In the heart of Russia, about eight miles from the famous Optina Monastery, is the village of Shamordino. Just over a hundred years ago there lived near this village a poor landowner together with his aged wife. Once he saw in a vision that on his property there was a church in the clouds. When he visited Optina, one of the monks, Elder Ambrose, persuaded him to sell his property to the monastery. The money to buy the land was given by a nun, Mother Ambrosia.
Mother Ambrosia had two granddaughters, the twins Vera and Lyubov (Faith and Love) whose mother had died sh9rtly after giving them birth. Their father remarried and the two half-orphans remained in the care of their grandmother with whom they lived. Elder Ambrose was the godfather of the two girls whom he loved dearly and cared for very much. He suggested that Mother Ambrosia move to the new property with her grand- daughters. "And perhaps," he added to con sole her, "we also will come to visit you."
And so it was that in the summer of 1872 Mother Ambrosia, together with the two girls and her household servants, moved to their new home near Shamordino. That same summer Elder Ambrose came to visit and look over the property. He blessed Mother Ambrosia to build a new house for herself and the young women who used to work for her but now lived with her as sister-novices "We will have a monastery here," the Elder told them. And that is just what happened.
Soon other women began to join the community. Their life even then was very similar to monastic life. Elder Ambrose came to visit every summer. According to his plan, a large living room was built on the east side of the house, while the rooms for the girls were on the less attractive north side. Mother Ambrosia did not care for this arrangement, but she did not know that the Elder had in mind the need for a church.
Mother Ambrosia was concerned to give her granddaughters a good education, not only regarding religious matters of which they already knew so much, but also worldly subjects. When the children had begun to grow up, she asked the Elder's blessing to hire a French governess and to give them nicer clothes. But to her distress, the Elder refused to give his blessing. He already knew that the girls would have no need of such a worldly education. Instead, his concern was to help them learn how to please God and to prepare them for another life-a life which is not of this world.
Already the girls were leading an ascetic life. They ate very little; they prayed often and knew the order of services so well that they themselves would celebrate the All-night Vigil together with the responses of the priest. Their grandmother was concerned about this, but Elder Ambrose only said, "Let them pray; they are in poor health."
Following the counsel of the Elder, Mother Ambrosia also bought several large pieces of land next to her property. She wondered why the Elder wanted her to buy all that land. She did not know that God had revealed to Elder Ambrose that soon a convent would be founded there which would become famous all over Russia, with hundreds of nuns.
In 1881 Mother Ambrosia died and her granddaughters, who were then 10 years old, inherited all her property. Together with their pious governesses and the novices, they continued to live as before, simply and quietly. They loved each other very much and were always together. They eagerly attended the long monastic services and their love for God grew with each day. It is believed that the Elder told them they did not have long to live, but they did not fear death. Many times they said to their governesses:
"We do not wish to live more than 12 years; what is there good in this life?"
Their father thought such a strictly religious life was not good for the girls, and he decided to send them to a boarding school. With the blessing of Elder Ambrose they were placed in the Orlov boarding school where the head-mistress at that time was a kind- hearted, pious woman who was devoted to Elder Ambrose.
When the time came for summer vacation, the father of the girls wanted them to come stay with him and have fun like other children. But the girls begged him to allow them to spend some time in Optina with their dearly beloved godfather. God saw the desires of their hearts and so arranged it that, with their father's permission, the girls went first to Optina to see Elder Ambrose. This was in the spring of 1883. After coming to Optina, the girls suddenly became very ill, one right after the other. They were placed in separate rooms so that one might not become more infected by the other. While they still had strength, they often wrote notes to the Elder, asking for his holy prayers and his blessing. Both were given confession and Holy Communion. They were not getting better and it was clear to everyone that the time had come for the Lord, as the Chief Shepherd, to take to Himself these two meek lambs who, all their short life, had listened so carefully and obediently to His voice.
On June 4, Vera died. The novices who were looking after both the sick girls, did not tell Lyubov about this. They were afraid this would upset her and she would get worse but Lyubov, who had been sleeping, suddenly woke up and asked, "Did Vera die?" Vera's nurse was going to say she was still alive, but the girl quickly said, "How can she be alive? My governess just told me that she has died." But no governess was there. Apparently she had learned of this in a dream.
Four days later Lyubov also died and went to join her dear sister so that just as they had been born together and grown up together, so also they might stand together before the Face of the heavenly Bridegroom Who loved them.
Almost immediately after the repose of the righteous girls, even before it officially became a convent, the community at Shamordino began to grow greatly. There were many widows, blind and deaf women, cripples and orphans who needed help and Elder Am brose now had a place to take them in. Before his death there were 50 orphan girls in the Convent orphanage, more than a hundred cripples and an old-age home run by the nuns. Later there was a hospital where poor people were treated for free.
Thus did the prayers and the God-pleasing lives of the two young girls Vera and Lyubov, bring forth abundant fruit and comfort to so many needy souls.
(Condensed from "The Orthodox Word", May June, 1974)[../../_private/oabot.htm]