Hegumen Nikon (secular name: Nikolay Nikolayevich Vorobyev) was born on May 22, 1894 to a peasants’ family in Tver Governorate. The family was far from doing well, and penury was Nikolay’s permanent companion during his school years from the very beginning. After primary school, he studied at a non-classical secondary school in Vyshniy Volochok where his many skills and versatile talents remarkably revealed themselves.
Since the early days of his youth Nikolay showed an extraordinary zeal for the search of the meaning of life and of the truth. At school, he ardently flung himself into studying natural sciences, naively hoping to find there an answer to his question about what the reason for human living was. The blind belief in science easily ousted his, similarly blind then, belief in God. But sometime afterwards, Nikolay came to realization that empirical subjects as such do not deal with such concepts as truth, eternity and God; the very question about the reason for being does not belong to the subjects of the study by these sciences. On realizing this fact, he set about studying the history of philosophy with the usual ardent devotion, characteristic of him. First of all, he addressed his attention to the philosophy of Ancient Greece and Middle Ages, then his interest moved to the contemporary European, Russian and Indian philosophic schools. He learned German and French to understand contemporary Western philosophers better.
Because he had to earn his living by giving lessons to weak students after his own classes, there were only nights left for his own studies and reading. But his thirst for knowledge was so great, that often, left actually without a piece of bread to eat, he would rather spend money on a book that interested him at that moment.
However, philosophy did not meet his expectations either, insomuch as each philosopher offered his own individual answer; and which one to believe was a big question. And the more mature became Nikolay, the more sharply he grew aware of the senselessness of the life within the system of the atheistic worldview that was followed by intelligentsia and young people in those days. If death and complete destruction of personality is the destiny of all people, why do they live, what is the purpose of their being?
Having lost faith in both science and philosophy, he entered a Psycho-Neurological Institute in Petrograd in hope to find an answer to the question about human “pith and marrow.” But disappointment that overtook him there was even greater that in the previous school. After a couple of years of studies, he left the Institute. Spiritual crisis in its ultimate finality seized Nikolay. It was so deep and heavy, that the thoughts of a suicide would come to his mind.
Once in the summer of 1915, when Nikolay’s state was that of blank despair, the days of his childish faith came back to his memory and like a thunder struck him with a possibility of God’s presence. What if there is God after all? Then it is impossible that He would not reveal Himself! And the faithless Nikolay, as he was at that time, cried sincerely and wholeheartedly: ”Oh, Lord, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me! I am seeking You not for some earthly egoistic purposes. I want only one thing from You – to know whether You exist or not.
And … the Lord did reveal Himself.
“It is impossible to describe, - said later the Reverend Father, - “that effect of the holy grace, which assures one of God’s presence so convincingly and with such force and obviousness, as to leave no doubt about it. The Lord reveals Himself like the Sun when it unexpectedly comes out from a dark cloud, and you have no doubt that this is the Sun and not a lantern kindled by someone. The Lord revealed Himself to me so strikingly that I fell down clinging to the ground with the words: “Oh Lord, glory be to You, thank You! Let all the sorrows, all sufferings there are on earth come unto me – grant me to suffer through them all but only let me not fall away from You, not lose You!”
That was how an astonishing change of his soul came about. An incredible miracle took place that was, in fact, a natural response of God to sincere, full of energy and every effort, strivings of a young man.
In 1917, he entered the Moscow Theological Academy, but two years later the studies at the Academy were terminated. He returned to Vyshniy Volochok and found a job of a teacher of Mathematics in one of the secondary schools there. A few years later he was dismissed for refusal to work on the Easter day. After that he left for Moscow where he began to serve as a psalm reader in the Sts. Boris and Gleb church. From there, together with Rector of the church Feofan Semenyako (following Feofan’s consecration as bishop) Nikolay moved to Minsk. On March 23, 1931, Nikolay took monastic vows and was ordained first as hierodeacon, then as hieromonk with a monastic name of Nikon. Two years later in 1933, precisely on the memorable day when he took monastic vows, March 23, Father Nikon was arrested and convicted under Article 58 (political) and sentenced to a five-year exile in Siberian penitentiary labor camps – to build the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Miraculously, as he put it, the days of his work at the construction of the city were taken into account of the imprisonment years, and he was freed in 1937.
Returning from the Siberian camps to Vyshniy Volochok, Father Nikon found shelter in the house of an acquaintance, surgeon Mikhail Lvovich Sergievskiy, who received him at the risk of his own life and for whom Father Nikon served as an aide of various services, as an all-purpose servant. Memory eternal to Mikhail Aleksandrovich!
At the doctor’s house, Father Nikon had to pass yet another course of a hard discipline schooling him in tolerance. The doctor’s wife Aleksandra Efimovna and her sister Elena Efimovna were fervent atheists. They were openly making fun of Father Nikon’s religious faith, ordination and monastic life. However, one day, their mockeries suddenly stopped as a result of a wonderful transformation in the life of these women. They gave up their belief in atheism, both became sincere Christians, and one of the sisters secretly took monastic vows and became a nun.
When the churches were opened again for worship, Father Nikon resumed his priestly service. In 1944, the Bishop of Kaluga appointed him to the position of the Rector of the Annunciation church in the town of Kozelsk. He stayed there in the habitation of Shamordino nunnery sisters, leading a strictly ascetic style of life. Father Nikon had changed several places of service, including Tula, Belev, Efremov and Smolensk before the next appointment in 1948 brought him to a remote and poor parish in the town of Gzhatsk (now Gagarin) in Smolensk region to serve as the Rector of that parish church.
Father Nikon found profound consolation in celebrating divine services, especially the Divine Liturgy. He introduced compulsory celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Wednesdays and Fridays, in addition to Sundays, the only day for the Divine Liturgy as had been rule before him. The manner of his performance of divine services was simple, reserved and natural. He prohibited anybody’s presence in the Alter, which offended local men. He always preached on Sundays and feast days. The force of his sermons was widely known. The authorities of Gzhatsk had been warned before his arrival describing him as an active preacher known for a strong power of influence. Indeed, he spoke forcefully and whole-heartedly. The main ideas of the message he proclaimed were about the importance for us to see our sinfulness and to repent; to realize the fallen state of our being, because this is what will lead us to the salutary humbleness and bring forth love, which is not the fruit of our imaginations, but which is truthful Christian love. He did not permit to sing concerts during partaking of the Holy Communion by the clergymen inside the sanctuary - during the “Zaprichastnyy” moment of the Communion. He also prohibited some Cherub Songs, “Mercy of the world..” and a few other songs, saying that those were no prayers, but an ill-spirited performance before God, inspired by demons.
He was a courageous and intelligent man. On the one hand he never touched political topics in his sermons, but on the other – he had no fear when reading out Patriarch’s Christmas and Easter Messages to skip over what he called “political trumpery.” The parish church, that was empty before, began to be crowded by worshippers.
Father Nikon passed away on September 7, 1963. He was buried outside the Alter of the Ascension cemetery church, which had been the place of his service for 15 years. It is worth mentioning the atmosphere experienced by the worshippers at the Liturgy on the day of Father Nikon’s funeral and at the following service for the repose of his soul. That was an atmosphere of peace and heartfelt joy which melted up the commonly shared sincere bereavement.
Father Nikon willed it that we preserve our faith by an all-out observance of the commandments of Christ and by repentance; that we refrain from vanity devastating the soul; and that we take guidance for our spiritual life from the wisdom of the works of St. Ignatiy (Bryanchaninov), whose faithful follower Father Nikon was.