Nil Sorsky, St.

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(c. 14331508), ascetic master and editor-copyist.

Brother of the state secretary Andrei Maykov (active 1450s1490s), Nil entered the Kirillov-Belozersk monastery in the 1440s or 1450s, went to Mt. Athos at some time for special training, and in 1470 was a leading Kirillov elder. Dissatisfied with materialism and secular interests there, he founded the Sorsky Hermitage on a Kirillov property, where he enforced a strict, self-supporting regimen and taught the Athonite, hesychastic mode of prayer. By favoring monastic dispensation of only spiritual alms, he avoided the amassing of goods and dependent labor required for material charity. In 1489, Archbishop Gennady of Novgorod sought out Nil, who helped produce Joseph of Volok's anti-heretical, theological polemics.

Nil's disciples included his traveling companion Innokenty Okhlyabinin, founder of another hermitage based on Nil's precepts; the Kirillov elders Gury Tushin and German Podolny, one a bibliophile, the other an opponent of condemning heretics; the disgraced prince-boyar Vassian Patrikeyev, the most strident "Non-possessor" during 15111531; and two of Joseph's leading acolytes.

Nil's expert book-copying, most notably an authoritative collection of saints lives, was distinguished by use of Greek originals to make corrections. His polished corpus of well-respected writings include the regulatory Tradition (Predanie ) for his hermitage; an eleven-discourse, patristic-based Rule (Ustav ) for "spiritual activity"; and didactic epistles to German, Gury, and Vassian. The leitmotifs are nonattachment, stillness with mytical prayer, and combating the eight pernicious "thoughts" (the Catholic seven deadly sins plus despondency). Contemporary writings do not show that Nil himself opposed and protested the execution of heretics or advocated confiscation of monastic villages, as later claimed and still widely believed.

Locally venerated, Nil has been seen as Russia's great elder and as relatively liberal for his day. He was added as a saint to official church calendars only in modern times.

See also: church council; kirill-beloozero monastery; possessors and non-possessors; monasticism; orthodoxy; saints


Maloney, George A. (2000). Nil Sorsky. Costa Mesa, CA: Paulist Press.

Ostrowski, Donald. (1988). "Toward Establishing the Canon of Nil Sorsky's Works." Oxford Slavonic Papers 31:3550.

Ostrowski, Donald. (1995). "Loving Silence and Avoiding Pleasant Conversations. The Political Views of Nil Sorskii." Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19: 476-96.

David M. Goldfrank