Pilgrimages

IN SKETE OF SAINT SAVA IN KARYES, ON THE DAY OF THE NURSING MADONNA
The Path of Exploits and Salvation
Already in his famous Karyes Typikon from 6707 (1199), Saint Sava marked this place as special. He set a very strict monastic rule, but he also excluded those who were leading an ascetic life here from any external authority, even archpriests and abbots. Vigil and prayer are here are endless, day and night, for centuries. According to Holy Mountain accounts, this is one of the most difficult places for monasticism. The struggle with the demonic forces here is literal. Now, here in Orahovica (Karyes), on the forefront of spiritual battle, the beautiful old man Nikodim lives, a great ascetic respected by all

Text and photo: Mišo Vujović


The night is dark and deaf, an occasional lamp or candle shyly flickering in the dark. The deaf silence is ripped by blunt sound of a slit drum – a caller for prayer, suppressed by a piercing ring from the bell-tower of one of the oldest shrines on the Holy Mountain. In the Skete of Saint Sava is like in a beehive. It is the Day of the Nursing Madonna, the omnipotent Mother of God and protector of the Karyescorner of incessant praying asceticism. The Karyes Typikon established strict rules of the service, which makes the Skete of Saint Sava in Karyesstand out among other monasteries and sketes. All twenty monasteries on the Holy Mountain must read one of the most prevalent prayer books – Psalter during one week, while at the Skete of Saint Sava the Serb it must be read or offered to God in prayer within twenty four hours and so on for eternity. Of course, the rule does not spare even the midnight mass, the hours, morning mass, troparions, akathistos, prayers for the healthy, for the ill, for deceased, the victims and martyrs, sinners and the righteous, the entire Serbian-Orthodox nation.
From all over Serbia, Srpska, Montenegro, the diaspora, an occasional believer appeared. Father Nikodim flies from the choir-office to the dining room. He oversees the typicon so that singers do not miss something, flies to the kitchen to make sure that Steva and Rile do not accidentally put too much salt in food. Chanting to the Lord can be mesmerizing and the head falls down overcome by sleepiness. But the sharp sound of the bell sounds shakes those present and awakens the night silence. Here, below Athos, majority believes, the sky and the earth meet. Here in the harmony of prayer tones the holy liturgy takes form of a heavenly melody of the choir of angels and singing competition of cherubs and seraphs. There are many young people among the old Holy Mountain wolves. On the right side, in the narrow narthex, of one of the restorers of the Skete, Dragan Tomić, Čiča, former director of ”Kolubara”, remorsefully moves the rosary beads in his hands. At the left choir office, singers from Serbia, at the right ”Psalter” one, brother Pero Mrkajić from Pale, disabled war veteran from Bosnian battlefields, more skilled in reading Kathisma than many theologians. Three young teachers from Belgrade arrived, as they say, ”to cleanse the soul”. The Vukosav brothers stand out with their height and built in the selected company of friends of this most prayer-intensive Serbian corner. Boško Jugović Tomić, a twenty-year-old young man from Novi Sad, serious and strong, does not show fatigue with a single grimace. Gusle player Đorđe Tanović in Serbian folk costume is in an honorable place with several Holy Mountain elders and priests.
Many almost did not sleep at all. Anyway, sleeping on the Holy Mountain is just a waste of time. Every step, metanoia, look, thought..., is a kind of charging of the soul. That is why it is difficult to determine age of the Holy Mountain monks. This unique country without women is full of young old men and old young men. Geronda (old man, in Greek) is a title that is not earned by age but strength of spirit and devotion to the Creator and prayer.
”And prayer gives back sight to the blind, shifts borders through spiritual perspectives, gives back strength to the weak through spiritual elevation, takes away suspicion from the hesitant, tames the strong, calms the anxious”, old man Mitrofan Hilandarac used to say, now a celestial epitope in that Serbia that is beyond reach for us, the worldly.
Exactly this feeling of closeness to God, this night, to the glory of the Nursing Madonna, the protector brought as a gift, according to the will of Saint Sava the Sanctified, by Saint Sava the Serb from Jerusalem, filled this small space like a beehive. Father Nikodim is equally present in both the altar and the choir, giving suggestions to singers, giving signs when the bells should announce the hours, watching that wicks of large candles on the central brass chandelier are shortened in time so that they would not make too much smoke and endanger the frescoes.

GERONDA NIKODIM

Old Nikodim, a Holy Mountain ascetic, the abbot of the Skete of Saint Sava in Karyes, devoted to the prayerful asceticism and silence, with a builder’s charge somewhat unreal for a Holy Mountain monk whose entire being is committed to serving the Creator and Heavenly obedience, washes his soul with continuous prayers. He has long stopped seeing the difference between mornings and evenings, days and nights, twilights and sunrises, does not count days, and has misplaced years somewhere in the timeless calendar of eternity. His thoughts, words, movements, and looks, prayer is reflected as coordinates of the meaning of monastery life. The life that is atonic, primordial, in many aspects unique and specific. For the monks, who are, like shadows, rising on the ladder of asceticism, pass and hover toward the permanent salvation, unity with God is only a path of enlightenment and joy – the road on which the few and the chosen go toward the eternal light of existence.
Geronda Nikodim lives an ascetic life, according to one of the most demanding typikons in the monastic world. The rule or the typikon that was left by Saint Sava is prescribed for three monks, and is performed by Father Nikodim alone. With his dedication, he paves the way for the Lord that will be used by the chosen to attain salvation. If there is a measure of praying asceticism and monastic devotion, the Skete of Saint Sava in Karyestogether with Father Nikodim is at the very top. He does not have theological education, in his words there are no puzzles, they are imbued with good heartedness and warmth, just like his eyes. He talks fast, sometimes disconnectedly, but with simple words he reveals the essence, easily senses a torment in a man. His gentleness, coupled with military discipline, energetic lack of compromise in obedience, in the eyes of those who lack the spirit make him an eccentric, but the believers feel the unmanageable power of the spirit of prayer. Father Nikodim is every day on a battlefield, for us mortals, fatigued by the bodily lust, unreal and invisible. He walks like a samurai on his toes, lightly and supply, as if he is not almost sixty. Monks come to feel the blessing of the Skete, to share the part of the cross-bearing ascetic endeavor, but they do not remain long. Many bishops, theologians of knowledge and science, leave the Skete embarrassed, richer for the blessing that is felt in every corner of this much unique edifice which cradles a vast list of names of the living and presented for whose health and souls this Holy Mountain ascetic prays, who arrived from Western Bosnia, as a very young man, almost four decades ago., to the holy imperial lavra – monastery Hilandar.
”It is getting more difficult there is more pressure on people and monks. Diseases are spreading, both physical and spiritual. The monasteries have become a refuge for many whose soul have been beaten or completely damaged by the world, through fast life, greed, various drugs. That is why we need strong spiritual people who will set them free from the ghosts of the past and help them clean up from the dirt of the past, and only then in a cleansed field of their soul they can build the Orthodox spirituality, as Makarije, the abbot of Studenica, used to say”, says Nikodim humbly, emphasizing that the family is the first and the last embankment of human civilization:
”Saint Simeon predicted that a conflict between his sons would arise, so at the Parliament in 1195, he divided the power, and appointed Stefan as his successor. But he said to them: My sons, have love among you. Who says he loves God and hates his brother, holds a lie in him.
Saint Sava was also unhappy because of lack of harmony in his family. Just like today, at that time close relatives argued out of vanity and arrogance, slandering one another. He used to reconcile the brothers in dispute, Vukan and Stefan, over his father's relics. Because of everything, he was often going back to the Holy Mountain, to find solace and dedicate himself to prayer and God. That is why he built a few sketes and this skete with a special typikon.”
As he talks to us, Father Nikodim stands in front of the fresco of the father and son. It reminds us how the two great men abandoned enormous strength and power, replacing force and lordship with modest service to the Creator.
”When the powerful Stefan Nemanja became humble monk Simeon, he gave quietly and obediently his will to his youngest son, then hieromonk Sava, with the words: Until today I was your father, and as of today I am your spiritual son, my dear child. After his father's death, Saint Sava, disappointed with the relationship between the brothers, came to the Iviron monastery on the Holy Mountain, asking for a blessing from the Karyesmonks to build a skete in Karyesas a unique prayer corner, for himself and his kind”, says Father Nikodim.

NURSING MADONNA

”Getting ready to deliver his soul to the Lord, Saint Sava the Sanctified gives his last will to the assembled monks: Fathers and brothers, come to my deathbed, the Lord to whom I have been serving all my life announces the end of my earthly life and I bequeath to you, write it down, that a lot of time will pass, and a descendant of an emperor will come bearing my name. Give to him the miraculous icon of the Nursing Madonna and my cane.
At the beginning of the 13th century Saint Sava the Serb goes to Palestine and visits the monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified. Along with the abbot cane and the Nursing Madonna, he also received the icon of Three-Handed Madonna, which he donated to Hilandar Monastery, gave the Nursing Madonna to his skete, and the cane to Paterica, a sell outside Hilandar.
When our Saint Sava came to the monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified, a miracle happened. He came to worship the relics of his role model and spiritual father after whom he was named. As he approached, the cane slowly descended before him. The monks as if did not understand and they put it back, and so the miracle was repeated three times. However, when our Lord saw that the monks do not pay attention, the miraculous icon of the Nursing Madonna moved from its stand toward our Saint Sava. Then the monks were astonished and remembered the bequeathal”, said Father Nikodim enthusiastically in front of the fresco of Saint Sava the Sanctified. Convinced that the icon of the Nursing Madonna is one of the oldest in the whole of Christianity and that it comes from the first century, while the Three-Handed Madonna was created in the 4th century.
Another unique example is that the icon of the Nursing Madonna on the iconostasis of Skete is on the right hand side of Christ. Father Nikodim explains that with this act, Saint Sava, with the blessing of the ecumenical patriarch, paid respect to the Mother of God.

KARYES TYPIKON 1199

... And so did I, of all the last and the most sinful, always weak and slow for ascetic life, having come to the Holy Mountain, find the God chosen holy people rushing to lead ascetic life in different ways. And so, having strengthen my weakness, I tried as much as my strength would allow, I built the holy monastery, the home to the holy Mother of God, Virgin Mary, the holy monastery, and cells sufficient form me in Karyes, where the abbot and all brothers would reside when they come.
In this, again, I built here in Orahovica a place for solace, for our holy and venerated father Sava, for an apartment for two or three, by the words of the Lord: ”Where two or three are collected in my name, I am among them.” That is why I give this order, so everyone knows: even the protos does not have power over this cell, or the abbot of our holy monastery, or any of the brothers to disturb the one who lives in this cell of Saint Sava. And what is found in this cell, be it wine, be it fruit, our monastery is not to take any of it, and our abbot is not to give it to others, on the contrary, our monastery should give here in memory to Saint Sava 60 liters of oil.
As for everything else, I leave it to the will of the abbot and my brothers; if they can in any way help the brother who lives in this cell, i believe in God that you will not lack abundance of flour or a glass of oil, if you want to take my prayer, even if sinful, to your assistance. Because, the one who I leave in this cell after my death, he should stay here for the rest of his life, not replaced by anybody.
Then, however, I give this rule to be applied, that the abbot and all brothers of this holy monastery get together, and to elect a god-fearing man, who is suitable to live in the cell in this place. Or if he is – like the abbot, or someone else of those who served in this holy place, to be sent to that place, and he shall have all freedom and power over that cell, as written above. And neither the monastery, nor the abbot, shall have power over that cell. And nobody should be appointed to this cell, for a bribe, who is not worthy of the spiritual rule.
I hereby prescribe this constitution, in his cell, should be held by the one who lives in it. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – do not eat oil, and do not drink wine; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays– eat oil and drink wine. And in all these five days should eat once a day. On Saturdays and Sundays, however – fish and cheese and everything else; and should twice once a day.
And during the Great Lent, on Saturdays and Sundays eat oil and sip wine; and in other days – neither wine nor oil.
And for the lent of the Birth of Christ– as prescribed for other days, let it be the same then.
And for the lent of the Holy Apostles, should eat the same as in other days as regularly prescribed.
In chanting, the following rules shall apply: matins and evening service – as the custom requires, during matins throughout the year should chant three kathismas of the psalter, and for evening service ”To the Lord, when” without troparion.
Hours are sang differently. The first hour in the matins without psalter. At the third hour, and the sixth and ninth, we chant three kathismas of the psalter, with metanoias, as we are used to. At every beginning, at ”Come close, let us bow”, three metanoias. And again, when the psalm is finished and ”Halleluiah” is said, three metanoias. Either at the evening service, or matins, or during readings of the psalter, or during hours, or at the midnight service, at every service when the end is served, where it is said ”God, be merciful toward us and bless us” – twelve metanoias.
And the midnight service is chanted in the church with the ”The Blessed” and three kathismas, and cannon to the Mother of God. And what is left of the psalter, say it either during the day or during the night, the important thing being that the psalter is chanted in a day and night.
On Saturday evening, vigil is observed, according to our customs. And this is what we sang during the Vigil: as we say ”Trisagion” and ”Lord, have mercy on me”, then we chant the vigil cannon. And then we read a chapter from the Four Gospels. If it is impossible, to halve. And then the matins service begins. Having chanted ”God the Lord” after The Six Psalms, and then Having chanted three kathismas, and the fourth kathisma ”The Blessed” with chorus ”The Council of Angels”; then sedilne, then čtenije, i and after this level, ”Everything that Breathes”, Gospel, by Gospel ”The Resurrection of Christ” and then ”Lord, have mercy on me” and songs together should be sung alone. And then the cannon resurrect, as we are used to, and holy – if you have. And then the end, as is prescribed.
About sacred and divine liturgies: according to the possibility, the following services.
And during great Lord’s holidays we should pay attention to the chanting and night vigils, remembering the words saying: ”Be awake and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation; because the spirit is hearty, and body powerless.” For this reason be awake, because in the fruit of your effort you will enjoy if you do this, and you will be blessed.
These, therefore, rules of chanting and eating we have written. I beg and require that they remain unchanged, except in case of illness; then, as much as the strength allows.
About drinking and eating: if it happens that someone dear to you comes to you searching for consolation, lent can be interrupted then – except Wednesdays and Fridays.
About the freedom of this place: I swear by the Lord our Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother, as we have written here should not be changed. If anybody change this, and disturb the person who lives in this place, or takes anything that is found in this place, either books or icons or anything else, whichever is found in this place, let him be damned and tied by the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and me the sinner. And let him not be forgiven either in this century or in the next. For this reason I have written and signed this manuscript, in 6707 (1199).
The last of all, Sava the sinful.

***

For the Trinity
Saint Sava felt that three monks are needed here, special and selected ones, and Father Nikodim does everything alone. That is why one brother from Hilandar calls Nikodim ”The Ninja of Karyes”.

***

The First Line of Fire
Karyes, or Orahovica, already by the accounts of the holy fathers, is one of the most difficult laces of monastic obedience, says Father Nikodim:
”All fathers say that this is the most difficult place, where a monk must fight demonic forces with his blood and sweat. That is why Saint Sava buried himself into the ground for some time and prayed there. There used to be a cave at the very entrance, which was later backfilled for safety reasons”.

***

Restoration
The events in the fatherland, where communists ruled for more than half a century, have certainly taken their toll on the temples both in the country and beyond. Very much abandoned and desolated skete of Saint Sava in Karyes was only restored in the early 2000’s, with the effort and building energy of Father Nikodim, whose miraculous prayers invoked dozens good people from Srpska to Russia to make this beautiful corner in Orahovica worthy of its founder and the first ascetic.

***

Father Nikodim’s Prayer
Old pilgrims say that one should always suffer a little before arriving to holy places. Believers use d to go on a pilgrimage on foot. There were those who would travel the last section crawling on their knees, trying to ”kill” the arrogance and atone for their sins with few additional drops of sweat. Today, in the era of virtual communication, an e-mail is sometimes misplaced, Wi-Fi is sometimes down, and here is a temptation. Half of the members of our team had the names of virtual paths from Hilandar to Ouranoupoli misplaced. We could not ascertain out whether it was fax that failed or e-mail, which are still equally used here, since many on the Holy Mountain reject the temptation and trap called the internet. The staff at the Holy Mountain office in Ouranoupoli just shrugged. We were not in the computer, on the list of annual permits, or on single entries. We put Milenko and gusle player onto a boat and saw them off, remaining at the pier with several housewives who saw off their husbands to a small Holy Mountain pilgrimage. Only one Romanian woman, with her head covered with a colorful scarf from the time of Ceausescu, more sadly than the two of us watched the whiteness that foamed behind the big ferryboat ”Agios Panteleimon”.
While I was feverishly making phone calls, my young co-traveler from Novi Sad, Boško Jugović Tomić, turned to me with great comfort, looking straight into my eyes: ”Easy, the prayers of Father Nikodim are powerful. It is important that he knows we have a problem”. This young man spoke calmly and decisively as an old Holy Mountain monk, who had long surrendered his will to the Lord. The prayers of Father Nikodim were really effective. In a short time, Želјko Savić Svetogorac, son of our late colleague from Belgrade Radio, Batica Savić, appeared before us, grabbed our passports and returned with permits in only a few minutes. Also, we embarked a speedboat operated by his Greek friend Gerasim. Steva the Versatile sent monk Haralampy to the dock with a powerful ”Toyota Hilux” SUV. He drove us to Karyes, in record time, with singers of heavenly voices from Simonopetra Monastery played at the highest volume, driving as if we were on a Paris–Dakar rally, skidding in turns, and sliding a little on the macadam road. Father Nikodim’s prayers were really effective, as well as joy when he saw us at the door of the Saint Sava’s Skete in Karyes.

 

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