A multitude of people came to him from all quarters. Word of his righteous and God-pleasing life spread far and wide. Whoever came to him was received with love. The doors to his home were always open to the rich and poor alike. The sick and suffering came to him, with all kinds of woes, misfortunes and needs, and no one left without help, advice and consolation.
His whole life was dedicated to God and neighbor, and it was truly laborious and holy. He was at all times in ceaseless prayer, devoid of malice and rich in good deeds. He prayed not only during the day, but also at night, tirelessly and unceasingly, never giving himself bodily rest, until his very death. As a reward for his righteousness, God gave him the gifts of clairvoyance and healing. St. Seraphim, the wonderworker of Sarov, valued his podvig of prayer very highly, and respected him as a great ascetic and God-pleaser. St. Seraphim never met Fr. Alexis, but knew him well through his holy clairvoyance and said of him, "This man with his prayers is like a candle lit before the throne of God. Behold a toiler who, not having taken the monastic vows, stands higher than many monastics. He is like a star burning upon the Christian horizon." When people came to him from Fr. Alexis' locale, St. Seraphim would always send them back, humbly assuring them that they had their own fervent intercessor and man of prayer before God, the priest of the village of Bortsurmany—Fr. Alexis, who was no lower than himself, Seraphim.
Another man might have become proud to see how highly others respected him, but Fr. Alexis not only did not become proud or self-important before anyone, but on the contrary placed himself lower than all people and considered himself to be the greatest sinner. Like many ancient righteous ones an God-pleasers, he sorrowed endlessly until his very death over his sinfulness and unworthiness before God.
Fr. Alexis lived to deep old age, and when the time came for him to die, the people cried very much over him. He consoled everyone, told them not to be sad, and said that he was not leaving them entirely; and whoever would remember him, the same would he remember. People did not understand these words, and no one was able to discern their significance. Soon after his repose it all became clear.
Two women of the merchant class, a mother and daughter, came to Bortsurmany and stayed in a hut not far from the priest's house. The daughter began to tell how she had brought her sick mother to Fr. Alexis so that he would heal her by his prayers. The mother was also mad and violent. Even though they lived far from Bortsurmany, they had heard that many such sick people had been brought to Fr. Alexis and that they had all received healing through his prayers. When the daughter learned that Fr. Alexis had been buried just a few days earlier, she began to cry and lament her fate— that now there was no one to help her mother. The daughter cried pitifully, and her mother behaved violently, yelling profanities and calling Fr. Alexis a dog. The daughter became so unhappy that she asked some kind people to watch her mother while she ran to Fr. Alexis' grave. She wanted to at least cry at his grave, to console her soul, if only a little. She had a Pannikhida served for him, cried some, prayed and returned home, where her mother was sitting on the bench perfectly calm, reasonable and conversing with everyone. She did not make noise or act violently, and did not say any bad word. They spent the night there, and the next day the daughter took her mother home completely healthy. Only then did the people understand what Fr. Alexis' words had meant before he died, "Whoever will remember me, him shall I also remember." From then on many people began to come to him to pray at his grave, just as before, during his life, they had come to him himself. Many people come also to his grave to this day to pray, and many miracles are worked there.
Fr. Alexis Gneushev was born on May 13, 1762. His father was a priest. When the time arrived, his father sent him to seminary in Nizhny-Novgorod, which he completed in his twenty-second year. His Eminence Damascene of Nizhny-Novgorod ordained him a deacon in the Dormition Church in the village of Bortsurmany, and in thirteen years His Eminence Paul of Nizhny-Novgorod ordained him a priest in the same church. In this church he served to deep old age, and here he was also buried.
In the first years of his service, Fr. Alexis did not stand out for his ascetic life, and sometimes gave himself over to drinking. But his life changed dramatically after one incident. One night someone came to him to take him to the home of a dying man in the neighboring village. Fr. Alexis became angry with the messenger, scolded him for bothering him over trifles, saying that probably the man was not so sick and would live until morning, and that there was no reason to wake him up. He sent the man home and went back to sleep. Nevertheless he could not sleep: he kept thinking of the peasant to whom they had summoned him. Finally he could no longer stand it and went to him. He found him already dead, and next to him stood an angel with the Holy Chalice in his hands. This vision so shocked Fr. Alexis that he fell on his knees before the icon and prayed all night. He came home a different person. From that day he dedicated himself wholly to God and man; from that day he led a righteous, holy, ascetic life, which did not change until his very death. He served Liturgy every day and, as much as was possible according to his strength, he upheld the monastic rule and cell rule. His rule was: the Midnight Office at midnight. Twelve Psalms, the Life of the saint of the day, from the Prologue the teaching for the day; in the morning Matins, the hours, an Akathist either to St. Sergius, Great Martyr Barbara, or St. Mitrophan; at noon four kathismas; in the evening the Canon to the Savior with an Akathist, the Canon to the Guardian Angel, and the prayers before sleep. During the evening prayers he made prostrations with the Jesus Prayer. At night whenever he woke up, he also made prostrations. Altogether all of the prostrations he made during the course of the day added up to fifteen hundred.
All of the time left over after church needs and services were devoted to receiving people. Those who wished to take on some podvig he either blessed or persuaded against it, according to God's revelation and direction. He healed the sick and infirm by his holy prayers and consoled the suffering and confirmed them in the word of God. Sometimes he would read sermons to those who came, but always with such meekness and love that their hearts would be involuntarily drawn to him, and his words would leave a deep impression on the listener. The only ones that he would treat with great severity were sorcerers and fortune-tellers—these he did not even admit and would order them to be told that he would receive them only after they had repented before God and given up their demonic practices. He censured not only the sorcerers themselves, but also those who went to them.
He gave to the poor and needy whatever he could. Part of the money he received from wealthy admirers he used for the adornment of the Bortsurmany church, and the rest he gave to the needy. He himself took nothing, not even for the fulfilling of ecclesiastical needs. To the poor he gave canvas, socks, and bast shoes of his own handiwork, and other things. He usually wove bast shoes after Liturgy, sitting on the bench in front of his house. Often peasants who had experienced some misfortune, for instance, a fire or the death of a farm animal, would find some money from an unknown source that would aid them in recovering from their loss. No one would know from whence came this charity, until one day Fr. Alexis was seen secretly leaving some money for a fire victim.
When Fr. Alexis had a little free time, he worked the earth or did some other domestic work. He had a small beehive that he maintained himself. Just as Fr. Alexis did not like laziness, he taught others to always labor.
His family consisted of his wife, Maria Borisovna, a work-loving and godly woman, his son Lev, and two daughters, Nadezhda and Tatiana. Later an adopted daughter, Matrona, lived with them, as well as Fr. Alexis' own brother Alexander, a retired deacon.
As mentioned earlier, Fr. Alexis received for his righteous life the gifts of healing and clairvoyance from God. He was worthy also to receive from God many visions and revelations. One of his visions was written down by the Abbess of Arzamas Convent, Maria, whom Fr. Alexis highly respected and to whom he revealed about himself what he would tell no one else. She relates: "During a serious illness, when the righteous Elder lay on his bed with great patience, he was worthy to hear sweet singing, such as no human tongue can describe. The Heavenly Queen Herself, along with Great Martyr Barbara, both dressed in white gowns, visited Her suffering slave and healed him without the aid of any doctors."
Fr. Alexis himself also wrote down his visions and revelations. In his notes it is described how one night the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in kingly attire, woven of the three virtues—Faith, Hope and Love; and the Queen of Heaven appeared out of the heavens. Fr. Alexis heard a voice that told him, "This is my Only Begotten Son, the Son of God."
During the French invasion in 1812, Fr. Alexis prayed at the Liturgy that the Lord would grant Russia victory over her enemy. Suddenly he saw an angel, sent to him by God, who told him that the heavenly powers had moved to Russia's side, the enemy would be overcome, and that all of Russia would rejoice.
One day at the Liturgy, Fr. Alexis heard heavenly singing and saw the Lord Himself, who directed him to feed His flock, "Feed My sheep, feed My chosen ones, attend to My flock. For I have set you over the flock on my holy mountain and made you a guardian of the Church."
On February 14, 1814, at Divine Liturgy, it was made known to him by an angel of the Lord, that from that day he had begun to tread the path of angelic service. That night in a dream he bowed down in the altar to the One who exists in fire and light unspeakable, God Himself.
Nine years before his repose, Fr. Alexis went into retirement and gave over his position as priest of the Bortsurmany church to Fr. Paul Vigiliansky, who was married to his granddaughter from his daughter Nadezhda. Yielding his position, he also gave over the care of his home and household to Fr. Paul, and never stepped inside his house again. He moved to a small cell, built under the same roof as the house. The cell had one window, always covered, which faced the church. Removing himself from all worldly affairs, Fr. Alexis gave himself over to the podvig of prayer. The family never disturbed his solitude and came only on those rare occasions when their services were needed.
Fr. Alexis' appearance at that time was that of a bent, decrepit elder. They say that his face very much resembled St. Seraphim's. His eyes shone with peace and love, and some sort of inner spiritual joy, verily illuminating everything around him. His gaze was penetrating. It seemed as though he saw through every person and read the most secret thoughts of his soul. Fr. Alexis was thin and not very tall. His voice was quiet and soft, in daily life as well as during Divine Services. His dress was of the utmost simplicity and austerity, as were all of his surroundings. His clothing was made of simple peasant canvas; he almost never wore a ryassa and he usually wore a cassock made of nankeen. During the last thirty years of his life he never went to the bathhouse; and toward the end of his life he wore a hair shirt, in which he was buried in accordance with his wishes. He slept on rough felt. On his feet he always wore bast shoes, wearing boots only in church. In old age his legs were swollen and very painful from much standing at prayer, and at home he sometimes wore bandages. In his poor, small cell were only a small stove, a rough bed, a table with a few chairs and an analogion that was set before an icon before which burned a lampada.
His main activity was prayer and church services. Fr. Alexis, in accordance with the Apostolic commandment, prayed without ceasing. He had always observed a monastic cell rule, and now, having moved into his cell, he was able to fulfill it in all strictness. Whenever anyone came to him, no matter what time, he was always found praying. Fr. Alexis served in the church almost every day even after he retired. He did not like to shorten the rule and was very strict concerning carelessness during services. He ate only once a day. He never ate meat at all. On Wednesday and Fridays he never ate anything hot; he observed the fasts strictly, and during them he ate neither fish nor oil. The first and last weeks of Great Lent no one at home knew what he ate, for on those days, no one brought him any food.
So great was his faith and love for the Almighty God, so deep and sincere were his prayers, that the enemy of mankind, in his ancient hatred towards God and man, could not leave him alone and sent him many temptations. Fr. Alexis told Abbess Maria about these temptations, and this is what she wrote down from his words: "During nighttime prayers and prostrations the enemy bothered him to such an extent that he would lift him off the ground and beat him against the floor, and only God's protection and strength saved him. When out of physical weakness he reposed in sleep, even then the demons did not leave him alone and came to him in various visions. For example, they shoved him and yelled, 'Why are you sleeping? The Tsar is coming,' or, There's a fire in your cell and you are going to die,' or, 'Thieves are coming to take everything you have.' Everytime he awoke from such visions, the righteous priest would make prostrations or read the Psalter, thereby struggling with his bodily weakness." In his own notes Fr. Alexis writes: "God allowed temptations to come upon me, and a great multitude of demons attacked me. I was able to escape from them only by the name of God. And I was barely able to serve Liturgy, but the Most Pure Mother of God and the holy angels and God-pleasers came to my aid and repelled the demons. Incidentally, the evil demons have brought me many sorrows and sicknesses. God allowed them to show me evil visions at night because of my sins, but by His mercy I was saved." One day, tormented by demonic temptations, Fr. Alexis prayed before the icon of the Savior that He would cause his soul to depart from the body. In answer to this prayer, Fr. Alexis saw that the icon of the Savior had shed tears, and he heard a voice promising him a wreath of righteousness.
Just as Fr. Alexis himself repelled temptations by prayer and fasting, so did he teach others all his life to struggle with them and to have firm faith in God's help. Thus did he teach, for example, Abbess Maria in one letter to her: "Have patience, and hope to receive God's help. With His help you can be victorious over all of the attacks by the enemy of human souls. If there were no temptations, there would be no crowns. The warrior is crowned because he defends his fatherland with his own chest. The enemy of our souls is far more dangerous than any ordinary foe."
In the last years of his life, Fr. Alexis gave himself over to prayer and fasting, never leaving his cell except to go to church. Before he went into retirement, Fr. Alexis had to travel much on parish business and to fulfill various needs, and he went readily and joyfully to all those who needed him. He did not like to pass the time emptily, nor did he like empty conversation, so he always refused invitations to go visiting. The only places he ever went, and at that only in extreme situations, were to his granddaughters', to his son Lev's (a childless priest in the neighboring village) and to the estate of the nobleman in the village of Bortsurmany, D. S. Pazukhin, whom he loved and respected.
This landowner and all his family in turn deeply respected Fr. Alexis, bowed down before his much-laboring and holy life, and gave him a great deal of attention and admiration. Many others of the nobility deeply respected him, not only from the surrounding area, but also from neighboring provinces. They went to him, wrote him letters, and asked for his blessings, advice, and holy prayers. Everyone who knew him considered him to be a great God-pleaser, a man of prayer, and a healer, and their praise of him was not in vain.
Here are some examples of miraculous healing by his prayers. In the 1840's in the town of Kurmysh lived a husband and his wife, the Rastrigins. They had a daughter, Tatiana, who from birth had been unable to use her feet, as they were withered. Having heard much of Fr. Alexis' holiness, the parents decided to go to him and ask him to pray for the child. The girl was six years old at the time. In spite of the fact that Rastrigin was a wealthy man (he sold lumber and ran a ferry on the river Sura) and could have hired horses, his wife in her zeal walked the seventeen miles to him in Bortsurmany on foot, carrying the child the whole way in her arms. They arrived in Bortsurmany only at evening. When they went into Fr. Alexis' cell, he called the girl by name, although he was seeing her for the first time in his life, placed his hand on her head, blessed both her and her mother, and prayed with them. The next morning he prayed again with them and anointed the child's afflicted legs from the oil of the lampada that burned before the icon. Blessing them, he sent them off, saying that he would pray for them.
When Mrs. Rastrigin with her daughter had walked eight miles from Bortsurmany, the girl began to ask to be put down on the ground. The mother knew well that her daughter could not walk by herself, and she became saddened to tears by her request. Even so, she put the girl down. To her great astonishment, her daughter crawled ahead, weakly moving her legs. Soon she again took her in her arms, but at her daughter's request, put her back down. This happened several times, and each time the girl began to walk better and better. When they reached Kurmysh, the girl stood firmly on her own feet, and she walked all the way home.
At about the same time, in the town of Kurmysh lived a fisherman, Luke Shulaev. Once a fish hook became stuck in his hand. His hand became painful and swollen. Others tried to persuade him to see a doctor, but he refused. He began to feel sick, and felt worse every day, so he decided finally to follow their advice and go to the doctor. The doctor, seeing his hand, said that he had come too late, and now there was nothing that would help. Then with fear he went to Fr. Alexis Bortsurmany, and asked him to pray for him. That night he had a dream that something like a large rat ran up to him and bit the afflicted spot, and in the morning he awoke healthy.
A boy died in Fr. Alexis' parish. His parents adored him and the whole village loved him. They did not perform the funeral service for a week, until he began to show signs of decomposition. Then they took his casket to church and the service began. Fr. Alexis could barely serve for his tears, neither could the choir sing.
Fr. Alexis stood in the altar before the Holy Table with his hands lifted high and with great boldness called out to God, "My God, my God, Thou seest that I have no strength to give this child a final kiss. Do not allow me, an old man, Thy slave and priest, to leave this church in shame; do not allow the enemy of mankind to laugh at me, Thy servant, for having in my weakness interrupted this service. It is beyond my strength.... Heed the moaning and weeping of Thy repentant people, heed the suffering of his parents' hearts, heed the supplication of Thine old priest.... Do not take away from us the one who is Thine own, given to us that we might mend our ways, come to our senses and glorify Thy Holy Name. Thou it was, O Lord, Who didst say that Thou wouldst give us all that we ask in faith. Thou, the Merciful
One, hath said to us, Ask and it shall be given unto you. O Righteous God, there is no one in this church who can walk up to this youth to say the last farewell. Neither do I have such strength.... O, our God, be merciful to us, hear us our Lord and God...."
Suddenly there was a deep silence in the sanctuary.
In a few moments the priest fell to his knees crying aloud, "Yeah, O Lord, yeah, but bring the youth back to life, because Thou canst do all things, Thou art our Lord, thou art Almighty. ... It is in my humility, not out of pride that I dare...."
Just after this was heard a penetrating shriek.
Looking back, the priest saw that the boy was sitting up in the coffin and looking around. Fr. Alexis knelt again before the Holy Table to give thanks to God for the miracle He had performed, and leaning on the deacon's arm, he silently approached the coffin.
After the child had received Communion, his parents took him home. Fr. Alexis had a chair placed in the center of the church and sitting in it served a Moleben to the Savior and an Akathist to the Mother of God. From extreme shock and agitation he was unable to stand, and could not leave the church. He had to be carried home on the chair and placed into bed, where he lay for an entire week.
Fr. Alexis lived for three more years after this incident, and the boy lived for six more years, dying in his nineteenth year.
The peasant woman Zinovia from the village of Licia Pol-yana had an aching leg and side for five years. She went to Fr. Alexis, and he prayed over her and blessed her several times. By his prayer she became completely well. Soon she was even married and lived to a ripe old age.
The peasant Alexis Shliapnikov from Nizhegorod Province, Serash region, village of Ozhgibovka, suffered several months from an illness that crippled him. An acquaintance advised him to go to Fr. Alexis to ask for his help. Fr. Alexis took him in to stay for a while and said that he would let his relatives know when to come and get him. In a week he sent for them. They came and found Alexis Shiapnikov completely well. He told them that Fr. Alexis never gave him any medicines, but only prayed over him, read a book, and three times a day blessed him. In a week he was perfectly well.
Once a demonically possessed man was brought to Bortsurmany. He was tall and robust, and bound hand and foot with iron chains. His father and brother brought him. They stayed in a hut not far from the priest's house. When the man's relatives put him to bed they tied him up with ropes in addition to the chains, and fastened the rope ends to tie beams on the ceiling. At night the entire house was awakened by horrible noises and screams. It turned out that the bound man had torn his chains and bonds asunder, and four men were barely able to bind him again and put him back to bed. In the morning his father and brother took him to Fr. Alexis. As they related later, Fr. Alexis had him lie down on the floor with the other men at his right hand. He read the prayer over the patient, then blessed him and told the others to bring him back the next morning. He left there absolutely calm and quiet, and passed the night without any trouble. The next day Fr. Alexis again had him lie on the floor, but did not read anything, only placed an icon of the Smolensk Mother of God on his chest. Fr. Alexis prayed before the icon, then blessed the man and let him go in peace. Before leaving Bortsurmany the man's fetters were removed at the blacksmith's, and he went home completely healthy.
Many mentally ill and demonically possessed people were brought to Fr. Alexis from far and wide, and they all were healed by his prayer. One possessed merchant, who had been brought to Fr. Alexis from far away and been healed through his prayers, gave an iron floor to the church in Bortsurmany in memory of his healing. This floor is still there to this day .
Here are several examples of healings that occurred at Fr. Alexis' grave.
A peasant from the village of Ozhgibovka, Anna Apol-lonovna, suffered cruelly for several years from a serious illness and lay immobilized. Once in a delirium or in a dream, she did not quite remember which, she saw two elders, who touched her leg. When she awoke she felt a little better and made a promise to have a Pannikhida served at Fr. Alexis' grave. So that she would not put it off, she exhausted herself by walking with the help of others, and at times crawling, to Bortsurmany. Upon arrival she had a Pannikhida served. After this she quickly recovered.
In 1893, after the death of her husband, Natalia Petrovna Murzaneva, the widow of a forest ranger, came with her infant Vera to the town of Kurmysh. The child was weak and thin-blooded, was often sick, and suffered from inexplicable fits. The unhappy mother took her daughter to doctors, even put her in the hospital, but nothing helped. When the girl was five years old, someone advised Natalia Petrovna to take her to the grave of Fr. Alexis and serve a Pannikhida there. On the Saturday of the Commemoration of the Dead she and her daughter set off for Bortsurmany, attended the Liturgy, then followed the procession to the cemetery. During the Pannikhida for Fr. Alexis the girl sat on the ground near his grave. From that day on she never again suffered from fits or from thin blood.
In 1908 Vera Alexandrovna Pazukhina's small son was poisoned. In the town where they lived, the confectioner's assistant, a youth, was angry with the cook and took revenge by sprinkling a powerful poison into the vat of chocolate. Many people in town were poisoned, but they did not guess the reason for it right away. Some of the candy was brought also to Vera Alexandrovna. The poison was not evenly mixed into the chocolate, and only her son Sasha was poisoned. The doctor pronounced the situation hopeless, saying that he would return in the morning only to console Vera Alexandrovna.
The boy was already drawn and cold. Vera Alexandrovna placed a grain of dirt from the grave of Fr. Alexis into some water and poured it into the boy's mouth.
The convulsions ceased, and soon his body became warm. The doctor returned in the morning and asked immediately, "At what time did the boy die?"
"It is a miracle of God," the doctor said.
There was a miraculous healing in the family of a Bortsurmany peasant, Prascovia Seyanova. In the winter of 1911 one of her granddaughters, the four-year-old Masha, came down with a bad case of measles. The measles passed, but the girl lay limp—her legs hung like vines. On the eve of St. Nicholas' day, the patronal feast in the village of Bortsurmany,
Prascovia advised her daughter to give the girl Holy Communion and to have a Pannikhida served at Fr. Alexis' grave. She did so.
On the next morning, May 9th, all of the children were running to the tents that had been set up on the square in front of the church in Bortsurmany. Behind them hobbled little Masha, who up to that time had lain motionless; she had put on her stockings and shoes by herself and followed the children outside. From that day the girl became healthy.
The Bortsurmany peasant Ivan Gubin was taken ill with diarrhea when he was a soldier in Siberia during the Japanese war. He suffered a long time before he finally remembered that he was carrying a bit of earth from Fr. Alexis' grave. He dissolved a pinch of the earth into a glass of water, prayerfully drank some himself, and gave the rest to another soldier from Bortsurmany, Gabriel Migunov, who was also sick. They were both cured.
The peasant Elena Nebasova suffered from a toothache. As soon as she drank some water with earth from Fr. Alexis' grave, the pain went away.
Another Bortsurmany peasant, Agrippina Krylova, became sick with a bad fever. The paramedic gave her various medicines, but nothing helped. Then her mother brought her some earth from Fr. Alexis' grave. She took it three times with some water, and the fever left her, never to return.
A peasant from the village of Maidana (Kurmysh region), Anastasia Stephanova's son Vanyusha, fell ill. He was having fits periodically and would foam at the mouth. His mother took him to Fr. Alexis' grave and had a Pannikhida served, and from that day the boy was well.
A peasant by the name of Nicholas Iudin from Nizhegorod Province, Vasiliev region, Vysokaya Sloboda village, became seriously ill. First his back began to hurt, then his chest and legs. He began to have difficulty breathing, his legs became weak, then he completely weakened and became crippled. He was like this for four years. He went to different doctors, but no one could help him. At the advice of the Bortsurmany peasant Semyon Gubin, he went to pray at Fr. Alexis' grave, after which he felt better immediately. In a few days he was completely well.
In the village of Maidana lived Liuba Kuzkina. She was sickly from birth, had weak eyes, and could not use her legs. She was about ten years old when the church in Bortsurmany was desecrated [by the communists]. But her mother, Anastasia, having heard of the many miracles that occurred by the prayers of the righteous one, took her daughter to the grave, and she herself served a Pannikhida, as far as she was able. (The priests had all been arrested.) When she returned home, the daughter was healed and could walk and see.
After the church was desecrated and closed, miracles and healings not only did not cease, but even increased. The atheists tried numerous times to desecrate the grave, but the people's veneration for the wonderworker and the obvious miracles— such as the healing of hopeless cases of cancer—all pressured the authorities to back away.
Fr. Alexis was not only a healer but a clairvoyant elder.
One day a nobleman from the village of Bortsurmany, D. S. Pazukhin, had to go to Moscow on business. He was not heard from for a long time, and his wife, Elizabeth Nicholaevna, became very worried about him. They were very close, and he wrote her often whenever he was away, but this time she did not know what to think—could he be sick, or had something happened to him? Just then Fr. Alexis came to see her. She was very glad to see him; she told him about her husband and how worried she was over him and thought that Fr. Alexis would put her at ease. But he did not even hear what she was saying, and suddenly he said to her, "Do not grieve over
Catherine Nicholaevna; she suffered a great deal and now the time has come for her to rest." (Catherine Nicholaevna was her sister who lived in Moscow, and who from early childhood had been constantly sick.) Fr. Alexis' words surprised her greatly and she answered him, "Why are you speaking of Catherine Nicholaevna as though she were dead? It's true, her health is poor, but she hasn't died yet; she is still alive."
But Fr. Alexis again told her, "Do not grieve over her; she suffered much, and now she will rest."
With these words he left. The poor noblewoman was left in great agitation. She now worried about her husband and her sister. Soon she received a letter from her husband in which he wrote that he had not written for so long due to the fact that he had thought he would be departing any day, but had to remain in Moscow when Catherine Nicholaevna had fallen ill. Everyone thought that she would get better, but she suddenly died. She had died on that very day and in that same hour when Fr. Alexis had come.
At the nobleman Shipilov's one Pelagia Tiurina worked in the aviary. Her husband Gabriel was a cruel man and beat her mercilessly. Not only she, but everyone who knew them, was sure that some day he would kill her. Once, in total despair, she came to seek help from Fr. Alexis. Having prayed with her, Fr. Alexis let her go in peace, telling her not to worry, because for the next few days her husband would not lay a finger on her; soon a nobleman would come and have a talk with him, and he would never beat her again. Truly, to everyone's surprise, several days in a row passed by peacefully for Pelagia. Then a nobleman summoned Gabriel. Gabriel was a different person after the nobleman had left, and his head hung low. Pelagia thought that he would straightway seize and beat her, but he did not touch her. She began to wait fearfully for nightfall, thinking that she would surely not escape death. But the night passed without a fight, just as did all the days thereafter un the end of their lives, as Fr. Alexis had foretold.
In Bortsurmany lived a peasant girl, Afimia Anikicheva. She decided to go to Kiev on pilgrimage and came to Fr. Alexis for a blessing. He told her that during her travels she would have to carry a heavy cross. This frightened her so much that she thought of changing her plans, but Fr. Alexis persuaded her to go on with it and hope in God's help. He immediately told her that this would not be her last pilgrimage, that she would be in Kiev another time after this. According to his word, she left for Kiev and arrived successfully, but on the return trip she fell ill with a high fever and suffered much. She was sick and exhausted, and no one would take her in when she asked for a place to lay her head. Just the same, she did stay in one place for three weeks. Still very weak she travelled further and, as she said, had to lie down by the roadside, sometimes for entire days, at times barely crawling forward. Even so she did make it home to Bortsurmany, and actually went to Kiev one more time after that.
Afimia came sometimes to Fr. Alexis' cell, brought him wood and washed the floor. Once she noticed some blood on Fr. Alexis' clothes, and she worried about where it could have come from. That night as he slept soundly she walked up to him. Near his bed at his feet always stood an object, always carefully covered with coarse sackcloth. Tormented by curiosity, she lifted the sack-cloth and saw a rock underneath. She understood that Fr. Alexis knelt on the rock during prayers. Shocked by what she saw, she put back the sackcloth and quietly left the room without waking him. The next morning, to her great surprise, Fr. Alexis began to softly scold her. "It seems that you, Afimushka, sinned last night. Curiosity is a great sin; it is never right to secretly search out that which someone is trying to hide." He forbade her to tell anyone about what she saw, and she never told anyone until he died.
The Kurmysh noblewoman Natalia Grigorievna Kusnet-sova told how once her mother, Juliana Lukinichna, came to Fr. Alexis. Although he was seeing her for the first time, he called her by name and said to her: "Julianushka, be ready—your death is at the door." In truth, very soon afterwards she suddenly died in an accident. Another such incident occurred with an old lady from the village of Koslovka (Bortsurmany parish). She came once during Great Lent to a Vigil in Bortsurmany. It was the rainy season and the roads were bad. Travel home would be difficult, so she asked Fr. Alexis for permission to stay at his house for the night in order to attend church the next morning. At night she awoke and saw that Fr. Alexis stood before the analogion praying fervently with prostrations. In his cell it was dark; only the lampada burned before the icon. She began to wonder how Fr. Alexis could pray so incessantly—such a tiring Lenten service, but even at night he allows himself no rest. With these thoughts she again fell asleep. She awoke the second time and saw: the entire cell was filled with an extraordinary light and Fr. Alexis, with arms upraised, shone with light and floated above the ground. When she saw this she shrieked with fright. The light immediately disappeared, Fr. Alexis lowered down to the ground, then calmed her down and told her not to tell anyone what she had seen. She kept her promise for a long time. Only after Fr. Alexis' death did she reveal to a few close friends what she had been vouchsafed to see that night.
Fr. Alexis received everyone who came to him, no matter what time of the day or night. Neither weakness nor illness prevented him.
From January 1, 1848, Fr. Alexis became visibly weaker. He was no longer able to serve church services, and at his request, his relatives would take him to church. Even so, he considered it a great sin to turn people away, and he fulfilled their requests beyond his own strength. By Thursday of Passion Week he had become so weak that he was unable to sit up by himself, walk across the room, or eat food. Suffering thus until April 21, 1848, receiving the Holy Mysteries every day, he finished his much toiling life, to the great sadness of all who knew him. The day of his repose was clear and warm.
The entire square in front of the church was filled with people, who gathered to see Fr. Alexis for the last time. He sat at the open window, his gaze moving from the icon in the corner of the room to the people standing outside. Many knelt, many quietly wept; no one dared to disturb the solemn silence. From time to time Fr. Alexis blessed the crowd, blessing until he could no longer lift his arm, until his eyes closed forever—eyes which expressed, to the last moment of his life, his prayer to God for others.
Fr. Alexis is buried within the church gates, in front of the altar. The memorial cross was provided by one Nizhegorod nobleman who venerated Fr. Alexis as a great ascetic. He was his spiritual son and all his life went to him for prayer and advice.
According to the words of a Bortsurmany priest and local peasant, not a single Sunday goes by, not one feast day, on which a Pannikhida is not served at Fr. Alexis' grave. Almost everyone takes a bit of earth with them from the grave and treasures its healing qualities, taking some with water in cases of illness. The people are waiting for his relics to be uncovered, and much talk is heard about how the time has come for him to "come out of the earth." Even more so after a certain incident with a Bortsurmany brick-oven builder, Gerasim Chudakov. He had agreed to place a gravestone at the grave of Fr. Paul Vigiliansky, to whom Fr. Alexis had given his own grave site. He was buried not far from Fr. Alexis. Gerasim dug a pit and laid in a plank to support the gravestone, but as the graves were very close together, the plank jutted right into Fr. Alexis' grave. At night—he did not exactly know whether in a dream or plainly—not seeing anyone near, he clearly heard a voice that said to him, "Gerasim, you haven't begun your job very well." This surprised him very much, and he asked what exactly he had not done well. The same voice answered him that he should know, as everyone in the village knew and said, that Fr. Alexis was supposed to "come out as relics," and if he were to leave the plank as it was, then when the relics were uncovered, Fr. Paul's gravestone would inevitably be broken and thrown upon the ground—all of Gerasim's work would be for naught. These words so amazed him, that the next morning he went to discuss it with Fr. Paul's widow, and together they decided to place the plank on another side, so that it would not touch Fr. Alexis' grave.
There is another story that circulated around Bortsurmany. Before Fr. Paul [Vigiliansky] died he requested to be buried next to Fr. Alexis so that the sides of their coffins would touch. When they began to break the earth (it was wintertime, and the ground was frozen), the pick with which they were working bent into a bow. A new one was brought and just as the first, it bent. They saw in this an indication that Fr. Alexis did not permit Fr. Paul to have his wish, so they dug him a grave that was next to Fr. Alexis' but not right up against it. When they moved the grave farther away, not one pick bent.
Such was Fr. Alexis, such was his life—he worked many miracles during his life and he continues to work them to this day. Not in vain do the people venerate him as a quick helper and intercessor before God, and a great multitude of people with warm faith and love come to pray at his grave.
From: Igumen Damascene (Orlovskly), New Confessors of Russia, v. 1 (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998).