28Eldress Agatha of Belo-Russia
AND HER SERVICE TO THE CATACOMB CHURCH
Commemorated Feb. 5 (†1939)
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith; henceforth
there is laid up for me a crown.
II Tim. 4:7-8
When ‘the frightful, bloody October Revolution occurred in our home land, believing people immediately sensed the anti-Christian spirit of the so- called Soviet ‘authority.’ Many rose up in battle against this Satanic author ity. But there were also those who in fact could not enter into battle against the Bolsheviks; to such ones belonged Matushka Agatha. Being about 100 years old, she spent her nights in prayer with believers, praying to God for the sal vation of Russia. She did not have any other opportunity to fight against the Bolsheviks than by the word of God. Spreading this among believing people, she taught them not to submit to the Soviet authority under any circumstances, even if they had to suffer, as subsequently happened to many. Before the Revolution she was known only by probably a few people; but during the Revo lution and after it, and especially in the frightful ‘30’s, she became widely known to the residents of the nearby regions of the place where she lived.
Those who had suffered the terrors of the Revolution and the persecu tion against the true Church, did not go to the so-called “Renovationist Church.” It is characteristic that even the priests who did submit themselves to the So viet government despised these uncompromising people, saying, “No matter what you do, eventually you will have to come to us.”
At first the true priests — this is what Matushka Agatha called them, because they did not submit to the Soviet government — performed Divine Services in churches; but when the persecution was raised against them, they went out into the world and served secretly, fulfilling the necessary services for believing people. These priests established the Catacomb Church, whose places of worship were known only by the faithful. These priests would stop by Matushka Agatha’s, and there often they would serve Divine services. This news was spread among the believers; thus Matushka Agatha became known to a large group of people who were devoted to the Catacomb Church. During their visitation of Matushka Agatha, her clairvoyance was revealed, which attracted more people who were seeking the true Church.
One day when she was twelve years old, the parents went far into the fields to work, and she lay quietly there in the garden, when all of i sudden a beautiful Lady appeared, just like in the icons of the Mother of God, and said, “Slave of God, Agatha get up !“ “And I,” Matushka Agatha later recalled, began to weep bitterly, and I said, ‘I Cannot get up, because from my early childhood I have been in a lying position. It is already twelve years that I can not get up.’ But the Lady said, ‘Get up and go. Go into your house !‘“ how can I get up ?“ she said. Then the Lady took her by the hand and lifted her and at this moment her legs became firm, as if they had never been ailing. Then the Lady said to her, “Take your bedding, and bring it into your house. Go to the house, dean it up, put everything in order, until your parents come. Light the oven and fix supper for your parents. Go to the barn and feed the cattle.
Having done everything, go, sit up on the stove, and quietly wait for them. But when your parents will come and ask you to join them for supper, you do not come down; let them eat supper by themselves.” Having said this, She became invisible. Agatha understood that this was the Mother of God Herself. Later Mother Agatha said that the Mother of God told her other things also, but she never revealed them.
Then she thanked God from the botton of her heart, and went for the first time on her strengthened legs to the house; she cleaned up the house, swept the floor. And when ‘the cattle returned from the field — the sheep, the swine, the cows — then for the first time in her life, she gently stroked them. She led them in, milked the cows, strained the milk, and, having prepared supper, took out the ashes and put them in the pit, put the supper into the oven to keep it warm, and then sat quietly on the stove to wait. When the parents arrived, they saw that the cattle were not outside. Fearing that something was wrong, they quickly ran to the garden and looked under the pear tree — but there was no one there. Then they rushed into the house and they saw that their daughter was sitting quietly on the stove. They asked her, “Our dear daughter, who helped you up onto the stove?” Then she told her parents what happened, and how she fixed everything for the first time in her life. She conduded, “Go and eat the supper. The mother went to the oven, opened it, put the food on the table, and began to call the daughter to have supper with them. But the girl did not want to go down, and said that the Lady told her not to come down and eat supper with them. But the parents began to weep and lament, begging her to come down, so that they could see that she, after twelve years, could really walk. And now, moved by their plea, because of the love of her parents, she came down off the stove and quietly sat at the table. As soon as the supper was finished and they began to get up from the table, she suddenly discovered that her knees had become “glued together” (her legs were para lyzed) and she began to weep, remembering that she had not fulfilled the com mandment of the Mother of God.
Thus she remained for the rest of her life. Then followed nine years of her constant cries and prayers. She would spend the whole night cn her knees on the bed, crying both from pain and from sadness. And her mother learned to quiet her down by giving her a little piece of sugar, and then the girl would stop sobbing for a while. She was their only daughter. By the time she was 21 years old, she, thanks, to God, could slowly move on her own strength, but had no control of her legs above her knees.
Moving slowly, she even walked twelve times on pilgrimage to the Kiev Caves Monastery, which was 125 miles from their village, on the tributary of the Dniepr, the river Sorozh. She already showed signs of a great ascetic and woman of prayer. She lived in the garden of her parents, in a little hut which was built for her, which consisted of one room. It looked like a log cabin. But when her parents died, she remained alone and spent her life in ascetic labors and prayers. Mother Agatha told us that she was deemed worthy once more to see the Mother of God, but again she did not tell us how and when it took place. She had a gift of dairvoyance, and many people began to come to her as to an Lidress. They would gather at her place usually in order to pray to God: they would read the Psalter and sing Akathists. And after prayer, Mother Agatha would always give a teaching on the law of God.
After the death of her parents, she took in a little orphan boy, who helped her in her garden work and other errands. She brought him up, and he became a church reader in the village church. When she was younger, she herself used to walk to church to all the services without fail; but when she became older, people made her a little cart, and would pull this “wheelchair” and bring her to church, and she would sit in it during the service. They would come to her from long distances, in great numbers, and with love would bring her to church. When her church was turned into• a “Living Church” after the Revolution, she stopped attending it.
The orphan boy was called Andrew, Later on he got married, built a house and lived with his own four little boys. And Matushka remained living in the house of her parents, which eventually burned to the ground. Then they built for her another cabin with the help of Andrew and one rich man by the name of Kirey, who lived on a Stolypin ranch. Her house was built right next to where the pear tree was growing. This Kirey also made for her a coffin, which was placed in her house. But this house also burned together with the coffin. Then they built for her another one, also with a coffin, and that one burned again. And then Andrew took her into his own house and the boys looked after her.
The believers who were thirsting for the word of God visited Matushka Agatha, begging her advice and prayers. She gave advice to all who came to her with a pure heart, but there were cases when she did not wish to receive people, and after some time it became clear that they had fallen into some sin. People who visited her received indicaions on how to act towards the Soviet authority. She would say, “My little children” (as she would call her true Orthodox visitors), “do not submit to the Soviet authority, because it is an authority not from God. Do not go into the collective farms under any pretense. Let them take away your property and rights; but do not go to them, do not sign up for them.” The registration as collective farmers, who supposedly signed up ‘voluntarily’ for 99 years in the collective farm, she viewed as one of the forms of the seal of antichrist (99 upside down forms two digits of the “number of the beast” in Apoc. 13:18). She said that they should avoid the census — “Hide from the census of antichrist,” she said; “you will get nothing from this.” Especially she recommended to avoid voting, and almost everyone who visited her avoided voting and the census.
Among her numerous visitors were many family people who had children of school age. She advised parents that their children who attended school should not enter into the groups of the “Octoberites,” “Pioneers,” “Young Communists,” and so forth. She likewise advised that their children should not take vaccinations which were periodically given to school children. This was justified by the fact that at one time children died by being infected by the vaccinations.
Concerning the Soviet church she said, “This is not a tfue church. It has signed a contract to serve antichrist. Do not go to it. Do not receive any Mysteries from its servants. Do not participate in prayer with them. There will come a time when churches will be opened in Russia, and the true Orthodox faith will triumph. Then people will become baptized, as at one time they were baptized under St. Vladimir. When the churches are opened for the first time, do not go to them because these will not be true churches; but when they are opened the second time, then go — these will be the true churches.* I will not live to see this time, but many of you will live to this time. The atheist Soviet authority will vanish, and all its servants will perish.” All those people to whom she spoke believe her words. Some of them are now living abroad and are awaiting the fulfillment of her prophecies, for much has already been fulfilled of what she spoke. As for what she prophecied to each one separately, all has been fulfilled.
Her little log cabin was not a large one, but it had room for many people. There was an icon corner with many icons, and large candlestands with burning candles. There were three oil lamps burning perpetually. In front of the icon corner was an analogian with the Psalter, which was read and sung often.
In. appearance, Matushka was of very short stature, all white, as if made out of wax. Her eyes were light grey, full of light, and bright. She talked very slowly, softly and in a sing-song manner, at the same time slowly walking in tiny steps about her humble dwelling. Most of the time she spent in spinning flax, making yarn with her hands, while her mouth was repeating the Jesus prayer without stop. People would bring to her their home-spun linen as, gifts, but the would give them away to poor people and to priests to make cassocks. Whoever would visit her, she would always make them eat dinner or supper with her, while she herself ate little. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for her were strict fast days. She wore simple peasant clothes.
She would almost never smile, but had a gift of teaching, during which she often would make unhurried signs of the cross over herself very solemnly. Her talks were very interesting — almost all in parables, some of which were prophecies. Her gift of clairvoyance was astonishing, of which we are living witnesses. There were also cases of real miracles.
Once on the way to Matushka from Diatlovka I was walking with a group of young women, and one of them, Melania, said that Matushka was probably illiterate and could not read, since she did not go to school; yet she knows so much from the Gospels and the Bible. When we arrived and had rested for a while, Matushka, who was sitting on her couch, said to a girl who helped her: “Motia, get me a book from the chest.” She got it and gave it to Matushka. The book was a large one and in Slavonic. I sat next to Matushka on her bed, which was of hard boards. She placed the book on my lap and be g pointing to various passages saying: “They say that I am illiterate, and. now let us read this part and this,’ and she began to read aloud.
Not long before her death a certain illiterate village woman, Eugenia, paid her a visit and was standing in the back. Matushka called her and asked her to read the Psalter. The confused woman was sorry to say that she could not read because she d not know how to. Then Matushka said to her, “Take, take the book! You will open the book and read it?’ Eugenla took the book and, to the amazement of all, began to read for the first time in her life, and as well as if she had read for years. Truly that was a miracle.
Many priests and homeless wandering catacomb clergymen used to come to Matushka, and also many monks from closed monasteries and schema- monks who lived deep in the forests. Matushka herself would tell those who visited her about them. Evidently the whole cycle of daily services was conducted in her cell, which was a solace to those deprived of churches. They flocked to her as to a true mother in Christ. Pilgrims from holy places would bring her holy bread, which she distributed among her spiritual children in little pieces as a blessing. They would also bring to her water from the Holy Land, Jerusalem and Mt. Athos and she would share it with us, She would tell us to scoop ordinary water into little buckets at midnight and bring it to her, and she then would pour into it drops of the holy water. Thus the faithful, even those who for thirty years did not go to church, always had holy water. When the Soviet agents would come for investigation and search, as they often did, they would always see bottles with holy water, and would be curious whether it were vodka; and as a rule, not believing what they were told, just to make sure, with out fail they would drink some.
In 1935-7 a schema-monk, apparently from the closed Gomel Monas tery, Father Eugene, of holy life, used to appear at Matushka’s for spiritual counsel, and then again would disappear He was being sought by the authorities. When the “Living Church” of ‘the Renovationists appeared in. the 1920’s, Matushka advised all not to go there, not to baptize children there, and not to have weddings there. When the infamous “collectivization” came, she said that we should not go to the collective farms, and there were many of us who listened, to her and did nat go. At that time even more people began to visit her, and even people from the collective farms; she asked us not to let in such people. Then (late 1930’s) there were no more Orthodox dergy left; all had been arrested and exiled, and most of them perished.
One of the very young girls who used to visit Matushka, Galka, came in one day .as usual. Matushka, in front of everyone said that she had seen a dream in. which Galka fell into a deep pit. Soon we found out that she had gone to the “Living Church” and joined the Renovationists and turned away from Matushka altogether.
Another time three elderly women came to Matushka, and one of them was from Diadovka. Matushka said to them that she had seen a dream: that she was distributing bread to them, and that there was enough for one, but not enough for the other two. And it turned out that those two also went to the Renovationist Collectivization was bound up with absolutely inhuman treatment of the innocent peasantry, which was virtually liquidated. But just before that, in the year 1937, there was a good crop of wheat. We cut it down and stacked it, but it had to ‘be dried a bit before being threshed. So we left it in the barn to dry, and some of us women decided to visit Matushka in the meantime, and bring her some flour. So we borrowed some flour from our neighbor Anastasia and set out. When we arrived at Matushka’s and began to fix supper, she said: “No, my dear little children, we shall not eat pancakes.” But we said, “We have brought some flour for you and will fry pancakes, for a good crop of wheat is stored up for us at home.” But she repeated several times, “No, no, we shalt not eat pancakes, no pancakes.” When we came home we found out, to our great grief, that the Soviet chief of the “Selsoviet” (farmers’ council) Blumkin, had taken all our wheat. And in order to pay back what we had borrowed from Anastasia, we had to work it out in her vegetable garden. So we truly did not eat any pancakes.
When absolutely no priests remained for hundreds of miles, and Pascha came, people turned to Matushka with a question: how and where can we have our kulichi and other paschal food blessed? She gave the following answer: “Go into the forest, and when it will be midnight, begin to sing, ‘Thy Resurrection, 0 Christ Saviour. . .‘, ‘Christ is Risen’, and other paschal hymns, which are usually sung by the choir, and put the kulichi (sweet paschal bread) on the ground and let them stay there until dawn, and when the morning dew will descend upon them, then you shall know that they have beeii already blessed. The Lord Himself has blessed them!” And so the faithful people did. They would gather, several families together, and spend the paschal night in the fores’t, because it was aIready dangerous to gather in houses. Later even that was dangerous, so we would put our pots with paschal food on top of the fence for the night to be blessed by God. And God blessed them and us, through the prayers of our holy Mother Agatha.
Right after the death of my five-year-old son, Eusebius, I went to Ma tushka with my grief, taking a handful of earth from his little grave, because he had been buried without a priest. When I came Matushka greeted me with j as always, for she already knew of my loss. We sang the funeral service and panikhida by ourselves and went to rest for the night. In the morning, when we got up, Matushka asked me: “Have you seen your little son?” I answered nega tively. “And I, my dear one, saw him,” she said. “If you only knew how happy he is there, then you would beg God that the Lord would take your other sons also.” The other world was indeed close to her!
Years earlier, in 1922, once when I came to her she said to me that St. Theodosius of Chernigov had visited her and said that the Communists wanted to investigate his relics but he had risen up and come to her. Soon. it became known that his relics, after being opened by the Soviet authorities, had been stolen by someone and their whereabouts since then were unknown.*
Her dwelling consisted of a rather small one-room peasant log cabin; its walls were covered with icons and there were three icon-lamps burning; her bed was made out of a few boards put together, covered with a simple peasant mat; there were several analogions, and candlestands wtih burning candles. This is where she greeted us, sitting on her bed. There were people who looked after her. Andrew was still there.
I approached her and bowed down, as if to take her blessing, but she did not allow me to kiss her hand, and instead put it on my head, and began to kiss my head. I did not want her to do this, saying that I was a sinful man. She lifted my head and said: “Why, my dear, don’t you want me to kiss your head ?“ Evidently she foresaw all the sufferings I would have to go through in the near future, which indeed began after 1938, when I was arrested.
We rested for a while, listened to her sweet discourse, then had supper and prayed to God together. It was good there with her, rather cozy: the heart felt touched and one wanted to weep, not from sorrow, but from ‘umileniye,’ that indescribable warmth from tender-feeling when the grace of God touches your heart. Putting us to bed on the floor, she asked us to lie down together under the analogion and the icons, and she herself, sitting up on her bed, prayed the Jesus Prayer throughout the whole night, calmly and regularly making the sign of the cross.
In the morning, when we got up and had prayed and had breakfast, I told her that I had a sister in Chernigov province in. M. village. Then she blessed us to go and said: “GO safely, my little children, wherever you need. I shall pray to God for you.” And so we travelled forty miles “illegally,” saw my sister, and with God’s help returned home safely. This was the last time I saw Eldress Agatha.
Eldress Agatha had many contacts with righteous men and women around our neighborhood; they themselves were real dairvoyant saints like her self. They were either her spiritual children or spiritual friends of like mind, to whom she would send our catacomb people for spiritual instruction or consolation. I liked to visit them and was at home with them, since we all had become strangers to the spirit of Antichrist that had taken hold of our once glorius and holy, but now impoverished and wretched land of Russia.
In 1940 my friend Athanasius S. and I decided to go to Kiev to buy some clothes. Since the steamer to Kiev stopped at this town, we decided to go on mis steamer to Kiev. But when we arrived in Loev, the Dniepr in one day began to freeze, and we were afraid to go to Kiev, lest we get stranded on the way; and so we decided to abandon the trip to Kiev, and instead to pay a visit to the dairvoyant sick woman X. But we did not know where she lived, and it had already become dark.
At this very time this holy woman ordered a meal to be made for two guests, saying that two wanderers, Tychon and AhanasIus by name, were to be coming to her. Then she told her husband to go to a certain corner on the street, where he would meet two young people who were looking for her. This man met us there and asked whether we were looking for a sick woman; and when we, in great amazement, answered “yes he brought uS to her. No sooner had we opened the door than she began singing the “psalm” (religious song) that we knew well and loved, and we, with spirits uplifted from the wonderful things that God had done, joined her in singing:
A mystical Guest will abide,
And speechless and pale does Zacchaeus
Now stand before Him inside.
My body — a house dark and dim
And all in disarray and unclean;
‘What do I have to refresh Him?
What place for my Guest unforeseen?“
Once in the month of June 1 visited this town. I was with my other friend Athanasius (different from the above). It was Sunday morning and we were going to church. As we came closer to it, we saw that on top of the church, instead of an Orthodox cross, there was attached a hammer and siclde and a red flag. So we went to the other church, and that one had the same stamp of Anti christ on it. So we decided not to go to church at all, and instead to pay a visit to Paramon, whom we knew.
He was very happy to see us. Outwardly, he looked quite stout, of less thai medium height; his head was bald and he had a medium-sized beard not yet gray. He invited us into his house, all the walls of which were thickly cov ered with icons; there were many icon lamps, all lit, before the holy icons. He even showed us portraits of the Tsars and the new-martyr Nicholas II. They were hidden in a large doset that had many of these old and rare portraits adorn. ing the walls.
Having examined all that he showed us, we came out into the garden. It was a luxuriant orchard, with many tall and shady trees that abounded with fruits. He somehow managed to preserve himself almost to the end from the collective farms and all the horrors and deprivaions of the hellish Soviet system, under which everything was liquidated by the Communist authority.
Here in the garden he told us of a miracle he had beheld in this very garden just over a week before. On the first of June, he suddenly saw in the air some unusually large birds, girded about with sky-blue ribbons. As he was watching them ‘they began to hover over his garden. Suddenly he saw one of these birds come right down into his garden, and. when it was almost down it asked him: “What do you see, Paramon?” Petrified, he said, ‘I, don’t know.”
Then it said, “We go to the East to make way for the Eastern Kings to go West.” With this it rose up to join the flock and flew to the East. In a week the war broke out, and very soon the local Soviet guerilias found out about the portraits of the Tsar in Paramon’s cell and about his ascetic life, and in that very garden they tortured him for a long while and then killed him. He died a martyr’s death in July, 1941.
New Martyr Paramon, pray to God for us!
He was tall, quite energetic, all gray-haired, and must have been RO years old or more. He walked dressed as a priest, only sometimes he would partly hide his priestly calling by putting on some ragged village garb. When this holy Elder would appear, people would immediately know and come to him for spiritual help.
A poor village girl, by the name of Kulinka, had some kind of danger ous ailment and, trusting God more than men, wanted to do a good deed by donating beeswax for church candles. So she made a vow to give something she had, but she could find nothing but a few yards of linen towelling to bring to this holy Elder, who of coui knew nothing about her vow. When she came to him, she saw many people patiently sitting and waiting in the village house where he was staying. The moment she crossed the threshold, the clairvoyant Elder turned to her and said: “Kulinka, did you bring me what you promised ?“ In sorrow she said that she had only the towelling, but could not get the Wax Smiling, he accepted her gift and said, “You’ll get the wax some other time.”
Once he stayed for two or three weeks in a village on the bank of the Dniepr, at the farmer Euthemius’. God revealed to him that the local Soviet authorities were going to deprive this poor man of all his hay, his peasant hide overcoat, his horse with bridle, and other things. So Fr. Eugene put on this coat, saying that it fit him very nicely, and that it would be good to go to visit Matushka Agatha in it. After walking around the house in it fox a while he took it off and hung it back on the wall. The farmer’s wife, Laksuta, began tofear that he would not give it back to her husband. Euthemius meanwhile bridled the horse in order to go to Matushka Agatha. Fr. Eugene came out and said, “Some ride we are going to have,” and sitting down in the cart, pointing to a hay stack, he added, “let’s sell all that hay stack and drink it! We won’t need it!“ But Euthemius said, “What are you saying, batushka,what are we going to live on? We will have nothing!” Then, giving a stern, sad look, the Elder said: “That’s exactly how we are going to live — having nothing !“ But Euthemius drove on without understanding. They visited Matushka and returned. The moment they came into the yard, the head of the “Selsoviet” arrived and took that very hide overcoat, and the hay, and the horse with the bridle. And so did all the predictions of the Elder come true. Then the poor wife bitterly regretted that they had not given the coat to Fr. Eugene.
Once my wife went with several women to see Matushka Agatha in order to hear her spiritual instructions and to pray to God together with h OUr village was 30 miles away. When they came, after the usual greetings, Matushka turned to my wife and said with concern: “My little child, hurry up and go back. It is necessary for you to be home.” My wife knew well that she was clairvoyant, and therefore she hurried home at once. Hardly had she entered the house, when the NKVD agents arrived and arrested me. We had time enough only to say goodbye, thanks to Matushka Agatha.
Matushka Agatha foreknew her own death more than a year ahead: She told us about it and was prepared for it. She prepared her burial dress: it was all of a bright green color. She told us that they would starve her to death. We would say that under no conditions would we allow it, but she would say, “My little children, you will not be allowed to come to me. They will place armed guards — and I'll die.” And it did occur just as she said.
What she would say to the beli concerning the Soviet authorities she would say to the Communists also. She was not afraid of them and called them “godless ones — servants of Satan.” When it was reported to the NKVD agents that one old lady, by the name of Agatha, was teaching the people no to be obedient to the Soviets, calling the Soviet authority godless and of Anti christ, they sent four young NKVD agents to arrest her and bring her to the city of Gomel. When they came to her house, a terrible fear seized them, so that they hesitated to touch her. One would say to the other: “You take her;” and that one would answer, “No, you take her,” and then said, “I’m afraid to touch her, because she might get glued to my hands.” That was because it was known that her legs were “glued together,” and so she was regarded by them as a kind of witch. She was then 119 years old. And so they could do nothing about her.
Then an order came out to starve her to death. They brought armed guards, in February, 1939, and surrounded her poor dwelling and no one was allowed to come close. The guards were there all the time, day and night, and were changed regularly. It took between two and three weeks.
Believers would come and see the dear little hut on the hilltop and knew that there a Saint of God was dying helplessly, one who had helped so many people — and they could do nothing for her. The guards were free to shoot whenever they wanted.
Then came the sad cry like the funeral knell: “Go bury Agapka,” for she was no more. There was no priest. The villagers buried her in the village cemetery. We were not there when they buried her, and it was dangerous to be near. We, her people, got together in the Buritskoe village 40 miles away, and the whole night without leaving the house sang the burial service and panikhida, since there was absolutely no way to get a priest. We, girls and women, divided the whole Psalter among ourselves, one Kathisma apiece, so that the reading would continue for forty days. And so we prayed to God for her in this way, not only for forty days, but for a whole year. We do not forget our dear Matushka, who saved us and fed us with spiritual food — during the time of terrible famine.
O holy Mother Agatha, pray to God for us!
• After almost all churches in Russia were closed in the late 1930’s, the churches were ‘opened for the first time” under Stalin (Churches of the Moscow Patriarchate) after many more closures since then, the churches have not yet been opened “the second time
* See the photograph of the opening of St. Theodosius’ relics page 182.