ORTHODOXY IN KARELIA. The official site of the Petrozavodsk and Karelia diocese
| Èñòîðèÿ | Õðàìû | Ìîíàñòûðè | Ñâÿòûå | Ãàçåòà
"Ñðåòåíèå" | Àðõèâ
Áåñåäû î Ïðàâîñëàâèè | Ïðàçäíèêè | Ïðàâîñëàâíûé öåíòð | Ãîñòåâàÿ | Îáúÿâëåíèÿ | E-mail
Maria of Olonets
Maria of Peredino Village
In the region of Novgorod, in the county of Staraya Rus, along the Lovat River, was a little village, Peredino. This was the native village of the Elder Isaiah (in schema, Ignatius),* who later became known even in Petersburg, who was the second founder of the St. Nicephorus Monastery on Vazhe Lake in Olonets, where the relics of Sts. Gennadius and Nicephorus repose, the disciples of St. Alexander of Svir.
The blessed Elder Isaiah, together with his brother Theodore (who was later the founder of the Hermitage of Anzersk), renounced the world in his youth and began his monastic labors on Mt. Athos. The third brother, Basil Sophronov, led a pious, labor-loving life in his peasant environment, under the instruction of the Elders and especially of his own brother Isaiah. The teaching of the Elders had a good effect not only on the God-fearing Basil, but also on the other relatives of the desert dweller. In the rest times from their labors of sweat in the fields that nourished them, the villagers of Peredino often conducted conversations among themselves on feast days, and not only on how to gain money and things, a subject which usually occupies the conversation of people who are crude and dark in their understanding of God but often they would comment on what they could remember from the instructions of their nearby desert dwellers, whom they visited from time to time. Basil Sophronov married a peasant girl from the village of Golovenka, about two miles from his village of Peredino, and was received into the family of her parents. In the first years of his marriage he had no children, over which he sorrowed, and concerning which he hastened to the prayers of the desert elders, so that they might entreat the Lord to bless him with a child. Finally a child was born, a daughter, who was called Maria, by the common consent of the family.
Then God blessed Basil Sophronov with other children also — two sons and another two daughters. They, like the oldest one, Maria, grew up as all the village children grew up, unnoticeably, literally growing up in the fields which surrounded their villages, like wild trees, they rise up from the ground, grow from childhood to youth, year after year, in freedom. Their parents labor and work, and the children, growing up, look at them and undertake the same labors and works, sharing them little by little, at first in play and then for real.
Usually children imitate what they see older ones doing. The parents go to church, pray before the icons on getting up in the morning and before going to bed at night, give bread to the poor and travelers; and the children do the same thing, unnoticeably assimilating all of the household customs. Thus, to the age of ten years Maria was not distinguished in any way from other children, perhaps because it never entered anyone's head especially to observe her. She was quiet, silent and well-mannered, but this was no great exception in her family; the whole family was good, calm and pious above others.
Maria, as the oldest among her brothers and sisters, early became a helper for her mother in the household, in the garden, and even in the fields — all the more in that she was large and healthy and of a strong constitution. Already at six or seven years of age, she took care of the young children, washed them in the bath, and dressed them. She also took care of the household animals, chasing them out into the field and chasing them back into the yard, giving them to drink and eat; and she took care of the house and the children in the busy time of harvest. The neighbors only noticed that little Maria did not play in the street with the other little girls, would not watch the village dancing on feast days, kept herself at home, either at the spinning wheel or around the other children. It would happen that her mother herself would send her to play with the little girls, or to hear their songs, and she would not argue with her mother but would go out, putting on a shaggy fur coat, and would stand in the back yard by herself. She would look at the sky and observe how the clouds were moving high above, or at the stars at night, and, returning to the cabin, she would not know what to reply to her mother's question, "What songs are they singing?" "I didn't hear, mother. I wasn't paying attention," she would say.
Some wanderer or pilgrim from afar would visit them, and her parents would let them spend the night They would begin, over bread and salt to tell of the monasteries, and the long, splendid services there, and the girl would become all quiet, would not take her eyes off the story-teller, and until late at night would not move from the place until her mother reminded her that it was time to go to bed. "Dear mother, let me listen a little more; I don't want to sleep," the daughter would say. And even more attentively would she listen to the tales of her father and grandfathers when they, having gone into the forest to see their desert-dwellers, would tell their families of their wondrous way of life in the desert. It could be seen then that she would secretly wipe with her sleeve, or with the edge of her apron, the tears which had begun, and they were astonished and said to one another, "God knows what our little girl has in her head. She does not seem to be like the other children; she doesn't like to play, doesn't learn songs, but she seems to like to listen to nothing but religious things. Shouldn't we ask our fathers what is the cause of this?"
Basil visited the elders once and told them about his little Masha. The elders explained to him that one should let God do with her according to His Providence. One should not leave her just like that; they advised teaching her reading and writing. Sophronov talked with the reader in the village of Peredino, and he undertook to teach the girl the Horologion and the Psalter. The girl soon learned reading and writing. It turned out that she had a quick memory, and there is no need even to say how diligent and fervent she was. Every minute that she could tear herself away from household work, she would be immediately at a book. Soon she learned by heart all the prayers of the Horologion, and then she took up the Psalms, also. Her parents were moved because of her and decided to give some consolation to the little student, Masha, and take her into the forest to receive a blessing from the Elders.
Elder Isaiah at that time had gone away from his native village, far away into the region of Olonets. He had assembled a small brotherhood and was made the founder of the St. Nicephorus Hermitage on Vazhe Lake.
The desert-dwellers dismissed with prayer the humble, intelligent child, and gave her one book of the daily readings of the Lives of the Saints, later giving her another one in exchange. Over the winter she read all the lives, sitting at the books until midnight, and reading them in the evening out loud to her family. She began to decrease the amount of food she ate, especially during the fasts. People would ask her "Why don't you eat soup?" and "Why don't you finish eating your slice of bread?" She would reply, ' 'My stomach is just too heavy. I can't eat any more, I am full." At night she would secretly get up from bed in the dark, almost noiselessly, and would move about in front of the icons and make prostrations. The mother noticed that her oldest daughter was praying, and she would not touch her or respond to this. "Let her holy child's soul please God for us sinners!" And so she would not give the appearance that she had noticed, and she spoke to no one about it. The girl never refused to go out to work, or to do anything in the cabin; she began to work more diligently than before, being the right hand of her mother in every work, helping her the whole day. And when the whole family had gone to bed and all had begun to snore, Maria would silently slide out of bed and go before the holy icons and pray there.
When she was about 16, she had grown up to be a pretty girl: tall, slender, "a young branch." Her braids were dark red and long, reaching to her waist; her brows were dark and low over large, dark grey eyes which were deep and thoughtful. All her features were direct and manly, and her face was white with no pink, and long and thin. Such a suitable, dignified girl one would think about marrying off, but she would not even allow any talk about beautiful dresses and brocade jackets. She was always dressed in something dark and drab, and if her mother would buy her some kind of linen with more color or a colored dress, she would immediately re-sew it and give it to her sisters. There was no conversation about marriage in her presence. Even her parents were conscience-stricken about disturbing their pure little dove with such talk, as if it were indecent to talk about this with such a quiet one who spent her time praying. People from outside would look at little Maria and say among themselves: "Basil Sophronov's eldest girl is marvelous! She's not marriage material, evidently, but she'll be a candle before God. She looks like a painted icon, and in her eyes there is some kind of a special light. Suddenly they sparkle as if giving forth rays, and then she will immediately put down her head as if she were a little nun. And she reads well; she reads so clearly and inspiringly, and her voice is so expressive — what a delight it is to listen to her; it's like rolling silver." So her neighbors judged of her.
But Maria did not ask her parents to let her go to a monastery, although they sometimes allowed her to go about to the women's monasteries in Tikhvin and Novgorod with women pilgrims who were known to them, and they were even happy to let her go as one who was praying for them, as long as they could not give her in marriage. But Maria was not drawn to any one monastery. She would pray and work in a monastery for a short time, then return home. The neighbors would ask, "Why didn't you stay?" "It is not God's will that I be a nun," she replied. "That means you don't want it?" they would ask, "and why not?" "Because in the monasteries now it is not like it was in the old times. It is all the same thing: noise and many people; many worldly people are around, and it's not the desert. I fear sin worse there than in the village. I am good for nothing there. There you have to stand in full view on the kliros; there is envy, and quarrels among each other. One must have much patience and understanding," she would say and become silent. And they could get nothing more out of her.
Again, she would go to the desert, to the five old desert dwellers who were still living out their laborious life there in the forests beyond the Lovat River and she would reveal to them her hidden desire to imitate the struggle of the ancient holy virgins who labored unto God in solitude and unceasing prayer far away from the vain world. And she would beg the elders with tears to pray especially for her, that the Lord might instruct them how and where she might begin her desired struggle in the desert.
The eldest of the desert dwellers, a venerable elder who was revered by others as a father and who had acquired from God the true gift of clairvoyance, commanded her to fast with prayer for seven days, praying with her whole heart and mind that the Lord might reveal to her His Divine will and show her lot to her. With joy Maria undertook to fulfill the commandment of the elder, and, adding labor to labor, she all the more fervently, during the week of her fast, ate nothing beside bread and water, and only a little of those, not touching them until evening, and going at dawn to the little chapel to make prostrations with fervent and tearful entreaty. On the eighth day she went to the desert place where the elder lived and heard from him the instruction from the Lord to go to the north, to Vazhe Lake, to the solitary straggler who was her uncle, Father Isaiah, and to receive from him instruction for a God-pleasing life.
The St. Nicephorus Hermitage on Vazhe Lake
Among the disciples of Fr. Isaiah, the most well-known were two monks who were devoted to him: Fr. Daniel, who was the successor of Fr. Isaiah after his death, and was later the archimandrite of the Monastery of St. Alexander of Svir; and Fr. Gerasim, who was a peasant of the village of Blitova in the county of New Ladoga, who had attained perfect prayer and spiritual understanding. Fr. Gerasim, like his elder also, had not taken upon himself the priestly rank out of his extreme humility, and had not desired even to receive the Schema, considering himself unworthy of consecration to either one or the other. No exhortation of the superior — who was this Fr. Daniel and one in mind with him — could incline this keeper of silence to take upon himself the rank of spiritual father to the brethren, who had in him a perfect guide and counselor after the death of Fr. Isaiah, and who unanimously asked Fr. Daniel to present Fr. Gerasim to the diocesan authorities for ordination. Fr. Daniel, who served the brethren untiringly in his conscientious activity of put-. ting the monastery in good outward order, was greatly grieved because he had no officially appointed helper in the task of spiritual guidance — one who was the same in manner as himself and pleasing to the whole brotherhood. He finally decided to appeal with a petition to his diocesan bishop (Bishop Arcadius of Olonets) to compel the stubborn one to receive the priesthood, presenting to the bishop the absolute need for the brethren of a spiritual father in accordance with the choice of all.
Bishop Arcadius, in going on a tour of his diocese, visited the St. Nicephorus Hermitage and was disposed to serve Liturgy there, intending without fail to perform the ordination of Fr. Gerasim, despite his entreaty not to deprive him of his life of repentance in seclusion and silence and without care. But God heard the secret sighs of this man of prayer, who stood before Him in prayer the whole night before the bishop served, and with abundant tears entreated the Lord to conceal him from the tumult and care of his new responsibilities, in the secret place of His dwelling in solitude. Early in the morning he went out from the enclosure and entered the monastery garden and lay down in the vegetable beds near the fence; and he lay there during the whole time the bishop was serving. In vain they sought the old man throughout the whole monastery and in the guesthouse, and it entered no one's head to look for him there where he had hidden himself. Fr. Daniel even sent to the nearby forest to search out the fugitive, having guessed concerning his intentional departure, and with bitterness he had to report to the bishop that all the search was in vain. Bishop Arcadius, himself being a strict ascetic, was not at all disturbed, and said to the superior that in this situation one must see the good will of God Who wished to fulfill the desire of His humble slave who was faithful to his calling in the labor of perfect silence; and he ordained another hieromonk, Fr. Theophan, to be the spiritual father of the brethren. One could find much worthy of description in the ascetic activities of this venerable elder, Fr. Theophan, who died the truly precious death of the saints at the beginning of the 1870's in great old age; his death was as bright and undisturbed as was his entire God-pleasing life.
Fr. Gerasim, although he was the disciple of Fr. Isaiah and from his early youth had become accustomed to the unceasing Prayer of Jesus and the exercise of his whole mind in reflection on God, nonetheless, having inherited from the Elder this labor of soul, he spent his whole life in the monastery among the brethren. In his private relations with them during his beginning labors in the coenobitic life, he acquired a special gift of understanding the infirmities of men and the degree of their monastic advancement, which is why he gave advice to those who asked him which was in accordance with their ascetic labors. For example, he offered to those living the monastic life in community one wise rule, which in two words contain the whole active teaching of the task of the soul: "Let go and cut off." He said, "When it happens that, listening to a complaint against the superior or the brethren, some kind of disturbance comes by the attack of the enemy, do not multiply this in your mind and heart, reflecting on the source of this tumult and disturbance, but let go of it as something which quickly passes, and perform prayer more fervently within yourself. Again, if someone offends you, or says some offensive word to you, cut off the back talk, be silent and reproach yourself in your conscience for your sin in being vexed, and immediately the disturbance will pass and you yourself will be humbled and will reconcile your brother."
This elder was simple and humble, both in his appearance and in his words and thoughts, He never touched in conversation on high and abstract things, although he had a deep spiritual advancement, and his mind constantly contained the memory of God. His speech was short and concise. In his humility of wisdom he kept himself from giving to his neighbor what might arouse in him an attraction to ascetic labors beyond his strength, and he rather instructed in the fulfillment of the commandments of the Gospel.
Maria Leaves the World
Until the death of both of her parents, Maria remained at home, going away only for a time to pray at the holy places, together with other humble girls from the village, or pilgrims who were traveling through. Her father, Basil Sophronov, died first. His eldest son, who was already married, received as his inheritance the house, the garden, and all the household belongings of his parents, half and half with his younger brother. To his mother and his sister Maria he gave part of the land in which the garden had been made, with apple trees and berry bushes which were behind the pine thicket, and he built them in this garden a small, warm log cabin at the request of the pious widow herself and her God-loving daughter, both of whom sought to go away from the tumult of family life and to serve the one God in solitude. At the time of her pilgrimage to Kiev, Maria met in the guesthouse of the Lavra a serf girl who was a little older than herself, who revealed to Maria that she had fled from her master and with all her heart desired to devote her life to prayer and repentance, but could not enter a monastery, having no means of support. Maria came to love this chaste Anna, as being one in manner with herself. Having told her of her own intention to live, when the time came, in the desert, she offered her to take refuge with her mother, and she brought her home to her tiny skete under the apple trees. A year had not passed when Maria's mother died at an old age. Both women, immediately after the burial, in spite of the fact that it was winter, set out for Olonets in order from there to go by the forest path to the St. Nicephorus Hermitage and ask the blessing and cooperation of Fr. Isaiah for their desert dwelling.
It was a clear, frosty morning when both the young wanderers in thick coats, covered with black kerchiefs over their heads and necks, with little pilgrim sacks on their shoulders, being girded with narrow belts, walked in the back woods along a stamped-out path in the thick forest of pines and spruces. There was an unchanging stillness in this forest wilderness. Not a single heavy branch moved under the thick white snow. Only the dark green needles of the trees, with gold in their tips, glistened under the slanting rays of the deep-red rising sun; the icy surface of the wilderness lakes belonging to the region of Vazhe Lake also opened up in the distance and shone. The wayfarers seeing these level places glistening, stepped up their pace and headed for them. After coming out of the forest, the wanderers saw a peasant standing in the road, short in stature, stout, with an axe on his shoulders, grey-haired, with a short beard, in an overcoat girded with a leather belt and a high, warm, black head-covering. Allowing the pilgrims to come two steps towards him, one after the other, the old man looked fixedly at the approaching Maria, and with a kind smile slapped her on the shoulder. Not used to such familiarity with men, Maria jumped to the side and cried out, "Don't you dare touch me!" "You are my niece," replied the old man. "Where is God sending you?"
Anna nodded her head to her companion and whispered to her, "What are you afraid of? Can't you see that this is a monk and not a peasant?" And going up, she bowed down to the Elder, to the ground. "Batiushka, is the St. Nicephorus Hermitage far?"
"It will be another three miles," replied Fr. Isaiah, who was the builder of the St. Nicephorus Hermitage on Vazhe Lake, and the uncle by blood of Maria on her father's side. "Follow me, slaves of God. So you didn't recognize me, little Maria?"
And Maria, shedding abundant tears, fell down to the ground before this Elder's feet in his big old felt boots. "We have not seen each other for many years, Batiushka. Bless me! We were on our way to see you, uncle. Forgive me, a sinner!" "All right, all right, let us go. I will bring you to the guest house. We have recently built one for pilgrims. Eldress Akulina is in charge there. I took her from the desert when she was already very old. She was no longer able to live alone in the forest. You see, a holy place will not remain empty! Maybe God will bless you to live in a little cabin. From here it's two miles to Akulina's hut through the forest, and she is five miles from the monastery. Warm yourselves up and rest for a day or two, pray in the church and then go again, with God, up to this place. I will lead you myself into the forest." The girls were frightened at the clairvoyance of the Elder, because, without any conversation with him, he himself had brought them to what they desired. The Elder listened very attentively to the confession of the fugitive Anna and comforted her with his agreement to hide her from persecution by her master under the cover of the flense forest.
Having called both of his close disciples, Frs. Daniel and Gerasim, he ordered them not only to take care of everything that was necessary for the desert dwelling hermitesses, but also, after his death, to keep them both in a hidden place in the depths of the monastery forest, five miles from the monastery. Then Fr. Isaiah busied himself with his niece, talking to her in his cell. He skillfully questioned her concerning the grace-given activity of prayer in the mind and heart, and being convinced of the genuineness of her spiritual activity, he gave her a monastic rule for spending the day and night in the desert-dwelling life which she had chosen, according to the example given to St. Pachomius the Great in the desert by the holy Angel, together with the reading of the Psalter and many prostrations, with constant instruction' (from holy books), and in the Prayer of Jesus which was to be the constant exercise of her mind for whole days at a time, so that it would not become distracted by any outside thoughts, even during her handiwork and at the time of taking food. For this purpose he gave a commandment to both of the desert dwellers never to converse with each other about anything, except for what was absolutely essential, in accordance with their strict desert rule. The reading of prayers and the Psalter was entrusted to Anna, while Maria was commanded to remain in the silent inward prayer.
The Beginning of the Desert Life
It took great effort to open the old hut, which was buried with snow and which was dug halfway into the earth, in the very midst of a pine forest on a little meadow in a clearing. Fr. Isaiah himself, from memory, showed the place to four monastery workers who were living there as pilgrims out of a vow to serve the holy elders and the saints of Vazhe Lake; they were armed with pointed sticks, axes and shovels.
The hut was only seven feet square, with a little glass window and an earthen floor, and it resembled more a grave than a human habitation. In the right corner, facing east, there was nailed a piece of wood and there were two boards attached together along the wall for sitting and for a bed for rest at night. When they pushed aside the heaps of snow around the hut and heated the stove with damp branches, a thick smoke came out with such a bitter smell that no one could remain in the hut until the thick black cloud of smoke had come out of the open door into the frosty air.
While the workers were cutting a small supply of firewood and dragging a load of branches, chopping some kindling, and stamping down the snow around the hut, Fr. Isaiah, sitting on a tree which had fallen down not far away, instructed the ascetics who stood in reverence before the Elder. Again they lit some wood in the stove, let the smoke out of the damp stovepipes, and let the workers go. The Elder went with an icon around the hut, sprinkling with holy water taken from the monastery in a great pot, and having signed the inner part of the hut with the holy icon in all four directions, he placed the icon in the icon comer and placed around it three books: an old Slavonic Gospel, the Psalter and the Horologion, as well as a pair of woolen prayer ropes. As for dishes, from the monastery guesthouse there was taken one kettle, a clay pot for cooking soup, one large wooden cup, two wooden bowls, two spoons made of linden wood, a hollow wooden bowl and a basin and metallic holder for the splinter lights, and two pails with a stick for carrying. He also left a shovel and an axe apiece. Water during the wintertime could be taken from snow, and in the summertime it was obtained from a stream in a ravine which was quite a distance away from the hut. Their whole store of food consisted of a half sack of rye flour, a sack of potatoes, oat-meal, a half jar of salt, and a few onions. The Elder instructed his fasters how to grate dried moss and, by mixing flour with it, to bake bread from it in case the flour should run low. As for oil, they completely forgot about it, and having remembered it, they agreed to consider it as a luxury for desert food.
"With God's will," Fr. Isaiah affirmed, “you will come to the monastery on great feasts and for Holy Communion, and then you can take enjoyment of the table of the brethren to the glory of God."
The desert dwellers, with many prostrations and abundant tears, accompanied their Elder and instructor some way from their hut, and receiving from him a final blessing for their labor of desert dwelling, they settled with peace under the roof of their hidden, snow-bound cell.
Thus they spent three years in severe labors of prayer and fasting, and attained a high spiritual state.
Then, during one time of preparation for receiving Holy Communion in the St. Nicephorus Hermitage, they informed their instructor, Elder Isaiah — who had already received the schema with the name of Ignatius – about their agreement between themselves to separate from each other. The Elder, having talked alone with each of them, permitted them both to go away in separate cells, rejoicing in soul at the profound advancement of his disciples in the labor of silence and prayer, and he took care for the making of a special hut in the forested part of their property, and here Anna settled. Soon came the time for the repose of the Elder Isaiah-Igantius, the builder and restorer of the St. Nicephorus Hermitage on Vazhe Lake. He reposed quietly on the 20th of April, 1852.
After the repose of her spiritual benefactor, Maria underwent, by God's allowance, many temptations and sorrows in order to teach her humility, so that, living alone without guidance, she would not place her hope in her own labors. At first a spirit of fear fell upon her from visions of demons, sometimes in the form of frightening spectors which appeared at night, and sometimes in the apparition of the image of her reposed Elder, who seemed to be coming to her little window or knocking at the door. Undergoing with difficulty an indescribable state of terror for many sleepless nights, Maria finally, hardly waiting for the light of dawn, ran to the monastery for advice and prayers from her spiritual father and Fr. Gerasim. Her spiritual father gave her oil from the lamps over the relics of the saints of Vazhe Lake, and Elder Gerasim counseled her to endure the attack of the demons for the sake of experience, and not to heed their cries and spectors, since they signified nothing, but to pray more intensely and loudly. He said that the demon can do nothing to a Christian who is armed with the sign of the Cross and prayer with his whole heart, which is why the Holy Fathers, as St. John of the Ladder says, call such spectacles the "fears of a child."
The Persecuted Hermitess of Vazhe Lake
Then there were sorrows from men also. Hieromonk Metrophan, to whom the diocesan authority had entrusted the governance of the monastery, together with Fr. Daniel (who at that time had not yet been ordained) began to be fearful over his responsibility for hiding the women desert dwellers in the monastery forest, and he demanded that they leave and enter women's monasteries, or at least that they would provide documents of release from their villages. Anna, being from another province, and a serf besides, could not obtain any kind of document, and therefore she went about ten miles away to the forest beyond the lake, and there, with the help of Christ-lovers, the local peasants, she settled in a hut in the midst of an impenetrable forest where one could not even suspect the existence of a human dwelling. God preserved His chosen one in the secret of His dwelling in the deep wilderness by the mercy of lovers of God who knew her humility and the reason for her struggle.
When, at the insistence of the superior of the St. Nicephorus Hermitage, Maria also was forced to leave her old hut, which was destroyed to the foundation, she did not entirely leave this desert place, but began to wander in the dense forest, pouring out tearful prayers to the Lord that He might not deprive her of her desired refuge. And suddenly she stumbled on human footprints in the midst of tall and thickly growing spruces and, pushing her way through the thick bushes, she found a hut, half dug into the earth, with a roof which had been crushed by branches. It was empty, low and confining, with a little stone stove, a little light and a low door. She noticed a path, and with the intention of settling in the hut, she went to the village, where a God-loving peasant of her acquaintance lived who was a worker and helper of the fathers of the St. Nicephorus Hermitage, and she informed him of her discovery of a new refuge for herself. The old Andrew knew about the dwelling in the forest, which had been built by a secret settler, a man of his village who had a family here — a wife and two small children — and had fled to the forest to escape military recruitment. The fugitive hid in the forest in the daytime, and at night came to his own hut; at daybreak he would again conceal himself in the forest. With the help of Andrew, he dug out a hut for himself and he gave the desert dweller his old dwelling.
Andrew had a friend, the novice Tryphon of the St. Nicephorus Monastery, who lived about a mile from it near a mill on the lake; he was already a grey-haired old man, a faithful and devoted disciple of Fr. Gerasim. Tryphon told his elder about Maria's resettlement and the elder, remembering the testament of his spiritual father not to leave the desert dwellers without his care, was satisfied and himself began once in a while to visit and look after her stay in the new desert. Maria likewise would visit the monastery on great feasts and for Holy Communion. However, fear gave her no repose in the new place also. But all these temptations, with God's help, the ascetic patiently bore.
In autumn Maria set out for her native village, having received a letter from there that she was wanted by the local government for confirmation of her documents.
While she was absent from her desert refuge, on one could, inclement evening, two woodsmen came upon the hut. Rejoicing at the covered dwelling, the shivering peasants entered, heated the damp stove with wooden branches, covered themselves early with a blanket and lay down to sleep.
The next day, or perhaps two days later, the old Andrew — as if someone had given him a hint — went to the forest to find out whether the desert dweller had returned; and in her place he found on the floor of the hut the bodies of two men, already cold and stiff. In a frightful state of fear, he fled to the monastery mill to his friend Tryphon, and having determined together with him that it was not right to take upon themselves the sin and responsibility before God and men of burying the two men secretly in the forest, not knowing from what they had died, decided to inform Fr. Gerasim alone of the misfortune. The elder wept over the unexpected trial which had come upon the desert dweller, and went to the superior of the monastery with this sad report. Fr. Metrophan with bitterness informed the elder that he, by helping out every so-called "wanderer," had brought the monastery to a crime. After the local government was informed, there was an investigation made, both in the monastery and in the neighboring settlements, and the identity of the woodsmen who had, died was established by people of their village. The medical investigation, after an autopsy, determined that the death occurred from suffocation. However, the hut was destroyed at the decree of the investigator, and it was forbidden to rebuild it.
Maria returned with the document of release which she had asked for and with permission to live wherever she wished; but she no longer had a refuge for herself!
Doubly did she lament over the buried pit, covered over thickly with branches — the branches which had been gathered by her own laboring hands — as over a dear grave. Nonetheless, she remained unbending in her intention to continue her desert dwelling. She had brought a small sum of money with her for an emergency, and having presented her legal document to the monastery authorities, and having assured them that she would live in the village, tearfully persuaded the old man Andrew to build her a small hut secretly, and gave him two rubles to hire a laborer in order to build a wooden hut something like a sentry box with a stove in a different place, in the forest beyond a deep ravine; and she settled in her new secret refuge for the winter.
The next year, towards spring, the administration of the monastery was changed again. Fr. Daniel was called to Olonets, where a new bishop ordained him as Abbot of the Monastery of Polyustrov. Fr. Metrophan remained in retirement, and in his place Fr. Sylvester, one of the brethren of the St. Nicephorus Monastery, was assigned. This new superior did not especially revere Fr. Gerasim, who sighed when he beheld the new order introduced by the superior into the monastery. The new Abba wished to form a better choir/to change the simple, ancient chant to four-part harmony, for which it was necessary to gather together more brothers and not to be very particular in accepting anyone who might have a good voice and talent for the choir. Among the brethren there could no longer be the previous harmony and oneness. There appeared people with worldly habits, often with vices especially among those who were sent for correction, or readers who were sent for repentance at the order of the bishop. The life in accordance with guidance by elders began to be totally abandoned. Fr. Gerasim began to avoid giving instruction, keeping to silence in his seclusion without coming out, so as not to a-rouse opposition and disturbance in the superior, who looked almost hostilely upon the brethren who came to him for advice.
Maria's stay in her new desert-refuge was known to Fr. Gerasim, and they secretly had contact with each other, even though rarely.
The elder was able to obtain rest in conversation with this woman of prayer, who was of the same mentality as he. His God-loving and suffering soul needed the consolation of seeing in her unwavering practice of the prayer of Jesus that this divine work had not disappeared entirely from their place. However, even her remote dwelling in the monastery's forested property could not long be hidden from the penetrating observation of the superior, who looked with suspicion upon those who least of all needed such supervision.
There entered the St. Nicephorus Monastery a certain monk who had been tonsured in a distant monastery in the interior of Russia. With hypocrisy he gained the trust of Fr. Gerasim, under the pretense of learning from him the struggle of inward prayer — just out of idle curiosity. He became acquainted also with the simple-minded laborer Tryphon, having noticed that he stood in church immovably, head bowed and eyes closed. He would try to come to him flatteringly with questions on prayer, and began to him at the mill. He began to ask him to give him some kind of assurance of the possibility of performing this ancient struggle even now, saying that he was disturbed by doubts over the action of grace, by reason of the infirmity of people of the present time. The old man, desiring to persuade him of the truth and the possibility of prayer in all times, even to the end of the world, told him about Fr. Isaiah-Ignatius and his disciples, both men and women, who even at the present time labored in emulation of the ancient desert dwellers. The monk asked Tryphon to take him to at least one of such desert dwellers; but he would not agree at all to this and firmly refused to reveal to him where they lived. It was enough for the monk to get this information for a report to the superior, whose favor he wanted to gain. They both decided to go to seek out in the forest some traces of the dwelling place of the stubborn zealots of God. They could not find Anna because of the great distance, but they fell upon the refuge of Maria after finding fresh footprints in the damp grass after a rain which had poured for several days, and they came upon her hut.
With threats the superior called the frightened desert dweller out of her refuge, ordering her immediately to come out. "Come out of there. Come out immediately," he cried, beside himself, raising his staff - "or I will call the police out after you and they will send you in convoy to your own province. You are a deceiver! You are numbered among those living in the village on paper, but you yourself sit here on the monastery property. Get out, I say to you! This very minute go to the village!"
Shedding abundant tears, but not uttering a single word, Maria took an icon and her three books, went out the door with whatever she had on before the eyes of her persecutors, and walked in the forest in the direction of the village. But she did not leave the forest, but hid in a dense part of it in hope that they would not immediately destroy her hut, and that she would find the opportunity, with the help of pious villagers who already knew her through Andrew, to move the hut to a different, more impenetrable place. But who can depict her despair, which can not be expressed in any words, when through the forest there suddenly came the smoke of the burning wood and there was heard the crackling of flames! She fled from her thicket towards this strange sound and smoke, and from a distance she saw through the branches a pillar of fire and smoke in the place of her refuge which had been taken from her by force. Literally with the roar of a wounded beast, the forest resounded with the lamentation which came from the breast of Maria, who was torn by grief. The unfortunate one raised both hands to heaven with cries from the depths of her soul: "Thou Who didst create me, o Lord, have mercy on me!" And she fell down on the ground with full awareness of the fact that it was not pleasing to God that she remain any longer in this place.
The evil monk who had given the counsel to the superior to burn the hut so that the desert dweller could not come to it even to spend her nights there, let alone settle in it again, also thought of a way to prevent the spread of the fire in the forest. He labored with Maria's own axe to cut several spruce branches which were filled with dampness from the rain, and he threw them from outside around the walls so that the fire could not go further, but would die out from the dampness all around, so that only the hut, which had been lit inside, would be destroyed.
With a conscience lightened by the performance of such a work, which preserved the honor of the holy monastery and delivered the brethren from temptation, the monk returned together with the superior, who praised him for his zeal and his fortunate idea. It remained only to take care of the sending away of this "zealot of God" from the village itself, and the superior did not delay, on coming to the monastery, to send for Tryphon and to order him most severely to seek out the desert dweller through Andrew and force her immediately to leave their locality entirely. He gave him also Maria's documents, threatening not only to send her in convoy, but also to give Andrew over to the local authority as a concealer of fugitives.
One of the brethren who was secretly devoted to Fr. Gerasim informed him concerning the orders which the superior had made. The elder shed quiet tears, and calling Tryphon to him, said to him, "This is an attack of the demons, allowed by God for the sake of our humility. Go to see Maria, and inform her from me that she should not give herself over to sorrow but should give over herself and her fate submissively to the will and providence of God. It is given to her to undergo such sorrow as was experienced by all the saints: Being destitute, afflicted, tormented ... they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:37-38). Let her go to her own land, near Staraya Rus, and there wait until I have corresponded with lovers of God in Petersburg who knew our schemamonk Batiushka Isaiah-Ignatius, and up to now revere his memory. I will ask them to show mercy to his disciple and find for her a refuge in another place. I will write also to the Caucasus to Fr. Theophan, so that he might report to Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov (with whom, during his life, Fr. Isaiah had been especially close), and he might find in his diocese some desert refuge for this exile. And I will write also to Archimandrite Ignatius in the St. Sergius Hermitage. Here, give to Andrew my letters for the post office and let him send one of the boys with them, while you find someone to inform Maria about what I will write to these benefactors. Our help is from the Lord Who made heaven and the earth. But tell Andrew that he should not take a long time. Tell him what happened and that Maria should not murmur against those who have banished her but should endure in silence. It is enough to explain to the benefactors what I will write to them, that she is not allowed to live in the desert here at the present time. But let her, according to the word of the Lord, bless those who persecute her and pray for those who give offence. Then the Lord will show His mercy to her and His covering against those who rise up against us."
The petition of the humble and meek elder was respected by everyone to whom he appealed in writing. A special Christian sympathy was
shown to the desert dweller by Archimandrite Ignatius, together with the venerable friends of the St. Sergius Monastery near St. Petersburg who were one in mind with him; most of all, help was given to Maria by the well-known supporter of monks and nuns, T. B. Potemkina, whose property was near the Sviatogorsk Monastery of Kharkov. She sent Maria there with a letter to the superior.
The Journey to the South
Maria, setting out on her wanderings, persuaded her relative, Matrona Michaelovna, who at one time had lived with her in the desert, to serve the Lord in struggles pleasing to Him, and the quiet and obedient girl agreed to follow her instructor, Maria, wherever she might go. Those of Matrona's household did not try to talk her out of this, because people had stopped reproaching the young girl for the supposed fact that the desert dweller Maria had chased the girl away from herself, or that she had fled from her.
Leaving the region of Staraya Rus in May, they came by way of Kiev to the Holy Mountains (Sviatogorsk) during the Apostles' Fast. They prepared for Holy Communion in the monastery, but did not remain there because the superior of Sviatogorsk Monastery did not find it possible to give them refuge in the monastery's forested places, where several hermit-elders of Sviatogorsk were then living. There came a letter to Maria in care of the superior of Sviatogorsk, from Fr. Theophan in the Caucasus; he called her to Stavropol. He hoped to find for Maria a suitable refuge near the women's monastery where he was the spiritual father and overseer.
The travelers made their long and difficult journey with the lightness of those winged by living faith in God's providence. Passing over the great roads and cities, they went always by the back paths and deserted places, from station to station in the Don province, asking directions of pious peasants who out of love for pilgrims fed and accompanied the travelers as true pleasers of God.
Sometimes they would go as far as thirty miles in a day. Setting out from the Holy Mountains on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), they came to Stavropol in the Caucasus on the eve of the Beheading of the Forerunner of the Lord (August 29). Matrona became more exhausted, as she was not used to walking and her body was worn out. Often she would stop, especially when it was very hot, and then she would fall down to the ground and lie in the shade somewhere under a solitary tree, or would enter into some thicket near the path and there, from unbearable thirst, would chew leaves which cooled the tongue. Having rested a little and Washed her feet (whenever they would come across a ravine with a pool of rain water in the bottom) she would go running after her aunt who had gone ahead.
Sometimes the travelers waited out the heat of the day in a village and left in the evening as the sun was setting; they would be overtaken by the dark. deep southern night, and they directed themselves by the movement of the bright, twinkling stars which were scattered over the immense height of the heavens, without encountering anything frightening, either from evil men or from wild beasts, being preserved marvelously under the protection of God's mercy, "through the prayers of the saints." as they explained it to themselves. On the rivers at the ferry places they always found good people who would ask no payment from them for the sake of Christ's name. The strict ascetics would not even look at the magnificent beauty of nature in the Caucasus which surrounded Stavropol on all sides. The city was beautifully situated on a high mountain in the midst of a' whole sea of lush vegetation. Maria constantly had before the eyes of her soul the beauties above, of God's paradise, for the attainment of which she disdained all the insurmountable difficulties of her earthly journey, as well as the exhaustion of her body, worn out by ascetic labors. Her young companion on the journey, a weak, 18-year-old girl, was so exhausted that her head was spinning and it was dark before her eyes. She was in no condition to distinguish anything around her, and she moved just as in a dream.
By God's dispensation, in the very first streets of the city these travelers from afar met a pious lover of pilgrims, one of the landowners of Stavropol, who knew Father Theophan well and was devoted to Bishop Ignatius; he had a small house of his own, not far from the Bishop's residence. The worn-out, suffering appearance of the wanderers, their dusty, sunburnt, emaciated faces, and their torn and faded clothing inspired him with pity. This lover of pilgrims himself stopped them and, having heard that they had come from such a distance with business for Hieromonk Theophan, whom he revered, he brought them to his own place and made them rest from the journey, and the next day conducted them himself to the Bishop's residence.
At this time the Bishop was absent, and was in Piatogorsk at the healing waters, and so Fr. Theophan took upon himself the conducting of negotiations with the Abbess of the St. John the Forerunner Convent concerning the wanderers who had come from the North, who were known to him personally. He informed Abbess Seraphima in detail concerning the kind of ascetic life which Maria had led in the wilderness of Olonets under the direction of the Elder, Fr. Isaiah, whom Bishop Ignatius himself revered, In particular, he informed her also of the persecution which had been conducted against her of late. The Abbess received the wanderers favorably, and kept them in the monastery with her. But Maria could not bear the way of life in a community with many people, as this was so foreign to her love of the desert. The Stavropol Convent, which had been opened not long before, was very confining for the population of 200 nuns who lived there owing to the lack of building material in that region. The novices lived not merely two, but three or four in a single small room, Maria, leaving Matrona with them, revealed to Fr. Theophan her firm intention to leave this populous monastery and seek for herself a special place of solitary refuge in the neighborhood, doing this with the courage and fearlessness in desert dwelling which was now habitual to her.
A Desert Refuge in the Caucasus
In the foothills, about two miles from the monastery, Maria had noticed a gorge, and in it a hollowed-out place like a cave, which was hidden on all sides by brambles and thickly-growing wild grapes which covered up its entrance. With tears Maria entreated Fr. Theophan to settle her in this cave which she loved so much as a hermitic refuge, with the help and cooperation of the Christ-loving landowner. In vain did Fr. Theophan try to dissuade her, advising her to wait at least until the Bishop returned, and in vain did the Abbess offer to build in her own monastery garden a separate hut for the struggler of silence. Maria refused this proposition with the argument that the, sisters would begin to visit her and disturb her silent seclusion in the midst of the community. Fr. Theophan was forced to yield to the tearful insistence of Maria, and he took it upon himself to give repose to the slave of God who had come from the far North to seek out for herself a silent refuge in their locality. Thus there was fulfilled the word of the ascetic and elder of Olonets, Fr. Gerasim, the word which he had spoken for the consolation of the persecuted desert dweller from the epistle of the holy Apostle Paul (Heb. 11:38).
The low and narrow cave in a gorge of the Caucasus Mountains was like a real cavern, such as those in which the ancient saints had worked out their salvation. At its top there were placed ropes woven from mountain flax, tied together one to the other in several layers, just as in central Russia straw is laid on the roof. But straw is difficult to get in the Caucasus, where rye is seldom sown because in these mountain regions it bums up from the heat For the same reason, rye bread is a rarity there. The thin layers of flax were smeared with clay together with sand. The walls of the cave were earth and remained constantly loose from the moisture outside. For heating, a small stone stove was built of the local bricks. In place of a bed there was a woven mat. Stumps from the native trees took the place of a table and benches. For food, the zealous benefactor left a small supply of wheat flour and buckwheat, considering superfluous any other kind of provisions for the desert dweller, seeing that she asked for nothing else. Not far away from the gorge, a mountain stream ran swiftly down, filling the deep gorge below with water, especially in the autumn when there are downpours of rain.
The desert-loving northern ascetic rejoiced in spirit over her wild refuge as over a dwelling near to paradise, and she settled in it without even waiting for it to dry out. From time to time she would be visited by Father Theophan and her new, zealous benefactor, the pious landowner. Matrona remained in the monastery, pleasing the superior and all the sisters by her good manner and her unquestioning obedience, and showed herself ready for any kind of handiwork, to such an extent that they wished to teach her to sew with silk and gold for the needs of the vestry. But Fr. Theophan persuaded them not to teach her this, as something that might arouse in the novice a proud opinion and vainglory concerning success in fine work. She served as the cell-attendant of the eldest nun.
With the coming of winter, the inconvenience of the cave for a dwelling and the insufficiency of its rope roof became apparent Torrential rains penetrated through the reed covering, penetrating with moisture the earthen walls, and the dampness was transmitted even to clothing. The winter freezing cold began to numb all the members of the desert dweller. She came down with the local fever and rheumatism in her bones. Feeling herself to be extremely exhausted, Maria was forced, through Fr. Theophan. to call Matrona to come to her. The parish priest, at his request, came to confess her and give her Holy Communion from the Reserved Gifts. Getting better after Holy Communion, but still weak and exhausted, she did not leave off, even in her infirmity, her usual rule of prayer and weeping; but hesitating to perform her ceaseless labor before the eyes of her young companion, she begged that somehow a special comer might be divided off for Matrona. Therefore, Fr. Theophan sent them a screen with two shelves, which took the place îf à partition – and the cave-dwellers fixed for themselves two tiny rooms, dividing the cleft in the mountain — which was altogether only fourteen feet long and seven feet wide — into two halves, with a narrow passageway in place of a corridor, and a little door through which one could not enter except by bending down. Then they arranged themselves so that each could perform her own rule without interfering with the other, having each one in the comer a special shelf with a lamp for their icons.
In the cave it was dark, and it was more stuffy than warm. Those laboring in it could warm themselves-only by frequent prostrations and by efforts — performed with weeping and sighs – at the constant prayer of the mind and the heart which they had been taught by the elders of Olonets. This they did the whole day long, and, if only their bodily infirmity did not overpower them, the whole night also. Matrona also labored in carrying water from the ravine to the mountain, gathering twigs for the fire and cooking a porridge made of flour in boiling water, without anything else added.
In the meantime, the fathers of Olonets in the North had not forgotten their distant fellow-ascetics. The old lover of labor, Hieromonk Prochorus, who had been made the spiritual father of the brethren of St. Nicephorus Monastery, and Fr. Gerasim conducted a correspondence about them with Fr. Theophan. Having received information from the Caucasus about the sickly condition of Maria in her inconvenient cave-dwelling, Fr. Gerasim was afflicted in heart over her, and having taken counsel with Pr. Daniel, who often lived in this monastery even while he was governing the Polyustrov.
A Final Hermitage in the North
Coming now alone to St. Nicephoms Hermitage, Maria met there her first companion in the ascetic life, Anna. During the wanderings of Maria, thanks to the intercessions of the fathers of Olonets with the diocesan government, Anna had been established in an abandoned old monastery on a lake, which, among the local people was called Padan, and there she had gathered several sisters from among the pious girls of the neighborhood. The place called Padan, which was in the midst of a dense forest, was a little island surrounded on all sides by great lakes. Contact with the shore in the summertime was by means of rafts and in the wintertime over the ice on skis. Anna called Maria to come to her at this Zaozersk (''beyond the lake") Hermitage. But even this uninhabited, solitary place could not satisfy the lover of silence, who had become accustomed to the wildness of totally uninhabited forest depths as a most precious refuge even from temporary and unavoidable noise. In this Hermitage of Padan Anna, who was called Anastasia in monasticism, lived for 31 years and died on July 11, 1901, at the age of 83. Her fellow ascetics were the first sisters of the monastery after its renewal.
The elders, seeing Maria's insistent desire to struggle alone, did not grieve her but went together with her to the surrounding forest, to seek out for her a more suitable place. The same lover of God, the simple-hearted Andrew, was called once again with joy to serve the desert dweller, and at the indicated place, about five miles from the monastery in another part of the forest, he again cut down logs and built a small hut. Here Maria settled now with her own niece, Pelagia, who had lived with her earlier in the wilderness together with Matrona and wished again to live as a desert dweller.
Although their dwelling was well-made, it was near a swamp, which was swarming with snakes and every kind of reptile. Pelagia was unable to endure the fear from being close to such monstrous reptiles, and she begged the elders to allow her to either go to Padan to the little community of Anna, or to build for her a small separate hut in a drier and safer place, By the fervent entreaty of Maria herself, the elders allowed Pelagia to settle herself a short distance from the cell of the desert dweller Maria, in the same forest. The following spring Maria again called to her the quiet Matrona, who had regained her strength and courage after her rest, and she came to the hut of her relative who was now greatly exhausted.
The disturbance in the St. Nicephorus Monastery passed away. The brotherhood began to have a peaceful attitude towards the hermitesses who dwelt near their wilderness, because of the respect and condescension towards them of the superior of the monastery. The desert dwellers were hardly ever seen by them, as they came very rarely to the monastery to go to confession to Fr. Prochorus. Often the elder would advise them not to receive Communion in the monastery church, but he would bring the Holy Gifts to them in the wilderness in a small vessel, not sparing his own strength that of an old man worn out by labors.
Maria did not live long in her final refuge in the forested wilderness. Her laborious trip to the Caucasus and the trip back from north to south and from south to north, together with a severe cold which settled deeply in her exhausted body as a result of the damp, airless dwelling in the cave at Stavropol, finally broke her health which was very frail. For the whole of the severe and fierce winter Maria was constantly suffering from fever and pains in the teeth and face which often overwhelmed her martyric patience. At the end of January 1860 the pain in her face and both jaws reached its extreme. Her suffering increased because she took no medicine against the affliction. Matrona at that time had gone away to stay with Pelagia and could not quickly return to her because of a snowstorm with strong winds which had been blowing'-about the forest for several whole days. The low huts were completely buried under the heavy snows, and there was no possibility to get out so as to pass over the distance separating one hut from the other. The faithful Andrew, being concerned over the helpless state of the desert dwellers in such bad weather in the dense forest, provided himself with a crowbar and a shovel and set out on skis for the dwelling of Maria just as soon as the snowstorm subsided. When, with great efforts, he dug out between the snowdrifts, using now the crowbar and now the shovel, and made an entrance to the hut, he could not refrain from tears, seeing the lamentable condition of the suffering desert dweller. ''Oh, you should have someone to help you, my beloved one," said the peasant, "'or you can die here. I will run home and bring you some medicine. It helps a great deal against pains in the teeth in the village."
Andrew turned around hastily, putting on his skis again, and immediately set out for his village for provisions. In two hours he returned and gave Maria a little bottle with strong vodka. "Here, take a little. Wet your finger with it and put it on the bad tooth, and the pain will go right away."
Never having known any kind of medicines, and having even less of an idea about the power of alcohol, the desert dweller, being tortured almost to unconsciousness by the unbearable pain, immediately, without any caution, wetted a piece of cloth with the alcohol and put it on the tooth in the upper jaw. The unsuccessful doctor did not wait to find out the results of his advice, being confident in its success, and immediately he set out for home, fearing to be lost in the snow drifts in the dark of night. Sparks flashed from the eyes of the sufferer from the terrible burning, and her heart literally stopped beating. But Maria forced all the powers of her soul into an inward cry to God Who raises the dead, and having made an unbelievable effort, she took her wool coat, covered her head with it, and leaping out of the hut, she began to wipe her cheek with snow, spitting out of her mouth the frightful medicine. Fearing a sudden death without the Church's prayers and help, and shedding uncontrollable tears from the cry of her soul to the Lord, she decided to set out immediately for the St. Nicephorus Monastery on skis with a staff in her hand, in an imperturbable conviction of faith that she would reach the holy monastery, so as there to receive the Holy Mysteries and depart under the protection of the prayers of the holy fathers.
The supernatural power of Christ's grace strengthened the sufferer to such an extent that she was able to fix the skis for herself and to set out along the traces of the path left by Andrew. The sufferer fell many times into the snow, losing consciousness, and again raised herself up and again fell and arose, remembering only one thing: to make it all the way to the monastery so as not to die without the Sacraments. And the Providence of God did not leave without its care this unconquerable crown bearer of faith in Him. Several of the brethren were at this time at the take, pulling out the nets which had been placed there for fishing before the snowstorm. They saw from a distance something moving under the snow-covered trees, which then suddenly fell down and was lying stretched out in the snow.
"What is this? Is it our desert dweller?" Tryphon guessed suddenly, coming up to help the laboring brethren who, leaving off their work. were all looking towards the forest.
The old mill-keeper monk stood for a long time, holding up his hand against the bright spring sun. which was just about to set with blindingly brilliant golden-red rays against the white, even surface of the lake, and he was the first to run to the dark object. The novices hastily followed after the elder, one after the other, without giving it a second thought.
They raised up the desert dweller, who was unconscious, and carried her gently in their arms to the cattle-shed, thinking she was already dead. Immediately they ran to fell Fr. Gerasim. The Eldress Akulina, in the meantime^ praying and shedding tears of pity, herself wiped with snow the frozen members of the dying one, and, placing her on her bedmat, covered her up with sheepskins.
Fr. Gerasim came together with the confessor, Fr. Prohor. Maria lay unmoving, very pale, with her lips tightly pressed together and black from the fever, with scarcely noticeable breathing. Hearing the voice of the elder, Fr. Gerasim, pronouncing softly over her the prayer of Jesus, Maria literally woke up from a deep sleep, and opening her sunken, large, dark eyes, she sought with heir glance an icon and moved her right hand, but did not have strength to raise it. "You desire Holy Communion, my daughter?" asked the confessor, bending down.
Maria could say nothing, for the whole area of her mouth was all wounds. She tried to indicate with her hand that she desired Unction, weakly wiping with it her breast and her other hand, and then again lay down, bending down her head. Both of the elders concluded that she was asking that they perform over her the Mystery of Unction, and immediately the brethren were gathered to perform this sacred rite.
The suffering one was in bed for about three weeks. Every day after the Liturgy a hieromonk brought to her the Holy Gifts. On the fifteenth day her face became entirely transformed, shining forth with an unearthly expression of blessed repose. All her features, as it were, were renewed with youth and beauty; even the blackness around her lips completely disappeared, giving way to a transparent whiteness of face, as if it were melted wax. She spoke quietly to the astonished Eldress Akulina, in the presence of both her nieces, Pelagia and Matrona (who had been told by the miserable Andrew everything that had happened to their "holy matushka" because of his ignorance. "I desire to confess," Maria said. “Send for the Batiushka, the spiritual father."
The lips of the righteous one opened for the final confession of her soul, which had always remained in holy repentance. The elder also was astonished at her incomprehensible healing before her very departure, hearing her rational, pure confession. After receiving Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, and in the days following this, Maria no longer pronounced a single word and did not reply to anyone's questions. She lay like living relics, folding her hands on her breast, which were fine and bloodlessly white, with closed eyes, sometimes pouring forth abundant tears which served to those surrounding her as the only witness to the presence of the soul in this fasting, dying body of the bloodless martyr. At noon on the ninth of February, I860, the soul of Maria, without disturbance, separated from her much suffering body.
News of the repose of the desert dweller spread far and wide about the neighboring villages. Such a multitude of people came to the burial as had never come to the great feasts at the St. Nicephorus Hermitage.
In the three days in which the reposed lay in the church, there was not a single sign of corruption. At the funeral service there appeared an inexplicable, miraculous shining of heavenly light which shone on the open face of the reposed, who was clothed in a white linen shirt and bound around the head with a black kerchief. This was so evident that it seemed to everyone that the shining was coming forth from her face like a ray of the sun coming from above; but it was a cloudy day, and in the small, cramped church, with a great congregation of people, the thin candles gave almost no light at all. This remarkable manifestation made a deep impression for a long time on all the monks and the simple laymen who with fearful reverence beheld face to face the fulfillment of the promise of the Saviour in the Gospel: that the righteous will shine "like the sun" in the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father.
HOME - ENGLISH
HOME - RUSSIAN