Nicephorus the Leper
Our venerable father Nicephorus the Leper who lived in the twentieth century as a monk in the leper colony of Chios. He was a disciple of St. Anthimus of Chios. His feast day is celebrated on January 4.
Father Nicephorus was born Nicholas Tzanakakis in 1890 in a village of Serikari of Chania, Crete. His parents, who were simple and pious villagers, died while he was a small child, leaving him an orphan, under the care of his grandfather. When he was thirteen he moved to Chania and began to work in a barbershop. Soon after he began to show signs of Hansen's disease (i.e. leprosy). When he was sixteen years old his disease became more visible. As leprosy was a transmissible disease that was treated with fear, Nicholas fled to Egypt to escape an exile to Spinaloga, an island leper colony. The disease continued to advance as he worked in a barbershop in Alexandria, Egypt. At the suggestion of a cleric who told him of Lovokomeio, the home for lepers on the island of Chios, Nicholas fled again.
In 1914 at the age of 24, Nicholas arrived at the home for lepers in Chios that was administered by the priest Anthimus Vagianos, later remembered as St. Anthimus of Chios. The chapel of St. Lazarus at the leper home, with its wonder-working icon of the Panagia of Ypakoe (Obedience), provided an atmosphere that opened for Nicholas his spirituality and faith. Within two years Fr. Anthimus saw that Nicholas was ready for the schema and tonsured him a monk with the name Nicephorus (Νικηφóρος).
His illness continued, as it would be until 1947 before a treatment is found for stopping leprosy. Yet, Nicephorus continued his obedience, fasting and working in the gardens, as a unique spiritual relationship grew between the monk Nikephorus and his mentor Fr, Anthimus. From this he compiled a catalogue of the miracles of St. Anthimus that he had seen with his own eyes. Nicephorus would pray for hours at night, performing countless prostrations, yet not offering a word to anyone nor spoiling his heart on anyone. He became the head chanter of the church. However, as he slowly lost his eyesight because of his illness, most of the hymns were chanted by others.
In 1957, Lovokomeio was closed and Nicephorus, along with the remaining patients, was moved to the Anti-Leper Station of St. Barbara in Aigaleo, west of Athens. At that time Nicephorus was about 67 years old, and his body and eyes had been totally transformed by his illness. At the Anti-Leper station lived a priest, Fr. Eumenius, who had been cured of the disease through the recent medical advances and decided to remain in the station near his fellow patients. Fr. Eumenius soon became a spiritual child of the monk Nicephorus, to whom as a reward for his patience, the Lord had granted many gifts.
Many people began to visit the leper monk Nicephorus, to receive his blessing. Confined to his bed, racked with pains and barely able to see, he would call on his visitors saying, "My children, do you pray? And how do you pray? …with the prayer of Jesus you should pray, with the "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me". Thus you should pray."
On January 4, 1964, Fr. Nicephorus reposed in the Lord, at the age of 74. His holy relics were fragrant when they were later uncovered.
Troparion (Tone 3)
- O venerable father Nicephorus the Leper,
- your struggles and courageous asceticism dumbfounded heaven's angels.
- Like another Job in pain,
- you endured and gave glory to God.
- And so, he arranged for you a resplendent crown of miracles.
- Rejoice, O guide of monastics!
- Rejoice, O prism of light!
- Rejoice, O delightful fragrance radiating from your relics!
Kontakion (Tone 2)
- O venerable father Nicephorus,
- shunning pain and bodily corruption,
- like a horse you gallop towards the heavens,
- the steadfast support of lepers.
- A brilliantly lit temple of God,
- your body shone in its illness.