The Other Matrona: The Life and Podvig of the Confessor St. Matrona of Anemnyasevo

Blessed Matrona of Anemnyasevo was glorified as a locally-venerated saint of the Ryazan Diocese in 1999. At the Jubilee Bishops’ Council, she was canonized among the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia for Church-wide veneration. The podvig of her sanctity combines within itself both an example of extraordinary patience, fasting, and prayer, and an example of confession (the saint was arrested in 1936 and reposed in prison).

The biography of the ascetic was compiled during her lifetime by Fr. Nikolai Anatolievich Pravdolyubov and his brother Fr. Vladimir. For this handwritten book, its authors were arrested and condemned to many years in the camps. The author’s manuscript can be found today in the FSB archives of Archpriest Sergei Pravdolyubov, the rector of the Moscow Church of the Lifegiving Trinity in Troitsky-Golenischev.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and All Rus’, the glorification of the holy Blessed Matrona of Anemnyasevo was celebrated in the city of Kasimov in the Ryazan Diocese on the Thursday of St. Thomas Week, April 9/22, by Archbishop Simon of Ryazan and Kasimov with a synaxis of the clergy of the Ryazan Diocese.

Here we present an abbreviated life of Blessed Matrona, based on the books of Frs. Nikolai and Vladimir Pravdolyubov, under the editorship of Archpriest Sergei Pravodlyubov. It’s interesting that two Blessed Matronas (of Moscow and Ryazan), who were not only contemporaries, but bore similar podvigs, were glorified at roughly the same time. It can be assumed that future historians will declare them to be one person, with the differences in details being only folktales…

Photo: azbyka.ru Photo: azbyka.ru     

Matrona Grigorievna Belyakova was born on November 6, 1864 in the village of Anemnyasevo in the Kasimov District of the Ryazan Governorate. Her parents Gregory and Evdokia were perhaps the poorest people in the village, somehow operating a peasant farm. By external appearances, they were frail and feeble people and seemed to be somehow underdeveloped. Her father drank a lot and was known as the village drunk. They had a large household: six daughters and two sons. Three sisters died in childhood; Matrona was the fourth child.

Matrona was a normal child until the age of seven; like all children her age, she went out and played with her peers and friends. For some reason, her parents took a disliking to her from earliest childhood. The child’s life was an unhappy one in her parents’ home, where she had to endure insults, abuse, and beatings more than any of her brothers or sisters; but even greater sufferings awaited the girl in the future.

At seven, Matrona got smallpox. She recovered from the illness but remained forever blind. Then her responsibility was to babysit her younger sisters and brothers. It was difficult for the blind girl to cope with this work. Once, the ten-year-old Matrona accidentally dropped her sister off the porch. Seeing this, her mother grabbed her and began to sorely beat her. At that moment, the Heavenly Queen appeared before the girl’s spiritual gaze. Matrona told her mother about it, but she continued beating her even stronger. The vision repeated three times. During the last vision, the Most Holy Theotokos gave Matrona a comforting note. Blessed Matrona never told anyone what this note was and what it contained.

The next morning, the crippled girl couldn’t get up from the stove. From that time, the life of a martyr, pinned down to the bed, began for Matrona. She forever lost the ability to walk or do anything and she didn’t get out of bed for the rest of her life.

Thus, Matrona laid in her parent’s house until she was seventeen, patiently enduring all sorts of sorrows and offenses, finding solace and joy only in prayer. Her fellow villagers knew about her anguished life and treated her with a sense of pious respect. People started going to see her from the time she was seventeen. The first to come to her for help was a peasant of her village, a sawyer by trade.

“Matrona,” he said, “you’ve already been lying there for several years—God must be pleased with you. My back hurts and I can’t saw. Touch my back, maybe it’ll pass. What can I do? I’ve been treated—doctors can’t help.”

Matrona fulfilled his request—the pain in his back stopped and he went back to work.

This peasant told one of his neighbors about his healing, and the neighbor said: “I’ll go see her too: We’ve been tortured by children, and the twelfth will be born soon; I’ll ask her to pray that the Lord would give us no more children.”

He went to see Matrona and asked her to pray. She prayed, and they had no more children.

From that time, more and more people began to go to Matrona with their needs, sorrows, and illnesses. In time, these visits took on the character of a true pilgrimage: Not only the inhabitants of the surrounding places, but also of distant, and sometimes the most distant places of Russia would go to Matrona. Moreover, they came in an endless stream by the dozens daily for more than fifty years, and sometimes by the hundreds.

When Matrona was lying at her parent’s place, and visitors would bring her various donations for her prayers, her father usually took all of it for tobacco or vodka, and it was difficult for her that the donations didn’t go towards a good cause. She loved to share everything with people, and, especially, with the poor, but under such circumstances, she was deprived of this chance.

After the death of her parents, Matrona had to endure many sorrows from her brother and sister, who looked at her only as a means of income. Her sister later seized the house built by those who revered the blessed one.

Matrona moved away from her sister to the home of her nephew Matthew Sergeevich, a kind and religious man. But here, affliction awaited Matrona from another angle. Matthew’s children had grown a little, and the villagers began to laugh at them and mock them. It was hard for these youngsters to endure such mockery. But it was especially difficult for Matrona. She was tormented and deeply grieved that these completely innocent people had to endure sometimes very heavy ridicule and insults because of her. This ridicule especially intensified in the revolutionary years in connection with the anti-religious movement.

Matrona usually lay in a small separate room of the peasant hut, in a small children’s cot, which was always covered with a curtain. In the summer, when it was stuffy in the hut, they usually took her out into the entrayway, and she lay there until winter. She herself never asked to be moved to the hut, and patiently endured the autumn cold and frost. Her relatives, except for her nephew, paid no attention to her and moved her into the hut only when they saw that it was no longer possible to lie in the entryway.

“Once,” Matrona recalls, “in October I was lying in the entryway and there was strong rain at night. Water poured on me through the roof, and I was soaked to the bone. By morning there was frost; I was terribly cold and my clothes were all icy. My sister saw it in the morning, took pity on me, and moved me into the hut, for which I was grateful to her.

Those coming to her in the autumn cold would often marvel at her patience and ask: “Matrona, aren’t you cold?”

“No, no, it’s warm,” she usually answered in such cases. “Look how hot I am,” and she would give her hand, and it was indeed hot.

By external appearances, Matrona was so small that she seemed like a ten-year-old child. Her dress, a gift from one of those who revered her, completely covered her, including her feet, at just three feet in length. Apparently, from the age of ten, from the time she lost the ability to walk, her body did not grow and remained forever as it was when she was a ten-year-old girl. She was able to roll from one side to the other, wiggle her arms, and grab small items. She spoke easily and freely and sang sacred hymns in a surprisingly clear and sonorous childlike voice.

No one knows how she prayed to God. It is known only that Matrona knew many prayers and many akathists and Church hymns by heart.

In conversation with her visitors, she would often read various prayers aloud that were relevant to the given situation. Sometimes she would read entire akathists; she read quickly and confidently in a loud voice. She sang Church hymns, perfectly maintaining the features of the voices and chants.

One of her amazed visitors asked how she, being blind, could know even entire akathists by heart, and Matrona answered that “a good man will come and read something, and I will remember it with God’s help.”

Photo: foma.ru Photo: foma.ru     

Matrona often communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, every month without fail. To this end, she would invite her spiritual father—the parish priest—to come, and the day on which she received the Holy Mysteries was the most joyous day for her. She had Unction five times throughout the course of her life.

Matrona especially strictly followed the fasts. She stopped eating meat from the age of seventeen. In addition to Wednesdays and Fridays, she kept the same fast on Monday. She ate almost nothing during the Church fasts, or ate very little. In addition to her podvigs of fasting and prayer, the blessed one, as has already been said, voluntarily endured the cold, and also sorted the rocks brought to her from various holy places by those who revered her.

Matrona greatly respected the clergy and always invariably treated every priest with deep reverence. But with the schismatic renovationists, in whatever rank they were, she was, on the contrary, very strict. She used to call one parish priest who transferred to the renovationists, “Our Peter.”

Matrona’s great zeal for Orthodoxy is demonstrated by one of her admirers, a resident of the city of Kasimov, Maria Ivanovna Putilina. Maria’s aunt died. The aunt’s son was the warden in the Kasimov Cathedral, and a renovationist[1] hierarch was serving in the cathedral at that time. The son, according to the desire of the deceased, wanted to carry her from her home to the cathedral and to the cemetery church. Another of her sons was in prison at the time. He appealed to the authorities to let him go say goodbye to his mother. They released him for three days on the condition that the renovationist bishop would bury her in the cathedral, to which her relatives agreed.

The Psalter for the deceased was read by the nuns. When they learned that the renovationist bishop would serve the funeral, they took the Psalter and left. The deceased’s son and Maria Ivanovna arrived by evening. The son asked Maria Ivanovna to read the Psalter. She began to read and read about an hour until the hierarch came to serve the Vigil. She immediately left and didn’t even see the bishop. She returned at night with a Nun Akilina, and they read the Psalter together all night until the removal of the body. Maria and Mother Akilina were not at the removal and they buried her without them.

Mother Akilina received a penance from her abbess. A week later, Maria went to see Matrona and told her everything. Matrona felt sorry for her aunt: “Well, it’s not her fault that they buried her like that.”

Three nuns from the St. Vladimir Hermitage were sitting with Matrona then, and she suddenly said to them: “Do you speak with Maria Ivanonvna?”

“We haven’t seen her for a long time—we would like to talk with her.”

“But she’s a renovationist!”

“My God, if you could only imagine,” said Maria Ivanovna, “how in one second they got up and walked away from me, into another room, and I was left alone! There was a dead silence. I can’t convey that state; it was terrible. I looked at the Crucifix and thought: ‘O, Lord! Everyone left me—don’t You leave me!’”

Maria wept bitterly. She prayed and repented in her soul, and wept for a long time. Finally, Matrona took pity on her: “Well, you’ve wept and repented before the Lord God; prepare yourself, take Communion, tell the priest everything at confession, and that’ll be that.”

“What should I have done, should I not have read at all?”

“You should not have read at all.”

“And will you accept me?”

“I will, since you have repented before God. And that’s all!”

With these words, Maria Ivanovna became happy and joyous, and the nuns again spoke with her as before.

Matrona especially loved nuns and virgins in general. She placed nuns above laity, forgave them everything, and was as a child with them.

“I don’t have the opportunity to be there, in a monastery,” she often said, expressing her regret to them.

“Nuns,” she would say, “will fall many times. They will fall but will still rise again. But in the world someone falls, and he has no time to get up. The world is full of temptations, everything is uncomfortable. We are all intemperate, and sometimes we cannot manage to not sin, and sometimes we will weep…

Of the holy places, Matrona had the greatest reverence for Jerusalem and the monasteries of Diveyevo and Sarov. She spoke of them with special affection and love. She always advised her pious visitors to go to Diveyevo and Sarov, considering them places of the special presence of the grace of God. And she rejoiced when they took her advice.

Never leaving her room, Matrona knew many holy and pious people, scattered across the face of the Russian land, and was in blessed inner communion with them, although she never saw them or spoke with them.

With her internal, spiritual vision, Matrona as if saw straight through every one of her visitors and gave all of them what was necessary or useful for them depending on their mood, their spiritual infirmities, and needs, and depending on the conditions and circumstances they had to live in.

Some of them she taught and instructed, others she denounced and revealed their sins and vices to, others she encouraged and consoled in the difficult circumstances of their lives, others she warned, pointing out the consequences of their wrong path, aspirations, and intentions, yet others she healed of diseases, and all of them together she tried to guide on the path of the true, God-pleasing Christian life. This explains the diversity of her relationships with her visitors. She received some extremely fondly, with joy and participation, as dear and close people. Others she chased away, which was very rare. This happened, as her visitors said, either when someone would come to her out of idle curiosity, or when it was necessary to correct the person. When such a person would leave Matrona, he would think about himself and realize his sins. If after that he would go see Matrona again, she would receive him with joy.

Healings from numerous serious ailments occurred by Blessed Matrona’s prayers, when even doctors didn’t believe in the possibility of recovery, having recently seen an unfavorable outcome. Those who resorted to the blessed one were healed from drunkenness and from the spiritual disease of demonic possession. Anna, a young girl of nineteen from the neighboring village joined the Party against the will of her parents—good and religious people. Soon after that, Anna’s arms and legs went numb. She lay at home motionless for six weeks—the doctors could not help her. Her mother took her by horse to Matrona, who anointed her with oil from her lampada, and Anna began to gradually recover and began to walk, but she did not completely recover. Two years later, Matrona blessed Anna to go to Sarov and Diveyevo. On the way to Sarov, Anna and her mother spent the night at the home of a pious woman who had a holy relic from Jerusalem. Then it was discovered that the girl was possessed by a demon—she feared the relic and screamed and ran away. In Diveyevo, having visited Blessed Maria Ivanovna and having bathed in St. Seraphim’s spring, Anna was healed. After this incident, Anna became deeply religious and greatly revered Matrona.

Beginning with Great Lent 1933, Matrona significantly changed. If before she behaved very simply with everyone, pitying all, delving into the grief of every person, conversing long and eagerly, discussing all sorts of everyday affairs, then now the blessed one as if completely ceased to be interested in earthly life. She began to speak of earthly affairs only rarely and unwillingly, only in exceptional cases. But about the spiritual life, and even moreso about the future life, she was ready to speak both and night. She very eagerly and lovingly received people who came to her with questions of a spiritual nature.

“I am no longer Matrona,” she told one of those who revered her, “but Mardaria…” It is said that she was secretly tonsured into monasticism by the Sarov elders, but how accurate these conversations were, we cannot say.

In late June 1933, Matrona’s biographer visited her—the rector of the Kasimov-Kazan Monastery, Fr. Nikolai Pravodlyubov, with his matushka Pelagia Ivanovna. Matrona spoke long and eagerly with them. She talked a lot about the severity of life, about sufferings, amd about the need to endure everything that the Lord sends. In support of her words and thoughts, she brought forth texts from Sacred Scripture, facts and events from the lives of the saints, and she read prayers sent to her from Mt. Athos. Although she shied away from conversations about herself, answering only with general phrases, Fr. Nikolai and his matushka were very interested in it and asked her about herself.

The book Orthodox Miracles in the Twentieth Century describes a miraculous event that occurred around 1930 with Sergei Alexeevich Nikitin, the future bishop Stephen. He found himself in a concentration camp, and since he was a doctor, he was assigned to head the clinic. He was merciful to the prisoners, freeing many of them from work and sending them to the hospital. He was denounced for this, and they threatened to extend his term in the camp to fifteen years. One nurse from among the prisoners, familiar with Blessed Matrona, advised him to turn to her for help. At first it seemed strange to Sergei and similar to witchcraft: How could she hear someone from so great a distance. But all the same, while out on a walk, he whispered his request in the direction of the Ryazan Province.

Suddenly a change in the camp administration took place: One person was removed and another appointed. Three years later, having been released, Sergei Alexeevich headed straight for the Ryazan Province to look for Blessed Matrona. He asked the locals about Matrona and found her house in Anemnyasevo.

“Hello, Serezhenka,” Blessed Matrona said, calling this unknown man by name. “You’re the one who called me that time. Well, tell me, how’s life?”

Sergei told her about himself, and she foretold that he would be a bishop, and it came true.

About the final days and the repose of Blessed Matrona, this is what is known:

In the summer of 1935, a case was brought against “The Pravdolyubov priests[2] and the sick degenerate Matrona Belyakova” in Belkova. It arose from the denunciation from one resident of Kasimov against Fr. Nikolai Pravdolyubov in connection with the handwritten book gathered and written by him and his brother and prepared for printing. Ten people were arrested (although twelve were supposed to have been arrested). One woman died after receiving the summons demanding to appear in the NKVD Department of Kasimov. According to the list, Blessed Matrona also should have been arrested. All of those arrested were already sent to Ryazan and Moscow, but they were afraid to touch Matrona.

Finally, a collective farm meeting was held at which it was resolved to “remove” Matrona Grigorievna Belyakova as a “harmful element.” Of the villages 300 inhabitants, twenty-four activists signed. The village council produced a report in which she is directly and openly called a saint without any quotation marks or irony. “The given citizen is a harmful element in the village; by her holiness she strongly influences the dark masses… In light of this, the village council is suspending the process of collectivization.”

After sending the prisoners to Ryazan, a car was sent for Blessed Matrona. They drove up to her house in the morning, not concealing themselves. They went in. Suddenly they were gripped by fear and were afraid to approach her. The on-duty chairman of the village council approached, and, overcoming his fear, lifted Matronushka from her wooden bed. She screamed in a thin voice. The people froze. The chairman started carrying her out. In the doorway, he said: “Oh, how light you are!”

Matrona said: “And your children will be just as light.”

Several years later, the archpriest of the Holy Trinity Church in the village of Gus-Zhelezny, Fr. Seraphim, buried one of the sons of the then-chairman. He was very small. All of the chairman’s children stopped growing after the arrest of Blessed Matrona.

The car broke down twice on the way to Kasimov. One of them held Blessed Matrona in their arms while the car was being fixed. They quickly drove her from Kasimov to Ryazan and then to Moscow.

Several years later, the chairman who “seized” Blessed Matrona suffered a very painful death. It was in the summer. All of the windows were open because of the heat. He screamed so loudly from the pain that half the village could hear him. The people said: “It’s not easy as taking Matrona away!”

But he called for a priest and sincerely and fervently repented of his sins, and died in peace with the Church.

Only scant information is known about the Moscow period of Blessed Matrona’s life. She spent almost a year there. Presumably, she was held in Butyrka Prison,[3] but she was not there long because she became an object of veneration for nearly all of the prisoners, who began to sing akathists and pray. She should have been placed somewhere. They were afraid to kill her, and they didn’t want to send her to a camp because of the example of the rising number of convicts praying in prison.

According to other reports, the hopelessly ill mother of the investigator who led the case against Blessed Matrona was healed by her, and the investigator was able to release her as sick and dying. He placed her in a home for the elderly and crippled.

Official documents testify that Blessed Matrona died from heart failure on July 16/29, 1936 in the Radischev House of Chronicles in Moscow, not far from the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Vladykino. As there was a large Vladykino cemetery next to the House of Chronicles, partially preserved to this day, it can be supposed that Blessed Matrona was buried there at the old local cemetery.

Celebration of St. Matrona's feast day at the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Vladykino. Photo: rpb-v.ru Celebration of St. Matrona's feast day at the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Vladykino. Photo: rpb-v.ru     

In our days, as eighty years ago, St. Matrona of Anemnyasevo gives blessed help in answer to prayers. Archpriest Sergei Pravdolyubov, the rector of the Church of the Lifegiving Trinity in Troitsky-Golenischev, and many of his parishioners, testify to modern-day miracles by the prayers of St. Matrona:

The employees of the church Anatoly and Joanna had no children after eight years of marriage. They entreated St. Matrona for the gift of a child, and in answer to their prayer they had a daughter.

Parishioner Galina had serious problems with her feet. It was difficult for the elderly woman to go to the services, which grieved her greatly. She fervently prayed to the two blessed Matronas: of Anemnyasevo and of Moscow. In answer to her prayer, paper icons of them began to exude droplets of fragrant liquid. Many parishioners from Holy Trinity visited Galina’s apartment, venerated the myrrh-streaming icons of both the saints, and anointed themselves with the myrrh flowing from them. Galina felt markedly better and her feet stopped hurting.

The rector Fr. Sergei was driving along the Berezhkovsk Embankment when suddenly there was an accident. According to Fr. Sergei, he was saved from falling into the Moscow River only because he managed to instantly call upon the help of Blessed Matrona.

An elderly woman in Kasimov suffering from sciatica was grieved because she was unable to get up and go to the services. She fervently prayed to Blessed Matrona for help. Suddenly her entire body became warm, and when it passed, she felt healthy, and she got up and went to church.

Many candles are always burning before the revered icon of Blessed Matrona in the Church of the Lifegiving Trinity in Troitsky-Galenischev, such that it’s hard to find a free spot on the candle stand. The candle stand was the gift of one parishioner family that venerates St. Matrona. The faithful always order molebens to her, and many come from afar, having heard of the miracles of Blessed Matrona. There are too many stories of her blessed help to tell: with finding employment, and with family troubles, and with the upbringing of children.

Prepared by Olga Kurova
Translated by Jesse Dominick

Pravoslavie.ru

7/29/2019

[1] The Living, or “Renovationist” Church was a Soviet-supported church in 1922-1946, used to try to destroy the true Church.—Trans.

[2] A derogatory word for “priests” is used here—“попов” (popov).—Trans.

[3] A prison in the Tverskoy District of Moscow, where many political prisoners were held in Soviet times—Trans.

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