(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Nikodemos, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain
Of the countless devout monks who have served God and man on Mt. Athos, one man’s name has been synonymous with the Holy Mountain. He is remembered throughout Christendom as Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain. His distinguished record in the service of
God reflected a divine gift in literature and music. With this gift he refined the age-old church services and thus contributed in a rare way to the spiritual enhancement of Christian worshipers. His heaven-inspired genius was expressed eloquently in brief homilies and inmore extensive works that are classics of Christian literature.
Born on the Greek island of Naxos in 1749, Nikodemos was a child prodigy who came to combine a remarkable intellect with an intimacy with God. In his continuous intellectual pursuits he found himself surpassing his instructors until he met Ierotheos, a man of philosophical wisdom and profound faith with whom Nikodemos studied in the city of Smyrna.
Nikodemos did not enter a monastery on Mt. Athos until he was twenty-seven years of age. By this time he was superbly prepared for the great goals he had set for himself, which could be attained only within the confines of this magnificent cloister. His responsibilities increased with his spiritual projects, and as secretary and official historian of the monastery he became a most prolific writer of theology, and of literature as well. His pen added luster to Christian worship and brought literary laurels to himself. He became a “master of wordship.”
To supplement his references and to gather material for his many writings, he traveled to cities throughout Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, at times assisting local prelates in matters of interpretation and dogma.In Moldavia he offered his translation of both the Old and New Testaments, and in Venice he set down his masterful Philokalia, drawing from the writings of holy men of the Church to form a spiritual guidebook that has become a standard text for clerics. With the precision of a mathematician, he compiled the holy canons, the rules of the Church, and a number of service books for the sacraments used by clergymen today. Among the many manuscripts that poured out of his inspired cornucopia is today’s Pedalion, which sets forth the canons and rules of the Church from the fourth century with such precision and clarity that it has been termed the “Rudder of the Church.”Equally gifted in music, Nikodemos composed the beautiful hymns heard in Church during the Holy Friday services of the funeral of Christ.
His masterpiece is a two-volume edition of the Lives of Saints, a spiritual and literary feat which flowed from his pen in a relatively short span of time and which is the authoritative reference on the saints of the first seventeen centuries of Christianity. In addition to compiling service books for the clergy, he set down in prose the life and times of St. Gregory Palamas, an interpretation of St. Paul, and a detailed calendar of the Church feastdays. All of these works also won very high acclaim throughout the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
At a time when Orthodox Christians were suffering losses through conversion to the Muslim faith due to weariness over being discriminated against socially and, especially, economically, St. Nikodemos rushed forward with his Neon Martyrologion. This was an account of the new martyrs, ordinary men and women who thought so much of their faith in Jesus Christ that they refused to apostacize and suffered death, remaining faithful to the Savior. This book did much to bolster the faith of Orthodox Christians because the examples of martyrs Nikodemos described were not of supermen and superwomen but of ordinary human beings.
Beloved by all Christians whose lives have been enriched by this theological and literary giant and revered as one of the most gifted of its holy men, Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain died at the age of sixty on July 14, 1809.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.