December 26, 2018

Saint Nicodemus of Tismana (+ 1406)

St. Nicodemus of Tismana (Feast Day - December 26)

Even today, Saint Nicodemus (Nikodim) of Tismana is a very prominent and respected Saint among Serbs and especially Romanians. He is best known as the founder of the Vodita and Tismana monasteries, but he was also a well-known copyist and translator, which made him one of the forefathers of literacy and literature in the Middle Danube region. Nicodemus was also one of the most prominent followers of the monastic learning and tradition known as hesychasm, which spread from the Roman/Byzantine Empire to other Orthodox counties and regions in the 14th century. According to Dimitri Obolensky, Nicodemus of Tismana was a lively example of a cosmopolitan culture centered in Byzantium that was solidified by hesychasm, and had both permeated and connected the Eastern European Orthodox lands. Saint Nicodemus was also a very important figure for Serbian medieval history as well, both as a conveyor of hesychastic monastic traditions, and as a member of an important diplomatic and ecclesiastical mission to Constantinople in 1375, and has thus been held in high regard in Serbian Orthodox tradition throughout the centuries.

Venerable Nicodemus was of Macedonian-Romanian origin. He was born in Prilep, in the South of Serbia, about 1320, being related to the ruling prince of Wallachia Nicolae Alexandru Basarab (1352-1364) and to Holy Prince Lazar of Serbia (1371-1389). He learned to read the Holy Scriptures from childhood and loved to serve Christ. While his parents wished to see him holding high positions according to their rank, he gave up all his parents’ fortune and the fame of the world. Dressed in poor clothes he fled his parents’ house and went to Holy Mount Athos, where he entered Hilandar Monastery. After three years of discipleship he was tonsured into monasticism, then ordained deacon, and after some time, a priest. Later he went back to Serbia, where he set up two monasteries and a parish church.

In about 1369, Saint Nicodemus arrived in Wallachia, miraculously crossing the River Danube. With the blessing of Saint Hyacinth, then Metropolitan of Wallachia, he settled there and set up Motru and Vodiţa Monasteries. In 1375, Saint Nicodemus was a member of the delegation that went to the Patriarchate of Constantinople to reconcile it with the Church of Serbia after some disagreements. Patriarch Philotheos of Constantinople (1354-1355; 1364-1376) highly esteemed Saint Nicodemus, elevated him to the rank of archimandrite, and gave him a patriarchal staff and three particles of holy relics.

He came back to Wallachia where, through divine instruction, he set up Tismana Monastery in 1378. Venerable Nicodemus settled there together with some of his disciples, but the number of those who would serve Christ under the spiritual guidance and advice of the wise abbot was increasing. He taught them all kindly and guided them to fulfill the will of God. Saint Nicodemus was a great founder and organizer of the monastic life there, according to the regulations of the Holy Mountain of Athos, and his disciples also founded, helped by the righteous Romanian ruler princes, the first coenobitic monasteries of Wallachia, which also had the task of opposing Catholic proselytism.

In the course of time, Tismana Monastery benefited from the help of ruling princes Radu I (1377-1383), Dan I (1382-1386) and Mircea the Old (1386-1418), to whom the Venerable Nicodemus was father confessor. Between 1399 and 1405 he retreated to Prislop Monastery in Transylvania and in 1406 he returned to Wallachia. Soon afterwards, Saint Nicodemus met ruler prince Mircea the Old at Tismana, who called him “my prayerful father Nicodemus”, and in November he participated at Severin in the meeting with king Sigismund of Hungary (1385-1437), whom he impressed with his gift of working miracles.

Saint Nicodemus corresponded with Euthymius, Patriarch of Tarnovo (1375-1393), for defending the true faith against the Bogomil heresy.

Saint Nicodemus fell asleep in the Lord on 26 December 1406 and was buried in the narthex of the large church of Tismana Monastery. His relics were kept for a while at Tismana, but later they were hidden in an unknown placed because of the hostilities of the time. Only the forefinger of his right hand and his lead pectoral cross remained at Tismana.

The holiness of his life and the miracles he worked both during his lifetime and after his falling asleep in the Lord made the faithful venerate Archimandrite Nicodemus as a saint as soon as he departed from this world. In 1955, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church decreed the general veneration of Venerable Nicodemus across the Romanian Patriarchate, as the reviver of Romanian coenobitic monasticism and protector of Oltenia.

Bishop Seraphim (Joantă) writes of him:

... [W]hen the Romanian nation came to manifest itself in the 14th century in the two states of Wallachia and Moldavia, there arose at the same time — through St Nicodemus of Tismana (an Athonite monk) — a great enthusiasm for the hesychast renaissance initiated by Gregory the Sinaite on Mount Athos; an enthusiasm which reverberated intensely and immediately in Romania.

... A hesychast missionary in the spirit of St Gregory the Sinaite, whom he had known in his youth, St Nicodemus established his rule of life in the many communities founded by himself or his disciples in the three Romanian lands. Romanian monasticism thus owed to him its hesychastic orientation in the 14th century. The cultural and spiritual blossoming which was its result was to continue, more or less without interruption, for the next three centuries. (Romania: Its Hesychast Tradition and Culture [Wildwood, CA: St Xenia Skete, 1992], pp. xiv; 48-9)

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Thou didst follow the great Shepherd who arose from the Virgin, like sheep of the flock, O Nicodemus our Father. By fasting, vigil and prayers, thou didst make thyself a consecrated worker of heavenly things, healing the souls of those who faithfully had recourse to thee. Therefore, we say: Glory to Him Who has glorified thee! Glory to Him Who has given thee strength! Glory to Him Who has showed renewal for all through thee!