During his first years on Mount Athos, Fr. Nikodim lived in the St. Panteleimon Monastery, as well as in its sketes, Chromitsa and New Thebaid.12 With the blessing of Elder Silouan,13 he left the crowded sketes and settled in the desert of Karoulia. At that time, there were thirty-five Russian ascetics in the kellia and kalyvae14 scattered across the terrifying cliffs. Among them were two spiritual fathers: Fr. Dositheus, who was kind and condescending, and Fr. Theodosius, who was strict and uncompromising. In accordance with the blessing of Elder Silouan and the words of St. John Climacus (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Chapter 4), Fr. Nikodim chose the uncompromising Fr. Theodosius. As Fr. Nikodim recalled, “My Elder was a theologian, but he was strict.” They maintained spiritual contact with Elder Silouan and took counsel with him.
Youthful zeal not according to knowledge (cf. Rom. 10:2) did not restrain Fr. Nikodim from testing the Elder, and drew him to the room that contained the forbidden fruit—the books of the Holy Fathers. Fr. Nikodim opened a book and began to read with fervor. “Out!” he unexpectedly heard the threatening voice of the strict Elder. Tearfully repenting on his knees, for more than a day Fr. Nikodim implored the Elder not to cast him out, and this at last inclined the heart of the usually implacable Elder to mercy.
He progressed to such a degree in humility and prayer, that by the tenth year of their spiritual unity in Christ Elder Theodosius began to listen to his true and faithful disciple, For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20). “He took me as his advisor,” recalled Fr. Nikodim, “and learned prayer from me.”
Hieroschemamonk Phillip, of the brotherhood of the kellion of the Apostle Thomas (which belongs to St. Anne’s Skete), well-known for their preservation of Athonite liturgical chant, related, “Fr. Nikodim was a great faster and ascetic—each year he fasted for forty days! He concealed his ascetic struggles, and in general never spoke about ‘visions and dreams.’ He was a confessor of the Faith—a zealot—but he did not create scandals or problems. I think the most estimable thing about Fr. Nikodim is that, being a true patriot, he endured life outside his homeland. This was aggravated by the fact that there were monks on Mount Athos who suspected that every Russian monk was a Soviet spy! With pain of heart the Elder prayed for Russia, which was especially in need of prayer at that time. And such prayer is needed today, too.”
Open the Bible and you will see how God has directed His people. Angels and men have sinned before God: God sent the first angel to hell for eternal torment without mercy. But He reserved His mercy for man, and sent him out [of Paradise] to the earth to repent, and promised his return again to Paradise if he would keep God’s laws and commands.