Hieromartyr Sergius (Nikolsky) was born in about 1889, and was a native of Serpukhov. His father, Protopriest Alexander, served in this town. His uncle was Metropolitan Isidore (Nikolsky), whose name is linked with the building of the cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Izmailovsky Prospect in St. Petersburg.
In the world Bishop Sergius was called Michael. He was a handsome, tall and well-built young man, with a fine tenor voice. He had a fiancee, and was about to get married. All the preparations for the wedding had been completed. But this event was averted in the following way. Being an officer in the army, he had to take part in battles. Once he almost lost his life. But God heard his prayer and saved him from death. The young man made a vow to become a monk and consecrate his whole life to God. And he received the monastic tonsure.
Fr. Sergius graduated from a Theological Academy, and on March 23 / April 5, 1925, he was consecrated to the bishopric of Ephremov, a vicariate of the Tula diocese. The consecration was performed by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, who said on handing him his archpastoral staff:
"The episcopate is a great honour, but great sufferings are also bound up with it. Through sufferings to heavenly glory!"
Two days later, the patriarch himself received the crown of martyrdom. Bishop Sergius always expressed great love for Patriarch Tikhon, and composed some verses in his honour which have been preserved to this day.
K.S. writes: "I was 12 years old when Bishop Sergius (Nikolsky) appeared in our town of Ephremov. He was close to my parents and often came to our house. From my parents I learned about certain moments in his biography, but basically my recollections are bound up with my personal impressions of church life in our little town...
"At that time there were seven churches in Ephremov (they were all later destroyed). On Saturdays and Sundays Bishop Sergius served in the main cathedral, while on the remaining days he read akathists in turns in the other churches of the town.
"He was a fine, eloquent preacher. He spoke for a long time, with warmth and animation. His sermons could last half an hour - that was a common occurrence. Through his sermons he tried to instil in the people love for God. He loved his flock, and his flock loved him. He presented the image of an apostle, and that is how he was remembered.
"Some of his sermons were given specially for children. He would say:
"'Children, please come further forward.'
"And when they came closer to him, he taught them the word of God. These sermons remained forever in the memory.
"After the all-night vigil Vladyka blessed everyone separately and did not leave until he had blessed the last one.
"I remember that among the parishioners was a fool for Christ - Yegorushka of Zadonsk (he came to Ephremov from Zadonsk). Blue-eyed, dressed in a canvas shirt, he always, winter and summer, travelled barefoot. Once after the all-night vigil all the parishioners went up to Vladyka for his blessing and only Yegorushka remained all the time in front of the icons. The bishop watched him and did not leave. Out of curiosity the others, especially the children, also watched him - what would happen?
"Finally the fool came up to the bishop.
"'Yegorushka, were you testing me?' asked the bishop, blessing him.
"The face of the bishop, as always, was kindly and joyful. Yegorushka nodded his head, admitting that he had indeed been testing the patience of Vladyka.
"They used to say that this Yegorushka, at his own request, had allegedly been crucified on some gates by his brothers, and that they had pierced him with nails. It is possible that this was not so, but on his hands and feet there really were wounds from nails.
"I remember another incident, also linked with this Yegorushka. Once at the request of Vladyka the abbess of a Tula monastery, Matushka Metrophania, brought to Ephraimov a cross with holy particles of the wood of the Life-creating Cross of the Lord. The cross was of wood, not very large, perhaps about 30 centimetres high. During the night they took it to the homes of pious families, and it also stayed in the family of K.S. Some pious people were gathered there, and Yegorushka also came. Everybody went to bed, but Yegorushka spent the whole night standing in prayer. I remember that the floor in the house was very beautiful and covered with varnish. When everyone woke up in the morning, Yegorushka prepared to leave. When he had left his place, everyone saw on the floor two white footprints - the varnish had vanished there. Throughout the night Yegorushka had not moved, he had not shifted from foot to foot, so that the floor under him had lost its shine. Later, remembers K.S., her father brought her some varnish and covered up the marks of the feet.
"The house in which K.S.'s parents lived was good and spacious, but Yegorushka prophesied:
"'You will live in a little shed with two little windows.'
"Soon this prophecy was fulfilled, the family was evacuated and some time later took shelter in a shed.
"The services in which Bishop Sergius took part remained in my memory for the rest of my life. At the Nativity of Christ the boys sang the troparion and kontakion wonderfully from music. Before the feast Vladyka himself rehearsed them.
"In Vladyka's house the tree was lit up already on the eve, after the all-night vigil. This was recounted by his aunt, Anna Antonovna Tiptsova.
"The Paschal Mattins service was wonderful. After the procession with the cross Vladyka struck the door with the cross and cried out: 'Christ is risen!' And in reply the chant of the myrrh-bearing women was borne out of the church three times: 'He is risen indeed!'
"How well the choir sounded in those days! It was directed by a precentor from Moscow, Vissonov. And how the service was beautified by the magnificent voice of Protodeacon Michael!
"Once after the Liturgy on the feast of the myrrh-bearing women, Vladyka together with 12 priests and Protodeacon Michael were in the house of the parents of K.S. for dinner. After dinner, when Vladyka was about to leave, a nun called Maria who was present in the house wanted to give him a rasa, while K.S. by agreement was to give him a staff. The priests were against this, and wanted to vest Vladyka themselves, but he stopped them with the words:
'Today is the feast of the myrrh-bearing women, let them do the serving.'
"The time came when they began to summon Vladyka to the police, frequently. They had talks with him, they noticed his innate gifts, and suggested he go to work... in the theatre. But the local authorities did not succeed in exerting influence over him. And then they called him to Moscow, to imprison him in Butyrki. But after some time they released him from prison, and he returned to Ephremov. Bishop Sergius told the story as follows: 'The rusty lock clanked, everyone pricked up his ears. And the jailor's voice rang out:
'"Nikolsky, you're free! Set off for Ephremov."
"And here I am with you again!'
"Vladyka's return elicited such indescribable joy among the people! They wept for joy, especially the children!
"Soon after his return, Vladyka collected the children together and treated them to tea from the samovar, himself pouring the tea into the cups. And he gave them all a book entitled The Young Christian...
"Bishop Sergius returned from Butyrki to Ephremov, but the local authorities did not want to put up any longer with the presence of this fiery preacher and wonderful spiritual pastor in the town. And soon the bishop was exiled to Zadonsk.
"But the people did not abandon their Vladyka, and many travelled to Zadonsk to see him, to receive his hierarchical blessing and to pray with him in the church. K.S. also travelled to Zadonsk with her parents, and there she was present at a service in the women's monastery of the Joy of all who sorrow.
"At that time the cathedral in Zadonsk had been seized by the living churchmen. K.S. remembers how Vladyka knelt on the roadway as he passed by and bowed to the holy church. But he did not go into it.
"Vladyka was glad to meet his friends from Ephremov. Again, as in Ephremov, he invited the children to drink tea. And, dressed in a white cassock, he himself poured the tea. The service was just about to begin with the participation of Vladyka, and the children had to go home. Vladyka asked them not to ring the bell for a few minutes so that he could say goodbye to them. As K.S. was leaving, she looked back and saw how Vladyka was blessing her as she disappeared from sight. And only after this did the bell calling the people to the service ring out.
"Bishop Sergius was not long in Zadonsk, they soon summoned him back to Moscow. The bishop asked for permission to pass by Ephremov so as to say farewell to his flock. In the church they did not even allow him to serve a moleben, he could only say farewell to the people. But the bishop did not manage to enter even one of the houses of the close circle of believers. After tea Vladyka gave everyone his last blessing. For everybody he found a good, kind, exhortatory word. He found one also for K.S.:
"'Pray, be patient and be strong!' These words were engraved on her memory for the rest of her live.
"On the second or third day after his arrival in Ephremov he left for Moscow. On the platform thousands of people gathered to say farewell to their Vladyka. And he stood at the window in the carriage also saying farewell to the people. Suddenly the light in the carriage was turned off so that those who had gathered should not be able to see Vladyka. Soon the train moved, the people surged forward following him, but what could they do now? The irreparable was quickly accomplished. The people were not destined to meet the man who had given them all the warmth of his pastor's heart again.
"In Moscow Bishop Sergius was appointed to Buzuluk as vicar of the Samara diocese (1927).
"At this time K.S., who was a fifteen-year-old girl, went to Voronezh to continue her education. On learning about this, Vladyka sent her his photograph from Buzuluk - he was standing near the little house where he lived, and from a window there looked out that same aunt of his - Anna Antonovna Tiptsova. On the back Vladyka had written in his own hand: 'Look where you've flown to, my swallow!'
"Then communication was broken off. It felt as if something had happened to Bishop Sergius.
"Much later, people recounted how in 1927, after Metropolitan Sergius' declaration had been issued, Bishop Sergius had himself taken off his episcopal vestments in the church and refused to follow what he considered to be the anticanonical orders of Metropolitan Sergius.
"He was arrested. [According to another source, his arrest took place in 1929.]
"Much later, there was a rumour about the circumstances of his death. My childhood friend, remembers K.S., once confidentially recounted the following story.
"In the thirties she was giving private music lessons to children. One child was always brought by his grandfather. It turned out that he had been a former worker in the police. In a moment of frank conversation he said to the teacher:
"'You knew Bishop Sergius and you would probably be interested to hear the details of his death?'
"According to this man, they brought Bishop Sergius into some sort of cave, where the waters of a turbulent river rushed across some rapids. They ordered the bishop to go forward, deep into the cave, into the darkness. There, somewhere in the rapids, he probably fell and was carried away by the flood."
Schema-monk Epiphanius (Chernov) has given another account of Bishop Sergius' death:-
"For not recognizing 'our', as the chekist-interrogators called him, Metropolitan Sergius, Bishop Sergius of Buzuluk was arrested together with an igumen whose name has been forgotten. Stirred by the unshakeable firmness of the confessors, they sentenced them to the same cruel punishment: either they would give in or suffer a terrible slow death... They put them into a room full of rats. In this room there was a pool full of water instead of a floor and a large stump of wood capable of supporting several swimming people. And in the walls of the room there were holes in which sat hungry rats ready to fall on the people as on food offered them. No one endured a stay in that room. Everyone, at the sight of those innumerable beasts of prey falling on them incessantly, immediately agreed to take upon themselves any accusation, any demand asked of them by the 'investigators'. Only so long as they were delivered from the rats, from that terrible death. And the executioners, sitting the bishop and the igumen in that rat-room, were convinced that they would obtain their desired result... But the desired result was not obtained!.. The feeding-trough was opened, and through the metal window came the voice:
"'Well, have you changed your minds?' asked the supervisor.
"But no answer came.
"'Well, we haven't got all day! It's late...'
"But the confessors of Christ understood that here there awaited them inevitable death, and they turned to God with flaming, tearful prayer. About one thing only: that they might be strengthened to receive the longed-for death for Christ... While they stood the beasts of prey were not able to overpower them. But, tormented by hunger and thirst, they grew weaker and lay dawn. And then the whole mass of rats around the water hurled themselves upon them. The supervisor saw all this and waited for them to begin to entreat him to save them, but in vain. The holy martyrs preferred death, 'the sweet death for Christ', rather than betray Him and recognize Metropolitan Sergius' treachery to be 'a good deed'. They did not ask for mercy from the torturers, and, strengthened by the grace of God, they were eaten alive by the beasts of prey..."
A third account of Bishop Sergius' death says that he was shot by the NKVD on Great Thursday, 1930 in Orenburg together with Priest Erastus Kurdyukov, Hierodeacon Lev and Schema-Monk Martyrius.
All accounts agree that Bishop Sergius and his companion(s) received the crown of martyrdom on May 3/16, 1930.
(Sources: "Svyashchennomuchenik Episkop Sergij (Nikolsky)", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 48, N 2 (554), February, 1996; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshego Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 992; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, vol. I (1949), p. 179, vol. II (1957), p. 279; Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizhenia, Paris, N 145, 1985, pp. 227-234; Schema-monk Epiphanius (Chernov), Tserkov' Katakombnaya na Zemlye Rossijskoj (MS); Russkie Pravoslavnye Ierarkhi, Paris: YMCA press, 1986, p. 69; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Kochuyushchij Sobor 1928 g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 3 (7), 1997; "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Katakombnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4(8), 1997, p. 5; I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyoz", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, p. 269; N.E. Stremsky, Mucheniki i Ispovedniki Orenburgskoj Eparkhii XX Veka, Saraktash, 1998, p. 153; N.E. Stremsky, Mucheniki, Ispovedniki i Khramy Orenburgskoj Eparkhii XX Veka, Saraktash, 1999, volume 2, p. 25)
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