Ivan Iliyitch Karpov was born on 13th October, 1891, to a pious Old Believer family in Siberia. His grandmother, frightened that the newborn might not live, had him baptized without a priest. Worried about his irregular baptism, she made a vow to God that her grandson would grow up as an Orthodox Christian. The vow of Vladyka Nikolai’s grandmother was indeed fulfilled. The future Bishop Nikolai graduated from Tobolsk Orthodox Seminary in 1913. He did well at the seminary and continued his studies at the Moscow Theological Academy. There Ivan received monastic tonsure on 16th November, 1913, and was given the name “Nikolai” after Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.
After graduating from the Moscow Theological Academy in 1915, Fr Nikolai became a preacher at the Monastery of the Sign in Oboyan near the city of Kursk. In October 1919, Bishop Feofan Gavrilov of Kursk & Oboyan left the city of Kursk with the Kursk Icon to safeguard the icon from the Bolsheviks. He stopped at the Oboyan Monastery to allow the brotherhood to venerate the icon. Warned that the Red Army was approaching Oboyan, Bishop Feofan fled to Belgorod, accompanied by several of the Oboyan Monastery brotherhood, including Father Nikolai.
Eventually arriving in Yugoslavia, Fr Nikolai, by now an archimandrite, was assigned to serve in various Serbian Orthodox parishes, and then became a teacher at the seminary in Bitola, a city in the southwestern part of what is now the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. Here at the seminary, Archimandrite Nikolai was in good company. After their deaths, three of his fellow instructors were to be glorified as Saints of the Orthodox Church: Saint Nikolai (Velimirović) of Zhicha, Saint John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai & San Francisco, and Saint Justin (Popovich) of Chelie. Just like his three fellow instructors, Archimandrite Nikolai was well known for great care of his students, and was greatly loved by them.
In 1927, Metropolitan Evlogy, who had oversight of the Russian parishes in western Europe, including London, separated himself from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. His parishes became divided between the Church Outside Russia and the “Evlogian” faction. The parish in London was divided nearly equally, much along political lines: monarchists adhered to the Church Abroad and “liberals” adhered to the “Evlogian” church. From 1927 until 1956, the two groups continued to use the church of Saint Philip’s in Buckingham Palace Road but on alternate weeks.
In 1928, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky appointed Archimandrite Nikolai Karpoff to serve the London parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Archimandrite Nikolai possessed a rare combination of personal qualities that helped him achieve success in bringing peace to his London parish. His evident piety helped to win the sympathy of the parishioners in London. He was always cheerful, energetic, and sociable. When he went into the altar to serve, it seemed he was transformed. He served with great reverence, and his reading of the Gospel was filled with, and begot, understanding and compassion. The Paschal Liturgy was especially memorable, and attracted many to the church. Archimandrite Nikolai’s influence brought enough calm to achieve co-operation in fundraising activities with both sides participated in the annual fund-raising events.
Having achieved popularity, respect and love from the Orthodox, it was with great joy that Archimandrite Nikolai was consecrated as Orthodox Bishop of London on 30th June, 1929. Archimandrite Nikolai became the first Orthodox Bishop of London since the Great Schism of 1054, when Rome broke from the Church of Christ. In the presence of the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, elder sister of the Tsar Martyr Nikolai II, four hierarchs concelebrated at the consecration: Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad; Archbishop Seraphim (Lukianov) of Paris & Western Europe; Archbishop Feofan (Gavrilov) of Kursk and Oboyan; and Bishop Tikhon (Lyashchenko) of Berlin and Germany, plus many priests and deacons. For the consecration, Archbishop Feofan had brought the Kursk Icon with him for its first visit to London.
The parish purchased a property in Hammersmith to serve as Bishop Nikolai’s residence. Classes were held there for the children of the parish, with Vladyka Nikolai teaching the Law of God. In his work with young people, Bishop Nikolai placed great importance on the summer camps that were organized with the aid of the parish Sisterhood. Forty to fifty children attended the camps, where the bishop held daily services and gave religious instruction. Other subjects, such as the history and geography of Russia, and Russian literature were also taught. Yet these summer camps were intended mainly to be holidays, so the bishop also played games with the children, who all greatly loved him.
In August, 1932, Bishop Nikolai returned to Belgrade, Yugoslavia to take part in meetings of the Church Abroad’s Hierarchical Council. At the conclusion of the Council, he fell ill with appendicitis. Tragically, he was not operated on in time, and on 11 October, 1932, he died. His last words were, “put a candle in my hand, I want to go to heaven.” Having grasped the candle, Bishop Nikolai quietly departed into eternity.
Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), Archbishop Feofan (Gavrilov), and Archbishop Germogen (Maximov) concelebrated at the funeral service, along with thirteen priests, and three deacons. “The funeral service was touching and spiritually edifying, and Vladyka Antony could not refrain from crying. Archbishop Feofan preached a sermon about the deceased, and Vladyka Antony said in conclusion, “In the name of the deceased I thank you Russian and Serbian clergy who have accompanied Bishop Nikolai on his journey beyond the grave. I thank you also, laymen, for your ardent prayers. In the course of burying people throughout my life, I have noticed that the Lord grants a quiet and peaceful death and an edifying funeral to those who have remembered the dead in their prayers. Death comes to all of us, and sooner or later we all must go. People have gathered at this funeral, not out of a sense of duty, but out of sincere affection, and this gives it spiritual beauty.”
Bishop Nikolai, Memory Eternal!