In November, the ROAC glorified the holy women and nuns of Diveyevo. Here is the report on this subject read by Hierodeacon Theophan at the 8th Congress of clergy, monastics and laity of the Suzdal diocese.
TOWARDS THE GLORIFICATION OF THE HOLY NUNS OF DIVEYEVO
Hierodeacon Theophan. St. Petersburg.
(Report read at the 8th Congress of clergy, monastics and laity of the Suzdal diocese of the Russian Orthodox (Autonomous) Church (November, 2000))
With the blessing of his Eminence, I have been entrusted with collecting and presenting information on the lives and miracles of the holy nuns of Diveyevo in view of their coming glorification among the ranks of the holy God-pleasers by a Council of the Russian Orthodox [Autonomous] Church. Therefore I have been so bold as to offer to your attention a short selection composed, in the main, from the materials in The Chronicle of the Seraphimo-Diveyevo Monastery, which was collected and published for the first time by Archimandrite Seraphim (Chichagov) in 1898.
The holy Prophet-King David acclaims in his psalm the God of Israel "Who is wondrous in His saints", and the holy Apostle Paul thanks God, who wishes always to be glorified in His saints and appear wondrous in all those who believe (II Thess. 1.10).The divine Maximus the Confessor explains to us the meaning of these expressions when he says that our God becomes known precisely in the saints, that is, we already, here on earth, can know and see God, that He is such and not some other: "through the saints God becomes known by mortals" (Ambigua ad Thomas, 2). It is precisely for this reason that our God calls Himself and is acclaimed in the Church as the God of our Fathers, that is, the God of the holy fathers. Thus the Orthodox Church always knows her saints and honours them, already during their lifetime, as being close friends of God, asking for their prayers and help. Sometimes it is pleasing to God to glorify His saints after their death and even many years after it. There are examples of this in the lives of the saints.
According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, God is incarnate in each person in the virtues, which "by grace deify them in God, removing the marks that are characteristic of men, and humanise God, thanks to man's assimilation, so far as is possible for him, of the Divine characteristics" (St. Maximus the Confessor, Epistle to John Cubicularius on Love). God sees Himself and knows Himself, and only the true Church of God can see holiness, for there can be no Church without the saints. Therefore we have gathered here together in order once more to glorify God Who is wondrous in His saints, and with heart and lips to beseech their warm intercession and help.
The Seraphimo-Diveyevo monastery, which was founded by St. Seraphim of Sarov and Mother Alexandra with the blessing of the Heavenly Queen, was glorified by God with the appearance of a multitude of holy women and ascetics.
The grace-filled series of Diveyevo ascetics is opened by
The Holy Schema-Nun and Foundress Alexandra
Agatha Semyonovna Melgunova while in the world was a rich landowner of the Yaroslavl, Vladimir and Ryazan provinces. Widowed at an early age, in about 1760 she came to the Kiev Florovsky women's monastery, where she was tonsured into monasticism under the name of Alexandra and began zealously to lead the ascetic life. However, she was not destined to remain there long: the Mother of God appeared to her in a vision and revealed to her her will, saying that she was destined to found a new monastery.
Under the guidance of the Mother of God, and after prolonged wanderings, St. Alexandra finally attained the place chosen by the Mother of God for the creation of her new monastery - "her fourth lot in the inhabited world". This was the village of Diveyevo in Nizhni-Novgorod province. At that time there flourished, not far away, the coenobitic men's monastery of Sarov. It had a strict rule, znamenny chant and many ascetics of holy life (it was founded in 1705). Its monastic tradition went back, apparently, to the holy hesychasts of the Kiev Caves.
Not far from here, under the guidance of the Sarov ascetics, Mother Alexandra began to live the ascetic life in a cell next to a church in honour of the Kazan icon of the Theotokos. She used her great wealth for the construction and renovation of churches, she provided for many orphans, widows and poor people, and lived by the work of her hands, struggling in the most difficult physical labour (she cleaned the cattle-shed and washed clothes). The Diveyevo peasants recalled her profound humility and secret good works for a long time.
Soon novices began to join her, and a small community was formed. Voluntary poverty, the receptions of wanderers, handiwork, unceasing practice of the Jesus prayer - that is what Mother Alexandra implanted in her Kazan community - "bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of the Sarov desert". All this introduced the community from the beginning into the channel and tradition of Orthodox monasticism.
Already during her lifetime many knew and venerated Mother Alexandra as an ascetic who was very experienced in the spiritual life. "People flowed to her from all sides: not only simple people, but also highly placed people, merchants and even clergy, so as to listen to her instructions, receive her blessing and advice and be counted worthy of her welcome" (p. 31).
St. Alexandra reposed on June 13, 1789. Before her death she foretold the construction of a large monastery and the disorders that were to take place in it. A week or two before her death she was tonsured into the great angelic schema with the name of Alexandra.
St. Seraphim himself during her lifetime always spoke about her with profound respect, and after her death he witnessed to the fact that she was at the throne of God and taught the sister to ask for her prayers for everyone: "her clothing had many patches, her shawl was old, while her eyes never dried from her tears, and to this day I kiss the prints of her feet� She rests in her relics� Go to her grave every day, matushka, bow down and say: 'Our mistress and mother, forgive me and pray for me, as you were forgiven by the Lord, so may I be forgiven, and remember me at the throne of God" (p. 284). In the monastery there were written witnesses to the miracles and healings wrought by Mother Alexandra after her death. For example, in 1879, being near death, the retired lieutenant F.N. Sergeyev recovered from an incurable illness: being raised in mind to Sarov and there receiving the order from St. Seraphim to go for healing to Diveyevo to Mother Alexandra, he was healed through anointing with holy myrrh from the relics of Mother Alexandra. At that time he saw the relics themselves - "the skeleton entire, the bones like the purest amber, and from the skull there flowed three streams of holy myrrh, one in the middle of the forehead, and the two others along the sides from the eye-sockets" (p. 730). Once St. Alexandra appeared in sleep to a seriously ill woman and ordered her to turn for healing to St. Seraphim. St. Alexandra also continued to work healings and signs from her portrait, which began to venerated as wonderworking in the community (pp. 730-731).
Maria Semenovna Melyukova was a close spiritual friend of St. Seraphim and his novice. She came to the community in 1823 at the age of 13 and took upon herself the exploit of silence. She "was always immersed in completely undisturbed prayer" Her ascetic life surpassed in its strictness the strictest sisters, and her obedience to St. Seraphim was unquestioning. She was so spiritually close to St. Seraphim that the elder revealed to her all the secrets about the future of the monastery and the revelations that he had received from the Holy Theotokos. After her death on August 21, 1829, St. Seraphim revealed to the sisters of Diveyevo that he had tonsured her into the schema and that now "her soul was in the Heavenly Kingdom and near the Holy Trinity at the Throne of God, and the whole of your race will be saved through her!" (p. 267). Everyone then rejoiced at the appearance in the heavens of a new intercessor for the monastery and the whole world, while the elder Seraphim called everyone to the burial of Schema-Nun Martha, promising those present the remission of their sins. During the funeral the eldress Praskovya Semenovna, the sister of the reposed, clearly saw in the Royal Doors the Queen [of heaven] and Mother Martha standing in the air. Praskovya Semenovna then began to play the fool, to prophesy and to distribute her clothes. Then everyone heard cries and the sound of demons being driven out. When this was told St. Seraphim, he said: "This was the Lord and the Queen of heaven wanting to glorify our Mother Martha and Lady Mary. And if I, wretched Seraphim, had been at the burial many would have received healing from her spirit!" Later, being in the Holy Spirit, St. Seraphim once more confirmed that Schema-Nun Martha "is standing in the Heavenly Kingdom at the throne of God near the Heavenly Queen with the holy virgins! She is an intercessor for the whole of your race!" And he laid down that they should pray at her grave. (pp. 268-269).
Holy Mother Helena
Helena Vasilyevna Manturova continued directly in the tradition of Mother Alexandra with the blessing of Fr. Seraphim. The Lord chose her for Himself. Having from childhood "an extremely happy character, love for secular, social life and an attraction for merry-making and entertainments," she was preparing to marry when she suddenly and for a reason unknown even to herself rejected her bridegroom. Soon the Lord led His chosen one out of the world, having shown her in a vision a monstrous snake that was ready to devour her and from which she was saved by the Mother of God. Then Helena Vasilyevna vowed to enter a monastery. She completely rejected secular life, read much in the works of the Holy Fathers, prayed and worked on herself. For three years St. Seraphim prepared her for entrance into his community, which took place in 1825. He prophetically foresaw her path in life and ordered her in everything to imitate Mother Alexandra. Mother Helena struggled in unceasing prayer, contemplation and complete silence. Once, when Helena was looking after her cell-mate Ustinia, who was sick with consumption, the latter was taken up into heaven and foretold what God had prepared for them both.
Her life ended in a very wonderful manner: in obedience to St. Seraphim, she died instead of her brother Michael Vasilyevich Manturov. Before death she was taken up to the dwellings of paradise, where she contemplated God in the form of ineffable Fire, communed with the All-Holy Theotokos, who showed her the lot of the present, past and future Diveyevo sisters (pp. 420-423). She reposed on May 28, 1832, and during the funeral liturgy she thrice smiled in the coffin as if she were alive. Soon St. Seraphim revealed that Holy Mother Helena "has been counted worthy to sit not far from the Holy Trinity, as a virgin", and that she was "a maid of honour of the Heavenly Queen", and that together with St. Martha she had been counted worthy by God of incorrupt relics for the virtue of unquestioning obedience (p. 425).
As Archimandrite Seraphim indicates in his "Chronicle", miracles and healings have often been worked at the grave of Helena Vasilyevna Manturova. They have been recorded in the community (p. 732).
Xenia Mikhailovna Kocheulova
She was the second superior of the Kazan community after Mother Alexandra. Apparently she was not tonsured into monasticism. Her zeal for asceticism was amazing. St. Seraphim called her "a fiery pillar from earth to heaven" and "a spiritual rasp". Before her death she ordered that after her repose for 40 days all the wanderers coming to the community should be received and fed. After her death a miracle took place: in the course of these 40 days the Lord through the prayers of St. Xenia twice each day lessened the amount of food consumed in the community, although besides the sisters many wanderers were fed (p. 506).
Holy Mother Eupraxia
In the world - Eudocia Efremovna Princess Engalycheva.
She was also very close to, and beloved by, St. Seraphim, and by his prayers was counted worthy of seeing the Mother of God in 1831 in the cell of the elder (p. 630). She passed away to the Lord on March 28, 1865.
In the "Chronicle" not much is said about these ascetics, but enough is said to see in them chosen vessels of God's grace, who undoubtedly received boldness in their prayers for us to the Lord.
Holy Abbess Maria
In the world Elizabeth Alexeyevna Ushakova. She was elected as superior in 1859 and she in fact administered the desolate monastery in its difficult years. After the disturbances in Diveyevo, in 1862 Superior Elizabeth Alexeyevna was tonsured, and in accordance with the order of the Most Holy Synod was raised to the rank of abbess. From that time the community began to flourish. Land was acquired, new blocks were built, the churches were repaired, part-singing was introduced, as well as icon-painting studio. St. Maria herself acquired many virtues, and became a true mother for the sisters. Cases of her clairvoyance are known, and by her prayers all the complexities connected with the monastery's huge economy were miraculously solved of themselves.
The Holy Blessed Ones of Diveyevo
God especially revealed His Wisdom, "which is madness to the world", in the ascetics who took upon themselves the exploit of foolishness for Christ's sake, that is, voluntary madness. Fired by a powerful desire to trample on and destroy in themselves the basic and first passion of self-love, the mother of all the passions, they preferred even in the eyes of people to reject such a divine gift as human reason, so as to acquire Divine reason, "the mind of Christ", as St. Paul says. Hating the world, they became in everything unworldly. Although St. Seraphim himself said that amidst the multitude of fools for Christ walking through Russia you could find only one real ascetic in a thousand, nevertheless he entrusted his orphans precisely to the blessed fools for Christ, by whom the Diveyevo community was so glorified.
Blessed Pelagia Ivanovna
In the world Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrennikova. She was born in Arzamas and already from childhood was nicknamed "fool" for her unusual behaviour. Her parents gave her away in marriage, but after visiting the elder Seraphim, she began to spend all her nights in prayer and to play the fool, as if she had lost her mind. Two sons were born to her. They soon died at the prayers of the blessed one. Pelagia suffered cruel blows and began to walk along the streets, acting crazily and suffering taunts and mockery. She spent every night in prayer on the church porch.
In 1837 Pelagia was received into the Diveyevo community, where she continued her ascetic life as a "mad fool": she lived on the street in a pit filled with filth, she broke windows in the cells, beat her head against the walls of the buildings, always walked barefoot, pierced her feet with nails and in every way tormented her body, feeding herself on bread and water and never going to the monastery meals. Often, when going round the cells asking for bread, she suffered blows, pushes and kicks, calling herself "mad" and "a fool". Some sisters venerated her, others abused her as a mad woman possessed by a clairvoyant demon. Blessed Pelagia Ivanovna was venerated by all the blessed ones of Diveyevo: Praskovya Yakovlevna, Praskovya Semenovna, Praskovya Ivanovna, calling her "mummy" (p. 765).
Already during her lifetime, Blessed Pelagia used to heal those who turned to her. Thus the artist M.P. Petrov was healed of paralysis of the hand (p. 777). She saw the whole life of any person and prophesied with clairvoyance. She appeared in dreams and performed healings. She quenched a fire at a distance (p. 780). The sisters of the community, and Mother Abbess herself, took counsel with the clairvoyant blessed one. The fame of her clairvoyance spread everywhere and the blessed one was visited by many people from all ends of Russia (p. 641). Four years before her death Blessed Pelagia foresaw the spread of Jacobinism and terrorism in the Empire. They would lead in the end to the murder of Tsar Alexander II, over which she constantly wept and prayed (p. 756).
After 20 years of asceticism, Blessed Pelagia, at the command of Seraphim who appeared to her in a dream, shut herself up in a cell, began to avoid people, became silent, sat and slept always on the floor near the entrance door, and spent her nights in prayer. She fed mainly on black bread from which she rolled little balls which served her instead of beads for the Jesus prayer. She never washed her body or cut her nails (pp. 781-782). The blessed one lived in the community until her death, and according to St. Seraphim through here "many souls have been saved".
Before her death she promised that those who remembered her she would remember and pray for (p. 774). Blessed Pelagia reposed on January 30, 1884.
Blessed Natalya Dimitrievna
From 1848 there lived in Diveyevo, besides the fool-for-Christ Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrennivoa, Blessed Natalya Dimitrievna. She was from a peasant family from Orenburg province and secretly received the tonsure in Kiev. At first they wanted to send her away because of a certain strangeness in her behaviour, but Blessed Pelagia Ivanovna, appearing in a dream to the dean, showed her a paper on which was written in big letters: "Don't touch Natalya, she is appointed to live here!"
In contrast to the other blessed ones, she was daily present at the Divine services, never walked around the cells and had a sister to look after her. Her obedience was to read the psalter by night and ring the bell for the midnight service. As Abbess Maria wrote about her, "in accordance with her blessedness, Natalya has her strangenesses: she walks sideways, doesn't allow people to go round her and things like that, but all these strangenesses harm nobody. In the time she has free from prayer, she occupies herself with reading spiritual books. But most of all she loves to read the Gospel� she is always in church and even makes remarks to some people. The wanderers respect her for her edifying instructions." As with the other blessed ones, St. Natalya did not dress in monastic clothing, saying that she was a fool and was unworthy to wear it.
Blessed Natalya lived either in church or in the open air under an awning next to her cell at any time of the year no matter how bad the weather. There she prayed without ceasing, carried out the monastic rules, had conversations with people who came to her, and at nigh continued to read and write. She ate exceptionally little, and nothing at all on fast days. People were constantly swarming round her. When she was very exhausted, she withdrew into her cell. Her cell was never cleaned, in the middle of the floor there stood two tubs, one with water, the other with rinds and remains of bread, in which food was offered for the rats, so that they should always be full and not disturb her in her occupations and prayer. She never took off her clothes until they wore out. She always slept sitting, never lying down. She never looked at people, for which she sat bowed at the waist, leaning with her elbows on her knees. She did not allow people to come close to her, and never took anything into her hands except holy objects, paper and ink. Novices did everything for her, fed her, turned the pages of the book, etc. Also, St. Natalya always moved sideways and unfailingly along the same road or stretch of floor, hither and thither (pp. 623-625). By these burdensome exploits the blessed one deprived herself of every physical comfort, rejecting not only the external world with its rationally thought out way of life, but also the inner world with its carnal reasonings and feelings. Blessed Natalya received from the Lord the gift of discernment and clairvoyance. She died in 1889.
Blessed Praskovya Semenovna
She was the elder sister of holy Schema-Nun Martha (Maria Semenovna) and came to Diveyevo together with her. She began to play the fool and prophesy during a vision of the Theotokos she had at the burial of St. Martha. In 1854 she had a vision in Sarov: the Mother of God appeared to her at night with St. Seraphim and ordered her in obedience to the elder "to put matters right in the community, insist on righteousness, reprove", and in reply to her refusal repeated these words three times. 7 years later Praskovya Semenovna revealed the vision she had had to her niece Helena. A. Motovilova. At that time the long period of disturbances began in the monastery. Blessed Praskovya foretold the events of the coming disturbances, Seraphim himself frequently appeared to her� She again foretold all Fr. Seraphim's prophecies about the future glory of Diveyevo. After reproving the unrighteousness in the decision of the ecclesiastical authorities on the fate of Diveyevo, in accordance with St. Seraphim's prophecy concerning it, she peacefully departed to the Lord on June 1, 1861.
Blessed Praskovya Ivanovna (Pasha of Sarov)
She came from a peasant family of Tambov province, and was called Irina. Her parents gave her in marriage and she lived for 15 years with her husband, without bearing any children. 5 years later her husband died, and Irina suffered much. While on a pilgrimage in Kiev, she came to hate the world for ever and decided to devote her life to God alone� In accordance with the providence of God, the landowners expelled her, and for five years she lived in her native village on the street, suffering privation. Finally, she was secretly tonsured with the name Paraskeva in Kiev. She lived for 30 years in the woods of Sarov in a cave dug with her own hands, suffering various kinds of privations. Already at that time she began to be considered to be a blessed one and clairvoyant, the people venerated her and asked for her prayers. At that time the Lord allowed her to endure the exploit of St. Seraphim: she was cruelly beaten by robbers, almost to death.
For several years Paraskeva saved herself in the woods of Sarov, but six years before her death Pelagia Ivanovna began to live for long periods in Diveyevo, and after her death moved there completely. She nursed and fussed over some children's dolls, which she called her children.
Her glace was exceptionally kind. She spent nights in prayer, and strictly watched that the sisters should daily go to the services in church, and get up at night to pray at midnight. The blessed one wove stockings while doing the Jesus prayer. She also took on the exploit of wandering, often going from one place to another, changing cells and distant obediences. She mowed the grass with a sickle while making prostrations and praying. Blessed Pasha made prophecies by means of dolls, and, according to the witness of the "Chronicle", there were so many cases of her clairvoyance that it was impossible to collect and write them all down (p. 848). The spiritual world was opened to her, she saw the souls and knew the thoughts of those who came to her and surrounded her. She was often heard speaking with the saints and the Mother of God.
According to Diveyevo tradition, during the triumphant glorification of St. Seraphim in 1903, the Tsar and Tsaritsa met blessed Pasha, who foretold them the birth of an heir, and also the fall of Russia and the Dynasty, the devastation of the Church and a sea of blood. After this his Majesty sought her counsel on all serious questions. Before her death, Blessed Praskovya made full prostrations before the portrait of his Majesty, foretelling his holiness. Blessed Praskovya Ivanovna reposed in 1915.
This series of blessed ones together with the numerous miracles constantly reminds monks and all true Christians that real Orthodoxy, the true faith, is not of this world. One should not become attached to the earthly, to a rich monastery, to comfort and fame, but should seek that which is on high.
On the whole the Diveyevo community gave to the world many holy women, whose names are known to the Lord. These holy mothers, who have shone out in the holiness of their lives, miracles and clairvoyance, have given us an example of a truly Christian, truly Orthodox life. In truth God is glorified in them!
Unfortunately, with the permission of God the Diveyevo community is now in the hands of heretics. However, the saints can never be with heretics, but only with the True Orthodox Church, which honours and does not blaspheme them. Therefore only the True Orthodox Church can glorify them.
Contemplating the lives and exploits of these holy women, we shall always remember that without inner activity, without inner exploits, or, according to the expression of St. Seraphim (Rose), "inner unworldliness", there is no True Orthodoxy. We should always remember this in our struggle for Holy Orthodoxy.
HOLY NUNS OF DIVEYEVO, PRAY TO GOD FOR US!