Novo-Tikhvin women's monastery: Grief and Joy. The elder, Archpriest Nikolai Gurianov has fallen asleep in the Lord

Grief and Joy. The elder, Archpriest Nikolai Gurianov has fallen asleep in the Lord

Among those who dropped everything and hastened to the isle of Zalit on August 26 to bid farewell to the departed elder, Archpriest Nikolai Gurianov, was a group of priests, monastics and laypeople from the Ekaterinburg diocese. The editors of the Moscow Church Herald (MCH) asked one of them, Hegumen Abraham, the spiritual father of two well-known monasteries in Ekaterinburg: the men’s monastery of the All-Merciful Savior and the Novo-Tikhvin women’s monastery, to describe the events of those days.

Very recently the famous elder, known to all, Archpriest Nikolai Gurianov of the isle of Zalit reposed in the Lord. He was in his 93rd year. As his cell-attendants reported, Fr. Nikolai was fully conscious before his death, although he was so weak he could barely speak. When they felt that the elder was about to depart this life, they began to read the special service of the Canon for the departure of the soul from the body. He held a candle in his hand. One of his cell-attendants assisted him, but he held the candle fully consciously.

And when they read the prayer of absolution, that is, at the very end of that service, he could tell that he was drawing his last breath. A cell-attendant said to him: ’Christ is Risen!” Very, very quietly, barely audibly, he whispered: “Truly He is Risen!” and gave up his righteous soul. Truly Fr Nikolai’s death seemed more like a falling asleep, a dormition. Of course I do not know what those closest to him, who were next to him at that time experienced. But I will tell you what I experienced when I found out about his death and what I felt when I was present at the burial of that great elder.

I could have expected to feel sad and mournful over the fact that I would never see this man again, that I would never be able to ask him about anything and hear from his lips the undoubtable will of God about some aspect of my life, that I would never again hear advice from him about my internal state. Father Nikolai demonstrated amazing clairvoyance, knowledge of what was transpiring in a person’s soul and thoughts, knowledge of the future and of things far away. It was as if he could look into a book and read clearly and precisely the information written there about what we needed. Even when he was conversing with people who came to see him, he looked somewhat off to the side and above them. Indeed, one might think that Fr Nikolai was looking off somewhere and when he had read or heard something, he immediately passed it on to those who came seeking understanding from him.

We learned of his blessed repose in our monastery during the divine liturgy, when someone passed a note into the altar saying that the elder Nikolai had died. Of course we immediately called the island to find out, because unfounded rumors frequently circulate among the faithful. But in this case we found out directly from Fr Nikolai’s cell-attendants that it was true.

I cannot say that we plunged into sorrow and mourning. There was a certain kind of festivity in our heart, a certain tranquility mixed with compunction, and peace and perhaps a quiet joy; the kind of joy that always emanated from him when we went to see him. Sometimes he would make jokes, in order to cheer up people who were despondent and discouraged, but there always came from him tranquility, an unusual peace and a very quiet, limpid joy. I know that my description of him is somewhat abstract, but how can I communicate it better? That feeling of tranquility became especially strong when we arrived on the isle of Zalit.

By God’s mercy and with the help of our benefactors we were able to reach Petersburg that same evening, then we got into cars and drove to Pskov. To be honest, that entire journey was physically exhausting. The next morning we tried to get on a cutter, which was scheduled to depart from Pskov, but all the seats were taken. Some more far-sighted people from Moscow had chartered it, and we had to go to the village of Bolshaya Tolba, whence barges and small cutters maintain contact with the isle of Zalit. We arrived on the island just in time; we barely had time to leave our belongings at the home of our acquaintances, arrive in church, read our prayers and vest in priestly vestments when the bishop was to arrive in church. It is remarkable that those people who had set out on the cutter from Pskov were delayed almost three hours by heavy fog.

We had brought our monastery choir along with us, as few as we could get by with, just in case, as they say. As it turned out, the choir that was to accompany the bishop did not make it – they were waiting for that same cutter that had been delayed in the fog, and therefore could not make it onto the island. Our choir sang almost the entire service, and in that there we also saw a certain measure of God’s mercy. I think Fr Nikolai would have been pleased that our choir arrived in time and sang the entire liturgy.

After the liturgy, which Archbishop Evsevii (Eusebius) served, the funeral began, and the service lasted, all told, from 9:00 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon. Only then did they lower the coffin into the grave. Of course, some of the faithful were crying, but most of them were in a mood that was both very serious and at the same time peaceful, tranquil, joyful. But that joy was not like the usual, human joy we experience when we are glad about something; it was an internal, contained, spiritual joy.

I remember one detail in particular: the last time I was visiting Fr Nikolai, several years ago, since he was already very advanced in age I dared to ask him, “Father Nikolai, will I see you again?” He said, “Yes, you’ll see me.” And then he died. It would seem that what I wanted did not happen. But my spiritual children convinced me to go to the funeral precisely for that reason: “Father Nikolai said that you should see him. That means you should go to see him for the last time.” And so in spite of my physical infirmities, I decided to go.

When we arrived, Fr Nikolai was lying in his coffin, vested in priestly vestments, and as is customary at the burial of priests, his face was covered by the aer, that is, the cloth with which the chalice and diskos are covered at the proskomedia and again after they are transferred to the altar table. I thought: “How am I supposed to see him, then? Only his hands?” I had doubt in my soul, but later, when the burial began, the archbishop said that while lay people bid farewell to Fr Nikolai while his face was covered, the clergy would do so while his face was uncovered. Such are our Orthodox canons.

And when we priests bid farewell once again to Fr Nikolai, I had the very consoling opportunity to look for a few moments at his holy face. Thus his prediction was fulfilled, even though it had seemed impossible to me. And so we buried our dear batiushka. But in our soul there was nothing heartrending or tormenting; instead there was peace; the peace which emanated from Fr Nikolai during his lifetime surrounded him here as well.

These events, which took place on the eve of the feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, gave us a hint of those feelings which the early Christians must have had who were present at the dormition and burial of the Mother of God. It is noteworthy that when Mother Luibov, the abbess of the Novo-Tikhvin women’s monastery visited Fr Nikolai with several of her sisters a year ago, he sang the troparion and kontakion of the Dormition for them. After they returned they told me, “We don’t understand what it means,” and asked me what I thought about it. I answered them something or other, but as it turned out, now we understand that even then Fr Nikolai knew that his death would occur during the Dormition fast, just before Dormition, and so he was implying, prophesying what was to take place.

For the past several years, because of his illness Fr Nikolai no longer received anyone, and whether he wished it or not, became inaccessible to us. But, however odd or paradoxical it may seem, his death as it were freed him from the illness which prevented him from being with us. And as we say about the Mother of God, after Her Dormition she did not forsake us, so it can also be said about God’s saints, and about Fr Nikolai in particular, that after his departure from us he will likewise not forsake us in his prayers. And perhaps, through his prayers, the Lord will instruct us, even though we no longer have the opportunity to hear words of counsel from the lips of our dear batiushka himself.

“Church Herald”, No. 17, 2002