My whole life has been connected with the name of St. Nicholas: I remember how, from my childhood, a small icon with the face of a saint hung over my crib, I remember praying to him during military service and study at the conservatory. My family did not have lack of Nikolais – my grandfather and uncle were named Nikolai. The latter died at war in 1943 near Smolensk – they named me after him.
And now I want to tell you a story that marked the beginning of a new period in my life.
For more than 10 years I served at the Vagankovskoye cemetery. By the way, as soon as I came to the church, I discovered that one of the five altars is in honor of St. Nicholas. This made me very happy, and the churh immediately became dear to me. So, once I was called to the patriarchy and asked about the Tretyakov Gallery: what do I know about this place, do I have friends there. Since I was a native Muscovite, the gallery was my favorite place. I must pay tribute to my grandmother, who took me to the Tretyakov Gallery for lectures, concerts, and scientific symposiums several times a year in my childhood.
Suddenly they tell me that there is a church at the gallery, and His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II blessed me to be Father Superior of it and they show a decree on the appointment. I was so stunned that I didn’t even bother to look into it. They just explained to me that the situation in the church is not simple: that I would have to build relations between people of science and the Church, and restore the church. In parting, they told me only: “You still serve where you served – at the Vagankovskoye cemetery, but slowly begin to build the life of the community and the church at the Tretyakov Gallery.”
On the same day I went on a rite to close friends. One of them was engaged in the organization of commercial “survival races”: he took old cars, brought them with the team to a more or less suitable condition, arranged off-road races. A car after this usually turned into trash. And so, during one of the last such races, a man died.
With this grief he turned to me: he asked me to serve a commemoration service for the deceased. He brought me to Kuntsevo, where there were many garages and old wrecked cars. I served a commemoration service, consecrated the shelter of this team and was about to leave, when one of guys decided to thank me. And he says: “Father, we don’t have money, but, you know, we have had an icon here for three years now – take it for yourself.”
I was glad at this proposal, because only today I received a new church: “The icon will be needed there,” I thought. “So I will take it with pleasure!”
In the garage, behind a pile of tires, we found a large icon split in half – obviously of a good writting, but requiring restoration. As it turned out later, the icon was painted in the mid-19th century and belonged to the Stroganov school. Saint Nicholas was depicted on the icon.
I arrived home and from the threshold I declare to my matushka: “Congratulate me, I have a new appointment today – they gave the church at the Tretyakov Gallery!” Only then we together opened the decree and read: the church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi. I immediately take out the icon that was presented to me and tell: “And it came at the same time as the decree … Two gifts from St. Nicholas!”
With this icon I came to the church – there was complete devastation. On the same evening, December 18, 1992, we performed the first prayer service in this church for the last 65 years. I remember it well: the windows and doors are knocked out, outside is -19 degrees, the icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker stands in place of the central altar, and we are serving in front of it.
Thus the spiritual life and restoration of the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachi at the Tretyakov Gallery began. In 1997, the church was completely restored and consecrated by Patriarch Alexy II. Today, the temple has 28 years of life, 3 altars: of The Holy Protection of the Mother of God, of St. Nicholas and central – of the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is both an active church for all parishioners, and a house church-museum of the gallery.