Part 1. Tuma and Syntul
Since ancient times, Orthodox people have tried to record miracles worked by St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in order to honor his holy name. These records have served to strengthen the faith of many. Continuing the tradition of our ancestors, we offer readers some St. Nicholas miracle stories, related by Archpriest Sergei Pravdoliubov, rector of the Holy Trinity Church in Troitskoye-Golenishchevo (Moscow), as part of the “Native Village” program on the Radonezh radio station in 2021-2022. These miracles were performed by the holy hierarch near the village of Syntul in the Ryazan region.
Icon of St. Nicholas at the church in the village of Syntul
There is a white-stone chapel in the village of Makkaveyevo (the Ryazan region) near the Church of the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos. It was erected very long ago; this building is not of later times. Someone scratched the date “1836” on its white stone, but this is not the date of its construction—it marks some event from the life of the poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin. The chapel was erected on the site of the original church, which was here in the seventeenth century and had an altar dedicated to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. An icon of St. Nicholas stands on the chapel, and an icon lamp burns in front of it, especially on the great feasts, as is customary in Greece and Russia. And inside the Holy Protection Church there is a wooden effigy of St. Nicholas with a wooden sword in his right hand and a church in his left hand. The saint guards his church, and indeed protects any church where he is venerated, and the faithful who turn to God with prayer know that St. Nicholas helps in all troubles and needs.
I was already an adult when my mother told me about this miracle. She was in the hospital in Syntul near the lake. It is a beautiful wooden building with large windows, which was used as a rural hospital, where there were good doctors and nurses. Her wardmate there was our parishioner, who lived not far from the bus terminal in front of the river. She told my mother (calmly, without any emotion) how St. Nicholas had helped her son. Her son would ask her to light a candle in front of St. Nicholas’ icon, but he did not go to church. It was during the time when attending church was not encouraged at all, in the post-war years—around 1947–1949.
Chapel on the site of the altar of St. Nicholas Church in Syntul In Syntul an iron foundry worked on delivered materials: cast iron blocks and coal, and coke for a blast furnace. Of course, there was no big profit, but in order for the village to function and sustain its families the authorities maintained this foundry, and it worked. You had to bring and load the necessary materials to the iron foundry from the Tuma (officially Tumskaya) railway station sixty miles away. That woman’s son was a driver and drove a truck to take blocks several times a week to the village of Tuma, loaded the truck and drove back. I remember that in 1978 there was an extremely cold winter; the frost was terrible. In Moscow, steam was pouring out of metro stations and columns of warm air were blowing. People were afraid to get out of the metro and walk to the nearest trolleybus stop because they didn’t want to freeze; they would stand and wait for a trolleybus to come and then would almost run to it. In Moscow, water froze in blocks of flats, sometimes pipes burst, and water flowed down the stairs. It was a very severe winter. I was told that even a bus was stuck on an icy, snow-covered road, and people were rescued from it with difficulty. And in the Ryazan region a Zhiguli car with four people in it was stuck; the engine stalled in a field, and there were no villages nearby and no trees to cut a branch and light it. That winter was very tough.
The driver, having received the load from the Tuma station, was driving to the foundry in Syntul. And at a turn of the road he took a little to the left or to the right, the car stopped, stalled, and it could not move. When my mother told me this, my imagination ran wild—it was cold, and he could have died. But later, when I met that driver and asked him, “Was your life in danger then?” he replied, “No, it was winter, but there wasn’t a deadly frost.” His mother prayed because she was afraid that something might have happened to her son. She saw through the window of her house that his truck had not arrived for a long time. Then the truck drove up to the house, stopped, the son put it on the brakes, ran in and said to his mother:
“Mom, did you pray to St. Nicholas? Don’t tell anyone or they’ll laugh at me.”
He went back, got into the truck, delivered his load to the iron foundry, unloaded it, and then everything was fine.
Here’s the story the driver’s mother told my mother.
So what happened on the road? The truck was standing without moving. There was no one around. It was already getting dark. In those years, there were not so many cars and you could wait alone on the road for a long time. And suddenly he saw an old man walking along the road, dressed simply in typical Russian clothes—a quilted jacket, which workers wear. He approached the driver and said:
“Are you stuck on the road?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Get into the cab, try it—push the truck back and forth, and I will push from behind.”
The driver got inside, began to rock the truck, and suddenly it moved onto the road. He was delighted, ran out of the cab and wanted to give the old man (who had clearly spoken Russian with him) a lift. But there was no one around, and he realized that it was a miracle, and it was St. Nicholas!
This is what my mother told me. I mentioned this story in a sermon in 1980. Three years later a woman in a trolleybus thanked me for this sermon, and I was surprised: “Wow, three years have passed— and she still remembers!”
My brothers and another priest learned about this, and we marveled. It was a true miracle, and we felt it should be immortalized in some way. We decided to found a chapel and write a petition to Archbishop Simon of Ryazan and Kasimov, because without the blessing of the ruling hierarch no one has the right to build a chapel. Fr. Feodor (Pravdolyubov; 1956–2011), as the head of the Makkaveyevo district, wrote in the petition:
“I ask Your Eminence’s blessing for the construction of a chapel at the turn of the Moscow Highway to the left, not far from Dankovo.”
Bishop Simon replied:
“Is this case authentic or not? Find out, please. Find the driver, ask him to tell you all this, and if you confirm with documents that this miracle really occurred, it will be possible to build a chapel.”
That summer I was staying there, and I had the opportunity to find the driver. I decided to interview him and record his account on a small cassette recorder. I paid them a visit: his mother let me in and told me everything in detail, and I recorded it. I saw an icon of St. Nicholas, in front of which she prayed—it was a very common nineteenth-century icon in a case. At the end of our conversation, she said, “It’s a pity that my son is away now: he is on a fishing trip. If he came, you could talk to him.” When I was walking away from their house, her son arrived home. I asked him to tell me everything in detail, and he agreed.
He was a simple man. He added that the miracle had not occurred in the village of Syntul, but closer to Tuma—six miles away from it—where there is the village of Davydovo (my great-grandfather, Archpriest Anatoly Pravdoliubov, who served in Kasimov, was born and lived in this village). But there was no severe frost. At that time his mother was praying, and St. Nicholas came and helped in such a way. All this really took place.
But every priest wants to build such a chapel closer to his village so that he can come and pray in it. So it was decided to set up a chapel closer to Syntul, and not to Tuma. We drew up a document confirming that we had spoken to the mother and the driver, and we, three brothers, signed it, and Fr. Feodor prepared a petition. Vladyka blessed us to build a chapel. The chapel was set up, but it didn’t look the way we had wanted it to. It was not beautiful and grand, but simple and more like a commemorative chapel that serves to remind drivers that St. Nicholas performed a miracle on this road.
This miracle had a profound effect on me. As for the driver, he didn’t become a church-goer. He did ask his mother to light candles for him, but did not attend services. However, for the rest of his life he venerated St. Nicholas. How amazing it is that the holy hierarch appeared to a worker, a Komsomol member! And for the driver it was not a shock.
The chapel was erected not far from Syntul. When I drive past, at this turn I pray to St. Nicholas, asking for his blessing for my journey to Moscow; I always signal three times in honor of the Holy Trinity and do the same when I pass Anemnyasevo [it is associated with Blessed Matrona of Anemnyasevo, who was canonized as a new confessor.—Trans.].
But there was a continuation of that event. The writer and poet Boris Mikhailovich Shishayev (1946–2010), and Valery Nikolaevich Avdeyev (1948–2003), a poet with whom I studied at school, would sometimes get together here in Makkaveyevo-Syntul and celebrate some holidays and anniversaries, and I was invited to take part in those memorable events. I agreed to commemorate local writers and poets. On one of my visits to Syntul the writer Vladimir Vasilyevich Akimov from Kasimov presented me with his book entitled, Kasimov and the Kasimov People. It is a wonderful book. I thanked him, he gave me his autograph and left his phone number. This book has a short story entitled, “Nicholas the God-Pleaser, an account of a miracle performed by St. Nicholas”. As I read it I thought: “Maybe this is a retelling of the same St. Nicholas post-war miracle in a different version and with some literary fantasies?” I called the writer and wondered:
“Vladimir Vasilievich, I’ve read the short story, “Nicholas the God-Pleaser”. Is it what really happened, or did you describe some kind of legend?”
He even was offended:
“Why? No. These were real events.”
“What about the driver?”
“We went to the same school. He drove for thirty years.”
It turned out that the chapel, built closer to Syntul-Makkaveyevo, attracted St. Nicholas, and there he performed a miracle. It was a different case with a different person.
I consider this story important; moreover, I consider it good evidence of another miracle, and therefore I quote the whole account from that book.
Nicholas the God-Pleaser
(From the book, Kasimov and the Kasimov People. Kasimov, 2005, p. 133)
On the tenth mile of the Kasimov-Ryazan highway, at an intersection of forest roads, opposite the former Nizhnedankovsky cordon, there is a brick chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. For Kasimov drivers this place is holy and they specially venerate it. There are many legends associated with it, and one of them was shared with me by a truck driver with thirty years of work experience—Ivan Petrovich Semyonov. Here’s his account.
St. Nicholas Chapel on the Kasimov-Ryazan road “On New Year’s Eve, when I was returning from a difficult, long business trip, I had an incident right here, at this turn. I was carrying a whole truckload of computers and televisions from Kaliningrad. I thought: ‘I’ve driven carefully and I’ve come just in time for the New Year’s table.’ Suddenly an oncoming luxury car almost blinded me with its headlights. To avoid a front collision, I took a little to the left, and my van fell on its side. I thought: ‘That’s the end! It will take me A lifetime to repay the damaged cargo! This is how I’ve “celebrated” the New Year!’ I got out of the cab and assessed the situation. A ZIL-157 truck slowed down near me. With the driver’s help I got the van back on its wheels. The load was safe. At least I did not notice any damage, only the radiator was leaking. I thanked the ZIL driver for his help and set about repairing the radiator. I kindled a fire, melted some snow and poured a bucket of water into the radiator. So, I thought, ‘Happy journey!’ But the engine was roaring, the wheels spinning, and even smoke was coming, while the van was standing still, as if frozen. As usual, in such situations, you remember God and St. Nicholas the God-Pleaser. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a gray-haired old man with a staff in some old-fashioned zipun [an old Tatar garment, used by Russians, Cossacks and Tatars.—Trans.] approached me.
“‘Son, it is not moving?’ the old man asked me, and the engine spontaneously stalled.
“‘That’s right, father. I am in trouble, and I’m almost running out of fuel,’ I answered.
“‘Make the sign of the cross. Get back into the cab. Start your engine. And move slowly,’ he told me.
“‘Are you joking, father?’
“‘Don’t argue with me. Get into the cab. I will help you.’
“It seemed weird to me. How could an old man like that help me,? But I heeded his advice. And, lo and behold, the van started very easily and began moving. I got out of the cab to thank the old man and said:
“‘Get into the cab. I’ll give you a lift.’
“‘No, son, go alone. I live not far from here. I’ll walk on my own,’ he said, and walked away along the forest road in the direction of Syntul.
“I drove to the motor depot, parked the van in the garage and told the guys this story. But they did not believe me and laughed:
“‘Well, Vanya, you are excellent at lying.’
“But as I drive past this place, I always recall that story and make the sign of the cross just in case. And I hung a small icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in the cab. Just in case.”
This is the end of the story. When the author confirmed the actual event, it even became scary. “I live not far from here,” he said and walked towards Syntul. To where? Where his altar stands, where his chapel stands, where he is loved and venerated. And everyone who comes to church sees him, knows him, prays to him and lights candles in front of his icons—for what? Because he helps and even appears. To whom? To drivers, as it is a bit dangerous to appear to old women who will become proud. How awesome! But he walks and helps not only motorists on our roads—he helps everyone who prays to him.