Orthodox America

  Diveyevo Returns to Life

      Go to the Russian north and visit all of my holy monasteries of Great Russia, and there I shall show you a place where you shall live out your God-pleasing life; there...I shall found a great convent, upon which I shall bestow all the blessings of God as well as my own, just as I have with my three other domains on earth: Georgia, Athos and Kiev.

    In keeping with these words, spoken by the Mother of God in a vision to Nun Alexandra, the great Russian convent of Diveyevo was established. 

    Kolkhoz workers dressed in their finest, robust technical school students and youngsters with  large red bows in their hair, flags, slogans and placards, artificial flowers and portraits, pioneer scarves and policemen's megaphones glinting in the sun--this is what we saw from the windows of the old, rickety bus along the entire route from Arzamas to Diveyevo. It was May 1, "International Workers' Solidarity Day." However, neither the paper flowers, nor the portraits could spoil the joy of our long awaited meeting with this holy land. Behind the portraits we saw the serene Russian landscape which brings such peace to the soul: the greening fields, gentle hills sprinkled with villages and, what is amazing, nearly every one of these villages has a church or at least a belfry (of course, we try not to think about the fact that these are just walls, the remnants of former "heavenly ships"). Around us is land which was crisscrossed by the feet of saints, by pilgrims and simple believers who walked about Russia by the thousands, bound for holy places in order to venerate their wonder-working icons; they walked to see great elders and receive spiritual counsel, consolation and blessing; they walked with their sicknesses in hopes of God's mercy; they walked with repentant tears to monasteries great and small... This land is full of memories and has much to tell. One needs only to know how to listen. 

      The land beneath us is holy, and all living on it and its surroundings will be saved; and whoever will remember me in prayer, I, in turn, shall not abandon in my prayers. St. Seraphim

 Diveyevo is a large provincial village, indistinguishable from thousands of this type. We were unpleasantly surprised and disappointed by this gray mediocrity and the absence of even a hint of that miracle which we so impatiently anticipated.

      Admittedly, when the monastery's foundress, Nun Alexandra (Agafia Semyonovna Melgunova---a landowner, the widow of a colonel, owner of 700 serfs, a large estate and considerable capital) first set eyes on Diveyevo in 1760, it was a similarly rustic village, distinguished from many others only by its unenviable reputation: its factories, built in proximity to Diveyevo's iron mines, attracted large numbers of workers, among whom drunkenness, debauchery, fights and beatings were rampant. Clearly, at that time such a place---which St. Seraphim was later to call the "abode of demons"--seemed wholly unsuitable for the establishment of a monastic community. It was, however, precisely here that Agafia Semyonovna twice had a vision of the Mother of God, who told her: "This is that place which I instructed you to find in northern Russia, when I first appeared to you in Kiev... I shall found here my convent which has not and will not have an equal anywhere in the world: this is my fourth domain." /.../

      On this land, which had until then been a stranger to miracles, with the blessing of the Queen of Heaven herself and through the efforts of the great servant of God, Agafia Semyonovna, and under the spiritual guidance and support of the Sarov Hermitage elders, there was established in 1788 a small convent with a great and wondrous future. Before she died, Matushka Alexandra entrusted her inexperienced novices and the Diveyevo community to the young Sarov ascetic, hierodeacon Seraphim. And for the rest of his life he remained faithful to his promise and cared for the Diveyevo nuns as if they were his own sisters and daughters. He knew all the details about life in the community, where everything was done only with his blessing; if his rules were even unintentionally violated, the sisters were chastened by divine providence. The Saint himself did nothing in the convent of his own will; rather, he followed the commands of the Mother of God...

      I shall not go into detail about how the Saint's many prophecies were gradually fulfilled, about what storms arose against his poor orphans, about how, in spite of everything; the community grew from strength to strength until, by the turn of this century, its territory had attained enormous proportions (“this is  province, not a monastery”). There were scores of buildings: churches, refectories, residential complexes, workshops, bridges, fences. The community numbered around a thousand nuns. Under the protection of the Mother of God, the community continued to expand right up to the catastrophe which fell upon it by God's allowance, for our sins and impiety. In1921, the fourth year of Soviet rule, the Diveyevo convent was destroyed, the bells were silenced, churches and cells were emptied. Possibly this was permitted so that, before the coming end, our land be cleansed and hallowed through people's suffering, washed with martyrs' blood, in order that by allowing such a hell on earth, those who endure to the end should escape the everlasting hell.

      ...There are prophecies concerning Diveyevo's future, prophecies whose fulfillment we may soon witness if, of course, we are worthy of this. The first prophecy is that Diveyevo will be the only women's lavra [1] in the world. 'There has never been a women's lavra, but I, wretched Seraphim, will have such a lavra in Diveyevo....In the last times you will have an abundance of everything, but then it will already be the end."

      The second prophecy concerning the end of time: "there will be an abundance before the end, then life will be short. The angels will scarcely have time to gather souls....At the end of the age you will have a magnificent catholicon... Antichrist will come, but it will rise up into the air and he will be unable to take it. Those worthy ones, who will enter it, will remain therein, while others, although they also entered, will fall to earth... When that catholicon is built then the Moscow bell, Ivan's bell, will come of itself to us by air! When it is hung and rung for the first time, then we shall awake! In the middle of summer they will celebrate Pascha!"

       St. Seraphim foretold that when his body (i.e., his relics) is opened in Sarov and invisibly passes over to Diveyevo, there will be such joy that in the midst of summer they will chant the hymns of Pascha. Indeed, should such a miracle occur in our days, it will turn unbelievers to God and will inspire all with repentance; then we will certainly sing: "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered.." and "This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

             The restoration of the monastery should give us to understand that the hour is not far off when the trumpet shall sound, the saints will gather from the four ends of the earth, the heavens will roll up like a scroll, and the earth and all thereon will be changed...

             We now hear that this restoration has begun, that the monastic community has been reborn. And so we stand on this holy ground in anticipation of a miracle...

               From childhood I had a habit of investigating everything, crawling into every corner and not leaving until there was nothing more to discover. In just this way we set about to investigate the Trinity cathedral. We slid down an incline into an underground area which turned out to be a lower church with three chapels. It's terrible to say but now there is a public toilet there. The roof in the main section is on the verge of collapse. Climbing onto a pile of bricks, one could survey the entire cathedral. It is really enormous. Eight altars! Where else could you find such a cathedral? And everything about it serves, as it were, as a symbol of the approaching times. But what of the inside? Without exaggerating or minimizing, one can say that all that remain are bare walls, bearing the signatures of all too familiar graffiti; in the acoustical apertures in the walls birds have woven nests; in places fragments of frescos have been preserved, painted by talented nun-iconographers (the cathedral boasted some unique paintings not found anywhere else in Russia); on a support column in the left chapel was a fresco of St. Seraphim, riddled with bullet holes, the faces of angels with expressions of unearthly sorrow over our sinful world and the foolishness of its inhabitants, the Mother of God surrounded by twelve virgins, the four Evangelists, the Lord Almighty. A passage from the Psalms of David, almost untouched either by time or human malice, is written on the arch above the iconostasis of the main altar: Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest, Thou, and the ark of Thy strength (Ps. 131:8); "Into Thy rest"--the ark of the Covenant, the place of the special presence of God, a prefiguration of the altar; "the altar of holiness"--this refers to the Mother of God (the Dormition service).

      What can one add to this? I shall voice my opinion using the words of the wise Solomon: How could anything have endured, if it had not been Thy will? (Wisd. 11:25). Of course, the defilement of such a great holy place strikes the heart of the Orthodox person with intolerable pain, but God's will is over all and we should marvel not at the works of sinners; but trust in the Lord (Eccles. 11:21), trust---and be thankful for all things. As it was revealed to one contemporary priest, a spiritual man, the cathedral has not died; life continues in it invisibly, angels serve the Divine Liturgy.

      Passing by the Trinity cathedral we decided to knock again, just in case. Unexpectedly the door opened and an old woman in a white kerchief peered out. We threw ourselves at her with our numerous questions, as if to a fount of living water, but she either couldn't or didn't want to satisfy the insatiable curiosity of us citified strangers. Here, briefly, is what she told us. The cathedral had been blessed on March 31, i.e., a month prior to our arrival; services are not yet held every day: Saturdays---All night vigil; Sundays, feast days and some weekdays---Divine Liturgy. Diveyevo now has it own priest and deacon (brothers), who moved here with their families. In the village lives the last of the Diveyevo nuns, Schema-nun Margarita, who has reverently preserved some personal belongings of St. Seraphim. We were saddened, finally, to hear that it is impossible to get to Sarov, it's a closed zone (there are some kind of military installations there). Having said this, the old woman opened the doors and invited us in.

      The inside of the cathedral looks like many churches which, by God's mercy, have recently been returned to the Church, and even in considerably better condition than many of them: the walls are bare, the iconostasis is not ready (it has only two icons), there are a number of icons on the walls, In a far corner, where candles are sold, paper icons of the Kazan Mother of God and of St. Seraphim  are displayed. That is all But there is life here, life is pulsating, because several times a week people gather to praise and give thanks to the Creator of all, and where two or three are gathered in the name of the Lord, there the Lord Himself is invisibly present among them.


     Three months passed. The morning of July 30 I still didn't know that that evening I would leave for Diveyevo (it always seems to happen as if by chance). Early the next morning, at 4:30 a.m., my friend Alia and I stood on the square outside the train station of Arzamas. Thousands of Orthodox faithful were trying to find transportation to Diveyevo. There are so few buses to Diveyevo that even on ordinary days people are turned away, while on this day people were ready to ride on the roof if given the opportunity. There were only a few taxis and the fare grew with every minute; private car owners were regular rogues, demanding an average month's wages. In short, like thousands of other pilgrims, we found ourselves with no way of reaching our destination. But before giving way to despair, we decided to read an akathist to St. Seraphim, following a book which had been given to us at Novo-Diveyevo. Slowly, we chanted it in its entirety--with the prayers, the troparion, kontakion. Afterwards we very calmly went out onto the square, an empty car drove up, we got in and rode to Diveyevo. It was a miracle, a real miracle of St. Seraphim!

      We were present at a phenomenal historical event--the first celebration of St. Seraphim's feast in the monastery since its closure. The crowds were unbelievable; it seemed that the whole of Russia had left home in order to venerate the Saint in the convent he had nurtured.

      Who are the Russian pilgrims of the late 20th century? The overwhelming majority are simple Russian and non-Russian (Ukrainian, Chuvash) old women, who come from all corners of the country (having first, of course, saved their pennies in order, first of all, to get there and, second, to buy candles, icons, to commemorate all their relatives--living and departed). These old women all seem to have the same face--wrapped in the same kerchief, wearing identical sweaters and skirts, identical slippers or galoshes (or boots, if they, are more fortunate), carrying identical bags with similar contents, and; chiefly, wearing the same expressions--full of that poverty of spirit which may the Lord grant also to us. Their unpretentiousness is remarkable; they can go without eating for days at a time, sleep sitting or even standing, endure absolutely everything--cold, heat, overcrowding, beatings, offenses, and give thanks for the smallest kindness and be completely content with it. They are like this winter and summer, in any Russian Orthodox monastery, in the twentieth century just as, probably, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

       Another group of pilgrims consists of poor and destitute men, invalids, fools-for-Christ and wanderers (although nowadays it's dangerous to be a wanderer, spiritually dangerous; nearly all the wanderers I've met in my numerous pilgrimages have been in a state of deception--prelest; among them were even priests). Then there are young people, with strikingly thin, pale faces and long hair and beards; they resemble angels, not men. They are usually oblivious to noise and bustle, their faces reflecting tranquility and blessedness; they readily stand out in a crowd. These are people of prayer, future monks (or already monks), and are such for life. They, too, resemble one another. A study could be made of them. There are young women like them, but far fewer.

      On the morning of August 1 there was a procession around the cathedral. In three months little had changed. Besides, it had been pouring rain for several days and there were deep puddles and mud everywhere. Considering the fact that Russians don't like to move slowly and in an orderly fashion but tend to press and tear ahead, it's quite remarkable that no one fell, no one was crushed. I myself took part in this procession and can testify that I've never seen anything like it. True, that day everything and everyone was filled with joy, and the procession, for whose sake the clouds dispersed and the sun shone, was accompanied by a light sprinkle, which appeared as if from nowhere.

      One of the principal results of the feast was an agreement reached between the local authorities and the Patriarchate concerning the return to the Church of the large, still unconsecrated cathedral and the belfry with the adjacent buildings. Glory to God! Now all that is needed is to restore it (it will take a maximum of three years) and services can be held there.

      The fate of the other two churches--the Kazan and the Refectory church--is this: the Kazan church (located in the square outside the monastery, opposite the belfry) is occupied by a warehouse; it has no roof, no cupolas, and the upper story is missing. So far there are no plans for its restoration, at least nothing has been heard about this. Behind its altar are the graves of Abbess Alexandra, Mother Maria (Martha, in schema) and yet another righteous nun. The area was cemented over, but they were unable to obliterate the place where the graves are located. A birch tree squeezed through the cement over Abbess Alexandra's grave; last year they wanted to cut it down but it refused the saw. What's more, birch trees are ordinarily marked with odd-shaped black patches on their white bark, while the patches on this tree all take the form of various-sized crosses; one large cross even has the tilted cross-bar. But what is most extraordinary, in the bark there is miraculously depicted an icon of the Kazan Mother of God. A person with even a slight acquaintance with iconography would recognize it at first glance. The depiction is so obvious that pious Russians place candles and pray before it. At the place of another grave, grass breaks through the cement every spring; it is re-cemented, but the grass pays no heed to those foolish people and comes up again. Near the south wall of the church is Motovilov's grave.

      Today the Refectory church is occupied by a children's library and a movie theater. There is yet another church--the only one, it seems, located within the canal--also in wretched condition; it looks as if it, too, is used as a warehouse. A church not far from the spring is used as a pharmacy. That is how Diveyevo looks today.

(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus', 12/14/90)


 [1] A monastery of major significance; often having dependencies; there were only four in Russia: Kiev Caves, St. Alexander Nevsky, Pochaev and Holy Trinity-St. Sergius.