Orthodox America

  Return to Diveyevo

Another pilgrim offers this account, excerpted from a letter addressed to Archpriest Victor Potapov

       I, Alexey Petrovich Artsibushev, was born in 1919 in the town of Diveyevo....Like millions of people in our much-suffering country, I spent time in labor camps and exile, ten years for belonging to the clandestine “Tikhonite" Church. By profession I am an artist. I live in Moscow. As soon as I learned that the Trinity cathedral in Diveyevo was returned to the faithful, I made a trip to this place of my birth, the first in over forty years...

      The majestic Trinity cathedral is stripped and grimy, but at its base flicker signs of life. Restoration has begun. Locals and people who have come from various parts of Russia, women mostly, are raking and dragging out tons of debris on makeshift pallets. Hammers pound, breaking up the time-rotten floors and stripping off damp plaster. Here it is, the cathedral which I remember so well from my childhood; here it is, the convent of the Mother of God, who appointed herself its abbess unto the age to come. There, to the right of the solea, in a carved kiot reached by three steps, with ever-burning vigil lamps, stood her wonderworking icon "Of Compunction,'' before which St. Seraphim knelt when he gave his holy soul into the hands of God. God, time and people carefully preserved this icon, which in time must once again come and stand in its "abbatial" place. But there is need of much labor, effort and funds before this moment foretold by St. Seraphim can arrive. 

     The blessing of the altar and the Trinity cathedral was scheduled to take place on March 31, the Laudation of the Theotokos. My daughter and I arrived in Diveyevo the previous day. This was my second trip to the place of my birth. It was the first time my daughter saw that which I had so often told her about.

      Near the cathedral an enormous, bronze-plated cross lay on some boards. A group of women crowded around it--Russian "myrrhbearers". "Before Thy Cross, we bow down, O Master..." they sang, standing on their knees, weeping and wiping their tears. They stood up and again fell to their knees, singing over and over in their peculiar country-style voices, "Before Thy Cross, we bow down', O  Master”, Girded by cables, the cross began its ascent into the blue sky. The "myrrhbears”, stretching forth their hands, continued to sing and weep.

    The cross, looking smaller and smaller, floated towards two climbers sitting atop the cupola. It became obvious that the hoist was not long enough to reach the pinnacle; the climbers tried to straighten the cross, but without success. A row ensued and the cross broke loose and fell onto the roof of the cathedral. The crowd gasped. "The devil is meddling!" whispered an old woman, crossing herself. Towards evening, as we made our way to visit one of Diveyevo's last living nuns, we saw from a distance the cross atop the cupola, glistening in the rays of the setting sun.

         Ninety-year-old Nun Evfrosinia, Margarita in schema, returned straight from the camps and exile to the holy walls of this convent of the Mother of God. She knew me from my childhood, knew my grandfather, father and mother, and now I came with my daughter. Through a low doorway we passed into the humble dwelling; it was filled with the light of candles and vigil lamps burning before an enormous icon of St. Seraphim, his right hand raised in blessing. From a small table Matushka Evfrosinia brought an old iron box; carefully and reverently she took out and placed before the' icon a pair of cuffs, a cross and chains which the Saint had worn. We crossed ourselves and venerated these relics. As we left, Matushka smiled and blessed us. "So, we have met once again, Alyosha, and now I have seen your daughter. God grant that we can meet yet again. Is everything ready in the cathedral for tomorrow's vigil?"

          There in the cathedral many women were tirelessly at work washing the newly laid granite slabs of the floor; in the center stood a newly constructed hierarchal cathedra; there is a plywood iconostasis with niches for future icons. In a niche to the right of the Royal Doors stands temporarily an icon of the Saviour; to the left--an icon of the Mother of God. The solea and floor are of white planed wood; new carpets are being laid; in the center there is a new, oak altar table, still bare. Vestments hang in the right sacristy. Icons brought from the chapel are being hung on hooks protruding here and there from the walls. The atmosphere is filled with bustle and joy. The walls and support columns are stripped of plaster down to the bricks. New doors are being hung; a bulldozer is moving heaps of debris from around the cathedral in preparation for a church procession during the consecration. Everywhere there is a flurry of activity; it is women, principally, who are at work. At the entrance to the cathedral, bells are being hung on log beams; they are small, but they are bells...

         Friday evening the enormous cathedral is filled to overflowing, crowds have come from Moscow and other Russian cities for this unique celebration. For Orthodox Russia it is an event of great spiritual significance. St. Seraphim's prophecies concerning Diveyevo are being, and will be fulfilled. Those who packed the cathedral that Friday were the first witnesses. True, the walls are bare bricks, the iconostasis is of plywood and still without icons, the holy graves are covered with asphalt, the praises of the Theotokos are not sung before her Icon of Compunction; nevertheless, a miracle has occurred! After sixty-three years, the walls of the Diveyevo cathedral hear once again the chanting:. "To thee the Champion leader we thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and thanksgiving..."

        Carrying a sticharion, I approach the bishop in the altar for a blessing. 'Vladika, in this cathedral sixty-four years ago, Bishop Seraphim Zvenzdinsky blessed me, a seven year-old boy, to put on a sticharion; I ask your blessing to put it on for this jubilant evening" "God bless," said VladiIca, and, after sixty-four years, I once again vested in this cathedral.

    During the vigil, I was asked to go around with a collection plate. “A plate?!” I exclaimed. “Here one needs to go around with a bucket!” Three of us went; they had me go first. As I made my way through the crowd, I repeated a single phrase: "For the convent of the Mother of Cod, for the convent of the Mother of God." Hands reached out from all sides; tens, fives, hundreds poured into the basin; all three basins were filled to excess, filled with widows' mites. But even this is but a drop in the bucket in comparison with what is needed to restore "the Mother of God's convent." Knowing as I do what used to be and seeing its present state, I am acutely aware of this.

      I am writing in such detail and so emotionally, dear Batiushka, knowing that the events which I have described are dear to your heart, but also with the hope that the Russian Church of your country will find a way to materially assist the "Mother of God's Convent." Perhaps with your help and participation, the Orthodox Russian people of your country will respond with a donation to realize St. Seraphim's prophecy. Diveyevo needs help; our own resources are pitiful, and they are dispersed among many churches and monasteries which are being reopened here in Russia. How it is to be realized I don't know; I only know that this must be done...  

       At ninety-two, Schema-nun Margaret, or 'Mother Frosya,' as she is still popularly called, retains a clear mind, and has preserved in her memory the recent history of Diveyevo and its inhabitants. Her recollections appeared-last year in a new publication of the Moscow Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Readings (1990-3), excerpted below. 

     For years after St. Seraphim's repose the monks and nuns recalled him saying something that seemed rather bard to understand. Once, on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, he was heard to say: “Time will come when my dear orphans shall pour out like beans from the Nativity Gates."

       What kind of gates will this be? the nuns kept asking one another. In 1927, the nuns were preparing for the patronal feast of the convent--the Nativity of the Holy Virgin. Mother Margaret recalls: "Small Vespers were to begin at two o'clock, and I had to ring the bell. So I went to the belfry door, but it was closed and there was a policeman guarding it. He refused to let me in.

       "A week later the convent was closed... And we all scattered to different places." And there was pouring rain. The sisters then recalled St. Seraphim's strange prophecy about "the Nativity Gates". The local authorities told the nuns that they could stay in their cells, but wear ordinary civilian dresses. There must be no icons in their workshops and there must be a bust of Lenin instead. There was a hierarch in disguise who told them that no matter what happened to them in the world, each of them was to remain true to her monastic vow.

       The nuns left the convent and settled in the surrounding villages. Each of them kept the daily rule of prayer and they all met for clandestine services. Now and then some wandering priest or hieromonk or even a bishop, would celebrate Divine Liturgy in someone's home. This kind of life went on for a decade, until 1937.

      In 1937 the sisters were summoned for "troika" trials (a kind of three-man tribunal). "Did you go to church?" asked the judge. 'Wes, I did," was the standard answer. "All right. So I find you guilty of vagrancy!'' Sentences ranged from three to ten years...

      When we lived in the village near the monastery, there was a certain Maria Ivanovna with us, who was a bit out of her mind. I took care of her when she was on her deathbed, and all of us would ask her when we would return to the convent. "Do not worry," she told us, "You will all be in a convent. Only instead of your names, you will all have numbers." Pointing at me, she said my number would be 338. I remembered this number, and when we were in jail this was the number they gave me. So that was the convent for us.

      They took us to a prison camp in Tashkent. Some of the guards were all right, others were not. It was winter and bitterly cold. So as soon as the train left the station the guard would knock on the walls of the carriage and order us to sing some cheerful song. Instead, we would sing some hymns and prayers from the All-Night Vigil. On our arrival in Tashkent each gad to pass through a "body search" with no clothes on. They took away our crosses. That was really the worst... But then we were ordered to work on some primitive local looms. These machines gad some wooden parts that were easily rmade into crosses. As soon as we went to the bath, all these new crosses were discovered and reported to the prison chief. But he somehow decided to leave us alone. At that time we all agreed amongst ourselves that we had to go through this trial for the sins of the people.

      By the end of the 1940s most of the nuns had completed their sentences and moved back to their convent--or what was left of it. Many got jobs on the surrounding farms and some in the town of Diveyevo, which became an administrative center. Then came the harsh years of Khrushchev persecutions, and it became dangerous to meet for common prayer. But the Lord did not abandon his flock.

      Sisters grew old and died, and their place in the community was taken by new ones. The prayerful life of the Diveyevo community went on. And now life seems to be getting back to normal. Like Mother Alexandra's small community, Diveyevo is again attracting sisters seeking monastic life...