On August 24, we honor the memory of the great elder Archpriest Nikolai Guryanov (1909-2002). For more than forty years the elder served in the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker on the island of Talabsk (Zalit) in the Pskov Diocese. Being himself a great elder, Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) said of Archpriest Nikolai that he was “the only true clairvoyant elder on the territory of the former USSR.”
Elder Nikolai counseled:
Always be joyful, and in the most difficult days of your life, do not forget to thank God: A grateful heart wants for nothing.
Do not be vexed when unpleasantries come: They accompany us in life for our improvement.
A believer should be loving towards everyone around him; full of love!
Man is born to converse with God.
You should pity the unbelievers and always pray: “Lord, deliver them from this darkening of the enemy.”
We are guests now, and then we will go home. But, my dears, home will be grievous for us if we did something bad while a guest.
Live as if tomorrow you will die.
Go and do good. All love covers a multitude of sins.
The elder in the recollections of his contemporaries
Mother Georgia (now the abbess of the Jerusalem Gorny Monastery) and I visited Fr. Nikolai, our spiritual father, on the island every year. We usually went through the Pskov Caves Monastery. I really love that ancient monastery and especially Batiushka John (Krestiankin). He and Fr. Nikolai were very similar: They were practically contemporaries and spoke almost the same. The only difference was that Fr. John spoke directly, while Fr. Nikolai spoke somewhat as a fool-for-Christ, often giving answers in the form of spiritual songs. Fleeing human glory, he sometimes went about in a beret, in his mother’s blouse, in galoshes. These were my beloved elders!
His love for people, animals, plants—for everything that God created, distinguished him from others… When Fr. Nikolai arrived to the island, there was an empty space near his house, and opposite it—a cemetery with a broken fence and not a single tree. He was so eager to fix everything up! He gathered plants from Kiev, Pochaev, Vilnius, Pukhtitsa, the roots of shrubs, and flowers, and planted them on the island. Batiushka lovingly cared for the trees. There was no water supply then and Batiushka would bring water from the lake, 100-200 buckets at a time. He watered everything himself: the bushes, the flowers, and the future trees. He planted chrysanthemums, dahlias, and gladiolus near his house. Now we see the fruits of his labors: There are green cedars, fir trees, and larch trees everywhere. And wherever it’s green, there are birds. So many of them have filled the previously empty island with their voices! Fr. Nikolai built an “outdoor cafeteria” for them, for God’s birds. In his purity of soul, Batiushka was near to everything that was created by the right hand of God.
Fr. Nikolai was celibate. We all knew him in Vilnius and commemorated him on our lists as Hieromonk Nikolai. I asked Abbess Nina (Batasheva; Barbara in the Great Schema) about it and this is what she said: Fr. Nikolai would say that if it would please the Lord, he would receive the monastic tonsure. Mother Nina even kept the clothes the sisters had sewn for his tonsure. But during the war, when the convent was heavily bombed, everything of Mother’s burned, including these clothes. Fr. Nikolai judged from this that monasticism was not God’s will for him, and was not tonsured.
Archpriest John Mironov, who had a spiritual friendship with Elder Nikolai for half a century:
The yard at Batiushka’s modest little home-cell was like an illustration of the first chapters of the book of Genesis: chestnuts, cypresses, and other trees, a multitude of doves in the branches and on the roof, sitting tightly next to each other like chickens on their perch. There were also some sparrows and other small birds. And there would be cats and dogs peacefully strolling by the chickens. Batiushka tried to take care of them and treat them all. Batiuskha had a cat, Lipushka, for twenty-eight years; very humanized. Once someone hit a crow with a rock—how Batiushka took care of it, treated it, and it became quite tame. Then every morning it met Batiushka, cawed, flapped its wings, greeting him. And everything all around—trees and flowers—everything on the island lived by Batiushka’s care. Bees, gnats, bugs—he knew them all. Mosquitoes didn’t even bother him. All of creation spoke to Batiushka’s heart. He always carefully watched so that not a single flower, not a single tree would be harmed.
Vladyka Pavel (Ponomarev), the Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavl, the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, who was abbot of the Pskov Caves Monastery from 1988-1992:
Mother Georgia (Schukina) came to visit us in Pechory. It turns out she had had a conversation with the Patriarch about the possibility of sending her to Jerusalem, and she needed to consult with her spiritual father—Fr. Nikolai, the well-known elder on the island of Zalit. But she didn’t manage to get to the island: The ferries weren’t going anymore and there was still ice… The steward asked me: “Do you bless to use a helicopter?” We called the airport and it turns out one was available. The helicopter already arrived at the monastery forty minutes later. They arrived, but there was nowhere to land there. A nice snow had just fallen. They landed somewhere in the garden. We saw Fr. Nikolai himself coming, and the nuns were running, making noise about something. It turns out, after the service and trapeza, everyone had dispersed to their cells, and suddenly Fr. Nikolai started calling everyone: “Come out,” he called. “Mothers, we have guests coming: the abbess from Jerusalem, and the abbot with brothers of the monastery.” They said: “Batiushka, are you out of your mind? Who’s coming here? The ferries aren’t going. Go lie down and rest.” And suddenly—the helicopter, the noise. There was no cell phone service to the island at that time; and Fr. Nikolai already called Mother the abbess from Jerusalem, although absolutely no one knew about her future…”
Archpriest Oleg Teor:
I appreciated Batiushka from our first meeting and always honored him. I was amazed by his clairvoyance. He foresaw a lot, and if it was necessary, he would tell you what would come to pass. For example, Fr. Nikolai always remembered death, his preparation for it, and often spoke about it and told what he should be buried in. Once he promised one of his spiritual daughters that she would be at his funeral. Another, Antonina, immediately declared: “I will too, Batiushka. I have to come.” And he cryptically said: “No, you’ll be at home.” It turns out, this Antonina died. And the one whom he promised would be at his funeral was indeed there. Batiushka told me I would bury him. And that’s what happened.
I feel his prayerful support now. It happens that when I remember him, help comes my way. Fr. Nikolai had the gift of healing. His prayer was very active. One of his spiritual daughters was very ill; the doctors said she had cancer. She felt very weak, her face was pale, clear. She had a difficult job where she had to work with chemicals that were bad for her health. The doctors advised her to find a new job, but Fr. Nikolai didn’t bless it. She obeyed. Many years have gone by, and by Batiushka’s prayers, she recovered and is still alive. When I got seriously ill, Fr. Nikolai also confidently assured me that the Lord would heal me. And indeed, I was healed.
Fr. Nikolai tried to cultivate the memory of death in his spiritual children. He would say that if people knew what was prepared for them, they would behave differently. For their edification, he would often show his guests an icon of the Dread Judgment, explaining it and reminding them of the payment for sins. He directed them very confidently, with Gospel words and examples. He would show on the icon where and for what sins man will be tormented. This caused many to sober up and contemplate and always remember the hour of their death.
There were two people with me. The elder lightly hit one of them on the cheek and said: “Batiushka, bless.” “What, I’m not a batiushka?” “Not a batiushka? Really?” Several years went by. Now that man is an igumen. He got out some staff paper for the girl that came with us. She wondered what for. She wasn’t an artist, not a poet, she didn’t know notes. But now she’s the choir director in a monastery.
Archpriest George Ushakov:
I often saw that even when Batiushka was speaking with someone, his lips would move in the break between phrases. I think he was praying incessantly. That’s where his clairvoyance and his openness to the Heavenly world came from. During prayer, the Lord would reveal the soul of a man to him and His will for that man.
Archpriest Vladimir Stepanov:
I was living in Pskov then and serving as a deacon in the Holy Trinity Cathedral. There was a bell tower next to the cathedral where Nun Arkhelaya was living in the 1970s. I went to visit Matushka one day. The conversation turned to Fr. Nikolai. She told me that she had had a very difficult situation and she had prayerfully addressed Batiushka: “Fr. Nikolai! Help me! Fr. Nikolai! Help me…” She did this several times. The next morning, Batiushka came to Pskov and went to see Mother Arkhelaya, and from the threshold said to her: “Why are you asking, Fr. Nikolai, help me, Fr. Nikolai, help me…?”
The Lord rewarded Batiushka with living faith and unceasing prayer. It was often seen that he was saying the Jesus Prayer. I felt the power of his prayer, more than once. For example, I had a serious problem, and I walked from the highway along the lake in winter to see the elder. He heard me out, then got up and said: “Come on, let’s pray.” Batiushka got down on his knees in his tiny kitchenette, and I did the same behind him. We prayed for a few minutes. We got up from our knees. Fr. Nikolai blessed me, and I clearly felt in my soul that my problem was gone. Glory to God!
Fr. Alexei Likhachev:
Batiushka seemed somewhat naïve to me: He kept trying to convince me to read the morning and evening prayers every day. And I was such a diligent student that it seemed strange to me that I wouldn’t be able to read the prayers—I even faithfully read the Psalter. “Does he really not know that I do this without any persuasion?” But later, in school I wound up in a circle of young people, scholars and adherents of the Greek tradition, who mocked our Russian piety, sneering: “Without reading this rule you definitely won’t be saved.” Thus Batiushka had strengthened me ahead of time, so I wouldn’t give in. And again: Now, ten years later, I’m so burdened with the building of the church, and family difficulties and household troubles that I fall asleep sometimes even without getting undressed. But Fr. Nikolai’s words still ring out as a reproach.
You had to be able to understand Fr. Nikolai’s language. He revealed such deep things to people, and in few words, that they had to be clothed in the form of images or symbols that would gradually become clear over time, filled with new spiritual meanings and twists of fate. A certain novice who went to the island with me started telling Batiushka about the disorder in the monastery. He gently touched her neck: “And do you wear a cross?” She took out the cross on her chest. “Take it and wear it.” (A year later it was revealed that she had a mental disorder).
And when the young girl Valya asked him if she could take up equestrianism and dancing, Fr. Nikolai smiled and affectionately said: “And I’ll give you some beauty,” he said, taking a swath of gray hair from his own head and as if pressing it to her head. She laughed, you know, but he was hinting at some troubles ahead for her that were apt to make her go gray.”
Dr. Vladimir Alexeevich Nepomnyaschikh:
Outwardly, he seemed detached from all things earthly. I felt that there was a huge distance between us, a sinner and an elder. For many who came for a blessing, Batiushka didn’t answer any questions, but only silently anointed their foreheads with oil in the form of a cross. With that, people would feel like their need for questioning disappeared. However, Fr. Nikolai did speak with those who truly had a need, answered their questions, and even invited people to his house. He didn’t answer every question, but selectively… Undoubtedly, Elder Nikolai knew God’s will and revealed it in the measure he deemed necessary.
From my youth I was addicted to alcohol, and by the time I was twenty-six, I realized that I couldn’t do without it for long. I started to look for a way out; I tried coding, but it didn’t help—it only got worse… I began to make vows. I promised before God, on the cross and the Gospel, in the presence of a priest that I would refrain from alcohol, first for half a year, then for a year and a half. This continued for six years, but the problem was that as soon as the end of the period of the vow came, I started drinking again literally that same day, because the passion would rise up and it was impossible to fight it. Then, in August 1999, I went to Zalit Island to see Fr. Nikolai. I went up to him and said: “Batiushka, bless me not to drink for three years and not smoke for a year (to make a vow).” Fr. Nikolai blessed me with a large cross and said: “You will neither drink nor smoke for the rest of your life.” It’s been seven years now, and I haven’t even had the thought (glory of God!) of drinking or smoking. And I had been smoking for twenty years.
Two years before this miraculous event, my wife and oldest daughter went to see Fr. Nikolai to ask whether I should leave my secular job and work entirely for the Church or not. Without knowing my name, Batiushka said to my wife, “I bow low to Andryushenka, and I ask your prayers.” Such humility Batiushka had—how he referred to me, a drunk… And he answered my wife: “He doesn’t need to leave his secular job, but let him work a little as a choir director.” And that’s what happened: I worked a bit, and half a year later, or less, I had to stop directing. My wife also asked whether our daughter should continue studying, because she considered academic success unimportant, to which the elder said: “Study, study, and study. Threes and fours are also good grades.” My daughter graduated from school, a special middle school, now she’s a senior in high school. Upon matriculation, she got a five in the main course, and a four in all the rest. In middle school she was only getting threes!
Olga Kormukhina, a famous singer:
I must say that at that time, I had two serious problems: smoking (I couldn’t quit smoking at all, although I really wanted to) and I also liked tasty alcohol. I can say I was “high” on fine liqueurs, rum, and wine, and there was nothing I could do about it… We were approaching the house and we saw people gathered around the elder in small groups; we joined them. And he was running between people, asking: “Do you drink, do you smoke? Do you drink, do you smoke? Do you drink, do you smoke?” But he didn’t ask me. I thought: “That’s my problem, and he didn’t ask me.” I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. I felt like a demon had shut my mouth. I just felt it organically. I had swollen veins and I couldn’t speak a word. But I felt like if I didn’t say something now, it would be the end for me. Just the end. And that was it! I strained with my last strength and prayed: “Lord! Help me!” And I immediately called out: “Batiushka, I drink, I smoke! I hate myself for it!” It’s as if he was waiting for that. He ran over to me, crossed my mouth and said: “That’s it. You won’t anymore.” And indeed, this was July 19, 1997, and since then I’ve neither drank nor smoked.
One mathematics professor, a Russian, went with his English friend, also a mathematics professor, and a complete unbeliever. The Russian was strongly praying that he would come to believe. And the Englishman had the thought: “If this elder shows me a miracle, then I will believe.” They arrived, Batiushka met them, took them to his cell, and immediately, from his first words said: “What miracle should I show you, son?” He went over to the light switch and started flicking it: “Now there’s light, now there’s no light. Now there’s light, now there’s no light, hahaha.” They laughed, and Fr. Nikolai sent them home: “Go with God, sons, carefully.” The Englishman also laughed: What kind of miracles could there be? After all, he was a learned man. They returned to the mainland from the island, and there was a crowd of people, police, workers dragging some kind of wires. “What happened?” “There hasn’t been any light on the islands for three days already.” And our professor immediately turned the boat back around.
Anna Ivanovna Trusova:
I went to the island together with my nephew. He was protecting someone who had been attacked by hooligans. As a result, he was unjustly accused. The investigator brought two charges against him. We went to see Elder Nikolai to ask for his holy prayers. Batiuskha didn’t ask why, and only I suddenly saw how his eyes changed—I never saw such eyes in my life. He had gone far away; he wasn’t present here, among us. I was all a flutter from this look from Batiushka. I don’t know how long he prayed like that. Five minutes or more, but only then did he deeply breath and say: “They won’t condemn you. They’ll find you innocent.” Thus, the elder got an answer to his entreaty for this man in a few minutes.
Lyudmila Ivanova, Church photographer:
Fr. Nikolai was planning to go somewhere late one winter evening in a heavy blizzard. “Batiushka, in such severe cold!... What for?” the nuns said, afraid. “They’re calling me,” the elder quietly said. And, despite the nuns' entreaties, he went off into the dark of night. The wind howled like a wild beast and the snowstorm didn’t abate. Batiushka didn’t return for a long time. We wanted to run and look for him, but where? There was nothing to do but pray, hoping in the will of God. Batiushka returned, but not alone. He brought a freezing man with him. The man had gotten lost in the blizzard; he began to lose strength and was even thinking about death. He called out to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in fear, although he considered himself an unbeliever. Fr. Nikolai heard.
Igumen Roman (Zagrebnev) told about how he and a friend went to see Fr. Nikolai on the island. His friend had no experience of talking with elders, was taken aback, and didn’t ask Batiushka anything. When they were already planning to leave, Fr. Nikolai himself stopped the young man: “Tell me, is this the case? At home you wrote out a list of questions, put it in your pocket, and now you’re leaving without having resolved a single question! Is that what’s going on? You’ll go sit in a ‘rocket’ and take off, and your questions are in your pocket. Come on, take the questions out. Otherwise, you’ll go off to Pskov, your hand will accidentally find itself in your pocket, and your heart will skip a beat. You have to resolve your issues for it to be calm. Do you understand?!” “My companion fell to Batiushka’s feet, tears running from his eyes, asking forgiveness and patience in answering the questions he had written.”
The man I had to go to Zalit Island with had just gotten out of prison. He lost his mother early, and his stepmother mistreated him and his sister, and they both started stealing, and this continued until he was thrown into prison. He was in prison two or three times, and when he got out, he was very sick with tuberculosis. He had no job, no money, no registration, nowhere to live, and they wouldn’t take him in the hospital. So he decided to go see Fr. Nikolai. This was in late September—a tough time for people with tuberculosis. I remember, there were many of the most diverse people at Batiushka’s that day… And my “ward” stood behind the gate by a large rock and did not dare (or didn’t have the strength) to go in. Batiushka barely looked at him, and immediately called him by name; he went out through the gate and spoke with the man for a long time about something. Then he blessed him three times and loudly said: “Everything will be fine.” Needless to say, immediately upon our return, they took him at the best clinic, as if those same people who had found all the obstacles and arguments just a few days earlier suddenly forgot about them. He stayed in the clinic more than six months and completely recovered from his terrible disease. During this time, he was issued a residency permit, and miraculously, there was somehow always enough funds for his expensive medicine.
Alexei Belov, a famous musician:
We were witnesses to such an incident: Once a terrible storm arose on the island and then suddenly and instantly subsided. When we went to Batiushka’s cell; his cell attendant said there was a fierce storm, but Batiushka went outside, made the sign of the cross at it, and everything dispersed. Later it turned out he had saved a child from death. The boy had gone out fishing on a large boat and he could have died during the storm, crashing in the big boat.
Batiushka saved people from death many times. It happened with our daughter. She had had a very high fever in infancy and started having seizures. One time the seizures were so strong that she swallowed her tongue and began to asphyxiate; she was turning blue. Then I yelled out: “Fr. Nikolai, help!” Her tongue returned to its place and she began to breathe smoothly.
The monks whom we met on Mt. Athos had photographs of the elder. Everyone greatly revered him. When we were at the evening service in Hilandar, the Serbian Monastery, and the confessor heard my confession. I decided to give him a photo of Fr. Nikolai, since I had brought an entire pack to give to people. He took the photo, looked and said: “Fr. Nikolai!” Then I found out that the spiritual fathers of several Athonite monasteries, including Fr. Tikhon of Hilandar, had gone to see Fr. Nikolai on the island. It was amazing for me. After all, the Holy Mountain has been the central focus of the monastic experience for more than a thousand years. You can say it is an “institute of eldership.” Many elders have grown up there, including in modern times. And these monks from Mt. Athos went to some faraway island in Russia to see a saint.
Igumen Nestor (Kumish), the elder’s spiritual child:
He foretold my diaconate. Before entering seminary, I went to the island as usual; I was already going there regularly—I couldn’t do without it. I spoke with the elder and he resolved everything I needed. As I was leaving, he said to me: “You will be a deacon soon.” “When?” I asked. “Next summer,” the elder answered. With that, I left. But in my soul I was puzzled: How could I be a deacon when I hadn’t even entered seminary yet? Maybe Batiushka was joking? But in fact, it happened just as he had said. Having finished college, they enrolled me immediately in the second year of seminary… Upon completing the second-year courses, they offered me to jump to the fourth year, skipping the third. Without giving any answer, I left the city and went to see my relatives until September, the next school year. Then at the beginning of July, I unexpectedly received a call from the diocesan administration telling me to immediately get back to the city to pass exams and give my confession before ordination.
For successful restoration work on the church where I was serving, a benefactor, who was responsible for the restoration, gave me a car. “Sell it immediately,” the elder categorically demanded when I told him about it. But I didn’t listen and decided to do it when the work was done… The engine jammed going full speed and the car became uncontrollable. Two or three terrible minutes later, I wound up in a ditch with all four wheels in the air. By the grace of God, it turned out alright and I escaped with just a fright. But since then I haven’t dared to violate or somehow alter the elder’s words.
I had a certain sin that caused me a lot of grief and worry. I occasionally suffered from relapses of gloomy irritability and a hot temper. It’s hard for a Christian to live with this, as nothing so poisons the existence of others and nothing so debases human dignity as the loss of self-control. But the fight with this widespread affliction is not easy. Then one day, upon arriving on the island, I turned to the elder with a rather stupid question, also not lacking in hidden conceit. I asked Fr. Nikolai what I should specifically do to be more pleasing to God. Without looking at me, the elder answered: “Don’t cause a scene.” Oh, how hurt I was by those words! I jumped back from Batiushka as if I had been doused with boiling water. His words hit the nail on the head and deeply wounded my pride. But what could I do? Sometimes we need not sweet pills but bitter medicine for our healing, and Fr. Nikolai resolutely used them where necessary. Later—not without Batiushka’s prayers, I believe—I found the main cause of this tormenting ailment and was freed from it.
Batiushka was always repeating: “Everything is alright; yes, everything is alright. How happy we are that we’re in the Church, that we receive Communion…” People would ask the elder about Russia, and he would answer: “Russia didn’t die. Oh, how good things are for us. Glory to Thee, O Lord. The Lord has not abandoned us.”
Fr. Alexei Likhachev recalls the last days of the elder’s life and his last meeting with him:
There I was with the dearest man again. Again, as at our first meeting, I sat at his feet. Only, Batiushka was … different. He had become somehow smaller, as the Lord once did. He was just like a little baby. He kissed my hand: “You’re a priest,” he said, “and I am no one.” When I gave him a modest gift, Batiushka asked in a childlike manner: “What is this? A cross:” And he wept tenderly. I had given him some cotton dipped in myrrh from the icon of the Tsar Martyr. Three times he asked what the cotton was. I asked him to make a cross on the book with his poems. “Here? Here?” he asked, until I showed him with my finger. In obedience to me, Batiushka tried for five minutes to draw this cross with his feeble hand; his hand was shaking… I began to cry. Everything that I had known and was expecting was gone already, FOREVER. It was clearly felt that what was human in Batiushka was already leaving. His unnaturally pale face spoke of it outwardly: absolutely bloodless! His body was supported only by the Spirit—for our sake, by his love and the grace of God. The elder only answered questions. He would answer, closing his eyes and praying—and only in those moments did I recognize “my Batiushka.” Even his tone became firm and authoritative.
Archpriest Boris Nikolaev:
When Batiushka was lying in the grave, his right hand was so warm and vibrant that the thought crept into my head that perhaps we were burying someone who was still alive. The thing is that Fr. Nikolai was close to the celestial world. In special moments, the righteous, especially after communing of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, cease to feel the difference between the celestial world and the visible world, and can temporarily cross over to the other world. Fr. Valerian often communed Batiushka in his final years and noticed several times that the elder seemed to die. His breathing would stop, but his pulse continued to beat. After a while, Fr. Nikolai would come out of his cell to the distressed Fr. Valerian, his cell attendant, and ask with a smile: “Well, what are you doing here?”
Archpriest Alexei Nikolin remembers the elder’s funeral:
There were forty priests and two bishops serving: Archbishop Eusebius of Pskov and Veliki Luki and Nikon, the retired bishop of Ekaterinburg… First the clergy bid farewell and then the laity came. Monks from the Pskov Caves Monastery came; Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) came with his choir: The Sretensky Monastery choir sang the funeral service. When the funeral ended, they lifted up the coffin and carried it around the church, singing the canon from Holy Saturday, and carried it to the cemetery.
Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) comforted the mourners:
Weep not! Fr. Nikolai now prays for us at the throne of God.
By the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us!