Priest Alexey Gnevushev
Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works shall he do. (John 14:12)
Not long before His Passion, Christ strengthened the hearts of His disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit and the assurance that through prayer they had power to subdue the prince of this world. And in fact we read with awe the Acts of the Apostles through whose prayers the lame walked, the ears of the deaf were opened and the blind regained their sight. The ascendancy of evil in the world today can only signify a concurrent decline in the ranks of Christ's warriors. And yet, from not so long ago we have examples of those who commanded such boldness in prayer as to force open the very jaws of death itself. One of these was the country priest, Fr. Alexei Gnevushev, a contemporary of the great wonderworker St. Seraphim of Sarov who said of him:
"By his holy prayers this man is like a candle burning before the throne of God. Behold, a toiler who, not having taken the monastic vows, stands higher than many ascetics, tike a star he sheds light upon the horizon of Christianity."
Father Alexei was by no means a "born saint". His early years as a priest were undistinguished. In fact, he even' had a reputation for drunkenness. But one night God knocked sharply at the door of his heart and his soul awoke from sleep. A man came to Fr. Alexei and asked that he go immediately to the bedside of a peasant who was dying in a neighboring village. Irritated at being disturbed late at night, Fr. Alexei decided to postpone his visit until morning. But whenever he shut his eyes to fall asleep, the dying peasant appeared before him. Finally, he could bear it no longer and went to him, The peasant lay on a bench before the icon corner; he was dead. Beside him stood an angel holding a chalice. This so affected Fr. Alexei that he became a changed man. He began to keep a strict, monastic rule; he served daily the Divine Liturgy, dedicating himself entirely to God and the service of His Holy Church. Graced with clairvoyance and the gift of healing, Fr. Alexei became known throughout Russia for the many miracles worked through his intercession both before and after his death. Indeed, were it not for the disruption of the Revolution, the Synod would surely have canonized him. One of the most extraordinary miracles took place not many years before Fr. Alexei's repose.
A 12 year-old boy died in Fr. Alexei's parish. He was an exceptional child and God's grace rested upon him as if he were born an angel; at any rate, that is how people thought of him, and indeed, he looked like one: he had shoulder-length golden curls, and his big blue eyes sparkled when he smiled. Wherever he went he brought peace with him. When he happened to come to someone's hut where people were fighting or quarrelling, he would stand there quietly at the threshold without saying a word, only his radiant eyes would sparkle with a kind of heavenly light. As soon as the people noticed him they would immediately calm down. The boy would then smile, take wing and run somewhere else. Everyone in the village loved him and thought of him as their own child.
Once the villagers were having some kind of big celebration. The men got drunk, and their revelry did not stop for about a week; it finally ended, as so often happens, with a raucous free-for-all. Just at this time the boy became seriously ill, and within a few days he died. When the news spread through the village it produced a sobering effect upon the peasants. There was no end to their crying and sobbing; everyone blamed himself for the boy's death and thought of it as a punishment for their damnable behavior. The women wept and lamented, and the whole village surrounded the hut of the boy's parents and repented before God of their transgressions.
The boy lay in his coffin as if he were alive; the bright smile on his lips was like a silent reproach to the peasants. One glance at the boy and one after another men would leave the hut sobbing, or sighing deeply, their heads bent low.
The boy lay there for a week until signs of decay became visible and greenish spots appeared on his hands...
Then they carried the little coffin to the church and the funeral service began. Choking with tears and sobs, Fr. Alexei and the singers could hardly go on with the service. It was almost five o'clock before anyone could approach the coffin to give the final kiss.
It is impossible to describe what went on in the church. Everyone kept accusing himself of the boy's death; those who had been engaged in heavy drinking and fighting were a sorry sight indeed. As everyone knows, when a Russian commits a sin and comes to himself, his repentance is just as profound and sincere as his sin was grave.
Standing in the altar before the Lord's Table, his hands raised to heaven, Father Alexei with great boldness loudly called out to God: "O my God, my God, Thou seest that I have no strength to say good-bye to this youth. Do not allow me, Thy slave and priest, to leave this church in shame; do not allow the enemy of mankind to have his laugh at me, Thy servant, for having in my weakness interrupted this service... It is beyond my strength... Heed the moaning and weeping of Thy repentant people, heed the suffering of his parents' hearts, heed the request of Thine old priest... Do not take away from us the one who is Thine own, given to us that we might mend our ways and come to our senses and glorify Thy Holy Name. Thou it was, O Lord, Who said that Thou wilt give us all that we ask in faith. Thou, the Merciful One, said to us: 'Ask and it shall be given unto you...' O Righteous God, there is no one in this church who can walk up to this youth to say the last farewell. Neither do I have that kind of strength... O, our God, be merciful to us, hear us, our Lord and God..." Ail of a sudden there was a deep silence in the sanctuary.
Moments later the priest fell to his knees before the altar crying out loud: "Yes, O Lord, yes, but bring this youth back to life, because Thou canst do all things, Thou art our Lord, Thou art Almighty... It is in my humility, not out of pride, that I dare..."
Just as during a raging storm a blinding flash of lightning is followed by thunder, the cry of the old priest lying prostrate on the altar floor was answered by a piercing cry in the church... The priest got up and, turning his head, saw the boy sitting up in his coffin and looking around... As soon as the priest saw this he fell again to his knees before the altar and, crying softly, gave thanks to God for the miracle. Then, leaning on the deacon's arm and without saying a word, he made his way towards the coffin. The commotion that reigned in the church is impossible to describe.
It was only with great difficulty that the priest finally reached the coffin. He lifted the boy in his arms and carried him into the sanctuary; there he placed him on a chair and gave him the Eucharist while kneeling because he was so shaken by what had happened that he could not stand on his feet. Then he brought the resurrected boy to his parents who took him home.
The priest himself did not go home. He asked for a chair to be placed in the middle of the church, and sitting thus, he served a molieben to the Saviour and read an akathist to the Mother of God. Extreme shock and agitation made Fr. Alexei unable either to stand or walkout of the church. Parishioners carried him home, seated in the chair, and put him to bed, where he remained for a week...
The priest lived three more years after this miracle. The boy, after his wondrous rising from the dead, lived for another six years and died at the age of eighteen."
Such is the power of prayer. Such is the true boldness of an Orthodox priest before God.
The world makes a lot of fuss about its achievements in the field of science, but closes its ears and is hopelessly deaf when reminded of the power of prayer, of its great importance in the eyes of God. God is our Father and will never refuse a loving son in whatever the son asks.
(Translated by Mrs. Olga Oleinikov from Bogosoznanie by Archpriest Nicholas Deputatov)