Bishop Nicholas, in the world Vladimir Parfenov, was born in 1879 in
Saratov in a family belonging to the nobility. He was educated at home. He
was a hunchback, and his hunch was in front and behind. They say that his
mother did not want to "spoil her figure", and therefore engaged a wet-nurse
for her son. She once sat him on the window-sill and herself went away. The
boy fell and broke his spine. His wet-nurse did not tell anyone about it, and
when a hump appeared it was too late to do anything about it. Because of this
deformity, when he was already a bishop, he humbly asked people to call him
Vladimir graduated from Kazan University and Theological Academy. He had a sister whose son, an officer in the Civil War, died in captivity near Zhitomir.
On March 5/18 (according to another source, March 17), 1923, he was secretly consecrated bishop of Atkar, a vicariate of the Saratov diocese, by Bishops Job (Rogozhin) and Barlaam (surname unknown). According to one source, Archbishop Andrew of Ufa participated in this consecration.
Vladyka Nicholas served in this see until 1925, when he retired.
Bishop Nicholas lived in a monastic skete in Saratov, and was for two years in reclusion. During this time he not only prayed but also worked, making stockings. It is known that he gave one pair of stockings to the local Protopriest Constantine, and another - to the novice K. He had the gift of discernment of spirits and prophecy.
On coming out of reclusion he continued to live for some time in Saratov. His cell-attendant was Hieromonk Pitirim, who had been James Ivanovich Ivanov in the world. In his youth he had intended to marry, but his bride died on the eve of their wedding, which so shook the young man that he remained a bachelor.
James Ivanovich wanted to see Bishop Nicholas, about whom he had heard many good things. Once he hired a cabby and went to look at him. He was sitting under an umbrella and getting ready to look at him, when Bishop Nicholas came out onto the porch of his little house, turned towards him and said unexpectedly:
"James Ivanovich, I've been waiting for you for a long time."
This event was a fresh shock for James Ivanovich. After all, he had never seen the bishop before, and the bishop could not have known anything about him. After thinking about it for a long time, he was tonsured into monasticism with the name Pitirim and then became a hieromonk and Bishop Nicholas' cell-attendant.
After a time the authorities forced Vladyka to go and live in Moscow. At first he lived with his spiritual children. Then as he began to acquire more and more admirers among the inhabitants of the Zamoskvorechiye, he went from one to the other. Everyone was glad to give refuge to Vladyka.
Finally, the authorities told Patriarch Tikhon that he would have to expel certain bishops from Moscow. He summoned Bishop Nicholas and gave him a choice of three cities, one of which was Kiev. Vladyka chose Kiev.
In Kiev he lived with his cell-attendant in the private house of Popov on the corner of Reznitskaya and Klovsky spusk. The nun Mariamna (in the world Princess Alexandra Lvovna Shakhovskaya) lived in one small room of this house, and the three others were let by Bishop Nicholas and Hieromonk Pitirim. Vladyka Nicholas lived very quietly in Pechersk, receiving almost nobody and not serving Divine services. He went only to the church of the women's monastery of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.
Bishop Nicholas lived in this house for six years. During this time his admirers in Saratov did not forget him, and some of them came to see him in Kiev. The above-mentioned Protopriest Constantine was one of them. On meeting Bishop Nicholas he fell to his knees and asked for his hierarchical blessing. He told several Kievans of the holy life and spiritual exploits of Bishop Nicholas in Saratov.
Eugenia Grigorievna Rymarenko, the wife of Fr. Adrian, the future Archbishop Andrew of Rockland, relates: "Our whole family, including the children, spent the summer of 1928 in Kitayevsky Hermitage near Kiev, and there we met Bishop Nicholas. This was the vicar-bishop from Saratov; he had been exiled and lived in Kiev, receiving no one and not performing church services. We had heard much about him, about his high spiritual life, about his eldership in the skete near Saratov. We wanted very much to visit him, but this was extremely difficult. Finally we succeeded. And so gradually we became so disposed toward Vladyka that he began deciding all our questions. I remembered Batiushka Fr. Nectarius' words to me when he said:
"'Let Batiushka Fr. Adrian pray to the Lord that He incline his heart toward some Orthodox bishop and ask him about everything: now it is necessary to search for bishops.'"
Once Bishop Nicholas visited Eugenia Grigorievna's household. "Vladyka was short and hunch-backed, but there was something unusual in his whole face: a certain goodness, spirituality. His eyes were big, thoughtful and kind, but his manner was authoritative: one felt that he was used to ruling and giving instructions.
"I began to fuss about the housework, wishing to give better hospitality to our guest. And then, I remember, there was the following incident. I had a good bun, but there a little pig's fat had been put in it. Should I put it on the table or not - after all, Vladyka was a monk. I thought and thought, and in the end I put it in with all the rest. And what then? Vladyka tasted everything, but didn't touch the bun!
"Then, I remember, Vladyka started to say that there are certain matushkas who hinder their batyushkas from advancing in the spiritual life. Looking at me, he asked:
"'Are you one of those?'
"I replied that I did not know what I was.
In general, I didn't like Vladyka. I thought: 'Why did he suddenly begin to attack me?' Vladyka stayed with us and then returned to Kiev.
Then it turned out that Vladyka's cell-attendant had forgotten some things at our house. I had to bring them out and go to Vladyka in Pechersk. I remember that I went up to the house, which was surrounded by a high fence. The gate was shut on a latch; they taught me to look for a little hole and put a hairpin into it. In this way I lifted the latch and opened the gate without ringing, so as not to draw anyone's attention to the fact that somebody was visiting Vladyka.
"I quickly went across the yard and into Vladyka's quarters. My first impression was of cleanliness, cosiness and a certain peace and quiet. One felt that everyone was living under obedience, that it was a kind of small monastery.
"Vladyka himself played the fool a little; he spoke quite sharply and sometimes joked. For example, he threw me into complete confusion by saying:
"'Do you want to stay and have lunch with us? If you want to - stay, if not - leave.'
"Some months passed. During this time Fr. Adrian went to Vladyka, but I did not. Christmas came. The whole of our family went to congratulate Vladyka on the feasts. I remember that I had no special desire to go; I was still somewhat critically disposed towards Vladyka.
"Then, without my noticing it, I went to him more and more often, and came to like him so much that I couldn't decide or begin anything for myself without asking his blessing and prayers.
"What attracted me to Vladyka? His special way of addressing one. He could joke and laugh, but he could also listen and as it were live through all the difficulties of life at that time. He could encourage one and strengthen one's faith in the help of God and obtain this help by his prayers.
"For, you know, that was a very difficult time, especially for the family of a priest. Fr. Adrian did not have a parish in Kiev, he served together with Fr. Michael [Yedlinsky, the future hieromartyr] in the church of Saints Boris and Gleb in Podol.
"We lived mainly on chance parcels from former parishioners from Romny. The whole time there were various unpleasantnesses. For example, a message would come from the police: the next day Fr. Adrian was to go there to clean the snow; I had to run, bustle around and get a medical certificate to say that Fr. Adrian was ill and lying in bed. Moreover, the certificate could not be from a private doctor, but had to be from the Red Cross.
"In 1929 Fr. Adrian was arrested. How Vladyka supported me, encouraged me, prayed for me at that time! By some kind of miracle Fr. Adrian was released....
"How necessary in those difficult times were such people as Vladyka Nicholas. By their deep faith and authoritative word they were able to support us who were fainthearted and wavering in faith. Vladyka always supported me in this way.
"We also had to suffer material hardships at that time. Vladyka somehow understood them and knew when they came. He would come to us, and after his visit you would find two roubles on the table... And Vladyka often was able somehow to catch my thoughts.
"With great difficulty I succeeded in getting Vladyka to confess me, and I remember this with great tender feeling and gratitude. Vladyka was able to say to each person that which was useful for him. I remember several people once gathered in our house who wanted to get to know Vladyka. They sat and drank tea. By chance, a young married woman arrived. Vladyka went on talking and talking as if he were conducting a general conversation; but when he left it turned out that everything that he had been saying was for this person: she received replies to all the questions that were disturbing her at that time in connection with her difficulties with her husband and mother-in-law.
"I remember once incident with a deacon. This deacon, besides having a difficult general church situation, had difficulties in his family, too: his wife was against his service as a deacon. She was well-off, but she gave nothing to her husband. He was in great need and was going to pieces. At that time there was a fool-for-Christ in Kiev by the name of Seraphima. Some recognized her as such, some did not, but Vladyka Nicholas nevertheless received her when she came to him. And one day this Seraphima sent the deacon Nikola to Vladyka. He arrived in a dirty old cassock and in a very depressed mood. Vladyka comforted him, but really went for him for coming to dressed in such a way:
"'What kind of deacon are you? You're so dirty and you're going to church and to the altar dressed like that! You have to buy a new cassock.'
"Fr. Nikola replied that he had no money. And, you know, it was very difficult to buy material at that time. But Vladyka insisted:
"'Buy a new cassock - here's 20 kopecks.'
"The deacon trusted him, said 'Give the blessing', took the 20 kopecks and left. He got on a tram and went in the direction of his church, where he had to be for the all-night vigil. But just at that moment work was coming to an end in the factories, the workers filled up the trams and the poor deacon was knocked about: He couldn't squeeze his way to the exit when he had to leave and went several stops past. Finally, he managed to get out. The poor man began to run because he was already late for the service. Suddenly two women met him:
"'Batyushka, batyushka, wait, we have something to say to you.'
"And they asked him to take them to the Florovsky monastery. The deacon took pity on them and said:
"'Alright, let's go, but quickly, otherwise I'll have no time.'
"And then they literally ran, and on the way the women told him their woes. Their brother had died and they wanted to go to the Florovsky monastery to order a pannikhida for the fortieth day. They ran up to the church in which the deacon was serving, went into it and suddenly said:
"'You know, we won't go to the Florovsky monastery, we'll order a forty-day pannikhida here, with you.'
"They went up to the priest, gave him money and asked him to commemorate the deceased man. And then it turned out that they gave so much money that immediately after the all-night vigil the deacon, on receiving his share, saw that he could sew himself a new cassock. And two weeks later he went to Vladyka Nicholas in his new cassock.
"And how much I heard about Vladyka when I visited him once in Moscow, where he sometimes went for a certain time! The son of some relatives recovered through the prayers of Vladyka, in another family the husband stopped drinking and became a good family man. One woman said that she came to Vladyka and suddenly noticed that she had lost her wedding ring. She was terribly upset, and Vladyka sent her to look for the ring on the street. She set off with complete faith that she would find it, and she found it.
"Vladyka himself suffered all kinds of everyday life unpleasantnesses. There came a time when he had to be ejected from the flat he was occupying. With great difficulty his hieromonk and cell-attendant succeeded in finding a basement and making it habitable. And again this basement was done up in such a way that on entering one felt cosiness and order; and with the blessing and through the prayers of its master, people left it having received new strength and spiritual support.
Once the representatives of the authorities arrived in the house so as to arrest Mother Mariamna, but they did not find her at home. They ordered the landlord Popov to go to the police immediately she appeared. But immediately she arrived, Popov warned her of the danger. The nun managed to hide while Popov suffered: since he had warned her, he was arrested and sent into exile.
In 1933 (according to another source, 1934), Bishop Nicholas was arrested, and after he had been released he had to leave Kiev for Moscow. He left together with his faithful cell-attendant Fr. Pitirim. Before leaving he told his other cell-attendant (with whom he went to church):
"Leave immediately, we are going to Golgotha."
Before he left Kiev, relates Eugenia Grigorievna, "our universally revered batyushkas, Fr. Michael [Yedlinsky] and Fr. Alexander [Glagolev, who was also martyred] visited Vladyka. Both derived very much from this parting conversation with Vladyka and they said:
"'What spiritual strength, which we had with us in Kiev, we are losing now. The Lord is taking it from us.'
"Vladyka himself also highly valued these batyushkas of ours. He was sometimes in the church of Fr. Alexander and liked to pray with him.
"Vladyka left Kiev for Kirzhach, a little town beyond the Holy Trinity - St. Sergius monastery, more than one hundred versts from Moscow. This was the distance away he as an exile had to live."
Eugenia Grigorievna was able to visit Vladyka several times in Kirzhach. "Every such trip gave me the opportunity temporarily to forget all my sorrows, to rest and receive a new access of spiritual strength. Vladyka was interested in, and always asked in detail about our life, and went through everything with us."
Eugenia Grigorievna was also able "to receive from him his last directions and blessing from Suzdal prison where he was from 1936 on. But later he was exiled to an unknown location..."
According to one source, he was for some time in a preliminary special block with Schema-Archbishop Anthony (Abashidze). Then they were separated and he was sent to Moscow, where he was imprisoned in Butyrki. Fr. Pitirim was exiled to Siberia for five years. It is said that he shared his last crust of bread with his fellow-prisoners.
According to one source, Bishop Nicholas' health could not stand the prison regime and he died in prison in about 1936. According to another source, he may have been shot in 1940.
(Sources: Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya, 145, III-1985, pp. 243-245; Russkiye Pravoslavnye Ierarkhi, Paris: YMCA Press, 1986, p. 54; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyateishago Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 984; Evgenia Grigorievna Rymarenko, "Remembrances of Optina Staretz Hieroschemamonk Nektary", Orthodox Life, vol. 36, no. 3, May-June, 1986, pp. 42-43; Bishop Ambrose (von Sivers), personal communication, January 7/20, 1996; "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Katakombnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4(8), pp. 8-9; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Novye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1957, part 2, p. 126; Tsvetochki Optinoj Pustyni, Moscow: Palomnik, 1995, pp. 59-67; Lev Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-1945, Moscow: Krutitskoye patriarsheye podvorye, 1996, p. 537)