From ancient times until 1868 the Convent of the Kazan icon of the Holy Theotokos in the city of Kaluga [around 100 miles southwest of Moscow] was the only convent in the diocese of Kaluga. Closed after the Bolshevik Revolution, its revival began in 1991. Its sisters have experienced very much over these years and are willing to share some of their stories—sad, funny, and edifying ones.
“There won’t be any rain no matter how long we serve”
Several years ago our Kaluga region was suffering from bad drought, which naturally affected our convent’s crops and gardening. There are many Church feasts in late July to early August, and our convent held long daily Vigil services: the feasts of the Kaluga icon of the Mother of God, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Holy Prophet Elijah, and the Vigil before Sunday. A young newly ordained hieromonk was sent to our convent to do his forty services in succession. He didn’t know them very well and had some problems.
At that time we decided to perform a prayer service for rain. When he saw that the service consisted of numerous prayers, he clutched his head. It should be noted that the forecast for the next few days showed no sign of rain. And the young hieromonk exclaimed in despair:
“There won’t be any rain no matter how long we serve!” The sisters firmly believed that if the prayer service is celebrated, the Lord would surely send them rain.
The following day was hot as usual, and the sky was clear, blue and cloudless. After the Liturgy the hieromonk nevertheless began the prayer service for rain with a bitter cry to God out of his own fatigue and the hopelessness (as he believed) of that venture. All the sisters were praying too. At the end of the service the rain came down in torrents!
When all of them went outside, they saw a marvelous sight: It was broiling hot, the sky was blue as before, and the only dark storm cloud had gathered just above the convent and was pouring out torrents of water. Everybody was amazed by the miracle! But the greatest amazement was that of the young clergyman as he looked at the rain that had started after his prayer service.
Our convent’s mother superior, Abbess Anastasia (Mordmillovich), teaches us to trust God through obedience. This is the essence of our monastic life. We came to the convent to devote ourselves to the Lord. If we have resolved to give our lives to God, but begin to gradually “steal” our will and our reasoning from God, remain self-willed and disobedient, we are moving in the opposite direction and are not doing our work for which we have come to the convent.
Why is monastic life referred to as bloodless martyrdom? Because it is very difficult to cut off one’s will, to give oneself to God and surrender to Him. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts (Is. 55:8,9). What we believe to be good (according to our human reason, damaged by passions) may be worthless and waste in the eyes of God.
Obedience in a monastery or a convent is an example of confidence in God in one’s life. The following story is precisely about that. Nun Athanasia’s obedience is sewing for the sisters. One day she needed to buy a few kinds of cloth: ordinary material for outside podrasniks, better-quality material for church ryassas, velvet for priests’ scufias and so forth.
The convent’s treasurer, Mother Seraphima, enquired about the prices on the internet, looked for warehouses and gave the convent’s seamstress several addresses of sales outlets and handed 5,000 rubles [c. 75.60 USD] to her for this purpose, saying:
“Buy several bolts of cloth.”
Mother Athanasia was very confused and even annoyed at such a small amount of money. Who in our days can buy a few bolts of cloth for 5,000 rubles and “deny oneself nothing”? But she decided to show obedience to her senior sister and didn’t start arguing. Soon Abbess Anastasia called her and blessed her to buy a beautiful velvet altar Gospel with fasteners into the bargain for the same amount of money.
“How, mother? I have only 5,000 rubles!”
“Take 2,000 rubles more [c. 30.24 USD].”
But 7,000 rubles were not sufficient for buying both the altar Gospel and cloth—they were too expensive. Nun Athanasia didn’t argue this time either and went to Moscow, feeling completely unsettled.
The first thing she did was to buy an altar Gospel and after this she had very little money left. When she arrived to the first warehouse in the list she was told:
“We have remnants from this roll of cloth and remnants from that one. We will give you a discount.”
And she bought some excellent fabric at a great discount. The same happened at the next warehouse. When she arrived to the third warehouse there was a fair there. A young married couple with the wife’s mother-in-law were attending to customers at their stall. The elderly mother-in-law was not well disposed towards the “woman in monastic habit” [Mother Athanasia] and said that they had nothing suitable for her.
But as soon as the young couple stopped talking, they addressed the nun:
“What would you like?”
Mother Athanasia explained everything to them, and the couple found all that she needed, and declared:
“Since we have had this bolt in store for a long time, we will reduce its price for you.”
So the nun bought the bolt for half its price. Then the couple found another roll and knocked seventy per cent off the price! Thus, not only did the seamstress succeed in purchasing all that she needed for that modest sum, she also brought the change to her treasurer. The nun admitted she was ashamed of her distrust of obedience and the blessing.
And when does it happen differently? When people disobey. Our next story is about this.
The main sign that a thought is from the satan is when it becomes an obsession—that is, continually intrudes on a person’s mind. Once an idée fixe kept haunting one of our sisters. One day the convent bought her very good leather shoes. There was nothing unusual about that: nuns are provided with all necessary things at our convent as well as elsewhere.
The shoes suited her perfectly, but the sister wanted to obtain corrective insoles for them. She herself was unsure why she needed insoles of this kind. It turned out that there were no insoles deserving this nun’s attention in our city, so she asked the abbess to let her go to the neighboring city and purchase the thing she desired so much.
We should remark in passing that this young and quite strong sister sought to improve her health all the time. Our mother-superior who has been a nun for almost thirty years is a highly spiritual person; so she figured out that our sister’s obsession with corrective insoles was nothing but a temptation.
She tried to explain to her spiritual child that it was not a good idea to leave the convent except in cases of emergency, let alone to get hold of something that you don’t really need. She reminded her of monastic obedience. But despite all her efforts to talk the nun out of it the sister remained adamant and wangled the abbess’s permission to travel to another city.
She found corrective insoles there, tried them inside her shoes, and, of course, bought them as they fitted her well. She happily put the shoes under her arm, took the bag with the new acquisition into the other hand and made for the railway station. But at the station she fell and badly hurt her knee. Due to her pain the nun forgot the new shoes at the station and got back to the convent without them.
Having limped to the convent with difficulty, the nun summed up sadly: she had lost her shoes and couldn’t walk anymore, yet she had her “longed-for” insoles! The huge bruise on her leg resulted in swelling and pain, and the sister who took such extreme care of her health ended up in hospital. After hospital she had even to use a wheelchair for some time.
Divine providence was evident in this story: If you want to profit from something through disobedience, this may have detrimental effects. The Lord, trying to bring His disobedient child to his senses, will have to give him a bitter pill to swallow.
In search of a “carefree” place
Another sister twice left our convent and both times came back. She was trying to find a quiet, “carefree” place, where she would have no temptations, where she could “live her spiritual life” in comfort, where nobody could hinder her in her labors or prevent her from having a good opinion of herself.
Once she left the convent, crossed the region’s border and set about travelling across the Russian land in search of a peaceful corner. Soon she saw a signpost reading “Pridurkovo” [meaning “of dolts” in Russian]. That gave her something to think about. She drove on until another road sign appeared soon: “Durakovo” [meaning “of fools”]. “There is something fishy about them,” she thought. But when the sister saw the next sign, “Besovo” [meaning “of demons”], she sensed that she was moving in a wrong direction.
It was then that the nun remembered the words of the Holy Fathers: “Our circumstances are the language in which the Lord speaks with us.” Thus she realized that her venture was not pleasing to God and returned to the convent.
As the Holy Elder Nikon of Optina said: “There is not, never was, and never will be a place on earth without sorrow. There can only be a place without sorrow in the heart, when the Lord is in it.1”
“Have you got a pill left in your pocket?”
Novice Olga, a hospital nurse, graduated from St. Dimitry’s Specialized Nursing School in Moscow. At the convent she takes care of elderly nuns. She is always up to her neck in her work, which is very tiresome, but she tries her best not to turn down any of the aged nuns’ requests and to console them.
One day during meal time Olga’s obedience was reading (they perform this obedience by turns). After everybody had finished, Olga sat down to eat at last. Her feet were buzzing, and she had had her fill of running since morning. And scarcely had she relaxed and put the spoon in her mouth when she felt that somebody was bending over her. It was the aged Nun Alexia. Though the latter was eighty-five, she would go to the meal unaided and always take a lot of pills—even when she didn’t really need them. And this time Mother Alexia, who was as spry as ever, asked politely:
“Olechka [a diminutive form of the name Olga], have you got a Glycine tablet left in your pocket?”
Olga realized she would have to lay aside her work, go and find Mother Seraphima (the treasurer) with the key to the pharmacy, and then go up to the second floor and get a Glycine tablet. But since Olga does all she can to show love to all those under her care, she contained her discontent and replied gently:
“Sure! We’ll find a tablet for you in a moment.”
Barely had Olga lowered her gaze to the plate to finish up her soup when she felt that somebody else was bending over her. The nurse lifted her head and saw Mother Maria, another nun, in front of her:
“Olga, I’ve got a package of Glycine left in my pocket. Do you need it?”
This is how the Lord gives comfort to His novices.
Our “bell of silence”
Every day after ten P.M. we ring the “bell of silence” and all conversations stop until next morning. If we do need to say something important to each other after ten o’clock, we communicate through signs (in order not to disobey the blessing), so we have already gotten used to sign language.
But our readers may doubt and argue: Are you not even allowed to talk about important things? The fact is that once our sisters (not least the younger ones) have begun a conversation for some serious reason, they easily get carried away and inevitably indulge in idle talking. We are well aware of our womanly weakness of talkativeness and try to keep away from idle conversations.
Among those under our care are some disabled children from Sergiyev Posad. There is a home for deaf-and-dumb and blind children there, and we have been on friendly terms with them for many years. Today many of them study at the specialized boarding-school for the deaf-and-dumb in Kaluga where they are taught shoemaking, sewing, basket weaving, and needlework. They spend every weekend at our convent: they attend our services, join us for the meal, and even help us by picking currants and haws, and working in the cowshed.
Once one of these girls who could speak said to our nuns cheerfully:
“You are accustomed to communicating through signs, so you can understand our deaf-and-dumb children too!”
“Irinka-yes”, “Tanechka-yes-yes”, and “Ulyanka—not-for-the-world”
Ulyanka [a diminutive form of the name Ulyana] and Tanechka [a diminutive form of the name Tatiana], who are disabled from childhood, stayed with us over the summer. Besides, Irinka [an affectionate form of the name Irina] who has also been disabled since childhood, lives with us permanently and is the “protectress of kittens”. She has a special fondness for the world of nature—all domestic animals and other living creatures. She worries about them, prays for them and is not afraid of any animals. The convent’s chickens, cows, and cats are in her unremitting care and attention. Whenever any of them falls sick and “classical” methods of treatment prove ineffective, the nuns say:
“Let’s call Irinka! Let her pray for them.”
This Irinka has a favorite habit: she repeats the word she has just heard and adds “Yes!” after it.
Ulyanka calls Irinka, “Irinka—yes”. Tanechka likes to say, “Yes-yes!” so she has been nicknamed “Tanechka—yes-yes”. As for Ulyanka, her favorite expression is “I won’t do it! Not for the world!” But, quite contrary to this, we could learn humility and self-sacrifice from her. Although she has sore legs, Ulyanka is always willing to comply with anybody’s requests and help all who need help. So, first she protests, “I don’t want to do it! Not for the world!” but then carries out the assignment, like one of the sons from the parable (cf. Mt. 21:28-30), who said that he wouldn’t work in his father’s vineyard, but afterwards repented and went.
Last winter our young Nun Seraphima fell seriously ill (her condition was called pneumothorax). She underwent a surgery, and we stayed up to pray for her at night.
Earlier, our spiritual mother, Mother Nikolaya, had undergone a surgery as well, and our father-confessor, Fr. Michael, had blessed our whole sisterhood to pray for her together over the night before the operation (and to do the same in any life-threatening situations). So, when our Seraphima was in the hospital, we gathered at church at midnight and read the canon for the sick, along with other prayers and petitions. We prayed till six in the morning.
And our handicapped girls were praying with us. They didn’t want to go to bed and even asked us:
“May we pray and keep fast until Mother Seraphima recovers?”
They were eager to perform this spiritual labor and “were bursting to go into action”, as the saying goes, although we didn’t allow them to do it. The Lord answered the nighttime prayer: now Nun Seraphima is herself again.
Mother Angelina and the dog, Verny
Mother Angelina, a senior sister of our convent, like Irinka is fond of animals. Among her pets are the blind male cat Krotik (which she saved from imminent death in the street) and the convent’s male dog Verny (“Faithful”). Indeed he is a faithful friend. The moment Nun Angelina claps her hands, Verny is on the spot!
One day the dog didn’t respond after the nun had clapped her hands. She even started applauding, but Verny was silent. She looked for the “lost dog” and at last found it sitting still with its back to her, staring with full devotion at the cook in the summer kitchen who was cooking food for the convent’s animals.
Mother Angelina said with bitterness in her voice:
“You are a venal creature! And I call you ‘Faithful’... You have sold me out for a piece of meat!”
The cook, Mother Makaria, looked out of the refectory and made a remark with a smile:
“No, it has done this for just a leaf of cabbage!”
A medicine for allergic reaction to medicine
Mother Angelina loved Verny dearly and gave him treats all the time. But the more she gave him treats the more illnesses he developed. Eventually medications and injections caused her pet to have allergic reactions, so the nun had to buy medicines to cure the dog’s drug allergy. After that the mother-superior said to her spiritual daughter:
“Stop this. Leave the dog in peace.”
With a stab of regret Mother Angelina heeded the abbess’s advice, and the dog recuperated completely. Soon the mother-superior said to her sisters:
“The more we care for the object of our passion and turn our care into passion the worse the object of our passion feels.”
Irinka, the “protectress of kittens”, heard these words and remembered them. One day when our parishioner was telling us with great enthusiasm how she was treating her little dog for a long time, Irinka clapped her hands and shouted with delight:
“Like Mother Angelina! Like Mother Angelina!”
Mother Maria was going to an Orthodox fair. She wanted to ask in the convent’s kitchen for a bar of chocolate before leaving but decided to cut off her desire and not to ask for this delicacy.
From the day of Nun Maria’s arrival to the Orthodox fair she was treated to chocolate on a daily basis. With every passing day she received more and more chocolate and on the last day of the fair she was given a giant bar of chocolate which was as big as a box of chocolates. The nun gave it to somebody else.
How Blessed Matrona is taking part in the building of her church
We have been building a church in honor of the Blessed Matrona of Moscow and doing this with the support of the faithful. We have recently suspended construction work due to the lack of bricks and lack of funding. And we got a phone call from the Kaluga News agency:
“We heard that you have been restoring the oldest convent in the Kaluga region. Can you tell us anything about this?”
“Come to our convent and we will tell you.”
When they came, our mother-superior said to them:
“Do you see the construction site? Yesterday workers were working there, but today nobody is here. The building project has been suspended as we have neither bricks nor resources. If a benefactor turns up to donate bricks or funds, St. Matrona will surely return his kindness.”
It was on Friday. And on Saturday Mother Paphnutia returned from the chapel and said to the abbess:
“Mother, one man says he saw our interview and now wants to help us with bricks.
“As it turned out, the servant of God Igor is a religious man. He never watches TV, but on that day during a lunch break he called on his workers and saw the interview with our nun on TV! Providentially, three years ago he purchased bricks of the same make and at the same factory where we had acquired them for our church. But he didn’t really need these bricks and now he is ready to donate them to us. The problem is that we need to transport them ourselves from Meshchovsk [a town in the Kaluga region] which is a long way off. It will cost us half of their total value.”
But St. Matrona helped us again: another man turned up to deliver the bricks to our convent. He gave us the phone number of the workers who were supposed to organize the transportation. Then we experienced a funny temptation. When our senior sister, Mother Angelina, called a worker, he seemingly heard her out and then answered with a heavy Caucasian accent:
“You were heard. I will call you back.”
Several days passed, and nobody called back. The nun phoned again, made a request, and heard the same voice with the same accent:
“You were heard. I will call you back.”
Another week passed, but things hadn’t budged an inch.
At the same time our new benefactor, Igor, travelled to one church which houses an icon of St. Matrona with a particle of her relics. He came up to the icon, lit a candle, and asked the saint:
“Dear Matronushka [an affectionate form of the name Matrona], when will you take my bricks at last?”
And the temptation was resolved at once: Mother Angelina learned that the worker who had answered her calls came from the Caucasus and could hardly speak Russian, although he had memorized one phrase which he repeated every time he answered the telephone. After that the nun had a “normal” conversation with another worker, and the bricks were transported safely. Now the construction work is in full swing again and the sisters have been dreaming of completing it.
Blessed Matrona won’t leave you without her support
Dear readers of Orthochristian.com. Our community is currently restoring the convent, having previously waited for it to be returned to the Russian Church for twenty-five years. Over that period our sisterhood constantly moved from place to place and restored a skete. At present we are constructing a church in honor of Blessed Matrona of Moscow. Needless to say, the saint is very responsive to the prayers of all who suffer and sorrow. We ask you to do what you can to help us in our endeavors to restore the convent and construct the church, and the Blessed Matrona won’t leave you without her support.
Our sisters will pray for all the contributors. Our postal address: Russia, Kaluzhskaya Oblast, Gorod Kaluga, Monastyrsky Pereulok, d. 1 (the Maidens’ Convent of the Kazan icon).
The Mir payment system card number: 2202 2002 9391 5524
The recipient: Nun Angelina, the convent’s senior sister (secular name: Galina Vladimirovna Petrova).
The details are on the photo.
May the Lord keep you!