Saint Nikon Metanoeite (“the Preacher of Repentance”) was born at Pontus Polemoniacus at the beginning of the tenth century. He was the son of a wealthy landowner, and he was given the name Nicetas in Baptism.
Since he had no desire to take over the management of his family’s wealth and estates, Nicetas entered the monastery of Chrysopetro, where he shone forth in prayer and asceticism. When he received the monastic tonsure, he was given the new name Nikon. The new name symbolizes a new life in the Spirit (Romans 7:6), and the birth of the new man (Ephesians 4:24). A monk is expected to stop associating himself with the old personality connected to his former life in the world, and to devote himself entirely to God.
St Nikon had a remarkable gift for preaching. When he spoke of virtue and spiritual matters, his listeners were filled with heartfelt compunction and love for God. His words produced such spiritual fruit in those who heard him that he was asked to travel through the eastern regions to preach. He visited Armenia, Crete, Euboea, Aegina, and the Peloponnesus, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This was the message of St John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), and of Christ Himself (Matthew 4:17). This was also the message of St Nikon. Wherever he went, he would begin his sermons with “Repent,” hence he was called “Nikon Metanoeite,” or “Nikon, the Preacher of Repentance.”
At first, people paid little heed to his message. Then gradually he won their hearts through his preaching, his miracles, and his gentle, loving nature. He stressed the necessity for everyone to repent, warning that those who utter a few sighs and groans and think that they have achieved true repentance have deluded themselves. St Nikon told the people that true sorrow for one’s sins is cultivated by prayer, self-denial, almsgiving, ascetical efforts, and by confession to one’s spiritual Father.
After sowing the seeds of piety, St Nikon began to see them bear fruit. People started to change their lives, but he urged them to strengthen their souls in virtue and good works so that they would not be overwhelmed by the cares of this world.
Eventually, St Nikon settled in a cave outside Sparta. Soon he moved into the city, because so many people were coming to hear him. In the center of Sparta, he built a church dedicated to Christ the Savior. In time a monastery grew up around the church.
St Nikon never ceased to preach the Word of God, and to lead people back to the spiritual life of the Church. He also healed the sick, and performed many other miracles.
St Nikon fell asleep in the Lord in 998, and his memory was honored by the people around Sparta. During the Turkish occupation of Greece, however, he was all but forgotten, except in Sparta. After the Greek Revolution in 1821, a service to St Nikon was composed by Father Daniel Georgopoulos, and was based on the saint’s Life, which had been written by Igumen Gregory of St Nikon’s Monastery in 1142.
St Nikon was recognized as the patron saint of the diocese of Monemvasia and Lakedaimonia in 1893 when the cathedral church in Sparta was dedicated to St Nikon, the Preacher of Repentance.