December 7, 2019

Saint Nilus of Stolobnoye (+ 1554)

St. Nilus of Stolobnoye (Feast Days - December 7 and May 27)

Venerable Nilus of Stolobnoye was born into a peasant family in a small village of the Novgorod diocese. Orphaned at an early age, in the year 1505 he was tonsured at the Monastery of Saint Sava of Krypetsk near Pskov. After ten years in ascetic life at the monastery he set out to the River Sereml, on the side of the city of Ostashkova. Here for thirteen years he led a strict ascetic life in incessant struggle against the snares of the devil, who took on the appearance of reptiles and wild beasts. Many of the inhabitants of the surrounding area started coming to the monk for instruction, but this became burdensome for him and he prayed God to show him a place for deeds of quietude. Once, after long prayer he heard a voice saying, “Nilus! Go to Lake Seliger. There upon the island of Stolobnoye you can be saved!” Saint Nilus learned the location of this island from people who visited him. When he arrived there, he was astonished by its beauty.

The island, in the middle of the lake, was covered over by dense forest. Saint Nilus found a small hill and dug out a cave, and after a while he built a hut, in which he lived for twenty-six years. He obtained his food by farming, and received fish as a gift from fishermen who visited the island sometimes. To his exploits of strict fasting and stillness [ie. hesychia] he added another — he never lay down to sleep, but permitted himself only a light nap, leaning on a prop set into the wall of the cell.

The pious life of the monk frequently roused the envy of the enemy of mankind, which evidenced itself through the spiteful action of the local inhabitants. One time someone set fire to the woods on the island where stood the Saint’s hut, but the flames went out in a miraculous manner upon reaching the hill. Another time robbers forced their way into the hut. The monk said to them: “All my treasure is in the corner of the cell.” In this corner stood an icon of the Mother of God, but the robbers began to search there for money and became blinded. Then with tears of repentance they begged for forgiveness.

Saint Nilus performed many other miracles. He would refuse gifts if the conscience of the one offering it to him was impure, or if they were in bodily impurity.

Aware of his approaching end, Saint Nilus dug a grave for himself in the chapel in advance and placed a carved coffin in it, to which he came to lament his sins. At the time of his death, Abbot Sergius from the nearby Saint Nicholas-Rozhkovsky Monastery came to the island and communed him with the Holy Mysteries. Before the abbot’s departure, Saint Nilus prayed for the last time, censing around the holy icons and the cell, and surrendered his soul to the Lord on December 7, 1554.

Five years after the death of Saint Nilus, a tomb was built over his grave in the chapel, which was covered with a veil. In 1595, the first icon of the Saint was painted and after that, according to E.E. Golubinsky, his local veneration began.

Many years later, Hieromonk Herman and the wanderer Boris came to the island of Lake Seliger, where the holy ascetic labored. Together they settled on the island and built a church in honor of the Theophany with a chapel in the name of Saint Basil, the Moscow wonderworker. Over time, at the place of the exploits of the Monk Nilus, a monastery arose, named after him. Miraculous healings of the sick began to take place at the burial place of the Saint. Subsequently, Saint Nectarius, the archbishop of Siberia and Tobolsk, who lived in the monastery, decided to build a stone church instead of the old wooden one. During the laying of the foundation, the earth crumbled and the imperishable relics of the Monk Nilus were revealed. The finding of relics took place on May 27, 1667, at the same time a celebration was established for the saint in honor of this event.

Today the sacred relics of the Saint are venerated at the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God “Of the Sign” in the city of Ostashkova.

In iconography, the image of the Monk Nilus of Stolobnoye was mostly developed in the form of a wooden carved sculpture or bas-reliefs. In the sculptural images “Nilus of Stolobnoye is depicted sitting with his head bowed to his chest and leaning on wooden crutches. In such an unusual position, the emaciated old man died during prayer.”

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
You appeared as a bright light on the island of Lake Seliger. From your youth you took Christ’s cross on your shoulder. You followed him zealously, O Father Nilus, and by your purity you approached the divine likeness. You were enriched with the gift of miracles; and now we run to your relics compunctionately crying: Entreat Christ our God that He may save our souls.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Leaving your fatherland you made your wilderness dwelling on the island of Lake Seliger. Living in hardship and amazing men by your virtues, you received Christ’s gift of working wonders. Remember us who honor your holy memory, that we may cry to you: Rejoice, O Father Nilus.