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Iconography and Hand painted icons

Saint Nicholas “the Turk,” of Optina Skete, saw a vision of the our Lord Jesus Christ and his heart was filled with a great and unspeakable sweetness.

Κοίμησιν τῆς Θεοτόκου _Dormition of the Mother of God_ Успение Богородицы_9128203Martyrs Florus and Laurus of Illyria, twin brothers who worked as stonemasons (2nd century)
The Holy Host of Paupers (300 martyrs), brought together by Saints Florus and Laurus
Hieromartyr Emilian, Bishop of Trebia in Umbria, and lay martyrs Hilarion, Dionysius, Hermippus, and about 1,000 others, in Italy (c. 300)
Venerable Barnabas and his nephew Sophronius, founders of Mount Mela Monastery (Panagia Soumela), near Trebizond (412)
The holy Four Desert Ascetics, reposed in peace
Saint Macarius, Abbot of the Pelekete monastery near Prusa, Bithynia (840)
venerable John of Rila, the wonderworker (946)
Saint Christodoulus the Philosopher, called “the Ossetian,” of Georgia (12th century)
Venerable Sophronius of St. Anne’s skete on Mount Athos (18th century)
New Monk-martyr Demetrius the Vlach, of Samarina (Pindos), at Ioannina (1808)
Uncovering of the Relics of Venerable Arsenios the New of Paros (1877)
Repose of Schemamonk Nicholas “the Turk,” of Optina Skete (1893)

Commemorated on August 18

Saint Nicholas “the Turk,” of Optina Skete (1893)

Saint Nikolai of Optina was born by the name Yusuf Abdul. He was born in Asia Minor in 1827 or 1828, in the largely-Armenian village of Baghaghesh, to impoverished parents of noble lineage, who weaved cloth for a living. He was the eldest of three, having a younger brother and a younger sister.

Παναγία Σουμελά_Sümela Manastırı_Монастырь Панагия Сумела_ Sumela Monastery_Soymela2When he came of age, he travelled to Trebizond and then to Istanbul where he made the acquaintance of the vizier, and then to Sivas, where he came to serve in the Ottoman Army. His regimental commander was pleased with him and he served there as an officer of the guard, attaining the rank of captain. He began to have dreams about the Divine Liturgy and about the Theotokos, and his sympathy for his Armenian compatriots in particular continued to grow. His unit was transferred from Sivas to Konya, and then to Erzurum, where he married the daughter of a senior officer – a great beauty and a politically-advantageous match. In 1853, during the Crimean War he was captured in an engagement outside Aleksandropol (modern Gyumri in Armenia), and as he observed the Russians who had captured him and how they treated their prisoners, he began to ask them questions about their faith. They recommended him to a certain monastic abbot, who sheltered him in his abbey in Tbilisi and where he was free to learn about the Christian faith. All during his captivity he attended Liturgies, primarily in Russian, and he determined to accept Christianity and to be baptised. However, this would not come to pass as yet.

At the end of the Crimean War in 1856, Yusuf Abdul was returned to Turkey along with the other prisoners, and he was forced to leave behind the friends he had made in the Christian monasteries, which he bitterly regretted. He was pensioned in gold for his time spent as a prisoner, and then retired to Erzurum and lived for some time with his wife and daughter. His father-in-law began to suspect him of apostasy, though he made no move against him. He became very good friends with the Armenian families in Erzurum, and they discussed the Christian faith. Yusuf collected a large number of icons and prayer-books from them.

At length, though, his house was searched by the gendarmes. They found his icons and books, and placed him under arrest. They stripped him of his pension and beat him severely with two hundred blows of the cane. It turned out that his wife had betrayed him to his father-in-law, who had informed the authorities. He was transferred to a civilian prison, where he was sustained only by the kindness of Greek and Armenian residents who took pity on him and brought him food. As a gâvur, he was despised by both the other prisoners and by the prison guards, who beat him and tortured him whenever given the opportunity. He was transferred to Beirut and then to Cyprus, where he was forced to live as a beggar. He was mocked and abused while he lived there, though he managed to get enough food to survive.

At length he was allowed – or rather forced, by greedy and vicious gendarmes who found equal pleasure in extorting him, beating him, and forcing him to march barefoot before them – to return to Erzurum. His erstwhile wife and his father-in-law cruelly turned him away from their house, calling him a gâvur, refusing his request to let him see his sons, and telling him never to show himself at their door again. He went to the Greek and Armenian merchants of his hometown and asked them for funds to get to Russia, and they arranged for him to flee there, raising a thousand roubles for his travel expenses. The Turkish authorities got wind of this and planned to arrest him again, but he managed to flee into the Caucasus in a beggar’s disguise, with the money stitched into his clothes. He was met with suspicion on the Russian side – they believed him to be a Russian deserter from the Crimean War – and was forced back into Turkey where again he faced arrest.

Not being able to return home to Erzurum in the open, without being recognised, Yusuf Abdul instead turned southward, seeking to undergo a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Here again he was aided by the Greeks and Armenians, who saw fit to aid him with money and supplies for the journey.

In October of 1874 Yusuf Abdul entered Russia a second time. He was set up in travellers’ quarters, given accommodations and food, and made the acquaintance of the mayor of Odessa, who offered to be his sponsor at baptism. This baptism, of which Yusuf Abdul had spent nearly two decades in deep desire and steadfast pursuit, occurred on the tenth of November, 1874, in the quarantine Church of Saint Nicholas in Odessa. Naturally enough, Yusuf Abdul took the Wonderworker as his patron saint, and was baptised with the name of Nikolai. When the Turks learned of his betrayal of Islam, they caught him and carved crosses in the skin of his chest and back and broke his bones. The pasha lost consciousness. Thinking that he was dead, the Turks threw him to dogs to be torn apart. But God preserved him. He regained consciousness, thanking God, Whom he loved with his whole heart. Passing Russian merchants picked Yusuf up. He told them that thieves had fallen on him, robbed him and beaten him. Out of compassion, the merchants took him to the Caucasus and gave him to a woman so that he could be taken care of. Yusuf recovered, but was unrecognizable. He was a bent-over old man, who walked with a stick, dressed poorly, but had a rich soul, endowed with spiritual power.

He succeeded in crossing from the Caucasus to Odessa and until 1891 lived much in Kazan, but also went on pilgrimages to the holy places of Russia. Once, setting out for Moscow, he found himself in Optina, which he had heard of through the fame of the Optina Elder Ambrose. He liked it very much there, but unexpectedly fell ill and was placed in the monastery infirmary. As he spoke very poor Russian, he asked if anyone spoke French. The French-speaking Elder Barsanuphius, who himself had been a colonel in the Russian Army and had served in Kazan before becoming a monk, was summoned to confess the sick pilgrim.

The Turk recounted his life to the Elder, but forbade him to reveal his secret while he was alive. During his illness he was tonsured under the name Nicholas, taking the schema. However, he recovered and settled in the Skete. Once, taking a walk with him, he suddenly said: ‘Father, can you hear the angelic music?…It’s a great happiness to hear it’. The Elder heard nothing and Fr Nicholas, in his simplicity, was amazed at his deafness. Indeed, this simple monk was carried up to heaven during his earthly life. He saw the abodes of Paradise and heard heavenly music. This we know of from the following event.

Fr Nicholas was always shy and silent, a sickly man who avoided everyone, although the monks all somehow involuntarily loved him. He never went to anyone’s cell, even in the daytime, let alone at night. One night, however, he came to Elder Barsanuphius’ cell. According to Fr Barsanuphius, another Elder, Fr Anatoly, had already summoned him and warned him: ‘Did you know that in our Skete, by the great mercy of God, we have our own St Andrew the Fool for Christ? Yes, we have such a man here who, whether in the body or out of the body – God knows – was, even during his life, taken up into the heavenly habitations. This is our Turk. I will bless him to come to your cell, and you question him thoroughly, and write down, from his words, what you learn from him. Only keep all this secret until his death’.

So the servant of God came to Fr Barsanuphius as an obedience. In his broken Russian he revealed his tale of the heavenly dwelling-places which had been shown to him by his Guardian Angel. The Elder’s heart trembled from the superhuman flood of the ineffable joy of triumphant, fulfilled hope. The discourse poured from Fr Nicholas’ lips and his face shone and shone, until it began to glow with some kind of extraordinary inward light. The Elder was awestruck and terrified and, in an unearthly way, joyful.

(As had happened several times in his life before, Saint Nikolai was given visions of things that would happen in the future upon earth, and also beatific visions of the heavenly realms, granted to him by the Most Holy Theotokos. Saint Nikolai had seen once, in his youth, the church in Odessa where he would be baptised, which is one reason for his devotion to Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. At one point in his illness he was visited by blasphemous thoughts and sensory images of devils for three days. He describes how his soul was gripped by horror, and he found it a great effort even to begin to pray.

Παναγία_Божией Матери Икона_Virgin Mary –Byzantine Orthodox Icon_b2672888d1e8d8348ee7115c48782050When he began reading the akathist to Saint Nicholas, he began to weep uncontrollably, and then his head was bathed in a light and a fire which did not burn him. He beheld a vision of an ocean of light, and before him appeared Saint Andrew the Fool for Christ and his disciple Saint Epiphanios, standing in silence before him. Looking beyond them he beheld a shroud of dark crimson, and enthroned in glory, our Lord Jesus Christ in robes like those of a bishop, and at his right hand the Most Holy Theotokos, and at his left Saint John the Forerunner holding the sign of the Cross. Saint Nikolai was filled with a sense of his own unworthiness even to behold them, but they all looked upon him with great kindness. He said it was not given to him to hear one word from their lips, but he did see Father Nikolai the schemamonk of Optina being welcomed into their company in the form of a child and in the robes of a novice.

He also saw a vision of hell, with Satan holding Judas at his side, and the false prophets, and numerous people of every age and condition in great despair, unaware of each other and unable to reach each other. These were all within an abyss, which lay between him and the crimson robe upon which Christ was seated.

He was then given a vision of paradise, which to him seemed both ineffable, inexpressibly joyous in any sort of human language, and yet also unaccountably familiar: there were trees heavy-laden with ripe fruits and birds which sang sweetly in harmony. Indeed, it seemed to him that paradise looked a great deal like the Optina Monastery, and its abodes seemed to him grander beyond measure than the palaces he’d seen in Constantinople, yet in the same familiar style. He saw the walls of Paradise inscribed with the names of the Twelve Apostles, yet he did not know the language of the writing. In his paradise, Saint Nikolai saw that it was peopled by a great multitude of those who had been beggars. These were conversing with an elderly man whom Nikolai was told was Saint Filaret the Merciful. He was seated in a garden, in the midst of which was planted the Cross. By an unearthly compulsion Saint Nikolai bowed before the Cross and his heart was filled with a great and unspeakable sweetness.

He was then granted a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos, enthroned as the Queen of Heaven, upon the balcony of a monastic palace and guarded by young men in luminous white robes. Saint Nikolai later recounted that he was not worthy to hear a word from her lips, but that he spent an immeasurable length of time in her presence meditating upon the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. Saint Nikolai did not speak about this vision to any except his confessor, Fr Barsanufii and that only under obedience to Fr Anatoli.)

According to Elder Barsanuphius, everything that Fr Nicholas told him can be found in the Life of St Andrew the Fool for Christ. For the Elder, the only thing that was important was the sight of Fr Nicholas’ infinite exultation and the glory which was imprinted on his glowing face. Only a true seer of mysteries could speak like that. With a voice breaking from indescribable excitement, from time to time he could only beg him to continue, not to fall silent…

Fr Nicholas finally ended, merely adding with a radiant, blessed smile:

Ερημίτης_Hermit_отшельник- еремит_6356504289_bb26eae09c_zWell, what else do you want to know… what else is there to learn? The time will come and you’ll see for yourself. What else could I tell you – or how could I tell you? There are just no words in human language with which to convey what goes on there. You know, there were colours I saw there that don’t even exist on earth. How can I convey all that to you? Well, listen to what I’ll tell you: you know, after all, what good music is. Let’s say I’ve heard something, and as soon as I’ve heard it, it resounds in my ears, it sings in my heart… and I continue to hear it. But you haven’t heard it. How then -with what words – could I tell you about it, so that by my words you could hear it and delight in it with me? You just can’t…. In the same way, what I saw there is impossible to convey to man…. The fact that this is the way it is, should be enough for you.’

Schemamonk Nicholas reposed at Optina three months later, two years after first going there. This was on 18 August 1893 and he was aged sixty-five. Only after his death did Fr Anatoly reveal to the monks what sort of man he had been, saying: ‘Don’t think that this was a mere mortal; a mere mortal is not given such mercy from God. Fr Nicholas was a martyr for the name of Christ and for confessing His holy name. When he was being washed after his repose, his whole body was seen to be lined with terrible scars. In his homeland, in Turkey, they had sliced his flesh with thongs as a result of his conversion to Christ, trying to force him to renounce Him. He did not renounce Him, and with God’s help escaped further sufferings from the hands of his torturers. Elder Ambrose of Optina, whom Nicholas had found due to his fame throughout Russia, sent him to us, to Optina’.

Blessed and long-suffering Nikolai, witness to the love of Christ among the Turkish people, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

Troparion of the DORMITION Feast — Tone 1

In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity;/ in falling asleep thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos./ Thou wast translated to life, O Mother of Life,/ and by your prayers you deliver our souls from death.

Troparion of the Martyrs FLOROS and LAUROS — Tone 5

You were practiced in the ways of godliness/ and gladly ran your course of martyrdom,/ and as illustrious kinsmen you were glorified by Christ./ O Floros and Lauros,/ we praise you as noble athletes,/ and we cry to you: O Saints,/ deliver us from all necessities.

Troparion of St JOHN of Rila — Tone 1

Your life was a foundation of repentance / and a model of compunction, / an image of consolation and spiritual perfection, / equal to the angels, O venerable one. / You persevered in prayer, fasting and tears, O Father John; / intercede with Christ God for our souls.

Apolytikion of St ARSENIOS — Tone 1

The glory of Epiros and the boast of Paros, the protector of Dasous Monastery, we honor you O Arsenios. You were seen as an angel on earth and through asceticism received heavenly virtues, because of this you were glorified by God granting us miracles, O Father. Glory to Christ Who glorified you, Glory to Him Who showed you wondrous, Glory to Him Who granted to us an unsleeping intercessor.

Apolytikion of St CONSTANTINE of Kappua — Plagal Tone 1

Neomartyr Constantine of Kappua, as a brave soldier of the Church of Christ, let us bless and praise O faithful, for he forcefully abandoned the impiety of his father, preaching the Savior, and having lawfully contested, he gave his head as a gift to Christ.

Apolytikion of monks BARNABAS, SOPHRONIOS and CHRISTOPHER — Tone 1

The three radiant lights of the three-sunned Godhead, who shone forth radiantly from the choir of monastics, as initiates and venerators of the Theotokos, and God-bearers annointed by the command of the Pure One, Barnabas the most-exalted, and the God-bearer Sophronios, with the noble Christopher, taught by God from nothing, all of those who honor their life, let us gather and honor them with hymns, for they ever intercede with the Trinity for us.

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