Venerable Martha (in the world Maria Semenovna Miliukova) was born Feb. 10, 1810 to a peasant family of the Nizhny-Novgorod province, Ardatsky district, village of Pogiblo (now Malinovka; “Robin”). The Miliukov household, righteous and of a godly life, was close to Elder Seraphim of Sarov. Besides Maria there were two other older children—a sister Praskovya Semenovna and a brother Ivan Semenovich. With the blessing of Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, Praskovya Semenovna entered the Diveyevo community and attained to a high spiritual life. Upon the death of his spouse Ivan entered the Sarov Hermitage.
When Maria turned thirteen, she went together with her sister Prasokovya to see Fr. Seraphim for the first time. This occurred on November 21, 1823, on the feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. The great elder, foreseeing that the girl Maria was a chosen vessel of the grace of God would not allow her to return home, but ordered her to stay in the Diveyevo community.
This extraordinary, wondrous, young, incomparable, angelic child of God from an early age began to lead an ascetic life, surpassing even the sisters of the monastery in the severity of her podvigs, becoming distinguished by her strictness of life. Unceasing prayer was her food, and she answered only necessary questions and with Heavenly meekness. She was almost completely silent and Fr. Seraphim especially gently and exceedingly loved her, revealing to her all his revelations, the future glory of the monastery, and other great spiritual mysteries.
Soon after Mary entered the community of the Kazan church the Most Holy Theotokos commanded St. Seraphim to start another female community next to that one, which is how the construction promised to the monastery’s Mother Alexandra by the Theotokos began. Two weeks after the appearance of the Mother God, on December 9, 1825, Maria and one sister went to see St. Seraphim, and Batiushka declared to them that they had to go with him to a remote desert. Arriving there, Batiushka gave the sisters two lit wax candles from those taken with them at his command together with oil and rusks, and instructed Maria to stand on the right side of the Crucifix hanging on the wall, and Praskovya Stepanovna on the left. Thus they stood more than an hour with the lit candles, with Fr. Seraphim praying the whole time, standing between them. Having prayed, he venerated the Crucifix and told them to pray and venerate. Before beginning the founding of the new community the saint prayed thus mystically with the sisters, elected by the Mother of God for special service to her and the monastery.
Maria struggled ascetically throughout the next four years, helping Venerable Seraphim and the sisters in building the new community. Together with them and other sisters she stored poles and timbers for the mill which the Mother of God blessed them to build on the site of the founding of the new community; she carried rocks for building the church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos; she ground flour and fulfilled other obediences, during which she never abandoned her heartfelt prayers, silently raising her burning spirit to the Lord.
She lived in the monastery only six years and at nineteen years of age on August 21, 1829 she peacefully and quietly departed to the Lord. Having foreseen in the spirit her hour of repose, Venerable Seraphim suddenly began to weep and with great sorrow told Fr. Paul in the neighboring cell “Paul! It seems Maria has departed, and I’m so sorry, it’s such a shame that, you see, I’m weeping!” Of her posthumous fate he said: “Such grace she was vouchsafed from the Lord! In the Heavenly Kingdom at the throne of God, near to the Heavenly Queen with the holy virgins she stands! She is Schemanun Martha—I myself tonsured her. Being in Diveyevo I never pass by without falling at her grave, saying: 'Our lady and mother Martha, remember us at the throne of God in the Heavenly Kingdom!'” After that Batiushka summoned to himself the faithful sister Ksenia Vasilievna Putkova, who he always ordered to record various names for commemorations, and said to her: “Matushka, record her, Maria, nun, because she by her own deeds and by the prayers of the wretched Seraphim there was found worthy of the schema! All of you pray for her as Schemanun Martha!” According to Venerable Seraphim, she is the head over the Diveyevo orphans in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the habitations of the Mother of God.
Maria Semenovna was tall and of beautiful appearance; she had a long white and sweet face, blue eyes, thick dark brown eyebrows and the same hair.