Nil Sorskii

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.