Nil Sorskii

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nil Sorskii


(secular name, Nikolai Maikov). Born circa 1433; died 1508. Russian ecclesiastical and public figure; leader of the nestiazhateli (nonacquirers).

After taking his monastic vows in the Kirill-Belozersk Monastery, Nil Sorskii traveled throughout the East and spent time in Constantinople and on Mount Athos, where he became acquainted with hesychasm and studied patristic literature. He returned to his homeland and founded a clositer near the Kirill-Belozersk Monastery on the Sora River, where he lived with like-minded monks. Nil Sorskii’s teachings differed from the authoritarianism and ritualism of Russian Orthodoxy. In his writings, he developed mystical-ascetic ideas in the spirit of the hesychasm of Gregory Sinaites. He required that a believer concentrate on his own inner world and have personal experience of faith as the unmediated union of the believer with god. Drawing from the expression in Paul’s epistle “if any would not work, neither should he eat,” Nil Sorskii required the monks to take part in productive work. He advocated monastic reform based on the ideal of a hermit life. Nil Sorskii recommended that force and persecution not be used against heretics. His teachings were directed against the church militant, the ideologist of which was Joseph of Volokolamsk. At the church council of 1503, Nil Sorskii defended the grand prince’s policy of secularizing the church’s monastic lands.

In his literary works Nil Sorskii devoted much attention to the psychology of human passions, in the study of which he drew from the tradition of Byzantine asceticism. Following John Climacus, Nil Sorskii defined five stages in the development of passions: perception (introduction), fixation (union), adaptation (increase), affirmation (enslavement), and finally domination, or passion in its true meaning. By strengthening his will and changing his outward way of life, man must overcome his passions in their early stages of development.

Nil Sorskii’s ideas were carried on by Vassian Patrikeev Kosoi and Artemii Troitskii.


Nila Sorskogo Predanie i Ustav. St.’Petersburg, 1912.


Arkhangel’skii, A. S. Nil Sorskii i Vassian Patrikeev…, part 1: Prepo-dobnyi Nil Sorskii. St. Petersburg, 1882.
Lur’e, Ia. S. “Napravlenie Nila Sorskogo v ideologicheskoi bor’be kontsa XV v. “In his book Ideologicheskaia bor’ba v russkoi publitsistike kontsa XV-nachala XVI vv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
Lilienfel’d, F. “O literaturnom zhanre nekotorykh sochinenii Nila Sorskogo.” In Trudy otdela drevnerusskoi literatury, vol. 18. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962. Pages 80–98.
Lilienfeld, Fairy von. Nil Sorskij und seine Schriften. Berlin, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Like the majority of specialists, including Miller, our author gives credence to later, contradictory sources and believes that a synod in 1503 raised the issue of monastic landholding, with Nil Sorskii among the "nonpossessors," whom Iosif disputed (31-33).
This is the most thorough revisiting of Iosif's magnum opus since Lur'e's work in the 1950s and the surprising discovery in the 1970s that Nil Sorskii had copied about 40 percent of the earliest complete recension, a finding that ought to have put paid to the enshrined notion that Nil and Iosif were rivals.
Kloss, "Nil Sorskii i Nil Polev--'spisateli knig,'" in Drevnerusskoe iskusstvo: Rukopisnaia kniga, 3 vols.
Generations of scholars accepted as axiomatic that Iosif Volotskii and Nil Sorskii were rivals, representing divergent and incompatible tendencies within Orthodox Christianity.
(31) Donald Ostrowski, "Loving Silence and Avoiding Pleasant Conversations: The Political Views of Nil Sorskii," Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19 (1995): 476-96; Ostrowski, "Towards Establishing the Canon of Nil Sorsky's Work," Oxford Slavonic Papers 31 (1998): 35-50; David Goldfrank, "Recentering Nil Sorskii: The Evidence from the Sources," Russian Review 66, 3 (2007): 359-76; Goldfrank, "The Deep Origins of the 'Tsar'-Muchitel": A Nagging Problem of Muscovite Political Theory," Russian History/Histoire russe 32 (2005): 341-54; Goldfrank, "Nil Sorskii's Following among the Iosifo-Volokolamsk Elders," in New Muscovite Cultural History, 207-22; Goldfrank, "Nil Sorskii and Prosvetitel ," in Rude and Barbarous Kingdom Revisited, 215-29; Goldfrank, ed.
Clearly, what drives this article is the clash over the ideal form of monastic life in the early 16th century between the followers of Nil Sorskii and those of Iosif of Volokolamsk.
Although there was certainly a sense of crisis in the early 20th century, the contemplative revival promised to strengthen monasticism and was not ultimately in contradiction with its charitable activities (any more than Nil Sorskii and Iosif of Volokolamsk contradicted each other).
There is a significant paradox regarding the correlation between monastic ideals and the rule: for Nil Sorskii, contemplative spirituality was inseparable from the skete-type rule, which he contrasted with the coenobitic houses that emphasized corporate worship.
As the preponderance of service material continued into the next centuries, one must, in Nikol'skii's opinion, use liturgical texts to understand such leading writers as Nil Sorskii, Iosif Volotskii, and Metropolitans Daniil and Makarii, not to mention the Book of Royal Genealogy (Stepennaia kniga).