Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
Our venerable and God-bearing Father Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, also Nikodemos the Hagiorite and Nicodemos the Athonite, was a great theologian and teacher of the Orthodox Church, reviver of hesychasm, canonist, hagiologist, and writer of liturgical poetry. His life and works helped provide (among other things) an experiential Orthodox response to contemporary Western Enlightenment culture.
St. Nicodemus was born Nicholas Kallivourtzis c. 1749 in Naxos, Greece. According to his biographer, he was possessed of "great acuteness of mind, accurate perception, intellectual brightness, and vast memory", qualities which were readily apparent to those who furthered him along in his learning. He passed from the tutelage of his parish priest to that of Archimandrite Chrysanthos, who was the brother of St. Cosmas Aitolos. From there he made his way to Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), where he studied at the Evangelical School. Here he studied theology, as well as ancient Greek, Latin, French, and Italian. Persecution from the Turks, who ruled the Greek world at the time, cut his schooling short, and he returned to Naxos in 1770. He studied at Smyrna but was forced to abandon his studies during a time of Ottoman persecution.
In 1775 he became a monk of Dionysiou on Mount Athos. Upon being tonsured a monk, Nicholas' name was changed, as is the custom for those who had abandoned the world, to Nicodemos. He was initiated into the practice of hesychia, a method of prayer involving inner stillness, controlled breathing, and repetition of the "Jesus Prayer" (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner). Nicodemos aligned himself with the monks known as Kollyvades, who sought a revival of traditional Orthodox practices and patristic literature, and he would spend the remainder of his life at work translating and publishing those works. He would also compose many original books of his own.
In 1777, Saint Makarius of Corinth visited him and gave him three texts to edit and revise: the Philokalia, a defining work on monastic spirituality, On Frequent Holy Communion and the Evergetinos, a collection drawing on the lives of the desert fathers. He also wrote original works such as Lives of the Saints. He also later compiled the writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian and the writings of St. Gregory Palamas, although the latter collection was sadly and mistakenly destroyed amid political controversy over Greek revolts.
While some modern scholars have criticized his writings for influence from Roman Catholic spirituality, canon law, and theology, his life work clearly focused on reviving traditional Orthodox texts and ascetic practices, making use of limited materials at hand amid the Turkish occupation of the Greek world, which involved sometimes adapting Catholic materials. He translated and revised "The Spiritual Combat" (1589) by Lorenzo Scupoli, a Catholic priest of Venice, renaming it "Unseen Warfare," as well as the "Spiritual Exercises" of J.P. Pinamonti (sometimes wrongly thought to have been Ignatius Loyola's work), probably via a Greek translation by Emmanuel Rominantes. Accusations of Catholic and Pietistic influences on his work, a topic of controversy going back to debate over the Kollyvades ascetic reform movement with which St. Nicodemus was associated in the Greek Church in his day, have been disputed (for a recent detailed discussion, see the introductory materials to "Christian Morality," a 2012 English translation of "Chrestoethia of Christians" (which originally appeared in 1803). A current commentator in that translation remarks on how St. Nicodemus' text reflects in part "the monastic propriety of his age," and "conventions upheld by the civil authorities," rather than Catholic or Pietist influence per se, as earlier writers alleged. Archimandrite Chrysostom Maidones, Chancellor of the Metropolis of Hierissos in Greece, in a recent English translaiton of St Nicodemus' confession guidebook, also commented on how a neglect in modern academic theology of study of the "Fathers of the Philokalic movement," including St. Nicodemus, has contributed to some confusion about how to contextualize the Saint's work.
Yet recent renewed attention in the West to the Saint's works in their primary Orthodox context reflects the expanded availability of English translations of his major works, as well as greater awareness of the cosmopolitan contexts of Christian sources in the early modern period, through scholarship on the sequences of translation and adaptation of Roman Catholic texts in the East, and better understanding of the influence of the Orthodox ascetic texts of the Macarian homilies on Pietism, for example. In this light, the main context of St. Nicodemus' works can be appreciated as firmly in the tradition of Orthodox asceticism--exemplified by the influence of his compilation of "The Philokalia"--applicable in varying ways to monastics, clergy, and laity alike. The legacy of St. Nicodemus' voluminous scholarship thus can be understood from a larger perspective in part as an Orthodox response to a variety of eighteenth-century cultural movements in Europe, including not only the Enlightenment, but also the aftermath of the Counter-Reformation, Pietism, and Romanticism.
St. Nicodemus reposed in the Lord in 1809 and was glorified by the Orthodox Church in 1955. He is a local saint of the Metropolis of Paronaxia and the Holy Mountain. His feast day is celebrated on July 14.
- English translations of his work in recent years, often with prefaces by Orthodox scholars, include, in addition to older editions of "The Philokalia," "Unseen Warfare," and "The Rudder," the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies' "Christian Morality" or "Chrestoethia of Christians," the Uncut Mountain Press editions of "Exomologetarion--A Manual of Confession," "Concerning Frequent Communion," and "Confession of Faith."
- "The Synaxarion," compiled by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra (also an adaptation of St. Nicodemus' work), "July 14," pp. 146-153, including the current editor's footnotes. Trans. Mother Maria Rule and Mother Joanna Burton. Holy Convent of the Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia (Chalkidike), 2008. Vol. 6.
- Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (Roman Catholic)
- Modern Orthodox Saints (Vol. 3) by Constantine Cavarnos. Published by the Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1994 (ISBN 0914744410)
- Christos Yannaras, Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age. Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2007. (ISBN 978-1885652812)
- Kallistos Ware, "St Nikidimos and the Philokalia" in D. Conomos and G. Speake, Mount Athos the Sacred Bridge: The Spirituality of the Holy Mountain. Peter Lang, 2005. (ISBN 978-0820468808)
- "Nicodemus the Hagorite." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicodemus_the_Hagiorite