Nikolai Ivanovich Sellers [Selesniov]

1934 – 2008

It was with deep sadness that we learnt of the falling asleep of Nikolai on Sunday March 9th. It was only on the previous Thursday that he had attended the Meeting of the Trustees of the parish. As a Trustee he had given unstintingly of his time, particularly giving advice on any necessary repairs and being concerned with the general upkeep of his much loved church at Carlton. He had been much involved in the property since the time the parish had made the brave move into its own premises from St Mary’s, the Parish Church of Nottingham.

Alongside all his other commitments it was the enabling of the tragic young victims of the Chernobyl radiation accident [which spread its tentacles as far west as Wales] to have a holiday and be cared for, annually, by many host families in the Nottingham area. The children came from that part of Russia most dear to his heart and he gave them his unreserved love, attention and organising abilities.

If there was a task to be accomplished one could rely absolutely on it being completed but also as his grand-daughter, Nichole said in her talk, “ … he was always funny, kind and loving and always around when I needed him especially when I was in hospital, I opened my eyes and saw him and knew everything was going to be alright…”

Nikolai was born on the family farm in a village close to Vitibsk, Northern Belarus, on January 4th , 1934. Vitibsk is at the apex of an approximate 100 mile triangle with Minsk to the west and Smolensk to the east.

As his son, Nikolai said in his eulogy at the funeral service: ‘My father was a Byelorussian first and foremost, he was so proud of his heritage and his country … Many of you are aware that the Selesniov family arrived in England as refugees after the Second World War, They spoke only Russian and had few belongings to bring with them, the farm and land having been confiscated by the Soviet Government. He never thought he would ever return to his beloved Motherland. However, he did manage to visit several times and I was actually able to visit the area where his farm had once stood. He said to me, “This is where it all started son, this is where your roots are – always be proud of where you come from”. [So] … here we are today remembering my father, please rejoice in that you knew him, that you were part of his life, that you ate and drank at his table, shared long nights talking politics, drinking Vodka and experienced his kindness and friendship…’

Leaving the family behind in 1947, Nikolai’s father had to come to England to find a job and a home before he could send for the family. This he did, finding work on a farm that had a stone cottage included in the deal. So the family moved in to Halam near Southwell. And it was here, for the length of the five year contract, that the children went to school, learnt English, and prepared themselves for their new life.

Further Education was ruled out by the need to save up for their own home at the end of the five years. This being achieved, they moved to Colwick Road, Nottingham. Nikolai qualified as an engineer and worked on the Ratcliffe -on -Soar Power Station.

The places to go in the 1950’s were the Palais de Dance, the Astoria and the Victoria, All had resident ‘big bands’, but it was to the Palais that the Irish Kathleen Coyle and friends would gravitate and it was here that she was ‘spotted’ by the tall White Russian and, being persistent, he won the lady and the Sellers family proceeded to make its mark over fifty years.

Nikolai leaves behind a family which is close- knit and supportive of each other. Our Community remembers them in its heart and prays for their comfort and fortitude.

Michael Brook and the Parish Library

Ironically, I met Michael at the Greek Church, Derby Road, Nottingham where he attended the Liturgy on those Sundays there was no Liturgy at Carlton. Some time later the idea of forming a library at Carlton was suggested and unaware of the other’s interest we both put our names forward and eventually became the team.

There had been a previous attempt at cataloguing the books then in stock but it was decided that a fresh start should be made, especially as three or four previous parishioners left the whole of their collections of Orthodox books to the library in their wills – a total of several hundred books.

It was quickly brought home to me that Michael was the epitome of quiet professionalism. Sitting opposite him at the work table, I was aware that care and meticulousness were paramount and every word and number on every card had to be double-checked and if need be put aside for further discussion as to a book’s place and which details could correctly be included on the card.

Reluctantly, we used the Dewey Decimal system as no other was at hand, and Michael was always aware of its weaknesses with regard to a specialist collection.

A pattern emerged that he would spend every Thursday morning at the Library and he did this increasingly on his own as I found it difficult to make the journey at that time. He would never make a decision without consulting me and would always leave the books he had processed for me to see and check before shelving.

But, independently, of this work he was also compiling a definitive bibliography of the collection of Local History publications at Nottingham University. Also, he had a unique collection of Swedish/American literature which is of world significance.

He was particularly keen to see all the periodicals properly boxed and shelved in date order. Any duplicates were ruthlessly put on that pile for discard.

The result of his efforts is such that people studying at the Cambridge Institute have compared our collection favourably with theirs and it is a standing responsibility to ensure that the Library continues to expand and be available to a wider public as a tribute to all Michael’s work.

It has been suggested that we call our library ‘The Michael Brook Memorial Library’

At Michael’s funeral we were privileged to have with us some of his former colleagues – both from Nottingham and Leeds – on being acquainted with some of our problems they have kindly written and suggested really workable solutions. This is very heartening as people important to Michael, in his professional life, are involving themselves in his final work and enabling it to move forward.

How Vladika Seraphim received his monastic name


An excerpt from The Life and Miracles from Kratkoye Zhizneopisaniye Arkhiepiskopa Serafima (Soboleva), (A Brief Life of Archbishop Seraphim Sobolev), published as A Gift of Orthodox Christians of Greece to their brothers in Christ of Russia; Thessalonika 1991; translated by Mary Crockwell.

When Nicholay was in the fourth year at the Academy, the inspector, Archimandrite Theophan, asked him point-blank if he intended to become a monk. Nicholay, in his humility considering himself unworthy of the monastic podvig, was tormented by this question, not knowing God’s will regarding him. To solve his perplexity, he wrote a letter to Fr. John of Kronstadt, but he received no reply. He also asked Elder Anatole (Potapov) of Optina, but the Elder wrote that he could not answer his question without seeing Nicholay in person. When Nicholay received the letter from Fr. Anatole, he began to grieve even more; nowhere could he get a direct answer indicating God’s will for him.

At this time he was reading the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov-the book lay open on his table. Weighed down by his quandary, Nicholay began pacing the room, when suddenly it dawned on him, “What little faith I have! Why, St. Seraphim of Sarov is alive right now. He is at the throne of the Holy Trinity. Right now he can resolve all problems and questions, if with faith we turn to him in our prayers. I will go this very moment to the table where St. Seraphim’s biography is lying. I will turn to him as to a living person, I will fall on my knees and beg him to resolve my dilemma: Should I marry and become a priest, or should I become a monk?”

And Nicholay did just this. Making a prostration, with a prayer he opened the book and read: “A certain novice from the Glinsk Hermitage, wavering exceedingly concerning his vocation, came purposely to Sarov to ask the advice of Fr. Seraphim. Falling at the feet of the saint, he entreated him to resolve his tormenting life’s question: Is it God’s will for him and his brother, Nicholas to enter a monastery? The holy elder answered the novice, ‘Save yourself and save your brother.’ ” Nicholay took these words of St. Seraphim as a divine revelation from God that he should become a monk, which was, in fact, his heart’s desire. From this time he regarded monasticism not only as his life’s path, commanded him by God, but also as the path of his brother Misha (who subsequently became the Archimandrite Sergius.)

When the time drew near for his tonsure, Nicholay was asked what name he would like to receive. He said that, inasmuch as a monk should renounce his own will from the very onset, he was willing to accept whatever name he was given. “Well, take care,” said inspector Archimandrite Theophan, “that you not are not upset if you receive an ugly name.” It later came out that they had decided to give Nicholay the name Dositheus. But it turned out otherwise. On the eve of the tonsure, the rector of the Academy, Bishop Sergius, who was supposed to tonsure him, went to have dinner with the merchant Rubakhin. Rubakhin’s two young daughters began asking the rector what name he was going to give the new monk. On hearing that it was to be Dosi-theus, they pleaded that it be changed not only to another but to the very nicest name.

Returning home in the carriage, Bishop Sergius suddenly remembered that when he was present at the opening of St. Seraphim’s relics, he had made a vow to this God-pleaser that if he became rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, the first student he tonsured he would name Seraphim. And he decided to call Nicholas by this name, in honor of the great Sarov God-pleaser. During the tonsure, when Nicholas heard, “Our brother Seraphim tonsures the hair of his head,” he gave a start from amazement and was filled with great love and thankfulness to St Seraphim, thinking, “He not only revealed to me God’s will to become a monk, but he was pleased to take me under his grace-filled guidance.”

Accepting monasticism, the newly-tonsured Seraphim gave himself over to strict fasting and unceasing prayer. Thus, from the day of his tonsure to his very death, Vladika did not eat meat. For many years he ate food only once a day.

The miracle in our lives

In our rushed everyday lives we have hardly left any space for the Miracle. Miracles do not exist in our lives.

Yet, in the very heart of the city of Sofia, though, on the “yellow brick road”,1 for fifty years and more, there has been an unceasing flow of people, who stop at the crypt of the Russian church and leave their prayer letters to the “old Vladika”, as they affectionately call the Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev), who is resting there.

Some call these letters “just wishes”. All the same, our “old Vladika” has brought many people into the Church. I am saying this as one of them.

In the Orthodox tradition, the writing of prayer letters exists as a specific kind of prayer towards some saints. This practice has been known in Russia in relation to the newly canonised venerable Father Seraphim of Viritsa, as well as with the saint Matrona of Moscow. In Bulgaria it is mostly related to St John of Rila.

The letter is a symbol of our hope that the message would reach its addressee. The prayer letters show our hope that God would hear the prayer of the righteous one and would perform a miracle!

Before his death, Vladika Seraphim ordered his parish members to write him letters, which he would answer, if he found boldness before the Lord (“If I find boldness before the Lord, I will not leave you”, were his words). Those answers are the miracles of God, which do not seize to happen today, very often even to people who are not church followers, or even to non-believers.

For many years the miracles, which happened because of “old Vladika’s” praying intercession, have been recorded. Here are only two of them, published in the book Life, Miracles and Testaments of the Archbishop Seraphim.

Healing from cancer

The wife of Dr C.Y. from Stara Zagora, R., gets ill with cancer (of the stomach). As a doctor, her husband made sure that all necessary tests were done, and after cancer was diagnosed, he sent his wife to have an operation in the capital city. When she arrived in Sofia, R. first went to visit the grave of Vladika Seraphim, whom she greatly honoured. After that she was taken into hospital. Before the operation, she had another number of tests done. This time all the analyses showed she had no cancer!

One woman, a taxi-driver, could not have children for many years. One night she had a dream. In her dream there was a baby lying on the back seat of her car, crying. She was very confused and she asked, still in her dream, where the baby came from. Then she heard a voice, and the voice said: “From Ruski Boulevard number 3”!

The next morning she went to check what is on this address and found out with a surprise that this was the address for the Russian church. The woman entered the church and told the priests about her dream. They advised her to visit the grave of Vladika Seraphim and to pray to him.

Very soon she became pregnant and gave birth to a child; and she glorified God and his servant Vladika Seraphim.

Nikolay Sobolev was born in 1881 in the town of Ryazan in Russia. He was baptised with the name Nikolay, after St Nicholas the Wonderworker. He particularly honoured St Seraphim of Sarov, who was glorified in 1903 and with whom is related Nikolay’s wish to become a monk. At his tonsure for a monk he was given the name Seraphim (see below How Vladika Seraphim was given his monastic name). In the seminary he met Fr. John of Kronstadt, who gave him a special blessing in the altar. Vladika Seraphim, as well as Fr John of Kronstadt, had the particular protection of St John of Rila (Fr John of Kronstadt was named after St John of Rila). Archbishop Seraphim created an Akatist for St John of Rila. Today, St John of Rila’s image is on the wall in the crypt of the Russian church, where Vladika’s grave is.

After he was ordained as a bishop in the city of Simpheropolis in 1920, Seraphim was divided in thought by the dillema whether he should choose to stay in his country, which was gradually taken by the Red Army, or whether he should take the path of the «bloodless martyrdom» – serving God in exile. He sought advice from the foretelling Elder («Starets») hieromonk Aaron, who foretold Vladika’s coming to Bulgaria, which he called «a good, beautiful small country».

After a short stay in Constantinople and on the island of Halki, Vladika Seraphim arrived in Bulgaria, where in May 1921 he was appointed as the «priest in charge» of the church St. Nicholay the Wonderworker of the Russian embassy, as well as of the Russian monastery in Yambol «St. Alexander Nevski». Not too long after, he became the head of the Russian parishes in Bulgaria, where he spent 29 years of his life and which became his second homeland.

His cares did not only remain in the Russian diaspora; Vladika also worked for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which was at the time under the schism of the Eucumenical patriarch (since 1872) and remained isolated from the rest of the Orthodox world. Vladika Seraphim wrote numerous letters and reports and in this way contributed to the fall of the schism in 1945.

He lived in privation, but secretly looked after the poor. Until the end of his life he lived a very humble life, living in a modest flat. He looked after his sick brother archimandrite Sergius. Despite the many obstacles, slanders and persecution during the years of aggressive communist atheism, Vladika Seraphim founded the Monastery «The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God» in Knyazhevo (an area in Sofia).

Above all Vladika remains in the memories of his contemporaries (some of them still living today) with his huge great love towards the people. He called his «children» «my joy, my treasure, my dear ones, my dearest children». Love flowed from him abundantly, and people received from him, and still receive, real comfort and loving kindness. He was always strict to himself and generous and forgiving to others, as he used to say: «In our neighbour we should see an angel, and we should see their sin as an illness.» He liked to use the words of St John Cassian the Roman: «There is a whole abyss between rigtheousness and holiness».

The person who prayed for his enemies during every liturgy, was given the very special gift of foreseeing, which he humbly used to hide. Even the time of his own death was revealed to him. Days before his death, when he was seriously ill, he was whispering to those who were close to him: «Five more days left», «Four more days left»…

Vladika Seraphim presented himself in front of the Lord on the Day of the Orthodoxy, on the 26th of February 1950. The church could not hold all the people, who came to say a last goodbye to Vladika. Many were crying on this day, despite the promise he gave when he was alive that «if he had the boldness before God, he would not leave us». One monk, who grieved a lot, saw in his dream the Vladika, who came and told him: «Why are you grieving? I am not dead!»

Up until his death Archbishop Seraphim remained part of the Moscow patriarchy. This is why his canonization is a privilege to the Moscow patriarchy. Still his memory is honoured in Russia, as he is in the number of the locally honoured (Ryazanskie, i.e. from Ryazan) saints. But the canonization involves long and slow procedures of gathering and studying proofs and “proving” the sanctity of a person (which is rather typical for the Catholic Church). From the ancient times the act of canonization has followed, in the life of the Church, the Church conscience, and not the other way round. In the wholeness of the conscience of the Church, the honouring of the saints by the People of God is an expression of the infallible sense for the sanctity of the Church, in which the Holy Spirit is present. The most varying grace from God only glorifies in one undisputable way. «We celbrate the memory of the righteous one with praises» (a chant from St. John Chrysostom). This is why the honour, which Vladika Seraphim receives in the conscience of the Church and the believers, is the only «criteria» for his sanctity.

There are many witnesses for the miracles performed through the prayers of Vladika Seraphim. The most undisputable witness still is the unseasing flow of people who come to visit his grave. I shall say again that the Church has a sense for sanctity. That is because She (the Church) looks for the meaning of miracles and not for the effect of them; She brings sense to human lives and does not offer cheap tricks. Here are some of the miracles which were performed after the prayers of Vladika Seraphim: healing from serious illnesses – cancer, fast developing cancer, skin cancer; rescue from death; children given to mothers who were believed by the doctors to not be able to have any; help in life difficulties; rescue from false accusations; help with exams; and too many others to be listed here.

Our Lord Christ says: «Ask, and you will be given» (Matt. 7:7). This is why one enters the Church in faith – in order to be accepted, to become part of it (or Her) (I am only using the word «Church» in the gender which it has in Bulgarian and Russian languages, since I find this gender depicts very well the Church as the bride of Christ – the way the Holy Scripture describes the Church. I first heard it used in English on the Ancient Faith Radio.) On Vladika Seraphim’s grave, as well as in the Church, each will be heard! However, «accordingly to the measure of their faith»! Because we participate in the grace of the miracle through our faith.

St Seraphim Youth Camp

Every year for many years now the Diocese has organised an annual youth camp. Originally it was in Norfolk in a village called Effingham. More recently it has moved to the other side of the country to Gloucestershire in the beautiful Forest of Dean, near to a small town called Newent. It is lead by Father Stephen Platt, who is the priest of St Nicholas Parish in Oxford and his wife Matushka Anna. Father Stephen and Matushka Anna have a team of leaders and workers to help them. 

This year I was privileged to attend for a few days. The camp is on the site of a former farm that is being converted into an adventure centre for young Christians, so I was pleased to find excellent facilities available. The actual campers were under canvas-huge ex-army tents-personalised by the people in them as part of the camp experience. People like myself (I am a bit too old for sleeping on the ground) were billeted in a new bunkhouse currently being built alongside the refectory and kitchen. All in all-basic, but great fun. Perhaps, in years to come, campers will sleep in the bunk houses and not in the tents. 

The food was simple but ample-the days I was there, we had (at different meals) fish fingers, jacket potatoes, baked beans, sausages and baked apples. There was always seconds too. 

The days begin with Father Stephen leading Morning Prayers then breakfast. Next comes either trips out or help in understanding the faith. After lunch more things are planned which are carried on after Tea. During my time at camp, people went swimming, a “Kamp’s got Talent” contest was held, and there was a disco and a party. Father Stephen serves the Liturgy on Sunday. There is also normally a Liturgy on the Feast Day of St Seraphim, the Patron of the Camp, which happens when Camp is on. This year however, the Feast of St Seraphim was on the Sunday so Liturgy was served only once. That Liturgy is followed by an enormous Banquet to celebrate the Feast of St Seraphim. The days conclude with Evening Prayer. 

I found the camp atmosphere relaxed and fun. Different guests are invited during the week to do various things-I was invited to present a magic show and do some balloon modelling, the next day a potter was invited to show how to make pots. 

I found the camp atmosphere relaxed and fun. Different guests are invited during the week to do various things-I was invited to present a magic show and do some balloon modelling, the next day a potter was invited to show how to make pots. 

As a Parish, in the past,  we have had very little to do with the Youth Camp. My experience is that we are missing out on a great opportunity here. The age range is “rising 9s” to 17. I hope that next year we will be able to send a group there. I’m sure everyone will enjoy it.