“Maybe I’m sinning and don’t know it”
Mother Maria had a predilection for reading spiritual books. Whenever something was unclear to her, she consulted with us in the simplicity of her humble spirit. One day she was reading a booklet with a list of sins. There she found a term that she didn’t understand, which meant one of the impure carnal sins. Mother Maria came up to Mother Elizabeth and wondered what the word meant. She was surprised:
“Mother, why are you interested in this?”
“Maybe I’m sinning and don’t know it…”
“No, you definitely don’t sin this way. It's better for you not to know what it is.”
Mother Maria stopped worrying and understood everything. She was humble and chaste.
Despite the many miracles she had seen, she was devoid of exalted sensitivity and reasoned soberly and wisely.
Contact with holy elders
Schema-Archimandrite Vitaly (Sidorenko) Elder Vitaly often gave Mother Maria special assignments. One day he sent her to another city with a package, to an exact address. Batiushka saw that a great tragedy was brewing in that house. It turned out there was a woman with some children living there, driven to despair because of hunger. She was already thinking about suicide when Mother Maria appeared on her doorstep with the package from Batiushka, which contained food. The woman wasn’t familiar with Fr. Vitaly and had never heard of him before. She was very surprised and delighted.
The Elder often gave Mother Maria instructions to send packages of food to needy people by mail.
There was another such case with Mother Maria. When she was younger, her parish priest told her to clean the floor of the altar. She was terribly frightened, daring not to enter the altar, but the priest insisted. Then Mother Maria crawled into the altar on all fours, washed the floor with trembling hands, and crawled out the same way. That night she had a dream. She saw the ambo, fenced on either side up to a certain point, and she heard a voice: “Never go farther than this.”
Mother told the Elder everything. He rebuked her slightly and forbade her to enter the altar.
One day Mother Maria gave me a ball of thread and asked me to knit a jacket. I wasn’t up to knitting then, but I couldn’t say no to my beloved Mother Maria. The next day, she shyly asked me to return the thread, saying: “Fr. Vitaly scolded and forbade me. He said: ‘Don’t burden her.’” (Batiushka had already been dead for several years). Mother didn’t even notice that she had let it slip. She perceived everything so simply herself.
I was surprised, but didn’t ask her any questions so as not to embarrass her.
Mother’s blessed repose
Shortly before her death, Mother Maria fell ill and took to her bed. She was taken to the convent hospital, where she was cared for by the nuns. We sometimes visited her, and this is what she told us.
During this period, her hut almost collapsed, and Matushka was tormented by the question of where she would live after leaving the hospital. And then, in a dream she saw the Elders walking together in the distance. Fr. Andronik broke away from the bunch, silently approached her, put a note in her hand, and just as silently went after the Elders again. The note read: “Don’t cling to earthly things.”
And indeed, Mother no longer needed any earthly abode. Soon she passed away there, in the convent, while standing in church during a service. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Ps. 115:16).
She was buried in the village of Norio (not far from Tbilisi) in the convent cemetery.
MEMORIES OF SCHEMANUN XENIA (KALININA)
"Bless me, Batiushka!"
Fr. Alexander Baiashvili:
I thank God that I knew Schemanun Xenia. I remember her as a model of Christian humility, non-acquisitiveness, and obedience. She wore the same coat in both winter and in summer and lived in poverty for many years. She never spent the money that was given to her in church on herself—she gave it away to others.
Once, when I had an operation, through our acolyte she sent me a sum of money which at that time was considerable, especially for her.
Mother Maria told me that she had moved to Georgia with the blessing of the Glinsk Elders and had been a spiritual daughter of Fr. Vitaly (Sidorenko). She showed me his letter, which she cherished, containing the Elder’s spiritual instructions.
Mother related an episode from her childhood how one time she couldn’t even get into the church yard on a certain feast because there were so many people. She was very worried, and she sat down on a bench and burst into tears. A woman approached her and started consoling her, saying: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” Mother calmed down, and when the people had dispersed and she could safely enter the church, she recognized this woman in the icon of the Martyr Parasceva.
She also talked about how St. Seraphim of Sarov had saved her from rapists. Many of us were aware of the story and knew how she venerated St. Seraphim. But she spoke about it with humility and without any conceit.
Matushka came to Georgia with the blessing of the Glinsk Elders. She was walking alone from the station to the place where she was supposed to stop. It was in the evening. Suddenly two men stopped her and started asking her questions. She understood from their behavior that they had bad intentions (she was still young at the time) and she prayed silently: “Venerable Father Seraphim, help!” Suddenly she saw an elder approaching them, exactly as depicted in St. Seraphim’s icons, and he pulled the men away from Mother by their sleeves. She ran away in fear, and the looking back, she saw the following: The Elder was standing there and speaking to them, and they were listening to him quietly, hanging their heads. Mother later regretted not having thanked the Elder.
I recall when Mother Xenia was seriously ill and was lying in the monastery, the nuns looked after her. I was an altar server then and came to visit her. As I was leaving, I heard her say to me: “Father, bless me.” I was at a loss and thought she probably mistook me for a priest because she was so sick and old. Although I wasn’t in a cassock, and she knew very well that I was just an altar server. But she repeated again: “Father, bless me!” We said goodbye, and I left, of course not daring to bless her. I visited Mother for a second time, and before leaving I heard her say to me again: “Father, bless me!” I didn’t know then that a few years later I would become a priest.
There was another story. Mother Xenia was talking to my mother. I had just started going to church and helping in the altar, and my mother had apprehensions about it. She was afraid I would abandon my studies (I was studying at a medical institute). I remember how Mother was talking to my mother and telling her different stories about people who didn’t think they would become priests—who got a degree and were planning to start a profession, but the Lord arranged for them to become priests.
She told her one story, another, and my mother just stood there weeping. Later, when I became a priest, I realized that everything Mother Xenia said was basically what happened to me. I too thought I would become a doctor, and couldn’t have imagined that by Divine Providence my life would change so radically and I would become a priest.
That’s what I can recall about Mother Xenia. And I thank God that I had the opportunity to communicate with such a person. For me she was truly an example of the monastic life—an unmercenary, meek, and humble woman of prayer.
“Her standing at Liturgy was a life in God and with God”
Schemanun Xenia has remained in my memory forever as a living image of a reverent attitude towards the Divine Liturgy. Her standing at the Liturgy was a life in God and with God. Without teaching, without words of instruction, she gave us an example that we wanted and still want to imitate. It wasn’t until after her repose that we realized how much she meant to the choir. With her departure, a void appeared on the kliros, which remains to this day. Her physical place—on a chest in the corner—is now occupied by other servants of God, but her place in the spiritual sense remains vacant.
Schemanun Xenia seldom entered into conversations. In the intervals between Church services, she would always sit on her chest in the corner and pray, but if she told us something from her memories, it was always very instructive and valuable.
I’ll always remember the lesson she taught me when I was still a full-time choir singer. As the youngest in the choir, I would go to the kitchen for lunch and bring it to the kliros (we had a special blessing to eat on the kliros in our church). At the kitchen they gave me chicken broth. When I brought the pot to the kliros, to my surprise I heard a sharp cry from Mother Maria: “Get that out of here now!” I obeyed her, but the question remained in my soul: Why so sharp? She understood my unspoken question and told me an episode from the life of Elder Andronik that she had witnessed herself.
When the holy Elders were still alive, there was a certain Tamara singing in the choir at St. Alexander Nevsky’s Church. She would bring meals to her landlady from the hospital. One day, as always, she brought a pot in her bag and put it on the chest. The bag was closed, and the pot couldn’t be seen. But, coming out of the altar, Elder Andronik looked at the bag and said: “Tamara, get this bag out of here.” Having said this, the Elder went down the steps and left the church. Tamara didn’t understand the meaning of his words and didn’t take out the bag. When Batiushka Andronik returned to the altar, he looked at the bag again and explained sternly: “Tamara, I told you—get the bag out of here. The angels are turning away.” The Elder hadn’t seen what was in the bag, but he saw how the angels, unable to bear the spirit of meat, were turning away from this place.
So Mother Maria helped me come to understand forever that the choir is a special place of the presence of the angelic powers.