Archimandrite Naum (Baiborodin) as he would have turned ninety-one on that day. His mother’s children died in infancy one after another, and when he was born the pious woman prayed earnestly: “O Lord! O Mother of God! Grant life to this baby! May he become like St. Nicholas!” And her prayer was answered.
A priest who studied with the future elder at a seminary along with some spiritual children whom he once blessed to become monks, nuns, abbots and abbesses, have shared their memories of Fr. Naum. As is seen from these accounts, the elder was not too stern and never coerced obedience.
“Send anyone to me”
Protopresbyter Vladimir Divakov, Secretary of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in the city of Moscow, rector of the Greater Church of the Ascension near the Nikitskiye Gates in Moscow:
I remember Fr. Naum when he was Nikolai [the elder’s secular name]. We studied together at the theological seminary and academy. He received the monastic tonsure as a seminary student. It was absolutely clear to everybody that he would become a monk, so nobody was surprised when he was tonsured.
When we studied, I would sit at the front desk and tried to whisper the answer to the other students. But Nikolai, the future elder, was a man of principle and said:
“Please, no cheating! I will answer by myself.”
He was always very strict with himself and those around him. Later, after our studies, when he lived at the monastery and I served in my parish, Fr. Naum said to me one day:
“Do you know that sometimes I send people to you… I just tell them: ‘Say that you are from Fr. Naum.’ If we apply our monastic rules to them, we must punish such people very severely, though I think that in some cases it is better to apply the principle of economia rather than acryvia to sinners. But it is not appropriate for us to do it in the monastery. If you could do it in your parish, it would be wiser.”
“Well, I will send some parishioners to you too!” I answered.
“Yes, do it!” Fr. Naum agreed immediately. “Send anyone to me, even crazy ones! While waiting in a long line, they will be ‘confessed’ in such a manner that they will come up to me absolutely transformed! So, do send people to me!”
And I took advantage of the opportunity more than once. One day a woman came to my office and began to shout at me and threaten me. Suddenly she offered the “most weighty argument”:
“I will go and complain to Fr. Naum as the strictest defender of the canons!”
I was so glad to hear that and said:
“Do, please! Go to Fr. Naum and tell him what I’ve just said to you!”
A week later the door of my office opened and somebody crawled in on her knees.
“Father, forgive me! Father, forgive me!”
“What is the matter? Who are you?”
“Father, forgive me!” somebody was weeping.
“What? Did you speak with my former fellow-student in such a rude manner?! How could you ever say such a thing?!”
The woman was bowled over and said:
“Oh, forgive me, father!”
“Don’t come to me again until you apologize to him!”
So she came to me “crawling” and begged:
“Father, forgive me! Otherwise Fr. Naum won’t speak to me anymore!”
“Well, tell him that I forgive you!”
And that lady never came to my office to blow up at me again.
After our ordinations, Fr. Naum and I met very seldom, except perhaps the days when we gathered at the Lavra for the feasts of St. Sergius or the Holy Trinity Sunday, or when an assembly of the Lavra confessors came to us for patriarchal services.
Whenever we met at the dependency of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, or at one of the Kremlin churches, or somewhere else, I would say to him:
“Fr. Naum, I feel awkward about leading the service, all the more so in your presence… Can you do it instead of me?”
“No, no! You are close to the patriarch, but we are simple monks…”
Thus he acted modestly and meekly! A genuine monk. A faithful pastor of the Church in all respects. A perfect spiritual father.
“Even tiny things like this”
Igumen Cyprian (Parts), father-confessor of Moscow Sretensky Monastery:
I couldn’t get to speak to Fr. Naum for a long time. I would come and wait in the queue. Though I saw him and was sitting close to him, it was never my turn. At that time I served in the army and suddenly I went on a leave for a couple of days that coincided with Pascha. Though we were not supposed to do that, my “top brass” met me halfway, knowing that I am a religious person. Thus I took a two-day non-statutory leave of absence.
And on the Holy Saturday of 1993 I made straight for the Lavra. On my arrival I found that Fr. Naum’s “reception-room” was closed. Then I venerated the relics of St. Sergius and submitted an intercession list (which I wrote with a pencil). I went out to the church porch, where a woman in her fifties addressed me in a demanding, loud voice:
“Who is going to peel potatoes? Who can help?”
And I, a soldier, wanted to stay in the Lavra as long as possible. Thus I volunteered to peel the potatoes. We did the job for about an hour at most, after which the same woman led us to the old brethren’s refectory under the Refectory Church of St. Sergius for dinner. It was a very beautiful refectory with paintings. We dined there, and I had a substantial meal (as befits a soldier). As I was already acquainted with that middle-aged woman, I asked her:
“May I speak with Fr. Kirill or Fr. Naum?”
“Fr. Kirill is away. As for Fr. Naum, let’s go to him.”
And she led me past the bakery to the place behind the refectory church and the Lavra’s wall. It turned out that Fr. Naum secretly received his closest spiritual children there. Officially it was closed, but the closest spiritual children were allowed to come in. I sat down. There was only one abbess before me. And at last Fr. Naum received me. I confessed my sins to him. He gave me a copy of the Gospel in Church Slavonic, a private (“cell”) prayer rule for monastics, along with one book. The first volume of it was entitled, Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God; and the second volume was called And Renew a Right Spirit Within Me (cf. Ps. 50:10). The elder gave me the second volume (with a picture of St. Seraphim of Sarov on the cover), and guess where I obtained the first volume? Here, at Sretensky Monastery, which then was still not restored.
I remember that Fr. Naum, among other things, said the following to me:
“Be sure to serve well!”
(I was never put in the cooler for misconduct).
“Take care not to steal anything! Even tiny things like this,” (and he showed the size with his fingers).
I thought: “Well, yes, it is bad to steal.”
When I came back home to Mytishchi [a town near Moscow], I found a pencil in my pocket! It was the very pencil with which I had written the names for the intercession list by St. Sergius’s relics. It turned out that I had “swiped” it! And it was just the size that Fr. Naum had shown me!
It took me two years to give this pencil back (I forgot to do it every time). In the end, when two years later my sister was going to the Lavra I said to her:
“Olga, take two pencils! Give them to the venerable father. I once stole his pencil…”
That is, I returned him fourfold (cf. Lk. 19:8). The fact is that I had filched half a pencil and gave back two new whole pencils, that is—fourfold. It just happened that way. I had done it unintentionally. I calculated this in retrospect.
Later, when I was in the monastery, a spiritual daughter of Fr. Naum gave me his photo. Interestingly, Fr. Naum wanted to prevent people from taking a picture of him by putting his hand forward, and his fingers were folded in a configuration, as if he were still showing me: “even tiny things like this.”
Later when I was serving in the army I had temptations, and I asked my mother to go to Fr. Naum. My mother is a very dutiful person, so she went to the elder right away. And it was years later, when I joined the monastery brethren that I learned from other monks what Fr. Naum had told my mother about me (and she had shared these words with them):
“Let him walk his own path.”
That is, it was not her decision to bless me to enter the monastery. She obeyed the holy elder Naum! My mother was born on the feast of St. Sergius, October 8, 1940. And it was in the St. Sergius Lavra that she was told to allow her son to join the monastery.
The humility test
Abbess Nikolaya (Ilyina), Mother-Superior of St. Nicholas Chernoostrovsky Convent in the town of Maloyaroslavets, the Kaluga region:
Once Fr. Naum saved me from a very bad temptation. He just delayed my departure from the Lavra. I then was the abbess’s assistant at Shamordino Convent. Abbess Nikona (Peretyagina; 1941-2012) sent another nun to take me from the Lavra, but Fr. Naum said:
“I won’t let you go! Both of you! Go and pray there!”
So I was sitting and praying there right up to the evening. As it turned out, if I had been at the convent at that time, I wouldn’t have avoided an unpleasant problem related to my position.
According to our abbess, who was Fr. Naum’s spiritual daughter from her childhood, whenever she came to see Fr. Naum at the Lavra he would begin to reprove her in the presence of everybody:
“You smoke, don’t you?”
She was standing still, ashamed, and not contradicting him.
“You drink, you drink, don’t you? You are a drunkard!” he went on.
The abbess used to tell us that sometimes she was offended and left.
“Do you smoke?!” he would hurl an accusation in the presence of a great multitude of people.
“Yes, I do, father!” I would reply, coughing a little to make it look convincing.
“And you drink!”
“Yes, I do, father! Forgive me, I drink!”
“And you even drink while fasting!”
“No, I don’t!”
“Well done then!”
Of course, he praised me for my act of humility. But the merit was not mine.
I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments (Ps. 118:60).
From time to time Fr. Naum assigned me tasks that seemed bizarre. For example, once he sent me to the folk museum of Kozelsk [a town in the Kaluga region] to look at a stuffed bear there, which I did. Later, when I ended up in Maloyaroslavets, I saw the same bear on the town’s emblem!
People waiting in the queue to Fr. Naum would tell me that no matter how weird his task might seem, one ought to carry out this task as obedience so that the elder’s prayer could have an effect and solve one or another problem in one’s life.
On how Fr. Naum tried to send me to a convent
Nun Maria (Fomina), Fr. Naum’s spiritual daughter:
My mother would take me and my brother (now he is Metropolitan Nikon of Astrakhan and Kamyzyak) to Fr. Naum from childhood. Since we were children, he behaved with us as with children: Sometimes he gave us candy, sometimes he gave us toy sheep for Christmas. At one time he wanted me to become an abbess—but with toy sheep, not real ones…
“Father, it’s not my vocation,” I would say.
And he didn’t insist.
I remember ending up in Fr. Naum’s “reception-room”, when I was sixteen. And the elder declared:
“Now you must go to the city of Vladimir!”
I had just finished the ninth grade at school…
“And what about my studies?” I asked.
“That is sufficient for you,” he answered (the elder had completed school through the ninth grade, too).
Fr. Naum had a small community of sisters attached to the cathedral in Vladimir. So I went there to perform my obediences. I sang in the choir, worked as a cleaner and later even cleaned toilets to cultivate humility and prevent potential suitors from staring at me. After two years of obedience in Vladimir, Fr. Naum told me to spend myvacation at the convent in Riga.
“Go and ask for the abbess’s permission to join the community. Maybe she will bless you.”
I was aged under eighteen, while only women over the age of twenty-six were normally allowed to enter convents at that time—the rules were stricter than now. And I had no registration to boot… But all of a sudden the elder took a beautiful black piece of silk from somewhere and gave it to me, saying:
“Give it to the abbess. Ask her to sew you a cassock.”
I came to Riga and told everything to the mother-superior. At that time the convent’s abbess was Mother Magdalena (Zhegalova), who became noted for her ascetic life. I gave her the silk. She looked at it and said:
“We will sew you this kind of cassock when you grow up. For the time being you will wear a sateen one.”
She sent me to the hermitage convent for obedience. By that time I had grown very fond of Piukhtitsa Convent. A month later Mother Magdalena came to the hermitage convent where I performed my obediences. I thought: “I just hope she won’t take me into her convent!” But she said:
“I have prayed. I’ll take you!”
And I burst into tears. One could think that these were tears of joy…
“Go to Fr. Naum one more time,” Mother Magdalena said. “Since you have problems with registration, you will live in our convent and work at the hospital for the time being.”
I went to Fr. Naum. When I came to the Lavra, I learned that his mother, Pelagea Maximovna (in schema Sergia), had died earlier that day. I came up to the elder, who was sitting by the coffin. He gave me ninth Kathisma to read. It is amazing how Fr. Naum managed to receive people and answer their questions even before his own mother’s funeral. I told him everything.
“The mother-superior has said that she will take me. What do you bless me to do?” I asked.
“Stay with your mother for the time being. And then we’ll see what to do,” he answered. The elder looked straight into our hearts.
And he suddenly gave me a bag with his deceased mother’s clothes folded in it. He gave us his mother’s sewing machine into the bargain. We took good care of all of this.
So I lived with my mother for some time until Fr. Naum called me:
“What do you think? Can you be a choir director?”
“But father, I don’t know the notes!”
“Can you say ‘do-re-mi‘? Repeat it!”
“So come there! Can you imagine? The singers run off before the priest has time to come out and give a sermon!”
Thus I ended up at Kohtla-Järve, Estonia, where Fr. Vyacheslav Kurkin served. I came there without any knowledge of music. And the first service there was on the feast of Dormition. I was walking towards the church and crying:
“O All-Holy Virgin! How will I work as a choir director?! Please, help me find a way out!” I prayed, howling.
“But all the singers there came before the Revolution! How will I be their choir director?!”
But I suddenly heard somebody calling me from behind: “Ma-ri-na!” (It was my name before I was tonsured).
I turned around and saw my sister, Anna, who was running towards me as if out of nowhere! She was planning to get married after the feast of Dormition, but the elder didn’t bless her and sent her here after me.
For some reason the singers welcomed me with open arms, and their choir director helped and taught me a lot. I could hardly believe that all of this was happening to me!
True, I had temptations in that secular community of sisters as well; after those temptations I looked at convent life as Paradise… Fr. Naum knew that each of us needed to be trained and gain wisdom by our experiences (which sometimes meant being “educated in the school of hard knocks”).
One day Tamara Gorlanova, Fr. Naum’s other spiritual child, once came to our parish. I loved her dearly—she had been our senior sister at the community in Vladimir. (Now she is Nun Nadezhda, and lives near Fr. Naum’s birthplace in Novosibirsk). Thus Tamara said to me:
“The elder blesses you to go and ask permission to enter Piukhtitsa Convent!”
I was so happy to hear that! I wanted to go to Piukhtitsa from the very beginning but never told the elder about my desire, knowing that Fr. Naum knew better how to guide his spiritual children.
So I travelled to Piukhtitsa Convent (I had just turned eighteen and come of age, so the news was like a gift for my birthday!). When I arrived, I greeted Abbess Barbara (Trofimova; 1930-2011) and said:
“Mother, will you bless me to enter your convent? Fr. Naum has just given me his blessing.”
“I take you!” she said without a moment’s hesitation.
And, as it turned out, they were selecting the second group for Jerusalem. The first group had already been sent. And we were on the way… Twenty of us. But, for some reason, of all of them I eventually went to Jerusalem alone, though I liked Piukhtitsa and didn’t want to leave. And the abbess was not against me living in her convent. She said:
“Go to your spiritual father. What will he bless you to do?”
I hoped so much that he wouldn’t bless me, but as soon as I told him everything:
“I bless you with both hands!” he replied like a bishop.
“But how will I live there without your spiritual guidance?” I wondered.
“I entrust you to the Mother of God!” he responded.
This is how he set me up.
“For God’s sake nothing is difficult!” or a story about a storage battery
My mother would take me to Fr. Naum from the age of six, when I was a little girl.
Later when I studied at university, my mother told me right before vacation:
“Go to Fr. Naum and ask him where you should go.”
I came to the elder:
“Father, where do you bless me to go?”
“Go to Riga!”
“What is there in Riga?”
“Listen… Do you know Alexei?”
“Yes, I do…”
“Bring him a battery.”
I took that unwieldy thing and set off. When I arrived at the address in Riga indicated by him, I ended up in a convent!
Alexei was looking at me perplexedly:
“A battery?! But I already have one…”
But, seeing my bewilderment, he added with a smile:
“Okay! It may come in handy one day!”
I wonder how many batteries he received from different people…
Thus I ended up at the Holy Trinity Convent in Riga.
I was lodged with Mother Theodosia, Fr. Naum’s spiritual daughter, there. When we see these old women, rushing in the convent’s courtyard towards the church, we just cannot imagine that they are true ascetics.
A couple of days later its discipline made me moan and groan:
“Mother, how one can sleep so little?”
On top of that, bed bugs bit me there.
“You are a newcomer, so they’ve decided to attack you!” Nun Theodosia laughed.
After carrying out all of her duties of the day and walking around the convent in the cross procession Mother Theodosia would come back to her cell at about one in the morning… and begin her monastic prayer rule! I would fall asleep… And early in the morning, at half past four, while I slept, I could hear Mother Theodosia go out and hurry to pray at the prayer service.
“Mother, how do you manage all of this? That must be incredibly hard!”
She looked at me with her huge, blue eyes and said:
“For God’s sake nothing is difficult!”
I recall how my mother then came to the convent and, reading some note, turned to Nun Theodosia and asked her:
“Do they offend you there?”
Mother Theodosia bent her head and didn’t say a word. This is what genuine monasticism is about.
She was always invisible and silent. “God and I”—that was her monastic life.
One day Fr. Naum said to me:
“We thought you would become a nun!”
“No, no, father! I will marry!” I answered, having seen enough of monastic life and realizing how difficult it is.
He gave me his blessing and I married. Then I gave birth to three children. One day I came to Fr. Naum and said:
“Father, I want to get a job...”
“Here is your job!” he replied, pointing at my kids.
Though before my children’s birth I had worked in healthcare.
I remember how in 1987 Fr. Naum sent my mother and me to clear the area around Khotkovo Convent. As we were cleaning around the church, we saw a rail. We took it and carried it somewhere. When we needed to put it down, my mother moved her hands away, but I didn’t have time to withdraw my right hand. And this rail pressed down onto my hand. Mom would recall later: “You only grunted then.” I remember my eyes were popping out with fear: “How will I go to work tomorrow? How will I give injections to patients? What should I do?!” At that time I worked in the resuscitation department.
When we pulled my hand from under the rail we found my fingers were whole! Mom rushed away to tell the girls about the incident. They came tearing along and began to pour iodine onto my hand. “What are you doing that for?” I screamed, seeing this. Nevertheless, everybody was frightened and trying to help me somehow. And we decided to take a breather.
On my way to the refectory I peeped into the church and saw piles of trash inside it and thought that it would take us ages to clear the debris. But after lunch I looked through the church door opening and saw that the floor had been cleared and all the garbage had been taken out!
Everything happened in some miraculous way!
When I entered the church, I was shown a cleared space:
“The parents of St. Sergius of Radonezh, Kirill and Maria, are buried here.”
I touched the hand that had been crushed by the rail onto the saints’ graves, and next morning before going to work I couldn’t even recollect which hand had been injured—the right or the left! No trace of the injury was left!
Afterwards I would come to the elder on my own. Different thoughts, like a whirlwind, would carry me away. But Fr. Naum would keep me in suspense and test my patience (the thoughts of people were revealed to him!). Interestingly, he didn’t come out till I called him. One day I called him so loudly that Fr. Naum immediately ran out:
I was suddenly taken aback. Due to such a quick reaction the list of my requests “vanished into thin air”.
“My mother’s paramon1 is worn out.”
“Ah, her paramon. Please, bring her a new one,” he asked somebody, and soon it was done.
I plucked up my courage and said:
“Father, they don’t let me into your room.”
And somebody indeed had slammed the door in my face before then.
“Oh yes! Some come to me looking so meek, so humble!” he said, gazing around. “But I have only to ask them to stand here, and they suddenly change! I can’t figure out what happens to them!”
And he changed the subject. “Look! Your new sheepskin coat is so fashionable!”
“What has my coat got to do with that? Maybe he wants to comfort me?” I thought.)
Fr. Naum gave me his blessing and I left.
In the end I didn’t remember why I had come to Fr. Naum and cried there so loudly. The elder had the ability to solve people’s problems without asking them direct questions.
Later, when my children grew up, the Higher Theological School of the Sign opened at Zaikonospassky Monastery [near Moscow’s Red Square], and Fr. Naum sent some of his spiritual children to teach there. No institution of higher education had a theology department back then!
Actually, the elder predicted long before:
“You will teach and have between twenty and thirty students.”
“Did Fr. Naum say this? It will come true in twenty years,” this is what people in the Lavra used to say when referring to the elder. This seemed inconceivable in that era, but now, after many years, all these things have come true.