With a deep love for God and the Heavenly Queen, a monk once asked in his sincere prayer, “show me what mortal in our sinful world lives like the Holy Fathers and what struggler pleases Thee in his love for Thee and his neighbor.” After his prayer the Heavenly Queen appeared to him, pointing directly to the Island of Zalit, where the spirit filled Elder Nikolai lived. “Go there immediately,” She said, “do not waste time.” The words She spoke to him entered so clearly into his heart that he was able to write them down after this vision. This is what the Mother of God told him:
“There lives on the island a man of great spiritual strength, and he is particularly dear to the Lord, because he is one from the last times. In him all of you can see the precious manifestations of our faith and the highest love of Christ, which is so rare and uncommon. The Elder Nikolai loves Christ and his neighbor so excessively that nothing could distract him from the love of God. That place on the island is to be sacred, a Temple of the Throne of God will be erected there. Ordinary people shouldn’t work at that place; there should be monks with pure hearts and righteous thoughts. By God’s Will, the departure time of Father Nikolai to the Abode of God is approaching. There is no person on this sinful earth who doesn’t need his holy blessing.”
Thus the Heavenly Queen revealed the otherworldliness of the righteous God bearing Elder Nikolai Guriyanov.
This Elder of the last times was a chosen vessel of God’s grace from his youth. “Even as a little kid,” he said, “I was very much attached to the Church of God, her servants, and I have kept this love all my life. I served in the altar, read and sang in choir, and visited houses together with priests to sing molebens.” Holy Martyr Benjamin of Petersburg, the spiritual father of the Elder, frequently visited the Church where the young Elder served. Before his martyrdom, Bishop Benjamin embraced and kissed the young Nikolai and said: “What a lucky man you are that you are with the Lord.” Then the Bishop prophetically put a prelate cross around the neck of the 8-year-old Nikolai. The Elder carried the cross of the Bishop reverently and courageously throughout his life and presented himself before Christ with the same prelate cross in his hands. “I was a monk from my childhood,” said the Elder, “I didn’t know or seek anybody except for the Lord. Because monasticism is a reward from the Lord, God’s calling, it is such a heavenly joy to serve the Heavenly Bridegroom!”
In 1926 Nikolai finished Gatchina Pedagogical College and in 1929 he received an incomplete pedagogical education at the Leningrad Institute, from which he was excluded for having spoke out at a meeting against the closure of one of the nearby churches. In 1931 when the Elder was 22, he was arrested by the communist authorities for serving the Church of Christ and thrown in the prison “Kresty” (Crosses) in Leningrad. He was sentenced to suffer in the gulag labor camps near Kiev in Ukraine and spent 7 years in Syktyvkar (Republic of Komi). When freed, Fr. Nikolai worked as a teacher of mathematics in Tosno because residence in Leningrad was denied him. Enduring much persecution and risking his life, he served the Church in Tosno as a Psalm reader. During WWII, Fr. Nikolai was not mobilized because of a weakness and pain in his feet that was caused by the severe work forced upon him in the gulags. When German forces occupied his home district of Gdov, he and other residents were exiled to the Baltic. In exile, Fr. Nikolai became a student at the Vilnius Theological Seminary in Lithuania, which opened in 1942. After two semesters of seminary studies the Elder was consecrated to the priesthood by the exarch metropolitan Sergius (Voskresenskiy) at Riga Orthodox Cathedral of Christ`s Nativity in Latvia.
By this time, in Fr. Nikolai’s Russian motherland, all monasteries had been raided; monks and nuns were shot and sent to gulag camps to die. His entire mother Church was liquidated at the hands of Godless atheists. Any signs of religiousness in the country were violently uprooted and all Church Hierarchs, Priests and lay people were silenced, usually by torture and death. The totalitarianism of the Godless government strived at any cost to cut the ground from under the centuries-old tree of Russian Orthodoxy. The preservation of all ancient monastic traditions and other traditions of the Church seemed doomed. While the blood of martyrs was being spilt all around him, Fr. Nikolai continued to serve as a Priest in the Baltic States. It seemed that the mind of Fr. Nikolai was being preserved by God for his Russian people. In a world when monastics were being murdered, Fr. Nikolai preserved strict monastic tradition without any proper training. He was a lover of truth and therefore a stranger to this world. The Lord was forming in him the radical characteristics of an Orthodox Elder, a tradition being suppressed by the authorities around him. He portrayed meekness, longsuffering, love, and purity, imitating his suffering Savior. All these characteristics were instilled in him by God, he had no great spiritual guidance, but developed these virtues through his extreme denial of this world.
When Fr. Nikolai was forty years old he went back to Leningrad to study at the Theological Seminary. During this time the Lord called Fr. Nikolai’s soul from this life and death came upon him. His soul was then lead to Heaven and then shown the abyss of hell. When gazing upon hell and the people suffering therein, the righteous Fr. Nikolai cried out in pain, “Lord how to save them?” The Lord answered him, “Only people living on earth can save them through their prayers.” Then the Elder began to beg the Lord to send him back to his body so that he could pray for them. He was then restored to life and he always kept this vision in mind, being mindful always of his death. He would say, “Do not forget about your outcome and there will be no sin in your soul.” And close to the end of his life he told others, “I was ready long ago, it is a sin to remain here, my relatives are waiting for me: the Tsar and the Empress, Father John of Kronstadt, Illarion Gdovski, and my mom is waiting.”
In 1958, the already formed Elder was transferred to the Pskov bishopric as parish priest of Saint Nicholas’ church on the island of Zalit in Chudskoye lake where he spent the remaining 42 years of his life; 40 as a priest and then retiring to a small and humble wooden cell near by. During this whole time, the holiness of the Elder was kept secret and in obscurity. Only those who knew him saw glimpses of the otherworldly fervor he possessed.
When the Soviet government collapsed, the Elder was able to fling open the doors of his humble cell to receive all those who were weary and heavy laden. During these times, Russia was baptized a second time. Churches began to open in all the villages and Monasteries were reborn. Church life began to flourish and Orthodox crosses began to shine once again over the cities. The Church began to take in many catechumens and books began to be printed about Christ’s ancient Church and the mysticism of Orthodoxy. The people of Russia were thirsty for Christ, yet seventy years of atheist oppression had crippled them. The Soviets had murdered the Church’s leaders, her elders, and all her holy men. This was the Elder’s calling and this is why God had set him apart for so long. In a time when Holy people were scarce and only found in books, the Elder represented a living and breathing link with Russia’s ancient and spiritually rich past. He was a new Moses, leading people away from the captivity of the atheist regime. He was the yeast that helped cause the new bread of Russia to rise from the ashes of a suppressive government. The Island of Zalit became a spiritual hospital and a safe haven for those on the weary road of life. The Elder was a spiritual force, penetrating into the souls of Christ’s followers, and sometimes even further into the hearts of yesterday’s communists, making them stand with reverence before God. Thus the Elder not only helped his people, but his previous persecutors, imitating Christ in every part of his life
The Elder didn’t talk with people in complicated parables like many false self-proclaiming gurus, but he talked with simplicity and in this God’s will was revealed to the listener. He spoke to the hearts of many from all corners of the earth. He knew what was in the hearts of all who came to him; he clearly saw the past, present, and future of his spiritual children and he would simply great all with what they needed. The Lord gave him the knowledge of man’s inner state. He would never say something that would affect a person’s feelings, but to those who were haughty he would give sound advice. To one man who was very severe to his wife, the Elder simply said to him, “Be softer.” With these words the man walked away with a new revelation about himself. It often happened this way, a man would coming seeking something and leave with a new understanding about himself and a lesson he didn’t expect to hear. Fr. Nikolai was gracious and lenient to the repentant people visiting him. One visitor, standing next to the fence of the Elder’s cottage and tormenting from so much shame, that not only could he not talk to the elder but also couldn’t lift his eyes up on him, suddenly heard the quiet voice of Fr, Nikolai say to a lay sister, “Go, call him.” She went over and invited the tormented man to the Elder. Fr. Nikolai then anointed him and kept repeating: “God’s mercy is with you, God’s mercy is with you…” The oppressive condition of the man thawed and disappeared in this ray of the Elder’s love. However the elder could meet differently those, who didn’t have any repentance: “Don’t visit me anymore.” He told to one pilgrim. These are frightful words to hear from such a great and righteous man.
No space or time was limited to the otherworldly Elder. He was so immersed in the love of God that he worked many miracles in His name, including appearing to others in need of help on the other side of the world. The second conductor of the Chicago symphony orchestra, arriving in St Petersburg on a tour, visited the Elder and shared with him his fears. On the eve of his journey his wife got in a motor-car accident, and this caused a miscarriage to happen. This incident made the conductor to worry in his soul and have the gloomy idea that these events might mean that their marriage wasn’t God’s Will. The Elder consoled the arriving musician and said that his fears are in vain. The next day the happy husband called to America to share his gladness with his wife. “I know everything”, answered the wife from the other end of the line. “How do you know?” – stunned conductor asked. “He came to me in a light sleep at night with words of love and encouragement.” The Elder performed many miracles like this, comforting the people. There is no doubt that the Elder has affected the consciousness of today’s Orthodox Christian, for even the memory of him brings joy to one’s soul.
Shortly before his death, the Elder said, “I will fly away on wings, I have huge and strong ones and I will reach “there” in that moment … and at Home will pray for you all…” After many miracles of healing paralytics, the blind, those with cancer, and the mute, the Elder said in his last days, “”Christ is light of my entire life. He fills all around me and in me. I gave all I could to people, to the people of God and to Mother Church. Now I am ready and leave to the Sweatiest Savior of the world – Christ.” Upon his deathbed, the Elder saw the Holy Archangel Gabriel enter his room with a bouquet of lilies to symbolize the Elder’s purity and holiness. Seeing this the Elder said, “He has blessed me, and crossed with this lily!” The Elder then passed away on April 4th 2002.
After vesting his body and preparing it for the funeral, the Priest walked over to the Elder’s coffin to place a blessing cross and Gospel book in his hands. When the Priest got close to put the cross in his right hand, the Elder’s hand suddenly moved and grabbed the cross from the Priest. The Priest then leaned over and saw the Elder left hand open in order for the Priest to put the Gospel in it. In this, Christ already revealed the glorification of the Elder, whom because of his love for Christ, death could not contain. Many of his spiritual children which where gathered around witnessed this miracle and also continually smelt the fragrant lilies the Elder said the Archangel had before. As some were kissing his hands at the last farewell, myrrh was seen to miraculously flow from his right hand. Thus, not being bound by death, the Elder continues to console and lead people to the last true rebellion, which is Faith in Christ.1