It Felt Like the Heavens Had Opened Up

On Miraculous Help from St. John the Hut-dweller and Other Saints

This is an amazing story about how not just one, but several saints together helped a childless family have their long-awaited baby. The story is told by the mother, Ekaterina.


My husband and I met in school in the 1990s. At first, we lived like all our peers, not thinking about God or the Church or the commandments. One day, some good friends took us to the Church of the Holy Wisdom (“Hagia Sophia” in Greek—Trans.], to Fr. Dimitry Roschin. The first conversation with him knocked me out. It became clear that we couldn’t go on living the way we were; but what this priest was proposing seemed incomprehensible, wild, and scary. He gave Roman and me a list of literature and told us how to prepare for our first confession, which took us about two months. We got into Church life very slowly: Sometimes we went to church on Sundays; sometimes we communed. The understanding matured in my mind that it’s impossible to preserve marriage outside the Church, without observing the commandments, without prayer, without God’s help—the world proves this constantly.

We got married in the Church on August 1, the same day as the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the finding of the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov. After our wedding, my husband and I tried to go to church, but our old way of life held us tightly: We shouldn’t have slept in one Sunday morning, as it was much easier to miss the second week, and the third was already far too easy. But with God’s help and by the prayers of Fr. Dimitry, we returned and strengthened our desire to live by the new rules. Only then did it become obvious to us how wonderful families with many children are. Someone was always expecting in our young parish—and I really wanted to be, too. But, alas!... I’ve had serious health problems since childhood, so it wasn’t working out for us. The doctors just threw up their hands. They tried to help, but nothing worked.

Year after year passed this way. I despaired, and I felt devastated, hopeless, and envious of the mothers around me, and I wept. But my prayer grew day after day, month after month, year after year. Along with prayer, my faith grew that the Lord won’t forsake me. I had to learn to be patient, to wait, to not despair.

One day, the mother of our spiritual father, Ekaterina Sergeevna Vasilieva, came up to us. She said that she sympathizes and prays for us. And she gave me a small but very precious to her Unfading Flower Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, saying she herself prayed before it when she was hoping for grandchildren. Roman and I started praying before the icon every day, entreating her help. Everyone at church knew that we were eagerly awaiting a miracle.

The growing vine of St. Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, Hilandar Monastery, Mt. Athos The growing vine of St. Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, Hilandar Monastery, Mt. Athos     

Fr. Dimitry went to Mt. Athos during Great Lent and brought back for us a relic from Hilandar Monastery—a part of the miraculous vine of St. Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher. Its fruits heal the infertility of spouses who accept this miraculous remedy with faith and prayer. I advise everyone to read about St. Simeon, about the miracles worked by his prayers—he’s a truly amazing saint!

Thus, we fulfilled the prescribed rule, fasted, and prayed to the Lord, to the Most Holy Theotokos, and to St. Simeon. Then it was Pascha, and what joy! After Bright Week, life continued, and I kept waiting for a miracle. A day seemed like a week then, and a week—a month… In May, we went to Optina Monastery, where, like everywhere else, we tearfully begged for a child on bended knee. I well remember my confession to Fr. Hilarion: “How long? I have no more strength to wait; despondency, anguish…” He instructed me and calmed me down, urging me to trust in God’s mercy. “Be patient, entreat, and wait…” but I kept sobbing and sobbing. And a couple of weeks later, at the end of May, we received the most long-awaited, entreated news—I was pregnant!

My pregnancy was very difficult: I almost immediately wound up in the hospital with the threat of a miscarriage, and spent the entire summer and September there. I especially felt the prayers of Fr. Dimitry, my friends, and the entire church then. And we ourselves constantly prayed ! On the one hand, we were afraid of losing our long-awaited child, and on the other hand, we had unshakable confidence in God’s help. I’ve never experienced such a thing again!

Ivan was born in January 2008, five years after we started going to church. At that time, it seemed like those years were lasting forever. The birth of our son was an incredible celebration, rejoicing, and of course, thanksgiving. It wasn’t just our rejoicing and miracle, but that of the whole church! Everyone prayed with us, and this miracle was revealed to everyone.

St. John the Hut-dweller St. John the Hut-dweller Ivan was baptized in honor of St. John the Hut-dweller, since his feast day was the same as Ivan’s birthday.

We didn’t know anything about him before that, and we got to know the saint gradually. A year later, on Ivan’s birthday, we went to our church, and there was an icon of St. John the Hut-dweller on the analogion. It felt like the heavens had opened up and I was seeing the saint alive! I fell to my knees, prayed, and wept from the joy of this living encounter. Then we found out that Fr. Dimitry and his mother Ekaterina had ordered an icon for our family, and so they actually painted two icons. We have one at our house, and the second remained at church.

We sent a photo of our newborn son and a short story about the miracle to Hilandar Monastery by mail. When Roman flew to Mt. Athos, he saw the photo in the monastery by the icon of St. Simeon. And twelve years later, we went to Optina Monastery again, for the first time since Ivan was born. We went into the church where I had tearfully confessed to Fr. Hilarion, and I was pierced to the heart: Thirteen years ago, that confession had taken place under a huge wall icon of St. John the Hut-dweller.

Anna Berseneva-Shankevich
Translation by Jesse Dominick


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