Hieromonk Nestor (Savchuk) was a monk during the closing years of the Soviet Union. He was martyred for the Orthodox Faith in Zharky, Russia. His body was found on December 31, 1993.
Nestor was born in Crimea (now in present-day Ukraine) in 1960. As a young man, he concentrated on developing his wrestling, boxing and martial arts abilities. He was always distant from his family, had a keen awareness and stood out above his peers. Neither he nor his family knew at the time, but two of his great-uncles served at Pochayiv Lavra (Monastery), one as a married priest and the other as a revered monk.
In the early 1980s, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, an atheist and communist state, Nestor traveled to Odessa to work as an apprentice to paint religious murals. However, it seems that Nestor was motivated less by spirituality than by the need to work, because it was at this time that his friends, the older artists, would begin to inspire him with stories of righteous monastics, spending 1000 years glorifying God in this life. Despite the government of the time, Nestor saw the world's vanity and desired to flee it in order to arrive at ancient Christianity.
When he made his decision, Nestor left Odessa for Pochayiv Lavra, where he began his monastic life (and met his distant relatives). While the government regulated monasteries and required monks to be registered, Nestor never registered. In the mid-1980s the government began a persecution of the monastery, with some monks going to prison-camps and others 'disappearing'. Nestor knew that if he was found he would be treated similarly if he was found, but continued living, albeit in hiding, as an illegal monk. He was soon ordained a priestmonk.
Eventually conditions at Pochayiv deteriorated to the extent that the monastery was almost empty: either through monks leaving, being taken to prison camps or being killed. His spiritual father, Elder John Kristiankin, told him to go to Zharky. Hmk Nestor treated this as divine guidance and departed.
Priestmonk of Zharky
Zharky was a small, isolated and desolate village with few believers, surrounded by vast wilderness, and - due to flooded roads - only accessible in summer. The parish that Hmk Nestor would be serving was old and run-down, but had many ancient icons; added to this, a prophecy had been proclaimed at the church by two fools-for-Christ, who were also martyred there: "The priest who shall serve here until the end will be saved". On arrival after his long journey, Hmk Nestor went to his church. He was unaware of the prophecy, but he loved the ancient icons and the mystical air about the church, and said that he wanted to stay there the rest of his life. The police notified Hmk Nestor about an icon-stealing ring run by the Russian Mafia that had terrorised local churches in the area. This ring would continually harass the priestmonk, who loved the icons.
Hmk Nestor reminded Russians of their Orthodoxy. His youthful zeal brought new life to Zharky, and he was selflessly charitable, helping all in need, Christian or otherwise, in Zharky or out, often walking from other villages at night, regardless of season. He maintained an austere life of prayer. He relished his walks from other villages, disdaining a car to be alone with God, immersing himself in prayer. When he arrived home he would complete his prayer rule, which was hours more of chanting and tearful prayer.
Nestor went to the bus stop with some important documents. As was his custom, he tucked in his long hair and his beard, to keep a low profile. Three drunken youths approached him to taunt him with such lines as "Show me your cross" while grabbing under his jacket at approximately where the cross would be. Wanting to avoid defiling the cross, Hmk Nestor deflected their hands, and the youths attacked him. Using his previously-gotten skills in martial arts, Hmk Nestor dodged their punches; however, his concentration lapsed as he remembered his unguarded documents, and he was hit in the eye. The police arrived soon after, and Hmk Nestor told them to let the youths go. A month later Andrew, the youth that had hit Hmk Nestor, came to his house to apologise. After a long conversation, Andrew decided to join the hieromonk and follow his strict way of life.
Visit to Abkhazia
At one point, Hmk Nestor traveled to Abkhazia, Georgia, to help the suffering and to evangelise. Here, the desire for martyrdom was born. Hmk Nestor desired to stay in Abkhazia, but his spiritual father told him to return to Zharky, asking if "a mother (would) abandon her own children to raise another's children". His return to Zharky meant only further hardship and persecution, both for his church that was robbed many times and caught fire, and personally, where he met envy and strife, particularly from those to whom he gave most.
In 1993, three monks were murdered at Optina Monastery, Russia, on the night of the Resurrection. The autopsy suggested that these were ritualistic killings: the throat was slit, the stab wounds were in a specific pattern, and the dagger found had 666 inscribed on the blade. A man would confess to these murders, admitting that the killings were a satanic ritual and that he had deliberately killed the best monks of the monastery. Hmk Nestor, by his reverence for them and in explicit conversation, declared his desire to follow the Optina martyrs in martyrdom, as a means of repaying God for all that He had given Hmk Nestor.
Stealers of Icons
The church at Zharky was again robbed. Hmk Nestor chased the perpetrators, and - through a ruse where he pretended to be drunk, was attacked and was able to get the licence plate - was able to get the icons back. Meeting the gangster, Hmk Nestor found that the only reason for the theft was money, regardless of whether it was a church. Hmk Nestor pressed charges - despite being told that the Mafia would hunt him down, and his closest friends' pleadings otherwise - because the criminals were hurting the church, the simple believers, and were trying to hurt God.
Hmk Nestor narrowly escaped many attempts on his life, and he began to guard the church at night. The Mafia not only wanted the icons, but his life. One such attempt on his life involved someone knocking on his door. When he opened it, he was at gunpoint; in response, he walked back into his house and locked the door. When they broke in through the window, Hmk Nestor fired a few shots from his flare gun, but they knew that, as a priest and monk, he wouldn't shoot them. Nestor ran into his room, locked the door, and climbed out the window, escaping.
In response to the attempts on his life, Hmk Nestor doubled his work, giving all of himself to those who flocked to him. Sometimes he would lock himself in his room for 2-3 days to fast and pray, so as to receive the strength to go on. Because of his faith in and love for God, he was fearless.
Priestmonk Nestor was found dead outside the window of his house on December 31, 1993, with multiple stab wounds and a slit throat. He was 33 years old.
Why he was murdered is uncertain. While it can be explained by revenge for defending the icons of his church, an alternate explanation is that he was killed for espousing the truth in a world of spiritual decay.
Marler, J. and Wermuth, A., 1994, Youth of the Apocalypse, St Herman of Alaska Press, Platina.