St. Nilus the Myrrh-Streamer

Augustine Sokolovski

On November 12 (25), the Church honors the memory of St. Nilus the Myrrh-Streamer (1601–1651). The saint was an ascetic, monk and priest, a hermit on Holy Mount Athos. Thanks to the miracles of myrrh flow from his relics, and to the ascetic labors inscribed with his name, Nile is now one of the most famous and revered saints of Athos.

The monk lived a short life and became contemporary with the first half of the 17th century. He was a contemporary of the philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) and the French king Louis XIII (1601–1643). The time of his life is the apogee of the power of the Spanish Monarchy, the so-called “Spanish Century” (1492–1659), and the culmination of the rule of the Ottoman Empire, on whose territory the saint was born and accomplished his feat.

In contrast to his great contemporaries, whose biography can be reconstructed literally day by day, almost no information about the life of Saint Nile has been preserved. Moreover, based on what we know, it seems that throughout his life the saint consciously sought to hide from the gaze of ordinary contemporaries and learned historians.

It is known that Nile came from the village of St. Peter (Agios Petros), which still exists to this day, in the south of the Balkan Peninsula in the Peloponnese. He was orphaned early, which in those days almost always meant social doom, but the saint’s uncle, Hieromonk Macarius, raised him and gave him a proper education. Neil's education is evidenced by the fact that soon after reaching adulthood, Neil was ordained to the deaconate and then to the priesthood.

As the years passed, the uncle and nephew, both hieromonks, retired to Athos. There, in a secluded place called the Holy Stones, they built themselves cells, soon after which Father Macarius passed away. This event had a huge impact on the fate of the Nile. Apparently shocked by the orphanhood that befell him for the second time, he left his cell and settled on the rocks in a cave. There he spent the remaining years of his life, according to the word of the Epistle to the Hebrews, hiding from people in the abysses of the earth (Heb. 11:38). After death, the cave was sealed with stones.

After a while, holy myrrh began to flow out of her abundantly. Thus, visible evidence was revealed that any, even the strictest asceticism, if it is truly Christian, is performed not as an end in itself, but in fulfillment of the words of Christ in the Gospel about faith: “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, out of the belly will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

The great contemporary of St. Nilus, the theologian and bishop Cornelius Jansenius (1585–1638), spent his entire life writing a work on the theology of the Church Father St. Augustine (354–430). The main goal of this huge work was to show that, unlike Descartes, the true basis of thinking should be sought not in the self-consciousness of the thinking subject, but in the thought of the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine.

In addition, and this is no less important, Jansenius believed that the Jesuits of his time were reproducing the heresy of Pelagianism, already condemned by the Ancient Church for denying the need for grace. Knowing that the content of his work would cause intense debate, Bishop Cornelius commanded that his work be published after his death. The bishop’s work, entitled “Augustine,” was published in accordance with the will and gave rise to “Jansenist disputes” that lasted until the French Revolution (1789). Supporters of Jansenius, among whom was another great contemporary of those people and events, the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), called themselves “disciples of St. Augustine” and defended the work of the late Bishop Cornelius as reflecting the teachings of the Holy Father.

A similar thing, but in a completely different asymmetrical way, which, according to Paul (1 Cor. 15:10), is the method of grace, happened with Saint Nilus. Soon after the Revolution in France, a full century and a half after his death, a work was published in his name, called “Posthumous Predictions of St. Nilus.” In it, with prophetic insight and deep knowledge of secular and ecclesiastical reality, the world around us is exposed. Theologians have yet to comprehend its content. For the Church, as a Society of Believers, it is precious that, in fulfillment of the words of the Apocalypse, “the works of the righteous follow them” (Rev. 14:13), even now in the 21st century the saints continue to preach.