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St. Nikolai Gusev

St. Nikolai Gusev by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist Narrative:

Nicolai was born during the Russian civil war and lost both of his parents as a baby. He lived with his grandmother until she died in 1926. An aunt occasionally sheltered him after that, but he was left to fend for himself much of his youth in the violent streets of Communist Moscow. In the 1930’s he went out into the forests east of the city to become a hermit and a holy fool, making himself a primitive hermitage of branches and mud near a spring. He lived there in poverty with a few icons and oil lamps. Local people came to him to ask for his prayers and advice. They gave him food and clothing from time to time.

On September 19, 1937, Communist soldiers arrested him and imprisoned him in the Butyrka Prison in Moscow. 20 days later guards shot him after a perfunctory trial. They threw his body in a common grave at Butovo, outside Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized him as a martyr on May 7, 2003.

His feast day is October 9.

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Nikolai was born on December 9, 1919 into the family of a Moscow blacksmith. Nikolai never remembered his parents as his father died at the time of the civil war and his mother in 1920. He was left with his grandmother who died in 1926 after which the only relatives he had living was an aunt in Moscow with whom, from time to time, he found shelter.

In the 1930s Nikolai made himself a branch tent as well as dug out a mud hut in a forest not far from Reutov (approximately 20km East of downtown Moscow), not far from the spring at the village of Kosino. He earned money by collecting and selling salvage and mushrooms.

An investigator, gathering materials for indictments, asked of a witness if they knew a Kolya, who he was and what he did. The witness answered, “Yes, I know Kolya; Nikolai Ivanovich Gusev, Blessed Nikolai. He lives in a branch tent about 8 kilometers from Kosino in Nikolskii forest. He heals the believers that come to him and considers himself a fool for Christ and clairvoyant. In his tent he has icons and lampadas. He heals by giving out vials with water.

Having great authority among believers, and being famous for his clairvoyance, more and more believers began to make pilgrimages to him for healing. Besides this, Gusev beautifies the holy springs on Holy Lake of which he’s already made four. A woman working in a church in Kosino provided him with food, clothing, and other necessities. People from various places come to Gusev for healing.

NKVD officials ambushed Nikolai not far from his tent on September 19, 1937 and arrested him. He was imprisoned in Butyrka Prison in Moscow and in the same day interrogated.

To the questions of the investigators he answered, I don’t have a passport of a place to live. I decided to make myself a tent in the forest and live there. I built my tent completely by myself. I hung icons in it and made five lampadas. I bought oil for the lamps in the pharmacy. Today when I was walking through the forest, coming back to my tent from Reutov, I met a woman, unknown to me, who asked me where I lived. I showed her my tent. Then she asked me if I wasn’t afraid to live alone in the forest. I answered that I wasn’t afraid. I just wanted to go into my tent when someone from the police stopped me and brought me to the station.

Who built the tent in the forest in the Reutov region? asked the investigator. I built the tent during the summer to live in, answered Nikolai.

This was the last question of the short interrogation. When the investigator demanded that Nikolai signed the record of the interrogation he categorically refused.

On October 8 a troika of the Moscow region NKVD sentenced him to be shot.

On September 26/ October 9, 1937 he was shot and buried in an unknown communal grave at Butovo outside of Moscow.

He was added to the list of New Martyrs of Russia by the Holy Synod on May 7, 2003.

—Excerpts from Blessed Nikolai Gusev, Orthodox Church in America