July 14, 2014

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite as a Model for our Lives

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (Feast Day - July 14)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Under the first icon of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, published in 1819 in the first edition of his work Interpretation of the 14 Epistles of the Apostle Paul, there is an epigram/caption which reads:

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.

The author of the above epigram managed in a few words to perfectly outline this great personality. Saint Nikodemos was truly great, good natured and wise. Beneath the plain external appearance of this Athonite monk, as well as his simplicity and deep humility, there hid a truly wonderful splendor. This is because the greatness and value of a person is not measured "by the acre", as the poet says, namely external things (money, property, offices, etc.), but "it is measured with the inflammation of the heart and with blood",* that is, with all those things that honor a person and to acquire it one must literally spill their blood. These things are primarily non-phenomena. They are all those things that consist of the treasures of the soul through which the saints "enrich many", because "having nothing they possess everything". And Saint Nikodemos enriches many with his way of life, as well as through his writings, which are nourishment for all Orthodox. Some of these are: Spiritual Exercises; Eortodromion; Unseen Warfare; New Ladder; Handbook of Spiritual Counsels; Interpretation of the 14 Epistles of the Apostle Paul; New Martyrology; Interpretation of the Psalms of David; Garden of Graces; Pedalion (in which he interprets and comments on the sacred Canons et al.).

Saint Nikodemos was born in Naxos in 1749 and his life ended on the Holy Mountain in 1809. He learned his first letters in Naxos from Archimandrite Chrysanthos, the brother of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos, and then he studied five years at the Evangelical School of Smyrna. After graduating he returned to his homeland and for a certain period of time served the Metropolitan as his Secretary. This period was a turning point in his life and decisive for his subsequent evolution, because he came to know three important Athonite monks, of those called "Kollyvades". They had fled to Naxos after being persecuted on Mount Athos, because of their persistence in the Orthodox Tradition. Among these monks he also met a saint of the Orthodox Church, the former Bishop of Corinth, Makarios Notaras. This acquaintance signaled a long history of collaboration, which had goods results for the Church. The book Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics, which is an anthology of patristic texts, is the work of Saint Makarios, formerly of Corinth, who delivered it to Saint Nikodemos in 1777 "for further work, completion and publication", and it was published in Venice in 1782.

"From the mid-18th century there began a feud over the ritual of Memorials (Kollyvades were named after the kollyva) taking place on Sunday and not Saturday, as the ancient order of the Church has defined. This gave the opportunity for other distortions to be manifested, such as the opposition to frequent Holy Communion as defined by ecclesiastical tradition, and other issues, so that in the end the movement of the Kollyvades was a standard-bearer of Orthodox Exactitude and a return to the Holy Fathers. The modernized, innovative monks, influenced by western standards, wanted to change many of the traditions of our fathers and those things that were handed down to us. The conflict reached such large proportions, that intervention was sought through the Patriarchate. Despite this the controversy continued for many decades, fortunately with beneficial results for the continuance of our Holy Tradition. The movement of the Kollyvades, which highlighted great figures and important texts, remained a cleansing movement, and its effects on our nation continues still" (Panagiotis M. Sotirchos, The Great Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, 62-63).

The movement of the Kollyvades was a healthy reaction against the effects of Frankish theology upon the Orthodox way of life, and against secularism, which today threatens to corrupt the spirit of Orthodox monasticism and Orthodox Tradition in general. Saint Nikodemos was a leader in this struggle during those difficult years.

He went to Mount Athos in 1775 and settled, first, in the Sacred Monastery of Dionysiou, where he was tonsured a monk. Then, having toured Monasteries and Sketes, he settled in Karyes, where the silence of the countryside was a co-worker in his writings and studies. With the blessing of the Elders he studied in the libraries of the Monasteries for countless hours and utilized the possibility of the memory given to him, and through his gift of writing he offered authentic food to the people of God who hungered and thirsted for truth and the genuine faith. His words were direct and remain alive today and are relevant, since the time in which he lived was very similar to our own time. Worthy of attention is that which was written by P. M. Sotirchos in his Foreword to the book mentioned:

"He is one of the two great giants, who like Atlas upheld the world on his shoulders. The other pillar is Saint Kosmas the Aitolos... And today we see the same straying away from the path of God, the same furious activity of well-organized heretics, the same catalytic erosions in the daily life of our people, the strong influences received from all the media... This is why the need to hear the voice of Saint Nikodemos is dramatically urgent and apparent."

* "Η Μεγαλοσύνη των λαών δεν μετριέται με το στρέμμα. Με της καρδιάς το πύρωμα μετριέται και με το αίμα." - Kostes Palamas

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΝΙΚΟΔΗΜΟΣ Ο ΑΓΙΟΡΕΙΤΗΣ", July 2002. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.