Sister Paula

Olga Rozhneva

God’s providence leads us through life; and how good it is for those who can hear it in time, who try to understand God’s will for themselves. If we make plans for one thing or another but find numerous obstacles on our path to attaining it, we have to slow down and try to discern—is this plan God’s will for us? Sometimes the Lord protects us from danger, holds us back from our impulsive race through life, but we don’t understand it, we keep fussing, insisting upon our own will, instead of simply stepping back, waiting a bit, trying some other way...

God’s will is revealed through circumstances in our life. St. Ambrose of Optina used to advise people, “Go where they lead you, look at what they show you, and always say, ‘Thy will be done!’” This seems very hard for us in the modern world; in fact it seems downright impossible. How could we, intelligent people, who know everything and are the creators of our own destiny, go wherever they lead us?! Why, they could lead us anywhere! But the saint was in no way talking about breaking the commandments; he was instructing us to see signs from God in our lives, to seek God’s will in circumstances, in coincidences that are not really coincidences at all.

The elder taught: “Every human destiny is in God’s hands. The person who commits himself to God’s Providence is under special care.” Also: “An asked-for cross is hard to carry; it is better in simplicity to give yourself over to God’s will.”

His faithful spiritual friend St. Joseph of Optina advised, “You should live as circumstances dictate, because they do not dictate accidentally, as many of our modern and new-fangled know-it-alls think. Everything happens to us through God’s Providence, which continually cares for our soul’s salvation.”

These thoughts came into my head when I heard my first spiritual instructor, Fr. Savvaty, tell me about the life of Nun Paula. I myself knew her—I recall a short, helpful, amiable sister of the Kazan Convent of St. Triphon. She was no longer young; she had suffered a stroke and moved about with difficulty. But God’s Providence was very clearly seen in her fate.

Liudmila, as she was called in the world, learned from her pious grandmother how to pray and go to church when she was still young. She loved to make pilgrimages to monasteries. Once when she was visiting a Moldavian monastery she became acquainted with the Abbess—a frail, tiny woman, outwardly ordinary in every respect. She wore an old ryassa, and performed the most menial tasks, like taking out the garbage. Liudmila learned that this seemingly unremarkable woman was respected as a very spiritual eldress.

The eldress talked with Liudmila and gave her some advice: to go to a monastery. “My child it will be better for you in a monastery than in the world.”

But Liudmila decided not to follow this advice—she got married. Family life did not turn out well for her. Her husband died, and all her hopes for family happiness were shattered. Not long after this her mother also died, and then her uncle. She had no other relatives, and so the young woman was left completely alone. She worked as a nurse, and went to church often. As time went on, she recalled the abbess’s words.

She lost all interest in worldly life, and nothing here attracted her. When Liudmila turned forty, she signed her one-room apartment over to an elderly woman entirely unrelated to her and left her home to live at a church somewhere. She was sitting in a bus station and thinking, where should she go now?

Have you ever experienced a similar situation, when it seems that all the doors are shut but you still have to decide which one to knock at? Or you think perhaps you should simply wait until one of them just flings open? It seems to me that I understand what Liudmila felt at that moment.

I felt roughly the same way one cold morning in January in an empty apartment—all the doors were closed. It seemed like yesterday all was joyful and noisy, and I was happily busy with my children, my husband, and a job I loved, where I had worked for twenty years. My husband died. My children grew up and had their own families. Of course they still love their mother, but they no longer need me like they did before. Then the reorganization and merger of several organizations left me and my colleagues without work overnight. How much of my strength and soul I left at that job, and suddenly I was no longer needed.

I remember that morning, how I arose early and drank a cup of coffee. Then, without turning on the light, I sat down in my armchair. A dark, winter morning was progressing and I just sat thinking—I am no longer in any hurry. No one is waiting for me.

But just when it seemed that all the doors were closed, the Lord clearly and authoritatively revealed His Providence to me: I had been given a blessing to go to Optina. Work, obedience, and a place to live were found. I began to write. When my first story found its reader, I wept. And my spiritual father said that the Lord was beside me throughout all those trials.

So there was Liudmila, sitting as I once sat, undecided, and it seemed to her that all the doors were closed. She waited for of sign, some indication. There were only a few people at the bus station. Suddenly she saw a familiar priest—Fr. Savvaty had come to Chusovoy on monastery business. Liudmila had visited that monastery, and when she recognized that priest, she went to get his blessing. The Lord arranged that she should feel like sharing her problems and anxieties with the priest. Fr. Savvaty listened to her story, and blessed her to go to the Kazan Convent of St. Triphon.

She went, and stayed there till to end of her life.

The Kazan Convent of St. Triphon is located on Miteinaya Hill. From the lofty hill you can see the forest, the fields, and the Chusova River, which is rather wide in these parts. In the summertime there are a profusion of greenery and the buzz of insects, the chirping of birds, all is awash with sunshine, warm rays caressing and warming. In the monastery garden grow vegetables, potatoes, and fragrant herbs, bursting with the juices of summer. In autumn are the golden forests and auburn grasses, the smell of falling leaves, frost crunching under foot... The first snow falls gently upon the river slipping into winter slumber...

In all, this land is beautiful every season of the year. Liudmila never wearied of admiring the ever changing views and colors of this vast landscape spreading from the top of the hill.

She lived in the monastery for twelve years, conscientiously fulfilling her obediences, which were: carrying water on a yoke to the bathhouse and kitchen, and later working in the almshouse for the aged. She had taken upon herself the ascetical task of caring for the bedridden elderly women. This is a particularly difficult obedience; you have to treat their bedsores, and endure the unpleasant smells of sickness. On Miteynaya Hill even now there is no running water, none of the comforts of the city, and in those days they did not have all the items for personal hygiene, pampers and so forth that we take for granted. Especially during the summer heat this task was not an easy one, and not everyone was able to bear it.

Liudmila never murmured; she put her whole soul into caring for the babushkas; and when one of them would die, she would wash her in preparation for burial, and read the psalter over her.

Despite all the hardships in her monastery, Liudmila found peace and rest for her soul, and finally felt that this was the place where she was destined to live. Such strange things these are—peace and rest of the soul. You can lose them in the most comfortable circumstances, overflowing with money and surrounded by expensive accoutrements, having a successful career and a powerful position.

But you can find it in a poor monastery, in prayer and obedience. Rejoicing in every minute of your life—the long, beautiful monastic services, an amiable meal in the refectory, the living waters of the holy spring that renew your strength. You immerse yourself in the spring, climb the hill, and there you see the chapel, the field and forests, and your spirit soars. The Lord sends such abundant grace that it seems you could simply fly away across the expanses, unburdened by the everyday buy-and-sell, light and free.

The monastery cemetery. Photo: Valery Chepkasov/
The monastery cemetery. Photo: Valery Chepkasov/
Sometime she would share her longings with her spiritual father:

—Batiushka, well, I pray to God and ask Him, “Lord, I am so afraid of a long, hard death! I will bear everything without murmuring, but still I ask You for a shameless, blameless, peaceful end, having received the Divine Mysteries. Please, don’t let me be bedridden for a long time, don’t let me suffer overmuch, so that others will not have to suffer taking care of me, let me die easily, without any bedsores...”

And by her prayers, the Lord gave her just such a death. At first she had a minor stroke. She received the small monastic tonsure, went to church, and prayed. One time, Sr. Paula was at the services and received Communion. She listened to the prayers of thanksgiving, felt a weakness in her legs, sat down on the bench in the church, and five minutes later her soul passed peacefully on to the Lord.

The Lord grant thee according to thy heart, and fulfill all thy purposes.[1]

For Thou, O Lord, art good and gentle, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.[2]

Olga Rozhneva
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

25 апреля 2013 г.


[1] Ps. 19:4.

[2] Ps. 85:4.

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