We’ve Come to Matushka… Remembering Blessed Xenia

The chapel of St. Xenia of Petersburg in the Smolensk Cemetery. The chapel of St. Xenia of Petersburg in the Smolensk Cemetery.

The Smolensk cemetery in St. Petersburg is like a sleeping child—profound peace and purity wafts through its alleys. What don’t we come to Blessed Xenia for! To cry over our woes, to pray for success—and each person is locked inside himself, his troubles or joys… In his prayer. And this is understandable; it would be terrible to come to St. Xenia just to have a look at the people. But for the first time I have come to the Blessed One not for the sake of prayer but for the sake of those who are praying. I look around and peer at them.

It is amazing! These people don’t have the mark of “religiosity” that we are accustomed to seeing—that customary piety, studied prayerfulness. People are not dressed too piously, but in their eyes and on their lips is a prayer that’s not taken from a prayer book—it is a prayer that breaks forth from the heart. Should I start a conversation with them? But they didn’t come here for discussion.

Here comes a man—respectable, well-dressed, self-assured. I walk up to him with a question and suddenly see that he is in tears. “My son died… Vitalik… Thirty-three years old… Maybe at least Xenia will tell me, how shall I go on living?”


Here is a fashionable lady with a little child:

“I am very thankful to Xenia… She has helped me so much… How? Well, I loved one man… And I very much wanted to marry him… And I married him. Now I am here with another request: I will soon be having an operation… And I am so scared…”

A young man looks embarrassed: “I always come here when my girlfriend and I have had a fight… It helps…”

Another athletic-looking man answers readily:

“The first time I came here was after overdoing my training—I slipped a disc in my spine and could barely move. I crawled here, read an Akathist, and went back like a new man. Now I live in America but I never forget Xenia. Whenever I’m out of work I pray to her, and I quickly find some respectable job.”

A woman stands weeping:

“My father died. My mother and I are left alone… Xenia once helped me very much—I received very valuable advice from her… I believe that she will help me now, too.”

An older woman:

“Just live a while like I did in a communal apartment and you’ll see what trouble means. But Xenia sent me an apartment in a miraculous way…

Nevertheless, I needed a church-going person to talk to, who understands what’s what. And I found such a person, even two—a married couple, Alexander and Marina Sokolov. We are sitting in the church having a leisurely conversation.

“When did you first find out that there is a St. Xenia? Can you recall that moment?”

“I can, I can,” replies Alexander. “Fifteen years ago our neighbor gave us a booklet to read—the Life of St. Xenia. I read it, but I wasn’t even baptized at the time. So it made no particular impression on me, just pleasant, informative reading, and my heart felt peaceful. But a year went by and we were baptized… And soon the Lord led us to a meeting with Matushka, you might say, face to face. It was the tough year of 1993. I returned from vacation and saw that my mother-in-law from Pskov had arrived. She was weeping bitterly! She had been laid off from work, and was having difficulties with her living situation, and this, and that… I immediately set off with her to the train station—to Pskov, to see what was going on there and how I could help. But how could I help?! I couldn’t imagine! I had never run up against these kinds of problems before, and didn’t know where to begin! So, before reaching the station I inexplicably went to the nearest church and bought an Akathist to Blessed Xenia. And all the way to Pskov, four and some hours, I read it. Then everything turned out for the very best—and absolutely miraculously. It was as if someone were leading me by the hand.

And that’s not all. I returned to St. Petersburg happy and at peace—not so much because I had saved my mother-in-law from disaster as because I had prayed with all my heart and my prayer was heard. This had never happened to me before! Amazing! Outside the window it was summer; I watched smiling as the pretty houses of our first millionaires whizzed by, and I couldn’t help but envy the builders of those dachas—working in the open air, in nature, and of course they must be getting paid for it… But as for me… I wasn’t asking for anything, I wasn’t praying, but when I arrived in the city I hadn’t even gotten home when I met an acquaintance who made me an offer: “Leave your job and come with me to build dachas!” And my family and I lived through all those awful 1990s peacefully—my new work fed us handily. From that time on Marina and I have been firmly holding on to Matushka Xenia’s green skirt; this is how we walk through life… We love Matushka. She is always with us. This is no fantasy, not some exalted state. It’s really this way.

“What haven’t I had to endure in life… Our youngest daughter was dying… Oncology… She lay in the emergency room and no one could give us an encouraging word. That’s it, the end! What to do? As always, we went to Xenia. We bought some flowers for Matushka… We stood and prayed, but not with words—what words? We spoke with our souls. And after all, what does it mean to go to the Smolensk cemetery? You stand there in the chapel, in your soul is pain and despair—but it’s warm nevertheless, and you feel welcome, and you don’t want to leave… We returned home… and Masha had returned from the hospital.”

“I was supposed to have an operation,” Marina says. “The doctors said, ‘either make the decision or leave your children as orphans.’ Well, I decided… But an operation takes money! And there was no money. No money, and that’s all! I was beside myself, and Sasha [Alexander] says, ‘Why, go to Xenia!’ So I immediately sort of calmed down, went to the Smolensk cemetery, and prayed…” Then suddenly the head of the medical department calls me and says, “Oh okay, can you find 150 rubles for the needles?” And they did the whole thing for free! How can I thank Xenia for that?”

“It’s impossible to tell everything,” says Alexander. “But here is what happened not with us but with our friend. He had fallen into a sect. He was stuck there something awful, and not just as an ordinary parishioner but in an important position… But he’s really a good man! We always loved him and prayed for him to Matushka Xenia that she would lead him to the right path. And what happened? The sectarians themselves kicked him out! He worked with artificial marble—restored palaces, museums, churches… Well, he and his brigade were invited to do some work in one church… The sectarian heard about it and gave him an ultimatum: ‘Either refuse the job or leave the sect! How dare you work for those heretics!’ Our friend thought about it. How could he refuse the job order? He has a brigade—people need to earn money! And so he left the sect and never returned. And only recently we learned that his brigade was asked to restore the chapel of St. Xenia! Isn’t that an answer to our prayers!

“But sometimes Xenia doesn’t welcome me. I also wanted to work on her chapel; I had made all the agreements, took a vacation in the middle of winter… I waited and waited but no one called—it all fell through! Matushka didn’t let me. Why? There must be some reason…

“You have to understand: Blessed Xenia is a person who is right next to us, living with all of us; she’s not a machine for fulfilling wishes. You can’t just press a button and get want you ordered! No… It can only be done with love. I noticed that sometimes you come to the Smolensk cemetery with no particular request—just to have a prayerful conversation with Matushka… You stand there for a while, venerate the grave, read an Akathist… And you return home with such a feeling in your soul, as if something very important has happened! What’s happened? It’s hard to say, impossible to say… But this “something” is often more important than an answered request. And such joy! You feel that Matushka is right next to you, that she hasn’t forgotten you, and sends you her greetings. No, this is not a fantasy, not my imagination—this is a living, warm feeling. Those who like to explain everything in everyday terms will find an explanation for every miracle. I remember once I was talking with a co-worker. We were sharing our dreams with each other… Then I offered to him: ‘Let’s go to the Smolensk cemetery. Perhaps Matushka will help us?’ He was mistrustful but he went anyway… Over the course of the next year, the larger part of his dreams came true! I said to him, ‘Well, now do you believe?’ But he just sneered and started explaining everything away by simple everyday causes… But after all, causes are causes, and meanwhile life could have taken a completely different turn!.. No, we always have to notice when our prayer has been answered and having noticed it, give thanks. Take some flowers to the chapel… We decided that if we bring fresh flowers to the chapel they would wilt right away. Let’s buy some potted plants! That’s what we did—and now our plant stands near the grave…”

Alexei Maximov
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Orthodox St. Petersburg

6 февраля 2017 г.

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