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  The Lordís Handmaid  - Olga Seraphimovna Defendova


    There lived in Moscow in this complex time of ours three sisters, Christians. The youngest, Natalya, devoted herself to caring for a sick boy abandoned by his parents; the middle sister, Maria, was an invalid and patiently bore her involuntary seclusion; while the eldest, Olga, dedicated herself to serving her neighbor (she was in charge of an orphanage).

     As circumstances developed, Olga took upon herself to look after the needs of a frail elder, Metropolitan Macarius, living in 1920 in retirement in the monastery of St. Nicholas. He was a great ascetic and manor prayer. In 1923 the monastery was closed and the elder moved into a private apartment. There, too, Olga Seraphimovna continued to care for him--until he died. She buried him by the altar of a local village church. Even after his death she did not abandon him. In 1956, thanks to her persistent prodding, the remains of the deceased metropolitan were transferred to Trinity-Sergius Lavra where they were laid to rest in the Dormition cathedral.

    After the elder's repose, Olga Seraphimovna devoted herself to looking after her bedridden sister, now incurably ill, and to helping her neighbor. She made every effort to bring joy and to be a support to all, beginning with the children of families she knew, to whom on Nativity she would bring a sack with a Christmas tree (at that time forbidden), to the dispossessed and destitute for whom she would beg crumbs from her acquaintances --rations for bread, flour, sugar--thus saving many from hunger. She tried to help everyone.

    Now, when we live in such abundance, it is hard to imagine how awkward it was to beg 200 grams of bread from those who were themselves hungry. What strength of spirit was needed to offer support, to comfort, and to carry about on one's back bundles of assistance for the needy. Olga Seraphimovna would go to the Red Cross and, thanks to her acquaintance with E. Peshkova (Gorky' s wife) she was able to get parcels into the Butyrka prison where clergy were normally detained before being sent into exile.

    For helping the destitute, Olga Seraphimovna herself suffered. In 1932 she and her sister were sent to prison and were sentenced to five years' exile. Because of their poor health they were released from exile.

      In 1936 there was a national census containing, among others, the question: Do you believe in God? Without second thought Olga Seraphimovna answered "Yes." She considered it a great joy to be called upon to confess her faith in God, and congratulated her friends and acquaintances on this opportunity to o p e n 1 y confess their belief in God.

     After her sister died, Olga Seraphimovna gave herself over entirely to helping her neighbor, chiefly "those of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). She called particular attention to the Glinsk Hermitage and the Lebedyansky convent. She collected linens and clothing and sent it all by mail to neighboring villages. Sometimes she sent out as many as 25 parcels at once.

      Olga Seraphimovna dressed very simply and modestly--a white sweater, a kerchief, a black watch on a shoestring. She ate and drank only lenten fare. She counseled not to have any secrets. "There is no such thing which should not be done openly," she reminded everyone.

     In Moscow she lived in Marian Grove, in a tiny room amidst squabbling neighbors who sought her out as an arbitrator in their arguments and fights. Two years before she died her apartment house was razed and she was given a room in a new house with congenial neighbors.

     Olga Seraphimovna was surrounded by the concern of many friends, and she herself --until her last breath--tried to warm everyone's heart, to help and encourage people. Repeated operations were unsuccessful in trying to halt the progress of Breast cancer, and on May 14/27, 1960, at the age of 76, Olga Seraphimovna peacefully departed this life, having partaken of the Holy Mysteries. Garments in a bag she had prepared in the event of her death revealed that she had been secretly tonsured a nun with the name Seraphima.               '


(From "The Treasure of the Vvedensk Hills ," a samizdat manuscript published in Nadezhda #9; Frankfurt, 1983)

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