I did not meet Father Nikolai, having only heard of him while I was in Minsk. However, I decided to publish this post, taken from The Voice Of Russia, because he was Father Andrei#s spiritual father and his blessing was the beginning of the whole wonderful project, about which you may read in the two previous posts. The secret of any Christian vocation is humble fidelity. The humbler we are, the more Christ can work in us and through us, the more he can love in us and through us. Father Nikolai is an example of this within living memory
This year it is 100 years since the birth of Elder Nikolai Guryanov, who died in 2002 at the age of 93. He was a man who in spiritual scope ranked alongside the zealots of the very first years of Christianity. Orthodox Christians of Russia regarded him as a Saint already in his lifetime.
The Isle of Zalit in the north-west of Russia, where the Elder resided and served as a parish priest, became a pilgrimage site for many thousands of people.
“Greetings to you, my precious ones!” the Elder says. “God save you in His mercy for many years to come! Let me anoint you.”
The pilgrims all stand in line. Elder Nikolai dips a straightened office clip into a vial with the holy oil and anoints each who approaches him, making the sign of the cross on their forehead.
Then he once again addresses those gathered:
“God bless your souls! Our existence here is but brief. After this follows eternal life. And in the eternal life – the terrible Gehenna fire of hell for the sinners, while for the righteous — beatitude. So you, my precious ones, should make use of all necessary in this life to acquire beatitude in the eternal life.
Rejoice in that at christening you received a pendant cross. We carry this cross all our lives. Lord! Grant us all the Truth and help us never to stray from it, for we “Bow before Your Cross, Lord, and praise Your Holy Resurrection”. We rejoice that through Your resurrection You granted us eternal life.
How fortunate and blessed we are that we have Faith in the Lord! Let us have Faith and rejoice. Oh, Lord, do not deprive us of that beatitude, that is granted the righteous in eternal life!”
The pilgrims cannot leave the Elder: they shower upon him an endless stream of questions, request his prayers, ask him to inform them of the Lord’s will regarding them and their near and dear ones. Some are suffering grief and personal troubles in life, and they are desperate for help and advice. Some need spiritual guidance. There are also those who cannot fully understand themselves.
And all receive from Elder Nikolai efficacious help. The Elder’s prayer possesses tremendous force and reaches the Heavens.
Finally, all the afflicted have received help and guidance from the Elder, and he bids the pilgrims farewell:
«May the Lord’s mercy be upon you for many years to come. I request Holy prayers… and may all of you pray for me, a sinner.”
The short of stature, thin Elder bowed to the pilgrims and made his way to his cell – a small one-storey wooden cottage, painted green.
Pensioner Zinaida Maximova, recalls that Elder Nikolai’s prayers helped her become cured of cancer:
Zinaida says that in 1988 she came to Father Nikolai for his blessing before going in for surgery. After praying, he told her there were two ways left for her: one led into the ground, the other – to Church. The choice was hers. Zinaida, who was not yet prepared to make leave of this life, chose the church. Elder Nikolai instructed her to take a certain vow, what kind, it was known only to herself, the Elder and God. Zinaida went to confession, took the sacrament, and received from the Elder the following instructions:
“Go to the hospital and say that you have decided against surgery, that you are cured already. The medics shall grow angry, they will shout at you. But you must cast down-to-earth bows before them. They will think you are out of your mind. But you must insist that they do all your tests all over again.”
Zinaida did as the Elder had instructed her. When the tests were ready, it transpired that Zinaida’s cancer was gone. To this day she is fine.
“And how he cured my mother!” says Zinaida Maximova, and narrates how she once brought her gravely-ill mother, prostrate on a cart to the Elder, while on the journey back the woman was able to walk by herself, unaided.
Several years later, during Lent, mother fell ill and was near death. All the relatives and friends came to bid her farewell, and Zinaida was reflecting on the funeral arrangements… However, Father Nikolai told her that her mother would not die, and would be baking pies for her yet. However, she needed to take the holy communion four times and receive extreme unction three times. After that, once her mother was on the road to recovery, she ought to be made to eat, no matter how she might resist.”
Zinaida followed the Elder’s instructions and her mother recovered, to live another eight years.
Vasiliy Zanoza, parishioner of the Church of St.Nikolas the Miracle-Maker, where Elder Nicolai served, recalls that when he first met Elder Nikolai, he was amazed that the clergyman spoke to him in fluent Ukrainian. (Vasiliy Zanoza’s native tongue is Ukrainian). Later, the more he observed Father Nikolai, the more he was convinced that he was blessed by the Lord’s grace. According to Vasiliy, he resembled the first Apostles of Christ he read about in Christian literature. There seemed to be no mysteries or secrets for him in the world.
Vasiliy Zanoza says that once an acquaintance of his brought over to Elder Nikolai a writer who wanted to converse with him. This man had meticulously prepared for their encounter, and written down all his questions to the Elder on a sheet of paper. When the moment of their meeting dawned, the writer couldn’t find this paper. However, Elder Nikolai, without waiting for the results of this search, started talking to him, touching upon the exact topics that the writer had marked for himself. The latter sat there, listening, stupefied to discover the Elder had actually answered all of his questions. On the way back on the steamboat, the writer discovered his paper, and was further amazed to see that the Elder had answered the questions in the exact order in which they were written down!
Father Nikolai was born on May 24th 1909 in a village outside the town of Gdov, in the north-west of Russia. His father was a precentor, and since childhood Nikolai attended church. He served at the altar. His spiritual Father was Metropolitan Veniamin (of Kazan), who has been consecrated as a New Russian Martyr and Saint. In actual fact the latter took the place of Nikolai’s father, who died when the boy was five years old.
Serving Metropolitan Veniamin at the altar, the boy acquired priceless spiritual experience. Once, he heard the following words from the Metropolitan: “How fortunate you are, to be with God…” and received as a gift the bishopric cross, which he proceeded to treasure all his life as a holy relic.
Father Nikolai’s spiritual children wrote down his narrative about his childhood:
“In childhood everyone called me “the monk”. And I was only too glad of that. Because I was, indeed, like a monk, knowing and seeking nothing but the Lord… I had my own cell at home, which nobody called a room, but a cell. There were icons there, spiritual books and prayer books, large portraits of the Czar’s family.
Once, when the Bolsheviks were already on the rampage, a shell flew into my window and landed right near the portraits of the Royal family, but did not explode. That is how the Royal Martyrs guarded me ever since my childhood. And how I loved them! I felt my heart miss a beat whenever I thought of them!..”
At this point we would like to interrupt Elder Nikolai’s narrative and tell you one important fact from his life.
There exist testimonies that the Lord bestowed a vision on him at the age of nine, the vision that showed him just how the Royal Martyrs died.
On the night of July 17th 1918 he saw in his vision the cellar of merchant Ipatiev’s house, and everything that took place there, all the details of how the Bolsheviks executed the Czar and his family. In the morning he dashed to his mother with the words: “Mother! Mother! The Czar has been killed! They have all been killed! And the Czarevich, too! The Lord shall punish them terribly for this crime against the Czar and his family!”
The shock from this revelation was invariably to sow even greater reverence in the young boy’s heart for the Royal Martyrs, and a penitent feeling towards them that he carried all of his life…
“All the time I thought of the Lord, mentally conversed with Him,” Elder Nikolai recalled. “The village, where I was born, was predominantly populated by Estonians. Well, when still a boy I would gather all my Estonian friends – Luzzie, Magda, Salma, Edward — and say to them: “Let us make a procession of the cross!” So we would take the icons and make a procession. I walked on ahead and sang in Estonian: “God bless my soul!”… And when I was left all alone, I would secretly make my way into the bathhouse, taking along a pillow throw, and covering my shoulders with it began to serve the Liturgy. I even made a censer. I wept, praising the Lord. I always loved the evening prayer, because at night the heavens open up and the Angels hark our prayers…
Since childhood I liked going to the cemetery. I reflected on death and the future Last Judgment. I prayed and wept for the deceased.
Besides his spiritual Father Metropolitan Veniamin, his mother Ekaterina Guryanova had a tremendous impact on Nikolai since childhood. She taught him prayers and a mode of behavior as if he were constantly before the Lord’s eyes. As a child he often asked his mother in this or that connection: «Mother, this isn’t sinful, is it? Is this pleasing to God. Is this godly?”
Those who ever communicated with her referred to Ekaterina Guryanova as a ‘angel-like person’. After her husband’s early demise, she brought up four sons of which Nikolai was the youngest. Three elder brothers of Father Nikolai died at the front in World War Two. He himself never parted with his mother right up until her death. He loved her dearly and recalled her thus:
“My mother was blessed, did not like conversation, kept silent most of the time, and mentally conversed only with God. She never parted with the Gospel, was deeply religious, and loved church singing.”
Nun Rafaila, an aide to Father Nikolai, recalled what he once narrated to her:
“In early youth, when I was setting out to meet up with my friends one evening, I saw near the wheat grain barn our Lord Jesus Christ seated there… And He said to me: “Never go to revel with the rest!”
Nun Rafaila insisted that Elder Nikolai was chosen by God since his early years. Ever since then he loved the Cross of Christ, and shared this love, as a holy relic, with friends. And in reply to the question: “How to live to achieve salvation?” the Elder often answered in the words of the troparion: “We bow before Your Cross, Lord, and praise your Holy Resurrection.”
After finishing school Nikolai Guryanov entered the pedagogical training college in Gatchina, a suburb of Leningrad (presently St.Petersburg), which he graduated from in 1926. He continued his education at Leningrad pedagogical institute. However, he only studied there for one year, and this is the reason why: once he saw how they were tearing down a church in the town, and dared raise his voice against this in indignation:
“What are you doing? This is a church! A holy place! If you have no respect for it as a holy site, at least respect it as a monument of history and culture! Reflect on the Lord’s punishment, which shall certainly be forthcoming!”
This happened in 1929, when a rabid fight was waged in the USSR, on state-level, against what was dubbed “religious propaganda”. Nikolai Guryanov had to pay a dear price for his daring declaration: he was expelled from the institute.
After that he taught mathematics, physics and biology at a village school, served as psalmist at a village church in honor of St. Nikolas the Miracle-Maker.
As a school teacher, he told his pupils about God and the death of the Royal Martyrs, for which in 1934 he was arrested. And his ordeals began…
Initially, he did time in several prisons, and then found himself in a camp in the autonomous republic of Komi, in the North-West of the country, in a region bordering on the Polar Circle. Father Nikolai shared memories of the ordeals he experienced there with only those people who were closest to him. Thanks to these people, who wrote down a part of his narratives, we can now offer you a brief excerpt from his recollections:
“People at the time disappeared and perished just like that. Whenever we parted, we never knew for certain if we would see each other again. My dear spiritual friends! The roads of my life led me to encounter many blessed friends… Yet, that has all come to pass… I wept long for them, those most dear to me, but then I had no more tears left… I could but shout inside me in mute agony…
People were taken away at night after denunciations were made against them, and all this was shrouded in uncertainty… Like a web fear held everyone in its sticky meshes… If not for the help of God, man would not have been able to survive this…
So many men of the church were destroyed, devout bishops who knew the essence of the Cross and went to the Cross with humility… How they wept that the people had not saved the Czar!
You would be wading through the snow… and mustn’t stop or fall… And there are shackles on your feet. Discarded corpses of dead inmates would be lying all around, unburied, until spring. Later one common grave was dug for them. Among the corpses there would also be people who were still alive, but lacked the strength to get up. They stretched their hands out, pleading: “Bread! Give us bread!” … But there was no bread!..”
It broke Father Nikolai’s heart to recall the human suffering he witnessed there. After these accounts he would always weep, then fall silent at length, and pray fervently. His prayers were for all those who had suffered and perished in the camps and prisons. To the end of his days the Elder carried in his eyes this silent mourning
He, too, had to endure terrible sufferings in the camp. On several occasions he came close to death. Thus, once, he was crushed by a trolley, on another occasion a heavy rail section was dropped on his feet, injuring them severely. From then on, according to Father Nikolai, his legs could barely support him. And the most terrible ordeal was lengthy standing in icy water in winter. This was just one in an arsenal of tortures invented by the camp authorities. Only Elder Nikolai was able to withstand this torture, who read God’s prayers as he stood in the water. According to him, the prayer warmed him, making him oblivious to the cold. All the others who had been subjected to this torture died.
Meanwhile, Father Nikolai seemed to have been hardened, and said: “I like the cold and am quite impervious to it”. Further proof of this is borne out in the way Father Nikolai was always dressed lightly, even in bitter winter frosts.
In memory of all those who died in camp, Father Nikolai wrote a poem, entitled: “In the 30’s of the 20th century”. This is a Requiem in verse, which he also provided with the heading “Autobiography”. It has the words addressed to the Holy Virgin:
“I beg, Holy Virgin,
In carrying my cross,
For the honor of the Lord’s Church
Save me, please!”
We should like to draw your attention to the fact the Elder is not requesting salvation for his own sake, but for the honor of God’s Church. And, indeed, that is how it was: Father Nikolai was saved and spent his entire life of a zealot honoring the Holy Church.
Father Nikolai was released in 1942, in the very midst of the Great Patriotic war against Nazi Germany. That same year he was ordained as a clergyman. He served in the Baltics, in parishes of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. And in 1956 he was appointed Father Superior to the Church of St.Nicholas the Miracle-Maker on the Isle of Zalit, where he served to the end of his life.
The Isle of Zalit, chiefly inhabited by fishermen, during the war was an occupation zone, and was totally razed to the ground by the fascists. Father Nikolai made gigantic efforts to bring it back to life. He traveled to various parts of the country to seek out tree saplings and bushes to replant them on the Isle. He managed to involve the entire population in this effort to bring greenery to the Isle.
Now, the luxurious chestnut trees, lime trees, blossoming jasmine, apple trees and other fruit trees are all a living tribute to the memory of Father Nikolai.
Under Father Nikolai’s influence the Isle changed not only in appearance. The Elder did much to improve the morals and spiritual life of its inhabitants, drawing them into the realm of the Church.
With all his might the Elder fought to stamp out an evil that local fishermen were prone too – drunkenness.
Father Nikolai’s own life served as a shining example to other people, teaching them love, mutual respect, humility, meekness. He loved God, and thus loved all people, without exception, with all their passions and failings.
Here is what the pilgrims said about their encounters with the Elder.
Hieroschemamonk Ioann says that Father Nikolai displayed truly Fatherly love towards people. When communicating with him, all things of the flesh grew silent within a person. All spiritual impurities disappeared somewhere. There arose the feeling that you were standing before Truth itself. Elder Nikolai was a kind of ‘spiritual x-ray’. It seemed as if he could see inside of one, and knew all there was to know in this world. In his presence everyone felt like they were children again. Hieroschemamonk Ioann says he saw many people arriving to see Father Nikolai. They made their way to him looking despondent, some – arguing with one another. However, after conversing with the Elder they seemed enlightened, radiant! Some had tears in their eyes. The venerable Elder possessed the ability to revive one and all who turned to him in need.
“I marvel at his remarkable sagacity,” said Archimandrite Rafail. “Wondrous is the purity of his soul, heart and mind. This was a very great saint.”
Vyacheslav Astakhov says that he and his three friends also went to see father Nikolai. The moment they entered the Elder’s cell, he pointed to the icon of the Judgment Day, Vyacheslav Astakhov says. Pointed to the Kingdom of Heaven, and then to Hell, saying: “God preserve us to be admitted this eternity.” And then, turning to the icon of the Holy Virgin, he prayed fervently. And after that prayer all wept as one – such grace had descended upon them. He predicted to one girl among them: “You shall be a nun”. And even mentioned her future name, adding that she, however, first needed to finish her medical education. As it was, the girl had not even thought of becoming a nun. Later he told her in what Convent her sister, a nun, was serving the Lord, and spoke her sister’s name. Hearing this, Vyacheslav exclaimed: “Father Nikolai! I, too, want to be a monk!” While the Elder responded: “And for you – the road leads to the village, to the woods.”
Pilgrim Tatiana Ilyina says that visiting Father Nikolai gave her a strange sensation of being outside or beyond reality: sounds had disappeared somewhere, and all around seemed shunted to the background. All attention was on the Elder. It was so calm and soothing in his presence there was never a single doubt in anything he said. Everyone knew: whatever he said always came true.
Pilgrim Maria says that she was witness to a remarkable incident. A woman came running to Father Nikolai, asking: “Is it a sin that my son was brewing beer on the day of his birthday?” Father Nikolai instructed her to go home quickly. The woman rushed off and just made it in time to catch the steamboat.
Later, when the woman returned to the Elder again, she said that upon returning home she saw her son placing his head in a noose. She rushed to him and averted a suicide. If she had been minutes late, all would have been over.
So that is how Father Nikolai saved a man’s life.
In our archive we have recordings made at an evening at the International Slav Cultural Centre, in Moscow, at an evening in tribute to Father Nikolai Guryanov. fATHER Victor Shishkin, who spoke at that event, said that Elder Nikolai implemented into life the behest of the Venerable St.Serafim of Sarov, who said: “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”
Father Nikolai always received everyone. He took upon his shoulders all the troubles and griefs that people came to him with, and in return they all went away with his love in their hearts
Father Victor also said that after his demise Father Nikolai came in a vision to one priest and dictated the Troparion to him, bequeathing that all who want to seek his help ought to read it.
I would also add that the priest’s name was Yevgeny. Elder Nikolai was his Spiritual Father. Father Yevgeny was most disconsolate at being unable to attend Father Nikolai’s funeral. He intended to visit the grave of the Elder on the 9th day after his death, but once again – he could not do so. That day he conducted a Liturgy at his own parish. He returned home tired, sat down to rest, and suddenly felt a very unusual state come over him…
Unexpectedly, he saw the deceased Father Nikolai before him: he had come to console his spiritual son. For several minutes he spoke to Father Yevgeny words for salvation of the soul, and then requested him to take pen and paper and write down the Troparion, which mentioned Father Nikolai’s deeds within his life. It was concluded with a prayer addressed to the Elder: “Venerable Father Nikolai, pray to the Lord for the salvation of our souls.”
Then the vision disappeared. Father Yevgeny joyfully shared his experience with his near and dear, and informed them of the text of the Troparion. Now this Troparion has been embraced by a broad spectrum of Orthodox Christians.
At the mentioned above evening at the International Slav Centre the Troparion was performed for all those gathered.
Attending the event Elder Nikolai’s lay-sister, who bears the same name as him – Nikolaya, said of him that not a single life narrative, recollection or chant can relay what her soul felt upon seeing Father Nikolai in person. He was a Celestial father since childhood. This man of God was a wondrous phenomenon on our perishing Earth. The Savior came to him in visions more than once. Father Nikolai often said to his lay-sister: “I saw the Savior, sensed Him like this”, and he demonstrated how, touching her hand. Father Nikolai, she says, never parted with Christ to the end of his days. He carried his Cross dutifully, never trying to shoulder the burden on anyone else. He had griefs and problems too, but he always turned to the Lord for help and sought none else’s advice. He said: “I only seek the Lord’s help.”
Father Nikolai had a reverence for the Cross, always kissed crosses. Often he kissed the pendant crosses of the laymen. He knew the power of the Cross, said nun Nikolaya.
Not long before his death, Elder Nikolai said:
“I shall soon fly away on wings. They are both large and powerful. I shall fly home in an instant, where I shall pray for you all.”
And Elder Nikolai fulfils his promise. Now, when he is in the other world, it is easier for him to help people, than it was during his life. People continue to come to him – visiting his grave. They fall to their knees and address the Elder with their woes, grievances and troubles, as if he were alive. Clergymen regularly conduct funeral services at his graveside.
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