From the author: Many of my stories (“Encounter With the Invisible World,” “Athonite Stories From Fr. Savvaty,” “A Short Story about the Short Life of Slava the Czech,” and others) were written based on the stories from the sisters of the Kazan-St. Tryphon Hermitage and its spiritual father Igumen Savvaty (Rudakov). Today I’d like to acquaint you, dear readers, with the Nativity stories of the sisters of this monastery.
What’s a monastery?
A month or two passed after my Baptism (it was in late September), and I asked the babas at church about where Orthodox Christians go on vacation, because everything’s probably completely different for them. “We go to monasteries.”
They didn’t answer any of my other questions, but sent me to an elderly parishioner who loved to go to the monastery in Verkhnechusovskie Gorodki. And I, in jeans, platform shoes, and a bright coat, dropped in to see this little, almost transparent baba in a head covering to find out what a monastery is. Having looked me up and down with a penetrating gaze, she suddenly said to me: “They won’t take you there looking like that!”
This baba later became my bridge to the monastery. We would sit for hours in her almost beggarly kitchen over a cup of tea with blini, and it felt like I was in some corner of Paradise. She later took the monastic tonsure with the name Agafia and ended her life’s journey in this monastery.
“To Batiushka Igumen Savvaty”
I wasn’t too sad that they wouldn’t take me at the monastery, since I wasn’t even planning to join one. Plus, I started seeing ads in the newspapers about dilapidated churches that needed helpers. I was already thinking about which of these churches to go to, when suddenly this same baba, the future Nun Agafia, came up to me after church.
She meekly asked me: “Are you still planning to go to the monastery? I’ve been collecting gifts for the fathers, and I thought since you’re going, you could take them…” And she started showing me small packages, each with two or three cookies and a handful of caramels. The packets were sweetly signed: “To Batiushka Igumen Savvaty,” “To Batiushka Simeon,” “To Batiushka Hierodeacon Peter,” “To Matushka Ksenia.” And I knew I couldn’t refuse. I remember that when we parted, she told me they’d give me obediences in the monastery.
“I came to be a novice!”
I went to the monastery in December, during the Nativity Fast. And when I met with the abbess of the monastery, Mother Ksenia, I suddenly blurted out: “I came to be a novice!” Mother was quite surprised by such a declaration.
One day I was walking down the monastery path and suddenly heard Batiushka’s voice from behind: “Mother!” He was calling for some nun behind me, and I was embarrassed to turn around, since he wasn’t calling me. Fr. Savvaty again called: “Mother, which Mother is this walking ahead of me?” I thought some old nun was walking behind me who didn’t hear Batiushka.
But the third time Batiushka started asking: “Mother, turn around, please. I don’t understand which nun you are!” And I thought I would tell this old, deaf nun that Batiushka was calling her! I turned around and found that I was the only one on the path. And Fr. Savvaty smiled mischievously and said: “Oh, I was wrong, it’s Irina!”
So I spent a week in the monastery. It was another world—like a child’s fairytale, eternally happy, unreal. My life hadn’t yet completely fit into this holy place. And I left this Paradise, hoping that maybe after about six months I would come, for example, after Great Lent and Pascha, because I’d never seen it and wanted to experience the feast there.
Before leaving, I went to see Batiushka and told him my plans out loud. And again Batiushka unexpectedly said with a childlike cunning in his eyes: “Actually, come a little earlier.” My thoughts began to stir: “But I have work, and probably some other things to take care of. No, it’s impractical to come earlier. Batiushka doesn’t know what he’s saying.” And I went home.
And then it started!...
At that time, I was working at a twenty-four-hour kiosk—you sit alone and you don’t have to talk to customers a whole lot. And no one was ever rude to me (this was in the 1990s!). Never. I even attributed it to some kind of personal luck.
But then—this is hard to believe—armed men started coming at me in the kiosk during every shift (starting a day or two later)! I had a gun pointed at me several times, even in broad daylight. I mentally said goodbye to life, imagining how the fragments of bottles would cut me, even if it was a gas pistol.
On New Year’s Eve, in the afternoon I was speaking with a man who pointed a gun right in my face. The line, including men, was silent—no one stood up for me. And I was an unafraid girl, and acted bravely. I somehow grabbed the barrel of the gun and pulled it to myself, trying to tear it from the hands of the attacker, until the guy jerked it back and ran off. But this last incident was simply terrifying: Now I realize that this man was possessed. I didn’t what it was called that before—I had never seen such people in my life. That’s when I was attacked by some kind of otherworldly fear.
How I went to the monastery during the Nativity Fast
Worried by these events, I decided to take a time out and go to the monastery during the Nativity Fast, like on a vacation. I hadn’t been on vacation in a long time. My parents took it hard—they didn’t want me to go. But I told them about all my adventures, which I hadn’t mentioned before, and I left while they were still in a state of shock from my stories.
The temptations immediately began: The city trolleybus broke down on the way to the train station, and I had to run with a heavy suitcase through the whole city. I flew into the car of the departing train at the last second. I had to switch from a train to a bus, and I got the trips mixed up. The bus took me to the other side of the river from the monastery. It also broke down on the way. Two breakdowns: first the trolleybus, then the bus—that was already something.
The passengers, including me, had to walk two miles to the village on foot. Being locals, everyone dispersed to their homes. It was a cold winter evening, it was quickly growing dark, and finally a pitch-black darkness descended—I heard nothing but drunk people singing and the howling of a blizzard. One of the passengers told me it wasn’t difficult to walk to the monastery—you just have to cross the river at the forest road and there you see a light—that’s the monastery.
Following the directions he gave me, I made a turn. Instead of a road, I wound up at an abandoned brick factory across the river, and two drunk guards came out to meet me. I left the factory, walked to the next turn, but it turned out to be a dead end. I went out onto the road again and walked to the next turn. A cleared road appeared, and I calmed down and started walking down it. And… I slammed into a snowdrift that reached over my head.
To right, to the left, and ahead there were only snowdrifts, and behind me—an unknown village, and on the street—darkness, blizzard, bristly snow. The frost next to the Chusovaya River felt like -20, and I didn’t know where the monastery was. I backed away and had the terrifying thought that I would freeze here, in this snow. I returned to the path I had been on, and I started tearfully praying, “Rejoice, Virgin Theotokos.”
And then I saw a headlight in the distance coming towards me. I went out and stretched my arms out, blocking the road. Even if it was a motorcycle, maybe they’d take pity on me and take me to the monastery. An old van with a broken headlight pulled up to me. A man was driving, with a ten-year-old boy next to him. We had an extraordinary conversation:
“Sir, I’m lost. Please take me. I’m going to the monastery. Do you know how to get there?”
“That’s exactly where I’m going.”
“Really? Do you know Batiushka Savvaty?”
“Of course!” the man behind the wheel said, smiling. “I’m his personal driver.”
That’s how I met our indispensable Alexander Stepanovich Utochkin, Batiushka’s right-hand man in matters around the monastery, or simply Sasha, who has been like family to me ever since. His son Zhenya who was sitting next to him then has his own family now with two children.
How I worked as a snowplow
When I arrived at the monastery, I plunged headfirst into work. I had a light feeling in my soul, and all my energy came bursting out.
I remember one funny incident. It was the Nativity Fast. The snowdrifts really were above our heads this year. The sisters cleared the road from the mountain for transportation and paths throughout the monastery by hand. The square in front of the trapeza was covered with snow up to the knee, and in some places it came up to the waist. The workers were shoveling a small path to get to the warehouse—we didn’t need the square in winter. But, seeing my productivity, Mother Ksenia told me to shovel it the width of one car. I probably finished it all in an hour!
I went and told Mother that I’d finished the work. Perhaps to humble me a little, she said: “I asked you to do it as wide as two cars,” and I again ran off happily to clear the snow. I shoveled the entire square without getting tired. As I was standing off to the side and admiring my work, a couple of workers passed by and asked each other: “What, did the snowplow come today? I didn’t see it.” I laughed, that I had done the work of a snowplow.
My beloved monastery—this is my reality now
My two weeks were drawing to an end. Obediences, nighttime akathists before the wonderworking Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. This wonderful, dear and beloved monastery—this is my reality now, and the world has ceased to exist for me, as though it’s slipped into oblivion. Or perhaps it never existed—maybe it was all a dream?
I returned to the city, gathered up all my winter clothes, and that same day left for the monastery again for three months, until Pascha. After Pascha, one urgent matter arose: I had to go with my parents to receive my inheritance after my grandfather died.
And Batiushka said: “This will be a test for you. I’ll give you a month. If you return, we’ll put a cassock on you. And if you don’t return, then you don’t return.” With the first part of his sentence, my heart just about leapt out of my chest from my sudden happiness. And with the second part, it was covered with a mortal anguish, and I felt some kind of grave dampness and horror. I returned a week later, having rejected my inheritance.
A little while later, the monastery seamstress, Mother I., called me to try on a cassock, with an unfinished hem and collar. She put it on me and led me to the mirror. It was a fateful moment. In the mirror I saw not the person I’d known all my life—it was another person standing there, whose reflection was looking at me as if from another world. It was like falling into a fairytale—you’re no longer a spectator, but now a character in the story. I’ll never be the girl who spent twenty-four years in the city of Berezniki again. My soul fell into place. It was like I’d walked through an invisible door, the door closed, and then everything disappeared behind me.
Two years later I was tonsured
In December 2001, there was a significant event in the Perm Diocese: They brought the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God. And for the first time, the whole monastery, with Batiushka and Mother Ksenia, went to serve a moleben before the holy icon. It was cold, but we were all warmed by the grace coming from it. After the moleben, they gave us photos showing fiery tongues emanating from the icon. We got home late.
Batiushka and several of the older nuns got to the monastery a little earlier. And when we all got back, an unusual dinner awaited us. Batiushka himself and Mother Tamara, with aprons on, brought tea to the sisters, which the novices usually do. It was the most sweet and delicious dinner of my life.
And also, as I approached the icon, I suddenly said in my mind that I wanted to become a nun. Two years later, I was tonsured, and now my name’s day is celebrated the next day after the Pochaev Icon. So I’ve been in the monastery twenty years now, seventeen of those as a tonsured nun.
Blessed Nativity to all the readers of OrthoChristian.com! God bless you!
From the author:
These are the Nativity stories we wanted to share with you, our dear readers. The Kazan-St. Tryphon Hermitage is located quite far from Perm and other cities, and the sisters of this poor monastery are accustomed to the difficulties and hardships of village life. They live the old-fashioned way: They fetch water from a well, they still wash their clothes by hand, they heat stoves, they have no sewage system, and all the amenities are outside.
The hermitage began to have a hard time due to the limited number of pilgrims during the COVID pandemic. And now, unfortunately, the sisterhood can’t receive donations from outside of Russia, but we ask our readers to keep the abbess, Mother Ksenia, and the whole sisterhood of the Kazan-St. Tryphon Hermitage in your prayers!
And visit the monastery website: http://v-chus.cerkov.ru/.