Bishop Nestor (Baron Nikolai Pavlovich Zass) was born on December 20, 1825, in Arkhangelsk, Russia, into a family of Russian gentry. On May 20, 1832, he was enrolled in the naval company of the Alexandrovsk cadet school and transferred on January 31, 1836 to the naval cadet school. On January 10, 1842, he was promoted to the rank of reefer. His subsequent promotions were to midshipman on August 9, 1842 and to lieutenant on December 6, 1849. However, less than a year later, on November 15, 1850, he was discharged from the navy due to illness. On November 20, 1853, he joined the Dormition Monastery in Bakhchisaray (Crimea) as a novice and was tonsured a monk the following year.
He was ordained to the diaconate on June 22, 1854 and to the priesthood on July 3, 1855. From 1857 to 1864 he served as a naval chaplain on Russian ships sailing in the Mediterranean and to the American shores. On one of these voyages, he spent a year in the United States during the American Civil War as chaplain aboard the Russian frigate “Oslyabya” commanded by Admiral Lesovsky. On November 18, 1866, he was assigned as pastor of the Orthodox community in Pau, France. He was raised to the rank of archimandrite on October 29, 1878 and on December 17 of that year, his consecration to the episcopacy as Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska took place in St. Petersburg. Although he had no formal theological education, Bishop Nestor was knowledgeable and astute. An energetic and gifted administrator, he was well suited for service in North America due to his fluency in English (he was also fluent in French and German).
One of his tasks as diocesan bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska was to safeguard and defend the church’s rights and interests in Alaska, a US territory since 1867. He was to monitor the state of the church in Alaska and to take any measures necessary to protect it.
Although the diocesan see was by this time in San Francisco for several years, he devoted much time to making episcopal visitations to Orthodox communities even in the remotest areas of Alaska. In May 1882, he began a second extensive archpastoral journey through Alaska focusing on the mission to the people of the Yukon River Valley in the area known as the Kwikhpak Mission. Aboard the ship “Saint Paul” of the Western Fur Company, he sailed as far north as St. Michael’s Redoubt. During the return trip to San Francisco, he fell off the ship’s deck and drowned in the Bering Sea on June 30, 1882. His remains were recovered at the mouth of the Yukon River and he was buried at Holy Ascension Cathedral in Unalaska, Alaska. He was the second Orthodox bishop to lose his life in the Alaskan Mission.
During Bishop Nestor’s episcopal administration, the translation of the Gospel into Eskimo was started. He consulted the Vermont State Library about a typeset for the thirty-four characters of the Eskimo alphabet. Bishop Nestor corresponded with a wide variety of people concerning the needs of the Mission. Among the most notable were US President Rutherford B. Hayes; Metropolitan Isidore of Novgorod and St. Petersburg; Priest Nicholas Bjerring in New York City, who was editor of the Oriental Church Magazine; the Russian Ambassador in Washington; and the Smithsonian Institution. His correspondence and other writings have been translated into English and published in two volumes by AARDM Press in Minnesota.
After Bishop Nestor’s death, the Diocese of the Aleutians and Alaska was administered by the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg for five years, until the appointment of a new ruling hierarch.