Hieromonk Nikodemos of Karyes It’s often the will of God that the wondrous deeds of ascetics and virtuous monks remain hidden from our eyes as long as they’re with us. It’s for their spiritual security, so they can thrive spiritually without unnecessary noise and outside influence and multiply grace to grace in their soul. And we perceive this secrecy of the pearls of great price with regret, because we find out about ascetics and begin to value them only when they depart this life, and then we rush to look for people who knew them, to find out about their podvigs and instructions.
The Hieromonk and confessor Nikodemos of Karyes was one such ascetic. He loved God, putting no stock in this earthly life. He lived among us for many years, but few people thought about his virtues. Therefore, it’s our duty to his newest spiritual children, and also to the monks who knew him, as well as to the Christians living in the world—our brothers in Christ—to present here, out of love and reverence for this unforgettable father, several episodes from his life and those teachings of his that we have managed to gather.
He was born in Greece, in the village of Krousonas on the island of Crete in 1926. His parents were named Georgios and Ekaterina. They had five children. The fourth was Fr. Nikodemos, named Emmanuel Kalyanakis in Holy Baptism. From an early age, he was distinguished from other children by his love for church and the Divine services, by the piety with which he stood throughout all the Divine Liturgies served in the village. Having finished elementary school, he started in with the ordinary peasant labor, working in the field and taking care of the cattle.
The priest in his village at that time was the blessed Fr. Demetrios Fasolakis, a very virtuous and monastic-loving priest. Little Emmanuel spent his childhood years at his feet, never missing a Church service and helping the priest as an altar server and singer.
Friendship with his peers, games, and the sins they indulged in had absolutely no draw for him. From an early age, he was graced with a deep reverence for the Divine. And his character, devoid of even the slightest audacity, aroused the great love of his fellow villagers. The boy burned with the desire to read the lives of the saints and other religious books. He began to be drawn to the monastic life from a young age. The books he read set his heart aflame with an unbearable fire. He told Fr. Demetrios about it, who gave him this advice:
“Show a little patience, my child! First serve in the army, then settle your household affairs here in the village, and then you can go wherever you want, if it be God’s will. Then you’ll be free to go where He calls you.”
And indeed, in 1948, the 22-year-old future Fr. Nikodemos, free from any obligations to his relatives, asked a blessing from his parents and spiritual father, Fr. Demetrios, and left for St. Anthony’s Monastery on Crete. There, in self-sacrificing obedience to the monastery brotherhood, he labored as a novice for three years. Then, burning with a desire for a stricter life, with the blessing of his abbot, he moved to the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos Hodigitria (also on Crete). There he was soon tonsured in monasticism with the name Nikodemos. Then Metropolitan Timotheos of Gortyn and Arcadia, now the Archbishop of Crete,1 ordained him to the diaconate and priesthood, and also honored him with the rank of confessor so he could hear the confessions of the faithful.
In this monastery, Fr. Nikodemos continued to lead a strict and very ascetic life in abstinence and self-denial. Seeing his exemplary monastic living and the obvious virtues he had acquired, the metropolitan appointed him abbot of the holy Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos in Koudouma, Crete. Of course, Fr. Nikodemos had a different desire—to remain in humility, as a simple hieromonk, in obscurity, podvigs, and simplicity of soul. But, despite this, he obeyed the bishop’s admonitions and served as abbot of this monastery for five and a half years.
He showed great love for the pilgrims who would come to the holy monastery, and would receive them with fatherly love and confess them. As the monks there say, Fr. Nikodemos often healed the possessed by his prayers and returned health to the sick. Word of him began to spread and attract many people to the monastery, which increasingly weighed on Fr. Nikodemos, who was very quiet by nature. And one day, having entreated the blessing and permission of his metropolitan, he retired to his native village to take shelter from the rush of people looking for him.
There he was assigned to the Monastery of St. Irene, not far from the village. He served as a priest there for a year and a half, continuing his soul-saving podvigs and labors. He was very strict and demanding with himself, but with the Christians who confessed to him, he was undemanding and condescending, so as not to plunge them into despair, as he said.
Fr. Nikodemos spent every night in prayerful vigilance, never lying down on his bed. It was only after tonsil surgery that he was forced to lie down for twenty days. He never interfered in the management of the monastery. He left everything to the abbot to decide, completely trusting him, only saying something to him when he asked for advice. In the evenings, he would go and keep vigil in one of the chapels located around the monastery.
By such ascetic feats, Fr. Nikodemos acquired an abundance of Divine grace and became a point of attraction and consolation for all the brothers who would pass by the monastery. But his long-held desire to live in obscurity and solitude, devoting himself to noetic prayer, never left him. Frequent visits gave him no such opportunity, and he decided to leave there as well.
In 1962, Fr. Nikodemos went to the Garden of the Most Holy Theotokos—Holy Mount Athos. At first, he stayed in the Kallyva of the Holy Archangels of Koutloumousiou Skete. He lived there alone, without any disciples. He strengthened his ascetic rule and led an extremely strict life in fasting and ascetic labors. At that time, Stavronikita Monastery was in a rather pitiful state. It hadn’t returned to the cenobitic life yet, and it didn’t even have a priest to celebrate the services. So one day they invited Fr. Nikodemos to serve the Divine Liturgy at the monastery. He gladly agreed and every Saturday, Sunday, and major feast day, he would go on foot from his kallyva to the monastery—about an hour on foot.
One of his spiritual children told me the following story. It was July, and the heat was unbearable. Fr. Nikodemos had to go to the monastery to serve Liturgy, and he thought, “How will I make it to the monastery in such heat?” And suddenly, although the sky was crystal clear, from out of nowhere a cloud appeared over his head and followed after him, overshadowing him until he reached the monastery. So the problem of walking in the heat was solved.
Another spiritual son told me the following story.
One evening, Fr. Nikodemos let us stay with him for the night. After dinner and reading Compline, we dispersed to our cells to rest. At night, one young monk needed to get some air. He went outside, and as he approached the olive trees, he suddenly saw Fr. Nikodemos there, kneeling under the olive trees, praying with arms raised to Heaven. His face was shining in the darkness with a kind of Divine and sweetest light, which, in fact, gave away his presence. Realizing that the young man had seen this, Fr. Nikodemos asked him not to tell anyone about it until after his repose.
A few years later, he left Koutloumousiou Skete and settled in the Cell of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, between Karyes and Iveron Monastery, a 20-minute walk from Karyes. It has gardens, water, and a beautiful view of Iveron Monastery and the sea. He took it empty, in a rather bad condition, and put it all in order. True, he never immersed himself excessively in household chores, because all his cares were aimed at Heavenly blessings. He considered work on the garden, flowers, and decorations in the house superfluous. His adornment was nighttime prayer, strict fasting, humility, simplicity, and preparing for eternal life.
And there, on the Holy Mountain of the Most Holy Theotokos, Fr. Nikodemos’ holiness of life became known rather quickly. He was visited by monks, and not just hermits, but also cenobitic monks, seeking his advice in the work of noetic prayer. Even Orthodox brothers from other countries would come to him to hear his instructions. In the next part we will present a conversation he had with the Romanian Father Ioanichie (Balan).
Outwardly, he didn’t make any special impression. He was of medium height, always in a shabby, patched riassa, and in winter he would wear boots with thick soles. He walked with a limp, leaning on a staff. He would meet people with a mysterious smile, but without any laughter or unnecessary conversation. He would go to Karyes just once a week, usually on Saturdays, to buy necessary items for his cell, to get prosphora that a monastery would send him, usually Grigoriou, and to pick up his correspondence.
Fr. Nikodemos strictly observed the schedule of Divine services. At night, he would read the Midnight Office, Matins, the Hours, and he served the Holy Liturgy every Sunday and on major feasts. In the second half of the day, he would read the Ninth Hour, Vespers, the Canon to Jesus Christ and All Saints, and the day’s canon to the Most Holy Theotokos along with a moleben to her.
One of his spiritual children told me about the following two miraculous incidents that make clear Fr. Nikodemos’ boldness before the Lord and the battle waged against him by the demons.
I was at Fr. Nikodemos’ one afternoon. A hungry cat came up to him, meowing. He said to it:
“Well, what do you want? I don’t have any treats for you. Go catch yourself a bird and eat it!”
And the cat walked off. Not even three minutes passed before it returned with a bird in its mouth.
Another time, the same monk stayed for three days in Fr. Nikodemos’ cell. At night, he heard a loud noise in his cell that sounded like a fight. In the morning, he asked two workers who had been working there for several days. They said:
“We hear this noise every night too. As far as we know, it’s demons fighting with Fr. Nikodemos as he says his nighttime prayers.”
He labored on the Holy Mountain in this fierce struggle with the demons for twenty-four years. A year before his departure from this earthly life, Fr. Nikodemos accepted his friend and fellow villager Pavlos (Panameritaki) as a novice. He was twelve years older than Fr. Nikodemos and had been drawn to the monastic life from his youth. But it happened that he got married, had children, and only when he’d married them off and saw his wife off to the next life, he, free from all earthly cares, decided to go join Fr. Nikodemos. He was already 71.
Before that, Fr. Pavlos got cancer. He went to Germany for an operation. His condition was very serious, but he tearfully turned to the Most Holy Theotokos in prayer: “Mother of God, help me not to die here, in Germany, but on the Holy Mountain!”—and indeed, they ran tests on him the next day, and they all showed that he was completely healthy. So he went home, settled his worldly affairs, and when Fr. Nikodemos went to Crete, he met with him. Father immediately tonsured him into the small schema at his house, and took him with him to the Holy Mountain.
When I asked Fr. Pavlos to tell me about his elder, he told me the following:
Fr. Nikodemos was a holy man. He hardly slept at night. He wasn’t interested in anything related to the earthly life—only the spiritual. The order of the Divine services, which he maintained, I now carefully observe as well. He was very strict with himself. He never ate any vegetable oil on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. He didn’t want to hear about the Zealots, and he didn’t stop commemorating the Patriarch when many cells and even monasteries did so, because He didn’t receive any such notification from God in prayer.
Leading a strict life, he didn’t allow himself to be served, even in necessity. Sometimes he was harsh and strict with me, and I didn’t understand it and condemned him, considering him strange. But he behaved this way with me because he really wanted to hide his podvigs and virtues.
He always gave me advice. This was one piece of advice that I remember now: “Ask the Lord to give you the power of the Holy Spirit!”
He endured all the hardships, all the poverty, all the inconveniences associated with the climate, the cold of winter and the heat of summer, with incredible patience. He never murmured about bodily illnesses, although he suffered from arthritis and other ailments. In his final months, it was difficult for him to serve the Holy Liturgy.
One day he fell in the yard from a height of six feet. He badly bruised his knee, and only made it home on all fours. He was in a lot of pain, but he didn’t say anything to me. And when I began to treat him, I was horrified to find two old open wounds on his body. I immediately took him from Athos to the hospital in Thessaloniki. The doctors cleaned his wounds and cut out the decaying flesh.
In 1986, when Great Lent ended, he told me, “Fr. Pavlos, I will spend this Pascha with you, but I won’t see the next.”
And indeed, after Pascha he called two priests, and we served Unction together in our cell. Then we got him ready, and a few days later he left for Crete. He greatly venerated the holy Martyr Irene and wanted to give up his soul in her monastery. He was only 60, but he looked to be 85.
Having arrived in Crete, he went to the hospital. His condition worsened due to arthritis, and he couldn’t even sleep in the bed. But his face remained calm and bright. He never stopped praying on his prayer rope and never once complained about his trials. He thanked God with the famous saying of St. John Chrysostom: “Glory to God for all things!” And whenever he started talking about Holy Mount Athos, tears began to flow.
From the hospital he was taken to St. Catherine’s Monastery (in the city of Heraklion, on Crete). There he foretold his death to the sisters, saying: “Tomorrow we will have a funeral in the monastery. Many priests and people will come.”
His last day on earth was July 17, the memory of the holy Great Martyr Marina. He communed of the Holy Mysteries for the last time. His temperature rose to 106˚, but the doctor said there was nothing that could be done. He could die any minute, and he was taken to the hospital again.
His face radiated Divine light, and his mouth incessantly repeated words of thanksgiving to God. At 11:00 PM that night, his face began to shine even brighter. His lips were whispering the prayer. He made the Sign of the Cross over himself, and his soul immediately departed into the Heavenly habitations.
In the middle of the night, Fr. Nikodemos was taken to the monastery. The burial took place the next day after lunch, as he foretold. A huge number of people—metropolitans, priests, and his spiritual children—came from all over Crete to send off the venerable Fr. Nikodemos, who had flourished on the Holy Mountain and now rested like a grain of wheat, hidden in the Cretan land.
Archbishop Timotheos of Crete gave a word at the funeral. Today, an inextinguishable lampada burns at his grave, and Christians who come to his grave continue to draw an abundance of blessings and healings.
In the next part we will present a conversation between Fr. Nikodemos and the Romanian Hieromonk Ioanichie (Balan).
To be continued…