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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Saturday, 20 May 2017

THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP IN BUENOS AIRES

On Duty in Argentina: Metropolitan Ignatii’s Service
Any Priest is a Signpost that Says, “God is That Way”
VALERIA MIKHAILOVA | 13 MAY 2017
my source: Pravmir.com
In 2015, Metropolitan Ignatii (Pologrudov) started learning Spanish just for himself. All of a sudden, after serving for eighteen years in the Far East, in 2016, he was appointed to Argentina. Metropolitan Ignatii explains in his interview to Pravmir why everyone in Argentina is on familiar terms with each other, why Dostoevsky is popular in South America, and what it’s like to listen to confessions in Spanish.

On Duty in Argentina: Metropolitan Ignatii’s Service

Philologist, Photographer, and Bishop “of All the Arctic and Antarctica” Iakov: “The Most Difficult Thing is to Want to Change”
Praying for “D” students in Spanish

How did you take the news of your transfer to a new Diocese, to a different country, to a different continent?  Was it unexpected?

Yes, it was unexpected.  I spent all eighteen years of my hierarchical service in Russia, in our homeland.  Initially in my first see of Kamchatsk, then in my second see of Khabarovsk.  Both sees are in the Far East, both had a missionary-educational purpose.

It is the people, the circumstances, the environment, and the objectives, set for me by the Church and His Holiness the Patriarch, that made me into a missionary-educational Bishop.

So, no, I did not expect to be transferred.  Though, having served in South America for six months, I can see a pattern emerging – all my sees were quite extreme.

Extreme in what sense?

Kamchatka is the most eastern territory.  That is where the day begins.  There are constant earthquakes and magnetic storms there, high winds, heavy snowfalls that reach up to the second storey.  During the Perestroika years, people there had to survive, not live.  We, the priests, obviously had to serve in the same conditions.
Metropolitan Ignatii at the North Pole

Khabarovsk is the third biggest region in Russia.  The territory is enormous, villages are scattered all over – see if you can cover everything!  Well, we have covered it.  While I was there, the leaders of the country started paying particular attention to the Far Eastern Federal District.  And it’s understandable, the geopolitics of the twenty-first century are shifting towards the Asia-Pacific region, and for that reason it is imperative to develop our Far East.  Hence, there are particular expectations of the Church, its clergy, and Hierarchs.

So, I had to serve and work hard in all kinds of known and unforeseen circumstances – on board submarines and on board ships.  When the Amur River flooded, all priests joined in the work of saving Khabarovsk.

Here, in Argentina, the see is also extreme – it’s the “Far West.”

Were you worried about leaving? After all those years in the Far East to be moving to completely new surroundings, with an unfamiliar language…

No, I wasn’t worried.  I fully trusted our Patriarch.  Obviously, I didn’t know what lay in store for me in this new place, because what little I knew of the area, I had learned in my Geography class at school.

But, there was something I didn’t doubt at all, that His Holiness understood my abilities and capabilities better than I knew them myself.  What I cannot do, and what I can do, what I will be able to handle, and what will prove too much for me, he saw, therefore he knew what he was doing assigning me to this ministry.  Previous experience may also have counted.

Then, there was certain Divine Providence in that.  A year before my appointment, I began studying Spanish.

With any particular goal in mind?

At the time, it was just a hobby.  Learning a language really helps to stay “in shape.”  Mentally, that is.

Why did you choose Spanish?

About three years prior to that I went abroad for the first time.  That is, I had been overseas before on pilgrimages, to Mount Athos and to Jerusalem.  Then, suddenly, this friend of mine, a benefactor offered, “Vladyka, why don’t you go travelling for once.  I’ll cover the cost of a two-week trip to any country.”  I started thinking, where?  Then I picked Spain almost randomly.

I went there.  And I really liked the country because there is this harmony between the Middle Ages and modernity.  I also liked the Spaniards themselves – they were open, cordial, full of some kind of inner nobility, without a shade of conceit.  They treat Russians well, including me.  It even occurred to me they were just like us, except they never had to go through the terrible upheavals of the revolution, the Soviet regime, World War II, and the Perestroika.

Plus, the language itself is beautiful, very expressive and friendly.  The Spanish say, “amable,” and that’s what it’s like.  So, I felt an inclination to learn it bit by bit.

These days, I study Spanish because I have to, and I put a lot more effort into it – I try to spend a few hours a day studying it.  I have made some progress, I can already speak at assemblies, meetings, I can interact on a day-to-day level.  I was recently invited to give a series of lectures in Spanish on the Russian Orthodox Church.  So, I am preparing for it.

Is the Liturgy served in Russian or partially in Spanish?

When serving we try to make sure the parishioners understand what goes on in the Liturgy.  So that they can not only understand, but participate in it as well.  Our parishioners are peculiar – some speak only Spanish, some – only Russian, some speak both languages.

For that reason, the chanting, the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel, the Creed and “Our Father” are done both in Church Slavonic and in Castellano.  It took us a while to get to this point – it took some time, we had to discuss all circumstances with our priests.  We formed a committee on the translation of liturgical texts into Spanish and Portuguese.

What can bring together such diverse compatriots as ours?  After all, there were seven different ways of immigration.  Nothing but communal prayer, the Liturgy – a “gathering,” consolidating worship.  So, that’s what we do, we gather and consolidate.


Did any of your spiritual children from Khabarovsk follow you?

Two people did.  Others wanted to go as well, but I couldn’t take them all.  They had to remain at their obediences so as to help Vladyka Vladimir (Samokhin) (the current Metropolitan of Khabarovsk and Priamurie – Ed.).

Hieromonk Antoni (Zhukov) came with me.  He’s been under my spiritual guidance throughout his entire monastic journey from the very first days of obedience.  He is used to my style and applies himself most fruitfully under my guidance.  Father Antonii’s track record isn’t short – Kamchatcka, Khabarovsk, the setup of two monasteries with numerous pilgrims, missionary and educational activity.

South America is also in need of a well set-up Orthodox parish life. And monastery life as well.  So, I agreed to his request.

Likewise, Tamara Ivanovna Iarotskaia, the Head of the Arts Department, moved to Argentina.  At one point, she followed me from Khabarovsk to Kamchatka.  Now to Buenos Aires…  We’ve been working together for fifteen years, we understand each other really well.  She has experience in implementing diverse and most interesting cultural projects.  Though, so far only in Russia, but South America can also become fertile ground for her work.


I read in your blog about a girl named Katia, who also came from Russia, who works in the church in Buenos Aires…

Yes, but she is Father Antonii’s spiritual daughter.  It is owing to her in particular that there are always people on duty in the Orthodox cathedral of Buenos Aires.  Prior to that, they couldn’t keep it open all the time – they couldn’t find anyone they could assign there.  These days, it is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Every day.  She also bakes prosphora and teaches icon-painting.  She is also preparing to take monastic vows.

So, the church is open.  Are there any results?  Do people come, are they interested, do they ask questions?

Yes! They do come, they are interested, they do ask questions.  Mostly Argentinians.  Some are genuinely interested: “We’ve lived in this area, in neighbouring streets for so many years, we’ve walked past so often, and it’s always been closed, and now… it’s always open.  What has happened?” Some are curious, “So, you Russians are Orthodox! Hhhmmmmmm…  Can’t understand it.  We are Catholic, so what exactly is the difference?”

However, most of the people who come, come to pray, to venerate Orthodox shrines, to spend a few minutes in silence.  For those people, we have translated into Spanish and printed out many prayers, simple, warm, all of them different.  Prayers for rain or no rain, family and work problems, prayers for deliverance from sickness and from the smears of the enemy (oh, how relevant it is here!)  Prayers for children and teenagers struggling with their studies.  A kind of handbook of the practice of Orthodox prayer.



Basically, prayers for “D” students?!

And for “D” students as well.  It is important to pray for any reason, in every place of His dominion…  People often forget about it, but it’s our holy duty to remember.

So, when we talk to visitors, when we pray with them, we remind them to pray, then give them printouts of these prayers. Encounters like that happen very often.

I am on duty in church on Mondays.

How is that? The Metropolitan sits at a table in the church answering people’s questions?

No, not at a table, nor do I sit.  I go up to visitors, explain things, answer questions.  Basically, I try to assist them somehow. In some way.

Spending a whole day in church strengthens a person spiritually, gives them balance and some kind of clarity of thought for the entire week.  And when you have to travel extensively as a Pastor, especially when it’s around the entire continent, these Mondays become simply indispensable.  Plus, there is the socializing.  It is very interesting to meet people here, it produces good, kind emotions.  I find it very gratifying.

Imagine this.  Two nice, lovely women come in, a mother and her daughter.  They walk in, say hello.  I offer assistance without being pushy.  They answer, “It is not necessary, thank you.”  They walk around a bit, and I can tell they want to ask something, but are embarrassed.  I walk up to them myself.  We start talking.  I tell them about our copy of the Pochaev Icon of the Holy Theotokos, about the piece of the Life-giving Cross, the most important relic in our church.  We pray together.  We spend fifteen to twenty minutes in conversation, then they want some time alone to put up candles.

In a little while, they are ready to leave and suddenly the daughter, a really young girl of about sixteen, all graceful and pretty, comes up to me, gives me a huge hug, and kisses me twice.  Then, the mother comes up.  Just like that, they thanked me sincerely from the bottom of their hearts, hugged and kissed me, and left!  What did I think of it? Nothing.  It just makes you happy, it’s nice that people accept you so openly, so gratefully, so sincerely.

Plus, there’s the language practice… it is a wonderful opportunity to improve my Spanish.

So, on Fridays, I receive people in my capacity of Administrator of the diocese, just as I used to in Khabarovsk and in Kamchatka.  And Monday is the day when I am on duty in church.


“I am not afraid to look like a fool.”

You said in an interview that what had struck you in the first bishop you ever met (Archbishop Chrysostom (Martishchkin) – ed.) – it was in 1988 or in 1989 – was that no question embarrassed him.  Can a visitor’s question embarrass you these days?

No, no questions embarrass me.  Maybe because I am not afraid to look like a fool.  When someone asks me a question I cannot answer, I tell them straight away, “Forgive me, I cannot answer it straight away. However, if you want, I will do some research, and next time I see you, I will give you an answer.  Here is my email address, my blog, and our website.”

I read on your blog that you try to immerse yourself in a Spanish-speaking environment – you go shopping on your own, go to cafes.  Were there any interesting, unexpected encounters or conversations outside of church?

There were no unexpected, unique, extreme encounters yet.  Most people you meet are friendly.  At the shops, at the barber’s, at the pharmacy, in cafes, people are always friendly, always ready to chat, will always tell or show you something quietly.  I haven’t yet come across drug-addicts or criminals, though many people have told me about them, have warned me of that danger.



Have you had to change somehow when you moved to South America, to adjust to their customs, to renounce certain clichés, certain stereotypes?

I didn’t have to change.  But I did have to adjust how I interacted with people.  For example, Latin Americans, like all Hispanics, are not known for their punctuality.  If you schedule a meeting, you may be certain they won’t come on time.  It is almost rude to come at the appointed time.  You have to be aware of it, deciding ahead of time, what you will do and how you will act.

They progress very quickly to the interaction of close friends.  They’ve only just met and they already address each other familiarly.  Students and teachers use the familiar form of address with each other, as do students and professors.  It happens very naturally, without a shade of vulgarity, obtrusiveness, or familiarity.  In Russia, this kind of behaviour would have been considered as rudeness or boorishness.  While here…

If a man pays a woman a nice compliment, she gives him a kiss and immediately addresses him familiarly from the bottom of her generous South American heart.  Age, social status, or rank don’t make that much of a difference.

Here’s an example.  I’m at the airport.  Registration hasn’t begun yet, but the girl is already behind the counter. I walk up.

Good day, Senora.
She gives me a cold, confused look.  I inhale deeply trying to impart some courage into my heart, for I haven’t spoken to young girls in this fashion in fifty years,

Hey, beautiful!
She gives me a wide smile and her eyes light up.

Really? You’re not so bad yourself!  Where are you headed to?
To Bogota.
Ok, good, would you prefer an aisle or a window seat?
Aisle, please, I get up now and then to stretch a bit. It’s my age, you know…
Stop being so modest! Here’s your ticket, here’s the time of the flight and the number of the gate!  Have a good trip!
Now that I have some experience in informal socializing, I walk up to an airport security booth.  There’s also a young girl on the other side.

Hey, how are you?
Good! Yourself?
Have you been to Africa recently?
Feverishly I try to figure out what Africa has got to do with me and airport security.  Oh, but of course!  At the moment, Africa is a source of exotic illnesses for Europe, of different types of flu and fever.  It probably applies to South America as well.

No, no, never!
Honest?
Absolutely!
Well, go ahead then!
People who are about to live in a different country, in a different civilization must change somehow, though they must stay true to themselves in essentials.

The same applies to a missionary in Latin America.  He must adopt certain habits, tastes, attitudes, he must internalize certain opinions, make them his own, while other opinions must be renounced.

But he must remain a Christian in essentials. An Orthodox Christian.



If a South American comes to you to confession, do they address you formally or informally?

Usually it’s Russian speakers that come to me for confession.  I had to hear the confession of an Orthodox Argentinian only once.  However, if they use the familiar form of address with me, I will listen to them without hesitations and loose their sins “by the power transmitted unto us.”  I am here for them, not the other way around.

Have there been people who wanted to become Orthodox, to be baptized?

Both to be baptized and to be married in church. People came and are coming.  In these cases, I always try to assess the earnestness of their intentions, “Why have you chosen Orthodoxy?  What will your family think of your choice?”

Recently, we married a young couple, she was a Russian girl, he was Italian, from a traditional Catholic family.  I made sure that the mother had given her blessing, that he was studying the foundations of our faith.  They were married.  Now, both of them are our regular parishioners.

Or, another example.  While I was still in Khabarovsk, a Catholic priest moved there, Father Ioann Flores.  From Argentina.  He was the Rector of a Catholic parish, we got to know each other.  He read the Eastern Ascetic Fathers and was so absorbed by what he had read, he could no longer imagine life without them.  He went to Moscow, joined the brotherhood of the Danilov monastery, filed a petition to convert to Orthodoxy.  The Department for External Church Relations approached the Papal Curia and it seems the request was approved.

These days Father Ioann is preparing to become an Orthodox priest.  Now this is an example of a serious approach.  No one tried to convert anyone, no one pushed anyone, no one tried to prove to him that Catholics were no good and would not be saved, while the Orthodox would be saved because they are good and right.  He came of his own accord, he saw his calling in it!

Vladyka, where is the fine line between preaching and proselytizing?  How can we avoid crossing it?

Preaching is a desire to lead a person to Christ.  Proselytizing – to lead a person to your Church, with Christ being of second importance, if not at the background.

Dostoevsky is popular even among the young people!

South America is a Catholic continent.  Is the faith there a living faith, or is it mostly formal with most people – as in, I am Russian, consequently Orthodox, Argentinian, consequently Catholic?

I’m not sure how to answer this question.  Not sure yet, as I have only served here for six months.  But, at first glance, it seems that church plays a very important role in their daily life.  There are many people in their churches on Sundays, many children, a lot of people commune, thousands gather for processions on parish feast-days.  I have seen family processions, yes, that’s right, in the streets and on roads.  Picture this, a family comes together, takes their shrine (a cross, a statue of the Holy Theotokos or the Saviour, etc.), and reverently goes on this peculiar “family procession.”  People here treat the Church with reverence.  I haven’t come across any criticism against the Church anywhere, not in the press, nor on the web.  At least, nothing as insulting as the things you come across in Russia.  The Pope is treated with even more respect.

However, about ten-fifteen years ago, South Americans had to endure a curious kind of test of their own Catholic faith.  Sectarians flooded from North to South America, well prepared American Neo-Protestants.  They are bold and pushy.  Enterprising.  They head straight for the favelas – poor neighbourhoods where the ground is rich for crime and drug abuse.  They open their prayer rooms there, they preach and very soon gain popularity.  Their belief system is primitive, plus they have low expectations of their followers, simple rituals, plus a wide application of psychotechnics.  The results of such “a management of the population” are disturbing. In some countries, Neo-Protestants have already penetrated the higher government.  For example, the mayor of Rio De Janeiro, which is the second largest city in Brazil, is an adherent of one of these sects.  I don’t think they will stop at that, for they do not concern themselves with the salvation of the soul, but with power and money.

This is why I say that, on the one hand, Catholicism in South America is traditionally strong, while, on the other hand, the danger of the continent becoming Neo-Protestant has become very real in a very short time.



I read that four per cent of Argentinians are Orthodox…

This figure is probably related to our compatriots, the ethnic Orthodox, and, of course, the potentially Orthodox.  But, on the whole, South Americans know little of Orthodoxy for now, but, I repeat, they deeply respect Russia.

First of all, at one point, South American countries used to collaborate with the Soviet Union, they received humanitarian aid, their specialists went there for training.  Secondly, many are interested in our culture, especially in Dostoevsky.  What is more, it often happens completely spontaneously.  In some capitals and cities, without any participation of the Russians, clubs are formed, where people read Dostoevsky, translate his works into Spanish.  It is astonishing, but Fedor Dostoevsky is a very popular writer among them!  Even the young people read his works.

There are many places where you can study Russian, that encourage an interest in Russian culture, for example, the Institute of Leo Tolstoy in Bogota (Columbia) or the Faculty of Russian Literature in the University of Sao Paolo (Brazil).

Moreover, Russia is respected as a country whose politics are independent of the USA.  Because South America feels pressure from their “neighbour from the North.”  For that reason, in general, the middle class is drawn towards us, and the ruling elite towards the USA.

You wrote that Catholics treat the Orthodox as brothers…

Correct.  And that is without any expectation of any kind of personal advantage. Vladyka Alexander (Mileant), Bishops Platon, Lazar, Mark, then Vladyka Leonid started off and operated in extremely difficult circumstances.  Catholics could have made it difficult for them or could have simply remained unconcerned.  However, the reverse happened: they let us pray in their churches to assemble our congregation, they offered us room to conduct assemblies, invited us to their own meetings, expressed an interest in our ascetics, iconography, church singing.  And they keep on doing it to this day.




The Orthodox feel differently towards Catholics, they are a lot more cautious…

It is true for many Orthodox in Russia.  They are even antagonistic towards Catholics.  It is the result of a millennium of confrontations.  Besides, since the very first days of Perestroika, Catholic priests and bishops were openly proselytizing in Russia, which did nothing to improve trust.  Now, the situation is different, there is more of a possibility to understand each other better, to work together.  Especially, in South America.  Especially, after the visit of His Holiness the Patriarch.

But, I think, everyone used that opportunity it, not just the Catholics.

True.  Neo-Protestants tried much harder: they built huge “Kingdom Halls,” rented stadiums, printed millions of copies of their magazines.  There was a whole army of canvassing agitators who set up their destructive totalitarian traps for trusting Russians.  Of course, they tried to penetrate all levels of government.  Basically, the situation was exactly the same as in South America today.

I used to think the problem was that certain Church canons proscribe praying together with the un-Orthodox or that some of the Holy Fathers, like, for example, your Patron Saint, St. Ignatii Brianchaninov, expressed themselves quite strongly on the subject of the un-Orthodox, saying they would not be saved.

He really did write that.  Nonetheless, he did interact with Catholics.  For example, he invited the French ambassador to visit the monastery in Oranienbaum, of which he had been the Abbot for twenty-five years.  He took the ambassador to church, to a service, spent time with him there, he may have prayed with him then, then invited him to the refectory, and spent a long time in conversation with him.  And he paid for it.  When the Emperor was informed that St. Ignatii had invited the French Ambassador to His Majesty’s monastery, there were some repercussions.

So, yes, he was of the opinion that Catholics would not be saved.  That, however, did not interfere with him socializing normally with them.



Haven’t you yourself attended the Festival of Confessions in Argentina?  Can you talk about it?

It wasn’t really a festival of confessions.  It was a wonderful evening, a magnificent theatrical performance.  What did it consist of?  In San Nicolas, a suburb of Buenos Aires, a Catholic priest was about to complete the restoration of his big, beautiful church.  So, he decided to organize a concert on this occasion.  He invited all the famous entertainers in Argentina, and they came.  They sang of faith, of God, of His love, and of the Church.  They sang of the saints.  Among the performers there was a young man who was blind from birth.  There was also something wrong with his arms as he couldn’t hold a guitar.  So, they helped him onto the stage, sat him down, put his guitar on his knees like gusli (oldest Russian string instrument – trans.), and he played and sang.  It was amazing, it was beautiful!  He sang with such a clear, lucid, strong voice!  He sang amazingly.  As for confessionalism, I received an invitation along with some other leaders of traditional Churches and I accepted it.  I made a speech before the concert, congratulated the local bishop and his pastors, presented them with a beautiful edition of our Orthodox Bible.  Let them read it!

I wonder if something like this could have happened in Russia, what do you think?

I think it could have.  And it needs to happen.  Not only for the sake of the audience, but for the performers’ sake as well.  I think many entertainers would have agreed to participate.  The only thing is, some entertainers have a scandalous reputation…

At one point, Father Andrei Kuraev used to organize the festival “Rock to Heaven.”

Homeland as a big family

You have an opportunity to look at your Homeland, at the Russian people as though from aside.  Has your attitude towards Russia changed since moving overseas?

Yes.  It is easier to look at big things from afar.  However, the biggest things I saw in Russia, while living in Russia, I haven’t had the chance to see yet.  After all, I’ve only been here for six months.  Besides, I have a very intense schedule.  I am constantly travelling.  There are twenty-six Orthodox parishes on the South American continent, nineteen priests who serve there.  Our communities are spread out across the entire South America.  In that time, I had to visit Chile, Ecuador, Columbia, went to Brazil three times, and, obviously, Argentina.  All that is left is a pastoral visit to Peru and Panama (then – back to start).  The programme is very intense everywhere.  There are meetings with state and city government officials, embassy representatives, parishioners, the local intelligentsia.  Services, pastoral talks.

Moreover, I would like to meet those of our compatriots who are the heirs and guardians of our history, for example, the descendants of Bunin, Lermontov, the Decembrist Lunin, General Krasnov.



Have you already managed to meet some of them?

Yes, I have seen and heard them talking with pleasure… It is Russian nobility in the high sense of the word.  Talking to them I could feel a spirit of modest nobility.  It comes across in their manner of talking, listening, telling stories, in their manner of discussing.  They speak correct, very fluent Russian, their speech is very refined.

Besides, they remember quite a bit.  I gave a blessing to some of our priests to record their reminiscences.

Do you miss Russia and the Far East?

I haven’t had the chance to.  Besides, I visit Russia quite often.  I went back for the jubilee of His Holiness the Patriarch, took part in the Nativity Educational conference.

Some people think that a monastic should not have a homeland…

I cannot call myself a monastic.  Monastics ought to live in monasteries, while I have always lived in the world.  And I hope to be saved not because of monastic deeds, but because of my episcopal labours.  Notice, Holy Bishops were glorified not as Venerable Fathers, but as Hierarchs.

Personal opinion: no matter who you are, you have to look upon your homeland as your family.  It really is a family, only a very big one.

But, isn’t the entire human race a big family!

So, it is.  But it’s easier to learn to love your Homeland, than to learn to love the entire human race.  In order to learn to love the entire human race, you need to come into some kind of contact with it, to take a good look at it, to see it, to feel it.  How can you do it?  For example, I have met South Americans, I saw them, sensed them.  Love is a concrete thing, and all efforts to imagine it lead directly to spiritual delusion…

Why does a Christian need psychology?

You’ve been writing your blog “Arkhierei” (Hierarch) on the internet for eight years – some say it was the first blog of an Arch-pastor in Ru-net.  Yet, you wanted to shut it down before leaving for Argentina.  Why?

Well, first of all, I couldn’t write as often as I wanted to.  In general, it’s supposed to work this way: evening comes, you sit down before the computer for half-an-hour to an hour, you recall an interesting incident that happened that day, and you write about it.  You answer questions, you share your thoughts.  That’s what a blog is.  I can no longer do that, because I need to learn Spanish, I need to travel a lot.  Sometimes, news can stay on my blog for a week or a week and a half.

That’s when I started thinking about closing down the blog.  Then I looked at the enumerator.  Fifty to sixty people checked my blog daily.  Asking me to continue writing.

In order to somehow spur myself on, I made the blog trilingual, in Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian.  Now I definitely won’t abandon this project!



Have you managed to master the language of the web?

No, I haven’t, though I like it.  It is concise, emotional, and very succinct.  You can express so much with just two-three words, even emotions!  And people do express things.  It is interesting to observe how people in control of this language socialize, so long as they don’t condescend to foul language.

I recall a discussion between two young men on my blog.  They struck at each other with precision, conviction, and brightness.

For a long time, neither of them could convince the other that he was right.  Suddenly, a reason was found.  Irrefutable.  And the other person replied with, “oooeeeehhhh!” and all his feelings came across in this interjection – the admission of defeat, a feeling of shame, as well as the promise to be wiser in the future…

A bright, meaningful language.  And, most importantly, very concise.

Vladyka, you are sixty years old.  At this age, many of your compatriots reduce their level of activity, and, to put it roughly, prefer to spend their evenings in front of the TV.  You have recently managed to complete your third degree, this time in psychology, you completed your thesis, you are learning a new language, you run your own website.  Where do you get the energy?

I might also have read newspapers and watched TV in the evenings.  If I hadn’t been in the Church.  The Lord has brought me here, and the Church expects much of its Hierarchs.  Above all, it expects activity.

What does being a bishop involve?  In means, first of all, developing your diocese, its parish life, cooperating with lay institutions and authorities.  It means the expanding of the mission, of social services, of working with young people in every possible way and direction. In addition, media and the web, prisons, the army, lay and church education, all these things require the presence of a Pastor.  And an Arch-Pastoral presence.  So, go ahead, try and find time to sit down in front of the TV!

An example for all of us is His Holiness the Patriarch.  He is constantly and sacrificially working himself, enticing us to do the same.  And he monitors us.  He monitors us properly, as a father or a pastor would, but firmly, as if to say, remember, don’t do God’s work negligently.

So, I would have spent some time in front of the TV, would have absolutely loved to, but there is simply not enough time.  Where do I find the strength and the energy?  I don’t know.  I work to the extent that the Lord gives me.



How have you benefited from your degree in psychology?

First of all, it helped me resolve some issues.  Psychological issues.  Everyone has their own, personal issues, only some people are aware of them, some are not.  Secondly, it answered a very important question, whether spiritual help, the help of priest is of itself enough for the Orthodox, for parishioners.  It is not enough.  Very often they require psychological help as well.

A person is body, soul, and spirit.  If he is sick in the body, he visits a doctor, and the Church blesses it.  If he is sick in the spirit, suffering from sins and passions, he goes to a priest, and that is right as well.  If he is sick in the soul, a psychologist can help him.  There are psychological illnesses a priest simply cannot manage; often the priest cannot even identify them (for example, depression, neurosis).  You need a good psychologist in this case.  I have come to understand it.

In addition, it became clear to me, that priests must study basic psychology.  Together with Natalia Stanislavovna Skuratovskaia (a psychologist, psychotherapist, and lecturer in “Practical Pastoral Psychology” of the Khabarovsk Seminary – ed.) we taught it to the students of the Khabarovsk seminary.  We taught them and helped them.  Unfortunately, some had come to seminary with neurotic deviations.

Some of the boys come from single-parent families, some had suffered deep stress in their childhood or their youth, some had never known love… How can they bring love to others, teach love, if they’ve never experienced it themselves, if they don’t know what it means?  How can they understand that God really is Love, a Loving Father, if no one has ever loved them?

Do you mean that a person with psychological issues may have a distorted understanding of God?  And a distorted faith?

Yes.  Both of God, and of his Pastor.  And of the entire Church life.  How many problems do we come across in our parishes: issues between the pastor and his congregation, between laymen, a person and the parish?  Quite a few.

Future pastors must deal with their personal psychological issues while still studying.  Otherwise, how many traumas, how much pain they may cause themselves and the people!  How many people they can alienate from the Church!

That is why we worked with seminarians as psychologists, organizing training and counselling sessions.  It turns out, some of them needed psychological help; at times, they were in need of a neuropathologist’s help.  The boys come from the world, and are not always brought up in good Orthodox families.



In your opinion, why do many church-going people have a negative approach to psychology?

First of all, they have a wrong impression of it.  Secondly, they don’t know how many people in Church are actually in need of psychological help.  Thirdly, they don’t know in what way psychology may help them.  At the Nativity Educational Conference, there was a workshop dedicated to psychology in the life of an Orthodox person.  Among other things, they discussed church problems of a purely psychological nature, dependence on one’s spiritual father, different kinds of manipulations, of priests’ “burning out.”  The hall was packed.

Why do priests “burn out”?  It would seem they come into contact with God’s Grace, which is inexhaustible…

Have you read the book “Hierarch” (by Hieromonk Tikhon – Trans.)?  It describes well the process of a priest’s “burn out.”   He comes to a parish with his eyes burning with enthusiasm, “I will convert, enlighten, help everyone!”  What he comes across is real people, their shortcomings, vices…  He tries to change some things, to rectify them once, twice, three times, ten times. Nothing is working out, he feels frustrated…  His will to work disappears, his desire to pray disappears, and when there is no prayer, there is no Grace of God.

Little by little, he becomes indifferent to the Mysteries, consequently there is a backlash from the congregation, and it becomes a vicious circle.  The less you feel like praying and serving, the less God helps; the less God helps, the less you feel like working and serving.

And that is when a priest goes to a parish willingly, which may not always be the case.  The situation then is even more frightening.

It is not only priests that “burn out,” practically any person starts attending church “on a high,” but a few years down the road the enthusiasm subsides, and the only thing a priest can tell them is, “Just keep praying…”

It does happen.  What can I say on the subject?  There is and cannot be just one answer in all instances.





And yet?

First of all, a person who comes to the Church needs to understand that he comes to the Church, not to a priest.  That he will always get help in the Church – the Lord will give him strength, cure him, support him, guide him, instruct him, save him.  That is one hundred percent true.  Just don’t reduce the Church to a concrete priest.  Then there will be no infatuations, no dependencies, and consequently no disappointments.

For example, when I am sick, I go to hospital.  If one doctor cannot help me, I go to a different one.  I don’t lose trust in the medical science.

You come to a priest with a problem.  He gives you advice, which doesn’t help, another piece of advice, and another – still it doesn’t help.  Then it becomes clear, “I’m sorry, Father, I respect the dignity of your priesthood, I bow down before the Grace that is in you, but I will go look for someone who can help me.”

In addition, you need to read the Gospel, which contains answers to all questions, read the Holy Fathers and make use of the advice you find helpful.  Nowadays, there are so many TV shows, an enormous number of books, so listen, read, ask questions, search!  Though beginners should avoid reading the ascetics of the first centuries, don’t do that…

But when you yourself were a beginner, Vladyka Chrysostom told you to read the “Ascetic Sermon” of St. Ignatii Brianchaninov?  How does that work?

First of all, St. Ignatii is not an ascetic of the first century of Christianity.  He studied their works most carefully and compiled something like an encyclopaedia for his contemporaries, actually two encyclopaedias, one for monastics, the other one for lay people, in which he put the advice of the Holy Fathers that he found appropriate.  At the same time, Father Ioann (Krestiankin) used to say to me that we who live in the third millennium cannot handle even that.

Secondly, Valdyka Chrysostom never wanted to become my spiritual father.  He used to say, “I am not a pastor, but an administrator.  So, you have to do it on your own.  I ordained you, keep moving forward on your own.”

Vladyka taught me a valuable lesson.  He considered any priest, including spiritual fathers, as a signpost that says, “God is that way.”  The priest himself ought to understand it, and you yourself ought to look at priests that way.  He may be able to help, to direct you, but you have to keep moving forward on your own.

The Lord supports each person differently



You mentioned that you need prayer.  It would seem obvious to Christians, but many of us are so worn out, that prayer gets pushed to the background.  Could you say a few words about the role of prayer in your life and how you manage to speak to God being as busy as you are?

I won’t venture to give specific advice.  When people ask about prayer they usually expect Vladyka to say something, to give them advice that will immediately fix their prayer life and transform everything in their daily life.  It is different for everyone, the only thing we have in common is labour, daily spiritual labour.  As it is, in fact, with anything.

However, I will tell you about something that happened to me.  Shortly before my ordination, the Lord gave me a kind of a gift.  I got up one morning (I lived in Moscow at the time, in the Novospassky Monastery, and by the blessing of His Holiness the Patriarch Alexy was preparing for ordination) and started reading morning prayers… when all of a sudden, I felt the Lord was near.  It was that simple, He was near, and that was it.  Since then, this feeling has never left me.  Sometimes it is more pronounced, sometimes less.

Of course, I pray verbally, I read Psalms.  I obviously read the Jesus prayer from time to time.  But most of the time my prayer consists in knowing that the Lord is here.  And that I am with him.  That’s what prayer is.

The Lord knew what kind of obedience lay in store for me and encouraged me in that way.  I am certain that the Lord encourages everyone, especially the people he puts in charge of difficult, worrisome obediences, in a very special way.  In prayer. And in life.

Interview conducted by Valeria Mikhailova

Translated from the Russian by Maria Nekipelov

Photos: pravstok.ru, southamerica.cerkov.ru, patriarchia.ru, and Anna Galperina

Thursday, 18 May 2017

SAINT MATRONA OF MOSCOW: A MODERN RUSSIAN SAINT

THE LIFE OF BLESSED MATRONA OF MOSCOW
Commemorated April 19/May 2






    
Blessed Matrona (Matrona Dimitrievna Nikonova) was born in 1881 in the village of Sebino of Epiphansky district (now Kimovsky district) of Tula region. The village is only 20 km away from the famous Kulikovo field, where the Russian army defeated the Mongols in 1380.

Her parents, Dimitry and Natalia, were devout, honest and hardworking people. They were poor. They had four children: two brothers, Ivan and Mikhail, and two sisters, Maria and Matrona. Matrona was the youngest. When she was born, her parents were no longer young.

As the Nikonovs were a poor family, a fourth child would be a real burden. Because of the desperate circumstances the mother wanted to get rid of the child. Murdering a child in the mother’s womb was out of the question in a patriarchal peasant family. But there were a lot of asylums where illegitimate or very poor children were raised at the government’s or benefactors’ expense.

Matrona’s mother made up her mind to take the future child to Prince Golitsyn Asylum in a neighbouring village but then had a prophetic dream. She saw her unborn daughter as a white bird with a human face and closed eyes who came from above and perched on her right hand. The God-fearing woman took the dream for a sign and gave up the thought of sending the child away. The daughter was born blind, but her mother loved her “poor child”.

The Holy Scripture tells us that sometimes the All-knowing God pre-elects His servants before their birth. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations (Jer. 1:5).

Matrona's family house in the village of Sebino.

    
Having chosen Matrona for a special ministry, the Lord from the very beginning gave her a heavy cross that she bore throughout her life meekly and patiently.

At her baptism the girl was given the name of St. Matrona of Constantinople, a Greek ascetic of the fifth century, whose memory we celebrate on the 9th (22nd) of November.

According to St. Matrona’s relative, Pavel Ivanovich Prokhorov, who was there at the baptism, when the priest immersed the child in the Baptismal font, everyone saw a wispy column of aromatic smoke above the baby. By this God was showing that He had chosen her. The priest, Fr. Vasily, who was revered by his parish as righteous and blessed, was very much surprised: “I’ve baptised a lot of people but I’ve never seen anything like that. This baby will be holy.” And he added: “If the girl asks for anything, come to me directly, come without hesitation and tell me what she needs.” He also added that Matrona would take up his place and would even foretell his death. And it did happen so. One night Matrona told her mother that Fr. Vasily had died. The surprised and frightened parents rushed to the priest’s house. On their coming they saw that, indeed, he had just passed away.

There was a mark on St. Matrona’s body that showed that the girl was God’ chosen one. It was a cross-shaped swelling on her chest. Once when St. Matrona was about six, her mother reproached her for taking her cross off her neck. “Mummy, I’ve got a cross of my own on my chest,” the girl replied. “Dear daughter, forgive me! Why do I keep blaming you?” said Natalia coming to her senses.

On another occasion, Natalia was complaining to a friend when Matrona was still a baby: “I don’t know what I should do about the baby: the girl won’t take the breast on Wednesdays and Fridays. During these days she sleeps all day and it’s impossible to wake her up.”

Not only was Matrona blind, she had no eyes at all. The recesses were covered by the eyelids closed firmly together, just like the white bird that her mother saw in a dream. But the Lord gave St. Matrona the gift of spiritual vision. When still an infant, at nights she would miraculously get to the icon corner herself, take the icons from the shelf, put them onto the table and play with them in the quiet dark of the night.

Children often teased and bullied Matrona. Girls whipped her with nettles knowing she would never guess who was doing it. Sometimes they put her in a ditch and watched her crawling out of it and walking home slowly. Finally she gave up playing with other children and stayed at home most of the time.

At the age of seven or eight Matrona displayed the gifts of prophesy and of healing the infirm. The Nikonovs’ house was near the Church of Dormition of the Mother of God. A beautiful temple, it was the only church in the neighbourhood of seven or eight villages. Matrona’s parents were pious and liked going to church together. Matrona also grew up in church. First she attended the services together with her mother, and later she came alone using every opportunity. When the mother lost sight of the girl, she nearly always found her in the church. Matrona had her own favorite place there—left of the entrance, at the west wall. She stood there quietly during service. She knew the church singing well and often joined in from where she was. She must have acquired the gift of constant prayer in childhood.

When her mother called her “a miserable child”, Matrona was surprised: “Am I miserable? It is my brothers, Vanya and Misha, who are miserable.” She knew that God gave her much more than He gave others.
Church in St. Matrona's native village of Sebino.

    
Matrona acquired spiritual discernment, vision, wonderworking and healing at an early age. Her family and neighbours noticed that she knew not only about people’s sins and crimes but their thoughts as well. She saw the coming of dangers and social catastrophes. Her prayer healed the sick and comforted the suffering. Soon people started coming to her for comfort, advice and healing. They would come on foot or bring their ill relatives on carts to the Nikonov’s house from all around the village and even from remote places. The girl would heal them all. Visitors left food and gifts for Matrona’s family. So, instead of being a burden, she became a breadwinner for her family.

As we already said, Matrona’s parents would often go to church together. Once, on a feast day, Matrona’s mother invited her husband to join her for the service as usual. But he did not go. He decided to pray and sing at home. Matrona stayed with him, too. Throughout the service Natalia was thinking about her husband and felt sorry that he hadn’t come with her. When Natalia was back home after the Liturgy, Matrona said: “You haven’t been to church, Mother.” Natalia was surprised: “Don’t you know I am just back and taking off my coat?” “Father was in church, but you were not.” Matrona saw that even though her mother attended the service her heart was not praying.

Once in autumn Matrona was sitting near the house. Her mother asked her why she would not come in, as it was cold outside. “I cannot be in the house, I’m exposed to fire and pierced with a garden fork.” Natalia was puzzled: “There’s no one in the house”. Matrona explained: “You can’t understand, Mum. Satan is tempting me.”

Once Matrona said to Natalia: “Mum, get ready for my wedding.” The mother told the priest about it, and he came and gave the girl Holy Communion. He always came to Matrona’s house to give the girl Holy Communion when she asked. A few days later there came lots and lots of carts and people asked for Matronushka.[1] She prayed for them and healed many. Mother was very surprised and asked: “What’s that, Matrushenka?” “I told you I would have a wedding,” she replied.

Xenia Ivanovna Sifarova, a relative of Matrona’s cousin, related: “Matrona says to her mother: “I’m leaving now. Tomorrow there’ll be a fire, but your house won’t suffer.” As she said, fire broke out in the morning, nearly the whole village burned down. But then the wind changed and Natalia’s house remained untouched.

When St. Matrona was still young, God granted her a chance to be a pilgrim. The daughter of a local estate owner, a devout kind girl, Lydia Yankova, took Matrona with her on pilgrimages: to the Kiev Caves Lavra, the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra, St. Petersburg, and other holy places in Russia. Once Matrona met Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt. After the Liturgy in Andreevsky Cathedral, St. John asked the people to make way for the fourteen-year-old Matrona and said loudly: “Matronushka, come, come to me. Here is my replacement, the eighth pillar of Russia.”

Matronushka never explained the meaning of these words, but her family believed that Fr. John had foreseen her special ministry to Russia and the Russian people during the years of persecution of the Church.

Some time later, when Matrona was a little over sixteen, she was deprived of the ability to walk: all of a sudden she could not walk any more. The eldress however pointed out the spiritual reason for this disability. It was in church after Holy Communion. St. Matrona knew that a woman would come and take away her physical strength. It all happened as she expected. “I did not try to avoid it. It was the will of God”, she said. So, to the end of her days she could only sit. Her sitting in various houses and flats where she found temporary shelter lasted fifty years. She never complained about her disability but humbly carried this heavy cross that God entrusted her.

While still a child, Matrona foresaw the revolution in Russia. “Churches will be robbed and destroyed, and people will be persecuted.” She showed vividly the way the land would be re-distributed and how people would grab it greedily trying to get more and more—only to leave everything behind and flee. “Then no one would need it”, she said. Before the revolution Matrona advised an estate owner whose name was Yankov to sell everything and go abroad. If he had taken the advice of the blessed saint, he wouldn’t have witnessed the robbing of his property. He would have avoided premature death and would have saved his daughter painful wanderings.
 The icon, "The Search of the Lost," ordered by Matrona
for her village church. It is now kept in the Dormition
Monastery near Tula.
A neighbour of Matrona’s, Yevgenia Ivanovna Kalachkova, narrates: Before the revolution a rich lady bought a house in Sebino. She came to Matrona and said that she wanted to build a bell-tower. Matrona replied: “What you have planned is not going to happen.” The lady was surprised: “Why won’t it? I’ve got everything: the money and materials.” But the bell-tower was never built.

Once at Matrona’s request, an icon was painted for the church of Dormition. Here is how it happened. Matrona asked her mother to tell the priest that in his library, on a shelf, there was a book with a picture of the icon “Search of the Lost”. The priest was surprised. However the picture was found, and Matrona told her mother that she was going to have this icon painted. Matrona said that she saw the icon in her dreams: “The Mother of God wants to come to our church.” Matrona’s mother was very worried how they would pay for it. Matrona blessed the women of Sebino to collect money for the icon in neighbouring villages.

Among the sponsors there were two men, one of whom gave a rouble with an uneasy heart, and the other gave a kopeck for a joke. The money was finally brought to Matrona. She took it and started checking coins one by one. Having found the rouble and the kopeck, she removed them saying: “Give them their money back, Mum. It spoils the rest of the money.”

When the necessary sum was collected, they invited a painter from the town of Epiphan. His name remained unknown. Matrona asked him whether he was able to paint the icon. He answered that it was his usual business. Matrona told him to have confession and receive Holy Communion. Then she asked him again whether he was sure he would be able to do it. The painter said ‘yes’ and started working. After a long time he came to Matrona and said he could not do it at all. She said to him: “Go and repent of all your sins.” She knew that he had one serious sin, which he had not confessed. He was struck that she knew about it. Then he went to a priest, had confession, received Holy Communion again and asked Matrona to forgive him. She answered: “Go and paint the icon of the Heavenly Queen. Now you will do it.”

The remaining money raised was spent on another copy of the icon of the Mother of God “Search of the Lost” that was ordered to be painted in Bogoroditsk. When it was ready, a procession carried the icon from Bogoroditsk to the church in Sebino. Matrona went to meet the icon when it was four kilometers away. She was led there. All of a sudden she said: “Don’t go any further, they are nearly here.” The blind woman was speaking as if she could see: “In half an hour they’ll be here and they’ll bring the icon.” Indeed, in half an hour the procession arrived. After a moleben[2] the procession went on to Sebino. Matrona was holding on to the icon on the way back. “Search of the Lost” became the main locally venerated icon there. It soon got famous for many miracles. Whenever there was a drought, the icon was taken to the center of the village and people prayed for rain. No sooner had they come home than it would rain.

All through her life, icons surrounded Matrona. In the room where she lived for a particularly long time there were three icon corners, with icons and icon lamps from the floor to the ceiling. A woman who worked at a Moscow church and often visited Matrona, remembers St. Matrona saying to her: “I know all the icons in your church, where each of them stands.”

It was surprising that Matrona, unlike a blind-born person, had a very good idea of the world around her. Once a woman close to her, Zinaida Vladimirovna Zhdanova, said she was sorry for Matrona’s blindness: “It is such a pity, Matushka, that you can’t see the beauty of the world!” Matrona replied: “Once God opened my eyes and showed me His creation. I saw the sun and the stars in the sky, and the beauty of the earth: the mountains, rivers, the green grass, flowers, birds…”

There is another piece of striking evidence of the gift of spiritual vision that the Blessed Eldress had. Z.V.Zhdanova narrates: “ Matushka was illiterate, but knew everything. In 1946 I had a diploma project on the architectural ensemble of the Admiralty. I was a student of the Institute of Architecture in Moscow. My supervisor harassed me for no reason at all. For the five months that I had worked at the diploma we had not had a single meeting because he had decided to fail my project. A fortnight before the viva he said: “Tomorrow a committee will come and see that your work is unsatisfactory.” I came back home in tears: my father was in prison and Mother was my dependant. My only hope was to get the diploma and start working. Matushka listened to me and said: “Come, you’ll do it. We’ll have tea in the evening and talk.” I could hardly wait till evening. Matrona said: “We’re now going to Italy, to Florence, to Rome, we’ll have a look at the works of great masters…” And she started naming the streets and buildings! Then she made a pause: “Here is Pitti Palazzo, and here’s another palace with arches. You should copy this: the first three levels with big bricks and two arches for entrance.” I was struck by her knowledge. In the morning I rushed to the Institute. I quickly did the necessary corrections and at 10 a.m. the committee came. They looked at my project and said: “It looks great! Congratulations!”

In the neighbourhood, 4 km away from Sebino, there lived a man who could not walk. Matrona said: “Let him crawl to me. Let him start in the morning. By three he’ll have crawled.” He crawled all the way there and went back home on foot.

Once, during the Easter week, three women came to Matrona. Matrona was sitting by the window. She gave a prosphora[3] to one of them, some water to another, and a red egg to the third. She told the third woman to eat the egg behind the village. When they came out of the village, the woman broke the egg and to her horror found a mouse in there. The women got frightened and hurried back. When they were coming to the house, Matrona said: “It’s disgusting to eat a mouse, is it not?” “Matronushka, how can I possibly eat it?” “And how did you dare to sell the milk from a container with a mouse in it to people, particularly to orphans and widows who did not have a cow? There was a mouse in the milk, you took it out and sold the milk.” “Matronushka, they never saw the mouse.” “But God saw it!”

A.F. Vybornova tells about the healing of her uncle. “My mother is from Ustye village, where her brother still lives. Once he woke up and found out that he could not move his arms and legs. They softened and became lifeless like ropes. He had never believed in Matrona’s healing power. His daughter came to my mother for help: “Come, Godmother, Father is very unwell, he has become like an idiot: the arms are hanging loose, his glance is not sensible and he can hardly move his tongue.” My mother and father went to him on a cart. The moment he saw her, he pronounced ‘sis-ter’ with great difficulty. She took him to Sebino. In Sebino, she left him in her house and went to Matrona to ask for permission to take him to her. Matrona said: “Your brother said that I could not do anything and look what’s become of him.” She said this before she saw him! And then she added: “Take him here, I’ll help you.” She prayed over him, gave him some water and he fell asleep. After a very deep sleep he woke up healthy. Matrona said to him: “Thank your sister, her faith has healed you”.

Matrona’s helping had nothing to do with witchcraft, the so-called “extrasensory abilities” or magic, when someone gets in touch with the powers of darkness. Her helping had an absolutely different source and was of Christian nature. That is why witches and occultists hated Matrona. People who got to know Matrona in Moscow give evidence of that. First of all, Matrona prayed for people. She had spiritual gifts in abundance and when she asked God for help, she was persistent in her prayer and people were healed. The history of the Orthodox Church has many examples when not only priests or ascetics but also righteous lay people could heal the sick.

Matrona read prayers over water and gave it to people. Those who drank the water or washed their faces with it got relief. We do not know what prayers Matrona read. Of course, it could not be the blessing of the water, which only priests can do. But we know that not only water blessed in church but also that taken from springs, rivers and wells can have the healing power because of the holy people who lived and prayed near it.

In 1925 Matrona moved to Moscow, where she stayed until her death. In the huge capital there were lots of miserable, spiritually infirm people who maybe even had lost their faith or burdened their souls with multitude of sins and who therefore needed her support. Having lived in Moscow for about three decades, Matrona ministered to people and stopped many from perishing and directed them to salvation.

Matrona loved Moscow very much, saying that it was a holy city, the heart of Russia. Both Matrona’s brothers, Michael and Ivan, became Communists. Michael became a village activist. It went without saying that having a blessed sister near, who was receiving many people daily and taught them to hold on to the Orthodox faith, was unbearable to the brothers. They were afraid of persecution. Matrona felt pity and compassion for them and her parents (Matrona’s mother died in 1945) and left them for Moscow.

At that moment, her lengthy wanderings started. She was moving from one family of friends or relatives to another, living in flats, houses and basements. Almost everywhere Matrona lived without local registration. On a few occasions she escaped imprisonment only by a miracle. As we said, it was now a new period of her zealous life. She became a homeless wanderer. Together with her lived her helpers who took care of her. But sometimes she had to live with people who were hostile towards her. The housing situation in Moscow was difficult and one’s place, if any, was not a matter of choice.
Zinaida Zhdanova.

    
Z. V. Zhdanova tells about the hardships of Matrona’s life: “I came to Sokolniki to visit Matushka. She lived in a small clapboard house that was let to her for a while. It was late autumn. I came in and found myself in a cloud of thick and wet steam, which came from an iron stove. I came up to Matushka. She was lying in bed facing the wall. Her hair had frozen to it. We could hardly tear the hair off the wall. I was horrified: “What’s this, Matushka? You know that I live together with my mother. My brother is at the front and my father is in prison. We have two rooms in a warm house, 48 square meters, with a separate entrance. Why didn’t you ask us to host you?” Matushka sighed and said: “God did not allow me so that you wouldn’t regret it afterwards.”

Before the war Matrona lived at a priest’s, Fr.Vasily’s, the husband of her care-giver Pelagia. Then St. Matrona lived in Pyatnitskaya Street, in a summer shed in Sokolniki, in Vishnyakov Lane in the basement at her niece’s, at Nikitskye Gates, in Petrovsko-Razumovskoye, in Sergiev Posad (then Zagorsk) at her nephew’s, and in Tsaritsyno. Her longest stay was on the Arbat. Here lived E.M. Zhdanova with her daughter Zinaida. They came from Matrona’s native village. They occupied a room of 48 square meters in an old wooden house. It was that room where icons occupied three walls, from the floor to the ceiling. Old icon lamps were hanging in front of the icons. The room was decorated with heavy, expensive curtains. Before the revolution of 1917 the house belonged to Zhdanova’s husband, who was from a rich noble family.      

Sometimes Matrona would move out in a hurry, foreseeing the coming trouble. She did it always a day before the militia came to arrest her as she lived without registration. It was a hard time and people were afraid of registering her at their addresses. So, not only did Matrona escape arrests, but also saved the people she lived with.

However, Matrona was nearly arrested many times. Some of those around her were imprisoned or exiled. For example, Zinaida Zhdanova was sentenced as a member of a religious monarchist group.

Once Matrona called on her nephew Ivan in her prayer. Ivan lived in Zagorsk. Then he came to his boss and asked for a day off: “I really need to visit Auntie.” He came to her without knowing why. Matrona urged him to take her to his mother-in-law. Right after they left, the militia came. Things like that happened many times.

Once a militiaman came to arrest Matrona but she said: “Go home quickly! It’s an emergency. I am blind and can’t walk and won’t escape from you.” He believed her and rushed for home. There he found his wife who was accidentally severely burned. He was just in time to take her to hospital. The next day they asked him at work: “Have you arrested the blind one?” He answered: “I’ll never arrest her. But for her I would have lost my wife.”

While living in Moscow Matrona paid visits to her village. Sometimes people wanted her to support them. Sometimes she would come just because she missed her mother.

Apparently, her life was the same routine: ministering to people during the day, and praying at night. Like the ancient ascetics, she never really slept comfortably in bed. She normally had a short sleep lying on her side, her head resting on a small fist. The years passed.

Around 1940 Matrona once admonished someone saying: “Now you are quarrelling, but war is coming. Of course, many people will die, but the Russians will win.”

In the beginning of 1941 a woman asked Matushka if she should go on holiday. She was offered leave at work but did not want to have a break in winter. Matushka said to her: “One should go on holiday now as there’ll be no holidays for a long, long time. It will be war. We’ll win. Moscow won’t suffer from the enemy, but will burn a little. There’ll be no need to flee from Moscow.”


When the war began, Matushka asked people to bring her willow branches. She made sticks of the same length, peeled off the bark and prayed. Her fingers were sore. As we said, Matrona could visit different places spiritually and there was no obstacle to her spiritual vision. She often said that she was at the front line invisibly to help our soldiers. When the Germans were approaching Tula, she told everyone that they would never take hold of it. Her prophecy came true.

Matronushka saw up to forty people a day. They were bringing her their grief, sufferings, physical and emotional pain. No one was refused help, apart from those who came with a dishonest intention.

Some saw in her a sort of healer able to relieve people from misfortunes caused by evil-wishers. But after speaking to her they realised that she was a true servant of God. Meetings with St. Matrona turned many towards the Church and its sacraments. Matrona’s help was self-denying. She did not take anything from the people she helped.  
The house on Starokonushensky Lane, Moscow,     
 where St. Matrona live from 1942-49.

    
Matushka always read prayers loudly. These were usual prayers we hear in church and say at home: “Our Father”, “Let God arise”, Psalm 90, “O Lord Who upholdest all things, God of hosts and all flesh.” Matrona stressed the fact that it was not she who helped but God: “Do you think Matrona is God? Only God helps!”

Healing the infirm, Matrona demanded that they should trust in God and change their lives. For example, she asked a woman who visited her once whether she believed that God had the power to heal her. On another occasion, St. Matrona told a woman who suffered from epilepsy to attend every Sunday service and have confession and Holy Communion every time she was in church. Those whose marriage was not sanctified by the church were advised to go through a service of marriage. Wearing a cross was a must.

People came to Matrona with the usual needs and problems: an incurable disease, a loss, someone’s husband abandoning the family, broken hearts, job problems, harassment at work. They also asked for Matrona’s advice about getting married, moving or changing job.

There were also lots of infirm people: someone would fall ill, others would start barking all of a sudden, some would get paralysed or develop hallucinations. These sufferings were caused by witches, and were a result of demonical influence.

Once four men took an old woman to Matrona. The woman was waving her hands like a windmill. When Matushka had read the prayers of exorcism, the woman became quiet and got healed of her miserable condition.

A woman that often visited her brother in a mental hospital met a family on the way there. Their eighteen-year-old daughter was to be discharged from the hospital. On their way back she started barking. The woman said to her mother: “I feel so much for you. We are passing Tsaritsyno, let us take your daughter to Matronushka”. The girl’s father, a general, wouldn’t hear of it, but the mother insisted.

When the girl was approaching Matrona, her body became stiff like a stick and she started spitting at Matrona trying to get loose. “Leave her alone, she won’t cause any harm now”, Matrona said. They let her go. She fell on the floor in agony and vomited blood. Then she fell asleep and slept for three days. They looked after her. When she woke up, she asked her mother: “Where are we, Mummy?” “We are at a holy person’s house, daughter”. And she told her everything. The girl was healed of her disease.

Once an important woman came to see Matrona. Her husband died during the war and her only son had gone insane. It went without saying she was an atheist. She took her son to Europe to be examined by famous doctors, but that was not successful. “I have come to you in despair. I have no other place to go.” Matrona asked her: “If the Lord heals your son, will you believe in God?” “I don’t understand what it means—to believe.” Then Matrona asked for some water and started reading a prayer loudly over the water, in the presence of the woman. Then she gave her the water and said: “Go to the Kashchenko hospital and tell the orderlies to hold your son tight when they take him out. He’ll have an agony, but you should try to sprinkle the water into his eyes and mouth.”

After a while the woman came to Matrona again. She knelt down before Matrona and thanked her: her son was healed. She told her how it happened. She came to the hospital and was approaching the barrier in the visitors’ hall when her son came out. The small bottle with the water was in her pocket. Her son was shivering all over and shouting out: “Mother, throw away what you have in your pocket! Stop torturing me!” She was struck: how did he know? She sprinkled the water onto his face. When it got to his mouth, he became calm suddenly, and sense appeared in his eyes. “How wonderful!” he exclaimed. Soon he was discharged.

Often Matrona put her hands onto the head of a sick person and said: “In a minute I’ll cut your wings, but now you can fight a bit.” She would ask: “Who are you?” Suddenly something would buzz inside the person. Matrona would repeat the question, and the buzzing would get louder. Then she would pray saying: “The mosquito has had enough.” And the person would become healthy again.

Matrona also helped those who had problems in their family life. Once a woman came to her and complained that she had not married for love and her relationship with her husband left much to be desired. “Who’s to blame? You are to blame. Our head is the Lord, and the Lord has an image of a Man. We, women, should obey men. You should keep your wedding crown to the end of your days. So, it is you who are to blame for the uneasy situation,” Matrona said. The woman took Matrona’s advice and her married life changed for the better.

Zinaida Zhdanova says about Matrona: “Matushka Matrona fought for every soul that came to her and won. She never complained about the difficulties of her labour. I cannot forgive myself for never feeling sorry for Matushka, though I saw that she had a very hard time, sharing the burden of each of us. The light of those days still warms me. Icon lamps were lit in the house, and Matushka’s love and peace penetrated the soul. There was holiness, joy, peace and blessed warmth at home. It was a war time, but we lived like in heaven.”

What was she like, what image remained in the memory of those who knew her closely? She had miniature hands and feet, like those of a child. We remember her sitting on the bed or chest, with fluffy hair. Firmly closed eyelids. A kind face radiating light. A gentle voice.

She comforted the infirm, stroked them on the head, and blessed them with the sign of the cross. Sometimes she would joke, and sometimes reproach strictly and teach. But she wasn’t strict. She was tolerant to human weaknesses and was compassionate, warm and sympathetic. She was always joyful and never complained about her health and sufferings. Matushka did not preach. She gave some practical advice about a particular situation, prayed and blessed people.

She was not a person of many words and answered the questions laconically. Some of her general advice remained:

Matushka taught not to judge our neighbour. “Why judge other people? Think more of yourself. Every sheep will be hung by its tail. What business do you have with others’ tails? Think of yours.” Matushka taught people to leave their lives to God’s will, to live with prayer, to cross oneself and everything around to protect oneself from evil. She advised to have Holy Communion often. “Protect yourselves with the sign of the cross, prayer, holy water, frequent Communion…Light lamps before the icons.”

She also taught to love and forgive the old and infirm. “If the old or infirm or someone not in his right mind tells you something that hurts you, take no notice but help them. You should help the infirm eagerly, doing your best, and should forgive them whatever they say.”

Matrona forbade believing dreams: “Take no notice of them, they can be from the evil one, to upset a person, to make him think of empty things.”

Matrona warned people not to spend time looking for elders. By asking many different priests for advice in search of an elder one can lose spiritual strength and the right direction in life.

Here are her own words: “The world lies in evil, and delusion and temptation will be open, not disguised. Take care not to fall.” “If you go to an elder or priest for advice, pray that the Lord gives him wisdom to tell you the right thing.” She taught not to be curious of priests and their lives. She told those who wanted to reach Christian perfection not to stand out from the rest in appearance or manner, for example, by wearing black or something like that.

She taught to be patient. Once she said to Zinaida Zhdanova: “Go to church and don’t watch anyone there. Pray with your eyes closed or look at some icon.” St. Seraphim of Sarov gave the same advice, as well as some other holy fathers. All in all, there was nothing in Matrona’s advice that contradicted the Holy Fathers.

Matushka considered using make-up a serious sin. By doing so women distort the image of God in them by adding features that the Lord did not make. This creates false beauty that leads to corruption.

St. Matrona would say to those girls that first came to God: “God will forgive everything of you virgins, if you are faithful to Him. Those who decide to remain in chastity should be firm to the end. The Lord will give you a crown for that.”

“When the enemy approaches you, you should pray. A sudden death can occur if one does not pray. The enemy sits on our left shoulder, and the angel—on the right. Each of them has a book: sins are written down in one book, and good deeds in the other. Cross yourself as frequently as possible! The cross is like a lock on the door.” She also taught not to forget to bless the food: “Protect yourself with the power of the Holy and Life-giving Cross.”

About witches Matushka taught: “For those who voluntarily unite with the powers of evil and practise witchcraft, there is no way out. One should never ask ‘healers’ for help. They heal one thing and harm the soul.”

Matushka often told her close people that she was fighting with those practising witchcraft, invisibly. Once a very noble-looking old man with a white beard came to Matrona and knelt down before her in tears: “My only son is dying.” Matushka bent to him and asked in a low voice: “How bad did you do it to him? To death or not?” “To death.” “Go away from me, you shouldn’t have come to me.”

After he left she said: “Wizards and witches know God. If only you could pray like them when they ask God to forgive them for the evil they caused!”

Matushka venerated the late priest Valentine Amphiteatrov. She said he was great in the eyes of God and helped those who asked for his help at his grave. Sometimes she sent her visitors to take some sand from his grave.

Massive disbelief, aggressive attacks on the Christian faith, growing estrangement and malice among people, rejection of the tradition by millions of people, and sinful life without repentance had many tragic consequences. Matrona understood it well.

On the days of communist processions Matushka asked us not to go out and to shut the windows and doors tightly because she said crowds of demons occupied the whole space and all people. Maybe the Blessed Eldress, who often spoke in parables, thus reminded us of the necessity to keep our senses—“the windows of the soul” in the terminology of the Holy Fathers—shut against the evil spirits.

Zinaida Zhdanova once asked Matushka, “Why did God let it happen that so many churches were closed or destroyed?” Matushka answered: “There is God’s will in that, as there’ll be few believers and ministers.” “Why is no one fighting against that?” “The people are hypnotised; horrible powers have come… This power is in the air, everywhere now, and it penetrates everything. Earlier it lived only far away in the bogs and forests. People went to church, wore crosses and their houses were protected by icons and lamps and were blessed. Demons could not enter houses like that, but now they live even in people because humans are now rejecting the faith and God.”

Some people wanted to unveil the mystery of Matrona’s spiritual life and watched her secretly during the night. St. Matrona would pray and prostrate whole nights through.

While living at the Zhdanovs’, Matronushka had confession and Holy Communion from Fr. Dimitry, a priest in a church in Krasnaya Presnya. Constant prayer helped Blessed Matrona to bear the cross of serving people, which was a real labour and martyrdom, the highest expression of love. Praying for people possessed by demons, as well as for everyone else, sharing people’s grief Matushka got so tired that by the end of the day she couldn’t speak and only moaned quietly, having laid her head on her tiny fist. As regards her inner life, it remained secret even for her nearest and dearest.

Though no one knew Matushka’s spiritual life, people did not doubt her holiness and asceticism. Her ministry was in her great patience that came from her pure heart and ardent love of God. It is this patience that will save the Christians of the last times, as holy fathers of the Church prophesied. As a real ascetic, the Blessed Eldress taught not only by her words, but also by her whole life. Apparently blind, she taught people how to acquire spiritual vision. Unable to walk, she taught and is teaching us even now how to walk on the hard path to salvation.

Zinaida Zhdanova writes: “Who was Matronushka? Matushka was a warrior angel, as if she had a sword of fire in her hands to fight the evil power. She healed people with prayer and holy water… She was small as a child. She always half-lay on her fist and half-sat. That was the only way she slept; she never lay comfortably. When she received people she sat with her hands over the head of the visitor. She would bless the person, say the most important thing and pray for him.

She never had a house of her own, nor did she possess anything. She lived in those houses or flats where she was invited. When grateful visitors brought food to her, she had no right of distributing it herself the way she thought best. She always had to obey a woman called Pelagia who was unkind and who commanded in the house, giving nearly all presented food to her relatives. Matushka could neither eat nor drink without her consent.

Matushka seemed to know everything ahead. Every day of her life was a stream of grief and miseries of her visitors. She helped the infirm, comforted and healed them. Her prayer healed many. She would take the head of the crying person into her hands, comfort and warm him with her holiness, and he would leave as if on wings. And she, exhausted, would only sigh and pray all night long. She had a kind of dimple on her forehead as a result of crossing herself frequently. She always did it very carefully taking her time, the fingers were searching for the dimple…”

During the war, many times she answered the question that many of her visitors were worried by most: what happened to their relatives, particularly to those on the front—were they alive, or not? To some she would say: “Wait for him, he’s alive.” Some were told to pray for their loved ones as for the departed.

It is very likely that those who wanted spiritual guidance asked Matrona to be their teacher. Many priests in Moscow and monks in St. Sergius Holy Trinity Lavra knew about Matushka. But Providence chose it so that Matrona had no disciples who could witness her life to be able to tell future generations about it.

People from her native village often visited her. She also received notes with questions from those in her neighbourhood, and answered them. Some would come for help from areas as remote as two hundred or three hundred kilometres away, and she knew their names. There were Muscovites as well as visitors from other cities that heard of Matushka’s gift of spiritual vision. They were people of all ages: young, old and middle-aged. She would receive some, and reject others. With some people she spoke plainly, with others—in parables.

Once Zinaida complained about her nerves. Matushka answered: “There are no nerves at war or in prison… One should be self-possessed and patient.”

Matushka taught that one should not ignore medical treatment. The body is like a house given by God so it sometimes needs repair. God created the world and, in it, medical herbs, and one should not ignore them.

Matushka felt sorry for her close ones: “I am so sorry for you, you’ll live to the last times. Life will get worse and worse. The time will come when they put the cross and the bread in front of you and ask you to make your choice.” “We’ll choose the cross, but how shall we live?” “We’ll pray to God, take some soil, form it into little balls, eat them and be no more hungry.”

On another occasion she comforted a person and urged not to fear anything: “Imagine a carefree child who is carried around in the sledge. The Lord will sort out everything.”

Matronushka often said: “If a nation loses faith in God, it faces scourges, and if it does not repent, it disappears from the earth. How many peoples have disappeared, but Russia existed and will exist. Pray, ask, repent! The Lord will not abandon you and will keep our land!”

Matrona’s last shelter on earth was in a place outside Moscow, Skhodnya, where she moved from the city centre. Matrona’s distant relation lived there. Here, too, came a stream of visitors bringing their suffering. Only before death, Matushka, who had grown weak, wanted to limit the number of people she could see. But people kept coming, and she could not refuse them help. They say that she knew the day of her death from God three days in advance, and she made all the necessary arrangements. Matushka asked for the burial service to be conducted in the Church of Laying of the Robe in Donskaya Street. She asked not to bring wreathes or artificial flowers to her funeral.

During her last days, she had the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion from priests that visited her. As anyone else, she was afraid of dying and did not conceal her fear from her close ones. Right before her death, Fr. Dimitry came to her to hear her confession. She was worried whether she put her arms on her chest correctly before taking the Sacrament. He asked her in surprise: “Are you afraid of dying?” “I am, indeed.”
St. Matrona's grave in the Danilov cemetery.

    
On May the 2nd, 1952 St. Matrona departed this life. On the next day, the name of newly departed Blessed Matrona came on an intercession list to the St. Sergius-Holy Trinity Lavra. The celebrating hieromonk noticed it and immediately went out of the sanctuary and asked the people in worry: “Who brought the note? Did she die?” No wonder he knew, her because many monks in the Lavra venerated Matrona. An old woman and her daughter who came from Moscow confirmed that Matushka had died the day before, saying where her body would be placed the next morning for farewell. This is how the monks in the Lavra learned about her death and were able to come to her funeral. After the burial service that was celebrated by Fr.Nikolay Golubtsov, everyone came to kiss her hands.

On May the 4th, the Sunday of Myrrh-bearing women, was the day of Matrona’s funeral. According to her wish she was buried in Danilov Cemetery so that “she could hear the service”. Great numbers of Orthodox people started venerating St. Matrona as a true servant of God immediately after her funeral.

St. Matrona's grave in the Danilov cemetery.
St. Matrona's grave in the Danilov cemetery.
    
Blessed Matrona said: “After my death few people will come to my grave, only my closest. When they die, my grave will be abandoned, and will bevisited only occasionally… But many years later people will learn about me and will come in crowds to ask for help in their troubles. They will ask me to pray for them to the Lord, and I will hear and help everybody.”

Before her death she said: “Come, come to me, all. Tell me about your troubles, as if I were alive, and I will see you and hear you, and help you.” Matushka also said that those who would seek her intercession before God would be saved. “All those who ask me for help I will meet after their death, everyone.”

Over thirty years after she died, her grave in Danilov Cemetery became one of the holy places in the Orthodox Moscow. People from all over Russia and abroad would come there with their miseries and illnesses exactly as they did when she was alive.
Patriarch Kirill at the relics of St. Matrona of Moscow in the Protection Monastery, Moscow, where they rest today.


    
Blessed Matrona was an Orthodox Christian in the very deep and traditional meaning of the word. Compassion to people that came from the bottom of her loving heart, her prayer, the sign of the cross, her unfailing faithfulness to the holy statutes of the Orthodox Church were the core of her ardent spiritual life. The nature of her ministry originates in the centuries of godliness and piety. That is why her assistance to people bears spiritual fruit: people become firm in the Orthodox faith, they become attached to the Church outwardly and in their inner self, they actively participate in the daily life of prayer.

Matrona is known by tens of thousands of Orthodox people. They call her affectionately “Matronushka”. She helps people as in the days when she lived. Those who ask her for intercession soon feel it, and she prays for them to God with great boldness.

The Convent of the Protection, Moscow

Translation by Liudmila and Evgeny Selensky

01 / 05 / 2015

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