Nicander, Hermit of Pskov

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The Venerable Nicander, Hermit of Pskov was a Russian ascetic of the sixteenth century, one of the wilderness-dwellers of Pskov. He is commemorated on September 24.


Nikon was born on July 24, 1507 into the peasant family of Philip and Anastasia in the village of Videlebo, also the village of St. Euphrosynus, the original wilderness-dweller of Pskov whom Nikon dreamed of emulating as he grew up. Nikon was not the first in his family to accept monasticism. His older brother Arsenius preceded him.

After his father died, the seventeen-year-old Nikon was able to convince his mother to dispose of their property and withdraw into a monastery, where she lived until her repose. He, himself, visited the monasteries of Pskov, and venerated at the relics of St. Euphrosynus and his disciple St. Sava of Krypetsk. His visitations firmly convinced him of his calling to the solitary life.

Nikon entered the employ of a Pskov resident by the name of Philip who rewarded his ardor by sending Nikon to study with a teacher who taught him to read the Word of God. The Lord, seeing the zeal of the young Nikon, directed him to the place of his ascetic effort when he was intensely praying in one of the churches of Pskov, Nikon heard a voice from the altar commanding him to go to the wilderness place which the Lord would point out through His servant Theodore. The peasant Theodore led Nikon off to the River Demyanka, between Pskov and Porkhov. Afterwards, both Philip and Theodore, who helped Nikon attain his goal, themselves were to enter upon the path of monasticism and were tonsured with the names Philaret and Theodosius at the Krypetsk monastery founded by St. Sava of Krypetsk.

After several years of silence and severe ascetic deeds, emaciating his flesh, Nikon went to the Monastery of Krypetsk where the igumen, seeing his weakened body, would not agree to accept him, fearing that the difficulties of monastic life would be too much for him. Where upon Nikon fell down at the crypt of St. Sava, and spoke to him as if to one who was alive, entreating him to take him into his monastery. The igumen then relented and tonsured Nikon with the name Nicander.

On the path of asceticism, St. Nicander endured many temptations and woes. Blessed Nicholas Salos, while still at Pskov, predicted St. Nicander's "wilderness sufferings." St. Nicander overcame all the manifold snares of the Evil One with the help of the grace of God and through the prayers of all the Pskov Saints and St. Alexander of Svir, who twice appeared to him, guiding and strengthening him.

Through the power of prayer Nicander conquered the weakness of flesh, human failings, and diabolical apparitions. One time, robbers nearly killed him and ran off with his sole, very precious possessions, books, and icons. Through his prayers, two of the robbers, taken by fright at the sudden death of one of their comrades, repented of their wicked deeds and received forgiveness from the Elder.

St. Nicander did not remain long at the Krypetsk monastery. Obtaining a blessing, he return to his own wilderness, and later, he again returned to live at the Krypetsk monastery, where he fulfilled the obediences of ecclesiarch and cellarer before again returning to the wilderness, to live there in fasting and prayer, meditating on the Word the God.

Once a year, during Great Lent, St. Nicander visited the Damianov monastery. There, he made his confession and received the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Eight years before his death he received the Great Schema. Through the years many people began to come to the monk Nicander "for benefit," since in the words of St. John of the Ladder, "monastic life is a light for all mankind." Believers turned to St. Nicander for prayerful help, since the Lord had bestowed on him many gifts of grace.

The wilderness-dweller had regard for all the needs of the visitors and even built lodging for them, "the guest-house at the oak," for which he provided heat. He did not permit himself to show off his spiritual gifts by going secretly to his cell. Yet, people would hear him praying with bitter tears. But, when he noticed there were people nearby, he immediately began to pray, concealing from them the gift of tears that he had received.

St. Nicander remained a wilderness-dweller to the end of his life. But, he gave his final instructions that after his death the place of his ascetic efforts should not be forsaken, promising his protection to the settlers of a future monastery. St. Nicander gave final directions to the deacon Peter of the Porkhov women's monastery to build a church at his grave and transfer there the icon of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos from the Tishanka church cemetery.

Foreseeing his own death, he predicted that he would die when enemies invaded the fatherland, and foretold this immanent assault. On September 24, 1581, during an invasion of Russia by the army of the Polish king Stephen Bathory, a peasant found the monk dead. He lay on his cot with his hands crossed on his chest. Clergy and people who revered the monk came from Pskov. Among them was the deacon Peter, and they all performed the rite of Christian burial.

In 1584, at the place of St. Nicander's ascetic deeds, sanctified by almost half a century of prayer, a monastery was built, which they began to call the Nikandrov wilderness-monastery. The builder of this monastery was St. Isaiah, who had been healed through prayer to the saint.

The glorification of St. Nicander occurred under Patriarch Joachim in 1696. Feast days in his memory were established for September 24, the day of his repose, and on the feast day of the monastery temple, the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos. During a reconstruction of the monastery cathedral church the relics of St. Nicander were discovered, concealed in a wall. June 29 is celebrated as the day of the uncovering of his holy relics. At present, strong bonds of prayer connect believers with St. Nicander, who is deeply venerated in the Pskov area.