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Τετάρτη, 30 Σεπτεμβρίου 2015


Spiritual "stars" of Heaven: from "Everyday Saints.." book documenting the Pskov Monastery in Russia during the Soviet persecutions. The incredible bravery and audacity of the abbots against the Communist apparatchiks gives us hope in all persecutions to come in our land also!! Read and learn with me:


Hieromonk Ioann (Lydishchev), novice Sergei Nikitin, Alexander Mukhin, and Andrei Philatov spoke withHieromonk Nilus (Grigoriev)
Having received the monastic tonsure in Sretensky Monastery, he is immortalized as one of the heroes of Archimandrite Tikhon’s popular book, Everyday Saints. During one of his visits to Moscow Fr. Nilus agreed to tell us a little about his life and service as a priest.
—Question: Fr. Nilus, tell us about your life before monasticism.

FATHER: D I was born in 1948 on the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, September 21. Only a year later was my grandmother able to have me baptized in the town of Staraya Russa, because I was a sickly infant.

My grandmother, whose name was Barbara, was a deeply religious woman. When my brother and I were little and would be falling asleep, she would kneel and pray before the icons. When we would wake up, grandma would still be on her knees. We would often ask, “grandma, did you go to sleep?” and she would reply that she had slept and was just getting up. Grandma had a very beautiful prayer corner, and she always burned three votive lamps before it in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Well, this light from the votive lamps illuminated my whole life. I especially fondly remember a little icon-statue of St. Nilus of Stolbensk—it was wooden and very old, so “handled” that the paint had worn away and the wood was completely exposed. Nevertheless, this little statue was remarkably beautiful in the light of the lamps...
At age eighteen I began to think about the priesthood, but life was very different then, and so I first became a sailor in Cherson. I sailed the sea on yachts such as the famous “Comrade” as a bosun, after finishing nautical school. ...
In the 1950s there lived in Staraya Russa a priest, Fr. Vasily, who served in the Church of St. George. He was about ninety years old, and all the older people would come to him for confession. There was also Archimandrite Isidore, the future Metropolitan of Kuban and Krasnodar...

When I served in the army in Valdai, a nationalistic fight arose among the Ukrainians. I well knew about the nationalist movement in the Ukraine and so I began to talk with them and explain things. As a result their enmity ceased and they became close friends, but the military police turned me in for political activity that was not regulated by the komsomol bylaws. I was arrested in just a few days. This was in April of 1968. At the end of April I escaped with the intention of going west to Paris and there entering the theological institute. I was arrested again during my attempt to cross the border on May 8. I was in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison for a year, almost all of it in solitary confinement. I was twenty at the time. At the conclusion of one of my interrogations, two officers said to each other, “If we had not already lived so many years we would have followed in his footsteps. That kid is winning us over; it’s dangerous to interrogate him.” They gave me seven years of prison as a political prisoner.

Question: What were the subjects of the interrogations?

FATHER: The subjects were: faith, the state of the regime, revolution, the murder of the royal family, and other things. I was given the option of denying my convictions, but I categorically refused.

We had political prison camps then, and I was sent to Yavas in Mordovia. There were a thousand of us in the eleventh zone. By winter the eleventh zone had been restructured, with people sent here and there to other zones. In Yavas, where we were taken first, there was still a trench dug out by a bulldozer, and next to it stood a so-called “untouchable” bulldozer which was supposed to bury the prisoners who would be shot under Khrushchev’s secret orders when the time came..


QUESTION: They say that those who lived through the terrible Solovki concentration camps and other prison camps felt special help from God. Have you had any personal experience of an awareness of the Lord’s nearness?

FATHER: One feels the presence of God and His grace-filled help continually. Once I was shut up in punitive isolation for fifteen days. The walls were coated with ice. When they took me there I was wearing old fake leather slippers without socks, cotton pants, and a jacket. They shove you into this freezer about 2.5 x 1.2 meters in size. Inside is a concrete and metal little stump that you can sit on for a short time. There were bunks in the isolation chamber that were made of oak, but it was impossible to sleep on them; if they had been made of aspen you could have laid down on them but oak does not get warm. We had to sleep standing up or sitting. We were fed every other day. For lunch we were given a mug of hot water and watery gruel, for dinner—nothing, for breakfast a mug of water and 250 grams of bread. Of course we would walk around just to warm ourselves a little, and pray. The guards would take a look at us every now and then to see if we were still alive. I began to feel sorry for my overseers, and said to one of them, “Why did they put you here, Andriusha? As for me, I know why I am here—I am guilty before the state. But what did you do? You are imprisoned just like me; the only difference is that you are you have a coat, your clothes and shoes are warmer, you eat better, but that is the only difference. Your soul is just as shackled.”
That lad was of Cossack stock. On the last day he opened the door, took out some food—he had brought me some fresh herring and some tea. “Only eat it in front of me,” he said. But I knew better than to torment myself with herring, because salted fish in a jail cell means excruciating thirst. But he said, “I am on duty today and I will provide you with tea. It is just that I don’t have anything else or I would give it to you.” We sat there and talked all night. He said, “This is my last night—I leave tomorrow. I have no more strength to stay. I thought and thought about it. I can see why you are here, but why should I be here with you?”..

This was my second experience of death, in which I heard the voice of God. “Send him back, he has to serve a while more,” and then I came to. I looked and saw the Mother of God leaning over me, and then the head of the sanitation department ordered, “Take him back to the hospital, to my wing.” She worked in the surgical wing. She kept me for three weeks in the camp hospital. Before I was released she spoke with the chief administrator. “I won’t let you kill this boy,” she declared.

I worked in that camp for two years—I chopped wood. The convoys would bring the logs and we would saw them with a circular saw. The plan was five cubic meters per day. Later I took a fancy to the welding machines in the mechanics shop and asked to be transferred there, and so I was. After working in that shop I began to study machinery and kinetics. This was easy for me because I always loved reading books, even since childhood. Bookstores are still my favorite places. Our school library was a good one, and I had read everything in it by seventh grade. There wasn’t a single book there that I had not read.

That is why it was so easy for me, and I soon picked it up and passed an examination with the chief engineer, who immediately assigned me to the third level. Later I maintained six-spindled German machines—there was an automated assembly line—and then I had to set up a rolling mill. That is how I gradually got used to camp machinery....

QUESTION: In what year were you ordained?

FATHER: This year, 2012, is my thirty-first year as a clergymen. I was ordained a deacon in 1981 on the feast of the Archangel Michael, and in 1985, on the feast of all the saints of Russia and Mt. Athos, I was ordained a priest.
Archimandrite Agathangel (Dogadin) from the church of St. Phillip in Novgorod, my father confessor, said, “Stop your worldly affairs and go to a monastery.” That year, my grandmother Barbara died. Fr. Agathangel sent me to Zhirovetzy Monastery.[3] Thus I left everything—the institute and a new, comfortable apartment, and went to Zhirovetzy...


After that I headed for Pechory, to Fr. Gabriel [Archimandrite Gabriel (Stebliuchenko)—the abbot of the Pskov-Caves Monastery from 1975 to 1988.—Ed.], but they would not let me stay there either. The abbot gave me back my identification documents, some money for the road, and told me to go to the bishop. I went to Fr. John (Krestiankin) and he said to me, “Go to Vladyka [the bishop]. I went to Bishop John [(Razumov) (1898–1990), Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhov.—Ed.] and he said to me, “Son, go again to Fr. Agathangel since you consider him your spiritual director. We have a priest here named Fr. Panteleimon, in Melnitsy, and if your spiritual director so blesses you, then go to help Fr. Panteleimon.” I went to Fr. Agathangel and explained the situation to him. This was in 1980, the year Moscow hosted the Olympics. Fr. Agathangel sent me to Melnitsy to help Fr. Panteleimon....
Just the same, I did not see any point in staying with Fr. Panteleimon. I went back to Fr. John and said, “Father, you yourself know that he is illiterate—he makes mistakes when he reads the Gospels. When I try to explain something to him he says, ‘You want to teach me?’” I asked Fr. John if I could go to Fr. Boris in Tolbitsy. “Alright,” he said, “I will talk with the bishop,” said Fr. John. The bishop listened and said, “In fact you are needed in Tolbitsy.” Fr. Boris had also been in prison for six years—he was sentenced before the war (1937–43). In 1937, when the authorities arrested everyone in the parish in the town of Ostrov in Pskov province, where he served as a deacon, he was the only one who was saved—his wife saved him....

QUESTION: What do you remember about Fr. Raphael (Ogorodnikov)?

FATHER: —I met Fr. Raphael in 1980. Fr. Panteleimon would sometimes go to the Crimea for treatment of his illnesses. His condition would get better after these treatments. I remember once in December, on the feast of the Great Martyr Barbara, we were serving together—I was a psalm reader at the time. Fr. Raphael was appointed on the feast of St. Nicholas, and that is when we met. I looked, and they had arrived in the “Zaporozhets” that he and Fr. Nikita had bought together. We greeted each other, and I asked him, “Are you from Pechory?” and they answered, “Yes”. We prayed in the church, and then I took them into my cell. Fr. Raphael asked me, “Have you been visited here by temptations?” I answered that temptations never leave a person. Fr. Raphael’s brother was in prison, and Fr. Nikita had been kicked out by his family when he was a child, and had been raised in a monastery since the age of seven. When he was thirteen he left for Borovik to join Hieromonk Dositheus, who raised him until he was called into the army, and after the army he came to Archimandrite Alypius in Pskov Caves Monastery. Fr. Raphael was Fr. Nikita’s spiritual director, whom he trusted and obeyed uncompromisingly. Fr. Raphael was a truly great man, and people trusted him. He was a wise man, from whom much could be learned.

Wisdom and humility, eagerness for obedience—these were Fr. Raphael’s qualities. Once a young boy came up to him and said, “Don’t eat any eggs today, father.” Fr. Raphael was always seeking some excuse to be obedient, and it was Tuesday, not a fast day, but he nevertheless heeded the words of this ordinary little boy. The women who worked in the kitchen later said that the eggs were spoiled that day. This constant yearning for obedience always helped Fr. Raphael through many situations in life.

QUESTION : What is an elder?

FATHER I remember a conversation I had with Fr. John (Krestiankin), who said that elders are given by God. “Eldership is a gift of God, and it is only given when there are those who will listen and obey the direction given to them through the elders. However, man is full of infirmities; for instance, he will ask for a blessing from someone, then another, a third, a fifth, a tenth, and so on… But he doesn’t fulfill any of this advice. The Lord will correct such a foolish man, because he takes too much upon himself out of his foolishness. The ancient fathers would say, if you have chosen an elder for yourself, stay with him to the end.”

One woman asked me to bless her to make prostrations and pray the Jesus prayer. Before she met me she had practiced a purely monastic prayer rule. I asked her, “Are you a nun?” She replied, “No, I am only planning to be one. Maybe Fr. Raphael will tonsure me.” That often happened in Soviet times—nuns would be tonsured in parishes. “Well, if you want to practice the Jesus prayer: say the prayer once in the morning with a prostration, once at noontime with a prostration, and once in the evening.” She said, “Are you making fun of me? [THIS WAS A SIMPLE THING TO DO ] What do you take me for?” I replied: “I am not taking you for anything. God bless you—if you can fulfill this obedience then come back in a month.” A month later she returned, weeping. “Please forgive me for getting angry with you. I can’t do it—whenever I only think about having to make prostrations ever fiber in me rises up against it, and I can’t.” “Well, you’ve taken the path of experience and seen that you can’t do it. What if you take monastic vows—then what will you do? Then you will have to fulfill the rule whether you want to or not,” I answered her.

QUESTION: Fr. Nilus, did you know Fr. Dositheus?

FATHER: I visited him several times. I remember how Fr. John talked about Fr. Dositheus. He said that he was one of the last great pillars, who emulated the ancient holy fathers. His cell was made of logs. At times he would get sick but he would not heat the stove—he would just wrap himself in rags and lie there. After the illness had subsided he would rise and heat the stove. People would come to Fr. Dositheus but he would just continue with his life, not saying anything in particular, only going on with his work. When the time would come for prayer, he would stand by the analogion, open his prayer book, horologion, or Ochtoechos, and begin to pray. The visitors would pray with him.

I remember one Great Lent when he fell sick and the doctor pronounced a death sentence. “That’s it father—in two months order some boards and make yourself a coffin.” Fr. Dositheus closed his doors and went into reclusion, not opening up to anyone. He came out only on Pascha to the church where Fr. Nikita served, and his face was pure and white. Fr. Nikita said later, “I didn’t recognize him.” “How could that be? Didn’t he raise you, feed you?” I said to him. “He had changed so drastically, had become such a luminous man,” replied Fr. Nikita, “that I did not recognize him.” Fr. Dositheus had a favorite icon of a golden-haired angel, and he began to resemble that angel.

He lived two more years and died on Pascha, when his boat capsized. They served Fr. Dositheus’s funeral using the Paschal rite on Bright Thursday. They brought him into the monastery amidst the ringing of the Paschal bells. What an honor he was vouchsafed—to die on Pascha! He had received Holy Communion from Fr. Nikita at the Pascal services. Fr. Dositheus was a remarkable monk…
If you ever have to live in the desert or the forest, don’t be afraid. When we were walking in the mountains—I used to be a mountain climber—I once had to crawl along a slope, and there was a Levantine viper on the rocks with which I found myself face to face. It raised its head and looked at me. When this happens you must not make a move, not even a wink. It looked at me and lowered, but it was in a combative position. But if I had made a move it would have leapt at me then and there. I had to wait until crawled down from the rock. The main thing is not to be afraid, and then nothing will happen. It is the same with bears and wolves. But the most basic thing is that all of nature feels God; this is directly connected with God’s grace, and when a person is filled with prayer, the animals feel it...

So then I had to start taking all the candy from the services for the dead to the children’s home. There the little children would meet me joyfully. “Oh, father has come!” These are little tots, three or four years old, God’s angels, little wonders. In order to cultivate a Christian spirit in them I would read to them the teachings of St. Theophan the Recluse, or the letters of Fr. John Krestiankin. Sometimes I would stop and tell them something from life. Priests rarely came to them...

QUESTION: When did you meet Fr. Tikhon [Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), abbot of the Moscow Sretensky Monastery.] AUTHOR OF "EVERYDAY SAINTS.." Tell us about your monastic tonsure. Why did so many years pass before you finally made that decision?

FATHER: The Lord has led me all my life, from childhood, even infancy, to the angelic field. But apparently it pleased God to have me take that step with full responsibility, understanding, and spiritual insight into the meaning of monastic life. From the moment of my tonsure my life changed abruptly. After the bishop signed the order for my tonsure, I went to my father confessor Archimandrite Tikhon, who then performed this great Mystery. Here, in Sretensky Monastery, I was born as a monk. I am learning spiritual warfare, spiritual concentration, and how to walk in the presence of God, so that I might not forget the Lord for even a second.
Hieromonk Nilus (Grigoriev)
03 / 11 / 2012

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