Diveyevo Tradition, Part 2—"What I Heard From the Sisters, and What I Saw Myself"

As it is today: The Holy Trinity Church in the foreground, the new cathedral, now dedicated to All Saints, in the background.
As it is today: The Holy Trinity Church in the foreground, the new cathedral, now dedicated to All Saints, in the background.
Continued from Part IStructure and Daily Life of the Monastery

Prophets. Mother Agnia told me this. In the Tikhvin church, in the back corner across from the entrance hung a picture of the Old Testament prophets. The picture was four and a half by seven feet. The Prophets were painted in full height. From time to time the image darkened, and became even almost black. A lampada burned before the picture.

Then they stopped lighting the lampada, saying: “Why light it—the picture is black, and you can hardly see anything.”

Once some old women came who always stood back there, and they saw that the Prophets had left. There was no image of them on the canvas at all. The old women began to intentionally gather there to pray and light the lampada, when one day they came in the morning and saw that the Prophets had returned. It was a dewy morning, and the Prophets had drops of dew on their feet.

This happened long ago, before the opening of St. Seraphim’s relics.

About the new cathedral. Work on the new cathedral was begun soon after the opening of the relics, but it was never finished.

Money for the building was donated by the Muscovite Theodore Vasilievich Dolgintsev. It seems he participated in some sort of gamble, and promised that if he won he would donate the money to build a cathedral. So it happened.

In Diveyevo there was a tradition—Fr. Seraphim blessed a Cathedral to be built by the Canal in one line with the Trinity Cathedral. But subsequently the persecutor of Diveyevo sisters, John Tikhonov, managed to build the wooden Tikhvin church in that spot. He even built it using the materials designated for the Trinity Cathedral. The lower floor of the Tikhvin church was narrow, finished in stone; in the eastern part was a small side altar in honor of the Icon of the Mother of God “Assuage My Sorrow.” The ecclesiarchs lived near the church in special cells. On the second floor was a three-altar wooden church in honor of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God, with side altars to Archangel Michael and all Saints.

The church was stuffy and close, and they served there mostly in winter. When they moved to the summer Cathedral, there would only be early Liturgies served there. After the expulsion a steam-powered mill was built there. The building burned down in 1928.

Metropolitan Seraphim Chichagov insisted upon building the new Cathedral on the place were the Tikhvin church stood. But Abbess Alexandra did not wish to tear down the winter church. So it was decided to build the cathedral outside the Canal. This became the reason for the breach between the Abbess and Metropolitan Seraphim. They began the solemn cornerstone laying celebration.

Abbess Alexandra (Trakovskaya).
Abbess Alexandra (Trakovskaya).
The reposed Abbess Maria never did anything or went anywhere without a blessing from Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna, but Abbess Alexandra did not follow her example.

The celebration was already going on at the building site when the Abbess’ aunt, Elizabeth Ivanovna, came to see Prascovia Ivanovna. She was old and deaf. She said to the novice, Dunya:

“I am going to ask the blessed one something, and you repeat her answer to me, otherwise I won’t hear it.

“Mamashenka, they’re donating a cathedral to us.”

Prascovia Ivanovna answered: “A cathedral, a cathedral. But I looked there—bird cherry trees are growing at the corners. They might knock the cathedral over.”

“What did she say?”

Dunya decided: “The cathedral’s foundation is already being laid, so now there’s no point talking about it.” So she answered:

“She blesses.”

Thus the cathedral was never finished. In recent years it was decided several times to dynamite it, but they could not go through with it because it might have damaged the surrounding buildings.

The cathedral’s architect was Alexander Alexandrovich Rumiantsev. During the twenties he moved to England.

The sisters of the monastery iconography studio painted the church under the direction of the artist Parilov. It was all ready, only the iconostasis needed to be erected. But then they suddenly realized that they had forgotten to install the heating system. This delayed the consecration for another year, and when they finished it was too late, for the war had broken out. They had wanted to consecrate the cathedral in the name of the Umilenie Icon of the Mother of God and of St. Seraphim.

The say that Blessed Xenia Stepanovna came by night to the building site and behaved rudely.

Now the cathedral stands open, without doors. Within it reigns the abomination of desolation.[1]

*    *    *

About the portrayal of the Saint on icons.

Many ask: Why in Diveyevo do they paint St. Seraphim in a manner that does not resemble the portraits made of him during his lifetime?

The answer is that in Sarov, in the Abbot’s quarters was a portrait of St. Seraphim at an earlier age. The Saint is depicted on a gray background, in an oval. A copy of it is included in Chichagov’s Chronicles. The painting was made by the artist Serebriakov. The Saint is portrayed as young and not stooped. The novice Boris took this portrait to Diveyevo early in the morning the day after the relics were taken away [by the Communists]. He first put it into one of our cells, then gave it to Blessed Maria Ivanovna. It is not known for certain where it is now.

Apparently the icons painted after the canonization were taken from this portrait.

During the last days before the expulsion I unexpectedly saw a large notebook lying on my bed. This was Motovilov’s hand-sewn manuscript, with a transcription at the end in graceful, precise handwriting.

The manuscript was written in a terribly illegible hand, nothing but wavy lines resembling stenographic shorthand. From the transcription I understood that already in Motovilov’s time many artists had begun to depict the Saint’s repose incorrectly. The showed him standing and sometimes even lying down next to the analogion in an empty cell. Besides that, the Umilenie icon was not in the right place in the corner. In actuality it was not that way. The Saint was kneeling by the analogian and not lying. The icons were placed in the following order: in the corner was the icon of the Savior “Not made with hands,” on its right was a large icon of the Heavenly Queen, and further to the right, on the edge, was a large Mother of God “Umilenie” icon, and before it was a round candle stand with a multitude of burning candles.

The notebook even contained a sketch by Motovilov with the caption: “Although I am a poor artist, I will try to depict it anyway.”

They also say that the cell was so strewn about with sacks of dried bread, canvas, and bunches of candles, that there was but a narrow passageway to the icons. The fire started because these candles had burnt down.

Icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
Icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
I gave the notebook to the Abbess.

Dunya Bulatova, who lived in a cell with Agasha Kupsova told me the following. Agasha was a descendent of the Meliukovas’, that is, she was a relative of Elena Ivanovna Motovilova. Once Dunya asked her for one of Motovilov’s notebooks. Sewn into it was everything without discrimination: the household finances, business papers, etc. But she was able nevertheless to search out the spiritual writings. Motovilov wrote that the Saint told him much about the future of Russia. He had sat down to record it, but an Angel stopped his hand, saying: “Do not write it, but pass it on orally.”

It was also written there that the Saint had said that his death would be similar to the sleep of the seven youths of Ephasus.

One man asked this manuscript of Agasha, calling himself a court photographer. He promised to have it printed.

In the manuscript was written:

“It is not wondrous that it has not reached 700 feet near my hut, but it is wondrous that my death will be like the death of the seven youths of Ephasus, who slept for three hundred years in the cave. Just as they arose in affirmation of the General Resurrection, so will I arise before the end [of the world] and lie down in Diveyevo. Diveyevo will not be named for the village Diveyevo, but for the worldwide wonder.”[2]

How Blessed Natalia Ivanovna saw the Truth off.

Many times I heard around the Monastery that before her death in 1900, Blessed Natashenka saw the Truth off to Heaven with the ringing of the bells. But how it happened exactly, I could not find out.

During the 1950’s I happened to meet one woman from the village of Knyaz-Ivanovo. She told me that this happened during her own time, at the time of some summer feast; it seems it was on Pentecost.

At the time there was not yet a bell tower in the Monastery, and the bells were located at the end of the canal on a wooden beam. Natalia Ivanovna’s hermitage was next to the bread bakery, and she always rang for the Midnight Office. That day she unexpectedly began ringing during the Liturgy. Everyone left the church to find out what had happened. The late Abbess Maria also came out. Everyone went to the bells. The Abbess asked the blessed one why she was ringing like that. She answered:

“I am seeing Truth off to Heaven. The Truth is no longer on Earth!

“Well, don’t do that again,” the Abbess said.

“I will never do it again,” replied the blessed one and dropped her hands. That year she died.

The clock.

During the final winter before the expulsion, the clocks began to ring for no reason—once in the afternoon and another time at night. They rang so long that we even came out to listen.

During peaceful times the clock struck with the tune: “Most Holy Theotokos save us,” but later they were damaged and became silent.

During that same winter in Sarov, Hieromonk Gideon had a problem with his alarm clock. It was showing the time as usual, when suddenly the hand jumped back one hour, then continued normally.

When I was visiting Maria Ivanovna just before the New Year of 1927, I asked her about this: “What does it mean?” She answered: “Clocks are prophetic. They search for Truth, but there is no longer Truth on earth.”


Soon after the opening of St. Seraphim’s relics a metochion was opened in Peterhof. It was located half way between the Peterhof Palace and the Imperial family’s personal dacha [country home].

In this metochion lived eighty sisters. The eldest was at first Nun Agnia, and then the Abbess’ sister, Nun Theophania (Trakovskaya). There were two churches in the metochion, an iconography studio, and a prosphora bakery. It had a superlative choir.

The Empress often visited our metochion with her daughters. Matrosha, who had been transferred there in 1913, told me the following. The summer after she arrived the Empress visited the metochion eleven times. She would come with one of her daughters, but never with the Heir. The sisters asked her about this once, but she answered that he was unable. Sometimes she would order a Liturgy without bells. At times she would bring some of her retinue. The sisters would always accompany her out, crowded around. When Matrosha was brought to Peterhof with another sister, the Empress said: “You have some new ones here.” On Pascha she would send each sister a beautiful porcelain egg.

There was a direct telephone line from the metochion to the Palace, as well as a line from the church to the living quarters. The war began in 1914, on the morning of July 19—the commemoration day of St. Seraphim. The Empress and princesses had been at the Vigil the day before and at Liturgy that morning. The Liturgy ended and they had just conducted the guests out, when they began to call from the church: “The Emperor is in the church.” He was wearing the guard uniform of a simple soldier, and the sister tending the church recognized him only because he walked in front of the Empress. The sisters jumped up, grabbed their ryassas and kamilavkas and ran to the church.

The Emperor stood before the icon of St. Seraphim. The priest also ran in. They began to sing: “Save O Lord Thy people.…”

The church began to fill up with a crowd of people from who knows where. Thus when they began to leave there was a crush. The Empress was saying: “Careful, careful, do not crush the children.” The matter was that because of the beginning of the war, an evacuation was ordered on the entire Baltic coast, and the anxious people wanted to see the Tsar.

When the priest led the Emperor from the porch, the Emperor said: “Forgive me, I wanted to come to the Liturgy today, but you see, there’s a war.”

The evacuation of the coast was cancelled. The sisters lived in the metochion until the summer of 1917. They sewed silk shirts for the officers. The Emperor’s red silk shirt was sent from the Palace as an example.

They say that when the sisters ran to the church, they saw the Emperor weeping greatly before the icon of St. Seraphim.

The sisters had lived in Peterhof under the special protection of the Royal family. With the onset of the revolution in 1917, drunken soldiers began to hang around the metochion. Others tried to hide there. It became extremely unsettled there, so the sisters decided to move back to the Monastery.

Later the sisters of the community of Archimandrite Gurias Egorov, the revivor of St. Sergius Lavra, lived in the metochion.

The uncovering of the relics.

Seventy years passed from the repose of Fr. Seraphim to the uncovering of his relics. He was never forgotten, and everyone patiently awaited the promised uncovering of the holy relics. The older nuns told me that until the very opening of the relics, January 2 (the day of his repose) blini were served in Sarov, and our Diveyevo sisters went there to help. Mother Ambrosia told me that when she was young she went to Sarov to butter blini. They fed blini to all the pilgrims.

At the end of the nineteenth century the brilliant general of the guard, Leonid Chichagov, the future Metropolitan Seraphim, began to go to Sarov.

Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna’s novice, Dunya, told me that when Chichagov came for the first time, Prascovia Ivanovna met him, looked under his cuff and said: “That cuff is a priest’s cuff. Soon he was ordained a priest. Prascovia Ivanovna said insistently to him: “Send a request to the Tsar that they open the relics for us.”

Chichagov began to collect materials, wrote the Diveyevo Chronicles, and brought it to the Tsar. When the Tsar read it, he became inflamed with the desire to uncover the relics.

Chichagov wrote all this in the second part of the Chronicles. There were included all the details of the circumstance surrounding the uncovering of the relics, as well as the uncovering itself. It was everything that could not be published in the former times. This manuscript disappeared with his arrest in 1937.

Those to whom the Metropolitan had personally read this manuscript told me that before the glorification of the Saint there was great confusion. The Emperor insisted on the glorification, but almost the entire Synod was against it. It was supported only by the future Metropolitan Cyril, and the Over-Procurator Vladimir Carlovich Sabler. The others protested: “Why should we go off to the woods? They only found bones.”

Eudocia Ivanovna (novice Dunya) told me that during that time Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna fasted for fifteen days, eating nothing, so that she could not even walk, only crawl on all fours. Then one evening Chichagov came; he was then only Archimandrite of the St. Euphemius Monastery of the Savior in Suzdal.

Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna.
Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna.
“Mamashenka, they refuse to open the relics.”

Prascovia Ivanovna answered:

“Take my hand, we’re going outside.” Her cell attendant, Mother Seraphima took her by one hand, and the Archimandrite took her by the other.

“Grab a shovel.” They descended the porch steps. “Dig to the right. There are the relics.”

The investigation of St. Seraphim’s relics took place on the night of January 12, 1903. At that time in the village of Lamasov, eight miles from Sarov, a glow was seen over Sarov, and the peasants ran to put out the fire. They arrived and asked: “Where is the fire here? We saw a glow.”

“There is no fire here,” they answered. Later one monk quietly told them: “Tonight a commission uncovered Fr. Seraphim’s remains.”

They only found Fr. Seraphim’s bones, and the Synod was disturbed. “We came to the woods, and there are no incorrupt relics, only bones.”

One of the eldresses who had been alive during the Saint’s lifetime said to this: “We bow down before miracles and not bones.”

The sisters said that it seems the Saint appeared to the Emperor, after which he used his authority to insist the relics be uncovered.

At that time there was no Kazan railway line, and people came through Nizhny Novgorod. The Royal train was conducted by the Chief of Transportation Boris Nicholaevich Vedenisov. A temporary station was set up across from the village of Vyezdny, in the meadow, on the crossroad near the mill. They had to immediately build a dirt road to Sarov. No one had taken up the task yet. Boris Vedenisov was called out, and in his own words, the Saint helped him do it. Everything was done very easily. The weather was hot. The road was broken up with pickaxes, then they poured water over the road from barrels and rolled it out with rollers that they use in fields. The road turned out smooth and hard like asphalt. I must note, incidentally, that before his death Boris N. Vedenisov received healing from a piece of St. Seraphim’s mantle before my very eyes.

When the Emperor entered the Sarov cathedral, the people stood on either side against the walls, and one pregnant woman was so pushed that she gave birth on the carpet practically under the Tsar’s feet. They barely managed to move the infant. The Tsar learned of this incident and asked to be recorded as the newborn child’s godfather.

Nearly the entire Royal family attended the uncovering of the relics in Sarov. The peasants met them all along the way, dressed in festive costumes, and standing in dense rows.

In the village of Puzo the Tsar requested that the entourage stop, and he called the festively dressed little girls to himself. They were are dressed in red sarafans, multi-colored aprons and silk headscarves. One of them, Dunya, is still alive. She was six years old at the time.

They arrived in Sarov on the seventeenth or eighteenth of July (I do not know exactly). The Grand Princes went immediately to Diveyevo to Blessed Prascovia Ivanovna. They brought her a silk scarf and bonnet, which they immediately put on her.

There were four daughters already in the Royal family at that time, but the boy Heir had not yet been born. They went to the Saint to pray for an heir. Prascovia Ivanovna had a custom of showing everything with dolls, and now she had prepared beforehand a little boy doll, made him a fluffy, tall bed out of scarves and laid him there: “Quiet, Quiet, he’s sleeping.…” She asked that he be shown to them, saying, “This is yours.” The Grand Princesses ecstatically picked up the blessed one and rocked her in their arms, while Blessed Prascovia only laughed.

Everything she said was repeated to the Tsar over the telephone, but the Tsar himself came to Sarov only on July 20. Eudocia Ivanovna told us that Prascovia Ivanovna’s cell attendant, Mother Seraphima, was preparing to go to Sarov for the uncovering, but she suddenly broke her leg. Prascovia Ivanovna healed her. It was announced to them that the Tsar would be received in the Abbatial building and they would give him a spiritual concert. He would seat his retinue to breakfast, and then go himself to Prascovia Ivanovna’s.

Mother Seraphima and Dunya returned from the reception, and Prascovia Ivanovna would not let them tidy anything. On the table was a frying pan with potatoes and a cold samovar. While they were arguing with her, they heard a voice at the door:

“Lord Jesus Christ our God have mercy on us.” It was the Tsar and Tsaritsa.

They were already there when the cell attendants spread out the carpet, cleaned the table, and brought a hot samovar. Everyone left so that they could be alone, but the Royal couple could not understand what the blessed one was saying, and soon Emperor came out and said:

“Would the oldest please come in.”

When they began to bid farewell, Archimandrite Seraphim Chichagov came in with the cell attendants.

Prascovia Ivanovna opened the cupboard. She took out a new tablecloth, spread it on the table and began to place some gifts on it: a piece of linen canvas she had made herself (she spun thread), a partial lump of sugar, colored eggs, and some more pieces of sugar. She tied all of this up tightly in several knots, even having to sit down from the exertion, then gave the bundle to the Tsar.

“Tsar, carry it yourself,” she said, then stretching out her hand said, “and give us some money—we need to built a hut (the new cathedral).

The Emperor had no money with him, so he immediately sent for some. They brought it, and he gave her a purse full of gold. This purse was given to the Abbess right away.

They said good-bye and kissed each others’ hands. The Tsar and Tsaritsa promised to return soon to uncover the relics of Mother Alexandra, for she had appeared in the Court and worked a miracle there.

When the Tsar left, he said that Prascovia Ivanovna was the only true slave of God. Everywhere he was received like a Tsar, but she alone received him as a simple man.

From Prascovia Ivanovna they went to see Elena Ivanovna Motovilova. The Tsar knew that she was preserving a letter to give to him from N. A. Motovilov, written by St. Seraphim and addressed to Lord Emperor Nicholas II. St. Seraphim had written this letter, sealed it with soft bread, and given it to Motovilov with the words:

“You will not live that long, but your wife will live to the time when the Royal Family will come to Diveyevo, and the Tsar will come to see her. Let her give it to him.

Natalia Leonidovna Chichagova (the Metropolitan’s daughter) told me that when the Tsar received the letter, he placed it reverently in his breast pocket saying that he will read it later.

Elena Ivanovna became quite lively and spoke with him for one and a half to two hours—about what, she could not remember. Elena Ivanovna died on December 27, 1910. She was secretly tonsured.

When the Emperor read the letter, having already returned to the Abbatial quarters, he wept bitterly. His retinue tried to comfort him, saying that although Fr. Seraphim was a saint, he could also make a mistake. But the Tsar wept inconsolably. The contents of the letter remain unknown.

On the same day, July 20, they all left Diveyevo. After this the Tsar always turned to Prascovia Ivanovna with serious questions, sending the Grand Princes to her. Eudocia Ivanovna said that no sooner had one left than another came. After Mother Seraphima’s repose all questions were asked through Eudocia Ivanovna. She would transmit what Prascovia had said:

“Tsar, come down from the throne yourself!”

The blessed one died in August of 1915. Before her death she was always making prostrations before the Tsar’s portrait. When she no longer had the strength, her cell attendants lifted her up and let her down.

“Mamashenka, why are you praying to the Tsar?”

“Sillies! He will be higher than all other Tsars.”

There were two portraits of the Tsar: one with the Tsaritsa and one alone. But she bowed to the portrait of him alone. She also said of the Tsar:

“I don’t know, maybe a monk-saint, maybe a martyr.

The expulsion of sisters from the monastery.

On December 31, 1926, New Year’s eve, I was at Maria Ivanovna’s before the Vigil. She sent me out to see “what kind of crescent moon there is, a large one or a half-naked one?”

I went, and upon returning told her what kind of moon there was. “The old women are going to be dying,” said the blessed one. And truly, beginning January 1 for two weeks there were funerals, even more than one per day.

Then the blessed one said: “What a difficult year is coming. Elias and Enoch are already walking the earth.…”

She talked alot about this, and even kept me there through half the Vigil.

On the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee the scoundrels came to expel the monks from Sarov. This dragged on until the fourth week of Great Lent.

For many years the hieromonk Marcellinus stood by the relics of St. Seraphim. Archbishop Zinobius of Tambov was then in Diveyevo. He called Fr. Marcellinus and ordered him to take the relics and hide them in the Caucasus. But he refused, saying that he had stood so many years by the relics and seen so many miracles that he was sure that the Saint would not let himself be taken.

For this Fr. Marcellinus was removed and Hieromonk Cyprian was put in his place.

It was difficult to cast the monks out of Sarov. Almost all of them had separate cells with separate entrances using several different keys. One day they would send a monk away, and the next day he would return and lock himself in. The services continued in the church. Finally on Monday of the week of the Veneration of the Cross, many of the authorities came. They confiscated all of the holy objects: the Miracle-working Icon of the Lifegiving Spring, the coffin case wherein the relics of St. Seraphim lay in the earth for 70 years, the cypress casket from which they removed St. Seraphim’s relics, and other objects of veneration. They threw it all together between the Royal chambers and the northern entrance of the Dormition Cathedral, made a bonfire and burned it. Novice Boris managed to photograph the events, and he showed us a picture of this bonfire. They placed St. Seraphim’s relics, that is, his bones as they were, vested in a mantle and clothes, in a blue prosphora box and sealed it. The people divided themselves into four parties and rode on sledges in four different directions in order to discover where they were taking the relics. The box with relics was taken to Arzamas through the village of Onuchina, where they stopped to spend the night and feed the horses. When the troika [3-horse sledge] with the relics arrived at the village of Kremenki, the alarm bell was rung in the bell-tower.

The relics were taken straight to Moscow. There they were received by a scientific committee. The priest Vladimir Bogdanov managed to join this committee. When they opened the box, according Fr. Vladimir’s witness, there were no relics in it. I heard this from his spiritual children. This was also repeated by Bishop Athanasius, who was in exile with Fr. Vladimir in Kotlas.

They say that when they arrived to spend the night, the blasphemers locked up the relics and kept the keys. But then they went and got very drunk.

After this the services in Sarov ceased and the monks dispersed in different directions. In those days, Fr. Marcellinus came to our cells. He could not forgive himself for disobeying the Bishop and had even had a nervous breakdown. During 1930-31 he was arrested and sent to Alma-Ata. He was there in the postal department during Great Lent of 1932, and on Great Saturday he was sent further away, where he soon died.

In the fourth week of Great Lent they expelled all the monks from Sarov, and after Pascha the authorities came to us.

They began to search the whole Monastery, in every cell building. They described everything in the treasury and checked all our things. It was spring, everything was blooming, but we did not see anything. I went to blessed Maria Ivanovna during that difficult time. She sat there calmly and peacefully:

“Maria Ivanovna, will we live on here peacefully?”

“We will live on.”

“How long?”

“Three months!”

The authorities left. Everything as though returned to normal. We lived there exactly three months, and just before the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, September 7/20, 1927, they suggested we leave the Monastery. All that summer, daily life in the monastery went on as usual, but as soon as night fell, owls flew in from somewhere and sat on the roofs of the living quarters, and the entire Monastery was filled with their evil sounding cries. And that happened every night. As soon as they announced the expulsion, all the owls immediately disappeared.

There were two hierarchs living with us at that time—Archbishop Zinobius of Tambov and Bishop Seraphim of Dimitrov. On the very feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos Archbishop Dimitry served the Liturgy in the church of the Nativity of the Theotokos. The choir sang the stichera “This day on the rational throne, She upon whom God rests.…” and they could sing no more. They were all crying, and the whole church was crying.

Hieromartyr Archbiship Seraphim (Chichagov).
Hieromartyr Archbiship Seraphim (Chichagov).
Bishop Seraphim served the Liturgy in the cathedral. After Liturgy he gave a sermon, saying: “Now a cup is being brought to each one of us, but how will we receive it? Some will only lift it to their lips, some will drink a fourth, some half, and some will drink it to the dregs.” He also said that in the Monastery we all burned as one great candle, but now we were being divided into separate little candles.

The next night both hierarchs, the Abbess, the Steward and several older sisters were arrested and sent to Nizhny Novgorod, and from there to Moscow, where they were freed and told to choose their place of residence.

After this services continued in the churches until the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The last service was on the Exaltation, a Vigil and Liturgy, in the Joy of All Who Sorrow church.

After Liturgy the choir sang the hymn usually sung on Forgiveness Sunday, “The sorrow of Adam.” All of the sisters begged each others’ forgiveness and bade farewell. The entire church was weeping.

In Sarov the monks left on Monday of the fourth week of Great Lent, and we left on the day of the Exultation. We were all to carry a heavy Cross.

After the expulsion.

After the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross the sisters did not leave right away, but settled in Diveyevo, Vetrianovo and the surrounding villages.

In the Kazan churches that were built by Mother Alexandra, there were two priests, and a service was conducted there daily—Matins and then Liturgy. It was the same on weekdays and feasts. There was always a very lengthy commemoration at the Liturgy. The deacon read the names of the reposed for an hour on the ambo.

The Superior at the time was Fr. Paul Peruansky. He died on Pascha of 1938 in the Arzamas prison as a mitred archpriest. They say that he was called in not long before his arrest and asked:

“Are you a pastor or a hireling?”

He answered: “I am a pastor.”

The second priest was Fr. Symeon. He came from the craftsman class, and in the thirties, due to human weakness, he divested his priestly rank and went to work at a military factory in Viatka. He died during the war at his machinery.

The men say that once he was travelling to Diveyevo. In Arzamas he asked for a ride from a truck going that way. They recognized him and invited him to sit in the cabin. But he refused, and lay down in the carriage, crying all the way there.

The deacon was Fr. Michael Lilov. He had many children, and lived in poverty. Well, he had decided to throw off his priestly rank, but he had a vision—the foundress of Diveyevo, Mother Alexandra, appeared to him. I remember how he read the Gospels on Great Wednesday at the Liturgy,[3] unable to continue because of his tears. He died at the same time as Fr. Paul in the Arzamas prison.

After the nuns were sent away from the Monastery, those who still lived in the surrounding area went to church at the Kazan church. The choir sang and read on the cliros. The church had its own large choir. At the request of the parishioners and the blessing of the Abbess during the latter years before the expulsion and subsequently until the church was closed in 1937, the choir was directed by one of our nuns, the former Peterhof choir director Agafia Romanovna Uvarova. She had such a tough character that even the peasant men were afraid of her. Vigils were served in the Kazan church on monastery Feast days, and funerals were performed there for the reposed sisters.

Thus did they live out the winter, and in spring many sisters began to disperse to their homelands. Some of them had everything taken from them along the road, and arrived at their families’ homes with only the clothes on their backs.

Sensing the impending expulsion, most of the sisters began to save money and find apartments, but we, a few novices, who had only been there a short time, had no place to go. We rented a shabby hut in Vetrianovo, with a caved-in floor, full of fleas. It was impossible to live that way. In the village of Elizarevo, five miles in the direction of Arzamas, our monastery priest, Fr. Michael, moved in with his brother, Fr. James. They found us an apartment in Elizarevo, and we moved their for the winter.

The Boitsovs.

In Diveyevo lived a husband and wife at the blessing of Elder Joseph of Optina (or Elder Anatole). Vasily Michailovich Boitsov had been an Old Believer, a reader, and lived in Petrograd. Once he was walking along the Nevsky Prospect and saw Fr. John of Kronstadt surrounded by a radiant light. This vision brought Vasily Michaelovich into the bosom of the Orthodox Church. He was a great man of prayer. His wife Alexandra Constantinovna reposed on January 27, 1929, and was buried in the Diveyevo cemetery, but he was arrested in Diveyevo together with our sisters in 1931. He rejoiced that he had landed in jail with Diveyevites. He was in the Gorky prison for one year, after which they sent him to exile in Archangelsk. Crossing the ice over the White Sea, he slipped and broke his leg. He died in the hospital in Archangelsk.

One sister told me what Boitsov had told her. One man had a vision, perhaps he himself. He heard how some one was asking: “How many people will return to Diveyevo? Three hundred?” “No.” “Thirty?” “No—three people.”

A miraculous cross.

After the Monastery was closed many of the icons were taken to the Nativity church. The crucifix was very large and apparently did not go through the door of the small church. So they got the idea to cut off the Savior’s hand from that part of the cross, so that they could more easily bring it into the room.

In the trapeza church of St. Alexander Nevsky they had already built a club. Several men went out of there on either Thursday or Friday morning of Passion Week to get the cross. They climbed the porch stairs and saw there the cross, with blood dripping from the part that had been cut off. There were traces of blood on the floor were it had dripped.

Everyone learned of this right away. I remember how we went out on Great Friday from Vespers, and the men were standing on each others’ shoulders so that they could see into the upper porch.

They say that this cross was considered miraculous in the Monastery. It was supposed to be placed in the high place in the altar, but it was said to be too small, so it stood a long time in the icon studio. In the latter times it was placed on the right side of the Cathedral.

In prison.

In winter of 1937 many of us were imprisoned in the Arzamas jail. This was because after the closing of the Monastery, according to police chief Andreev, there were 2000 nuns living in Arzamas—from two Arzamas Convents, the St. Nicholas and St. Alexis Convents; almost all of Ponetaev, with the Abbess at the head. Many Diveyevo nuns moved there as well as others from the surrounding area. Some found work, others married. Several hundred souls landed in prison. There were nuns there from the city convents and from Diveyevo and others. One imprisoned nun saw a vision: St. Seraphim was leading two nuns in the yard, saying: “I am leading my beloved ones into the prison.” She awoke, looked out the window, and saw our sisters Pasha and Masha being led in the yard.

Vera Leonidovna Chichagova also saw such a dream. Some nuns were sitting at a table, and the Heavenly Queen pointed out which ones to take to prison.

Sister Agasha.

On November 9, 1946, on the Feast of the “Quick to Hear” icon of the Mother of God, our ryassaphore nun Agasha Kupsova reposed in her native village of Khripunovo. As I said before, she was of the Meliukova lineage (a relative of Elena Ivanovna Motovilova). She had a strong, beautiful voice, but she was poorly educated and did not have sensitive ear. She sang alto on the right cliros, read and canonarched, but all this required great effort from her. When the Monastery was closed she at first lived in Diveyevo, sang and read in the Kazan Church, and when that became impossible she moved to her native Khripunovo. There she continued to read and sing in her church, and when that church was closed, she did everything in houses. She lived together with another sister from that area, Xenushka.

They had a large icon of the Mother of God “Quick to Hear,” before which they read an almost perpetual Psalter. They always prayed. In autumn of 1945 Sister Agasha became paralyzed, and remained in that condition for forty days. But she prayed and sang the whole time. Xenushka said that an extraordinary voice appeared in her from somewhere, and she sang all the time. Once they sang together and she said:

“Well, now let’s pray.”

“But we’ve prayed already.”

“No, we sang, but now let’s pray.” Then she said to Xenia: Xenushka, do you see the Angels?"

Xenia did not see them, but answered: “I see them a little.”

“Well I see a multitude of Angels, and little babes.… Why have they come here?”

Not long before her death, in the evening, she asked Xenia to bring her a black apostolnik. It was dark, the Apostolnik was in a trunk and Xenia was too lazy to get it. In the morning Agasha said:

“Xenuyshka, they tonsured me. I am a nun.” But she did not say what her new name was.

Sarov Monastery. Pre-revolutionary lithograph.
Sarov Monastery. Pre-revolutionary lithograph.

After Fr. Seraphim’s repose, all of his things, even his hermitages “far” and “near,” and both rocks on which he prayed, were brought to Diveyevo thanks to the efforts of Nicholas Alexandrovich Motovilov. When it came time to uncover the relics none of his things were in Sarov, so they had to request something from Diveyevo that they could put in his monastery cell that had been made into a chapel. It was part of a stone cell building that had already broken down, and over the cell they erected a church in honor of St. Seraphim. There they placed part of the rock on which he prayed, his mantle and a copy of the “Umilenie” icon of the Mother of God.

There was no Monastery boundary wall in Sarov. Cell buildings served that purpose, situated in a square and having windows facing only into the monastery. The window in the Saint’s cell faced the Sarovka River. They say that one hierarch came to Sarov and asked:

“Where is the Saint’s hermitage?”

“In Diveyevo.”

“And the rocks?”

“In Diveyevo.”

“Where are all his things?”

“In Diveyevo.”

“How is it that the nuns didn’t take the relics from you?!”

During the uncovering of St. Seraphim’s relics, the Abbot of Sarov was Abbot Hierotheus, an ascetic of the monastic life. He was short, thin, stooped, and usually wore a greasy old cassock, so that people who did not know him took him for a simple novice. It was characteristic of him that he was against uncovering the holy relics, for he supposed that a large crowd of pilgrims would then come and disrupt the austere desert life of the Sarov monks. They say that after the monks were cast out of the Monastery, juvenile delinquents were sent there to live. They dug up the graves of the elders and the relics were shown to be incorrupt. After the death of Abbot Hierotheus, during the revolutionary years, Abbot Rufinus, a Mordavian, was appointed in his place. He was well-disposed to the Diveyevo nuns, but he was not there long—he died unexpectedly when a procession arrived from Diveyevo on June 24, 1925. After Hierotheus was Abbot Methodius, but he was soon sent to Siberia, so that while the monks were being sent away from Sarov there was no abbot there.

In the Sarov bell tower was a clock, which marked not only the quarter hours but also the minutes. The majestic ringing could be heard throughout the forest. After the revolution Fr. Seraphim’s bones lay uncovered in a case, without any vestments. That is how he was when people venerated him.

Well, there occurred the following incident. St. Seraphim appeared to one Diveyevo nun and told her not to go to Sarov—whoever will look at the bones will not see him in the future life. This went on for a half a year, then they vested the bones.

Before the monks were expelled from Sarov the daily rule was adhered to strictly. The Morning Prayers, Midnight Office and Matins began at 2:00 in the morning in the cathedral—summer in the Dormition cathedral and winter in the cathedral of the Life-Giving Spring. The services would continue until 5:00 a.m. At the end of services the monks moved to the church of Zosima and Sabbatius, where they always served the early Liturgy. The late Liturgy was served in the cathedrals, where St. Seraphim’s relics reposed. They were carried for the winter from the Dormition church to the warmer church of the Life Giving Spring. After the late Liturgy all the monks went to trapeza. There a monk would take his turn reading The Sacrifice, Lives of Saints, or some other spiritual instruction.

At 3:00 in the afternoon in the cathedral began the Vespers with an Akathist and canons to Sweetest Jesus, the Annunciation and the Guardian Angel. At the end of the service everyone went to the trapeza, and at 7:00 p.m., in the church of Sts. Zosimas and Sabbatius they began the monastic rule, with many bows and prostrations, much like the 500. They made more than one hundred prostrations alone. After evening prayers the monks dispersed to their cells. All the eating utensils in the trapeza were carved out of wood—cups, spoons, and plates. Black bread lay on a wooden plates in front of every monk, and the large pieces of bread would be unsliced. Kvass was made once a year, in March. They poured it into barrels, which were then sealed and rolled into the cellar, where they were covered with snow and ice. Just before the Monastery was closed there was no longer a common trapeza, and the monks prepared their own food in their cells. They wore mittens made of canvas when they cooked, so that they would not burn themselves.

Earlier, on the feast of the Protection the Monastery would give away warm clothing to the needy. Poor people came to Sarov from everywhere to get the clothes they needed.

In the St. Hermogenes farm there was a huge grinding workshop. I myself was there and saw two huge wooden fly-wheels, with an axle to the grinding lathes. Earlier the wheels were turned using horses, but later they were turned by hand. Cypress crosses and spoons were made by hand; the lathe was used to carve plates, dishes, cups, mugs, table legs, spindles, as well as spinning boards and childrens’ toys.

According to tradition, when the Saint’s relics were glorified, it seemed as though he was everywhere about to appear at the Monastery. He was see more than once. Fr. Marcellinus, the reliquary monk said that his bones were dressed in sandals, and sometimes they had sand on them that had to be wiped off, which means he was walking about.

During the years following the uncovering of the relics there lived a monk on one of the farms, the recluse Anatole, in Schema Vasily. He lived a strict desert life, never received anyone, and if he gave answers to questions it was through his cell attendant, Fr. Isaac, who died soon after the Monastery was closed. Fr. Anatole was of a lofty spiritual life and also clairvoyant. The people thronged him in hermitage and disturbed his hesychia. He went for advice to blessed Paraskeva Ivanovna in Diveyevo, but she locked herself in her cell. He prayed before the crucifix with her cell-attendant, Mother Seraphima and left. He stayed a while at the monastery, and when he returned, Blessed Parasceva came out onto the porch and waved her arms: “Grandpa, grandpa!” He just waved his hand and said: “I get the point,” then went into reclusion.He died in 1919. When the juvenile deliquents opened his grave after 1927, his remains were seen to be incorrupt. They stuffed a cigarette into his mouth, turned his face down and buried him again.

The juvenile delinquents dug up the Schemamonk Mark the hesychast’s grave, but a fire came out of it and the blasphemers were frightened. These graves were located in front of the altar of the Dormition cathedral, and now there is a public garden over them.

From long ago there was a custom in Sarov during the first week of Great Lent to close the Monastery, and women were not allowed in from Monday to Friday evening. During that time in the Cathedral there was unceasing psalmody on two cliroses antiphonally. During Great Lent the monks made special prostrations—they tremblingly threw their whole bodies onto the earth, without bending the knees, supported only by their arms. The singing in Sarov was absolutely unique, “stolbovoy.” They did not recognize western notes, only hook notation. The leader began and all joined after him. In the latter time the leader was Hieromonk Joasaph. They sang loudly, practically shouting. They sang the ancient chant, slowly and drawn out. It reminded one of the voice of the wind blowing through the vast Sarov forest.

In the summer, before the feasts, Small Vespers and Compline with an Akathist was served for three hours. There were no less than one hundred singers. Vigil usually began at 6:00 in the evening, and the monastic rule was not done. The Vigil lasted until about 11:00 in the evening. After the Exaltation of the Cross and during the winter the Festal Vespers were served early, at 3:00, and the Matins began at night. Molebens were served at the relics after the late Liturgy and after Vespers. There was a specific Hieromonk assigned to this. Almost to the last this was done by Fr. Marcellinus. The relics could be venerated any time the cathedral was opened, including during services. A wide staircase lead to the casket, with entrances on either end.

Sarov Monastery is situated on a hill. To the west were many guesthouses, and a refectory for pilgrims. Not far away could be seen the cemetery with the church of All Saints. To the east, along the road to the spring, there was a horse stable and bathhouse. To the north, under the hill, was the church of St. John the Forerunner, and further up was the entrance into the caves with a church dedicated to the Wonderworkers of the Caves. The caves stretched all through the hill, and continued to the spring itself, one and a half miles, right to St. Seraphim’s Near Hermitage. An exit could be seen there in the sand, in a sandy slope. But people were not taken into the far caves, only the near ones, under the Monastery. A monk would conduct visitors, lighting the way with a candle.

Under the Forerunner church was a water pump which provided the Monastery’s water. The dairy was located a mile and a half away, on the Maslikha farm, which was on the River Satis. The farm could be seen from the Monastery. In the woods were other farms which were called hermitages. Each one was given a monk to take care of it. Usually this obedience was given to widowers.

And how vast was the Sarov forest, stretching out for so many miles in all directions! The hermitages that were located in it served the monks and craftsmen, preparing wood, firewood, cutting hay, collecting mushrooms and berries. The stores lasted all year. The forest farm monk until the closure of the Monastery was Hieromonk Gideon, who came from Chersonschina. He died in exile in Alma-Ata, March 26, 1933. It happened on Palm Sunday and 8:00 in the morning —Fr. Gideon had a special cross with a piece of the Lord’s robe, relics of St. Lazarus the Four-days Dead, and Jonah the Much-suffering. It fell to me to bury this monk in the Alma-Ata cemetery, not far from the city. It happened that very day, Palm Sunday, at 5:00 in the evening. I informed his sister, Diveyevo nun Aniuta, by telegram. Is this not a miracle? She, it turns out, had received Holy Communion that day. The night before, Hieromonk Gideon appeared to her with the insistent request: “Do not forget to commemorate me at the Liturgy. It is especially important to me today.” According to the hour, it happens that this was a death-bed request.

The Sarov methochion in Arzamas was on the river bank, where there is now a building supplies store. In 1946, when I returned from my second prison term, I lived in Vetrianovo in Mother Ambrosia’s miniature hut. There was no church nearby, and we did all the Great Lenten services at home. On Forty Martyrs Fr. Gideon’s sister, Aniuta, arrived. After we finished the hours and Vespers, we began to sing a Pannikhida. There were two curtained windows in the cell, with a table between them and two wooden beds by the wall. There were many icons in the corner, and a lampada always burned before them. Well, Aniuta saw that Fr. Gideon was standing in his vestments, in the corner in front of the icons. He looked at though he were standing behind glass. Aniuta thought: “Today is Forty Martyrs, the day he was tonsured.” We sang: “With the Saints give rest,” and she made a prostration. When she arose, Fr. Gideon was standing in his mantle. The Pannikhida ended and he became invisible.

Sarov Monastery was entirely cenobitic—all the brothers’ living, food, and clothing was supplied by the monastery. Clothing was kept in the garment shop, and was given out according to need to all monks. After a monk died his clothing was given back to the garment shop. Ryassas and cassocks were sewn from “mukhoyar,” a coarse, hand-woven wool fabric. Undergarments were sewn from canvas. The ryassas and cassocks had round, tin buttons. Under their monastic garments different-colored little pieces of fabric were sewn—red, blue and green—“in honor of the archangelic ranks.” The prayer ropes were mostly made of leather—the “ladder.”

The laundry was on the Sarovka River, under the monastery. Some older women lived there and washed the laundry. There were no other residential buildings nearby besides the guest houses. It’s true that just before the Monastery was closed there were two old women living there—Barbara Alexeevna Kaigorodova, who had medical knowledge and treated the monks, and with her Princess Kugusheva, whose ancestors had donated the Sarov land.

In conclusion I will tell of an old tradition. I heard that at the preliminary investigation of St. Seraphim’s relics, they did find on him the enamel icon of the appearance of the Mother of God to St. Sergius. This icon had been sent by Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh and was placed in the Elder’s coffin. This caused some confusion—had they dug up the wrong coffin? Perhaps it was schemamonk Mark’s coffin, for it was adjacent. Then the confusion dispersed.



Schemanun Margarita[4]

Schema-nun Margarita.
Schema-nun Margarita.
Many years after St. Seraphim’s repose there was a story in Diveyevo about how on the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos Fr. Seraphim said: “The time will come when my orphans will spill out of the Nativity gates, like peas.”

“What gate is that?” the sisters wondered.

In 1927, on our patronal feast—the Nativity of the Theotokos, small Vespers began at 3:00. I was the bell ringer. I went to the door of the bell tower … and I jumped! A red cap—a militia man! “Halt!” And he won’t let me open the door. “What do you mean, ‘halt?’ It’s time for us to start!” “It’s time for you, but not for us” he said.

In one week’s time the Monastery was closed.

And we flew off wherever we could. How the rain was pouring!… People on us and the Lord on us! The sisters remembered, “so these are the ‘Nativity gates!’” The authorities offered to let us stay: “You can stay, but do not dress in monastic clothing, and be like everyone else. And don’t let there be any icons in the workshops, but put up pictures of Lenin.” No one agreed to this. We had a hierarch living with us secretly. He said: “Well, they are throwing you out of the Monastery, but we are not taking monasticism away from you. Though you live in the world, preserve your monasticism.”

The Monastery turned up outside its own walls, beyond St. Seraphim’s Canal. The sisters settled in the surrounding area, secretly gathered for prayer, and did not abandon their prayer rule. Once in a while a wandering priest or hieromonk, or even a bishop, would serve Liturgy in some one’s home. This went on for ten years, until 1937.

Novice Euphrosyne, the future Schema-nun Margarita (far left).
Novice Euphrosyne, the future Schema-nun Margarita (far left).
In ’37, a “troika” announced a trial to try us. “Did you go to church?” “We went.” “It means that you are bums!” Some people got three years, others ten. On one prison transfer a priest, also arrested, was laughing: “Well, Fr. Seraphim has sent a whole convoy of nuns!” When we still lived near the Monastery we had Blessed Maria Ivanovna with us. She died while I was there; I took care of her then. We would ask her then, “Mashenka, when will we go back to the Monastery?” “You will have a Monastery, I and Mother Treasurer (the Treasurer at that time had already been dead for five years) will begin to call you to the Monastery. Only you won’t be called by name, but by number. You, Frosia,[5] will be called ‘three hundred thirty-eight.’” That is what she said. “I and the treasurer will call you ‘three hundred thirty-eight!’” I remembered this. And when I was called to prison, they gave me that very number. Well there’s your monastery! The guards were of all kinds, and there were even good ones. They took us to Tashkent in train cars. It was winter and the guard was up above, and he was cold. As soon as the train pulled out, he knocked and said “sing to the Lady!” What “Lady?” We sang “Bless the Lord O my soul,” the Vigil. In Tashkent we were met by others. There was a “general check.” They took everything from us. When they took off the crosses, we had a feeling that the Savior Himself stood crucified before us.… How can we be without a cross? We had to weave on Uzbek looms, and they had wooden forks—just cut off a little wood and you have a cross. We made just such crosses. But when we went to the bath, the authorities were told right away—the nuns are wearing crosses again. But this time they left us alone, didn’t take them off. I don’t know what other people think, but the nuns thought: all of this was allowed by God—the time has come for the people to endure for their sins. In the camp the monastery continued to exist until the end of the 1940’s. The prisons terms were done, and the sisters gradually began to collect around the monastery again. Some found work in the collective farm, others in Diveyevo, which had become a regional center. Then the Kruschev persecutions began. It had become dangerous to gather for prayer. But the Lord did not abandon us—right at that time in Diveyevo lived the last great Diveyevo fool-for-Christ, Blessed Anna Bobkova.

Schema-nun Margarita.
Schema-nun Margarita.
The old nuns were dying. New ones took their places. The prayerful life of Diveyevo did not cease for one day all this time. In the end everything has come around full circle. Sisters are coming to the community, very much like the community of the first Abbess Mother Alexandra, seeking monasticism, and they are gathering in Diveyevo for common ascetic life. Incidentally, yet another prophecy of St. Seraphim had come to pass. He forbade the sisters to call the Kazan church, the one that was there in his time, a parish church, even though it was actually a parish church during the Saint’s lifetime and until it was closed in 1927, unlike the other monastery churches. Batiushka said that this church will be a monastery church, but the church in the world, also a Kazan church, will be in another place. Thus did it happen. In 1988 the Diveyevo authorities granted a house right next to the spring of the Kazan Mother of God for construction. The new church was consecrated, of course, in honor of the Kazan icon on April 22, Lazarus Saturday, 1989. “Do not busy yourselves and do not seek anything, and do not ask the Monastery,” St. Seraphim said to the first Diveyevo sisters. “The time will come when without any fuss they will order you to be a Monastery, then do not refuse.” That is how it happened this time also. The chief of the regional housing authorities met the church warden’s assistant on the street and unexpectedly said that the community should prepare itself to accept the Monastery’s Trinity Cathedral. She ran to the warden and shouted from the doorway, “Katerina, they’ve given us the church!”

In Diveyevo now there are two active churches.[6] On April 30, 1990, the Laudation of the Theotokos, there was an enormous crowd of pilgrims from all corners of Russia, and Archbishop Nicholas of Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas consecrated the Trinity Cathedral. Later, on St. Seraphim’s day, August 1, the St. Seraphim and “Umilenie” Mother of God side altars were consecrated. The St. Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery is being reborn.

From Saint Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov and His Spiritual Inheritance,
St. Xenia Skete, Wildwood, CA, 2004

Nun Seraphima (Bulgakova)

15 января 2011 г.


[1] This church is now restored, and services are conducted in it.

[2] The Russian word “divo” means “wonder.”

[3] This is the Gospel about Judas the betrayer. —Trans.

[4] Schemanun Margarita reposed in Diveyevo on January 27/February 9, 1997, on the Sunday on which the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. She was buried behind the altar of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, near the graves of the blessed fools-for-Christ.

[5] The short form of Euphrosyne, Mother Margarita’s name before the tonsure.

[6] At the time of this publication, in 2003, there were three.

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