Saturday, June 13, 2015

Abesses Paisia and Magdalena of Sevsk Convent.

   We are recounting here the story of two disciples of Saint Macarius of Optina (+ 1860).

   “Mother Paisia” was born in 1740, and in 1779 became Abbess of the “Sevsk Convent”, not far from Optina. She was an outstanding abbess, quite influential in her neighboring area. She kept the Convent under strict surveillance, upholding in it the principles of monastic life. It was once visited by Elder Athanasius of Ploschansk (the disciple of Saint Paissius Velichkovsky), together with his disciple Macarius of Optina and Elder Basil Kishkin, the restorer of Glinsk Monastery. This visit left a deep impression on the sisters of the Convent, influencing them to read the writings of the Holy Fathers. Even young girls read these writings, learning The Ladder of Divine Ascent almost by heart. During Elder Athanasius' lifetime, Elder Macarius was made the official spiritual father of the Sevsk Convent. There were several very holy nuns in this Convent, some of them virtual saints.

   The Convent's blind gate-keeper, "Eve", was especially humble. For years she would sit at the gate from morning till evening, sometimes receiving donations. Having great love for St. Nicholas the Prince of Chernigov, who had been the gate­keeper at the Kiev Caves, she fortified her soul with prayer to him. Her long acquaintance with her job served her in place of sight, and people would hardly believe that she was blind. Only Abbess Paisia seemed to know. One day an unknown pilgrim talked with her and donated a coin. The coin did not fall into the bag, but on the ground, and began to roll away. In fear, Nun Eve told him that she was blind, and that his donation would be lost. To this the stranger answered: “Don't worry, you'll find it”. At that moment her eyes opened, and she saw St. Nicholas. After that she could see, and she lived to be almost a hundred years old.

   There was another holy nun in Abbess Paisia's Convent by the name of “Ryassaphore Nun Vitalia”, who never asked for anything and endured everything in silence. Her repose was remarkable. A certain large star appeared in the sky over her cell, and was seen day and night until her burial.

   Abbess Paisia lived out the last years of her life in a poor small cell, out of humility. She had great love for the Mother of God. At her deathbed, they brought to her an icon of the Most Pure Virgin, gave her Holy Communion, and said a prayer, at which her pure soul departed from her much-suffering body with a reflection of joy on her face. She reposed on July 30, 1838.

   Abbess Paisia's successor, “Magdalena”, was of high spiritual stature. She travelled to Sevsk for the first time with the blessing of “Elder Zosima Verkhovsky of Roslavl and Siberia”, coming together with the future nun Dorothea. As they were descend­ing from a mountain towards a river, they saw a vision of a beautiful golden-domed monastery similar to the Kiev Caves Lavra, and behind its gate they saw a synaxis of saints, with the Mother of God holding an omophorion over them. The people with them saw the same vision. When they approached the Monastery, they didn't believe their eyes, for they saw a humble place, and the vision disappeared. They had arrived at the Sevsk Convent. Entering the Convent's church, they understood that the vision they had seen was a sign that they should stay. Later, during Mother Paisia's lifetime, that Convent grew to resemble the vision.
   During “Magdalena's Abbacy”, one of her nuns was a great beauty. Once during a church service she was noticed by a dashing bachelor hussar, who decided to lure her out of the Convent, first by writing her letters, and then, as his regiment was very close to the Convent, by ordering his troops to perform military maneuvers in front of it. The army band played loudly, and he displayed his skillful horsemanship and cavalry drills. He gave no peace to the poor Convent. At first the wise Abbess Magdalena pleaded with him by letter, but then, gathering a synaxis of eldresses, she made the following plan: The terrified beauty wrote the hussar a letter of invitation for tea in the Abbess' quarters, which he gladly accepted, already sensing his victory. Without hesitation he entered the walls of the Convent, only to be locked in the Abbess' quarters, where Abbess Magdalena instituted a trial, with the eldresses as the jury. They demanded a sentence of death for the military hero, whereat she told him: “Now prepare yourself to die”. At first the hussar thought it was a joke; but then, at her abbatial gesture, two dozen nuns entered with ropes and tied him hand and foot to a chair. The Abbess asked them: “What kind of punishment does this man deserve for his shameless attacks against our Monastery?”. And all answered: “He is worthy of death!”. The poor hussar began to tremble with fear, the more so as the Abbess informed him that the gates were locked tight, and no earthly power could free him from them. He began to repent of his light-mindedness and abased himself before the women, begging mercy from the Abbess and the nuns. After frightening him to their satisfaction, they made him sign a document promising to leave their Monastery in peace, and even to move his whole regiment away from their city. Only then did they let him go in peace from the walls of their monastery. And the lesson worked, for the very next day the whole regiment left town, and the Convent received its long­-awaited peace and tranquility. After that, whenever Abbess Magdalena appeared in Optina, Elder Leonid would say: “Here comes the General!”.

   When Magdalena died as a “schemanun” on April 25, 1862, at midnight, she appeared at the same hour to another spiritual woman as she was entering Paradise. There exists a letter of elder Macarius himself concerning her repose:

   “Abbess Magdalena of the Sevsk Convent died on the 25th of August at twelve o'clock. The Convent became orphaned!. Inconsolable lamentations, cries and moans in the whole Convent still continue. Even all the lay people are weeping over the loss. Mother earned such love by her simplicity, humility, patience, and lack of malice. Three hundred sisters found haven under her humble and wise governance. Without question, she was vouchsafed blessed eternity: she foretold her death and hinted about it. At the very hour of her death, some sisters saw a crown of stars hovering over her cell. For several days before her death, the Abbot of Ploschansk saw a dream: he saw that suddenly the heavens opened up and Fr. Leonid (Leo) spoke to the Abbess from there: “Magdalena!. How soon will you come to me? I have been waiting for you for a long time, and have built a cell for you”. And it seemed that she answered him: “Soon, soon, Father, I will come”.

   “Now you know this joyful yet sad news. You will most likely shed tears of sorrow and joy for this most honorable mother. While reading the touching description of her death, it was impossible for anyone to refrain from tears, especially thinking of her spiritual children who were stricken with sorrow”. (Letter of Elder Macarius in the volume of his Letters to Monastics, 1862, p. 65).

   Fr. Leonid Kavelin, Elder Macarius of Optina translated by Valentina V. Lyovina (1995), St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, U.S.A.