Saint Nίkander of Pskov was born on July 24, 1507 into a peasant family in the village of Videlebo in the land of Pskov. His parents were called Philip and Anastasia, and in Holy Baptism, he was named Nikon.
From childhood he dreamed of continuing the ascetical contests of his fellow villager, Saint Euphrósynos of the Spaso-Eleazar Monastery (May 15), who lived in the Pskov wilderness. The first of Nikon’s family to enter the Monastery was his older brother Arsenios. After the death of his father, the seventeen-year-old Nikon was able to convince his mother to dispose of her property and enter a convent, where she lived until her repose.
After visiting Pskov’s monasteries and venerating the relics of Saint Euphrósynos and his disciple Saint Savva of Krypetsk (August 28), Nikon was firmly convinced of his calling to the monastic life.
In order to be able to read the Word of God, Nikon went to work for a resident of Pskov, whose name was Philip. He rewarded Nikon’s diligence by sending him to study with an experienced teacher. Seeing the young man’s zeal, the Lord Himself guided him to the place of his podvig.1 While praying in one of the Pskov churches, he heard a voice from the altar commanding him to go to a place in the wilderness, which the Lord would show him through His servant Theodore. The peasant Theodore led him off to the Demyanka River, between Pskov and Porkhov. Afterward, both Philip and Theodore, who helped him attain his goal, would become monks as well. They were tonsured at Krypetsk Monastery with the names Philaret and Theodosios.
After several years of silence and strict asceticism, emaciating his flesh, Nikon went to the Monastery founded by Saint Savva of Krypetsk. The Igoumen, seeing his weakened body, would not agree to accept him right away, fearing that the difficulties of monastic life would be too much for him. Nikon bowed down before the tomb of Saint Savva, and spoke to him as if he were alive, entreating him to accept him into his Monastery. The Igoumen relented and tonsured Nikon with the name Nίkander.
Saint Nίkander endured many temptations and sorrows on his path of asceticism. Blessed Nicholas (February 28) while still at Pskov predicted Father Nίkander’s trials in the wilderness. Through the prayers of all the Pskov Saints, as well as those of Saint Alexander of Svir (August 30 and April 17), who appeared to him twice, guiding and strengthening him, Father Nίkander was able to avoid all the manifold snares of the Evil One, by the grace of God.
He overcame the weakness of his flesh, as well as human failings, and diabolical apparitions by the power of prayer. On one occasion he was almost killed by robbers, who stole the only and most precious property for an anchorite – books and icons. By the Saint’s prayers, two of them, frightened by the sudden death of their comrade, repented of their wicked deeds and the Elder forgave them.
Saint Nίkander did not remain very long at Krypetsk Monastery, and obtained a blessing to return to his own wilderness. Later, he came to live at Krypetsk Monastery again, where he fulfilled the obediences of ecclesiarch and cellarer. Then he went into the wilderness once more and lived there in fasting and prayer, meditating on the Word of God.
Once a year, during Great Lent, Saint Nίkander visited the Damianov Monastery, where he made his confession and received the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Eight years before his death, he was tonsured into the Great Schema. Many people began coming to him in order to benefit from his counsels, because according to Saint John of the Ladder: “Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all mankind” (Step 26:31). Thus, the faithful turned to Saint Nikander for help, for the Lord had bestowed many gifts of grace upon him.
This dweller in the wilderness took care of all the needs of the visitors and even built a guest house for them, for which he provided heat. The Saint did not permit himself to reveal his spiritual gifts. People sometimes heard him praying in his cell with bitter tears. When he was aware of people nearby, he prayed silently, concealing from them the gift of tears which he had received.
Until the end of his life, Saint Nίkander remained an anchorite in the wilderness, but he left instructions that after his repose, the place of his podvig would not be forsaken, promising his protection to those who would live in a future monastery. The Saint gave his final instructions to Deacon Peter of the Porkhov convent, charging him to build a church at his grave, and to transfer the icon of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos there from the Tishanka church cemetery.
He knew the day of his own death, predicting that he would die when enemies invaded the land, and he foretold this imminent assault. On September 24, 1581, during an invasion by the army of the Polish king Stephen Bathory, a certain peasant found Saint Nίkander dead. He lay on his bed with his hands crossed on his chest. The clergy and those who revered him came from Pskov, among whom was Deacon Peter, and they performed the service of Christian burial.
In 1584, at the place which Saint Nίkander sanctified by almost half a century of prayer, a monastery was established by a monk named Isaiah, and was known as the Annunciation – Nikandrov Hermitage. Father Isaiah had been healed of a foot ailment after praying to the Saint.
The glorification of Saint Nίkander Nikander took place under Patriarch Joachim in 1696, and festal celebrations were appointed for September 24, the day of his repose; on June 29, the uncovering of his holy relics during the reconstruction of the Monastery’s cathedral church; and on the Monastery’s temple Feast (the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos). Saint Nίkander is also commemorated on the third Sunday after Pentecost, the Synaxis of the Saints of Novgorod and Pskov (movable Feast).