March 23, 2017

Saint Nikon the Abbot of the Kiev Caves (+ 1088)

St. Nikon of the Kiev Caves (Feast Day - March 23)

Saint Nikon of the Kiev Caves was the first disciple and fellow-ascetic of Saint Anthony (July 10), the founder of the Kiev Caves Monastery, to which he came as a priest and experienced monk. At the monastery he was given the obedience by Saint Anthony to tonsure all the new monks, including Saint Theodosius of the Kiev Caves (May 3 and Aug. 14).

For tonsuring the favorites of the Great Prince Izyaslav, Saints Barlaam (Nov. 19) and Ephraim (Jan. 28 ), a boyar and eunuch of the Prince, Saint Nikon brought the wrath of the prince down upon himself, but he refused to force the new monks to leave the monastery. The princess calmed Izyaslav, and he left Saint Nikon in peace.

When the number of brethren in the monastery had increased, Saint Nikon desired to go into seclusion and live as a hesychast. He went to the Tmutarakan peninsula (on the eastern banks of the Kerchensk straits) and settled in an unpopulated spot. When news of his holy life and spiritual gifts spread throughout the region, many gathered about him, wishing to follow his example. Thus a monastery and a church were founded in the name of the Most Holy Theotokos.

When he returned to the Kiev Caves Monastery, Saint Nikon was obedient to Saint Theodosius as his spiritual father. According to Saint Nestor the Chronicler (Oct. 27) in the Life of Saint Theodosius, when Saint Theodosius had to go somewhere, he entrusted all the brethren to the care of Nikon. Sometimes he asked Nikon to offer instruction to the brethren in place of himself. Often, when Nikon was binding books, Saint Theodosius sat near him and spun the thread for the binding.

When Prince Svyatoslav drove out his brother Izyaslav from Kiev, Saint Nikon returned to the monastery he founded. He returned under the abbot Stephen, who succeeded Theodosius in 1074. When Saint Stephen (Apr. 27) left the Kiev Caves Monastery, Saint Nikon was chosen as abbot of the monastery in 1077. He toiled much to adorn his monastery with spiritual books and icons. Saint Nestor further informs us: "Many times the adversary tried to sow discord among the brethren and get them to conspire against him, but he was unable to do so."

As recorded in the Patericon of the Kiev Caves, a miracle took place during the abbacy of Nikon which demonstrates the sanctity of Saints Anthony and Theodosius. We read:

Here is a remarkable miracle which I shall tell you. Some icon painters came to the superior Nikon from the God-guarded city of Constantine and said, ‘Bring those two who contracted for our services. We want to dispute with them. They showed us a small church, and on that basis we agreed to decorate it in front of many witnesses, but this church is very large. Here, take back your gold, and we shall go to Constantinople.’ The superior replied, ‘What sort of people were they who made this agreement with you?’ The painters described their likeness and appearance and mentioned the names Anthony and Theodosius. The superior said to them, ‘My sons, we cannot show you these men; they departed this world ten years ago. They pray for us without ceasing and constantly keep watch over this church, and protect their monastery and take thought for those who are in it.’

Hearing this reply, the Greeks were awestruck and brought many other merchants, Greeks and Abkhasians, who had made the trip with them. And they said, ‘We made an agreement in front of these people and took the gold from the hands of those two men, and you do not want to show them to us. If they have died, show us their image, so that these people may see if they are the ones.’ Then in front of everybody the superior brought out their icons. When the Greeks and Abkhasians saw their image, they prostrated themselves and said, ‘They are indeed the ones, and we believe that they still live after death and that they can help and save and protect those who have recourse to them.’ Then they donated the mosaic which they had brought to sell and with it constructed the holy altar.

The Patericon goes on to tell of how the craftsmen repented and were tonsured, relating that they had been prevented from leaving Kiev by a miracle and told in a dream that they would be monks there. Based on Nikon’s statement that the holy Fathers had been dead for ten years, this incident must have occurred around 1082 or 1084.

Having attained a great old age, Saint Nikon reposed in the Lord in the year 1088, and was buried in the Caves. His relic remains incorrupt and whole.