Metropolitan Nicholas (Mogilevsky) (1877-1955), renowned for his humility and compassion, once concealed a Red Army commissar in his chambers, risking his life to rescue a man from a political faction opposed to his own beliefs. By his prayers, a plane crash was averted after an engine failure. The church where he served had a barrier surrounding the bishop’s cathedra. He asked to remove it, saying, “If someone accidentally pushes it in a crowd, it’s not a problem.” Over 40,000 people gathered for Metropolitan Nicholas’ funeral during the anti-church years under N. Khrushchev.
Rebellion in His Youth
Feodosy (the name of the future Metropolitan before his tonsure) was born into the family of a rural psalmist in the Verkhnedneprovsk district of Ukraine. His mother was the embodiment of love. Her mere glance, full of longing, was enough to gently correct her children’s misbehaviours.
From his seminary years, Vladyka especially remembered an incident when he and his peers stood up against an unjust inspector of educational institutions. The rector of the Ekaterinoslav Seminary attempted to persuade the rioters to disperse, but they stood firm with their demands: the release of their detained comrades and the dismissal of the cruel inspector.
When the local bishop, highly respected even by the seminarians, arrived, they knelt and sang his favourite hymn, “The Sea of Worldly Cares”. Touched, the bishop blessed them and dismissed them to their rooms. The students later felt deep remorse when they learned that their demands had been met.
Checking the ‘Authenticity’ of Sacred Relics
In 1919, upon his election as vicar bishop of the Chernigov diocese, Archimandrite Nicholas faced the nationwide ‘campaign to expose relics’, aimed at discrediting religious veneration. When a committee came to examine the relics of St Theodosius of Chernigov, Bishop Nicholas, conducting a service, prayed fervently against their desecration. The committee, including medical doctors, ultimately affirmed the relics as authentic. However, a skeptical woman tested this by inserting a pin into the relic, causing it to bleed in front of many witnesses. The woman fled in shock.
Saving a Red Army Commissar
During the Civil War, Bishop Nicholas was approached by a Bolshevik commissar seeking refuge. Understanding the gravity of the situation, Vladyka provided shelter and later ensured the commissar’s safe departure from the city. This act of compassion was guided by his adherence to the Gospel’s commandments, instructing the followers of Christ to provide aid without discrimination.
Later, when the bishop himself was arrested, the commissar reciprocated this act of kindness: thanks to his intervention the sentence of exile was reduced.
Begging for Alms in Shalkar
In the harsh winter of 1942, Bishop Nicholas found himself exiled to Shalkar, Kazakhstan. Arriving at a frosty railway platform late at night, he possessed little more than his underclothes and a worn cotton blanket, clutching a certificate requiring bi-monthly stamps from the local NKVD office.
As dawn broke, Vladyka Nicholas, without shelter, sustenance, or employment, resorted to begging for alms. Local elderly women, moved by compassion, provided him with clothes and one offered him shelter in her stable, reminiscent of the Virgin Mary’s refuge during the birth of Christ.
Despite his efforts to find work, his age and frail appearance deterred potential employers. Time took its toll, and his health deteriorated, leaving him emaciated and covered in boils.
One day, Bishop Nicholas collapsed on the street. Awakening in a hospital, he was astonished by the cleanliness and the compassionate inquiries of staff in white. Nicknamed the “kind grandfather” in the hospital, he recuperated slowly, assisting other patients with small tasks. The young doctor, aware of his homelessness, delayed his discharge due to the wartime bed shortage.
Staying with Tatar ‘Samaritans’
As he prepared for discharge, praying for guidance, a Tatar man, who had earlier found him unconscious, offered him a place in his home. This man later shared that upon seeing the bishop, he felt a divine call to save him. Bishop Nicholas was warmly cared for by this kind family.
This same Tatar gentleman facilitated a reunion between Bishop Nicholas and his spiritual daughter, Nun Vera Afanasyevna. Vladyka began serving as a priest in a local woman’s home, leading to the community building a prayer house. Remarkably, he never disclosed his episcopal status, a testament to his profound humility, and his unique view of his role as a servant of God.
Liberation of the Bishop
In 1945, Bishop Nicholas was released and began serving in Alma-Ata. Known for his open-door policy, he offered financial and spiritual support to many, personally responding to numerous letters.
Despite his elevated status as a bishop and later a Metropolitan, he led with requests rather than commands, sometimes with tears. In the church, he disliked the barrier around his throne, requesting its removal: “If someone accidentally pushes me in a crowd, it’s not a problem.” His services were often emotional, and he took joy in praying for his congregation.
After liturgies, despite feeling weak, he individually blessed the large number of attendees. A widespread belief was that as long as Vladyka Nicholas prayed, the city, despite its seismic risks, would remain safe.
He always remembered to greet church staff on their name days and had a special affinity for children. To calm the more spirited ones during sermons, he gently placed his hand on their heads, remembered fondly by many for the warmth it conveyed.
Bishop Nicholas and a ‘Canaanite Woman’
During his travels across his expansive diocese, Bishop Nicholas had a poignant encounter in Chikment. A Kazakh woman, breaking through the crowd, knelt before him, pleading, “Pray for me! Allah has completely forgotten us! Maybe your God will hear me!” Gently lifting her up, Vladyka Nicholas embraced and blessed her.
When criticized for blessing an unbaptized person, he replied, reminiscent of Christ’s teachings, “Didn’t Christ receive the tax collector? Did He not hear the Canaanite woman?”
Aeroplane Incident in a Swamp
Travelling by aeroplane was often the most practical choice in the vast Alma-Ata diocese. Vladyka always sought prayers before each flight. On a July 1947 flight to Moscow, dressed in his cassock, he blessed the passengers, despite their skeptical remarks.
Shortly after takeoff, an engine failure caused panic. Bishop Nicholas calmly assured everyone, “Let us pray! Not a single soul will perish! Just a little bit of mud!” His prayerful intervention seemed to guide the plane’s descent, resulting in a safe landing in a shallow swamp. The collective farmers used a tractor to retrieve the aircraft, a situation the senior pilot deemed miraculous.
In the early 1950s, during a service in Uralsk, the congregation lamented a severe drought. Bishop Nicholas led prayers for rain, and almost immediately, the sky darkened, and heavy rain fell amidst thunder and lightning. Overcome with emotion, he exclaimed to the believers present, “Orthodox Christians! Is this not a miracle!”
A Meek Patient
In his final years, despite suffering heart attacks and breathing difficulties, Bishop Nicholas maintained his humility and sense of humor, even amidst his physical challenges. Requesting retirement, he was instead ordained as Metropolitan, adding to his duties.
His departure on 25 October 1955 was marked by immense public mourning. Over 40,000 people crowded the streets for his funeral, with some climbing trees to witness the procession of a man who had profoundly touched their lives with the message of Christ.
In 2000, Metropolitan Nicholas (Mogilevsky) was canonized among the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia by the Jubilee Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church. His relics, uncovered on 8 September 2000, now reside in St. Nicholas Cathedral in Almaty.
This account was compiled using V.V. Koroleva’s “Life of the Confessor Metropolitan Nicholas (Mogilevsky) of Alma-Ata and Kazakhstan” (Moscow, 2000).
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds