May 14 marked the eighty-fifth anniversary of the repose of Nina of Lalsk, a saint of God. Today the parishioners of the Church of the Annunciation in the village of Lalsk of the Kirov region remember with gratitude the feat of their fragile fellow villager, through whose labors the church remained open for the faithful for a long time.
A beloved Daughter
Martyr Nina Kuznetsova was born in the town of Lalsk on December 28, 1887. The girl was the only child in the family, so her parents, Alexei and Anna, loved her very much and wanted her to have her own family. But Nina’s heart longed for the Heavenly realm, and prayer and reading spiritual books were the companions of her life. Her father did not hinder the girl’s spiritual aspirations—he built shelves in their barn and decided to buy spiritual literature for his daughter. Thus the barn became the young ascetic’s “cell”. God blessed Nina with a good memory; the saint knew many prayers by heart and read the Psalter by heart. But her soul demanded the strict fulfillment of God’s commandment to serve others, and the girl began to welcome the homeless and wanderers, which her parents did not stop her from doing at all.
The godless persecutors did not spare this pious family. In 1932, Alexei and Anna were arrested. Grief-stricken, Nina was paralyzed. The persecutors left the sufferer at home, but from that day on it was difficult for Nina to walk and move her right arm. Nina’s parents soon died in prison. Her parents’ house became a shelter for misfortunate and destitute people, the wives of the arrested, who hoped to receive shelter and food in the hospitable hostess’ home.
Nina’s house was always full of people. The fame of the selfless woman who loved strangers spread all over the surrounding villages, and even passers-by stopped at the blessed woman’s house. They would gather around the samovar, drink tea, and have a meal. The hostess would never sit down at the table, but would modestly sit in the corner on a stump in front of the stove.
“A monastery is the seventeenth kathisma and sour cabbage every day”
In the meantime, a monastery was formed in Lalsk from the brethren of St. Nicholas Monastery in Koryazhma [now in the Kotlas Diocese.—Trans.], which had been closed by the Soviet authorities. Soon this monastery was also closed, and some of the monks, headed by the abbot, Igumen Pavel (Khotemov), began to live in the house of the God-pleaser of Lalsk. Fr. Pavel was a true ascetic. He knew over 600 names [of the faithful for commemoration] by heart, arrived a few hours before the Liturgy, commemorated everyone, and fasted very strictly. When asked, “What is a monastery?” he answered, “A monastery is the seventeenth kathisma and sour cabbage every day.”
People would bring Fr. Pavel home-baked bread and buns, but he never touched them. He would leave them and they would become stale. Nina would take the stale bread, soak it in water, and eat it. She never drank any milk or tea, she knew no tasty food, and even abstained from sugar. Dry bread soaked in water was her usual meal. Together with the monks, Blessed Nina observed a strict rule. At two in the morning, Nina and her brethren would get up to pray. The ascetic never lay in a bed: she slept in a corner of the hut under the washbasin, fully covered by a blanket, and only four hours a day.
Martyr Nina had a great love for church, prayed at every service, and knew the Typikon and the texts of the services very well. During services she pretended to be asleep, but whenever someone made a mistake, she would tell him what to read next and unmistakably gave the excerpts from the Gospel and the Epistles to be read at any particular day, thus helping the weak-sighted Fr. Pavel and the reader Andrei when they were unable to find the right passages.
This is how they spent their typical working days full of prayer. Blessed Nina’s zeal helped the faithful defend Lalsk Cathedral, and her persistent letters to Moscow stopped the attempts of the godless authorities to close the church.
The path of the Cross
Early in 1937, the faithful of Lalsk were arrested: the priest, the reader, the churchwarden, the choir singers and simple parishioners. They were sent to the prison of Veliky Ustyug [now in the Vologda region.—Trans.].
And Blessed Nina’s path on the steps of the Beatitudes began. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you (Mt. 5:11). On October 31, 1937, Nina was arrested… And shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake (ibid.). The Deputy Chairman of the Lalsk Village Council gave false witness against the humble sufferer. At the interrogation Nina did not plead guilty. Despite the woman’s disability, the executioners’ hand did not falter. On November 23, 1937, she was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp. She was sent to one of the Kotlas camps [in the far north], where the ascetic of the northern regions of Russia fell asleep in the Lord on May 14, 1938. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven (Mt. 5:12).
The “Memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church” Regional Public Foundation // URL: https://www.fond.ru/imennoj-ukazatel/408/Nina/
Church of the Annunciation. Lalsk // URL: https://vk.com/cerkov_lalsk