A collection of pre-Laurus Orthodox Life magazines. This will be my next project. My goal is to have searchable PDFs of all the issues up to the Laurus synod. Please send me pdfs or scans of back issues. If you seek an article not yet on this blog, contact me.
A Journey to Sarov and Diveyevo in 1926
by Ivan M. Andreyev
Orthodox Life magazine 1982 no.2
Since my early youth, I had heard much about Sarov Monastery and the wondrous Diveyevo, where the holy Saint Seraphim, Wonderworker of Sarov and of all Russia, had carried on his spiritual struggles. I had often dreamt of going there, but for a long time I was not able to do so.
Once, in the summer of 1926, in July, I happened to be in Kiev. One day, I was sitting on the bank of the Dnieper, admiring the Kiev-Caves Lavra. A pilgrim walked up and began to talk with me. He said that he was travelling about the holy places and that now he was getting ready to leave Kiev to go visit Sarov and the relics of St. Seraphim.
“How lucky you are,” I said to him. “You will be at such a holy place. Here I have dreamt for years to go there and I still have not been able to."
Then the pilgrim stood up, looked intently at me, and said, “Servant of God john! You shall be there earlier than I will." He then blessed me and left.
I went to Leningrad and found out that my new job would begin only in September. One of my friends advised me to use the free time to go to Sarov. I happened to have some money and, besides this, I had received a free ticket for any itinerary at my new job.
On August 5 (N. S.), I went to the municipal station to find out when I should have to have my ticket validated — on the day of departure or before.
I was very much saddened that St. Seraphim's feast day (July 19/August 1) had already passed. My friend consoled me, saying that the feast day of the icon of the Mother of God "of Tender Feeling," before which the saint had prayed all his life and before which he had died, would be celebrated in Diveyevo in the second half of August.
I especially wanted to be at Diveyevo and Sarov for that feast and I prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos and St. Seraphim to bring me there upon that day.
I planned to leave on August 7. When I requested to validate my ticket for the seventh of August, for some reason the cashier suddenly said to me: “Why go the day after tomorrow? Go tomorrow" and validated my ticket for August 6.
My spiritual father, Archpriest Sergius Tikhomirov (who was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1930), had told me that on a journey to St. Seraphim everything takes shape on its own, and that this should not be resisted. Remembering this advice, I yielded to the necessity of leaving a day earlier than I had intended, although I was bothered by it.
Late in the evening of August 6, I went to the train station, but learned there that the train to Moscow leaves very late at night, and that I had two hours of free time. I went to the church of the Mother of God of the Sign (later destroyed by the Bolsheviks after the death of academician I. P. Pavlov, a parishioner of this church). For some reason, I went ahead and knocked on the door of the closed church. In spite of the late hour, the old watchman opened the door and, learning that I wanted to pray before beginning my pilgrimage to Sarov, he cordially let me in and said, “Pray, pray; you know, we have a chapel dedicated to St. Seraphim in this church." I was quite surprised and happy to learn this.
As I was praying before the large, life-sized image of St. Seraphim, in my heart I felt that he was blessing me for the journey. After leaving the church, I dropped in on one of my distant relatives, who lived near the station. She served me some tea. My relative lived in a so-called “communal apartment," in which there were many rooms and in which there lived many different people. During our talk over tea, there was a knock at the door of the room, and some unknown woman asked, “Is there a pilgrim who is going to Sarov in there?"
I was astonished and said, “Yes, I am about to go to Sarov."
“Well, there’s a sick old woman living in the next room who asks you to pray for her at the relics of St. Seraphim, whom she honors very much. And here's 50 kopecks for a prosfora. The woman's name is Sophia. She asks you to pray for her, and wants to know your name, so she can pray for you. Perhaps on the journey some Sophia will give you shelter.”
I took the 50 kopecks, told her my name, and promised to pray for the handmaiden of God Sophia.
Late that night, I left Leningrad for Moscow. I knew that in Moscow there were two trains for Arzamas: one leaving in the morning and arriving in Arzamas at night, and the other leaving at night and arriving in the morning. Of course, I decided to go on the latter, the night train, so that I would not have to worry about finding a place to sleep or wasting any money, of which I brought, on the advice of my spiritual guides, only five rubles. In addition, I brought with me a small quantity of medicines. I am a physician, and on the journey someone might need medical assistance. I intended to spend the entire day, until the departure of the night train, in Moscow visiting my relatives, friends and acquaintances, since I had not been there for a long time. But, when I went to the Moscow ticket oﬂice to validate my ticket for the night train, here, as in Leningrad, the cashier for some reason suddenly said to me: “You can still make the morning train — you only have to cross the square and you'll find the Kazan Station, from which the train to Arzamas will be leaving in half an hour." And he gave me a ticket for the morning train. I was extremely upset at this but, remembering that I should uncomplainingly submit to whatever happens to me, I decided that perhaps on account of my earlier departure I would meet someone I needed, or avoid trouble of some kind.
The train was overflowing with people. All around, you could hear bad language, shouts and worldly music on the Concertina. The train moved slowly, with lengthy stops at stations. We travelled the whole day. Evening came and darkness fell. A light rain began to fall. People began to leave the car, and when the train approached Arzamas that night, almost no passengers were left.
Disturbed by the thought that l was arriving in an unfamiliar city at night, in darkness, in rain, and without money, I covered my face with my hands and prayed to St. Seraphiin, that he would help me find a place to spend the night.
Suddenly, an elderly, cleanly and neatly dressed woman walked up and began to speak to me. Learning that I was from Leningrad and that I was going to Sarov — to St. Seraphim, she was moved and rejoiced.
“Well! and where will you sleep? Do you have any relatives?"
I answered that I had no friends in Arzamas and that I had only just then prayed that St. Seraphim would help me to find a place to stay.
"Well then, spend the night at my place, batiushka" exclaimed the woman. "Sophia herself will give you shelter," she added. I started, remembering what had been said to me the day before, that “maybe someone named Sophia will give him shelter," and marvelled greatly, because this woman had spoken of herself as "Sophia herself."
"Is your name Sophia?” I asked.
“No. I am Xenia Dmitrievna Kuznetsova, but I work as the caretaker of the Cathedral of St.Sophia and live right under the bell tower. That's why I said that Sophia, the Wisdom of God, would give you shelter."
Xenia Dmitrievnzi led me through the city of Arzamas in the darkness and brought me to her room under the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Sophia.
"There. I'll give you some tea to drink, feed you and give you the bed to sleep in, and I myself shall lie down in the corner on the floor," she said.
I began to protest, saying that I would lie on the floor with pleasure, and added that unfortunately, I had very little money.
"What are you saying, batiushka, what are you saying? You need money yourself, so I will give you some, rather than take any. Who ever heard of anyone taking money from a pilgrim to the holy places? And I will not put you on the floor, but in the bed.... I don't want to end up in hell because of you!" she unexpectedly concluded. Seeing my amazement, she said, "A pilgrim is due honor, respect and the best bed in the house or else the Lord will be angered."
In the morning, she again gave me something to eat and drink, put some cakes in my bag, gave me a large wooden staff with a cross on top, which she asked me to return on the way home and, showing me the way to Diveyevo (which was seventy kilometers away), advised me to cover the distance in two days.
“But before you go to St. Seraphim," said Xenia Dmitrievna, "don‘t fail to go two kilometers in the opposite direction and venerate the wonderworking icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker at the Convent of St. Nicholas. At ﬁrst I thought to myself, “why should I change my planned route to Diveyevo," but then understood that by that thought I had offended St. Nicholas, whom, together with St. Seraphim, I had especially honored since childhood.
In fact, I did go first to the Convent of St. Nicholas. There I saw the wonderworking icon of St. Nicholas, carved out of wood. It seemed to me that St. Nicholas looked at me sternly. I fell to my knees and begged forgiveness for my thoughts. With staff in hand, I then set out in the direction of Diveyevo. A heavy rain began to fall. I was soaked to the bone, and it seemed that St. Nicholas had sent me a slight trial and penance for my negligence.
Tired and exhausted, I reached the first village of Yamishche with great effort. The village indeed stood in a great hollow (yama), in a ravine, and the description of a certain village in Chekhov's tale. “In the Ravine” came to mind. The village was dirty, noisy and unfriendly. It was some Soviet holiday. People were playing the concertina; foul talk filled the air. I walked through the entire village and decided not to sit down and rest in it. The sun came out and began to dry things out a little. Having rested on a stone, I went on mw way. The weather cleared up completely.
At ten o' clock in the evening and in complete darkness, I reached the village of Orekhovets, halfway to Diveyevo. I had to find a place to sleep, and I began to knock at the doors of huts. But I was not let in anywhere when it was learned that I was a “transient”, a “ wanderer.” Sometimes they said coarsely, “Beat it! There are too many of you loafers around here!” Finally one villager told me: ”Over there lives a priest; maybe he will let you in." I went to the priest's house and knocked. After several minutes, I heard steps and a shuffling-along in slippers, and an old priest opened the door a bit. To my request for a place to sleep, he answered that unfortunately he could not take me in, since this had been forbidden him by the authorities under pain of severe punishment, and advised me to go instead to the hut on the corner, to Komsomol, where perhaps I could spend the night.
“Oh, batiushka," I answered, "anywhere but Komsomol. I am going to St. Seraphim to pray. . .. Don't be afraid of me, my documents are in good order, and I am a believer...”
“Besides, my children are sick,” the priest interrupted.
"Batiushka," I warmly exclaimed, “I am a physician, and a specialist in children's diseases as well; I will examine your children. I even have medicines with me."
Persuaded by my arguments, the priest let me in and introduced me to his wife. Having examined his sick children, I reassured the parents that it was only the flu and gave them some medicine.
Matushka put the samovar on, and the three of us sat down to tea, talked, and after only an hour became friends.
“Forgive me," the priest said suddenly, "for wanting to refuse you a place to sleep. God has sent me such an interesting guest, and I wanted to chase him away." I in turn apologized that I had been so importunate in my plea for a place to sleep.
Having spent the night, I continued on my way early in the morning after having tea and biscuits. Matushka had dried out, cleaned and ironed my clothes and put some cakes in my bag. Batiushka made me give my word that I would stop at his house on the journey home.
The weather was clear and warm. The birds were singing, and I felt lighthearted. I prayed to St. Seraphim as I walked, outpacing the other travellers. All of them smiled affably and bowed. I talked with some of them.
"See how many people are walking and riding," one traveller said to me. "All these people are going to the saint from all ends of the Russian land!"
And indeed, whomever I asked answered that they were going to St. Seraphim. People from all over were there. Simple people and intelligentsia, men and women, youth and children. Some were from Moscow, others from Odessa, others from Arkhangelsk, others from Siberia... This amazed me exceedingly and made me especially joyful.
"There, see, ahead of us a young man, a monk, is walking up a hill. That is Father Platon, the son of the famous Professor I. from Moscow. At a time when everyone is trying to get into Komsomol, he became a monk," one elderly lady from Tula explained to me.
For some reason, I suddenly got the urge to become more closely acquainted with this young monk. I caught up with him, bowed, began to talk, and we became friends. We spent the rest of the journey together. Fr. Platon had only a ticket from Moscow to Arzamas and back. He had neither money nor baggage.
"St, Seraphim always provides and will send a place to stay." he said with conviction."
"Do you have any friends in Diveyevo." l asked him.
“No, but St. Seraphim will send friends!”
“Perhaps through me, a sinner, he will send you these friends,“ I said. “I am hoping to meet my good friend, a professor of medicine, who after the death of her husband, also a professor, left for Diveyevo and works there in the convent infirmary,” I explained to Fr. Platon.
“ Well, glory be to God,” the young monk replied. We walked on.
Once, when I suggested to Fr. Platon that we sit down and rest, he answered, “No, we can't rest; we have to hurry or else we will be late for the all-night vigil. You know, this is such a great feast!”
“Which feast?” I marvelled.
“What you mean? Tomorrow is the feast of the Diveyevo icon of the Mother of God ‘of Tender Feeling,‘ and also, the feast of the Smolensk Mother of God ‘Hodigitria.'"
As if scales had fallen from my eyes, I suddenly understood why both in Leningrad and in Moscow the cashiers had validated my tickets for a day and half earlier than I had wanted. It was clearly the help of the Mother of God, who answered my prayer that I would spend the feast of the icon "of Tender Feeling" at Diveyevo. Thus, the Hodigitria, that is, the Directress, took me by the hand and brought me to arrive the feast day of the icon “of Tender Feeling" moving my soul with quiet joy...
We arrived at Diveyevo to the ringing of bells, right at the beginning of the all-night vigil. All weariness had vanished, although we had walked more than thirty kilometers. There was a large number of people in church. Three bishops served: Their Graces Seraphim, Philip and Zinovii. More than three thousand pilgrims came to Diveyevo that evening and the following day.
When I asked a nun whether Dr. V. V. Sh. was at the monastery, she answered that “Matushka Vera is over here," and led me to V.V., who had already become a nun and now ran the convent infirmary.
“You will sleep in the infirmary," she said to me and Fr. Platon. "I have one room with two beds which is completely empty. But now go to church. After the Service, come to me for tea...”
The service was wonderful. A beautiful choir, the special Diveyevo melodies and style of singing...
After the all-night vigil, Fr. Platon and I visited V. V. and talked for a long time about wonderful Diveyevo, about St. Seraphim and his instructions.
“Tomorrow after liturgy, we will go immediately to Sarov, to the relics of St. Seraphim," said Fr. Platon, and I agreed. “Let's go to Sarov as soon as we can!"
“No," said V.V., "you must stay a day at least at Diveyevo. Don't you know what St. Seraphim said? ‘Happy is he that stays a day in Diveyevo, for around it goes the Most Holy Theotokos. Our Mistress comes to earth once a day and encircles the convent.'"
Then V. V. told us that there is a rule of St. Seraphim, which must be performed, namely, to walk around the "ditch" (that is, the path around the convent) three times with prayer-rope in hand and say the prayer “Virgin Theotokos" one hundred and fifty times and the “Our Father" one hundred and fifty times, then to pray for all your relatives and acquaintances, both living and dead. After this, you can state your most heartfelt, most necessary desire, and it will be fulfilled without fail.
One of the novices of Diveyevo once told Mother Abbess Alexandra: "If only we knew the moment when Our Mistress goes around the convent along the ditch!" To this, Mother Abbess answered: “Well, live the whole day as if the Most Holy Theotokos were walking by you at every moment." A splendid answer!
Of course, Fr. Platon and I decided to stay another day at Diveyevo.
In the evening, after seeing all the notable sights of the convent, especially the cemetery, where the Manturovs, the sixteen-year-old Maria-Martha, and others mentioned in the Chronicles of the Seraphim-Diteyevo Convent of Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov) are buried, Fr. Platon and I, with prayer-ropes in hand, began to perfom the “Rule" of St. Seraphim and quietly walked the ditch around the convent three times.
After the circuits, I had intended to ask for many things, both material and spiritual, but when, at the end of the third circuit of the ditch, I had performed the entire rule and wanted to express my heartfelt desires, something miraculous took place, obviously through the great mercy of St. Seraphim. I was suddenly seized by a very special, spiritual, quiet, warm and fragrant joy; an undoubting conviction of my whole being of God's existence, and of an absolutely real, prayerful communion with Him. It became completely obvious and clear to me that a petition for anything earthly would be tantamount to the prayer: “Lord, leave me and deprive me of Thy wondrous gift...”
And within me, I fervently said to the Lord: "Lord, do not give me anything; take away from me all my earthly prosperity, only do not deprive me of the joy of communion with Thee, or, if it is impossible to preserve it forever in one's life, then give me a heartfelt memory, give me the means of preserving till death the memory of this present blessed moment of awareness of Thy Holy Spirit."
On the next day, Fr. Platon and I went to Sarov. We venerated the relics of St. Seraphim with great emotion, with spiritual fear and reverence. I felt that I had been spiritually born the day before in Diveyevo. Everything within me had become new. Before this, I had not understood such a simple truth, that the spiritual differs from the intellectual more than the intellectual does from the carnal (cf. 1 Cor 2: 14-15). But now I understood this quite well.
Within the depths of my soul, it was quiet, serene, and joyful. The miracles by the reliquary of St. Seraphim that took place before my eyes did not startle me. It all seemed simple and natural.
A boy with a withered leg was healed at the relics; a mentally ill woman was healed — all of this was meant to happen this way.
An old monk stood continually by the relics of St. Seraphim. He had already performed this duty for many years — standing by the relics and blessing icons and crosses.
One of my friends, who had been to Sarov many years before, told me the following story. Standing in the line to the relics of the saint and holding a small icon in his hands to be blessed, he noticed that the old monk, named Isaakii, took the icons, touched them in turn to the forehead and breast of the saint and then gave it back; sometimes, if the icons were larger, they were stamped, “Blessed on the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov."
My friend, an engineer by profession, thought to himself, “How can this be? You need holy water to bless icons." But he didn't say anything and, going up to the elder, silently gave him his icon. The monk then stopped for a second, as if undecided, and then did not touch the icon to either the forehead or the breast of St. Seraphim, but asked one of the novices to bring him some holy water, and sprinkled the icon. Obviously, the elder was a clairvoyant and read thoughts.
Gazing on this elder, I remembered the story of my friend, who later became a priest...
In Sarov, we went to the Near and Far Hermitages, saw the wells that St. Seraphim had dug, bathed in the holy spring of healing water, saw under glass the rock upon which the Sarov ascetic had prayed a thousand days and nights, and many other things.
We also saw one old nun, who told us that at the opening of the relics of St. Seraphim in 1903, she was present at the presentation to Emperor Nicholas II of a letter from St. Seraphim (addressed "to the fourth sovereign that will come here"). The letter had been preserved at the Sarov Monastery over the course of four reigns. The sovereign was deeply troubled when he read the letter. Nothing is known of the contents of the letter. I was very much struck by the nun's story, for I had never heard of this fact before.
Fr. Platon and I wanted very much to obtain even the smallest chip from the rock on which St. Seraphim prayed, but we were told that if every visitor to Sarov were given a chip, the rock would have disappeared long ago. Fr. Platon suggested that I go with him into the depths of the forest and pray to St. Seraphim, that he send us a chip from his rock.
Like children, with the fervent faith that our prayer would be heard, we knelt down and prayed. Our prayer was heard quickly. Not a half hour had passed when, wandering through the forest, we stopped near a large wooden cross, of which there were very many in the forests, fields and by the roadsides of the Tambov Province. The cross had just been painted by a nun with an image of the Savior. The nun was finishing her work when we walked up and greeted her.
“What is your name, Mother?"
“Barbara," she answered.
“How well you paint!" I said.
“No, not very well," Mother Barbara said modestly. "This is not my specialty; I am a miniaturist. When certain hierarchs would be given pieces of the rock of St. Seraphim, about the size of a fingernail, I would paint the face of the saint on these pebbles...
“Mother!" exclaimed Fr. Platon, "we would very much like to get even a tiny chip from that rock!"
The nun looked intently at us and said: “I keep several chips from the holy rock, cherishing them as a very great blessing. These chips were leftover after I had polished the pebbles on which I drew the images. But these chips are being kept at my relatives’ home far away, seventy kilometers from here.... Perhaps you could give me your addresses, and I could mail you these chips."
I happened to have two stamped envelopes. I wrote my Leningrad address and Fr. Platon his Moscow address, added the word “Registered,” and gave them to Mother Barbara. Two weeks after I returned home, I received several of these chips in the mail as promised by Mother Barbara whom I had happened to meet in the Sarov forest under such strange circumstances.
During the next two days, we visited the remarkable iconographic workshop, talked with many old monks and nuns, strolled through the dense forest with its huge (two armspans in circumference) pine trees, breathed in the “incense of the Sarov pines," as one poet — Klyuev — described the fragrance of Sarov.
I decided to obtain a small silver icon with a depiction on one side of the Mother of God "of Tender Feeling," and one of St. Seraphim on the other, to wear around my neck for the rest of my life. But unfortunately, there were at that time none left of this icon, of which a large quantity was usually available at the monastery. I was greatly disheartened, but Fr. Platon said to me, “Pray that St. Seraphim send you that icon."
Again with childlike faith, Fr. Platon and I begged the saint to send me this icon. (My companion already had one.)
"Well, now, before your arrival home, you definitely must receive this icon," Fr. Platon told me with conviction. "Either you will receive it as a gift from someone, or you will buy it."
Having been spiritually nourished at Sarov and Diveyevo, we departed for Arzamas.
It was the custom to cover the seventy versts from Sarov to Arzamas on foot. “He who comes to visit me must wear out his best shoes.“ St. Seraphim would often say. Therefore, almost all pilgrims came to Sarov on foot. But they usually made the return journey in carts, each of which carried about ten people for a ruble apiece. But the conditions of the trip were such that all ten could not ride at the same time, but would take turns, walking part of the way.
Fr. Platon and I travelled in such a fashion. The last night in Sarov, I had hardly slept at all, but listened to the tower clock striking. It struck the minutes with a somewhat larger one, and finally the hours were struck by a quite large bell.
Along the way to Arzamas, we noticed another cart in front of us, also occupied by ten passengers. Among them, our attention was drawn to two female figures: a young schema-nun and her companion, a nurse, in a white kerchief.
The nurse often took a seat in the cart, although she was a powerful, ruddy-cheeked woman. But the schema-nun, pale, fragile and extremely ill in appearance, walked along spryly, and did not once sit down in the cart. We became interested in these pilgrims, caught up with the nurse and spoke with her.
Learning that I was a physician, the nurse asked me: "Explain to me, doctor, how I should understand the following event." She explained to me that her relative, the young nun Veronica of the Smolensk Convent, was ill with tuberculosis in its last stage. The doctors had given her two to three weeks to live. At that time, she pleaded that she be given the schema and then be carried to the relics of St. Seraphim. She was brought, barely alive, in a separate compartment of the train and then on a cart to Sarov.
Upon venerating the relics of St. Seraphim, Mother Veronica felt hersell healed and said: "Forgive me, St. Seraphim, that I could not come to you on foot and wear out my best shoes, but to make up for it, I will not ride the seventy kilometers back to Arzamas, but will walk." And there she was, walking.
I answered that I was not only a doctor, but also a believing Orthodox Christian and, therefore, I understood this incident to be an undoubted miracle worked by St. Seraphim. Three years later, while confined for my religious beliefs to the Solovetsk concentration camp, I met there Bishop Ilarion of Smolensk, who told me that Mother Veronica was still alive when he had been removed from there in 1929, and that many of the faithful in the Smolensk region knew about her miraculous cure.
On the road to Arzamas, Fr. Platon and I dropped in on Fr. Alexis, the priest in the village of Orekhovets, and spent an unforgettable hour in spiritual discourse with him while the horses rested.
In Arzamas, Fr. Platon and I parted: he left for Moscow, and I stopped in to see my new friend —— the caretaker of the cathedral of St. Sophia, Xenia Dmitrievna.
I returned her staff to her, thanked her for everything and had a heart-to-heart conversation with her.
"I really don't know what to give you as a remembrance of me," said Xenia Dmitrievna, and she thought for a moment. "That’s what! l'll be able to find another icon like this in Sarov, but there's no way you would be able to get one in Leningrad." And she took a small silver icon from around her neck and showed it to me. “You don't have an icon like this, do you?"
I looked and became stupitied. It was the icon with the depiction of the Mother of God "of Tender Feeling" and of St. Seraphim. This was the same icon for which I had prayed with Fr. Platon in the forest the day before.
“This icon," Xenia Dmitrievna explained as she put it on me, "was laid on the forehead and breast of St. Seraphim on the day of the opening of his relics in 1903." I left for home and from that time, now over twenty—live years ago, this icon has always been with me. May God grant that I take it with me to my grave. I ﬁrmly hope for this.
My whole life changed after my pilgrimage to Sarov Monastery. The Lord took from me, in accordance with my prayer at the ditch, all earthly goods, but preserved forever within me, the memory of that moment when, by His limitless mercy, by the mercy of the Most Holy Mother of God and by the prayers of St. Seraphim, I, a sinner, had the completely undeserved honor to experience within me the quiet, joyful, good, and fragrant breathing of the Lord's Holy Spirit.
Translated by Seraphim F. Englehardt from Pravoslavnyi Put“ (in Russian) (1953), pp. 16-25.