Abbot Niphont (conclusion)

Abbot Niphont

In the meantime, Niphont reached an old age, having never neglected his monastic rule. And having renounced the world once, he no longer cared for things which were worldly and vain. He preferred the narrow, sorrowful way to the wide one. He came to love poverty and was an example of hard work, humility and especially non-possessiveness and chastity. He especially loved to talk to the brethren about the high merit of the last two, non-possessiveness and chastity. He exhausted his flesh with difficult feats, and his naturally weak health being exhausted by endless labors and struggle with circumstances, faded like a lantern. And the strength of his life was becoming depleted from day to day.
His simplicity tied with the spiritual wisdom and a life worth imitating, brought involuntary respect for him. He was friendly and affable in dealing with others, and along with complete non-possessiveness, he was merciful and compassionate to the poor. In a word he would not let anyone leave the monastery without having a good heartfelt memory of its Igumen. As a lover of the quiet desert life, in seeking greater progress in spiritual feats, he observed a strict fast; and prayer was his constant exercise.
He was especially loved by the Abbott of St. George Novgorod Monastery, Archimandrite Photius, who wrote admonishing, brotherly, letters to him on numerous occasions. A copy of one of these letters is offered here,

“Give me a blessing, Holy Father, forgive and pray for me a sinner with my brethren. I am asking blessings and prayers from all of your venerable brethren. I, for my part, a worthless monk, remember your love for Christ and keep it in my heart.”
“All learning is vanity, all knowledge is a dream and sorrow for the soul, if there is no piety. I have learned just one thing, that there is no better, higher life on this earth than the chaste monastic life. and that the cloisters and monasteries are in fact places of God….”
“I will also say that there is nothing sweeter and more nourishing for our souls and for the monastic life than the Holy books of the fathers and the lives of the saints.”
“St. Isaac the Syrian says that no one can learn about the kingdom of God from study, but only from the grace of the Spirit and from a life of piety.”
“Woe to us, the learned know-nothings – the teaching about Christ and a holy life – this is the treasure that cannot be stolen! Alas, just like in the beginning, so in our days the Lord prefers to catch the fishermen and simple folks into His nets, rather than the high-minded ones. Father, I know the insignificance of our scholarship, therefore I do not want to envy erudition. I have always had from the beginning of the monastic life love and advice of the elder-monks and continue with it till this day. The elders will teach me the art of life, and the art in life is most important. May you be saved, Father, rejoice, Christ is in our midst and always will be.”
“Your brother, friend and co-worker in Jesus Christ,
the unworthy monk,

Elder Niphont often, especially before the Holy Great Fast, admonished all of the brothers at mealtime in the spiritual endurance of all kind of sorrows. He taught how one should live at the monastery: to cut off one’s will, to pass the narrow path of the sorrowful monastic life. Sometimes in his cell he would humbly denounce one of the brothers in concordance with circumstances and the character of each.
In every possible way he tried to arouse zeal towards enduring monastic life, he genially convinced everyone to bear all of the coming afflictions. He advised everyone to have a spiritual father and engage in strict fast, and never turn back. He used to say, “If a person who is not doing any good deeds in life hopes to be saved only because he does not have grievous sins, he deludes himself. Because he, who does not care to acquire temporary blessings, justly does not get anything at all.”
The venerable elder, Igumen Niphont, having lived his life, being weighed down by the old age and illness, he felt his transition to eternity was close. Thus, he called for one or another of the brethren at times and gave them fatherly admonition from the Gospel to be zealous in monasticism, convicted to preserve bodily purity, have love for a fellow brother, to be adorned with humility, and to engage in prayer and fasting.
At the end of his life, even in his weakness. his constant occupation was prayer. He sanctified and strengthened himself with prayer. He expressed his readiness with humble boldness, to meet Jesus Christ, Who can come with glory at any time. With prayer, he passed away on March 8th, 1842, being 76 years from birth. The last farewell with the deceased Igumen, who was a true father for the brethren, was sealed with a loud cry of the monks, and all who were present at the funeral. The body was buried by the Church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos on the west side, next to the burial place of Abbot Ephraim, the spot, which he picked for himself. He resided at the monastery for 56 years.

Abbot Niphont

Abbot Niphont (Abbot of Sarov Hermitage when St. Seraphim reposed)

The ninth Abbot of the Sarov Hermitage, Igumen Niphont was from the city of Temnikov, of a family of tradesmen. While still a youth he had a desire to devote himself to the ascetic life at the Sarov desert brotherhood. While yet a teenager he earnestly asked to be received, yet he was not permitted, because the rules of the monastery forbade the acceptance of young boys. Therefore, he unwillingly remained in the world until adulthood.
In 1787, upon reaching the age of twenty, he left the world and came to the Sarov monastery at the time of Abbott Pachomius, and was accepted into the brotherhood. From the very beginning he showed signs of complete devotion to the will of the Father Igumen by abandoning and rejecting his own will. Whatever he had acquired in the world, he put to the feet of the Superior Pachomius, surrendering himself along with it into obedience. That surprised Elder Superior, and he always paid special attention to this novice after that.
Having put on the monastic garb Basil (this was his name in the world) carried out the duties assigned to him at the monastery storeroom and on the church kliros with a special zeal, quietly and humbly. With the consent of the Abbott and the senior brethren, in respect of such a constant laborious and attentive life, Basil was tonsured a monk on June 19, 1792 with the name of Niphont. Soon afterwards, in 1793 he was ordained a hierodeacon, and a hieromonk in 1796, and was appointed a common confessor for the brethren. He bore this duty for the benefit of the brethren, giving the brotherhood a plentiful spiritual admonition.
While being a confessor he performed the services suitable for the rank of a hieromonk. In 1805 he was appointed a treasurer. In 1806 from among all of the brothers he was chosen to be Administrator by Father Superior Isaiah and confirmed by the diocesan authorities. In 1818, on March 12, he was chosen to be the Igumen of the monastery. In 1832 he was awarded a golden pectoral cross. In 1834 he was appointed a dean of two monasteries. In 1837 by His Majesty, the Emperor, following a petition of the Holy Synod he was graciously awarded a pectoral cross decorated with precious stones for the useful service for the church.
While administering the affairs of the monastery Igumen Niphont diligently followed the monastic rules conferred by the Founder. He had a special zeal for church services so that in spite of all duties of the superior in external matters there was not a single service to God conducted without him being present. His zeal for the church services to God was an example for all at the monastery. When increasing his zeal and diligence for the Lord God and His Holy Church, he added labors to labors. While wearying, he used the example of the Holy Fathers of the old to overcome fatigue as much as possible. In spite of his old age and the weakness of bodily strength, he was always the first and the last at church services—coming at the outset and attending till the very end with an ardent love for the glorification of the Most Holy name of the Lord.
Igumen Niphont himself followed strictly, and always demanded of the hieromonk on duty at the early and the late Liturgies, not to hurry into the hours, but wait until all commemorative lists for proskomedia1 were read to the end. When the commemorative lists read were close to the end, then the sacristan would come to the hieromonk on duty and ask a blessing to start reading The Hours before the Liturgy. At proskomedia several brothers would come daily and pray for the health or repose of the souls of the donors and benefactors of the monastery. On all of the days set by the Holy Church for remembrance of the reposed after the end of the morning and evening service a Litia2 for those fallen asleep would be served in in the narthex. The lists would be distributed to the chanters and the names of the souls written thereon would be quietly remembered. Additionally, every Saturday a Panikhida2 would be served for reposed brothers and benefactors of the monastery, and in general, for all those whose names were entered onto the lists for eternal remembrance.3 Thus, the commandment to pray for the reposed was always fulfilled unswervingly. Elder Niphont also set for himself a holy obligation to observe the love of wayfarers.
In thirty-five years of his administration, the Sarov cloister acquired many adornments for the churches, as well as additions for the monastery buildings, through the sole care of this Elder, with his zeal and much love for the house of God. The true sons of the monastery always found in him a father and a benefactor; and those who did not heed his fatherly voice suffered many temptations. (to be continued)

1. Proskomedia is a preparatory service before the Divine Liturgy in which the bread and wine are prepared to be sanctified. Names for commemoration are also read in this service.
2. Litia and Panakhida are services for the reposed.
3. This remembrance is done also during the unceasing reading of the Psalter, established at the monastery, with the exception of Sundays and feast days. Night and day the Psalter reading takes place for the health of the living and in remembrance of the reposed brothers and benefactors of the Sarov Hermitage. For that purpose 12 monks are selected, who read the Psalter taking turns for two hours, remembering the names of the brothers and the benefactors in between the sections of the Psalter as they are divided for Church use. If someone’s name is entered during their life, they pray for health and salvation, when a person passes away, and the monastery is informed about it, then a prayer is said for the repose.