I remember from the life of St. Sergius of Radonezh how there was a terrible famine in the monastery and there wasn’t a single piece of bread. St. Sergius resolved to rely entirely on God, and two days later a cart filled with freshly baked bread arrived at the monastery from an unknown benefactor. And the brethren at that time had thought there was no way out… So, here’s a story about the Moscow Theological Academy that happened in our days.
Late in the evening on July 2, 2012, news appeared on the official site of the Moscow Theological Academy, saying the school was experiencing serious financial difficulties and was in need of assistance. Details of the situation were not given, but people in-the-know say that the Academy’s food storage was literally empty. There were no funds to pay employee salaries.
The original version of the news said: “An acute lack of funds has placed not only the process of development, but even the very existence of the Academy under threat.” So as not to shock the readers of the site, the text was edited the same night, and the final version spoke of the threat to the “important process of reform” taking place in the Theological Academy.
It was the Apostles’ Fast. At first, the seminarians weren’t told anything about the situation, although everyone noticed that trapeza had become even more modest than the previous Great Lent. A familiar student, passing through the cafeteria, heard the cooks discussing something sadly, and one sorrowfully said to him: “Oh, children, what will we feed you with?”
How it could happen that the leading theological school of the Russian Orthodox Church was on the brink of destruction is a separate question. The breakdown in supply occurred because of the loss of sponsorship that previously covered the Academy’s food needs. Externally, it was due to the economic crisis and the expectation of new financial shocks. But in fact, it all spoke of the deepest providence of God. The Lord, allowing a hopeless situation, pre-arranged a miraculous deliverance, which we will now speak about.
However, at that time the situation demanded an immediate solution, given that about 700 students had to be fed daily. The administration was obliged to borrow money to buy food. The funds had to be returned in the near future, but the food purchased was enough only for a limited time. Two questions incessantly plagued the school leadership: How many days would the food last, and what to do after that? To reach a more or less balanced sponsorship, they had to hold out for some time. Then the rector of the Academy, Archbishop Evgeny, was obliged to appeal for help on the Academy website to all who were ready to respond. They also began to appeal to the graduates of the Academy to support their alma mater and try to attract sponsors.
I should mention that such appeals, especially on the Academy website, brought some discontent on the part of the top administration, as it turned out that the leading theological school had been abandoned to its fate. The Academy administration heard it from above. The appeal for help had to be removed from the site. But thanks to this appeal, first, the amazing mercy of God was made manifest, and second, a very instructive story became known.
We’ll reveal a secret, that the rector’s assistant Protodeacon Igor Mikhailov took an active role in this search, and his search was crowned with success. It turns out that the request for help reached one priest, Archpriest Alexei, a graduate of the Moscow Theological Seminary from long ago. The news of the lack of funds so touched his heart that he appealed to his parishioners at the next service. It turns out that at that time, a woman named Elena, whose husband had some means, had stopped into the church. This woman, who just so happened to be there for the homily, managed to convince her spouse to equip two large trucks packed to the brim with food for the Academy. The trucks arrived about two weeks after the appeal and became a real salvation.
Those who were studying at that time say that the administration sent all the students who weren’t involved in other obediences to unload the trucks. The Academy was saved—the food that arrived covered the basic needs at that time and helped them to endure until they found regular sponsorship.
For the administration of the theological school, it was a kind of miracle that this woman responded and completely unselfishly sent assistance to the Academy—an exorbitant amount for a private person. Protodeacon Igor Mikhailov earnestly entreated Archpriest Alexei to bring Elena to the Academy. They were waiting for her and wanted to understand why she did this. People are rarely willing to give selflessly, to sacrifice so much without any benefit or honor for themselves. Fr. Alexei brought her two months later.
It turned out that Elena was quite young, simple and modest. Fr. Igor was walking with her around the Lavra; they visited all the churches and then went to St. Sergius. At St. Sergius’ relics, she burst into tears, weeping contritely to the saint as to one living, and couldn’t stop or be comforted for quite some time. It was evident that grace had touched her heart. Then Elena came to herself and told Fr. Igor that she would tell her story a little later.
As the head of the Church Archaeology Department, Fr. Igor also took Elena to the Academy museum, but Elena showed much less interest in its exhibits than in the Lavra’s sacred items. Fr. Igor wanted to please her and thank her somehow. They served lunch, and during this small meal, she told about what preceded her voluntary donation.
There had been an extremely sad event in Elena’s life, which any young woman would have seen as the ruin of her life: She had a serious illness and became an invalid. Month after month, she lay bedridden. Because of his position, her husband was able to hire any doctors and specialists to find the cause of her illness, but for some reason, they didn’t manage to diagnose anything or change anything for her. When the peak of despair arrived, and she had come to the horrible realization that nothing human could help, she was given a miracle.
It happened under the most ordinary of circumstances surrounding a non-religious person. In the room where she was lying motionless, a television was turned on, and during some story, blue cupolas appeared on the screen. Elena didn’t know what these domes were, but at that moment she heard a voice: “You must come to me.” It was a completely unearthly voice, full of love and care for her. Elena spoke about it tearfully. She perceived the voice as if she had already been waiting for it; it was an answer to the cry of her heart, to the plea of her tormented soul. There was another peculiarity: She took the voice to be that of a living person, very near and dear, as a very personal address, which she had really been waiting for. She had a clear feeling that whoever had spoken to her was alive.
It was obvious to Elena that the revelation was directly related to the blue domes. But what were those domes? She called for her husband and asked him. He found out that the blue domes with the stars belong to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. Then they hurriedly got ready and left early the very next morning for the monastery. When they arrived, they parked their car near the Utochya Tower.
Since Elena couldn’t walk, two of her husband’s security guards carried her directly to the holy gates of the monastery, where they were immediately told: “You have to stand over there.” It turns out that without knowing it, they had arrived at the Lavra on the summer feast of St. Sergius—July 5/18, and there was a huge line from the gates to the Holy Trinity Cathedral that day. They had been told to get into this huge line.
Elena was not yet a church-going person; she didn’t have the necessary knowledge. She was guided by the response of her heart to the revelation given to her. Without analyzing it with her mind, she yearned with all her soul for the one who called her. Now they were being told to stand in line, so they stood. Some old women who were there said to her sympathetically, “You have to go see him, the saint,” and she perceived Fr. Sergius as a living person, who called her and who would certainly help her. It was scorching hot, and they were serving the late Liturgy in the Dormition Cathedral with the blue domes.
The incredibly long line didn’t seem to be moving. And that afternoon, something happened that even the elderly recall happening only once on the summer feast of St. Sergius. Protodeacon Igor Mikhailov remembers this day (he was in the choir, where the now-reposed Archimandrite Matthew was directing), and the author of these lines remembers that day (I was standing among the people). In the afternoon, when His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II served a moleben on the square and then went to divest in the church, and the bells were ringing in the bell tower, thunder suddenly rang out and there was a terrible downpour.
Why there was suddenly such a torrential downpour, as if being poured from buckets, and especially on the feast of St. Sergius, which is always distinguished by Paschal clearness, was unclear and strange. But God arranged it so providentially: The line to Holy Trinity Cathedral instantly dispersed, and they carried Elena, soaked to the bone, to the cathedral and took her inside. She wasn’t concerned about her appearance, about her wet clothes; she was just eager for her long-awaited meeting, and she was joyful. Seeing two people carrying her, the people in the church made way for her. She was already near the holy relics when suddenly, seeing the silver reliquary where the relics of the saint lie, she became confused and said, “What, he isn’t alive?” After all, she had thought the one who spoke to her was alive. They placed her head on the holy relics and she passed out.
They carried Elena to the car, unconscious. She came to after a while and quietly looked out the window. When they got home, the guard from the second car opened the door for her and was going to pick her up. Her husband was in the front seat next to the driver. And then, quite simply and naturally, as if she hadn’t had any illness, Elena got out, saying, “Well, time for dinner.” She looked at her husband, and everyone was looking at her. Then she realized she was standing on her own legs, and began to weep. She wept and wept, and she felt a blessed joy in her soul.
When Protodeacon Igor heard the story, he asked if she had seen anything while unconscious. Elena said, “Yes, I saw him.” While she was unconscious, she saw St. Sergius who lovingly and affectionately said to her, “I will heal you, only you mustn’t sin.” And when Elena quite unexpectedly rose to her feet and was completely healed, she again convinced her husband to go together to the Lavra, and she started looking for the image of the one who appeared to her while unconscious.
She went to Holy Trinity Cathedral and asked where the icon of Batiushka Sergius was. She looked at it but didn’t recognize him. She went to the museum where they have the famous veil from the St. Sergius’ reliquary, which, they say, depicts St. Sergius as he looked during his lifetime. Elena looked, and again did not recognize him. She was close to despair, that she wouldn’t find his face, because she remembered how he appeared to her. Then she went to the chapel over the holy spring where holy water flows from the cross. She decided to drink some water there, and when she drank, she raised her head, saw the image, and recognized him and cried out: “That’s him! That’s him!” They started to “scold” her: “What are you talking about?” And pointing to the icon, she asked, “What’s his name?” “It’s St. Sergius” they said. Thus she learned who had revealed himself to her, called her, and healed her, and thus a miracle occurred in Elena’s life. She refused to give her last name and hadn’t specifically intended to tell anyone her story.
But the main thing in this story is that her heart began to change.
Several years passed, and 2012 came, when the Moscow Theological Academy experienced its serious difficulties. The administration appealed to everyone it could. They started even asking graduates to support their alma mater. Fr. Alexei responded. The Sunday service was already coming to an end in his church. Batiushka was coming out for the homily when Elena arrived. The Gospel says that even he who comes at the eleventh hour will not be deprived of God’s blessing. There are situations where the last becomes the first. Elena heard the plea for help, and her heart immediately said that it was only for her, that the time had come for her to show mercy and that this would be her response to God’s call. She immediately went up to Fr. Alexei and said, “I should do it.” Then came the help. The Academy made it through the difficult time and then found regular sponsorship. And Protodeacon Igor Mikhailov, telling this story, marveled at the incomprehensible and inscrutable ways of God’s providence.