Nicodemus the Hagiorite
Saint Nicodemus of The Holy Mountain
Icon of St. Nicodemus from the "Great Synaxarion," published in Venice in 1819.
|Died||July 14, 1809 (age 60)|
|Venerated in||Eastern Orthodox Church|
|Canonized||May 31, 1955 by Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople|
|Major shrine||Mount Athos; Church of the Naxian Saints, Naxos.|
|Feast||July 14; First Sunday of September (with the other Saints of Paros and Naxos)|
|Attributes||Long white beard, monastic garb, often writing on a scroll, or in a book.|
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|Eastern Orthodox Church|
St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite or St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (Greek: Ὃσιος Νικόδημος ὁ Ἁγιορείτης; 1749 – July 14, 1809) is a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was an ascetic monk, mystic, theologian, and philosopher. His life's work was a revival of traditional Christian practices and patristic literature. He wrote ascetic prayer literature and influenced the rediscovery of Hesychasm, a method of contemplative prayer from the Byzantine period. He is most famous for his work with St. Macarius of Corinth on the anthology of monastic spiritual writings known as The Philokalia. He was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1955.
Early life and education
St. Nicodemus was born Nicholas Kallivroutsis (Νικόλαος Καλλιβρούτσης) in 1749 on the Greek island of Naxos, which was at the time part of the Ottoman Empire. According to his biographer, he was possessed of "great acuteness of mind, accurate perception, intellectual brightness, and vast memory", qualities which were readily apparent to those who furthered him along in his learning.
He passed from the tutelage of his parish priest to that of Archimandrite Chrysanthos, who was the brother of St. Cosmas. From there he made his way to Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), where he studied at the Evangelical School. Here he studied theology, as well as ancient Greek, Latin, French, and Italian.
Persecution from the Turks, who ruled most of the Greek world at the time, cut his schooling short, and he returned to Naxos in 1770.
Nicholas made the acquaintance of St. Macarius of Corinth a few years after returning home, beginning a lifelong friendship. It was shortly thereafter that he decided to embrace the monastic life, following the example of three monks he had encountered, Gregory, Niphon, and Arsenios. These men had come from Mount Athos, which had been an important center of monasticism for over seven hundred years, and persuaded Nicholas to go there as well. He arrived there in 1775, at age 26.
Upon being tonsured a monk, Nicholas' name was changed, as is the custom for those who had abandoned the world, to Nicodemus. He was initiated into the practice of hesychia, a method of prayer involving inner stillness, controlled breathing, and repetition of the "Jesus Prayer" (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner). Nicodemus aligned himself with the monks known as Kollyvades, who sought a revival of traditional Orthodox practices and patristic literature, and he spent the remainder of his life at work translating and publishing those works. He also composed many original books of his own.
He died on July 14, 1809 on Mount Athos and was glorified by the Greek Orthodox Church on May 31, 1955. His feast day is 14 July.
In cooperation with St. Macarius of Corinth, St. Nicodemus compiled the Philokalia, which became an important work on monastic spirituality. It contains some of the teachings of many of the ancient Desert Fathers.
While compiling the Philokalia, St. Nicodemus included the titles of various passages from both the Old and New Testaments based solely on his own memory, as he had a photographic memory.
St. Nicodemus also published modern editions of other theological writings, such as those of Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas. In addition, he wrote original works, such as the Pedalion, a treatise on canon law, and the Exomologetarion a guide for confessors.
Another of his famous works is the 'Enchiridion of Counsels' (or 'Handbook of Spiritual Counsel") (1801), written by Nicodemus at the suggestion of his cousin Hierotheos, who had recently been made Bishop of Euripos. This handbook on the religious life, aimed at clergy and lay Christians alike, continues to be influential on Greek spirituality to this day. The work has been described as a theological-ethical tract that displays both deep psychological insight and a keen scientific mind.
He was not ignorant of the Western spiritual writers, and even published translations of the Spiritual Exercises (Πνευματικά γυμνάσματα) of St. Ignatius of Loyola and The Spiritual Combat (βιβλίον καλούμενον· Αόρατος Πόλεμος) of Lorenzo Scupoli.
Beauty shall save the World
The term Philokalia (φιλοκαλία) (love of the good), used for the texts, aims to enshrine the history of the Jesus Prayer (the Prayer of the heart), and the spiritual practice of this, called Hesychasm. It is this love of beauty that revives and gives faith to the hopeless. The history of the prayer begins with the earliest fathers including St Anthony the Great, and the text ends with St Gregory Palamas. The title conveys the contemplative tradition, in that it teaches understanding of the inner or mystical Kingdom of God within each person. The spirit of God is an ember and one must cultivate the ember into an open fire. This perpetual fire burns in the heart, in love for all things, which is to share in the energy of God, which is love. (Leviticus 9:24) It is within the Philokalia that one learns how to properly navigate the passions and depravity of existence called the World. The object of contemplation is "the love of beauty" or infinite beauty, which is God. For if existence were truly evil it could neither contain nor express beauty. This expression conveys the truth about the divine (ascetic) life and purpose which the heart learns through practice of the Prayer of the Heart, called Hesychasm. God in his energies is love. God is also the source of all that is truly beautiful, resplendent with divine glory. It is this beauty, the Russian philosophers held, that "will save the World".
- Gerasimos Micragiannanitis, "The Life of Saint Nikodemos", in Constantine Cavarnos,St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite(Belmont, Massachusetts: The Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1974), 66-70
- George S. Bebis, in Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, trans. Peter A Chamberas New York: Paulist Press, 1989.
- Bebis, in Nikodemos, 13-14; Micragiannitis, in Cavarnos 71-73; see also Gregory Palamas, The Triads trans. Nicholas Gendle (New York: The Paulist Press, 1983), 41-55 for a more thorough explanation of Hesychism.
- Bebis, in Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, 17-52; Cavarnos, 96-114.
- Meyendorff, St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, 138.
- Scripture in tradition: the Bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church by John Breck. Published by St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001 ISBN 0-88141-226-0, ISBN 978-0-88141-226-0