It is not known where Fr. Nicetas (Illarionovich Rodionov or Ignatiev) was born. Once he was asked: "Is your homeland far?" "Far, where the vines grow - my homeland is there," replied batyushka. "When the pilgrims went to Jerusalem, to the Black Sea, they spent the night with us."
The hospitable house of his parents was always open for wanderers. Fr. Nicetas had a brother, Demetrius, who was eight years older than he, and their father used to explain his hospitality as follows: "I have two sons. Maybe they will have to go wanderingâ€¦" That's how it turned out, at any rate in the case of the younger son. Fr. Nicetas said that since his parents gave refuge to pilgrims, he himself was later hidden by kind people.
One old wanderer lived for a long time with his parents, and they buried himâ€¦ Many years later, Fr. Nicetas would be secretly buried, at great risk, by those who gave him his last shelter.
Fr. Nicetas had a Christian upbringing; he said that he was close to the Church from his young years, and declined from playing games: "The young people would go and play, but I - to the churchâ€¦" From his childhood he read and chanted on the kliros, and learned all the services; the boy also read the Apostle, for which he stood on a bench.
Fr. Nicetas' parents were called Illarion and Euphrosyne. They were tortured by the Bolsheviks - starved to death. They locked them in one of the rooms of their house and didn't let anyone bring them food, telling everyone that they were ill. But the neighbours knew what kind of illness they had - they said that if they had had something to eat, they would have recovered.
Fr. Nicetas was apparently born at the beginning of the century. Thus when the revolution came he was 16 or 17. It is not known whether his parents were still alive at that time. He was caught by the reds with an appeal in his hands written by a starets called Jonah. The young man was taken to be shot, but on the way he lost consciousness and turned up in hospital, where a doctor he knew helped him to escape.
At some time in his youth, in the south, he met Archimandrite Seraphim and Matushka Catherine Ilyinichna Golovanova. She was a nun in a monastery whose spiritual father was Archimandrite Seraphim; she had been raised in the monastery since her childhood. The future destiny of Fr. Nicetas was closely bound up with the destinies of these two people, although, unfortunately, we do not know under what circumstances their acquaintance took place. Perhaps it took place later, during his exile in Turkestan, where he was sent for refusing to serve in the Red Army. There were exiled clergy and bishops in Turkestan at that time. Fr. Nicetas met them, and, according to some information, it was there that he was ordained to the priesthood. They said that Archimandrite Seraphim was from some monastery near Tashkent. Perhaps Fr. Nicetas met him during his term of exile?
The exiles wanted to go to the mountains, where there was a place already prepared for them. But then they were scattered, and Fr. Nicetas
remained alone. When his term of exile expired, he did not go to be registered, but set off from Moscow, where his brother Demetrius was, serving as a deacon. There also was Archimandrite Seraphim, who had come from Tashkent.
Fr. Nicetas said that during the time of his service in Moscow he twice held the robe of the Saviour in his hands; he raised it and showed the ark in which it was laid to the people. The robe of the Lord was in the Dormition cathedral, so did Fr. Nicetas serve there, or did he receive the holy object during a cross procession?
Fr. Nicetas was not registered in Moscow. His life there became more and more intolerable; they were searching for him, and at one point he had to save himself by jumping out of a moving tram. His position became especially difficult after the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927.
Fr. Nicetas' name's day was May 24 according to the old calendar - the feast of St. Nicetas the Stylite.
In Moscow there was a certain matushka who was nicknamed 'dark', that is, blind. Once for some reason she started to abuse Fr. Nicetas:
"Schismatic, schismatic, you've left Vladyka Sergius?! I'm going to Sergius now; he'll come for you in a van and take you with him - you'll serve with him!"
But Fr. Nicetas, without panicking, firmly explained that he would never serve with Metropolitan Sergius, adding:
"He goes round Moscow in a van by day, while I walk the streets by nightâ€¦"
"What's your name? Nicetas?" asked the clairvoyant matushka (she did not know his name).
At that point matushka as it were struck Fr. Nicetas on the head with the palm of her hand.
"So be a pillar of Orthodoxy!"
She had been testing him by reviling him as a schismaticâ€¦
It was during his time in Moscow that Fr. Nicetas got to know Bishop Maximus (Zhizhilenko), who had been consecrated to the episcopate with the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon specially for the Catacomb Church. They even rented a room together, but unfortunately nothing is known of their life together except the following tragic episode.
As they were returning home one evening, Bishop Maximus and Fr. Nicetas noticed a light shining in the windows of their room. This put them on their guard. "Something's not right: there's a light burning in the house, and our room is lit upâ€¦"
Fr. Nicetas went to the back door: the landlady, recognizing him, waved him away. It turned out that a search was taking place in their room: one policeman was rummaging in their things, while the other was dozing at the table. Fr. Nicetas tried to take Bishop Maximus away, but he decisively refused: "I have to go - my mitre and vestments are there!" He didn't want to leave his hierarchical vestments in the hands of the police, so he went to the room and was arrestedâ€¦
We don't know whether this was the same arrest that brought Bishop Maximus to Solovkiâ€¦ But we know that on Solovki Bishop Maximus met the other Catacomb Bishops Victor of Vyatka and Nectarius of Yaransk. It was with the blessing of Bishop Nectarius that Fr. Nicetas was to carry out his service in Vyatka provinceâ€¦
This took place as follows. After Bishop Maximus' arrest, they continued hunting for Fr. Nicetas, and it became impossible for him to stay any longer in Moscow. Archimandrite Seraphim was at that time in Yoshkar-Ola; and it was from there that Fr. Nicetas received an invitation to go to him. According to one version, this letter contained the advice to go to Kazan on his way, and meet Vladyka Nectarius. According to other versions, Fr. Nicetas first went to Fr. Seraphim in Yoshkar-Ola, and from there was sent by him to Bishop Nectarius in Kazan. "You go to Vladyka," he said; "he'll decide your courseâ€¦"
Fr. Nicetas recounts: "I went to Kazan, and searched for the street, and the number of the houseâ€¦ I arrived - he was doing some carpentry. He was not tall, dressed in civil clothes and a jacket. "How can I find Vladyka Nectarius and see him?" "Right now," he said, "you'll see him." He turned quickly - he was brisk, young, he'd only just left the Academy, He went up, put on his cassock, ryassa and klobuk, and said: "Here's Vladyka Nectarius for you."
Fr. Nectarius took his blessing and confessed that he felt awkward in front of Vladyka: "I took you for a noviceâ€¦" "That's nothing - I took you for a metropolitanâ€¦"
Fr. Nicetas was indeed impressive, good-looking. According to his spiritual children he was gifted both with good looks and height and a beautiful voice and hairâ€¦
Speaking about his voice: after the conversation, Vladyka Nectarius took Fr. Nicetas out of the cell to sing near the yard. When he began to sing, the neighbours began to run up and listenâ€¦
During their conversation, Fr. Nicetas said that he had not signed the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and after that was subject to persecutions in Moscow, so that it had become impossible for him to stay there. "Archimandrite Seraphim advised me to come to you, Vladykaâ€¦"
"So go to Vyatka province," said Vladyka. "Go to Sanchursk, live there, it's a bit quieterâ€¦ " and Bishop Nectarius wrote a paper with approximately the following content: "I allow Protopriest Nicetas Ignatyevich to serve in all the Orthodox churches of Yaransk dioceseâ€¦" (At that time there still existed Orthodox churches subject to Bishop Nectarius, which he ruled from Kazan.). "Vladyka, I just went to stay with Fr. Seraphim, just for two weeksâ€¦" Vladyka slapped him on the shoulder: "Perhaps for twenty yearsâ€¦"
His prophetic words were fulfilled twice over - Protopriest Nicetas spent, not twenty, but forty years in those regionsâ€¦
Having spent the night with Vladyka, in the morning Fr. Nicetas went to Yoshkar-Ola, where a telegram, like the finger of destiny, came for him: in the village of Gorodishche they had seized a priestâ€¦ He had to obey the Bishop and set off for the vacant place in Gorodishche, the more so in that he had failed to resolve his destiny in any other way: Fr. Nicetas had nowhere to return to. They used to travel by cart in those days; they found such a transport, and just as they arrived at Gorodishche the wheel fell off, as if it had been waiting just for thatâ€¦
The villagers were overjoyed at the arrival of Fr. Nicetas; there had been an elder Miron in those parts who had prophesied: the hill of Gorodishche will be covered with velvetâ€¦ And truly it was covered with people as if with velvet: parishioners came to it from all sides, both on foot and on horse, so as to delight in the services of Fr. Nicetas. During the service, they say, no one left the church, and at the end the people did not want to disperse, as if waiting for somethingâ€¦ This waiting was characteristic of people who, it seemed, had been starved of a true pastor, who did not know how to act at this terrible crisis in Russian life. Fr. Nicetas gave everyone the advice not to join the collective farmsâ€¦
But disagreements began with the second priest, Fr. D., apparently because of his jealousy. The wife of this priest even went to Vladyka Nectarius with some kind of complaints against Fr. Nicetas. She came into the Bishop's cell without a scarf: "So.. go away," said Vladyka. She waited and waited, and went in again, but again without a scarf - and the hierarch again drove her out.
At this time in the village of Tabashino they had constructed a new church, and the local fool-for-Christ used to say as he walked near it: "A new church, but no batyushka. There's only one batyushka, a long way away - Fr. Nicetasâ€¦"
Then the brother-builders went to Vladyka Nectarius and asked that Fr. Nicetas be sent to them. The Bishop looked favourably on their request. But even at this new place Fr. Nicetas's life was not without sorrow.
The warden of the church in Gorodishche demanded the return of the batyushka they had come to love; the priest who survived Fr. Nicetas, they said, got so angry that it even got to the stage that his kamilavka rolled over the floor of the churchâ€¦ They returned Fr. Nicetas to Gorodishche; but sorrows followed him wherever he went.
It was about 1929, and he began to be followed. The police attacked him; first two, then four fell on him. They tried to force him to cut his hair, but he didn't give in. They struck his head on the bench, and he lost consciousness. When he came to there were blood-covered hairs all round him - he had been shornâ€¦ They didn't even let him gather up his hairâ€¦ But they let him go.
Fr. Nicetas continued to say: "Even if you're down to your last shirt, don't go into the collective farmâ€¦"
Once a GPU chief dressed in a sheepskin coat came to him for confession, to hear what the priest was teaching the people. Fr. Nicetas told him, too, not to go to the collective farm - the same as he told everyone at confession. But he felt something not good in this "confessor" and noted that he did not come up for Communion.
Two weeks later, Fr. Nicetas and Matushka Golovanova, who was his reader at that time, went to friends for a cup of tea. When they returned, batyushka did not go to bed. The bed in his room remained undisturbed. Batyushka himself told the story: "I sat down and kept on sitting, fur cap in hand, without undressing. I felt a pain in my heart - probably something was going to happen." There was a knock at the window. "They're coming to take me," said Fr. Nicetas with conviction.
Matushka Golovanova went with a candle in her hand to see who the uninvited guests were. The door of the cabin opened outwards, and Fr. Nicetas stood behind the opened door in the hall. The "guests" hurled themselves from the street into the hall and suddenly found themselves in impenetrable darkness. "Oh, the candle's gone out!" cried matushka. Go into the living-room it's light there." As they went into the lit up part of the house, Fr. Nicetas left the house: he was quite ready for the arrival of the "guests" and he even had his outdoor clothing on.
"Where is batyushka?" asked the "guests". "He's been called for some need to Serkovo."
They looked round the house. Batyushka's bunk was undisturbed - when they had checked they went to Serkovo.
That was how Fr. Nicetas' parish life came to an end. After serving a moleben in the church for the last time, Fr. Nicetas started a life of wandering. His heart told him that he would not serve in a church again in this life. And perhaps he shouldn't?
Fr. Nicetas stayed sometimes for one night, sometimes for two, sometimes for a month. Matushka Golovanova went for some time to Kiknursky region as a reader; she had a cell there. She chanted on the kliros, and herself drew orphans to church chanting. This was how she educated them.
It was difficult until the war, then it became still harder. During the war there was a kind of break in Fr. Nicetas' Vyatka life. Before the war he again went to Moscow, where Archimandrite Seraphim and many of their acquaintances were gathered. They had much to talk aboutâ€¦ But it was impossible to stay long in Moscow, and the day came when Archimandrite Seraphim said to Fr. Nicetas: "Return to Vyatka." "You know, I have no documents." "There's your document," said Fr. Seraphim, pointing upwards with his hand, "- the Lord!"
It was impossible to travel in wartime without being checked; and this time guards were walking with torches from both ends of the carriage.
"The man checking me trained his torch on me," said Fr. Nicetas. "I had no documents, only an icon of the Vladimir Mother of God hidden on my breastâ€¦"
The guard looked in silence at Fr. Nicetas for some time, while Fr. Nicetas looked at himâ€¦ Those accompanying batyushka almost died from fear.
Then the second guard came up: "Well, why aren't you checking him?" "All done, let's go," replied his comrade unexpectedly.
Everybody was amazed that they hadn't checked them. Fr. Nicetas especially venerated the Vladimir icon of the Mother of God, and she saved him more than onceâ€¦
But again it was impossible to avoid sorrows. On returning from Moscow, Fr. Nicetas discovered that there had been a search at his last refuge, some valuable vessels and white vestments that batyushka especially valued (they were prepared for his burial) had disappeared. The strain from his emotions was too much for him and Fr. Nicetas fainted and fell, and hit his face so hard that a swelling appeared which remained with him for a long time. Eventually he healed it by applying oil from a lampada.
Were there any days in Fr. Nicetas' wandering life when he experienced no feeling of alarm and which he passed in peace? We don't know of any, his spiritual children remembered only unceasingly anxious days. It goes without saying that the authorities were tormented with the thought that Fr. Nicetas was hiding somewhere in the region. Already all the other well-known catacomb priests had been arrested, including Fr. John Razgulin, otherwise known as Lisinsky from the village of Russkaya Lisa where he was born in about 1906-07. He had been ordained by Vladyka Nectarius in Kazan, but, because of his lack of knowledge and preparedness, had not been given the right to serve. Vladyka Nectarius had ordained him as it were in advance, for the last times, in case there was no one left who could give the Christians the Holy Gifts. It only remained to Fr. John to acquire the wisdom of priestly service; but, on his return journey from the Bishop, arriving in one of the villages on a feastday, when the priests went out for the litia, he, too, without the blessing of the Bishop, appeared next to them in priestly vestments, which greatly amazed the local inhabitants, who whispered: "Look, Ivanushka's a pope!" Apparently the rumours spread quickly, and a little later the incautious Fr. John was arrested, which was the result of his disobedience to his Bishop. Fr. John Lisinsky was about ten years in prison and died already at the end of the 1970s, remaining a secret priest. But since he had undertaken to serve the Divine Liturgy without the blessing of his Bishop, he apparently did not have a big flock.
Also arrested was the notable pastor Fr. John Protasov, who was remembered with gratitude for many years and before his death in prison succeeded in transferring his flock to Fr. Nicetas. And Fr. Nicetas remained the only priest in the whole region - his single combat with the atheist authorities had begun.
The police in five regions searched and searched for Fr. Nicetas, but could not catch him. Every day he was conscious that they were after him. Only God, Fr. Nicetas and his spiritual children know what this cost him. But this spiritual unity of theirs was worthy more than life. "For us he was irreplaceable," remembered his children. "For us he was a great elder." But they added: "Like every man, he wanted to liveâ€¦" And he said to them: "If our Church will manage to come out into freedom, if I will be able to come out of the house without hiding - don't tell me immediately, I won't be able to bear it."
Fr. Nicetas found a temporary refuge with one widow in the village of Krutoi, Lisisnky region. At that time they were conducting a search throughout the village - they were looking for deserters. Stopping at the house of the widow, the searchers unexpectedly decided to display some uncharacteristic mercy: "Don't go to her, we won't trouble the old womanâ€¦" But if they had found the priest in her house, they would certainly have "troubled" her. All ages were suitable for prison, and there quite enough old people in the Soviet prisons - apparently old women presented a special threat for Soviet powerâ€¦ This was just one day out of thousands which brought this kind of alarm.
Another day, in another place, they were also searching for deserters. But when they failed to find them they decided to change from hunting men to hunting thrushes. There were shots, whose cause Fr. Nicetas did not know, he only heard them beginning to beat on their gates and shout: "Here!" How was batyushka to know that a shot thrush had fallen into their yard, and the hunters of me just wanted to take the bird to show what good shots they wereâ€¦
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