In the town of Gatchina, some thirty miles from Petrograd, there lived before the revolution the nun Maria, in the world Lydia Alexandrovna Lilyanova. From her youth, before the revolution of 1917, Matushka Maria had been ill with Parkinson's disease after suffering encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). This left her whole body as it were chained and immovable, her face anemic and like a mask. She could speak, but with a half-closed mouth, through her teeth, pronouncing the words slowly and in a monotone. She was a total invalid and in constant need of help and carefully looking after. The slightest touch caused her pain. Usually this disease proceeds with sharp psychological changes (irritability, a tiresome stubbornness in repeating stereotyped questions, an exaggerated egoism, manifestations of senility, etc.), as a result of which such patients often end up in psychiatric hospitals. But Mother Maria not only did not degenerate psychically, but revealed extraordinary features of personality and character not characteristic of such patients: she became extremely meek, humble, submissive, undemanding, concentrated in herself. She became engrossed in constant prayer, bearing her difficult condition without the least murmuring. As if as a reward for this humility and patience, the Lord sent her a gift: the consolation of the sorrowing. Completely strange and unknown people, finding themselves in sorrows, grief, despondency and depression, began to visit her and converse with her. And everyone who came to her left consoled, feeling an illumination of their grief, a pacifying of sorrow, a calming of fears, a taking away of depression and despondency. The news of this extraordinary nun gradually spread far beyond the boundaries of the city of Gatchina.
Matushka Maria lived with her unmarried sister, Julia Alexandrovna, and brother, Vladimir Alexandrovich, first in the centre of the city near the Peter and Paul cathedral, and then in a little wooden house on the outskirts. She was known not only by the inhabitants of Gatchina, but by the residents of Petrograd as well. Thus when she was tonsured, it was in the presence of many bishops, priests and deacons who had arrived from St. Petersburg (she was given the schema immediately).
Two circles formed around Matushka Maria - a large one, which helped in various household chores, and a small one which mainly chanted molebens. There were about sixteen girls aged between 13 and 14 in the smaller circle. They were led by Fr. John Smolin, with whom they sang at matushka's bedside, visited the sick and buried the dead. When Fr. John died in 1927, his place was talken by the deacon, Fr. Daniel.
In March, 1927, Ivan Mikhailovich Andreyevsky visited matushka. While waiting to be received, he examined the numerous photographs in the reception room and noticed two: Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd and Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd. On his photograph Metropolitan Joseph had written a touching dedication to Matushka Maria, quoting a large selection from his work In the Father's Embrace, while Metropolitan Benjamin had written briefly: "To the deeply-respected sufferer, Matushka Maria, who, among many grieving ones, has consoled also me, a sinner..."
Ivan Mikhailovich had the great good fortune to be present at the manifestation of miracles of healing of grieving souls. A young man who had grown despondent after the arrest and exile of his priest-father, left Matushka with a joyful smile, having resolved to accept the rank of deacon. A young woman who was grieving became radiantly joyful, similarly resolving to become a nun. An elderly man who was suffering deeply over the death of his son left Matushka upright and encouraged. An elderly woman who had come in tears left calm and firm.
When Ivan Mikhailovich went in to her, he told her that a terrible depression often attacked him, lasting several weeks, and that he could find no way to get rid of it.
"Depression is a spiritual cross," she told him; "it is sent to help the penitents who do not know how to repent, that is, who after repentance fall again into their earlier sins... And so only two medicines can treat this sometimes very difficult suffering of soul. One must either learn to repent and offer the fruits of repentance; or else bear this spiritual cross, one's depression, with humility, meekness, patience and great gratitude to the Lord, remembering that the bearing of this cross is accounted by the Lord as the fruit of repentance... And after all, what great consolation it is to realize that your discouragement is the unacknowledged fruit of repentance, an unconscious self-chastizement for the absence of the fruits that are demanded... From this thought one should come to contrition, and then the depression gradually melts and the true fruits of repentance will be conceived..."
From these words of Matushka Maria it was as if someone had literally made an operation on Ivan Mikhailovich's soul and removed a spiritual tumour... And he left a different man.
In the night of February 8, 1930, many monastics and believers were arrested throughout the country. Many Gatchina nuns were also arrested, including Matushka Maria and her sister. She was accused of counter-revolutionary propaganda and of participating in a counter-revolutionary organization, according to paragraphs 10 and 11 of Article 58 of the Soviet criminal code. Her brother was also arrested. The "organization" was composed of only two people. And the "propaganda" against Communism was her gift of consolation in sorrows. Those who were present during the arrest describe a frightful picture of mockery and cruel violence upon the patient sufferer who was paralysed and incapable of any physical movement.
The "politico-religious" crime of Matushka Maria was deepened by her refusal to recognize Metropolitan Sergius after his famous declaration of 1927, which led to a schism in the Russian Church. For she told her spiritual children that "there is no grace and no righteousness [in the sergianist churches], since they have departed from Orthodoxy and sold themselves to the authorities."
The poor sufferer was dragged by her arms, which were twisted behind her back, along the floor from her bed on the second floor to the truck by two chekists... Swinging her much-suffering, paralysed body, the chekists threw it into the truck and took her away to Leningrad, where she remained for two months before her death. The compassionate venerators of Matushka Maria began to bring modest parcels to her in prison. These were accepted for a month. And then, once, they did not accept the parcels and said briefly:
"She died in the hospital."
(Such helpless patients were usually killed.)
It is not known who buried matushka's body in the Smolensk cemetery. Her grave is visited by many people, who serve pannikhidas and pray there. She died on April 5, 1930.
Matushka's brother, Vladimir Alexandrovich, a weak, small, refined gentleman who had looked after her with self-sacrifice and received visitors, was taken away in another automobile, a so-called "black raven", a black limousine used especially for transporting the victims of arrests made in the deep of night. After nine months of investigation he received five years' imprisonment in a Siberian concentration camp. His sister, Julia Alexandrovna, was exiled on some charge, and remained in exile for ten years. Her friends visited her and brought her food. It is not known when she died.
(Sources: I.M. Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, chapter 5; Anna Alexeyevna Yepanchina, in Vosvrashcheniye, N 3, 1995 and Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 9 (1558), May 1/14, 1996, p. 12)
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