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The Woman-Elder Misaila From Kursk
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THE WOMAN-ELDER MISAILA FROM KURSK
Prepared by Tatyana Shvetsova

We offer you a narrative about an Orthodox woman from the ancient Russian town of Kursk, in Central Russia. This is a woman-Elder by the name of Misaila. With her prayers she helped thousands of people in difficult moments of their lives, particularly during the Great Patriotic war that our people waged against the fascist occupation in 1941 to 1945. This narrative is taken from a book of recollections of her granddaughter Ludmilla Sokolova, published in Moscow in 2005.
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This was soon after the war. In the evenings, tired of lessons in my beloved trigonometry I would take a break and go to visit my grandmother.

How nice it was in her little house! The icon-lamps glow solemnly. Only grandma's, clock ticks away in the stealthy silence. I rest... From grandma's brief and sparse stories I learned about certain episodes from her life. In all of her life not once did she judge anyone, and everything she told me had reference only to herself. I discovered the family name of her parents was Grankiny. They originated from an old but impoverished family line. They died very early, and 6-year-old Matrona (this was grandma's name before she took the veil) and her 3-year-old sister were orphaned. By decision of the village council, where they lived, every family was to take turns in giving shelter to the youngsters for a day. Grandma's sister soon died, while grandma continued to drift from homestead to homestead until the age of 17, when she was given away in marriage to young, handsome and wealthy Vasily Zorin. Prior to that he had loved a different girl, a real beauty, and planned to marry her. However, right on the eve of the wedding he miscalculated his strength and lifted some very heavy load, badly injuring his back - so much so that he lost the use of his legs. He became a cripple. The lovely bride immediately rejected him and the wedding was called off. That is when he was married off to an orphan - my grandmother

She had a hard life. However, never did she complain about her husband. She was not allowed to enter the house unless she was summoned. In summer she slept in the shed, and in winter - in the kitchen. Grandmother couldn't even pray in the house. She would pray and make her bows to the Lord when descending into the cellar. She bore on her shoulders the burden of all the dirty and heavy work in the house. Only fervid prayers helped her survive these hardships.

Only at the age of 23 did she give birth to a girl, who soon died. And six years later she gave birth to a son, who was named Mathew. He was my father. Soon after this Grandmother's husband died. And she, after entrusting her son to her mother-in-law, decided to set off for Jerusalem, to take the veil there. Grandma told me how together with a friend of hers they made their way on foot to Kiev, from there - to Odessa, and after that - by boat to Turkey, and only after that to Jerusalem. "Grandmother, was it not dangerous for two young women to walk alone - someone could have harmed you both?" I asked.

"Oh, no!" replied grandma. "Who would ever lift a hand against a pilgrim? Quite the opposite: people helped us, many asked us to pray for them in Jerusalem. "I would also have stayed on in Jerusalem, if it hadn't been for one and the same dream that I saw three times. I would dream that I was being flooded with water while a voice was saying: "Go back to your Motherland: you are needed there!" I narrated this dream of mine to a priest. Afterwards, we prayed long together: you know, there are different kinds of dreams, not only sent by the Lord, but those coming from the devil. Eventually, the clergyman blessed my return home."

Grandmother came back home when she was already over 34. She set up house with her son, in a house that was given to her by her mother-in-law as a gift. Once, she fell into a lethargic sleep, and came out of it only when she was in a coffin, and they were getting ready to bury her. During this slumber she had a vision of the Holy Virgin. After this grandmother got the gift of foresight. And then a steady stream of people began to make their way to grandmother, hoping (and not in vain) to find a solution to their problems in her prayers. From grandma's stories I learned that quite a lot of Russian soldiers and officers came to visit her during the war against Nazi Germany. She invariably tried her best to console and comfort everyone, giving them a cross, her blessings, and praying fervently for everyone. Upon seeing these people out, on occasion she would mourn for them right there and then, since her Vision foretold her they would die soon.

When Hitler's troops were approaching Stalingrad, many began to doubt that our forces would gain victory. However, grandmother knew they would pull through, and used to say: "The Germans will flee from Stalingrad!" Thus, she lit hope in the heart of the leader of the local partisan movement, who came to visit her. She gave him her blessing and, thus calmed and his resolve strengthened, he went back to his detachment.

Once, a German officer, commandant of the railway station, came to grandma. Through a translator he said to her: "Have no fear, old woman - just speak the truth." And she answered: "I have fear of nobody but the Lord."

The German was concerned about the fate of his family in Berlin. However, grandmother calmed him: "Your family is alive and well, and they will all survive. However, as to the house you are building here in Russia - its all for naught. Very soon you will be fleeing and as you pack your belongings, your house will be taken apart log by log."

The officer didn't believe grandmother's prophesy that the Germans would flee Russia. Yet it all happened just as she had predicted: and as his soldiers and he were packing their belongings, in speedy evacuation, our people were already taking his house apart, log by log. He shouted to them: "Russians, what are you doing? You can use this house as a club, a station or something suchlike!" But, alas, nobody listened and very soon there was nothing left of his house.

After the war the stream of people flocking to see my grandmother never waned. People came from afar, walking from their villages and towns, young and old, strangers and our own folk. They came and came. There were so many among them who had been hard hit by the war, which had psychologically traumatized them, and left them struggling under a heavy burden of sins of conscience!

All who came to grandma were guaranteed an equally hearty welcome: she made no distinctions of rank or title, and was the same with everyone. She prayed for each and every one of them.

Grandmother would get up at 5 in the morning, to have time to say her prayers before the people arrived. After prayers she always only drank tea. The people would already be waiting in the room. The stream of folks would continue unabated until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

Grandmother always asked a person's name, and replied to all questions briefly, distinctly and to the point.

Sometimes she managed to have time to pray alone and rest before lunch. After lunch she answered numerous letters that came in from various destinations. In the evening grandmother went to her room. It was always somewhat darkly lit, with icon lamps burning, and profoundly quiet. Alone she sat on a bench in front of the icons and prayed, her prayer beads in hand.

Grandmother's meals were very modest. She had stopped eating meat long before she became a nun, the moment her husband died. She chiefly partook of potato, vegetables, onions, rice and millet, kvass, apples and pears.

My grandmother's whole life was prayer. She prayed extensively and it seemed every moment of prayer irradiated her with joy. Her eyes shone and she stretched her hands to the icon of the Holy Virgin with the words: "What joy, what incredible joy!"

Oh, how many bows she would make! I never saw such blisters as there were on grandmother's knees! She prayed when she was alone, standing, sitting down, while doing something; she prayed to herself, while receiving people: prior to offering somebody advice or counsel, picking up her prayer beads and lifting her eyes to the icon of the Mother of God, during prayer she would receive an answer from the Virgin. Only then would she reply to the question asked of her.

In the morning, after prayer, grandmother always kissed all her icons, and then - the cross, and after partaking of the holy water and prosphora, came out to us and made the sign of the cross over all the corners in the house and all of us, too. Often in the evening I would find her all alone, praying fervently, silently. She would fall asleep with prayer beads in hand.

In summer, when grandmother had a particularly large number of visitors, she would occasionally go out into the garden, where she would zealously thank the Lord and make her bows, after which she returned to the people.

At times she would come into the room to pray for one of those visiting her, and say: "Lord, what a light spirit emanates from this person!" However, on other occasions she would say: "This one is a heavy spirit indeed." She would pray, as if shaking off a heavy load, and go back out to her callers.

In those terrifying Godless times under Soviet rule my grandmother was a source of spiritual light: she was the bearer of Faith, a profound belief in God, and the force of prayer.

Grandmother herself was always a shining example of love for the Lord.

She never grew despondent, never complained that in winter water left in a bucket standing near the stove would freeze, and that at times when those visitors who missed their train and stayed to spend the night at her place, she had no bed linen to offer them. For example, when Father Mikhail from the village of Bunino stayed the night at Grandma's he placed a birch stump under his head as a pillow.

Grandma always looked on the bright side in life. Her patience and humility were amazing! It seemed as though the dark forces had absolutely no power over her. This explains the love, joy and tranquility that emanated from her and were passed on to other folk. She loved people and helped them. People who arrived from town she invariably welcomed with the words: "Well, my birds have flown in".

So many tears were shed in front of her, so many hearts were consoled by her, and so many people received hope from grandma! People came to her with all sorts of illnesses. These were not only physical ailments, but various problems they faced in life. Some people came complaining of illnesses of the internal organs, the heart, others were possessed by the devil. She cured them all, first and foremost by power of prayer to God, and the Mother of God. Besides, she gave people holy water and used herbs.

She placed a cap that she'd brought from Jerusalem, onto the heads of both the physically ill and the possessed. On top of the cap - a stone likewise from there. Then she placed her hand over the both and read prayers. Moreover, she resorted to the following prayer more often than the rest:

"Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered! Let those who hate Him flee from before His face! As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish. As wax melts before the fire, so let sinners perish before the face of those who love God and sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross and say joyfully: rejoice, most precious and life-creating Cross of the Lord, which chases demons away through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ Who was nailed to you, descended into hell and, having trampled down the power of the devil, gave to us His precious Cross for the routing of all enemies. Help me forever, most precious and life-creating Cross of the Lord, with the Holy Lady Virgin Theotokos and all the Saints. Amen."

I once personally witnessed how my grandmother treated a possessed woman. Entering the corridor I heard the barking of a dog coming from grandmother's room. I was terrified and rushed in. So what did I see? Sitting on a stool before my grandma was a woman, pale, with sweat running down her face, and barking! I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen and heard it myself! Later, the woman calmed down, and grandma laid her down to rest. To me she said: "Granddaughter, when I am treating people, never enter the room, for although it matters not to me, it might affect you negatively."

The past, the present, and the future were revealed to grandmother to the minute details. Once I came into her room - there was nobody there, and grandma was sweeping the floor with the words: "Oh! Do I feel sorry for her!"

"Whom, grandma?" I asked.

"Oh, she is carrying such a big and heavy watermelon for me!"

Some time later there came a knock at the door and, indeed, on the threshold stood a woman with a huge watermelon.

People, who visited grandmother, were a source of worry and concern for the local authorities and the regional attorney. So they made attempts to disperse the people, scaring away the latter and trying to make my grandmother afraid. But she always replied: "I never summon anyone. It's their grief that spurs them on to come to me - I cannot turn them away."

Grandmother never asked for anything from others. If she did receive something from others, she immediately gave it away to those who needed it.

She daily received a lot of letters, each of which was permeated with grief and sorrow, and contained the question "What can I do?" Grandmother answered these in the evenings, after she had seen the last of the visitors out. My mother was grandmother's secretary. The letters could not be stored, since this could harm those people who sent them, so after replying to them grandmother burned them.

When they asked grandmother's advice, she invariably answered briefly, never repeating her answer twice. If she deemed something that she was being asked about a worthy deed, she blessed people to do it. If she felt it wasn't something that ought to be done, she said: "I do not give counsel, yet take away not your will." Grandmother saw the present of a person who addressed her and their future, and on the basis of this gave an exhaustive answer.

To us all, members of her family, grandma said: "Be lower - but closer to God", or "Humility and patience are higher than fasting and prayer," "Where you can - better keep silent," "The word is silver, but silence is gold."

Our family always lived by grandma's advice. We, her grandchildren, never embarked on anything without her blessing. It's hard to describe in words how much we loved her. Whenever we returned home from somewhere, we first and foremost thought of our grandma, not of our parents, even though we loved them dearly. We were always anxious to please her and make her happy.

Not long before I got my job, mother, grandma and I were sitting drinking tea in the morning. There were already people waiting for grandma. Suddenly she dropped her teacup and fell off the chair.

I rushed to her, lifted her up and seated her. It took a while for her to realize what had happened. This was at the end of November 1953. That day mother and I begged her to take it easy, and spend the day resting. However, she refused and went out to the people. From that day on she began to weaken, losing her appetite, but unwilling to disappoint her visitors by refusing to receive them. I recall how one Sunday evening grandmother called me to her: "Come, let me bless you, you will be going off to a new job while I will still be asleep."

sensed Grandma's weak and ill state as she made the sign of the cross over me. At 5 in the morning I set off for the station. My first day at my new job went off well, but the following evening I was gripped by anxiety, so much so that I dashed about my friend's room feeling restless. Finally I took a decision to go home in the morning.

In vain they tried to soothe me and persuade me not to go. I was deaf to all their arguments. I spent a sleepless night and in the morning went home. The moment I stepped off the train I met a neighbor. "Go quickly," she said, "your grandmother is dying".

It was 4 kilometers to my home. I ran the distance, weeping and praying to God that grandmother wouldn't die. As I opened the door to the corridor, I saw my weeping mother, and shouted: "Has Grandma died?" Mother calmed me: "No she is waiting for you, but she is slipping away."

Grandmother opened her eyes, and even asked: "How is your new job?" I replied: "Good, I like it, but it's temporary."

"Never mind," said grandmother, "you will never be without a job."

To the very last all her thoughts were of her dear ones.

On the eve Father Fyodor had visited us. He gave grandma communion and administered the last sacraments. In all her life grandmother had never sought the help of secular doctors - ever turning to our Good Lord for help. She never took a single pill. She was never any trouble for others, fearful lest she be a burden to others.

From the moment of my arrival and to her last breath I never left grandma's side. I moistened her lips, for they were parched. Her arm lay motionless and only her hand continued to make the sign of the cross. For an instant she opened her eyes and looked at me. She said: "Granddaughter, do good deeds for people, and never do others any harm."

The next instant she shut her eyes and slipped into her own thoughts.

A girl from the Baltics was weeping, begging to be allowed to see grandma. I really didn't want to trouble a dying person, but grandma said: "Let her enter!" This was the last person to get advice from my grandma and her blessing right before her death.

By evening it became evident that grandmother's time was running out. Mother asked her: "Where does it hurt?" "Everywhere," quietly replied grandmother. There were tears running from her eyes, while cold sweat beaded her forehead. I wiped it with a towel. "Why do you cry?" I asked her. Grandmother sighed - and was gone. Her face was tranquil and serene. It was 6 in the evening, December 16th 1953.

Just as Grandmother lived modestly and quietly all her life, never annoying anyone, full of love for people, helping them, - so she died peacefully, humbly and beautifully, without burdening anyone.

Five years later my father died, and mother took the veil in 1991...

Grandmother died, but didn't leave our life: she is always with those, who are in need of her, who turn to her with Faith and prayer.

I know that grandmother is always near, and at the right moment sends me her help, and solace and spiritual peace to my heart...


Illustration: L.Sokolova, "Grandmother's Prayers", "Otchiy Dom" Publishing House, ************Moscow, 2005

01/27/2006

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