Saint of the Day – 26 September – Saint Nilus the Younger (910-1005) Monk, Abbot, Confessor and Founder of Italo-Greek Monasticism in southern Italy.. St Nilus was a charismatic leader and leading spiritual personality of his time. Born in 910 at Rossano, Calabria, Italy and died on 27 December 1005 at Grottaferrata, Frascati, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – Grottaferrata, Italy, Rossano, Italy. He is also known as Nilus of Calabria, Nilus of Rossano, Nilo….
Some miles from Rome stands an Abbey that has a far greater significance than, as a sight for admiring tourists or a treasure for antiquarians. The Exarchic Greek Abbey of Grottaferrata, with its Basilian Monks, is the centre of an important revival of studies of Byzantine Catholicism and of the Oriental apostolate.
The Abbey owes its origin to Saint Nilus. He was born circa 910 in Rossano, to one of the foremost Greek families of Calabria, a southern province of Italy. This area was in ancient times founded as a Greek colony and was afterwards part of the Byzantine Empire until 1059.
The child was Baptised Nicholas, was given a good education and grew up a fervent young man. The monastic life had some attraction for him but he married and it was only after afterwards he seriously turned to God, in the year 940. It was a sombre age, disturbed by internal war between Byzantines and Lombards and suffering frequent Saracen raids on the coasts. After fleeing his own town of Rossan,o he became a Monk and settled at a Monastery near Palma on the Tyrrhenian Sea. A Moslem attack caused the community to flee but Nilus became a Hermit in a nearby forest. Later, at Rossano, he ruled a convent and gained fame for his wisdom and prudence. Here, he interceded with the authorities for mutineers condemned to death and with the Jewish community for a young man who had killed a Jew and once, he succeeded in ransoming a number of enslaved Christians. The position of Archbishop was offered him but Nilus refused.
When a Byzantine Prince asked the Benedictine Monks at Monte Cassino to give Nilus and his fellow Monks a Monastery, the Abbot sent them an invitation to come to Monte Cassino. Their Eastern liturgy were a strange sight to the Benedictines but they provided a Monastery at Valleluce, where the community remained for fifteen years and then moved to Serperi, near Gaeta. Emperor Otto III offered him a Monastery richly endowed but Nilus asked the Emperor only for his promise of repentance and a good life, saying “You are a good emperor, you are mortal and must die. You must render an account of your deeds, good or evil.” Otto bent his crowned head for the old man’s blessing.
Sometime in 1004, Nilus set out on a visit to a Monastery and fell ill near Tusculum. A vision of the Mother of God showed him, that this was to be the permanent home of his Basilian monks. This promise was fulfilled when the count of Tusculum offered land on the slopes of Mount Cavo and the community – of about 60 monks – was sent for. But Nilus died before the monastic buildings could be begun.
The Grottaferrata Abbey with it’s Basilian Monks today is a shining symbol of the Byzantine Catholics who never separated themselves from the unity of the Church under the Holy See.
The monks of this ancient Abbey are Catholics of the Byzantine-Greek Rite and represent the Italian Congregation of Basilian Monks, an institution created in the Catholic Church to bring together the Monasteries of the Byzantine Rite present in southern Italy.
Currently the Greek Abbey of Grottaferrata (see below) is the last of the numerous Byzantine Monasteries that were widespread throughout southern Italy and in Rome itself in the Middle Ages. It is also unique in that, founded fifty years before the Schism that led to the separation of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople, it has always been in communion with the Bishop of Rome, while preserving the Byzantine-Greek Rite and the oriental monastic tradition of the origins.