felt drawn to stay. His spiritual father back in Russia, however, guided him back to the village of Zharky by saying to him, "Would a mother abandon her own children to raise another's children?" Nestor realized that he had to return to his own spiritual children.

Upon returning to Russia, Nestor met with more hardship and even persecution. The church was robbed several times, caught fire once, and Nestor even suffered a backlash of envy and strife from his own people. He once told a friend that it was the ones he gave the most to, who troubled him the most.

In 1993 three monks were murdered at the famous Optina Monastery in central Russia. In the 19th century, Optina was the spiritual capital of Orthodox Russia, renowned for its lineage of Eldership which had come down from Saint Paisius Velichkovsky. Crowds of people, including the authors Dostoeyevsky, Tolstoy, and others had flocked to Optina Monastery for spiritual guidance from the great Elders. The three monks were stabbed to death on Easter night, during the celebration of Christ's Resurrection. A blood-stained dagger was found on the monastery grounds with the numbers 666 inscribed on the blade. Later, a man confessed to the murders and admitted the killings were a ritual of a satanic cult and that he had deliberately killed the three best monks in the monastery.

Nestor often spoke of the Optina martyrs with great reverence, and it became evident that he longed to follow them. He longed for a martyr's crown himself. Once a friend tried to counsel him that it was better to be longsuffering and endure the tedious trials of life. To this Nestor replied, "You know, my friend, I have such a fiery desire to receive a martyr's crown because I lead a loose life as a youth and lived only for myself. How can I repay God for what He has given me?" The friend pleaded with him, "It's too daring to desire martyrdom; you must suffer for a long time." Nestor again replied, "Yes, I understand that, but maybe if I will pray for martyrdom - perhaps I will be able to pray it out."

Truly Nestor was now ablaze with that fire of faith that burns for the other world. He saw death not as an end of life but as a beginning. His faith was deep - to the extent that he had begun to pray for suffering and even death not as an escape from this world, but in order to be mystically crucified with Christ.

Again the church was robbed. This time Nestor had had enough - his poor church was being extorted.He had to do something. Quickly, he spotted a tire track in the snow leading to a dirt road in the woods, and began to follow it. In the distance was a parked car. To conceal the fact that he was a monk, Nestor took off his monk's cap, pulled up his robe, and approached the car staggering and yelling as if he were a drunk. Inside the car sat a gangster who immediately jumped out of the car and attacked him. Once again Nestor's experience in the martial arts came to his aid, as he was able to deflect the gangster's punches and so buy enough time to get the license plate number of the vehicle. The police eventually caught the gangsters and returned the icons to the church. Word came to Nestor that if he pressed charges, the Mafia would hunt him down. His closest friends pleaded with him not to do it. Nestor met with the gangster who had attacked him, and asked him why he had done it. The gangster replied: "Money". And Nestor asked him if he regretted stealing from the church. But he answered without a drop of remorse, "I have no regret whatsoever". Nestor knew he had to make a stand. If he let the Mafia intimidate him his poor church would suffer. To one who tried to talk him out of it, Nestor explained, "If these were my personal enemies, I could forgive them; but these me are enemies of the simple believers and God. They have no remorse for the evil they have done. I cannot let them go."

Then began several attempts on Nestor's life which he narrowly escaped. The robberies of icons had been widespread - every church in the region had been burglarized at least once. Nestor began to guard the church at night. The Mafia was not just after the icons anymore - they wanted Nestor's life.

On one occasion Nestor heard a knock at the door. When he opened the door he was held at gunpoint. Not backing down, Nestor fearlessly looked straight into the eyes of the hoods, turned around, walked into his house, and locked the door. The hoods came after him, breaking in the window.Grabbing a flare gun, Nestor fired some shots to scare them off. But, knowing he was a monk and priest and so would not shoot them, they barged through the window. Nestor then ran into his room and locked the door, and as he was climbing out of the window he cut his arm and began to bleed.Quickly he bandaged his arm and then escaped. As he fled, blood dripped on the ground - the very ground on which he would shed his life's blood.

Knowing that each day could be his last, Nestor began to double his missionary work. A close friend of his recalls, "To each he would give his all; they would flock to him. At times it was difficult. Sometimes he would lock himself in his room for two or three days to fast and pray. In this way he received strength to go on. In the last year I knew him, he became so deep...a simple depth that came from trust in God. He was not afraid of anything. He was an unusual man who gave himself to the will of God. He was fearless."

Nestor had broken through the wall that separated God and man, and God had become a living force in him. A close friend remembers one of his last conversations with Priest-Monk Nestor: "We talked about the enemies of the church. He said to me, 'Why should we be afraid?' I said, 'But those wicked thieves are everywhere!' He spoke calmly, 'To all is God's will. To suffer for Christ - this is a great joy.' He talked about spiritual war going on in the world today... He was already prepared for death."

On December 31, 1993, Priest-Monk Nestor was found dead outside the window of his house, with his throat slit and with multiple stab wounds. The people believe that it was not a simple case of revenge, but was a strategic move in a spiritual war that is taking place today throughout the world. As the forces of darkness increase, the light becomes more visible. The life and death of Preist-Monk Nestor do not represent defeat, but the triumph of God's righteousness. It is the height of the human experience - martyrdom for the truth. Hieromonk Nestor passed from this life at the age of thirty-three - the same age at which Jesus Christ was crucified.

Source: Marler, J. and Wermuth, A., Youth of the Apocalypse, 1194, St Herman of Alaska Press, Platina, CA.

The rector of the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in the village of Zharki, Yurievets district, Hieromonk Nestor (secular name, Nikolai Ivanovich Savchuk) was atrociously murdered on the night of December 30-31, 1993, in a cell of the rector's home. Hieromonk Nestor was found lying face down in a pool of blood, spread below the cross of Jesus Christ and showing no signs of life. His body was totally exsanguinated. After the murder, a large sum of money was found missing from the priest's briefcase, donated to him that day by businessmen for construction and repair work on the church. The district court of Yurievets sentenced the murder convict to four years of imprisonment. The court decided that the murderer was not entirely competent.

Source: Murders and Assaults on Priests in Russia in 1990-2010: A Reference

See also: Иеромонах Нестор (Савчук) (1960-1993гг)