- Have you heard about the Jesus Prayer and the tradition of Prayer in the Heart ? Well, thank St. Nicodemos!
- Have you been encouraged to take communion frequently and often? Thank St Nicodemos
- Have you learnt about confession and gone to a good confessor? Thank St Nicodemos.
- Have you read the Lives of the Saints? Thank St Nicodemos.
- Have you heard about the Desert Fathers? Thank St. Nicodemos
St Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain is a perfect example of what a person with no special title or position of authority can offer the church. St. Nicodemos was never a bishop, or a priest, just an ordinary, simple, yet educated, monk. He came from a tiny island, of humble origins, lived a life of scholarship and prayer and was one of the greatest teachers the Orthodox Church has to offer. He is one of the most important Orthodox authors of the modern era, and did his utmost to make the strong hesychastic and liturgical tradition available to all. A prolific writer and anthologist, yet the common thread in all of his work is to encourage the ordinary Christian to go deeper and deeper into the life in Christ.
It is not my purpose here to write a full life of St Nicodemos, but I will refer to it briefly. St Nicodemos was born in 1749 on the island of Naxos, receiving the baptismal name of Nicholas. (His family name was Kallivourtsis). It was on Naxos that he was first educated. He completed his studies at the Evangelical School in Smyrna a famous centre of learning at the time. As well as receiving a classical education in Greek, he also learnt, Latin Italian and French, and excelled in all his subjects.
However, the Russio-Turkish wars intervened, and following the defeat of the Ottoman Turks at Chesme, Orthodox Christian population of Asia Minor was punished with reprisals. St. Nicodemos, therefore. returned to his native island of Naxos and and served as secretary and assistant to the Metropolitan of Paros and Naxos, Anthimos Vardis. It must be noted that throughout his studies and service to the Church he was noted for his purity of life, his depth of scholarship, but also his deep humility.
It was on Naxos that he met the Athonite monks Gregory, Niphon and Arsenios, and on the neighbouring island of Hydra that he met Macarios of Corinth, who had been exiled from his see by the Turks. They told him of the monastic life and the tradition of prayer in the heart.
These contacts inspired him to leave for Mount Athos. He entered Dionysiou monastery on Mount Athos in 1775. There he renounced the world, was tonsured a monk and was given the monastic name Nicodemos.
This was when St. Nicodemos really started to revive and teach the traditional Orthodox practices and patristic literature.
St Nicodemos touched upon every aspect of theological learning.
He wrote commentaries on all of the Epistles, the Book of Psalms,and even all the canon law of the Church, which he codified and commented upon in his groundbreaking tome called “The Rudder”
He also wrote a guide for confessors known as the Exomologitarion or Manual of Confession. He wrote a pamphlet encouraging frequent communion and thus spearheaded the Kollyvades movement.
He wrote commentaries on the canons of Hymns sung on Feasts of Christ, and of the Mother of God, as well as a whole host of other hymns, such as the Ninth Ode to the mother of God, the Hymns of Ascent sung in Matins etc.
St Nicodemos wrote out the Lives of the Saints, in a new Synaxarion, with a volume for each of the 12 months of the year. He also wrote a New Martyrologion, which catalogued all the new martyrs created under the Turkish yoke. Added to this were services written for many saints, including the new martyrs, as well as hymns to the Mother of God in the New Theotokarion.
St Nicodemos wrote a book on ethics called “Christoethia” , moreover his great work examining the human being and the state of the soul called the Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, or on guarding the five senses. He also reworked the book Unseen Warfare and wrote a book called Spiritual Exercises, pehaps taking the impetus from Western writers, but setting the ideas out wholly from a traditional Orthoodox perspective.
He reminded us again of the Desert Fathers with the publication of the Evergetinos. Most important of all was his work on the Philokalia . A marvellous anthology which weaves its way through the history of the Jesus Prayer from the time of St Anthony the Great to the great exegesis of this hesychastic tradition found in St. Gregory Palamas.
However, St Nicodemos writings were also a reflection of his own way of life. His biographer writes that many wounded by sin left bishops and confessors and ran to St Nicodemos.
His fame spread, and many Orthodox and non-Orthodox visited him to receive advice and spiritual guidance. Patriarchs, metropolitans, and lay officials such as John Kapodistrias, who later became the first prime minister of Greece, visited him
They were amazed to see a man dressed in rags – he had only one cassock – with plain sandals; old, without teeth, exhausted from the fasting and the hardships of his strict monastic life. St. Nicodemos’ lived a life of utter simplicity renouncing all the pleasures of he flesh. His food consisted of rice boiled in water, honey diluted with water, olives soaked in fava beans, and bread. He rarely ate fish. He practiced xerophagy (i.e. eating uncooked food mainly bread, raisins, and nuts) in the true sense of the word. His eyes were full of flame and his mouth did not cease speaking the word of God. He was ready to explain the Scriptures to everyone, and then he would bend his head to the left side and say secretly the famous Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus, save me.” He spoke of himself as “a monster,” “a dead dog,” “a nonentity,” unwise,” “uneducated.” Yet, those who knew him said that he lived the life of an angel. He was humble, sweet, meek, and without possessions.
On July 5, 1809, he suffered a stroke leaving him paralysed on his upper right side. He did not speak much thereafter.
Early in the morning of July 14, 1809, as the earthly sun rose, the spiritual sun of Christ’s Holy Church was set, yet the rays of his teachings still shine upon us today.
In our Father amongst the Saints, Nicodemos, we truly have plenty to be thankful for. O Holy Father Nicodemos, pray to God for us!