“A Jerusalem Cross.” Gorny Convent

Stories of Abbess Georgia (Shchukina). Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Fr. Nikolai Guryanov’s prophecies

Nun Georgia and Father Nikolai Guryanov Nun Georgia and Father Nikolai Guryanov Fr. Nikolai Guryanov foretold Jerusalem to you, didn’t he?

—Yes, he did. Sometimes in my presence he would suddenly start singing: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem...” Once Abbess Barbara sent me to show him our “Jerusalem building” in Pyukhtitsa where sisters were trained for their obediences in Gorny Convent. Our workshops were equipped there. I led the way, opening one cell after another. And one of the nuns complained to the elder, “How are we going to live there without an abbess?!” Walking behind me, he pointed at me, “Here is the abbess of Pyukhtitsa.” Later the nuns told me this. He even added, explaining “for those who didn’t understand”: “Abbess Georgiyushka1 of Pyukhtitsa.”

How did you first meet Fr. Nikolai?

—When in 1955 the future Abbess Barbara and I arrived in Vilnius, Fr. Nikolai was still living there. He had a parish at the St. Nicholas Church. On the patronal feast and the major Church feasts he came to Abbess Nina and asked her, “Mother, bless Georgiyushka to sing the service with us.” And she would allow me to go to him. Then he was already an extraordinary priest, but we still didn’t quite understand this. Abbess Nina always consulted with him. Although she was wise, she asked him about everything and heeded his advice. By the time Nun Barbara (Trofimova) and I returned to Pyukhtitsa Convent in 1968, Fr. Nikolai had already moved to the island of Zalit where he served at St. Nicholas Church. And now his bones rest in its cemetery.

For as long as he was with us on earth, he would travel to us in Pyukhtitsa from the island. Abbess Barbara would send me to him: “Mother Georgia, go to Fr. Nikolai and ask him whether it’s God’s will or not.” When someone was to be tonsured or something important needed to be done, I would go to him for advice and blessing. I would repeat whatever he said word for word: “Mother, Fr. Nikolai blessed to do this, but didn’t bless to do that.” So we did everything with his blessing, and everything was fine.

Once I came to him, drank a cup of tea, and he said to me, “Georgiyushka, let’s go to church and pray.” He had a venerated copy of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God there. We venerated it. Then we went outside and proceeded to the cemetery, where his mother was buried. “Bless my mother with the sign of the cross,” he asked me. “Father, what are you asking me to do?!!” “Bless, bless her.” I did it as an obedience...

Then we went back into the church, kissed the icons again, and he took my hand and suddenly led me into the altar... “Why should I go into the altar? Lord, have mercy,” I thought. I was so surprised. With such trepidation I entered the altar. (Afterwards, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, they led me into the altar, too). Fr. Nikolai entered and bowed in front of the altar table. Standing at the deacon’s door, I bowed to the ground too. Fr. Nikolai made the second bow, I followed him, and we made three bows together. But after the third bow I couldn’t rise for some reason... I couldn’t understand why: I tried, but it didn’t work. And it turned out that the elder had put a cross on my back—a big, metal and heavy one. That’s why I couldn’t rise. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel the weight of the cross on me and couldn’t figure out what was happening. Then the elder lifted the cross and helped me get up... “Georgiyushka,” he encouraged me, “This is your cross! An abbess’s cross, a Jerusalem one. Bear it, bear it—the Lord will help you!”

Before that, when I was laboring at St. John’s Convent, Fr. Nikolai passed an envelope to me through others. It read: “To Abbess Georgia.” I was just a senior sister there at the time. I recognized his handwriting... I opened the envelope and found only a small old cross inside. And nothing more, no message... After a while another envelope arrived with several thousand rubles in it. Then I realized that it was money for my flight to Jerusalem—exactly the amount that was needed. After a few months I learned about my appointment—all this had been revealed to the elder beforehand.

Sometimes, cover with love”

It’s one of the proofs of the action of God’s will through the Church hierarchy...

—No matter how hard I tried to make His Holiness change his mind, he said, “Mother Georgia, today I have only one candidate—you. You will stay in Gorny Convent for as long as you can. Prepare your successor there.” But I kept arguing, “Maybe someone else will go? My character is wrong. You need someone like Abbess Barbara there... She is strict: she can strike and shout, but I can’t do that.” “Never mind,” the Patriarch replied. “Rule as best you can. Sometimes, cover with love, sometimes, keep silent.” And he repeated, “Sometimes, cover with love.” And then added, “Your appointment will take place at the Yelokhovo Cathedral in Moscow on March 24. Three days later we will fly to the Holy Land.”

A few weeks before leaving for Jerusalem, on behalf of His Holiness I visited the Pskov Caves Monastery. And from there by a miracle we managed to get to Fr. Nikolai by air. That was a real miracle. It was winter, frosty, with ice floes on the lake, so one couldn’t get to the island by boat. But I wanted to say goodbye to the elder. Fr. Varnava (Baskakov), who was then the steward of the Pskov Caves Monastery, listened to my complaints, asked for the blessing to go away for a few minutes and returned with good news! It turned out that he had phoned the military air unit! And he informed us that now seven of us from the monastery (while he was running through the courtyard he had gathered a group) would be taken to the island by military helicopter! The brethren and the military lived like brothers and had very warm relations. We took off and were in the air for a very short time. And during the landing I looked out of the window and saw the elder standing on the church porch and waving to us so affably. He always knew everything in advance! We met, and I shed tears. “His Holiness said to me: ‘Mother, your mission will be to receive pilgrims. It is necessary to develop, repair, and restore Gorny Convent.” I cried, “Father, please pray for me!” And he told me, “Georgiyushka! How lucky you are! You’re going to your George! How lucky you are!” St. George the Victorious is greatly venerated in the Holy Land. His relics are here in Lydda (Lod).

The beginning of the restoration of the Church of All the Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Lands The beginning of the restoration of the Church of All the Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Lands     

I even told Fr. Nikolai that I had complained to His Holiness, “Sviateishenka, I can’t... You know my weak character—I won’t manage. It’s hard, especially since there has been no abbess there for five years. And we will have to obey the chief of the Russian Mission and may have conflicts...” And then I confessed to the elder, “I will also have to be a diplomat there. I’m afraid I’m not brainy enough to do this.” “Don’t be afraid, Georgiyushka,” he encouraged me. “You have enough intelligence, health and everything else! Go with God’s help! You can handle it, you can handle it!” “Father, I don’t know anything. How will I cope there?” “You can manage, you can manage.” “His Holiness said I should rule as much as I can: three, four, five or ten years...” “But I want you to serve there until you die!” he concluded.

“Well, of all things, the elder has ‘consoled’ me…” I thought. Decades have already passed. Who knows, how much longer God will give me?

Everything is from God

Mother Georgia, how does a monastic bear his cross? How would you define it?

—The life of every person is filled with sorrows, and a monastic especially needs to bear his or her cross. Whether a monastic or an abbot—each has his own cross, and it must be borne with dignity. As a holy obedience. Obedience in a monastery or a convent is above fasting and prayer. Wherever they may send you and whatever they may bless you to do, there can be only one answer: “Mother, bless me!” “May God help you.” Obedience is everything. Everyone has different crosses: One carries an obedience that he is unable to tackle, or he lacks knowledge. Nevertheless, as a holy obedience one must work. For example, a sister doesn’t know how to read or sing in the choir, but there are no readers or singers, and the abbess blesses her. The sister says, “Mother, I have never sung, and I don’t know how to sing.” If the abbess blesses you, then as an obedience you must go and sing in the choir. And then the Lord will give you a good musical ear, your voice will develop, and you will begin to sing. The Lord gives everything for holy obedience.

Previously, children were raised in obedience from childhood. But now sometimes a smartphone is more important to them than their parents’ words...

—Disobedience began with Adam and Eve. If only they had repented right away… But they began to point at each other, “She gave me the fruit,” and, “He tempted me.”

The very structure of this communication presupposes people’s separation from God: They don’t take into account His commandments and are in contact with the devil...

—And this often happens in human life.

Abbess Georgia by the wonderworking Kazan Icon of the Mother of God—the Intercessor of Gorny Convent Abbess Georgia by the wonderworking Kazan Icon of the Mother of God—the Intercessor of Gorny Convent     

If no one is guilty of anything, then God is guilty. The Lord was crucified for all of us on the Cross.

—Just ask forgiveness! The Lord forgave everyone. We know this from the Gospel: He even forgave the thief who was crucified with Him, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise (Lk. 23:43). The Lord ascended Golgotha to atone for the original sin, and He suffered for us. This is established in monasteries and convents: obedience is above all. Whether you can or can’t, know or don’t know how to do something, whether it’s your turn or not—there can be only one word: “bless me.” And then your go to perform your obedience.

Once I entered Pyukhtitsa Convent, both the abbess and the senior sisters said to me, “Only obedience! Without a murmur. It doesn’t matter whether you have been sent to the stockyard or to take care of horses or cows.” Then we plowed and worked the land on our own. There were no workers or laborers at that time in monasteries. I joined the convent at the age of seventeen. A city dweller, I had never driven a horse, plowed or planted. But you take on everything as a holy obedience. They knew that I had a voice, so they put me in charge of singing in the choir right away. I was a soprano. Then I was a choir-director as a holy obedience. Some nuns were jealous: “A new girl has just arrived and immediately been put in charge of the choir. We have been living here longer, but they didn’t put any of us in charge of the choir.” But the Lord gives different talents to different people. Everything is from God. And the cross is from God. And everybody should bear their cross and endure...

How the nuns prayed and the Theotokos saved them during an epidemic

There is a pre-revolutionary tradition of how Gorny Convent was delivered from an epidemic. Can you tell us about it?

—This tradition is associated with the intercession of the Mother of God through Her miracle-working Kazan Icon, which is now in a carved wooden icon case in front of the right choir. The history of this icon is connected with a great miracle that occurred in Gorny Convent in 1916. That year the sisters suddenly fell sick one after another, which was immediately followed by their deaths... An epidemic of cholera broke out. Several nuns died on the same day. We even have a separate “cholera” cemetery where those who died from this terrible disease are buried. Then everyone in the convent was confused and began to grieve. They prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos, imploring Her to help. The church in the convent is dedicated to the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, so the sisters began to read the Akathist hymn to Her Kazan Icon. One, two, three, four…—they read the akathist twelve times. Suddenly, when they were reading for the twelfth time, a miracle occurred: An icon hanging on a wall came down from the wall and moved around the church.

And the nuns heard a voice assuring them that all troubles in the convent would end and everyone here would be protected from the epidemic. From that day on the disease left all those who struggled here. Now on all the feasts in honor of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God we begin to read the akathist twelve times during the Vigil after the First Hour. We give thanks to the Holy Intercessor for saving the Sisterhood of Gorny Convent from that fatal disease. In our convent, the feasts dedicated to the Kazan Icon are celebrated with special solemnity. The sisters perform great prayer labors. And they feel the presence of the grace of God coming from this icon. The Mother of God helps me perform my obedience as well. And we were taught obedience from our very first steps in the convent.

When I joined Pyukhtitsa Convent as a seventeen-year-old teenager, I lived in a cell together with Nun Arkadia (who hailed from Kronstadt), a spiritual daughter of Fr. John of Kronstadt. Their home was not far from Fr. John’s, so they would visit each other. She had also joined the convent very young, even younger than me. The saint told her, “There are only three steps to Paradise. Sisters, only obey meekly!” And this is what the older sisters passed on to us, young nuns—they instructed us to know only one word: “Bless me!” Whether you can or can’t, the Lord will sort out everything and the Mother of God will help you. Holy obedience will lead you to the Kingdom of God.

Live by Pascha

Abbess Georgia in the garden of Gorny Convent Abbess Georgia in the garden of Gorny Convent Mother Georgia, could you tell us about the celebration of Pascha in the Holy Land? After all, it is in Jerusalem that the Lord manifests to the world one of the main miracles confirming the truth of the Orthodox faith.

—By the grace of God, we celebrate Pascha here year after year. Glory to Thee, O Lord, for Thy great mercy and for vouchsafing us to receive the Holy Fire again and again. Of course, everybody is very tense, with lots of pilgrims and tourists. Everyone is worried: “How will we get there? How will we get through? Who will stand where?” Earlier, the sisters stayed by the Holy Sepulcher on the evening of Holy Saturday after the Service of the Shroud. They spent the night there, and some were allowed to pray in the altar. I stayed in the altar on four occasions. Twice I was led through the royal doors into the altar. I felt fear and awe, but they took me by the hand and led me inside (I don’t know—maybe the Greeks have different traditions). But then they didn’t allow anyone to stay by the Holy Sepulcher for the night, and after the Service of the Shroud everyone left the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

And not every year everyone from the convent could get to the edicule, since we have thousands of pilgrims at this season. As new sisters joined us, we tried first of all to include them in the list of those visiting the Holy Sepulcher at Pascha because the lists are checked strictly by the entrance. But often by the grace of God all the sisters were let in, although there were lots of pilgrims. Sometimes there is a crush and noise, but sometimes everything goes properly—it varies from year to year. But Arabs always sit on each other’ shoulders, beating drums and tambourines, shouting out loud: “Our faith is right! Our faith is Orthodox!” Then the Patriarch of Jerusalem and Greek clergy go in procession. They walk around the edicule three times with banners, then His Holiness is unvested. And they remove the seal with which the Holy Sepulcher is sealed. His Holiness enters the edicule. Armenians are present there, watching everything. Sometimes we wait for the Descent of the Holy Fire for a long time, with everyone standing for hours, praying so hard. And sometimes the Grace of God descends in five minutes! Once everyone calms down, lo and behold—everything around begins to sparkle! Great is the mercy of God! Next His Holiness comes out with the Holy Fire! And then the candles begin to shine with lightning speed throughout the church with flashes of light—such soft Fire. The greeting, “Christ is Risen!”, rings out! Everyone hugs and kisses each other. Such joy and mercy from God... The Lord rose from the dead, conquering death, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life to those in the tombs!

Abbess Georgia (Shchukina) Abbess Georgia (Shchukina)     

The descent of the Holy Fire was one of my first and strongest impressions in the Holy Land: When we arrived here with His Holiness Alexei II in 1991, I had just been appointed abbess. And it was Pascha soon—the Holy Fire descended. This can’t be forgotten: I remember white flashes like lightning, the feeling of a strong thunderstorm... A cloud was formed over the edicule... We were standing, gazing at all this wide-eyed... Here the faith of converts who had just come to the Church and travelled to Jerusalem became miles stronger! I remember that a bell rang, and His Holiness came out with blazing tufts of candles. What a wonderful miracle it was!

I wish you all salvation, spiritual joy, God’s help and good health. Keep your Orthodox faith pure, try to be at peace with everyone, take Communion often (now we need to take Communion as often as possible), pray—and the Lord will help everyone.

Olga Orlova
spoke with Abbess Georgia (Shchukina)
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



1 An affectionate form of the name Georgia.—Trans.

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