Many of my articles have been written from the stories of the sisters of the Kazan-St. Tryphon Hermitage and its spiritual father, Fr. Savvaty. Today, I would like to introduce you, dear readers, to the abbess of this monastery, Xenia (Oscepkova).
Matushka Xenia speaks about contact with the unseen world, about returning to life after clinical death, about how to acquire and preserve peace of mind, and much more.
How my grandmother put it bluntly
My father was born when my grandfather turned fifty. My father was just as old when I was born. Thus it turns out that my grandfather and grandmother were born in the nineteenth century, and I live in the twenty-first century.
My grandfather and grandmother were raised in faith and piety, but my mother and father were born in soviet times, when people were discouraged from faith. They grew up as Octoberists, Pioneers, and Komsomol members. “Religion is the opium of the masses.” And my sister and I grew up unbaptized and non-believing.
For my grandmother, as for other grandmothers, it was a great grief. They all endured it with such pain that they couldn’t baptize and commune their babies. I don’t know how my life would have turned out if, in the end, my grandmother hadn’t put it bluntly. She said to her daughter, my mother: “I won’t be able to die in peace if my granddaughters remain unbaptized.”
It was 1984, and the authorities kept a close eye on those who baptized their children and even simply took them to church. My parents were working at a military factor in Perm and were afraid to baptize their daughters in the city. My sister and I were taken to another province, to a remote village, where a functioning church miraculously survived, and we were secretly baptized. I was thirteen then.
Now, as the abbess of the monastery, I have the opportunity to meet many pilgrims and to hear various stories. And people often admit: “I came to God at a ripe old age. I don’t know why—for no apparent reason…”
And if you ask: “Where there any believers in your family?”
They usually answer: “Yes, my grandmother.”
The prayers of our grandmothers are salvific, they are alive, and they revive our calloused souls unto eternal life. They’re not canonized as saints, our grandmothers. How could they have so pleased God that He hears their prayers? Many of them died before they could raise their grandchildren in faith. They were just believers themselves.
And they trusted God. It’s not enough just to go to church. You have to let God into your life and trust and hope in Him. They entreated God about their unbelieving children and grandchildren. And the Lord did not put their faith—that of confessors—to shame.
Daria and Xenia
Both of my grandmothers were deeply religious. Grandma Daria was very pious, a lover of the poor, and she received pilgrims, even giving away her crumbs. She washed beggars’ clothes, heating them in the oven.
Grandma Xenia was a woman of prayer. She died when I was only three. But she prayed so much for me that when they asked me my name before my tonsure, I mystically felt that I wanted her name.
I am so grateful to my grandmothers! One was merciful, and the other prayed for me. And by their prayers, I am Nun Xenia.
Boldness before God
One time they brought a thirty-seven-year-old woman to our monastery—they brought her as they bring a sick person to a hospital. She told me her story. Her husband cheated on her, and so that she wouldn’t hinder him, he started to get her drunk. Then he left her, and she took some pills. She was in the ICU and experienced clinical death.
She felt how her soul departed from her body, and she saw her great grandmother kneeling before God and tearfully entreating: “Give her more time, Lord!” And she felt her soul return to her body. They were already planning in the ICU to take her to the morgue. Then they looked and saw that her heart started beating again.
Our grandmothers have boldness before God…
Prayer for your relatives
Prayer for your relatives—with pain of heart, with love—sooner or later bears fruit. Our Schemanun Valentina once told me about how her believing mother often prayed for her, and she herself didn’t even go to church.
When her mother died, she went to church. Then she became the Nun Barbara, and later—Schemanun Valentina. This is an example of the confessor’s faith of a mother, the abundant fruits of a mother’s prayers.
Having become a nun, I myself began to pray fervently for my parents who were then completely unbelieving. After seven years, my mother began to read the Psalter. Then she and my father were crowned1 in the Church.
First encounter with the invisible world
After my Baptism, everything in my life seemingly remained as before, but grace had begun to work in my soul.
In eighth grade, my parents sent me on a trip from Perm to Ples—an ancient, quiet town on the Volga. I saw many dilapidated churches there and I suddenly wanted to enter them. I convinced my two friends, and we decided to sneak in. We climbed over the fence at some places, through a half-boarded-up window at others; at one church we climbed the scaffolding, and in another—up a narrow, spiral staircase to the bell tower.
And quite unexpectedly, in these forgotten churches, my soul experienced a strange thrill—the caress of God, the touch of Divine grace. Now I know that every church, even the ruined ones, has a guardian angel, but at that time I had no idea why my heart was filled with quiet joy.
It was my soul’s first contact with the invisible world, and it has remained in my memory for a long time, until now.
“Then I began to weep”
I would like to share my story about how beneficial it is to travel to holy places, even for unbelievers. I wasn’t religious yet in 1991. One day I bought a multi-day trip to from Bakhchisarai to Yalta. They took us on a tour to a caves monastery. I saw icons on the rocks, in the center—red, on the edges—a checkered pattern. I couldn’t understand who it was. But for some reason I looked at this image for a long time as though I wanted to learn some secret, to understand. Something happened in my soul, but what, was completely incomprehensible.
I returned home, then I came to God, and then to the monastery. Once I decided to look at which day I was tonsured as a nun. It was March 20—the day of the Seven Hieromartyrs who were bishops in Kherson. I even got upset, since the day of your tonsure is always important for monastics, and for many it falls on some Church feast, but at that time I knew absolutely nothing about these hieromartyrs.
After ten years, in 2001, already as a nun, I again found myself in Bakhchisarai, at the same rocks. Now there was a Church of the Dormition there, and above it—a restored image of the Most Holy Theotokos in red, with the Seven Hieromartyrs of Kherson.
Then I began to weep. I don’t think I have to explain why I had tears…
You don’t know when the Lord will touch your soul
I came to the Church after a bus tour around my native Perm. I think I was already ready to start my Church life. We were driving past Holy Trinity Cathedral when the guide said: “The cathedral has a Sunday School.”
I immediately really wanted to go there, and so, thanks to a typical, secular tour, I found myself in a church.
Therefore, now, as abbess of the monastery, I support such trips to the holy places, even if they are not pilgrimages but excursions: We never know when the Lord will touch the human soul, and, perhaps, after visiting a monastic habitation, a non-believer will come to God.
I learned a lot in the Sunday School and I began to be churched. We had wonderful teachers. They didn’t just tell us about God, but lived in Him. Fr. Dimitry, one of our teachers, was a spiritual child of Elder John (Krestiankin), and when he would tell us something, his words would penetrate into your heart, because they had the strength of personal spiritual experience.
Now every evening, having returned home, I read the Law of God. Secular literature and television are no longer interesting for me. I consciously communed for the first time.
How to choose the right path in life
Both young and old studied in our Sunday School. One day, an altar server from the cathedral told us, young people: “To choose the correct path in life, so the will of God would be fulfilled in us, we have to pray to the Mother of God. Read forty akathists to her!”
I didn’t have a collection of akathists, so I read forty canons to the Most Holy Theotokos over forty days. Now I think it was precisely this heartfelt prayer of a young girl that led me to the monastery.
Usually, people don’t know or comprehend God’s providence for them. Every person is attuned to one thing according to their knowledge and understanding, but the Lord, perhaps, has prepared something completely different for them. And, in order to understand our calling, we have to pray and entreat that our will and God’s will for us would coincide, and that our labors would bear fruit in our earthly lives.
A lonely church among the woods and fields
By the grace of God, my path to monasticism was short. I received the monastic tonsure in my youth. It happened like this:
At the end of the school year, the teachers of our Sunday School decided to organize a trip for us to the Church of All Saints in Verkhnechusovskie Gorodki. It was difficult to get there in 1992—first by electric train, then by railroad, then by ferry through Chusovaya, and finally on foot—to the hill. Five of us went: our teacher, three other people, and me.
When we got off at the small station, I saw the Chusovaya Church on the opposite bank, and it seemed to me extremely beautiful, simply wonderful—a lonely church on the hill, among the forests and fields.
We reached the church and we were met by its rector, Fr. Savvaty (Rudakov), my future spiritual father. It was the beginning of August, and he had just returned from mowing. Batiushka had built a home for lonely and infirm elderly people at the church, and there was already a small community of sisters active there, taking care of the elderly.
Later I learned that the hill the church is on is called Holy or Miteinaya—after Blessed Miteika, who often prayed here at night many years ago. I also learned that St. Tryphon of Vyatka (1546-1612), the founder of several Vyatka monasteries and a remarkable ascetic who acquired many gifts of the Holy Spirit, labored in these places.
For nearly a quarter of a century—from 1957 to 1981—the famous elder Archpriest Nikolai Ragozin, who acquired the gifts of clairvoyance, spiritual discernment, and healing of human bodies and souls, served in the Church of All Saints.
At the end of his life, the hut where the Elder lived was in poor condition, but he was an ascetic and cared for his parishioners more than himself. When his spiritual children offered Batiushka to begin construction, he would respond that his life was ending and nothing else would be built during his life, but that after his death, there would be a monastery there. And Fr. Nikolai would tell his spiritual children about the future monastery, showing them where it would be built.
He even described the appearance of his successor, Fr. Savvaty, who said of the Elder’s clairvoyance: “I was still in school and he saw me with his spirit.”
“How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
I found all of this out later, but then, on our first trip to Miteinaya Hill, we had dinner, rested, and went to Midnight Office at night. It was my first night service and I will remember it for my whole life. In this place, secluded from the worldly bustle, in the stillness of the night, the penetrating words of the seventeenth Kathisma rang out: How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
These words struck a chord in my soul hitherto unknown to me. Then Batiushka came out and gave a homily about the benefit of night prayer. The feeling was indescribable! The next day, we went to the holy springs of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God and of St. Tryphon of Vyatka. Again, new impressions!
An unprecedented act for me
I have to say that I am a quiet and shy person by nature. Before the trip to Verkhnechusovskie Gorodki, I hadn’t even dared to go to Moscow on business on my own, without my parents, although I was already of age. And then, on my third day in the community at the Church of All Saints, I went up to Fr. Savvaty and asked his blessing to come and live and work with him. It was an unprecedented act for me.
Batiushka gave me the go-ahead, so I returned to Perm, quit work, and on October 10, 1992, I arrived at Miteinaya Hill to work my obedience. I didn’t know then that October 10 is the day of St. Savvaty of Solovki, the Heavenly protector of my future spiritual father.
For my parents, this step came out of the blue, but they sacrificed their desires and dreams for my future. I’m very grateful to them for that! Later, parents came for several of our sisters, trying to convince them to return to the world, but my parents let me go—although it was very difficult for them to endure my departure to the monastery.
Spiritual father and builder of the monastery
By the time I arrived at Miteinaya Hill, the rector of the Church of All Saints, the future builder and spiritual father of our monastery, Fr. Savvaty, had been serving there for five years already. Having arrived from his native Perm in 1987, immediately after his ordination, he saw only an old abandoned church and a tumble-down shack on the hill. The stove didn’t keep anything warm, and by morning everything was cold and the water in the washbasin was frozen. There were no amenities, no people. Old women came to the service, crossing over on the ferry. When navigation ended, the hill became nearly cut off from the rest of the world. In the winter, they walked across the Chusovaya on the ice.
There is a very old cemetery around our church on the hill—so old that at funerals, people didn’t even notice the old graves, level with the ground, and digging the hole, they’d come across some old bones. Sometimes they were simply thrown off to the side, the people only caring about their own departed.
Fr. Savvaty shared with us that at the beginning of his ministry, he felt like he was in a fairytale, like he’d wound up in “The Night Before Christmas”2 or a film where “the dead stand with scythes.”3 He and his babushka4 parishioners even gathered these bones and gave them over to burial.
Then they told him that there was also a dead man in the cellar of his shack. When the men were making a cell for Elder Nikolai Razogin, they found human bones. How old was this grave? 100 years? 200? They simply buried the bones in a corner of the basement and calmly continued to dig the cellar further.
The locals would bring their dead, and Fr. Savvaty would serve their funeral and a panikhida. Some scary, disheveled guys came up to him and asked him in a deep bass whether it was scary for the young batiushka there. And he answered: “What is there to fear from the dead? I pray for them.”
The prayerful presence of the Elder
I immediately felt the prayerful presence of Archpriest Nikolai Razogin at Miteinaya Hill—everyone who comes senses him. Fr. Savvaty told us about the Elder’s spiritual help.
After Fr. Nikolai’s death two priests tried to serve here, but they couldn’t endure the wilderness, the fear, the lack of normal life, the people, the lack of amenities—a lot of things. Fr. Savvaty also had fear. He was saved by prayer. When things became very hard, he would put on Fr. Nikolai’s riassa and serve that way.
Batiushka felt the invisible help of Fr. Nikolai especially clearly during his first Liturgy at Miteinaya Hill when he, a young and inexperienced priest, was seized by fear and trepidation. He felt the powerful support of the Elder, who was as if present next to him during the Liturgy, helping, guiding, and prompting him. The feeling of the Elder’s presence was so strong that Fr. Savvaty remembered it his entire life.
Our monastery began with a rest home
Our monastery began with a rest home and elderly women, many of whom had been spiritual children of Archpriest Nikolai. They were all gradually getting older and needed help and care. When Fr. Savvaty would come celebrate the services for them, they would entreat him, as if having conspired: “Take us to stay with you!”
One day, Batiushka took the ferry to go see one of the old women. He saw that her house was by the Chusovaya; in the spring the river overflowed, and there were twelve inches of water on the floor of her shack. She was lying on her bed, her leg swollen; she couldn’t walk. She was lying in an unheated hut and couldn’t bring any firewood. She was dying, and there was no one to even close her eyes…
Batiushka later told us how he left this woman sad and thought: What should I do? He wasn’t able to take the ferry to go see her and all those in need every day. There wasn’t enough time. He walked along tired—there were many services that day—and he tried to figure out what to do, how to help.
Then suddenly the solution came: In fact, he would take the elderly women to himself and build a house for them—a rest home, right next to his hut and the church on Miteinaya Hill.
From the way further events unfolded, Batiushka understood that this was indeed his obedience and that it came by the will of God. He didn’t have any money to build a bathhouse, let alone a hut. And as soon as he decided to take the old women in, someone offered him 2,000 rubles. He’d never held so much money before!
Fr. Savvaty purchased building materials, hired workers, and began construction on the first wooden home with eight cells: four small rooms/cells on the first floor and four on the second. By his calculation, one or two people could live in each cell. The hut wasn’t even built yet when he took in the same old women who couldn’t walk.
The building materials were starting to run out, but the house didn’t have a roof yet. Batiushka thought: “Well, that’s it… Money’s running out, and the hut will remain unfinished.” But as soon as the money ran out, more came, and it was enough to pay the workers and to continue building. When the house was finished, the money stopped coming in in such amounts, and there was very little left again—enough to light some candles and buy some food.
So Fr. Savvaty settled the women in this home, and they began to live together. He served in the church, went on pastoral visits, and cared for the babushkas. There was one old military lady who helped him. Then the Lord sent him a slightly younger babushka, and a little later we arrived—quite young sisters: the future Nun Tamara and Nun Ksenia. Then we started taking care of the babushkas while Fr. Savvaty served, because the pastoral needs grew and grew, and new parishioners were looking for pastoral nourishment.
A blessing for the monastic life
A good number of young men and women gradually appeared on the hill. Then Batiushka went with us to see Elder Archimandrite John (Krestiankin), who had been his spiritual father for several years already. On the way there, we argued until we were hoarse: “We’re going to have a women’s monastery!”
“Look, let’s ask the Elder, and whatever he blesses, that’s what will be!”
Fr. John received us kindly, but he hardly spoke to the young men, so they stood at the wall. He immediately addressed us, the women, and started to instruct us. He spoke about how nuns should be and what a real monastery should be like. He gave us a parting word and a blessing for the monastic life and for the foundation of a convent.
And that’s what happened. Those young men who went with us somehow discreetly dispersed: Some got married, some became deacons, some became married priests. But the sisters remained.
My first obedience
Everything was unsettled in our community at first. The old folks’ home was built from the boards of the old recreation center (they dismantled it and built a stone center in Gorodki). Everyone who lived in this home—both the babushkas and young sisters—were very cold. In the winter they lay down under blankets, on top a pile of clothes, and they understood that they would only be able to get up in the morning thanks to prayer, which warms you up.
My first obedience was taking care of the old women. No one taught me, but my mother had taken care of a bedridden patient for five years. It wasn’t difficult for me to take care of them; I tried to do everything conscientiously.
Many of the babushkas suffered before death, and then they lay in their coffins so bright, with waxy faces—the transition from the corruptible to incorruptible life. And it was clear that their pre-death sufferings eased their posthumous fate. It was like a sign from God that they had been accounted worthy of His mercy, a testimony that they had been pardoned and that they had not suffered in vain.
After all, we grieve for those who are departing, and the Lord gives us certain signs by which we can understand that someone has been forgiven. For me, there are also signs in which day he died, on which feast his fortieth day falls… Human judgment is one thing, while God’s judgment is another... People need support and comfort.
I remember the babushka Valentina Ogloblina. She was living out her days in our rest home, and she became very weak before death. Batiushka had to go out on some business, and on a hunch, he decided not to postpone communing the sick. The Lord enlightened him to go see her just before he left, at 2:30 in the morning, and communed her. He left, and immediately after Communion she departed to the other world.
They brought Maria Belyaeva to us when she was already bedridden. She was very sweet, round-faced, cheerful, and laughed and joked. Before her death, she suffered greatly from fistulas that reached to the very bones. She died in the evening of Great Saturday as they were opening the Royal Doors and singing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!”
Another matushka, Valentina, was dying while Fr. Savvaty was on the way. We called him and he rushed over and managed to give her Communion. Everyone who lived out their days in our home left guided by the Holy Mysteries. They were extraordinary people—of a different formation, a different upbringing, with fervent faith.
“I wish you to acquire and preserve inner silence”
In 1993, Nun Angia was brought to us and she was tonsured by the late Vladyka Athanasy (1927-2002). She was one of those secret nuns who received the tonsure during the years of persecution against the Church. She lived under the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Perm with several other secret nuns, and they served in the altar and helped in the church. Mother Agnia lived with us for several years until her repose.
Our babushkas in the rest home sometimes fought and argued amongst themselves. What to do? In old age all infirmities rear their heads, and characters change. But Mother Agnia never yelled, never fought; she mostly kept quiet and prayed. She was very meek and humble. Before her death, she was tonsured into the schema with the name Ilaria.
Our spiritual father says that we use the words “humility,” “meekness,” and “long-suffering,” but we don’t know what they really are.
I prayed that the Lord would allow me to feel what it was like to be so humble and meek. After my prayer, one monk from Athos gave me a book with spiritual instructions, which he signed: “I wish you to acquire and preserve inner silence.” I think Schemanun Iliaria had such inner silence.
As evil is material, so virtue is material, and if a person lives a spiritual life, then he learns to distinguish the spirit of meekness or, conversely, the spirit of argumentativeness—he feels it.
People used to go see ascetics of piety and they wouldn’t want to leave them, because they felt as if they were in the rays of Divine grace with them. They didn’t even talk about anything; they would just be with them and they wouldn’t want to leave.
The spiritual children of Archpriest Nikolai Ragozin testified that the spirit of humility and meekness emanated from the Elder. Even just being near such people, you change involuntarily—as if a little grace is poured into your vessel from their excess. Now I go to Fr. Nikolai’s grave every day and feel his help.
“Either she’ll die or there’ll be a miracle”
Soon after arriving at the monastery, I got very sick and spent six months in the hospital, but I couldn’t get better. The doctors had already sentenced me to death and sent me home to die. I was afraid they wouldn’t take me, so weak, back in the monastery; but Fr. Savvaty took me, and the doctors told him when I was discharged: “Either she’ll die or there’ll be a miracle.”
When Batiushka took me to Miteinaya Hill, friends said: “Why are you taking a dying person to your hermitage?! You don’t have anything to eat there!”
My sickness became a school of prayer for me—it’s scary when you look into the eyes of death. During this time, I realized that prayer is not an obligation, but a cry of the soul. Every person has his trials, and many people who were in the camps later confessed that they never again had such prayer as they had there. Thus, the time of my illness was beneficial for me.
When I was brought to the monastery Batiushka blessed me to take monastic vows, because it was unknown how events would further unfold. I sincerely thank God, because my tonsure was a birth into a new life for me. I gradually and miraculously recovered.
“Thou art the God Who workest wonders”
The years go by fast, and I’ve been living in the monastery for twenty-seven years already. In 1998, I became the elder sister, and in 1999, the abbess. I try to bear my obedience with fear and trepidation.
When I was a young girl I would sometimes feel sad that children’s miracles were left in the past, in children’s fairytales. When I came to God, miracles became an integral part of my life. After all, you can see them even in everyday events; you just have to see them. It is said by the wise: “Thou art the God Who workest wonders.”
So my life gradually began to be filled with joy, painted with all the colors of the rainbow. If you try to please God, He will always miraculously help you. The providence of God will be present in your life, and you will see it and be conscious of it.
“We must approach people with discernment”
I want to say a few more words about the spiritual father of our monastery, Igumen Savvaty (Rudakov). From the history of monasticism and the lessons of modern life, we see that convents that have spiritual fathers are stronger. We now see how New Tikhvin Monastery in Ekaterinburg and St. Elisabeth’s in Minsk are flourishing. I think it’s thanks to the spiritual fathers of these monasteries, who not only hear confessions, but also deal with the nuns, conversing with them and spiritually nourishing them.
Practically all of our sisters found faith in the early-mid-1990s and came to the monastery already having certain worldly ideas that hinder the spiritual life. It’s very difficult for those of us who were raised in soviet times to perceive spiritual truths. What used to be instilled in children in their family—obedience, fear of God, love for prayer, the services, and the Sacraments—we now have to make up for in adulthood.
And in the words of Apostle Paul, our spiritual father always, gently, as a father doth his children, … exhorts and comforts and charges [us] … [to] walk worthy of God, Who hath called [us] unto His Kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:11-12).
Batiushka teaches us to fulfill the commandments of God in our lives, saying: “In the old days pharmacies did not sell ready-made pills but special powders made according to a doctor’s recipe. Every person got his own powder, his own adhesive. Likewise, people’s souls are different. What is life for one is death for another. We have to approach this with discernment.”
“Maintain silence in your heart”
I thank God that by the prayers and blessing of the Mother of God and St. Tryphon of Vyatka, I live in a holy place. We have a locally-venerated Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in our monastery, the blessed Elder Nikolai Ragozin reposes here in his relics, and the apostle of the Perm region, St. Tryphon of Vyatka, labored here. There are miraculous holy springs near the monastery. People come here and receive spiritual benefit. I would like to invite the readers of OrthoChristian.com to come visit.
Our monastery is located among forests and fields. It’s two miles to the nearest village, and more than twenty-five to the nearest city. Our silence has a very beneficial effect on pilgrims and they often say: “When you leave the church you’re not immediately plunged into the city bustle, and you have the opportunity to maintain silence in your heart.” It’s very important when you can take a break from the pace of modern life and look into your heart.
Monastery website: http://v-chus.cerkov.ru/
Address: 618221, Пермский край, Чусовской р-н, п/о Успенка, деревня Красная горка
618221 Perm province, Chusovsky Region, P.O. Uspenka, Krasnaya Gorka Village