Blessed Maria Ivanovna, born Maria Zakharovna Fedina, was born in the village of Goletkova, Elatemsky uyezd, Tambov province. When asked why she was called Ivanovna, she replied:
"We all, the blessed ones, or fools-for-Christ, are 'Ivanovna' because our father is St. John the Baptist."
Her parents, Zachariah and Pelagia, died when she was hardly thirteen years old. Her father died first. After the death of her husband Pelagia settled with Masha in the family of her elder son. But there they did not get on with Pelagia's daughter-in-law, and they had to move. From childhood Maria was distinguished by her calm character and many strange features. She often went to church, was silent and solitary, never played with anyone, wasn't gay, was not interested in clothes, and was always dressed in rags, in a dress thrown away by somebody.
Often while working she saw in front of her eyes the Seraphim-Diveyevo monastery, although she had never been there. Her mother died a year after the death of her father. She was given absolutely nowhere to live by her relatives. Once, in the summer, several women and girls got together to go to Sarov. Maria obtained leave to go with them. She did not return home. Not having a constant refuge, she wandered between Sarov, Diveyevo and Ardatov - hungry, half-naked and persecuted. She walked in all weathers, winter and summer, in heat and frost, during the spring thaw and in autumn, in bast shoes that were often torn, without foot-cloths. Once she went to Sarov for Passion Week during the spring thaw up to her knees in water mixed with dirt and snow. A peasant in a cart caught up with her, took pity on her and offered to give her a lift. But she refused. In the summer Maria apparently lived in the woods, because when she arrived in Diveyevo her body was completely covered with ticks, and many boils from her wounds were already coming to a head.
She most often went to the Diveyevo monastery. Some of the sisters loved her, sensing in her an unusual person. They gave her clean, strong clothes instead of rags. But within a few days Maria would again turn up, having been bitten by dogs and beaten up by evil people, and her clothes torn and dirty. Others among the nuns did not understand her ascetic exploit; they did not love her and drove her away. They went to complain about her to the village constable; they wanted him by the authority given him to "release them from this beggar-woman", who was lousy and coarse. The constable summoned her, but could do nothing since she presented the picture of a complete fool; and he let her go. Maria again went up to people, and, as if swearing, she would reveal their secret sins. For that reason many people took a particular dislike to her.
Nobody ever heard her complain, or groan, or get despondent or irritable, or complain about human injustice. And the Lord Himself for her God-pleasing life and great humility and patience glorified her among men. They began to take notice of her; if she said something or warned about something, it would be fulfilled, and those with whom she stayed received grace from God.
One woman, Pelagia, had twelve children, and they all died before the age of five. During the first years of her marriage, when two of her children had died, Maria Ivanovna went to her village, walked up to the windows of her house and began to chant:
"Moss-footed moor-hen, give birth to a few children."
The women surrounding her said to her:
"She hasn't got any children."
But she replied: "No, she has many."
They stuck to their opinion: "No, she has none."
Then Maria Ivanovna explained to them: "The Lord has a lot of room."
Once she said to a woman: "Quick, quick, go. Nucharovo's on fire."
But the woman was from Ruzanovo. She arrived in Ruzanovo, and everything was in order, nothing had happened. She was perplexed, but at that moment they began to shout:
"We're on fire!"
And the whole of Ruzanovo burned down from one end to the other.
Maria Ivanovna received spiritual instruction from the great fool-for-Christ, Blessed Praskovya Ivanovna, to whom she went for advice.
Blessed "Pasha of Sarov", as she was known, was listened to even by the Tsar. When Tsar Nicholas came to Sarov in 1903 for the uncovering of the relics of St. Seraphim, he and the empress had a long talk of several hours with Blessed Pasha. She foretold to them their own martyrdom as well as that of Holy Russia. At one point the Empress was near to fainting and said:
"I don't believe you, it cannot be!"
Now this was one year before the birth of the heir to the throne and they very much wanted an heir. So Blessed Pasha got up from her bed with a piece of red material and said:
"This is for some little trousers for your son, and when he is born, you will believe what I have been telling you."
On leaving they kissed each other's hands. The Emperor and Empress promised to come again soon to open the relics of Mother Alexandra, the first abbess of Diveyevo, because she had appeared to them in the palace and had worked miracles there. When the Tsar left, looking pale and shaken but resolute, he said that Paraskeva Ivanonva was the only true servant of God. Everyone everywhere received him as Tsar, but she alone received him as a simple person.
From Blessed Pasha they went to Helen Motovilov, the young wife of N.I. Motovilov, who is now well-known for recording his conversation with the saint about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. She gave him a letter given to her seventy years before by St. Seraphim "for the Tsar in whose reign I shall be glorified". On receiving the letter, the Tsar reverently put it into his chest pocket, saying that he would read it later. But Elena Motovilov received a spiritual illumination and spoke to them for about two hours - later she could not herself remember what she said. She died on December 27, 1910 as a secret nun.
When the Tsar read the letter, on his return to the abbess' quarters, he wept bitterly. The courtiers comforted him, saying that although Seraphim was a saint, he could have been mistaken. But the Tsar wept inconsolably. The contents of the letter remain unknown.
Towards evening on the same day, July 20, everyone returned from Diveyevo. After this, the Tsar sought the advice of Blessed Pasha on all serious questions. He used to send the Great Princes to her, and according to her cell-attendant, Eudocia Ivanovna, one would no sooner depart than another arrived. After the death of Blessed Pasha's cell-attendant, Matushka Seraphima, they would put all their questions to her through Eudocia Ivanovna, who relates that she once said:
"Your Majesty, come down from the throne yourself!"
Blessed Pasha died in August, 1915. Before her death she was constantly making prostrations to the earth before the portrait of the Tsar. When she was weak, she was lifted and let down by her cell-attendants.
"Mamashenka, why do you pray to the Tsar like that?"
"Stupid, he will be higher than all the tsars."
And she also said about the Tsar: "Perhaps he'll be a monk, perhaps a martyr!"
Not long before her death she removed the portrait of the Tsar and kissed his feet with the words:
"The dear one is already near his death."
She took seven dolls and laid them out with the words:
"I'll put them in a row, let them sleep."
In this parabolic way she foretold the martyric death of the Royal Family.
Blessed Pasha's death was long and very painful. She was paralyzed. Some were surprised that such a great servant of God could die such a difficult death. But to one of the sisters it was revealed that by these sufferings she was redeeming the souls of her spiritual children from hell.
Praskovya Ivanovna herself, sensing her coming death, said to those close to her:
"I'm still sitting and guarding the camp. There's another who's dashing about, she's still walking, but later she will sit down."
She blessed Maria Ivanovna to stay in the monastery, but said to her:
"Only don't sit in my chair."
Nevertheless, she was placed in the cell of Parasceva Ivanovna, where she lived two years in all.
On the very day of the death of Blessed Pasha of Sarov, Maria Ivanovna experienced a small temptation. Vexed by her strangeness, the nuns had driven her out of the monastery, ordering her not come to there again, otherwise they would have to resort to the help of the police.
The blessed one said nothing in reply; she just turned and left.
Before the coffin with the body of Blessed Pasha was brought into the church, a peasant arrived at the monastery and said:
"What a servant of God you have just driven out of your monastery! She has just told me my whole life and all my sins. Bring her back to the monastery, otherwise you will lose her forever."
They immediately sent messengers after Maria Ivanovna. She didn't wait but returned to the monastery at the time that Blessed Pasha was lying in the coffin in the church. The blessed one went in, and, turning to Nun Zenobia, who was the sacristan, she said:
"Look, you lay me out just like Pasha."
Mother Zenobia got angry with her - how did she dare to compare herself with Pasha? Maria Ivanovna did not say a word. From that time she finally settled in Diveyevo.
At the beginning she lived with the Nun Maria, but then the abbess gave her a separate room. The room was cold and damp, especially the floor, and the blessed one lived in it for almost eight years. Here she was finally deprived of the use of her legs and developed a very severe rheumatism in her whole body.
From almost the first year of her life in the monastery they gave her Pasha (in monasticism Dorothea) as her novice. At first she did not love Maria Ivanovna and went to serve her only out of obedience. But Maria Ivanovna had already said before that they would bring Pasha to serve her.
Pasha became very sad as she saw Maria Ivanovna gradually fall ill with a tormenting illness and being deprived of the use of her legs. But she could do nothing.
It was only when so many people began to come to the blessed one so that it was impossible to fit them into the narrow room, that the abbess allowed her to be transferred into the little house of Pasha of Sarov.
This little house was at the very gates of the monastery, and the Soviet authorities, seeing the large numbers of people coming to her, raised up a persecution against the blessed one, so that in the end they transferred her into a separate room attached to the work-house, where she lived until the closure of the monastery.
Blessed Maria spoke much and at a quick pace. She articulated her words very well and even rhymed. But she used foul language, especially after 1917. She swore so much that the nuns had to go out into the street so as not to hear her. Dunya, the cell-attendant of Praskovya Ivanovna, once asked her:
"Maria Ivanovna, why do you swear so much? Mamenka, Praskovya Ivanovna didn't swear like that."
"It was okay for her to indulge her whims during the reign of Nicholas, but try that under Soviet power!"
Soon after the revolution the Bolsheviks began to plan the destruction of St. Seraphim's monasteries.
On July 14/27, 1918, a communal instructor arrived at the monastery of Sarov. Having assembled the brotherhood in the refectory, he declared that he had been sent to found a commune, that is, a communal form of life, in the monastery. This decision was justified, said the instructor, by the fact that the Church was separated from the State, and the monastery was not a juridical person, so there could be the arbitrary imposition of people to live in the monastery and seizures of property. The former monastery brotherhood was formed into a labour community.
On November 3rd, the superior of the monastery reported to the Tambov diocesan council: "On October 13th, two people arrived at the monastery from the Soviet authorities in Temnikov, accompanied by four armed red guards. On Sunday the 14th, after lunch in the refectory, they went into the superior's residence and demanded that he pay 300 thousand rubles to the soviet, indicating that in the event of non-payment the strictest measures would be taken. One hour was given for him to think it over.
"When the hour was up, the elder brethren explained to them that there was no money. As proof they produced the accounts for 1915, which showed that all income had been spent without remainder; throughout the war no timber had been sold from the woodland, and at the beginning of the summer of 1918 all the woodland had been handed over to the Temnikov uyezd forestry department, which was why the community was eking out a very meagre existence. The delegates did not listen to the explanation, but made threats. At 4 p.m. they arrested the treasurer, Hieromonk Rufinus; then at 5 there was a general meeting in the refectory to which the two delegates came. The brotherhood asked them why they had made the arrest - there was no reply. After the meeting, in spite of being threatened with shooting, the brotherhood freed the treasurer.
"On the night of October 19th, the delegates again arrived with fifteen armed red guards. The elder brothers entered into negotiations with them and were told to hand over the money immediately. Twelve of the elder brothers were arrested, and Ryasofor-monk Simeon Kondrashev was beaten with a lash. Having locked them in a room, they said that in fifteen minutes all twelve would be shot. Then a meeting of the brotherhood promised to contribute 20 thousand rubles from the money set aside for paying for firewood. The brothers were no longer allowed, under threat of being shot, to leave the monastery in groups.
"On the 20th the treasurer, Fr. Rufinus was searched. They took 15 thousand rubles from him. From the superior, Fr. Hierotheus, they took 6570 rubles, and from the elder Anatolius 2500 rubles and 50 ten-ruble pieces which had been given for his burial. Then they searched the cell of Hieromonk Clement, but found no money.
"After dinner they freed Ryasofor-monks Simeon Kondrashev and Nicanor Tyurin, Hierodeacon Job, Hieromonks Photius and Panteleimon. Six remained under arrest, to whom were added Ryasofor-monk Paul Dosik because he fervently interceded for those under arrest.
"At 6 p.m. on October 20th, the arrested men were given ten minutes for reflection, after which Gennadius, Ignatius, Methodius and Paisius were brought out into the courtyard of the guest-house and placed against the wall to be shot. At the word of command the red guards shot two salvoes. Then one of the delegates stopped the shooting because a telegram had been received ordering the arrested men to be taken to Temnikov. After giving some single shots they locked them under arrest again.
"The next day, October 21st, after dinner, Hieromonk Paisius and Ryasofor-monk Paul Dosik were released, and in the evening the rest were also freed. The delegate said: "If you do not hand over 300 thousand rubles, penalties will be exacted - shooting and other means." Throughout the period of their arrest the brothers were sujected to abuse and tortured one at a time. The men went into the churches and the altars, grabbing crosses and Gospels. Besides the money, furniture was removed from the Tsar's palace, and from the bishop's and superior's residences. Blankets, pillows, mattresses and other things were taken, as well as a typewriter and 13 horses."
The blessed one was not satisfied with the exploits of her previous wandering life, her illnesses, prayer, reception of the people. Once Mother Dorothea, Maria Ivanovna's novice, went into the larder for some milk. It was quite a long way from the cell of the eldress. She had put a boiling samovar on the table. As she was returning she heard the insistent shout of Maria Ivanovna:
The alarmed novice did not at first understand anything, but then she just collapsed from horror. In her absence Maria Ivanovna had decided to pour out some tea for herself, and had opened the tap, but had not been able to turn it, and the water had poured onto her knees before the arrival of Mother Dorothea. She had scalded herself to the bone, the whole of the front part of her body and her legs, and between her legs she was completely covered in blisters which then burst and became wet.
This happened in the hottest part of the year, in June. Dorothea was afraid that worms would get into the exposed and unhealed flesh, but the Lord preserved His chosen one, and by a miracle she recovered, God only knows how. Since she could not get out of bed, she urinated under herself, she was all wet, she lay there without an oil-cloth, it was difficult to lift her and change the bedclothes under her, and yet she recovered.
Once Dorothea was so tired and weakened from lifting Maria Ivanovna all through the night, and always for a minute at a time, that by morning she said:
"As you want, Maria Ivanovna, do what you want. I can't get up."
Maria Ivanovna fell silent, and suddenly Dorothea woke up from a terribly rumbling: the blessed one had decided to crawl out herself, but had got out on the wrong side and had fallen with her arm on the chair and broken her hand.
"Help!" she shouted, but did not want to call a doctor to bind her hand in a splint, but laid it on the pillow and lay in one position for six months without getting up or turning over. She again urinated under herself because she drank a lot and ate almost nothing.
She had such terrible bed-sores that her bones were exposed and the flesh hang in chunks. And again Maria Ivanovna bore all these torments without murmuring. Only half a year later did the bones of her hand begin to knit and they knitted wrongly, which one can see on some photographs.
Once Mother Dorothea wanted to count how many times Maria Ivanovna got up during the night. For this purpose she got out a board and chalk and already in the moving notched up the first mark. Then she lay down to sleep, telling the blessed one nothing about her plan.
Towards morning she woke up and was amazed that Maria Ivanovna was not getting up or calling her. She went up to her, but she was not sleeping, but laughed. She was lying as if in a swamp, having urinated, and said:
"Look, I didn't get up once."
Mother Dorothea fell at the feet of the blessed one:
"Forgive me, for Christ's sake, mamushka, I shall never again count or be curious about you and what you do."
All those who lived with Maria Ivanovna were taught by her to practise asceticism, and these ascetic exploits became bearable through obedience and the prayers of the blessed one. Thus the blessed one did not allow Mother Dorothea to sleep except on one side, and if she lay on the other side, she shouted at her. Maria Ivanovna herself would scratch a place on her leg and not allow it to heal.
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