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.
She was a true ascetic and God-pleaser, she had the gift of healing and prophecy. She healed the eyes of a woman named Helen by anointing her with oil from a lampada. One nun had eczema on her arms. She was treated for three years by the best doctors in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod - to no effect. Both her arms were covered with wounds. She became so depressed that she wanted to leave the monastery. She went to Maria Ivanovna, who proposed that she be anointed with oil from the lampada. The nun was frightened because the doctors had forbidden her to touch her arms with oil or water. But out of faith towards the blessed one she agreed, and after two anointings the wounds and even the traces from the wounds had disappeared.
Once a peasant came to Maria Ivanovna in despair. He was bankrupt, and did not know how he was going to live. She said:
"Install an oil-press."
He obeyed her, started this business and put his affairs in order.
The blessed one said about the renovationist Archbishop Eudocimus (Meshcheryakov) of Nizhny Novgorod, even before his apostasy:
"A red candle, a red hierarch."
She even composed a song about him. And she warned Bishop Barnabas (Belyaev) to have nothing to do with him.
Once a bishop decided to visit her out of curiosity, without believing in her gift of prophecy. He was just about to enter when Maria Ivanovna shouted:
"Hey, Dorothea, quick, sit me on the bed-pan."
She sat on it and began to swear and murmur and complain about her illness.
Vladyka was horrified by this reception and silently left. On the road he had a stomach upset and was sick for the whole journey, groaning and complaining.
Four years before Schema-Nun Anatolia (Yakubovich) left her reclusion, the blessed one shouted at her:
"The swine schema-nun is coming out of her reclusion. She went into reclusion with the blessing of Fr. Anatolius (Schema-Monk Basil of Sarov), but her dead sister began to appear to her. Mother Anatolia got frightened, left her reclusion and began to go to church... It is not I, but the demons, who are driving her out of reclusion."
Once a boy came to Maria Ivanovna. She said:
"Look, The priest Alexis has come."
Later he really did become the Sarov Hieromonk Fr. Alexis. He greatly venerated her and often came to visit her. Once he came, sat down and was silent. But she said:
"I don't eat meat. I began to eat cabbage and guerkins with kvas, and got better."
"Good," he replied.
He understood that she was talking about his having begun to eat meat because he was frightened of falling ill. From that moment he gave up meat.
Once a certain lady from Murom came to the blessed one. Immediately she entered, Maria Ivanovna said:
"Lady, you smoke like a peasant."
It was true, she had been smoking for 25 years. Suddenly she began to weep and said:
"I just can't give it up, I smoke also at night and before the Liturgy."
"Dorothea, take her tobacco and throw it in the stove."
She took her elegant cigarette-case and matches and threw them all into the stove. A month later, Mother Dorothea got a letter from her and a sewn dress as a token of her gratitude. She wrote that she wasn't even thinking about smoking, it was as if a hand had taken it all away.
Rimma Ivanovna Dolganova was suffering from possession by demons; it showed itself in her falling in front of the holy things and not being able to receive communion. She began to ask the blessed one to let her go into a monastery.
"What need have you of that?"
"So I'll get better?" Rimma Ivanovna asked her hopefully.
"You'll be released before your death."
That night she fell ill with scarlet fever and went into hospital saying that she would not come back. She died, and not long before her death she was healed from demon-possession.
Once Vera Lovzanskaya (later the nun Seraphima) came to Maria Ivanovna asking her to allow her to go into a monastery. She looked her and shouted:
"It's not necessary! It's not necessary! It's not necessary!.. But in your old age you will look after a father. Go to Vladyka Barnabas, he will fix you up."
Later it turned out that as the nun Seraphima she had to look after her spiritual father, the Catacomb Bishop Barnabas (Belyaev), until his death.
In the monastery there was a certain fool-for-Christ called Onesimus. He was very friendly with Maria Ivanovna. They would stroll arm-in-arm through the monastery grounds, and she would call him her bridegroom. Onesimus lived his whole life in the monastery, and even called himself "she". When Tsar Nicholas II came for the uncovering of the relics of St. Seraphim in 1903, so many people came that they had to close the gates for a time. But Onesimus stayed outside the gates and shouted:
"Hey, I'm one of ours [in the feminine gender], let me in, I'm one of ours!"
Once Maria Ivanovna said to Vera Lovzanskaya:
"Look, Oniska is going to take my little girl far, far away."
Only when Bishop Barnabas himself took upon himself the exploit of being a fool-for-Christ and she followed him to Siberia, only then did it become clear what Maria Ivanovna was talking about.
Before going to Central Asia, Vera Lovzanskaya set off for Maria Ivanovna to say goodbye and receive her blessing. The Diveyevo monastery was closed, and Maria Ivanovna was living in a village.
Early in the morning Vera went to Arzamas - she had to go 60 kilometres from there to Diveyevo. It was December and the weather was cold. She went out onto the street and saw a peasant travelling on a low sledge. He stopped:
"Where are you going?"
"Good, I'll give you a lift."
They got as far as the village of Krugliye Pany. There was an inn there. The driver went in to get a bite to eat and got well and truly drunk. On the way he became exhausted, the sledge constantly wandered off the road and got stuck in the snow, but the horse somehow got herself out and finally stopped at the house where Maria Ivanovna lived. It was one o'clock at night. The peasant woke up and began to knock at the window with all his strength. The nuns opened up. They said what had happened. All this time the blessed one had been in a rage, thumping on the table and shouting:
"The drunk peasant is driving the girl! The drunk peasant is driving the girl!"
"But what drunk peasant, and what girl?" said the nuns, trying to understand her.
But the blessed one only shouted: "The drunk peasant is driving the girl!"
Once a lady of the intelligentsia came to Maria Ivanovna with her two boys. The blessed one immediately began to shout:
"Dorothea, Dorothea, get two crosses, put them on them."
"Why should I give them crosses? They have taken communion today."
But Maria Ivanovna began to make a commotion and shout:
"Crosses, put crosses on them."
Dorothea brought out two crosses, unbuttoned the boys' jackets and, sure enough, there were no crosses. The lady was very embarrassed when Dorothea asked her:
"How could you receive communion without crosses?"
She mumbled something in reply, saying that she had taken them off them on the road, otherwise they would disturb the children.
Immediately after her a schema-nun arrived.
"Why did she put on the schema, take it off, take it off, put on a scarf and bast-shoes, and put a cross on her," said Maria Ivanovna.
With trembling Mother Dorothea went up to her: it turned out that she was not wearing a cross. She said that she had lost it on the road.
Maria Ivanovna very much loved Misha Artsybusheva. He often came to her for spiritual direction. Once some nuns, cousins of Misha, came to Diveyevo and asked Maria Ivanovna:
"How is Misha doing here?"
She said: "Misha's got tied up with a gypsy woman."
The sisters were very worried. A short time later Misha arrived. They asked him:
"What's happened to you? Maria Ivanovna told us that you had got tied up with a gypsy woman."
Misha laughed and then explained that for many years he had not smoked, but then, recently, he had been passing by a tobacco stall and had been ensnared - he bought a packet of cigarettes called "Gypsy woman" and started to smoke them.
People would come for miles from everywhere to see her. To many she would open up their whole lives. Bishop Barnabas (Belayev), vicar of Nizhni-Novgorod diocese and future confessor of the Catacomb Church, used to visit her and had great respect for her.
Blessed Maria precisely foretold many events and private destinies. On the 31st of December, 1926, on the eve of the new year before the vigil, Maria Ivanovna asked Nun Seraphima (Bulgakova):
"Go outside and take a look. What kind of half moon is it, sharp or dull?"
When she was told, the blessed one said:
"Well, the old women will start dying."
And indeed, beginning on the first of January, in the course of two weeks many people began to die, more than one each day. Then the Blessed One began to say,
"What a difficult year is coming. Already Elijah and Enoch are walking upon the earth."
She would speak about this often, even during the vigil services.
On the Sunday of the Pharisee and Publican, 1926, the communists came to destroy Sarov. It continued until the fourth Sunday of Great Lent. Hieromonk Marcellinus had the obedience of guarding the relics of St. Seraphim. At that time, the ruling hierarch of Tambov was in Diveyevo. He called Fr. Marcellinus and ordered him to take the relics and to hide with them in the Caucasus. But he refused, saying that he had spent so many years before the relics, and had seen so many miracles that he was convinced that the Saint even now would not allow the relics to be stolen. For this Fr. Marcellinus was dismissed and in his place came Hieromonk Cyprian. Finally, on Monday of the week of the Cross, the communist authorities came and gathered all the holy things into a heap: the miraculous icon of the Life-Giving Spring, the cypress log in which for 70 years St. Seraphim's relics had rested in the earth, the coffin in which this log lay, and other things. They burned these in a bonfire near the northern exit from the Dormition Church, between the church and the Royal Suite. Novice Boris managed to photograph this.
But the relics of St. Seraphim, that is, his bones, just as they were tied in his mantia and clothing - all this the authorities tied together and placed in a blue chest. They sealed the relics and then divided into four groups, going off in various directions. They wanted to conceal where they were carrying the relics. They brought the chest with the holy relics to Arzamas by way of Unuchino. There they stopped, lodged for the night and fed the horses. No matter how hard they tried to conceal things, when the troika with the holy relics entered the village of Kremenki, they began to peal the alarm.
The relics were brought straight to Moscow, where they were received by a scientific commission. Fr. Vladimir Bogdanov managed to join himself to this commission. When they opened the box, according to the witness of Fr. Vladimir, there were no relics. That is what his spiritual children said. The reposed Vladyka Athanasius, who was later in exile together with Fr. Vladimir in Kotlas, said the same thing.
They said that when the blasphemers arrived at their place of rest for the night, they locked the box with the holy relics in a barn, and took the keys themselves. But they were very drunk...
In February, 1991, the supposed relics of St. Seraphim were brought from the former Kazan cathedral in St. Petersburg to Moscow, and later in that year they were returned to Diveyevo. However, Archbishop Lazarus of Tambov has another story: "In 1966 I was in Diveyevo with some Tambov and Diveyevo nuns. We arrived on the day of St. Seraphim, July 19 / August 1. We prayed a cell rule, as laypeople usually do when they are without a deacon or priest. The next day we went to the Kazan spring. Then Matushka Anna (Troyegubova) led me round the canal. Two nuns came up to us and told us about the place in Diveyevo where the relics of the saint are hidden. Not all the Diveyevo nuns knew about this, but only certain chosen ones.
"'We are old, we could die, but you are young, and we are handing this knowledge on to you,' they said.
"And they showed me the place. The story of the acquisition of the relics from the godless is as follows: Matushka Anna had lived since the age of ten in the monastery. Her brother, Fr. Gideon, later a martyr, lived in Sarov. In 1927 the monastery was closed, and he lived nearby as a woodcutter. When the godless came to take the relics away to Moscow, he learned about this and sent his sister, Matushka Anna, to Diveyevo, to tell the abbess:
"'They're taking away the relics of St. Seraphim'.
Then the abbess prepared her nuns, and they came to Arzamas, where the monastery had a guest-house which the Bolsheviks had taken away, although nuns continued to occupy part of it. In the evening the chekists came with the box. The nuns stuffed them with sausage and vodka so that they were lying around senseless. Then they nailed up the box, took the relics of St. Seraphim, loaded them onto a horse and took them to Diveyevo. There they hid them, and only a few trusted people know about the place. That is the story, exactly as they told me. When they brought the relics from Moscow in 1991, the inhabitants of Diveyevo did not believe in their authenticity, and one nun, Matushka Euphrosyne, who knows the truth, cried out when they brought the relics:
"'Don't believe them.'
But they locked her up."
Fr. Marcellinus would often come to Diveyevo. He could not forgive himself his disobedience to the Bishop and was close to having a nervous breakdown. In 1931-32 he was arrested and sent to Alma-Ata. There, in a transit camp, he spent Great Lent of 1932, and on Passion Saturday he was sent further on, where he soon died (April 14).
Before the destruction of the monastery Hieromonk Gideon, a native of Kherson district, had the obedience of looking after the monastery's farmstead in the woods. He died in exile in Alma-Ata on Palm Sunday, March 26, 1933 at 8 o'clock in the morning. The night before he twice appeared to his sister, the Diveyevo nun Anyuta, and asked her:
"Don't forget to commemorate me at the Liturgy. Today this is particularly important for me."
He appeared to her in the same clothes that he was vested in when he was buried in the cemetery of Alma-Ata. On March 9/22, 1946, during a pannikhida, he was seen again by his sister in the corner in front of the icons. Then she remembered that he had been tonsured on that day. He remained visible until the end of the pannikhida.
During the fourth week of Great Lent Sarov was closed.
The church services in Sarov stopped and the monks left in various directions. Abbot Rufinus and some of the brothers were arrested and sent to Arzamas prison, where they were tortured. According to the witness of fellow-prisoners, when Fr. Rufinus was once brought into their room after a long interrogation, none of the prisoners could recognize him. His whole face was puffed up, especially his chin. All the hairs of his beard had been pulled out. Soon after that he died under torture.
Hieromonk Isaac, a clairvoyant elder of Sarov, was arrested after the closure of the monastery and died in exile. In 1927, during the closure of the monastery, an old monk who used to sit by the holy spring, Fr. Basil, was killed. His obedience had been to give holy water to the pilgrims - a terrible crime in the eyes of the Bolsheviks. They destroyed everything in the monastery and turned it into the Temnikov concentration camp.
After Pascha, the authorities came to Diveyevo. They began to search the whole convent, all the buildings, registered all the inventory, and examined all private belongings. It was spring, everything was in bloom, but the sisters saw nothing and noticed nothing...
In these difficult days, Mother Seraphima went to see Blessed Maria Ivanovna:
"Maria Ivanovna, will we still live peacefully for a while?"
"We shall," she answered.
"But for how long?"
"For three months."
The authorities left, and it seemed as if everything was fine. But once the three months had passed, on the eve of the Nativity of the Mother of God, in September, 1927, the nuns were thrown out with only the clothes they were standing in. Everything was closed, and the monastery was turned into a collective farm.
During that whole summer, the monastery life during the day had experienced no unusual changes. But the moment the night would come, from somewhere owls would fly, sit on the roof of all the convent buildings and fill the whole monastery with ominous hooting; and so it was each night. When they announced the closure, all of the owls disappeared somewhere.
At that time two Bishops lived in the convent: Zenobius of Tambov and Seraphim of Dmitrov, the future hieromartyr. The former served the Liturgy on the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, in the Nativity of the Theotokos church. When the singers began to sing the stichera, 'Now upon the noetic altars abides God...', no one could continue to sing further. Everyone wept; the whole church was in tears.
Bishop Seraphim served in the big cathedral. After the Liturgy, he gave a sermon with the following words:
"Now each of us is presented with a cup. But each will accept it in a different way. Some will only touch it with their lips; others will drink one quarter, or half, or the whole cup to the dregs... Now in the monastery we are all burning as one huge candle, but now the time has come when this flame will be divided into small, separate candles."
That night both bishops, the abbess and the elder sisters were arrested and sent to Nizhni-Novgorod and then Moscow. But then they were released and allowed to choose their place of residence as long as it was not the same place.
On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the last service was held in the church of the Joy of All Who Sorrow. After the Liturgy the singers began to sing, as on Forgiveness Sunday, the "Lamentations of Adam". Everyone in the church wept.
The sisters had to hide in various places in Diveyevo, Vertianova and local villages. With the blessing of Bishop Barnabas, a cell was built for Maria Ivanovna in the village of Puzo, some 18 versts (14 miles) in the direction of Arzamas. There she was brought immediately after the closure of the monastery, and stayed for three months. Maria Ivanovna's affairs were managed by Valentina Dolganova, and things were arranged in such a way that no one was allowed access to the blessed one. When Abbess Alexandra settled in Murom, Mother Dorothea came to her:
"Why did you let Maria Ivanovna out into the world? Bring her back," the abbess said to her. Mother Dorothea went off for her.
"Maria Ivanovna, will you come with me?"
They immediately placed her on a cart covered with a red cotton blanket, and brought her to Elizarevo. Where could they hide her? They went to get an answer from Fr. Michael and Fr. James, and spent the whole winter there. In the spring they brought her to Diveyevo, to the deaf and mute brother and sister who lived there. And in the spring of 1930 they brought the blessed one to a farmstead near Pochinok, and then, finally, to Cherevatova.
Sometimes she would curse, and sometimes, when the nuns came to her, she would say tenderly:
"Look, my kittens have arrived!"
Nun Seraphima (Bulgakova) and Tonya (she ended her life as Nun Seraphim in the Pokrov monastery in Kiev) often went to her.
Once Tonya said:
"You keep talking about a monastery, Maria Ivanovna. There won't be a monastery!"
"There will! There will! There will!" And she banged with her hand on the table with all her might. She would have broken her hand if they had not put a cushion on the table to make it less painful for her.
Nun Seraphima remembers how Maria Ivanovna would give obediences in the convent: "Some had to rake hay, some had to clean the canal of the Mother of God; to others she gave other obediences. But to me she would never give anything, so I said to her,
"'Maria Ivanovna, will I live until there will be a monastery again?'
"'Yes, you will live,' and she squeezed my hand tightly and pressed it to the table."
Mother Seraphima was the only nun who survived until the opening of the monastery.
To one sister she said:
"Don't worry. You will all be in a convent. Only instead of your names, you will all have numbers."
Pointing at one sister she said her number would be 338.
"I remembered this number," this sister recalls, "and when we were in jail this was the number they gave me. So that was the convent for us."
In Arzamas, in banishment, there were over 2,000 nuns from two closed convents, that of Nikolayevsky and Alexeyevsky, as well as that of Diveyevo. One of the nuns who was in prison saw a dream. St. Seraphim was conducting two nuns into the yard saying,
"I am conducting my beloved ones into the prison."
And as she woke up she looked through the window; the two sisters were waking up.
At the same time the daughter of Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov) of Leningrad (author of The Diveyevo Chronicle and the Service to St. Seraphim) saw a dream: at a table nuns were sitting, and the Queen of Heaven was indicating which of the nuns was to be taken to prison.
Another woman relates: "Before her death, Maria Ivanovna would tell all her close ones how much they would read kathismas for her soul during the 40 days. And all that came to pass. To me she said, when I saw her last in October of 1930,
"'But you will not read even a single kathisma for me.'
"And in truth, I read nothing. I remembered her words only after the 40 days, when I found out about her death, but it was too late."
She died on the 26th of August, 1931, on the night of the feast day of the Vladimir Mother of God.
That night there was a terrible storm. They buried her there in the Cherivatova cemetery.
In the Kazan church of Diveyevo, which had been built by Abbess Alexandra, there were two priests and complete daily services. The priest there, Paul Peruansky, died on Pascha, April 7, 1938, in the Arzamas prison. They say that not long before his arrest they summoned him and asked:
"Are you a pastor or a hireling?"
"I am a pastor."
But the other priest, Fr. Simeon, in the 1930s, because of human weakness, renounced the priesthood and worked in a factory in Vyatka. The peasants recalled that once he came to Diveyevo, and in Arzamas he asked to be given a lift in an open truck. But when they recognized him they gave him a privileged place in the truck cabin. He refused and lay on the load in the back of the truck and wept the whole way. He died in the factory.
There was also Deacon Michael Lilov. He had many children and lived in poverty. It was so difficult for him that he decided to defrock himself. But then he had a vision: the Diveyevo Abbess-Foundress Alexandra appeared to him. It was remembered of him that on Great Passion Wednesday, when he read the Gospel during the Liturgy, he would burst into tears. He died together with Fr. Paul in the Arzamas prison.
(Sources: Pravoslavnaya Rus', No 13 (1442), July 1/14, 1991, p. 16; Pravoslavnaya Rus', no. 22 (1451), 15/28 November, 1991, p. 6; "Blessed Fool-for-Christ Maria Ivanovna of Diveyevo", The Orthodox Word, vol. 27, no. 2 (157), March-April 1991; "Iz vospominanij Arkhiepiskopa Leontiya", Russkij Pastyr', 14, III, 1992, p. 70; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1957, part 2, p. 228; "Episkop Varnava", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', NN 3,5, 1993; "Diveyevskoye predaniye", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', N 9 (524), September, 1993, pp. 15-27; Krest na Krasnom Obryve, Moscow, 1996, pp. 119-121)
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