Eldress Nikodima of Diveyevo

† March 2/15 (1990)

Part 1

During Great Lent in 1990, a living legacy of Diveyevo Monastery reposed in the Lord. The holy slave of God Eldress Nikodema, who began her monastic life as a novice in St. Seraphim’s famous convent, is not known to many, but her spiritual daughter (whose name, unfortunately, we do not have) composed this biography of her. We present here an English translation of this biography, in a rather folksy style that mirrors the original.

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1. Prayerful Intercessor for Her Kin

Schemanun Nikodema (left) and her sister Susannah (Grishnova) in Sergeyev Posad Schemanun Nikodema (left) and her sister Susannah (Grishnova) in Sergeyev Posad
Prascovia Ivanovna Grishnova was born in 1900 in Ryazan province, in a locality called Salovo, located not far from Diveyevo Monastery. The road to Temnikov (leading to Diveyevo) passed through Sasovo, and people from her village always went to venerate that holy place. Entire families often lived in Diveyevo Monastery, and Matushka also came from a large family. There was a tradition among large peasant families to choose two or three children to be sent away to a monastery, naturally a local one, where they would pray for their kin. Her family chose Diveyevo Monastery. One of the older daughters, Xenia, was sent to Diveyevo, and her parents visited her often. Matushka told us how, as a little girl, she was once put in the cart and taken to visit Xenia. Xenia had only lived there for a short time when Abbess Alexandra, the last abbess of Diveyevo, blessed them to bring Pasha as well. So her parents loaded her on the cart and brought her. Such was the sense of obedience in these families—they were given the blessing, and it did not matter if the child was needed in the family. They loaded her up without asking whether or not she wanted to go, and took her to the monastery. It meant that such was God's will.

Matushka said of herself that she was very boisterous, frisky, quick, nimble, and a great trouble-maker. As a child she once hit her older sister Xenia with a large metal instrument and Xenia was seriously hurt. Pasha's father grabbed her and wanted to punish her, but she managed to break free, then ran away and hid in the nettles. Her father saw that the child had already punished herself, and he said to her: "Well then sit there until you smarten up." She sat in those nettles for an hour or two. Her mother felt sorry for her, for she would be covered with blisters, so she went to find her. "Well, Pasha, come out." But Pasha was stubborn: "I haven't smartened up yet."

Thus Matushka was to be in Diveyevo with this same Mother Xenia, in schema Susannah, from the time she was fourteen years old. This was in 1914. She told of her first childish impressions of Diveyevo Monastery. At that time, Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna, the fool for Christ of Diveyevo, was still alive, and Matushka knew her. Prascovia Ivanovna loved Matushka very much and called her Ksiutka.[1] The blessed ones are just that—blessed; by night they war with the enemy (that is, with the flesh and the devil), do not sleep, and are ready to do any wild thing in order to save people. Of course, the novices bore a great burden from her. Therefore, when matushka came as a little girl to Prascovia Ivanovna they would have her spend the night, while they themselves would leave, for the blessed one behaved herself well with this girl and gave them a rest. Matushka related how Prascovia Ivanovna herself said: "Bring me that girl, put her on the stool, help her with her skirts." And she would always say to her: "Ksiutka, Ksiutka, Ksiutka." Xenia was the eldest, but she was calling this one Ksiutka. This probably had some meaning, because Matushka's spiritual father also later called her blessed Pasha.

There were many blessed ones (fools for Christ) in the Monastery at that time. As Matushka said, there were eleven blessed ones: Maria Ivanovna came after Prascovia Ivanovna; there was Onisim, and Andriushenka-dushenka, and all of these blessed ones hung around her. So "Ksiutka" was a strange one. Her appearance as an adult very much resembled Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna's; from the Blessed One's photograph you just could not tell them apart. Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna's photograph later hung over Matushka's bed and everyone thought that it was her. Prascovia Ivanovna was Mother Nidodema's first instructor.

2. First Obedience

Diveyevo Monastery, before the revolution. Diveyevo Monastery, before the revolution.
They placed an older nun over little Pasha, and she was given the obedience to guard the monastery rye or wheat fields. The local people kept farm animals—pigs and sheep—and these little girls were to keep them out of the fields. Such were the obediences given to children—childish ones. It is not for nothing that Matushka wept all her life. When she was already living with us, in our own time, she would sometimes begin to cry and cry. "Well, why are you crying?" "Look what terrible times I have lived to. (This was back then; she died in 1990.) Oy, to what terrible times I have lived. If you only knew how good it was in the monastery. It was a paradisal life. How well we lived." We said: "Well of course—a war, the civil war, and then the Second World War." "That's not it. But what you have now—it's terrible." Now, of course, we remember her words.

They had Matushka guard the wheat. They watched and watched, but it was boring to just watch, so she and the other girl who was just like her went for a walk. They were living in the orphanage but at the same time were being specifically prepared for monasticism, and had already been assigned obediences. Some girls from the orphanage would marry, and the monastery would help them in this. But those who had been blessed for monasticism would be given obediences right away.

They went to play, found a spot and occupied themselves with their childish occupations. At the same time, the older nun came to check on them. The girls were gone, and the pigs were in the field. She returned to the monastery, while the girls ran after her to get her blessing as though nothing at all had happened. But the older nun would not look at them. What was wrong? They did not understand. The nuns explained to them: "Where were you? We checked on you, but you were not in your place. Why is that?" "We were only away for a little while." "Well, now ask forgiveness." That was how strict it was in the monastery. They ran after that nun for three days. It was a terrible shame to be sent away from the monastery. "What will they say in the village? And what will mama and daddy say? They'll take me apart." What tears were shed, what childish prayers—not because the superior was so cruel, but because they had to be immediately given a serious obedience. This was such a lesson that she never went anywhere again. This penetrated them so, and they so suffered over their disobedience that everything went successfully with their obedience afterwards.

3. Prascovia Ivanovna's Miraculous Stick

Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna. Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna.
Here are more of Matushka's childhood impressions. She was just a little older, and Prascovia Ivanovna was still alive. They sent her out to collect money (alms) for the monastery. They had money collectors then, as they do now. Well, she went out with the older nuns. The monastery was not wealthy; it was a laboring monastery. Although the Diveyevo monastery was famous, and the troubled times of Ivan Tikhonov were over, it was poor nevertheless. As they were walking, Pasha scraped her feet and dirt got into the wounds. They became infected and all her fingernails and toenails were oozing pus. But obedience was so serious in the monastery that one could not complain. Well, this fourteen-year-old child endured the pain the whole way back to the monastery. Furthermore, everything in the monastery was done by faith. When she arrived, they immediately gave her a new obedience: she had to sort grains or some other thing. But it was very painful to touch something with her hands. She said that she would touch something, and the pain would reach to the tips of her hair. "But I couldn't say that I was unable to fulfill that obedience, that something hurts. It was all according to faith; even if I die, it will be for obedience. This was a very simple way of thinking—obedience and nothing more, nothing more is needed." She said that sparks flew from her eyes, but she fulfilled that obedience. Truly it shall be unto you according to your faith. In the evening Prascovia Ivanovna's cell attendants called on her and took her to Prascovia Ivanovna, who said: "Oy, seat that girl quickly, oy, oy, oy!" She took her stick (she had a stick that today's children would call "magic"), and she would beat some people with it, others she would touch with it; in general she herself knew what to do with it. She took that stick and touched it to the girl's fingertips. When she returned to her cell, there was no pus, no pain—nothing. This is what obedience means, what faith means, and for this the Lord worked miracles on them. This is what simplicity they had.

Matushka also related one incident that occurred before the revolution. They were sent to the forest on some monastery need, to gather mushrooms and berries. She was little, but the Lord gave her wisdom. She put some candles and matches in her pocket before they set out for the forest. The forests there are impassible and dark—the Sarov forests. Several nuns who went with her lost their way. There was no way out; it was dark, nighttime, and nowhere to go. It was fearsome, for even now there are wild animals, then even more so. Of course they panicked, but the girl did not lose her wits. She said: "Don't be afraid—I have a candle and matches, and we'll get out of here." She took it upon herself to lead them all out. This is what touching, childlike faith she had. She said: "I prayed very hard." And she led them out with that candle. They lit a candle in the darkness of the forest, and they managed to find a way out, glory be to God.

4. Saint Seraphim

She told more of monastery life. Of course, it was about monastery life before it closed—afterwards the trials began; but life before the monastery was closed, as I recollect how she described it, was just like something out of a fairy tale. There were various obediences in the monastery, and all the nuns took their turns with them all, regardless of their origins or status. Of course everyone wanted to be on the cliros, because the cliros is considered to be the most honored obedience in the monastery. However, before a nun made it to the cliros, she was sent everywhere else—to the fields and the stables, to wherever the Lord led her. Well, one nun was transferred from the water pump to the cliros, and Pashenka was sent to the water pump. The nun joyously took off and ran; nuns are generally simple folk. And this girl was left one on one with the pump. She did not know what to do with this pump, and the nun had not explained anything to her. Suddenly the pump stopped; if she did not take care of it there would be no water, and that is breaking obedience, which is terrible. So she set about praying. All the Diveyevo nuns are that way. It is an unbelievable simplicity. She plunged into prayer to St. Seraphim. They called him "our dear papa." "My dear papa, don't you see, she has flown off, and the water has stopped—what am I going to do with it? I don't know which knob to press." Then St. Seraphim himself came to her, and she talked with him as if he were alive; that is, they talked just as normally and naturally. When she told us this, we of course asked, "Perhaps you were having some kind of vision?" "No, it wasn't a vision. How could it be? I spoke with him myself." They lived on the boundary of two worlds, and they themselves never even felt that boundary. Matushka was that way to the very end. The saint was in a white peasant's smock, speaking calmly with her: "My joy, now why have you become so upset? Here you go, here it is." And he showed her the place, saying: "Touch this here." There was a pipe there. She stretched out her hand, and there was huge icicle. That icicle popped off, and the pump again began to work. Then "papa" left. She did not tell us much. Apparently there were many such incidents. It was impossible to tell them all. Sometimes she would remember something and tell us about it, when Mother Euphrosinia would say "Tell us!" Then matushka would say: "I don't know anything."

Once she was breaking ice, also on obedience, perhaps on some monastery path, or in the canal. It was hard. They had given her a difficult job. Although they were small, they did very heavy labor. She was tired, but she could not leave her work." I was exhausted," she said. Then the Saint again appeared and stood next to her. "I'll help you," he said. So they broke the ice together, and as she related, they did it very quickly. That time he told her (this was already after the revolution): "My joy, something is going to happen that you have never seen before. Pass it on. Tell them that they will be taking the monks from Sarov to war." And truly, soon came the year 1918, and it all began.

The saint was constantly with them. If something happened, he was right there. When Matushka was living with us, she would sit in front of the icon of St. Seraphim saying: "Papa, you know that we need some oranges." Then by evening someone would bring oranges, or some other thing. Just as we talk with one another, so did she talk with St. Seraphim.

5. The Time of Troubles

Holy Hieromartry Seraphim (Zvezdinsky) Holy Hieromartry Seraphim (Zvezdinsky)
Before the monastery was closed there began a time of troubles. Bishop Seraphim (Zvezdinsky) lived there in exile. As Matushka said, and as it is written in the Chronicles, St. Seraphim had said: "I have never done anything here without the blessing of the Heavenly Queen. It is all the will of the Mother of God." The Saint never blessed any fine arts there: no paintings, embroidery, or anything. Under Abbess Maria Ushakova, the monastery flourished, and much was introduced, including a very good iconography school. There were some very skillful handicrafts artists, gold embroiderers, and lace makers. When the monastery was closed [and confiscated], the Soviet government tried to use it for its own benefit. They decided to build a work sector based in the monastery where these fine handicrafts would be produced, the Soviet government would pay money for them, and they would be sold abroad. A division arose in the monastery, because Fr. Seraphim did not bless them to take money for their labors; [he said that] the monastery should live by its own labors, but it should never make anything to sell, for the blessing of the Mother of God was not upon this. Naturally, there was a division in the monastery, because after all—the monastery had to live somehow. Mother Abbess was concerned with survival. Bishop Seraphim protested right away, and there then occurred a rift between him and the abbess. As Mother Nikodima related, he did not bless them to take money, saying: "We will work for the Soviet government, but we won't take any money. We will work for free, and then the monastery will stand." Well, the Abbess said in reply, "And how will we live?" The Bishop said: "The Lord will feed us. But we must not take money; we must not make this a work sector."

Blessed Maria Ivanovna, who was the last great slave of God there, was a great clairvoyant. Matushka Nicodema was very close to her, and she also loved matushka, because she had been given to her. When Prascovia Ivanovna died, Maria Ivanovna took over the care of matushka, and she was fully under her guidance. Maria Ivanovna was over of all those sisters who were in that work sector, which means that they agreed to work, but not to receive money for it. There was Bishop Seraphim (Zvezinsky), Maria Ivanovna, and the "twenty" as they were called, for there were twenty in all who held to this view. Matushka was in such disgrace, that she fell into that twenty. It came to the point that since they were not submitting to the Abbess, the Bishop and the Abbess had a disagreement. (In the book, New Martyrs and Confessor of Russia by Hieromonk Damascene, Bishop Seraphim relates that he had come to Maria Ivanovna to complain about how he and the Abbess were in disagreement, she only said, "They will take both of you out together." And truly the NKVD took them both together to Nizhny Novgorod.) Maria Ivanovna led those twenty and blessed them to stand firm to the end. Then the Abbess blessed them all to be de-tonsured, to take away their monastic clothing and prayer ropes. For those who lived in a monastery at that time, where this ran deep, this was the worst possible measure. What should they do? But Blessed Maria Ivanovna, as the leader of the disgraced nuns, was locked up and not allowed out, to prevent her from giving them any advice. Matushka walked and cried, for there was no one to turn to—Maria Ivanovna was locked up, and she did not know what to do. But she decided to go anyway to "Mamashenka" (that is what they called her). She walked up to the cell, and the Blessed one saw her through the window. Well, matushka had keys then, even a whole ring of keys. I do not know what obedience she had at the time, but she had keys hanging from her belt. Maria Ivanovna said to her: "Pasha, open the door for me." "How can I open the door, Mamashenka?" "Well, you have keys hanging there." "But which one is the key to open your door?" "Any key, Pasha." So she took the first one she came across and easily opened the door. Of course she was all in tears. "Mamashenka, what should I do?" But Maria Ivanovna did not even let her finish (that is what these slaves of God were like), and said: "Pashenka, go now to walk along the canal; Mother Theophila will meet you along the way (she knows everything), and she will tell you: `Pashenka, Mother Abbess blesses you to remove your kamilavka.' And you answer her: `Bless, Mother'. And take off your kamilavka." (This is an example of standing firm for the truth—that is, though you lose everything, you must never lose the truth.) Now go, Pasha, and lock the door." "But which key—I forgot which key I used to open it." "Just use any key." And so with an equally unknown key she locked the door again. Such people of prayer! "And truly I did go and walk along the canal," she said, "when I saw Mother Theophila, who said, "Pashenka, forgive me, but Mother Abbess blesses you to remove your Kamilavka. It is an obedience." "Bless, Mother."

Blessed Maria Ivanovna. Blessed Maria Ivanovna.
It must be said that all the prophecies of Blessed Maria Ivanovna and Bishop Seraphim (Zvezdinsky) came true, for they had said that if they take that money the monastery will be closed. If these commandments will be kept the monastery will endure. Soon after the work sector was developed, just when the money came in, the monastery was closed, right on the feast of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow." They had a church dedicated to this icon. Mother Nikodima told us about it. At the last church service, all the sisters assembled in tears to say farewell to one another. She went to Blessed Maria Ivanovna and said: "Mamashenka, I am going to the service to say good-by to everyone." But Maria Ivanovna would not allow her to go: "No, do not go," she said. "What do you mean, do not go? It is the last time, the last service in the Monastery. How can I not go?" "A rock has fallen there." she replied. "What rock? There are no rocks there. (These peasant girls were so simple.) What are you dreaming up? What rocks? The church is standing as it always has; everything is as it was." "I'm telling you, a rock fell." Again she did not understand. "What do you mean, mamashenka, no rocks have fallen from anywhere. Everything is just as it has always been." "No, Pasha, don't go anywhere." And she did not let her go to the service. "I was drenched in tears," Matushka said, "I wanted to go to church, to the service, but she would have none of it. I was under her direction, and so how could I disobey? But then the Blessed One comforted her and explained, saying that the rock of faith had fallen. Thus she was not at the final service.

6. Temptations

Sarov Monastery was nearby. The monastics were acquainted with one another, and the Sarov monks provided food and help to Diveyevo Monastery. There was one monk there… Well, the enemy devised such a temptation for this monk, that he went to this women's monastery, and was very attracted to Mother Nikodima, to Pashenka. He had such a passion that he kept coming. She took the spiritual life so seriously that she told Maria Ivanovna everything—her thoughts, temptations, and all with great simplicity. She said to Maria Ivanovna "Mamashenka, why does he keep coming here? I don't even want to look at him. Let him stop coming here. He even said to me: `Pasha, let's run away, we'll live well together.' What has he dreamed up? Mamashenka, let him stop coming here." But here is what wisdom the blessed ones have. She blessed her to do the following: "No, Pasha. When he comes, you sit with him and do not drive him away. Sit with him and talk." "How can I sit with him? I'll go to services. Why should I sit with him?" "No, you sit with him. Nothing will happen to you, and you will help him. He will be a great ascetic. This [temptation of his] will pass. But if you push him away now, he will fall into despondency and his soul will perish." Matushka told us, "Because of my young age I did not understand how his soul would perish. Well, he came and wept, all in tears: `Pasha, let's leave, I'll buy a house, we'll live well.' But I only affirmed one thing, as she had told me to do: `You are a monk, and I am a nun. We have given a vow to God, and we should keep that vow.'" That was her answer. He was crying, making every persuasion, painting every picture. "I just kept silence," she told us, "and listened; I wanted to go to church, but just kept repeating endlessly: `We have given a vow.' And truly, when they closed Sarov Monastery, that monk hid in the Sarov forest and became a well-known ascetic. Thus did the prayers of the Blessed One save his soul. This is what the wisdom of a spiritual guide means.

7. Candy

When the Monastery closed, Blessed Maria Ivanovna discerned the entire fate of each sister. Each sister came to her and she told her what awaited her. Those who were sent to prison were the special, chosen ones, and she even told them the length of their terms. But to Mother Nikodima she gave twelve pieces of candy and said: "You are assigned to raise orphans." This was her blessing from Maria Ivanovna. They closed the Monastery, she went to her home town in the area of Sasovo. Her parents built her a cell in the garden. This is what piety they had—she was a monastic, and that should continue. She was acquainted with one priest who the authorities began to call in for questioning, and who they finally incarcerated and sent to Solovki. Well, because of this priest, matushka was also dragged down to the NKVD, but she was not arrested or incarcerated. These were difficult times. She did not tell them much about him, but there were always persecutions, and always dangers, and she was always one step away from prison. But apparently it was not the God's will; Maria Ivanovna did not bless her to go to prison. Matushka said that they would take her in, interrogate her, keep her a while then let her go, although she was connected with many priests and other people practically all of whom perished. You might say that this was her first Golgotha. Clearly her suffering was very great. First of all, of course, she suffered over those people close to her who suffered, and secondly from all those interrogations, which she recalled only with deep sighs.

7. Elder Seraphim (Batiukov)

Archimandrite Seraphim (Batiukov) 1880-1942. Archimandrite Seraphim (Batiukov) 1880-1942.
One man came to Diveyevo, the future ascetic, Elder Seraphim (Batiukov). He came to Diveyevo because there were nuns there who were experienced in spiritual life. He was very young at the time, as Matushka related. He was from a very noble and pious family. He was very young and he received spiritual instruction from the Diveyevo nuns. Before the revolution, he came to the Monastery and of course received great benefit there. He mostly went to Mother Michaela. When the revolution had already taken place, this man, who always had everything he needed in life, took the priestly rank during the time of persecution—this already says a great deal about him. The details of his life can be learned from the recollections of Julia Yakovlevna Vasilevskaya, Alexander Men's aunt, who the elder baptized. He knew Elder Nektary of Optina who gave him spiritual instruction, and he was the spiritual son of Elder Zachariah (Zosima in Schema), who was buried in the German Cemetery [in Moscow]. Fr. Seraphim received the monastic tonsure, was a priest, the Superior of the church of Sts. Cyrus and John in Solyanka, the Serbian metochion.

The Diveyevo nuns who had been close to Mother Michaela and who were now scattered came to him for spiritual instruciton during these stormy times. Matushka was close to the Elder and knew him well. One day she thought to herself: "It would be good for me to live with Batiushka." Well, it was a thought coming from her simplicity of soul. Then Fr. Seraphim called her in and said: "Here, Pasha, you go to Sergeyev Posad and look at a house." So she and her sister Susannah (Xenia) bought a house in Sergeyev Posad. Then came the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. Fr. Seraphim did not accept it, and so he left where he was living and went with one other priest to live in that house. As Batiushka himself said "for the sake of the purity of Orthodoxy." He practically went into the catacomb church and Matushka went with him. Fr. Seraphim lived twelve years in that house. Divine services and Liturgy were celebrated daily, Vespers daily. Services were never skipped, and Fr. Seraphim served every day. It was a tiny house with two rooms—one a small, narrow corridor, and the other a little larger, with a small kitchen. It is strange, but this little house held up to sixty people. When we lived there, there were ten or twelve of us, and that was crowded. But how sixty people fit in there is akin to the Gospel miracle of the loaves and fishes, when five loaves fed five thousand people. Matiushka said that many people would come, and this was during the time of fierce persecution of the Church. But interestingly, Fr. Seraphim would say: "While I live no one will touch you, but after my death they will. But as long as I am alive you, have nothing to fear." And truly this was so inexplicable and strange—so many people would come, they were followed by the NKVD, but even so [they were not arrested]. It would even happen, as Matushka relates, the "The services are going on, and we are singing (they had an altar that was consecrated). We know that the NKVD is walking under the windows, we could even see them through the window, but they could not come in, and thus the Lord preserved us. They would walk around for a while then leave. Nothing happened while Fr. Seraphim was alive. The persecutions came later."

At the time she was living with Fr. Seraphim, for twelve years, she worked in a factory, a toy factory it seems, and was numbered among the exemplary workers. She had to hide herself. On the street she was "Aunt Pasha," and all her neighbors respected her very much, treated her with great respect. Many people constantly came to her house, not interested in who she was. But in any case, no one knew that Fr. Seraphim lived there. Maybe some one knew, but this was kept so secret that it was impossible to figure it out. She went to work like an ordinary worldly laborer. It was difficult: daily services, very heavy work; but the Lord strengthened her. "I would come home," she said, "and I couldn't feel my arms and legs, but then I had to sing and attend services. Even so, she worked so conscientiously that her bosses respected her very much, and even sent her to some high-ranking Moscow circles as an exemplary worker. Since she did not eat meat, the question naturally arose as to what to do when they offer would it to her. She asked Fr. Seraphim: "what should I do about meat? I don't eat it—I am a monastic." Fr. Seraphim said: "The Lord will take care of it, Pashenka. Do not refuse; eat whatever they give you." When they set meat before her, she tried a little bit. She had not had it in her mouth for so many years, and she immediately felt sick. Everyone said: "Oh, what is this, our exemplary worker, how could this be? Well, probably she needs to eat this other dish." Thus she escaped the necessity of eating meat.

She did not tell us much about Fr. Seraphim's life because there was already a book written about him. As she told us, Fr. Seraphim called her "Blessed Pashenka." He would even say: "Blessed Pashenka! Come here, bring me this or that, Blessed Pashenka." Furthermore, her obedience to him was untouchable; if Fr. Seraphim said it, it must be so."

Bishop Athanasius (Sakharov) came to see them and confessed with Fr. Seraphim. Their catacomb church was under Bishop Athanasius' jurisdiction. He was also a great elder. Fr. Seraphim was also being prepared for consecration as a bishop, but since the elder was very deep, he apparently saw that the catacomb Church would finish its mission and its reason for existence would cease. Perhaps he even asked the Lord to guide him on his life's path.

8. A Miracle of Holy Hierarch Spyridon of Tremethius

All the vestments were ready, and Fr. Seraphim knew that he was to be consecrated a bishop, but he became sick with cancer and lay in bed. He very much wanted some river fish. But these were such hungry times that even his many spiritual children were unable to find him any. One day he called Matushka and her niece (also named Pasha, Prascovia Vladimirovna, who is still alive), and said: "Blessed Pashenka, go to the market and bring me some fish." She said, as always: "Bless, Father." You would think that she knew how everyone had tried and tried but found none; however that is what kind of faith and obedience she had. She and Pasha took a sled and went to the market. When they arrived, there was a merchant of noble appearance selling fish, and they got in his line. He walked up to them and gave them all the fish he had. Of course the other people in line were indignant. They happily took the fish and left. Later, when they had already reached the gate, they exclaimed: "Ah! Where will we find more fish? Why didn't we ask him where he lives? Let's go back." But of course there was no trace of him. They came home all upset. Fr. Seraphim asked them: "Pashenka, what's wrong? Didn't you find any fish?" "Yes we did find some, but we didn't find out where the seller lives." "And who sold you the fish?" "Well how should we know? We didn't ask him who he is or where he is from." Fr. Seraphim led them into the cell where their church was, and showed them the icon of Holy Hierarch Spyridon. "Was it him?" Matushka said that they were struck with fear. "It was him!" Fr. Seraphim ate that fish until his last day.

9. Appearance of the Mother of God

Later she told us how the Iveron Mother of God, a miracle working icon, came to them. They had many miracle working icons, but this one was particularly so. The Mother of God had appeared to her in a dream in the form of this very Iveron icon. Right behind Matushka's house ran what tradition identifies as the very spring over which St. Sergius prayed, and from which flows a stream. When the Lavra was also closed, you could say that this was the Lavra—where Fr. Seraphim lived. The St. Elias church was opened, it's true, but the catacomb church was here. This spring is well known from the Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh. When the brothers murmured against the Saint [because they had no water], he took one monk and went outside the monastery. There they prayed over a drop of rainwater that the Lord would give them water, and from this drop of water a spring welled up, and then a whole river.

This very spring was right behind their house, in a large gully. The Mother of God appeared to matushka in a dream over this very spring. She told her from the icon: "Serve me!" After matushka's dream, she told Fr. Seraphim: "Father, I have to go to a certain place not far from Diveyevo, where there will be an arrival of the Iveron Mother of God. The Heavenly Queen commands me to serve Her. Bless me, Father, I should go and serve Her. The Mother of God asked me to do it." But Fr. Seraphim told her: "Pashenka, She will come to you Herself; you don't have to go anywhere." In the evening the icon actually did come—the same one that she had seen in the dream. When she saw this she was stupefied. As Fr. Seraphim said, The Heavenly Queen arrived. It was a miracle working icon. Later a miracle happened with this icon. When Fr. Seraphim died, Matushka prayed before this icon, asking how she should live now, what should she do. The Mother of God stepped out of the icon, blessed her and determined her obedience. Matushka asked Her: "Mother of God, how can I serve You?" She came out and said: "You will raise children." After Fr. Seraphim's death twelve children came, like the twelve pieces of candy that Maria Ivanovna had given her. This was the service the Heavenly Queen had designated for her.

Here is another episode from her biography. When she lived with her parents after her monastery was closed, there was a typhus epidemic. The village gathered an assembly. People were dying and there was no one to take care of them, for everyone had large families. To the village assembly (villages then were like monasteries, like whole Orthodox republics) came this nun from the Monastery. She had no family of her own, so they thought they would give her the job of looking after the typhus victims. She's all alone—if she dies it's no great catastrophe, they reasoned. So they found a place to house them and sent all the sick there together with Matushka. That was her obedience—to take care of the typhus patients. She said that she did not sleep for weeks taking care of them. But she herself never got sick. Then also the Mother of God Herself appeared to her, in a light blue mantle, wearing cuffs. The Mother of God said nothing to her, only blessed her. That is how the Mother of God strengthened her. Such were Matushka's sorrows and labors. Whenever she remembered this appearance of the Mother of God, Matushka always wept, only saying: "You cannot imagine how beautiful She is. Oh, how beautiful is the Heavenly Queen." She was simply at a loss to describe the Mother of God. St. Seraphim appeared to her many times, but the Mother of God appeared twice.

After Fr. Seraphim died, he foretold that Xenia, Matushka's older sister, would betray him. "When I die," he said, "Xenia will betray me." So, Fr. Seraphim died. Like the Christians of the early centuries in the catacomb Church, Fr. Seraphim was buried under the altar of the catacomb church, in the basement where they kept potatoes. They dug a grave there and buried him in it. It is interesting what a connection they had with the other world, not only with the saints, but with those close to them who had also achieved sanctity; for after his death, Fr. Seraphim appeared to them often. They talked with him after his death. They gave everything that was left in that catacomb church to the St. Elias church—the episcopal vestments that had been sewn for Fr. Seraphim, and all his priestly vessels—right after his death. Their window opened right onto that knoll where St. Sergius' spring was, and Fr. Seraphim always left through the back porch, as a precaution, whenever anyone knocked at the door. He had to hide. He would go out to the knoll and wait until they would leave, so that no one would see him there often. After his death they, often saw him sitting on that knoll. They would look out the window, and Fr. Seraphim would be sitting in his white jacket as he always did on that knoll.

10. Raising Orphans

The children of the orphanage in pre-revolutionary Diveyevo. The children of the orphanage in pre-revolutionary Diveyevo.
The third sister was Simochka, who was also raised in the Diveyevo orphanage, but she got married at Fr. Seraphim's blessing. Her life was not easy. She died when she was still young from cancer. It was hard for Matushka. After Fr. Seraphim's death eleven orphans, her nieces and nephews, fell into her care. She had a large family. Some died, some perished at the front, and the children became orphans. So it turned out that all of them ended up with Matushka. No sooner had the Heavenly Queen blessed her to raise children than all these children rained down upon her. She had taken care of the Elder for twelve years, and now that he was gone, the Lord assigned her a new obedience. Her house was full of children, and these were hungry times as it was. "Those children," she related, "ran after me pulling on the hem of my dress, saying: `Mama, we want to eat. Mama, we want some milk.' I myself was all in tears, and placed them in front of the icon of the Mother of God: `Where am I going to get milk for you? Ask the Mother of God.' So they stood before the icon of the Mother of God and repeated: `Mama, Mama, we want some milk.' Well of course it was just a horror trying to figure out what to do with them. Eleven children, no room in the house, poverty, hunger, and I didn't know what I was going to do with them. And Simochka was in bed, dying from cancer." She had to travel to another house on the other side of town to care for her dying sister, and to keep these children somehow. "One day," she said, "I came to see Simochka, and she said to me: `Pashenka, Batiushka (Fr. Seraphim) was here. You know, I was lying here like this, when suddenly the door of the room opened up. He came in. There was a nun with him. (Fr. Seraphim had not been alive for three years now.) He walked around the room and censed it (apparently he was foretelling her death) and sang "Holy God, Holy Mighty" He came up to my bed, blessed me, and said: "Pasha is upset, she is worried how she is going to raise those children, how she is going to feed them. Here, I brought some icons. Give them to Pasha, Pasha will go home, and along the way she will meet a man who will ask her if she has some little icons like this. Let her not name any price, but just take whatever he offers. She will raise her children on this money. Let her take heart." And then he left through the window. So you take these icons, Pasha'" Matushka took the icons, which were paper pictures. She walked home. She was almost home when a short man on a horse rode up and asked her if she wouldn't happen to have such and such a picture. She told him that she did and he was welcome. "How much do you want for them?" he asked. "As much as you will give me for them," she answered. So he gave her a few pennies. She looked at it and wondered how she was going to feed her orphans with it. What would she do with them now? Right then someone brought her a rubber innertube. "What am I going to do with that innertube?" she said "It might come in handy," he anwsered. "What would it come in handy for?" "Well, buy it." "How much does it cost?" It cost exactly what the little man had given her. Who this was is also a mystery, but clearly he was not an earthly man. She thought to herself, "Well, since it is exactly enough money, it means that the money was given to buy this innertube." So she bought it—a large rubber innertube. She thought, "Now what am I going to do. Now don't even have the money. And how will I take care of the children? Suddenly the Lord gave her wisdom—she could make galoshes. So she began right away to make galoshes out of the rubber innertube. Everything went so smoothly; she made the galoshes, sold them, got a little money and with it bought a goat. It was just a miracle. Matushka said "Now I was suddenly inspired. I learned how to make blankets and to sew. I picked up everything that a mother needs to know so that I could take care of this large family. I worked without rest day and night, making pants or shirts out of broadcloth. So the Lord would send some fabric, some little scraps, and I would figure out what I could make out of it. I would sew something, sell it at the bazaar—and there's some money for you. And the war was on. That's what kind of times they were. A war on, and I have eleven children. One nun all by herself." That is what it means to have deep faith.

11. Mother Susannah's "Betrayal"

Nun Xenia (Grishanova), later Schemanun Susannah in prison, 1943. Nun Xenia (Grishanova), later Schemanun Susannah in prison, 1943.
Here is how Fr. Seraphim's prophecy that Susannah would betray him came to pass. Mother Susannah went to Bolshevo, and there lived with them another hieromonk from the Solyanka metochion, Fr. Hierax, who was a good friend of Fr. Seraphim's. Fr. Seraphim's spiritual children gathered there. So she came there. They reminisced about Fr. Seraphim, told stories. They were all very close, but there was one traitor amongst them. Matushka had only just arrived home when the NKVD came after her, wanting to know where and when they buried him, but they knew it all already. His whole life had been told to them in detail. So they began the search. Mother Susannah was taken in right away. This is how she had betrayed him—when he was alive he did not bless her to go there. He told her: "Don't go there after my death." It was all revealed to him. She disobeyed him, and received this grief for her disobedience. She was imprisoned for this and then exiled. Matushka said that during the search they turned over everything to the last needle and thread. They found Fr. Seraphim immediately, dug him up and carried him out.

There were springs in the house and all around it; the water is very close in Sergeyev Posad, and springs came right into the cellar. The water would come and go. Fr. Seraphim lay three years in the water, that is, the coffin was completely immersed in water. They took him out of the water, opened the coffin, took out Fr. Seraphim, and he was as if he had been placed in it the day before. Matushka saw it with her own eyes. There was no smell, absolutely nothing. It was as if the man were sleeping. And he had been sleeping for three years. There were military medical experts there. A whole commission of them was working in the house. They were stunned, and said: "This was no ordinary man. It is just impossible that he could lie so long in water and yet suffer no decomposition, not even a smell of corruption." In his hands were the Gospels and a cross. They immediately decided to confiscate everything. Matushka displayed great resolve at this. She took the Gospels and cross from them and said: "No, do not touch that. It is his—don't you dare touch it." As his face was uncovered, and he was a monk, she yanked the covering over it. Later she always wept: "I will not see Batiushka's face in the next world—I saw it here."

Mother Susannah was taken away, and the house was turned inside out. But here is how she related it to them: They were walking around and searching, and Matushka was out milking the goat. One of them coughed and sat down by the shed, and she said to him: "Drink some milk!" She gave him a cupful, he drank it with pleasure and everything passed. Everyone was amazed. They said: "They are miracle-workers here!" Now of course they had to bring her in to questioning. The question was whether to take her to prison also, but there were these twelve little tots. They thought long about it, then decided to leave her with the children. "Let her raise these orphans." But she was called very often for interrogation to the Petrovka and Liubianka prisons. As she told us, they knew everything about her and Mother Susannah's life to the last detail. That is what kind of watch they had kept over them. They even knew what they had taken with them from the Monastery.

When the Monastery was closed, the nuns were given gold and other things so that they would have something to live on. Matushka said that they gave her some gold rings. She had no passion for gold, so she immediately gave it away to someone else, and that person misplaced it, practically dropping it out of her hands. Now that they were asking her were that gold was, what did she do with it. She calmly replied that she had given it to so-and-so. "And now where is it?" they asked. She answered that the ring somehow got lost." They even knew this. They just wanted to test her to see if she would tell the truth. When they had proven her from all angles, they were only amazed at her honesty and said that if everyone were so honest they would have nothing to do. But she was wise at the same time: she never gave anyone away out of all those in her circle of believers so to speak, but at the same time she never lied about anything, even to her enemies. This was her particular trait—never to lie or deceive in any way, for the devil is the father of lies. Lies and deceit were not characteristic of her in any form. It even went to such an extent that would now be called stupidity, or saying something that one simply would not say, but she would say it anyway, truthfully, just as it was. Neither did she have any mental perversity; she did not live underhandedly. But she had enormous wisdom. She knew when to say a word, when be quiet, when to give advice and when to say nothing. Such people are very rare in this world. In the NKVD they called her "Righteous Prascovia Ivanovna" and they valued her honesty, very highly honored it, and let her go. She said, "Of course it was terrifying. When I went out it seemed that they were going to shoot me in the back or something. I went out the door, and suddenly they put handcuffs on me. I went out, not remembering or feeling anything; I walked through one door, then another and another. They showed me where to go, and then I was out on the street.

Then she had to travel to various places of exile to visit Mother Susannah. Mother Susannah had not fared badly in Kazakhstan; it was harder for Matushka, because the roads were very dangerous. But there were many believers in exile there, and they even had their own secret church. Mother Susannah occupied herself with various handicrafts. She was a rare craftsman and a nun of lofty spiritual life. She is remembered fondly. Matushka had a double burden: orphans at home and a sister in exile; but she did not abandon her, and always supported her.

See Part 2

Translation by St. Xenia Skete


[1] Ksiutka is an affectionate, childish form of Xenia. --Trans.
See also
The Solemnities in Sarov and Diveyevo: 1903 and 2003 The Solemnities in Sarov and Diveyevo: 1903 and 2003
The Solemnities in Sarov and Diveyevo: 1903 and 2003 The Solemnities in Sarov and Diveyevo: 1903 and 2003
110 years ago—July 19 (August 1 new style), 1903 Batiushka Seraphim of Sarov, long loved and venerated by the people, was officially canonized a saint and his honorable relics uncovered. The solemnities that took place in Sarov And Diveyevo were a special page in the history of Russia, and Sarov and Diveyevo will forever occupy a an honored place in Russia’s spiritual geography.
Greek Miracles of St. Seraphim of Sarov Greek Miracles of St. Seraphim of Sarov Greek Miracles of St. Seraphim of Sarov Greek Miracles of St. Seraphim of Sarov
As our Greek friends explained to us, very many people now know of Fr. Seraphim in Greece. Furthermore, the Russian Seraphim has become so dear to the hearts of simple believers that they take him to be their own Greek saint, and the less educated might even say that Sarov is somewhere in Greece. Nevertheless, it was not clear what made this particular church venerate him so, especially since it was located in “the boondocks”.
St. Seraphim on Monastic Life St. Seraphim on Monastic Life
From the book, St. Seraphim of Sarov, by Elena Kontsevitch
St. Seraphim on Monastic Life St. Seraphim on Monastic Life
From the book, St. Seraphim of Sarov, by Elena Kontsevitch
Elena Kontsevitch
“One distinguishing characteristic of the superior should be his love for his inferiors: for the true pastor, according to the words of St John Climacus, is shown by his love for his flock. For it is out of love that the Chief Shepherd was crucified on the cross.”
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