Biography of Abbot Nikon

Abbot Nikon (in the world, Nikolai Nikolaevitch Vorobiev) was born in 1894 into a large peasant family, in the village of Mikshino, Tver Province. Ever since childhood, he excelled in seriousness, impeccable honesty, remarkable warmth, concern for everyone, and an unquenchable thirst for ultimate truth, a thirst to comprehend the purpose of human existence.
Abbot Nikon

Like most ordinary people of that time, he was brought up with only external, traditional religiosity, with no firm spiritual foundation or clear understanding of the essence of Christianity. Such an upbringing could at best instill in one only a healthy sense of morality; the future spiritual struggler very quickly lost his childish faith. With true zeal, he immersed himself in the study first of science, then philosophy, in the naive belief that truth was hidden therein. He quickly came to understand that that was not the case. Later he confessed "I came to understand that, just as science tells [us] nothing of God, of the life to come, neither will philosophy give us anything. The conclusion became absolutely clear: I had to turn to religion." His education at the Petrograd Institute of Psycho-Neurology brought him nothing but disillusionment: "I saw that psychology studies not [the whole] man, but only his "skin" - the rate of processes, perception, memory ... It was such nonsense, that it was repugnant to me." After tortured searching, and already with a feeling of total hopelessness, the 20-year old suddenly remembered the faith of his youth and, from the depths of his being, began to call out, almost in despair, "O Lord, if You exist, show Yourself! I am not seeking You for some mercenary reason. I need [to know] but one thing: do You exist, or not?" The Lord mysteriously showed Himself, and from that moment on, everything in Nikolai Vorobiev's life radically changed: Years of constant spiritual struggle and true asceticism followed. Cautiously and carefully, he used the Sacred Scriptures, which had become a source of real joy and comfort for him, to guide him in his spiritual life.

At the age of 36, after most serious testing of his powers, Nikolai Nikolaevitch Vorobiev accepted monastic tonsure, taking the name Nikon. One year later, Nikon became first a Hierodeacon, and soon thereafter, a Hieromonk. On March 23, 1933 (the anniversary of his tonsure) he was arrested and sentenced to four years in a Siberian camp. For several years after his release, deprived of the possibility of continuing to serve as a priest, Fr. Nikon worked as a physician's assistant in Vyshnyaya Volotchka. During World War II, many church buildings were returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, and it once again became possible for him to serve as a priest. In 1944 Hieromonk Nikon was appointed rector of the Annunciation Church in Kozelsk, where he served until 1948. Thereafter, he was transferred, first to Belev, then to the town of Efremov, then to Smolensk, and finally, in what he considered to be exile, to a then impoverished and run-down parish in the town of Gzhatsk.

At his new post, he at first had to endure incredible social and material difficulties. Almost immediately after receiving any money, batiushka would distribute it [to the needy], so he never had any money at all. His only possessions beyond the barest essentials consisted of books, primarily the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.

In the last years of his life, when already an Abbot, Nikon was afflicted with a multitude of sorrows, secular difficulties, and vanities. Before his death, he said "That vanity allowed me to see that we ourselves alone are incapable of doing anything good." By his own admission, during that period he came to understand and to experience the beginnings of Christian humility, to experience what shows us "…that in and of ourselves, we are nothing; we are merely God's creation. Thus, of what do we have to be proud, and what do we have to compare with God?"

Before his death, Abbot Nikon endured one final trial, that of severe illness. For over three months prior to his death he was unable to ingest any food other than milk. Yet, he uttered no complaint, remained ever calm and focused, and most of the time had a little smile on his face. Right up to his death, he remained fully conscious and lucid, and expended all his energies on instructing those around him. He adjured them to preserve the faith by keeping the commandments and repenting; follow in all ways possible the teachings of Bishop Ignaty Biranchaninov; and take special care to avoid the vanities, that utterly desolate the soul and draw it away from God. To the mourners around his bed he would say: "There is no reason to feel sorry for me. Thanks be to God that I have already completed my earthly path. I never wanted to live; I did not see anything interesting in this life, and I was always amazed that others would find something in it and cling to it with all of their might. Although I have done nothing good in my life, I have always sincerely striven [to move] toward God. Therefore, with all my soul, I place my hope in God's mercy. The Lord cannot spurn one who always did as much as possible to strive toward Him. I feel sorry for you. What else are you to face? The living will envy the dead."

Abbot Nikon (Vorobiev's) peaceful end came on September 7, 1963. He was buried in the town of Gzhatsk (now called Gagarin).

In the minds of those contemporary Orthodox Christians who sincerely seek after salvation, Abbot Nikon has deservedly become one of the great teachers of repentance in recent history. "Here, as I am dying, is my last will: Repent, think of yourselves as that publican, as sinners, implore God for His mercy and take pity on one another."

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From the Book: Letters to Spiritual Children

Abbot Nikon was born in Russia in 1894. He began to pursue his higher education in the field of medicine-psychiatry, but he became convinced that true knowledge of man was possible only through knowledge of God. Discontinuing his studies, he began to lead a secluded life, devoting himself to the study of the Gospels and the Holy Fathers. Here at last he discovered the "one thing needful."

In 1931 he gave monastic vows, and within a year he was ordained hieromonk. A year later he was sentenced to four years in the Siberian camps. Towards the end of the war, with the reopening of many churches, Fr. Nikon was assigned first to one parish then to another. Finally he was sent, as though exiled, to the small town of Gzhatsk, where he remained until his death in 1963.

A call to active humility was the primary emphasis of his teaching, for without it, he wrote, "there can be no success in spiritual life, nor, perhaps, salvation." Letters to his spiritual children reflect his gift as a spiritual father who was able to inspire repentance and amendment, for his counsel came not from books, nor from the mind, but from many years of inner struggle which he waged for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.

From: Abbot Nikon, Letters to Spiritual Children, trans. Maria Naumenko, (Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, Richfield Springs, NY 1997).