From the Editors: Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky) died on Saturday, September 4, 1976. That day, Fr Alexei Naumov, as usual, entered Vladyka Nikon’s residence at Holy Ascension Cathedral in the Bronx, NY, at about 8 o’clock in the morning to invite him to breakfast, but found that the archpastor had died in his sleep.
Fr Alexei informed the Synod of Bishops of what happened. Bishop Laurus (Shkurla) of Manhattan soon arrived along with Protopresbyter George Grabbe. Vladyka Laurus read the prayers on the Departure of the Soul. After the washing of the body, the newly-reposed bishop was vested in archpastoral garb which once belonged to Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky, +1936) of blessed memory. The coffin he was placed in was then taken to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York, where a pannikhida was performed on Sunday.
In accordance with the wishes of Vladyka Nikon, he was buried at St Vladimir Cemetery at the St Vladimir Memorial Church for the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus in Jackson, NJ, which he had exerted a great deal of energy and resources in building.
We offer our readers a description of the funeral and burial of Archbishop Nikon, written by Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev, +2000) in 1976.
The farewell by the clergy and flock with Archbishop Nikon of Washington and Florida, who departed on September 4, was not only ceremonious, but contained great emotion. The departed bishop was especially devoted to Metropolitan Anthony, himself a heartfelt archpastor. Vladyka Nikon was always a loyal helper of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky, +1965) of blessed memory as well as Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko, +1960) of Eastern America and Jersey City.
Even as he approached the age of 80, he just as enthusiastically helped Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), down to his last days. He was the Vice President of the Synod of Bishops, and also entrusted with the administration of the largest diocese (which had been combined from two smaller ones), participated in various committees and drafting important resolutions of the Council of Bishops, and also traveled on Church business.
The Lord sent this humble servant death as he slept. On the night before, Vladyka Nikon asked Fr George Larin to buy him some clothing. He washed, changed, and was dead by morning.
Metropolitan Philaret heard the sad news in Europe, and could not attend the funeral, since he was scheduled to return by ship.
After he was garbed in Metropolitan Anthony’s vestments, Vladyka Nikon spent one day in his Holy Ascension Cathedral, where he had arrived 30 years earlier, when it was still our diocesan headquarters, then Archimandrite Nikon, a member of the St Job Brotherhood, and remained to help Archbishop Vitaly.
The funeral took place at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign in New York on September 7. Five bishops and some 40 priests and 5 deacons performed the service. Protopresbyter John Legky delivered a warm eulogy for the late Vladyka during Divine Liturgy that preceded the service, who had spent almost his entire service in America under Vladyka Nikon’s hierarchal guidance.
A group of Greek monastics arrived for the beginning of the funeral. The endearing singing of the Synodal choir alternated with the singing of the clergymen, who stood in long rows on two sides of the coffin. Some of the petitions and ikoses were intoned by Greeks and Americans in their own languages.
After the repetition of the kontakion “With the Saints Give Rest,” Archbishop Vitaly (Oustinov) of Montreal and Canada spoke about the perpetual efforts of the late hierarch—in the manner of Metropolitan Anthony, whose biography he wrote and whose works he published—to preserve the purity of theology, and he shared his gift of discernment. Archbishop Vitaly, heading the funeral service, also read the prayer of absolution.
Before the last farewells were made, Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco and Western America talked in particular about the memorable kindness of Vladyka Nikon, which echoed the words Alyosha Karamazov spoke in the novel by Fedor Dostoevsky, who was very close to Vladyka through his friendship with Metropolitan Anthony: “to be good, to be honorable and never forget one another.” Vladyka Nikon’s kindness was always palpable, as were his honor and devotion. Let us not forget Vladyka in hopes that he not forget us.
After the end of the funeral, during which Greek nuns also sang, the coffin with Vladyka Nikon’s remains, the bishops, clergymen and many of the worshipers traveled by car to St Vladimir Church in Jackson (formerly Cassville), NJ, near Rova Farms, two hours away.
And as we arrived, though we expected to be greeted by someone, what we saw was both unexpected and profoundly heartwarming. The entire hillside, the broad staircase leading to the Memorial Church to the Baptism of Russia was filled with people holding candles. The church sisterhood stood in front in their kerchiefs.
The coffin was brought up to the upper church, where a pannikhida was performed. Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich) of Los Angeles and Southern California gave a eulogy in which he stressed Vladyka Nikon’s love for the New Martyrs of Russia and his wish that they be canonized.
Once again, farewells were made to the late hierarch. The clergymen lifted the coffin. The choir of St Vladimir Church sang the irmosi: “A Helper and Protector.” The coffin was carried around St Vladimir Church, the facade of which shines with a splendid mosaic of St Vladimir, below whom are the Holy Princes Boris and Gleb. Only twelve years remained before the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. It was to celebrate this event that the church was built. Its builders, Archbishop Vitaly and Archbishop Nikon, were to await this great jubilee laid to rest in the lower church.
The coffin was then brought into the lower church. To the right was the crypt of Archbishop Vitaly. On the wall, under glass, is an inscription he made in charcoal with his own hand: “Crypt should be here. Archbishop Vitaly.”
On the opposite side was a new, deep grave dug into the floor. The coffin of Archbishop Nikon was then lowered into it. Young priests helped. A litiya was then performed, “Eternal Memory” sung. Rova Farm hosted a funerary trapeza to a full dining hall. Bishop Laurus of Manhattan, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops and Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, who knew and understood the late hierarch well, gave a eulogy. He talked about the long-time, profound bonds the late hierarch maintained with the monastics of St Job and later Holy Trinity Monastery.
The young pastors that Vladyka ordained, including Fr John Shaw [now Bishop Jerome of Manhattan—Ed.], strongly sensed that they have been orphaned, and a recently-ordained American deacon even burst into tears in the altar.
One recalls Vladyka’s bravery, when he was a priest in the Russian Corps during the last World War. One remembers his charity work. Help to people in various countries originated in the Bronx, through him and from him.
Archimandrite Nicholas (Pekatoros) of St John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington DC also came to venerate the crypt of Vladyka Nikon on behalf of his flock.
One of the most important and longest-serving figures of St Vladimir Society, which continued the construction of the church, Vasily Mikhailovich Azhogin, who had collaborated with Vladyka Vitaly on the project, spoke on behalf of the laity. He recalled how under the gentle influence of Archbishop Nikon, civilians came to understand the proper structure of the parish, its administration and property.
The common sympathy with all that was spoken was evidenced by the fact that those who gathered only went home after 9 pm.
The following day, Divine Liturgy and a pannikhida were served at the church.
These services for Vladyka Nikon warmed all our hearts with their genuine fervor, and demonstrated what we had not noticed before, the example he showed of his duty and responsibility before our beloved Church.
Archbishop of Western America and San Francisco