St. Nicholas “the Turk,” of Optina Skete (+ 1893)

Source: Icon and Light

August 17, 2021     

St. Nikolai of Optina was born by the name Yusuf Abdul. He was born in Asia Minor in 1827 or 1828, in the largely-Armenian village of Baghaghesh, to impoverished parents of noble lineage, who weaved cloth for a living. He was the eldest of three, having a younger brother and a younger sister.

When he came of age, he traveled to Trebizond and then to Istanbul where he made the acquaintance of the vizier, and then to Sivas, where he came to serve in the Ottoman Army. His regimental commander was pleased with him and he served there as an officer of the guard, attaining the rank of captain. He began to have dreams about the Divine Liturgy and about the Theotokos, and his sympathy for his Armenian compatriots in particular continued to grow. His unit was transferred from Sivas to Konya, and then to Erzurum, where he married the daughter of a senior officer—a great beauty and a politically-advantageous match. In 1853, during the Crimean War he was captured in an engagement outside Aleksandropol (modern Gyumri in Armenia), and as he observed the Russians who had captured him and how they treated their prisoners, he began to ask them questions about their faith. They recommended him to a certain monastic abbot, who sheltered him in his abbey in Tbilisi and where he was free to learn about the Christian faith. All during his captivity he attended Liturgies, primarily in Russian, and he determined to accept Christianity and to be baptized. However, this would not come to pass as yet.

At the end of the Crimean War in 1856, Yusuf Abdul was returned to Turkey along with the other prisoners, and he was forced to leave behind the friends he had made in the Christian monasteries, which he bitterly regretted. He was pensioned in gold for his time spent as a prisoner, and then retired to Erzurum and lived for some time with his wife and daughter. His father-in-law began to suspect him of apostasy, though he made no move against him. He became very good friends with the Armenian families in Erzurum, and they discussed the Christian faith. Yusuf collected a large number of icons and prayer-books from them.

... Read the rest at Icon and Light.


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