Trans-Volga elders-non-covetous

Три старца, 1915, Национальная картинная галерея Армении

World history is complex. Periods of prosperity, kindness and light are replaced by darkness and evil. Universal spirituality, its blooming oases are replaced by bloody calvary, torture and groans of millions of innocent victims.

Nil Sorsky is a white elder of the 15th century. His comrades-in-arms and followers are opponents of the acquisition of material, transitory goods. Acquirers of the holy spirit and eternal bliss. The Nil’s branch was extremely popular in Rus’.

The Nightingale Mountain

Nil in search of God, at the age of 20 comes to the then famous Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. There he is engaged in rewriting books. He took monastic vows and was mentored by the Venerable Elder Cyril.

And what does he see? Lack of spirituality, greed, careerism, cold-heartedness, pharisaism… Disappointed, Nil goes in search of an old man, his spiritual father. Nil enters into communication with the holy Bogomil elders while wandering around Rus’. They advise him to go to Nightingale Mountain, to Ephesus — the Mountain of the Mother of God! On Nightingale Mountain, the Mother of God herself reveals herself to Nil, anoints him and blesses him to go to Athos, where Her throne is.

Athos period of the life of Nil Sorsky

On Athos, where in the 15th century there were still elders and mental prayer did not stop, Nil comprehends the beginnings of mental doing. There he finds a huge library with tomes of the ancient holy fathers in the original. The ascetic does not leave the library. Having studied Greek perfectly, he spends all his free hours there with the blessing of the hesychast elder. Through spiritual instruction, he reaches the stage of hesychia — complete peace and bliss. In the monasteries of Athos, Nil receives a revelation about the Philokalia. Philokalia — the spirituality of Athos. Its meaning is kindness as the path of salvation and holiness (against all forms of evil: violence, humiliation, contempt, assault…)

After a long time, Nil returns from Athos to his homeland.

Russia was God’s seer

Nil Sorsky, represents a branch of contemplative saints of a reclusive-skete orientation, personifying all Russian saints, being a disciple of the Athonite elders and almost a direct successor (in spirit) of Sergius of Radonezh. They shone like saints and represented the image of Holy Rus’. What is holiness? This is the warmth of unceasing inner prayer, inner work and an amazing image of love.

Holy Rus’ was characterized exclusively by hesychasm. Its meaning is as follows: it is necessary to achieve purity of heart through sobriety and deep repentance in order to see God. Hesychasm was especially characteristic of Nil Sorsky, Sergius Radonezhsky and Seraphim Sarovsky. This contemplative-mystical tradition of seeing God (in the uncreated light) constituted the treasure of Holy Rus’ — Rus’ was a seer of God in the person of its elder fathers. And she was under the protection of the Mother of God.
The treatises of the holy fathers have been rewritten beyond recognition!

The young elder who returned from Athos was full of inspiration to organize monastic hostels in Rus’: instead of crowded monasteries, build ascetic monasteries for two or three people (first on the Sora River, and then beyond the Volga). Nil also wants to collect a spiritual library in Rus’, similar to the one at Athos.

Nil is horrified when reading Slavic translations of holy books: four centuries after Vladimirov’s baptism, the treatises of the holy fathers were rewritten beyond recognition! So many lies and false images! How easily it can be turned over!

The original fathers have not a word of evil. Only merciful love, patience, peace, mental prayer. The rewritten books emphasize Old Testament Yaldabaothism. Direct succession from the rabbis!

Nil begins reform. He gathers the brethren and organizes many hermitages. He edits the books himself. He has to rewrite dozens of treatises of the holy fathers, freeing them from additions.

The tradition of Nil Sorsky

Church historians call Nil Sorsky “the first example of a holy intellectual.” Skete life here involves not only prayer and handicrafts, but spiritual exercises, reading the holy fathers, correspondence, and translation.

The monks were distinguished by their sophisticated intellectuality. Love reigned in the relationship between them, and any coercion was excluded. Nil calls them brothers, not disciples, “for we have one teacher – Christ.” He calls them: beloved ones, that is, my eternal brothers. And he makes it a condition for spiritual activity to know to what extent your life corresponds to the divine commandments.

The popularity of Nil’s monasteries has increased exponentially over the past 20 years. The elder has many friends and students among the aristocrats (the most famous is Prince Vassian Patrikeev, a former boyar). Commoners and aristocrats are shocked by non-covetous grace. The nomads change beyond recognition in a short time! They achieve holiness, are born again, and adopt the face and image of the Mother of God!

The Nil’s followers believed in the reality of a living deity, kind, loving his children. They were the acquirers of the Holy Spirit and eternal bliss. They are opponents of acquiring material, transitory benefits. They believed that the main thing in a person’s life happens not in the external world (in relation to a person), but inside the person himself. Real life, corresponding to human nature, is the life of his spirit.

‘The organization of internal, spiritual life requires a person, among other things, to achieve a certain degree of freedom from the outside world, including from various worldly goods. At the same time, there is no need to strive for complete liberation from the outside world — hermitage in the minds of the Trans-Volga elders is the same extreme as living in material luxury. It is important that the outside world does not interfere with internal self-improvement. This is where the preaching of non-covetousness stemmed from.’

Confrontation. Images of Josephiteness

The Pharisees rebel against St. Nil, of course.

The fiery pillar of Bogomil spirituality, Nil Sorsky, is erected against the champion of evil — Joseph Volotsky (Sanin, 1439-1515). The elder rejects persecution of dissidents. Rejects monasteries and monastic property. He considers the monastic path meaningless due to the lack of a goal.

Joseph, abbot of the Volokolamsk monastery, has power over the Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III the Great himself (1440 — 1505). He calls for a “firm hand”, blesses despotism, petitions for the increase of the property of monasteries… He demands the death penalty for dissidents (“heretics”). He cites Rome as an example: the Crusades, the wealth of cardinals, the Inquisition… Those who preach the “wrong faith” should not only be hated or condemned, but also wounded. It is fitting for all Christians to hate and condemn heretics and apostates, and ‘it is fitting for kings, princes and worldly judges to send them into captivity and subject them to cruel executions. Volotsky despises the elders, hates the non-worldly and spiritual head of the Trans-Volga elders Nil Sorsky, symbolizing the archetype of Russia.

Two worlds, two truths collided — the kingdom of God and this world. The confrontation in spirit continued for more than 30 years. The institutional and political struggle of the Josephites (supporters of Joseph Volotsky) resulted in the convening of church councils in 1490 and 1503.

In Novgorod and Moscow, as early as 1471, a spiritual movement arose, called in the chronicles the “Novgorod-Moscow heresy.” Novgorodians are against the despotic power of Moscow. In November 1470, the authoritative and cautious Archbishop Jonah, who headed the city government, died in Novgorod. The Boyar Council is preparing the transition of the Lord of Veliky Novgorod to the rule of Lithuania. In Moscow, a plan for the fight against “traitors to the faith” was developed by Ivan III and his advisers: in the spring of 1471, take the city by force. The people of God come out with icons of the Queen of Heaven, speaking for the purity of the ancient Orthodox faith.

Novgorod Archbishop Gennady Gonzov (highly respected the “Great” Inquisitor Torquemada) and other bishops sent a petition to Tsar Ivan III demanding the mass execution of heretics.

At the council of 1490 on the case of heretics, Elder Nil and his associates were present and almost influenced the very decision of the council. Initially, all the hierarchs “stood strong” and unanimously declared that “all (all heretics) are worthy to burn” — and in the end the council limited itself to cursing two or three “heretic priests”, depriving them of their rank and sending them back to Gennady.

The most important fact in the life of Nil of Sorsky was his protest against the landowning rights of monasteries at the council of 1503 in Moscow. When the council was already nearing its end, Nil Sorsky, supported by other Elozero elders, raised the issue of monastic estates, which at that time amounted to a third of the entire state territory and were the reason for the demoralization of monasticism. Prince-monk Vassian Patrikeev acted as a zealous fighter for the idea of Nil Sorsky.

At this council, Volotsky managed to overcome the elderly and sick king, hold a trial and oblige the secular authorities to obey the church authorities in the fight against the “anti-church” Kaliki passers-by. The king is forced to agree.

Persecution begins against the Trans-Volga and Novgorod elders and throughout the Muscovite kingdom. Ivan Kuritsyn, Ivan Maksimov, Dmitry Konovalov were sentenced to be burned in a cage on the ice of the Moscow River, Archimandrite Cassian and Nekras Rukavov were burned in Novgorod, after having their tongues cut out. After them, twelve more were burned and the ashes were scattered… Nil’s assistant, Vassian Patrikeev, was suffocated by smoke in the Josephite monastery… The Josephites are driving out Nil’s followers, burning books along with ascetics and hermitages. The few survivors flee to Solovki, Ukraine, Wallachia… But the carefully preserved treatises of Elder Nil are miraculously preserved. Nil Sorsky could only see the beginning of the struggle he had excited; he died in 1508.

The People almost forgot Joseph. The image of Nil Sorsky, and through him the great elders of Mount Athos, the Mother of God’s inheritance on earth, continued to shine in the person of the ascetics — his disciples, led by the Holy Spirit. Paisiy Velichkovsky, Diveevo, Optina Pustyn… The succession of the Andreev-John (Nil’s) branch continues. And they will shine as a new sun among the disciples of the Venerable Elder Seraphim of Sarov in the fourth inheritance of the Most Holy Theotokos and the White Church of Spiritual Lamps!


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