In 1960 Nestor Savchuck was born in the province of Crimea in Southern Russia. He was never close to his family, but was always distant from them. As he grew into a young man, he began to channel his energy into wrestling, boxing, and martial arts. He possessed a keen awareness and stood above his peers.
Nestor also had an artistic side, being a talented painter. In his early twenties, he traveled to Odessa to work as an apprentice painting religious murals. In Odessa, he became friends with the older artists. These older artists began to inspire Nestor with stories of righteous men and women who had glorified God through their courageous labors in the Monasteries of Russia over the last 1000 years. Suddenly, a spark was kindled in Nestor’s heart. He began to burn with a desire to flee the vanity of the world and tap into his ancient Christian roots.
Making the resolve to give his life wholly to God, Nestor left Odessa for the ancient 13th-century Pochaev Monastery. Here Nestor began laboring in the dedication of heart, as a monk.
At that time, the Monasteries in the communist Russia were regulated by the government. All the monks we required to be registered with the state, which was atheist. Nestor, protesting against atheism, never registered. In the mid-1980’s the government began to persecute the Monastery where he lived—some monks were taken to prison camps, while some just simply “disappeared.” Because he was not registered with the state, Nestor knew he would be put in prison or killed if he were found by the government officials. So, Nestor continued on struggling against the passions in the war-like conditions, living and hiding as an “illegal” Monk. Nestor, having a strong and brave soul, was soon ordained a Priest-Monk (Hieromonk) at an extremely young age.
Eventually the conditions at Pochaev Monastery became so severe that most of the Monks had either left, been taken away to prison camps, or killed. Nestor set out across the great expanse of Russia’s countryside, and after a long journey, he arrived in the little village of Zharky and was a pastor of a catacomb flock.
As is the lot of those who pursue righteousness, much suffering awaited Nestor. The police warned him of and icon-stealing ring run by the Russian Mafia—gangsters from Odessa who would steal icons from rural Churches and sell them on the black market for big money. Nearly all Churches in the area had been burglarized.
Other difficulties came from local hooligans who hassled him because he was a Priest. One day, Nestor tucked in his long hair and beard, as was his custom when traveling, so as to keep a low profile, and headed out for the bus stop with some important documents. At the bus stop, three drunken youth began to harass him. “Show me your cross!” they taunted him, and began grabbing under his jacket to get at his cross. So as not to allow them to defile his cross, Nestor was forced to deflect their hands. Not knowing that Nestor was skilled in martial arts, the youths tried to attack him, but he dodged their punches and made the fight look more like a dance. Suddenly, remembering that his documents were unguarded, Nestor hesitated; at that moment he was hit with a blow to the eye. Soon the police arrived, but Nestor told them to let the youths go. He hadn’t forgotten the he too had once been a rebellious youth. A month later, the youth who had punched Nestor in the eye, Andrew, came to his house to say he was sorry. After talking to him for a while, Andrew decided to join forces with Nestor, and moved in his house to follow his strict was of life. Soon the ultimate sacrifice of a Christian can give was born in Nestor—the desire to be martyred for faith in Christ.
In 1993 three monks were murdered at the famous Optina Monastery in central Russia. In the 19th century, Optina was the spiritual capital of Orthodox Russia, renowned for its lineage of Eldership which had come down from St. Paisius Velichkovsky. The three monks were stabbed to death on Pascha (Easter) night, during the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The autopsy showed what seemed to be a ritualistic killing—each had his throat slit, and the stab wounds were in a specific pattern. A blood-stained dagger was found at the Monastery grounds, with the numbers 666 inscribed on the blade. Later, a man confessed to the murders and admitted that the killings were a ritual of a satanic cult and that he had deliberately killed the three best monks in the Monastery.
Nestor often spoke of the Optina martyrs with great reverence, and it became evident that he longed to follow them. He longed for a martyr’s crown himself. Once a friend tried to counsel him that it was better to be longsuffering and endure the tedious trials of life. To this Nestor replied, “You know, my friend, I have such a fiery desire to receive a martyr’s crown because I led a loose life as a youth and lived only for myself. How can I repay God for what He has given me?” The friend replied to him, “It’s too daring to suffer martyrdom; you must suffer for a long time.” Nestor again replied, “Yes, I understand that, but maybe if I will pray for martyrdom—perhaps I will be able to pray it out.”
Truly Nestor was now ablaze with that fire of faith that burns for the other world. He saw death not as an end of life, but as a beginning. His faith was deep—to the extent that he had begun to pray for suffering and even death as an escape from this world, but in order to be mystically crucified with Christ.
Again the Church was robbed. This time Nestor has enough of his poor Church being extorted; he had to do something. Quickly, he spotted a tire track in the snow, leading to a dirt road in the woods, and began to follow it. In the distance was a parked car. To conceal that he was a Monk, Nestor took off his Monk’s cap, pulled up his robe, and approached the car, staggering like he was a drunk. Inside the car sat a gangster who immediately jumped out of the car and attacked him. Once again, Nestor’s experience in martial arts came to his aid; he was able to deflect the gangster’s punches and so buy enough time to get the license plate of the vehicle. Eventually, the police caught the gangsters and returned the Icons back to Nestor’s Church. Word then came to Nestor that, if he pressed charges, the Mafia would hunt him down. Nestor then met with the gangster who attacked him and asked him why he had done it; the gangster replied: “Money.” Nestor asked him if he regretted stealing from a Church and the gangster, without a teardrop of remorse, answered, “I have no regret whatsoever.” Nestor knew he had to make a stand. If he let the Mafia intimidate him, his poor Church would suffer. To one who tried to talk him out of it, Nestor explained, “If these were my personal enemies, I could forgive them; but these men are the enemies of simple believers and of God. They have no remorse for the evil they have done. I cannot let them go.”
Then there began several attempts against Nestor’s life, which he narrowly escaped. The robberies of Icons had become widespread; every Church In the region had been burglarized at least once. Nestor began to guard the Church at night. The Mafia was not just after the Icons anymore, the wanted the young Priest’s life.
On one occasion Nestor a knock at the door. When he opened the door he was held at gunpoint. Not backing down, Nestor fearlessly looked straight into the eyes of the hoods, turned around, walked into his house, and locked the door. The hoods came after him, breaking in through the window. Grabbing a flare gun, Nestor fired some shots to scare them off. But, knowing that he was a monk and priest, and so would not shoot them, they barged through the window. Nestor then ran into his room and locked the door. As he was climbing out of his bedroom window, he cut his arm and began to bleed. Quickly he bandaged his arm and then escaped. As he fled, blood dripped on the ground- in the very place where he would later bleed to death.
Knowing that each day could be his last, Nestor began to double his missionary work. A close of his recalls, “To each he would give his all; they would flock to him. At times it was very difficult. Sometimes he would lock himself in his room for two or three days to fast and pray. In this way he received strength to go on. In the last year that I knew him, he became so deep…a simple depth that came that came from trust in God. He was not afraid of anything. He was an unusual man who gave himself to the will of God. He was fearless.”
Nestor had broken through the wall that separates God and man, and God had become a living force within him. A close friend remembers one of his last conversations with Priest-Monk Nestor; ”We talked about the enemies of the Church. He said to me, ‘Why should we be afraid?’ I said, ‘But those wicked thieves are everywhere!’ He spoke calmly, ‘To all is God’s will. To suffer for Christ – this is a great joy.’ He talked about the spiritual war going on in the world today… He was already prepared for death.”
On December 31, 1993, Priest-Monk Nestor was found dead outside the window of his house, with his throat slit and with multiple stab wounds. The people believe that is was not a simple case of revenge, but was a strategic move in a spiritual war that is taking place today throughout the world. As the forces of darkness increase, the light becomes more visible. The life and death of Priest-Monk Nestor do not represent defeat, but the triumph of God’s righteousness. This is the height of the human experience – martyrdom for the Truth. Hieromonk Nestor passed from this life at the age of thirty-three – the same age at which Jesus Christ was crucified.
In a world void of examples of righteousness these lovers of truth offer a heroic example of suffering for the truth. But their lives mean nothing unless we embrace them by striving to imitate them. Clearly, the message of these righteous ones is one that the world is not the least bit interested in. Those who, like these lovers of truth, have felt themselves out of place in society, who have been devoured and spit forth by the uncomprehending world, can understand the radical call of the last true rebellion.