Nicholas (Zagorovksy) Hieroconfessor Of Kharkov

Fr. Nicholas (Sangushko-Zagorovsky) was born on July 27, 1872 in an ancient princely family which had moved into the priestly caste. His father, Deacon Michael Feoktistovich, died young, leaving his three children to be brought up by their mother, Paraskeva Andreyevna, a clever and energetic woman. Kolya Zagorovsky was a happy, boisterous, talented boy. From childhood he loved his native Ukrainian language and popular songs. He demonstrated an exceptional talent as a comedian; every appearance of his on the stage elicited a storm of laughter. Nicholas' fame as a comic actor spread far beyond the bounds of the seminary. He was invited to join a celebrated Ukrainian troupe, but Paraskeva Andreyevna wouldn't hear of it.

"I want to see you in golden rizas, otherwise I'll curse you," she declared to her son.

He had to submit. Nicholas married Ekaterina Ivanovna, an educated woman who had graduated from the diocesan school for daughters of the clergy. They had two children: Vladimir and Lydia. The village where he was pastor was called Malyzhino. It was in the back of beyond. This was difficult for Fr. Nicholas, because he had nowhere to demonstrate his richly endowed nature. The icon of the Mother of God which he had in his cell was the witness of his bitter tears. He called on the Mother of God to help him in his spiritual struggle. And then a miracle took place: his brilliant natural talents were transformed into spiritual ones: the artist-comedian became the famous preacher and people's pastor. Although the icon before which he prayed was painted in the Italian style and was not a copy of the ancient icon "Search of the Lost", Fr. Nicholas called it "The Malyzhino Search of the Lost". He adorned it with precious stones and venerated it as wonder-working. How many times thereafter did he sing the akathist in front of it: "Rejoice, grace-filled Virgin Birth-giver of God, the saviour of all the lost", and the Mother of God came to help, healing, saving and driving out demons.

The people loved Fr. Nicholas and surrounded him in a tight ring. His spiritual children did not leave him even when he moved to Kharkov to give his children education. In Kharkov Fr. Nicholas became the rector of the city's hospital church. Here he continued to serve akathists in front of the icon and give sermons. Soon his reputation as a new Chrysostom spread throughout Kharkov, and the people began to come to him from all directions. A women's monastery began to form around him, and all the necessary preparations had already been made when the revolution broke out. But the monastery continued to exist in secret. One of the novices was Ulyasha Nozdrina; when Fr. Nicholas was forced to leave Kharkov, he chose her as one of those who were to accompany him.

Ulyasha (now Mother Magdalina) recounts: "Vladyka John Maximovich [who was canononized in 1994] was a student then, and he used to visit Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky, at that time archbishop of Kharkov]. The relics of St. Meletius were there, and Metropolitan Anthony blessed our batyushka to look after them. Batyushka would come there every day, as would Vladyka John, who was then known as Misha and who would always ask batyushka's blessing to go to his studies. Once Fr. Nicholas said to him laughingly:

"'Misha, you never miss the batyushka. You will probably become a bishop or a saint.'

"'It's you, Fr. Nicholas, who will become a saint,' replied Misha.

"And look, you see, Vladyka John became both a bishop and a saint, he is soon going to be glorified. And my batyushka is also a saint...

"Batyushka was a holy man. He did so many miracles! I remember once there was a terrible drought, and batyushka organized a pilgrimage to go to Svyatogorsk monastery to pray for rain. So many people gathered, several thousands. They walked in groups with icons and gonfalons. Everyone was singing. When they arrived, they began to serve an all-night vigil in a wood near the monastery, for none of the churches could accomodate everyone. And the vigil went on all night, and the hieromonks were confessing the people all night. And in the morning practically everyone received Communion. And when Communion was finished, batyushka said:

"'And now we are going to pray God for rain. Everyone fall face down and pray God until heavenly tears begin to drop on the earth.'

"Everyone fell on their knees. But the sky was completely clear. And suddenly clouds began to gather, and drops of rain began to fall like tears. Of course, everyone jumped up ran for cover - it was a real downpour. After the meal, they asked batyushka:

"'Are you going to ring for the people to gather?'

"But it was pouring cats and dogs at the time. Batyushka thought for a little, dropped his head, and then said:

"'Ring!'

"And suddenly the rain stopped. So we returned home so joyful, so happy. Everybody looked at us out of the windows, they didn't understand what had happened. But we waved at them with branches and sang:

"'Christ is risen!'

"And how many people he healed! They often used to call him to the village of Pokrovskoye, he often went there to visit the sick - there were many demon-possessed people there. Batyushka had only to come within a few versts of the village, and all the demon-possessed people were shouting:

"'He's coming, he's coming to torment us, the whining bald-head is coming to torment us!'

"And several people were already holding these possessed people down - they were so strong and furious. Batyushka came with the icon, served a moleben, then everyone came up to kiss the icon. And then, my God, what shouting, what a noise! And then they gradually quieted down, batyushka read a prayer over them, and while he was there the demon-possessed came peacefully up to receive Communion, and while this was taking place there was no shouting or cries. And how they loved batyushka! When there was a famine, this village of Pokrovskoye brought food in on carts. Batyushka took nothing for himself, but handed it out. My sister and brother were in a home - we were orphans, you know - and he sent provisions to the orphanages: one cart to one home, another to another, a third to the prison. It was all distributed. And when they arrested him, they brought so much food that the whole prison was fed.

"They later sent batyushka to Petrograd. And there, too, he healed very many people. In Petersburg there was a widow who was dying. She had two small children and a sister, and someone told them that there was this batyushka, call him if she's dying, and he'll help you. Batyushka and I went there. She was lying in bed, almost dead. She couldn't open her eyes any longer. Batyushka began to serve a moleben in front of this icon, then an akathist, while the children said:

"'Batyushka, mamochka is almost dead, you have to serve the service for the dying.'

"'Don't worry, leave her, let her lie peacefully. The Mother of God will grant it - she'll get better.'

"And then, on the second day, she suddenly came to. It turned out that she had felt that someone was praying for her. Of course, they immediately called batyushka, and he came with the Holy Gifts to communicate her. We arrived there, and she opened her eyes and said:

"'Who's come to us? Call him, quickly!'

"He confessed her, gave her Communion, and the next day the children came and said:

"'Batyushka, mama is feeling better!'

And then she recovered. So the children sewed a Russian belt with flowers which priests used to wear and brought it to batyushka. They were so grateful! And she recovered and became his faithful spiritual daughter."

Another spiritual daughter of batyushka's, Mother Ierusalima, recounts:

"Fr. Nicholas Zagorovsky served in the hospital church. What joy he gave to the sick people at Pascha! He would exchange kisses with all of them, and would go round giving them all pascha and eggs. He was so welcoming and tender, his only words were: "my joy", "my little one", "my sister" - that was how he addressed his flock. And every Sunday with him was like Pascha. The services were long, until three in the afternoon, and the Liturgy always ended with an akathist to the Mother of God "Search of the lost". During the akathist the whole church was on their knees, everyone was weeping, and he was weeping. His sermons were also very long, two hours long, and during the sermon he was weeping all the time, and everyone was weeping, so that even the walls were weeping, because so many people were packed in that they became wet from the people's breath. And after the service everyone would be invited to a meal, to drink tea and sing psalms and spiritual songs. Batyushka himself set many psalms to music.

"And then I remember him declaring to the people that today would be his last Liturgy, he had to prepare for his arrest because they had said to him:

"'Don't commemorate Patriarch Tikhon.'

"I couldn't reconcile myself with this. And when he said this, there was such an outburst of weeping that it could be heard a kilometre away on the street. He wept and sobbed, and everyone accompanied him, and in the evening they came to his house and arrested him. They put him in prison. Now he had a very large flock around Kharkov, and when they learned that he had been arrested, in the morning the head of the prison got a fright: the whole of the square round the prison was covered with peasant carts which were full of food with which they fed all the prisoners. And when the head of the prison saw that neither that day, nor the next, nor the day after did the carts leave, and so much food that they didn't know what to do with it, he decided to send him to Petrograd. And he took with him one nun, the most energetic one, Ulyasha..."

They went to Petersburg, but in 1930 Fr. Nicholas was arrested for refusing to accept the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and was sent to Solovki. Matushka Ekaterina Ivanovna and Ulyasha Nozdrina undertook the distant journey to visit batyushka. After arriving in Solovki, Fr. Nicholas and some other prisoners was sent to a settlement in the far north. Exhausted and tormented, they walked across the tundra. Once they stopped for the night in a deserted chapel. Fr. Nicholas woke up and saw that he was sleeping under an icon of the Mother of God "Search of the lost". This encouraged him enormously, and he felt that he was under the protection of the Mother of God. He was the only one to reach the destination: the others all died en route.

Ulyasha, self-sacrificing as ever, did not abandon batyushka. She came to him on a cart, bringing a basket full of provisions. She had to go across thousands of versts of taiga, but the Lord preserved her, and she arrived safely. Batyushka was being guarded by sentries, but Ulyasha did not lose her presence of mind. She called the soldiers Petka or Vanka.

"This is my uncle," she told them. "He took me in when I was orphaned and brought me up. You also have a mother - remember her! Let my uncle eat with me!"

Permission was given, and batyushka went to eat with Ulyasha.

When Fr. Nicholas had served his term of punishment, he was released to live wherever he liked except Kharkov province. He chose the town of Oboyan in Kursk province, which was the nearest to Kharkov. As they were travelling towards Oboyan by train, Fr. Nicholas and Ulyasha were talking about the fact that they knew noone there and there was nowhere for them to go. By chance the wife of an exiled priest heard their conversation. She informed them that there was a secret women's monastery in Oboyan, and gave them its address. They set off there, but the mother-doorkeeper categorically refused to let them in since she feared that the authorities' attention would be drawn to the monastery.

"Still, please tell the abbess about us," asked Fr. Nicholas. Mother abbess soon came out and welcomed them in. It turned out that during the night St. Seraphim had appeared to her in her sleep and said:

"Seraphim from Kharkov is coming to you. Receive him."

Batyushka began to weep. He had in fact been tonsured in Solovki with the name Seraphim.

In Oboyan they lived very quietly. Fr. Nicholas never came out onto the street by day. Sometimes his Kharkov nuns came to him by night, and in this way he directed their secret monastery. Ulyasha lived in complete obedience to batyushka, she was tonsured by him with the name Seraphim.

Mother Magdalina likes to tell the story of how she became a nurse in Oboyan with Fr. Nicholas' help. The story was as follows. When they went to live in exile in Oboyan, Ulyasha worked in the hospital as a junior nurse. However, an unexpected order arrived: all those with little education had to take an exam in accordance with the ten-year plan. Ulyasha was not very good at studying. So Fr. Nicholas began to give her lessons. Before the exam batyushka wrote a composition entitled: 'Morning in the settlement', and ordered Ulyasha to take it with her and write it out when they declared the subject of the essay. And in fact they gave the subject: 'Morning in the settlement'. For the oral exam Fr. Nicholas told Ulyasha to learn a poem. When they asked in class who knew this poem, it turned out that Ulyasha was the only one who knew it. So she passed her exam and became a nurse.

During the war Oboyan was occupied by the Germans. However, they were very respectful to Fr. Nicholas. He was soon driven home by ambulance. In Kharkov Fr. Nicholas celebrated services in his house in the presence of a large congregation.

Mother Ierusalima recounts: "When batyushka returned to Kharkov, he did not serve in a church, but in his own home, in the semi-basement. What Liturgies they were, such a triumph! My mother, sister and I always went. The whole room was full of people, it was a big room, it was always full of people. The chanting was beautiful, the nuns always did the singing, everyone received Communion, everyone was so joyful, as if the old times had returned. But then the reds began to attack. They would have arrested him, of course. His daughter, Lydia, had already left with her husband. And he said to matushka:

"'I can't wait for the reds here, I even get frightened when I think they're approaching.'"

However, Mother Magdalina says: "Batyushka did not want to leave, but his family wanted him to leave. Now batyushka's son-in-law, Lydia's husband, worked in the theatre as an opera director. And when the opera left, he and Lydia with their little son Seryozha also left. They wanted to take batyushka with them, but he wouldn't in any circumstances. At this point the people came, they all came.

"'Batyushka, if you stay, they'll take you, you'll be exiled, or rather they'll kill you, and we son't know where your grave is.'

"'No,' he said, 'I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying come what may.'

"But his daughter and son-in-law arranged it so that the Germans sent a car for batyushka. They simply arrived and said without any discussion:

"'Batyushka, you must go!'

"But his matushka could not leave the house, because her daughter had gone, everyone had gone, and she needed to look after the house. So she, Mother Meletia and Dunya remained at home and told me:

"'Ulyasha, you have to go with batyushka.'

"Batyushka was already old and ill. Of course, I was a little frightened of going, and I asked one other sister, Xenia, about it. But at this point the wanderer, Petro, also decided to go with us. And I felt a little better, because I was at any rate not alone, there were the three of us. They immediately took us to the train. I left in the clothes I was standing in, but then the sisters ran up to the train and brought some things for batyushka, a coat for me and something else. But batyushka was ill, he often had heart-attacks. We arrived at Peremysl in Poland, and there batyushka became really ill, so we had to stop in Peremysl. Batyushka was put in hospital, he was feeling very ill. I didn't leave him, but nursed him and did everything. Then they called his daughter and son-in-law, they all arrived. He was lying quietly in bed. Tears were flowing out of his eyes. He opened his eyes, looked at everyone and said:

"'I don't see Ulyasha.'

"Then he stretched out his hand and I held him, and he took my hand and kissed it, and I felt that he was thanking me for not leaving him. And his tears again began to flow. His daughter took a clean handkerchief and began to wipe his face, and in this way he quietly, peacefully died. Almost the whole hospital came to look - he was lying so radiant and smiling! There was a church there, and on Orthodox feasts a Russian priest would serve. Batyushka died on the eve of the Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God [September 30 / October 13, 1943], and on the feast there was a Liturgy. We read the Psalter for batyushka, and there were pannikhidas, and he was buried in Peremysl. And it turns out that in the place in Peremysl where he died, his grandparents and great-grandparents had all died. You know, batyushka was from an ancient family. And there was even a monastery of the Zagorovskys somewhere there."

(Source: "Otyets Nikolai Sangushko-Zagorovsky", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 45, 10 (525), October, 1993, 1-16; Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', No. 2 (541), February, 1995, pp. 24-25)





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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas