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Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession)

Preface

by His Grace, BASIL, Bishop of Wichita

Almost all that were wounded by sin left hierarchs and confessors and ran to shabbily dressed Nikodemos, in order to find their cure and consolation from their afflictions; not only monks from monasteries, sketes and kellia, but also many Christians from various places. [1]

In his Introduction to the first English language publication of St Nikodemos' 'Handbook of Spiritual Counsel' (Symbouleutikon Encheiridion)[2] George S. Bebis wrote "There is no doubt that 'The Manual of Confession' (Exomologetarion) is one of the most impressive of the books of St Nikodemos, an edifying and helpful spiritual book"[3] and later mused that "An English translation of this book would be most beneficial."[4] The Exomologetarion to which he makes reference was first published in the year 1794 at the press of Nicholas Glykeus of Ioannina in Venice and has since seen numerous reprintings (e.g. 1804, 1818, 1868, 1893), including a 1799 translation published in Constantinople in the Turkish language (though in Greek characters) intended for the use of Turkish speaking Greek Orthodox Christians. Now, thanks to the inspired work of the Reverend George Dokos, who translated the work from Greek into English, and the devotion to the Patristic phronema by the Reverend Peter Heers of Uncut Mountain Press, we hold in our hands the long-awaited English translation of the Exomologetarion composed by our Venerable and Godbearing Father Nikodemos the Hagiorite.[5]

The son of Anthony Kallivourtsis and his wife Anastasia (Agatha in monasticism), St Nikodemos was born on the Aegean island of Naxos, one of the Cyclades, in 1749 and baptized with the name Nicholas. His first teacher was Archimandrite Chrysanthos Aitolos (+1785), brother of the New Martyr and Peer-of-the Apostles, St Cosmas Aitolos (1714-1779).[6] In 1764 young Nicholas was taken by his father to Smyrna where he was enrolled as a boarding student at the famous Evangelike Schole where he studied under the renowned educator Hierotheos Voulismas. Because of the violent persecution of Christians by the Turks which broke out in 1770, Nicholas fled Smyrna and returned to his native island of Naxos where, for the next five years, he served as grammateus (secretary) and synkellos (attendant) to Anthimos Vardis, the Metropolitan of Paros and Naxos. It was during this period of his life that he came into contact with three Athonite monks — Hieromonks Gregory and Niphon and Elder Arsenios the Peloponnesian — who, because they were Kollyvades,[7] were exiled from the Holy Mountain and had found refuge on Naxos. It was from these three monastics that Nicholas first learned of Athonite asceticism and spiritual life, including the practice of unceasing prayer and hesychia.

In the year 1775, Nicholas, now having an insatiable desire to be formed in the monastic life, traveled to the small island of Hydra in order to meet the greatest Kollyvas, St Makarios Notaras (1731-1835), the Metropolitan of Corinth.[8] Thus began his association with St Makarios which, over the next several decades, resulted in their collaborating to produce numerous soul-profiting works. While on Hydra, Nicholas also made the acquaintance of another experienced holy elder, Sylvester of Caesarea, whose life and counsels inspired in young Nicholas an even greater longing for a life of stillness and unceasing prayer. Thus, later that year, twenty-six year old Nicholas left Hydra for the Holy Mountain, bearing letters of recommendation from Elder Sylvester.

Arriving on the Holy Mountain, Nicholas went to the Sacred Monastery of Dionysiou where he made his metanoia before the holy Elder Makarios Dionysiatis and began his formal monastic formation. There he was tonsured a monk of the Microschema,[9] having his baptismal name of Nicholas changed to Nikodemos. He remained at Dionysiou for the next two years.

In 1777 his friend and spiritual guide, St Makarios of Corinth, visited the Holy Mountain. St Nikodemos met with him at Karyes, the capital of the Holy Mountain, and began what would become a lifelong collaboration of producing spiritual masterpieces by preparing for publication The Philokalia (first edition published in Venice in 1782), The Evergetinos (first edition published in Venice in 1783), and Peri tes Synechous Metalepseos ton Theion Mysterion or 'Concerning Continual Communion of the Divine Mysteries' (first edition published in Venice in 1783).[10] After St Makarios departed from the Holy Mountain, St Nikodemos was given hospitality at the kelli of St George commonly known as the kelli of the Skourtaioi. Here a bond of love was forged between St Nikodemos and that brotherhood which would nourish and sustain him (both spiritually and physically!) on many occasions through the remainder of his life.

Having learned of the spiritual giant and divinely-minded coenobiarch St Paissii Velichkovskii (1722-1794),[11] who, having been trained in hesychasm on the Holy Mountain, was serving as Schema-Archimandrite at the Moldavian Monastery of Neamts (in present day Romania) and spiritual father to over one thousand monks, St Nikodemos determined that he would visit him and receive spiritual sustenance. He began his journey to Neamts by boarding a ship, but shortly after its departure a violent storm arose at sea which forced the ship to moor at the island of Thassos. Abandoning his plans to visit St Paissii, St Nikodemos returned to the Holy Mountain and eventually settled at a skete near Pantocratoros where he placed himself under obedience to one of his first instructors in the ascetic life, the famous Elder Arsenios the Peloponnesian, who had returned to Athos from his exile on Naxos. In 1782, when Elder Arsenios again withdrew from the Holy Mountain, this time to the tiny and barren island of Skyropoula (south of Athos and across from Euboia), St Nikodemos accompanied him and struggled together with him in asceticism for one year, living, as St Nikodemos himself writes, "the life of a worker and laborer: digging, sowing, harvesting, and every day doing all the other things by which the toilsome life on barren islands is characterized." [12]

In 1783 St Nikodemos returned to the Holy Mountain where he was tonsured a monk of the Megaloschema[13] by the holy Elder Damascene Stavroudas. He then purchased and withdrew to the kalyva of Theonas near Pantocratoros, where he was joined by a fellow Naxian (named John in the world, but Hierotheos in monasticism) who served him for six years as his disciple and synkellos .[14] In 1784 his friend and patron, St Makarios of Corinth visited the Holy Mountain for a second time and encouraged St Nikodemos to correct and prepare for publication many edifying works. It was at this time that St Nikodemos began his composition of our present book, the Exomologetarion or 'The Manual of Confession' which is a compilation drawn from various works and Exomologetaria from libraries throughout the Holy Mountain, including that by Chrysanthos of Jerusalem, combined with the Saint's own inspired spiritual counsels.

St Nikodemos' Exomologetarion is as masterpiece of spiritual insight and direction which is composed of three distinct sections: the first being the qualifications of a true confessor, the second being the thirty-eight canons and seventeen penances of St John 'the Faster'[15] together with commentaries and interpretations, and the third being St Nikodemos' own fatherly counsels and a homily concerning the Mystery of Confession.

After spending two decades exploring the manuscript-rich monastic libraries on the Holy Mountain, editing and authoring scores of spiritual books, and composing sacred hymns for numerous saints, St Nikodemos returned in 1809 to the kelli of his beloved Skourtaioi brotherhood. On July 5 of that year he suffered a stroke from which he was never to recover. Knowing that the end of his earthly life was drawing near, St Nikodemos made his confession, was anointed with the Euchelion in the Mystery of Holy Unction and, each day, partook of the Immaculate Body and Precious Blood. On July 13 he asked that the sacred relics of two of his spiritual fathers, Ss Makarios and Parthenios, be brought to him. Having reverently kissed and embraced them, he made the sign of the Cross, crossed his hands on his breast, straightened his legs, and patiently awaited his falling asleep in Christ which came quietly early the next morning — July 14, 1809. He was buried at the kelli of the Skourtaioi.

In 1953 the Sacred Monastery of Megesti Lavra, oldest and first in rank among the twenty ruling monasteries of the Holy Mountain, of which the kelli of the Skourtaioi is a dependency, petitioned the Holy Synod of the Oecumenical Patriarchate for the glorification of St Nikodemos. Two years later, on May 31, 1955, the Holy Synod issued the Synodical Decree whereby the "clarion of the Spirit and teacher of virtue,"[16] the "shabbily dressed" Nikodemos the Hagiorite was officially numbered among the saints of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.[17] May his blessings be upon this book to the glory of the All-holy Trinity and the upbuilding of Holy Orthodoxy, and by his intercessions may we all be saved.

+ B a s i l
Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
July 14, 2005
The Commemoration of St Nikodemos the Hagiorite

Endnotes

[1] See the earliest Vita of St Nicodemos, written just four years after his repose by his fellow-struggler the Monk Euthymios: Bios kai Politeia kai Agones tou Hosiologiotatou kai Makaritou kai Aoidimou Nikodemou Monachou ("The Life, Conduct and Struggles of the Most Holy and Most Learned Monk Nicodemos of Blessed Memory") in the journal Gregorios Palamas (1920), 636-641 and (1921), 210-218. For an English language translation of the Vita from his Akolouthia authored in Greek by the Monk Gerasimos Micragiannanitis, see Constantine Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 3, St Nicodemos the Hagiorite (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1974), 64-95.

[2] Peter A. Chamberas, trans., Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain: A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel (New York: Paulist Press, 1989).

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Ibid., 43.

[5] The designation 'Hagiorite' indicates that St Nicodemos was a monk of the Holy Mountain (Hagion Oros) which is also known as Mount Athos.

[6] See Constantine Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 1, St Cosmas Aitolos (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1971). St Cosmas was glorified by the Oecumenical Patriarchate in 1961. His annual feast is kept on August 24.

[7] For a brief but very fine description of the Kollyvades movement, see Chamberas, Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain: A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, 11-13.

[8] See Constantine Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 2, St Macarios of Corinth (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1972). St Macarios' Vita and Akolouthia, authored by Nicephoros the Chian, were first published in 1863. His annual feast is kept on April 17.

[9] The Lesser Schema. A monk or nun of this degree is known as being a Stavrophor or of the Mandyas.

[10] For a listing of the more than one hundred published and unpublished works of St Nicodemos, see Cavarnos, Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 3, St Nicodemos the Hagiorite, 96-114.

[11] See J.M.E. Featherstone, trans. The Life of Paisii Velichkovsky (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). St Paissii was glorified by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 1988. His annual feast is kept on November 15.

[12] See Gerasimos Micragiannanitis, Akolouthia tou Hosiou kai Theophorou hemon Patros kai Didaskalou Nikodemou tou Hagioreitou ("Akolouthia of our Venerable and Godbearing Father and Teacher Nicodemos the Hagiorite") in a phyllada (Athos, 1955).

[13] The Great Schema. A monk or nun of this degree is known as being of the Great and Angelic Schema

[14] A cell-mate and attendant.

[15] Patriarch John IV 'Nesteutes' of Constantinople (582-595). His annual feast is kept on September 2.

[16] This is a phrase from the Apolytikion of St Nicodemos which, together with his Vita and Akolouthia, was composed by the late great contemporary hymnographer of the Great Church of Christ, the Monk Gerasimos Micragiannanitis (+1991). See footnote 12.

[17] St Nicodemos' annual feast is kept on the date of his repose, July 14.

From Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession), by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (Thessaloniki, Greece: 2006, Uncut Mountain Press). Order today from Uncut Mountain Supply! Posted on 10 March, 2006 (n.s.).