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Nicodemus the Righteous of Mount Athos (14 July)

Saint Nikodemos (Νikόdēmos) of the Holy Mountain was born on the Greek island of Naxos in the year 1748, and was named Nicholas in Holy Baptism. As a child he was well-behaved, avoiding bad company and everything which might harm the inner man. He was zealous in his love for that which is good and beneficial, and he loved sacred and secular learning. His first education on Naxos came from the village priest, who taught him to love Christ and His Church. He also assisted the priest during the Divine Liturgy and other Services.

Later Nicholas attended the school at Naxos, where Archimandrite Chrysanthos, the brother of Saint Cosmas Aitolos (August 24), taught him sacred and secular letters.

At the age of twenty-six, he arrived on Mount Athos and was tonsured at Dionysiou Monastery with the name Nikodemos. As his first obedience, Father Nikodemos served as the monastery’s secretary. Two years after entering Dionysiou Monastery, the Metropolitan of Corinth, Saint Makarios Notaras (April 17), arrived there, and assigned the young monk to edit the manuscript of the Philokalia, which he had found in 1777 at Vatopedi Monastery. Editing this book was the beginning of many years of literary activity for Saint Nikodemos. He soon moved to Pantokrator Skḗtē, where he was under obedience to Elder Arsenios of the Pelopónnēsos, under whose guidance he studied Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers.

According to the testimony of his contemporaries, Saint Nikodemos was a simple man, without any malice, unassuming, and distinguished by his profound concentration. He possessed remarkable mental abilities: he knew the Holy Scriptures by heart, and even remembered chapter, verse, and the pages they were on. Moreover, he could recite long passages from the writings of the Holy Fathers from memory.

In 1783 Saint Nikodemos was tonsured into the Great Schema, and spent the next six years in complete silence. On his next visit to Mount Athos, Saint Makarios gave Nikodemos the obedience of editing of the writings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (printed in three volumes: Syros, 1790). This meant giving up his silence and occupying himself once more with literary work. From that time until his death, he continued to devote himself to such endeavors.

One of the ascetic’s remarkable books was his Exomologitarion (Manual of Confession), which was published in 1794. This was the first book of its kind in the Orthodox Church. Drawing from Holy Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, Saint Nikodemos lists the qualifications a confessor must have, if he is to be a true confessor, and offers advice on how one should prepare for Confession, how to confess, and how one ought to guard himself against sin after Confession.

The Saint also made great contributions by publishing liturgical books. Using materials from the manuscript collections on Mount Athos, he published sixty-two Canons to the Most Holy Theotokos under the title, New Theotokarion (Venice, 1796).

Όσιος Νικόδημος ο Αγιορείτης | Πεμπτουσία

The most wise Nikodemos is also known as a composer and interpreter of hymns. His Canon in honor of the “Quick to Hear” Icon of the Mother of God (November 9) and his “Service and Encomium in Honor of the Fathers who Shone on the Holy Mountain of Athos” are used even beyond the Holy Mountain. Some of his other books include the Heortodromion, an interpretation of the Canons which are sung on Feasts of the Lord and of the Mother of God (Venice,1836), and The New Ladder, an interpretation of the 75 Hymns of Degrees (Anabathmoi) of the liturgical book called the Oktoekhos (Constantinople, 1844).

It is readily apparent that the literary work of Saint Nikodemos was multi-faceted, representing more than half a dozen fields of theology: ascetical-mystical theology, ethics, Canon Law, exegesis, hagiology, liturgics, and hymnography. He wrote the preface to the Philokalia, and brief Lives of the ascetics whose writings are included therein. Among the Saint’s ascetical works, his translation of Lorenzo Scupoli’s book, Unseen Warfare (1796), is well known, and has been translated into Russian, English, and other languages.

Saint Nikodemos had a special love for hagiography, as attested by his work, New Eklogion (Venice, 1803), and his posthumous book, The New Synaxarion (1819). He completed a Modern Greek translation of Saint Paul’s Fourteen Epistles in three volumes (1819) as interpreted by the Hierarch Mētrophánēs, by Saint Theophylaktos, the Archbishop of Bulgaria (December 31), and others.

Saint Nikodemos also wrote An Interpretation of Saint Paul’s Seven Catholic Epistles (published in Venice in 1806).

In 1799 Nikodemos edited the New Martyrologion, which he and Saint Makarios of Corinth seem to have prepared together in order to demonstrate that the Orthodox Church continues to produce Saints, particularly Martyrs, who were subjected to the same trials, torments, and death as the ancient Martyrs. The example of the Saints whose Lives appear in this book strengthened and encouraged the Orthodox to remain faithful to Christ, and not to convert to the religion of their oppressors.

Saint Nikodemos prepared a new edition of the Pedalion or Rudder, in collaboration with Hieromonk Agapios. This was printed in 1801, and contained the Canons of the Holy Apostles, those of the Holy Ecumenical and Local Synods, and of the Holy Fathers.

His most edifying book, Christian Morality, was published in Venice in 1803. In it he says: “Those monks who are strong in body and in soul … should occasionally go into the world to preach and to counsel. Those who cannot go into the world, either because of the passions that assail them when they are in the midst of society, or because they are physically infirm, should seek the good of their brethren through prayer and by offering counsel to those who visit them, and if they are learned, by writing edifying books.”1

Not long before his repose, Father Nikodemos, worn out by his literary work and ascetical struggles, went to live at the Kelli of the iconographers Hieromonks Stephen and Neophytos Skourtaίos, who were brothers by birth. He asked them to help with the publication of his works, because he was hindered by his infirmities.

The day before he went to the Lord, he was able to make his Confession, receive Holy Unction, and then Holy Communion.

His first biographer, Father Euthymios, describes the Saint’s repose in this manner: “When the sun rose on the earth that day (Wednesday July 14, 1809), the intelligible sun of the Church set. The fiery pillar, the guide of the New Israel into piety disappeared; the cloud which refreshed those who were melting in the heat of sin, hid itself.”

His many friends and acquaintances mourned, and the words of a certain Christian were typical of the thoughts of many individuals of that time: “Oh, my Fathers, it would have been better for a thousand Christians to have died today, and not Nikodemos.”

Saint Nikodemos reposed peacefully at the age of sixty on July 14, 1809, and was glorified by the Church of Constantinople in 1955.

1 Constantine Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints Volume 3, Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite, pages 46-47. (Belmont, Massachusetts, 1974).