May 7, 2020

Saint Nilus of Sora (+ 1508)

St. Nilus of Sora (Feast Day - May 7)

Venerable Nilus of Sora (Nil Sorsky), a great ascetic of the Russian Church, was descended from the Maikov nobility. Before becoming a monk, he worked as a scribe and was engaged in book copying. He accepted monasticism at the Monastery of Saint Cyril of White Lake, which had been known for its hostile stance towards monastic landownership. Saint Cyril of White Lake was himself known for rejecting villages that had been offered to him by devout nobles. Here he made use of the counsels of the pious Elder Paisius Yaroslavov, who was afterwards abbot of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra.

Saint Nilus traveled much throughout the East, studying the monastic life in the Holy Land and on Mount Athos, where he was acquainted with the practice of Hesychasm. Returning to Rus, he withdrew to the River Sora in the Vologda lands, not far from the Monastery of Saint Cyril of White Lake, and built a cell and a chapel, where there soon grew a monastery with a new (for that time in Rus) skete Rule adopted by Saint Nilus from Mount Athos. Following the Rule of Saint Nilus, the monks had to sustain themselves by the work of their own hands, to accept charity only in extreme need, and to shun the love of things and splendor even in church. Women were not permitted in the skete, monks was not allowed to leave the skete under any pretext, and the possession of lands or estates was forbidden.

The monks lived in the forest around the small church in honor of the Meeting of the Lord, in separate cells of one or two but not more than three men. They gathered together in church for divine services. Moreover, readings from the holy Fathers were prescribed at the All-Night Vigil, which actually lasted the whole night. On other days, each one prayed and worked in his own cell.

The Saint struggled constantly with his own thoughts and passions. Then peace would be born in his soul, clarity in his mind, contrition and love in his heart. In his written works, “A Tradition for my Disciples, Wishing to Live in the Wilderness,” and the “Rule,” Saint Nilus describes the steps of this salvific noetic activity in detail. The first step is renunciation of the world, particularly, from every worldly distraction. The second is unceasing prayer, accompanied by the remembrance of death.

He was distinguished for his non-possessiveness and love for work. He dug a pond and a well, whose water had healing power. For his sanctity of life the Elder Nilus was deeply venerated by the Russian hierarchs of his time. He participated in the Synods of 1490 (against the Judaizers) and 1503 (about monastic land ownership). His wish was to disclose the deep understanding of Orthodoxy devoting more attention to spiritual life rather than to religious rituals, which was popular at the time. This is why he was so in favor of non-possessiveness. At the Synod of 1503 in Moscow, he raised a question about monastic estates, which comprised about one third of the territory of the whole Russian state at that time and which, in his view, had been responsible for demoralization of the Russian monastic communities.

Disdaining the honors and glories of this world, he told his disciples before his death either to throw his body to be eaten by beasts and birds, or to bury it without honor at the place of his struggles.

Saint Nilus died in his seventy-sixth year of life, on May 7, 1508. His relics, buried in the monastery he founded, were glorified by many miracles. The Russian Church has numbered him among the saints.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thou didst renounce the world and flee the tumult of life, O Venerable and Godbearing Father Nilus. Thou didst not neglect to gather paradisal flowers from the writings of the Fathers, and didst pass from the wilderness to heavenly mansions, having blossomed as a lily of the field. Teach us who venerate thee to tread the royal highway; and pray for our souls.

Kontakion in the First Tone
Beholding the blessings of Paradise and delighting in her beauties, thou didst bring forth fragrant fruits of God-enlightened understanding. O chalice of divine compunction, Father Nilus, pray to Christ that we thy disciples, may rejoice eternally with thee.