Blessed Pelagia Ivanovna
“This woman will become a glorious luminary!” a miracle-worker of Sarov told about the future blessed elder Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrennikova. A miraculous bond developed between the ascetic and great elder Seraphim. It all began, by divine revelation and through the blessing of the Most Holy Mother of God, after his long conversation with Pelagia Ivanovna. He blessed her for a great exploit of foolishness for Christ’s sake, bowed down to her and said: “Go, go, matushka, to Diveyevo, keep my orphans in your care.”
She was born in 1809 to a wealthy merchant’s family in Arzamas. Soon after she was given away in marriage, Pelagia Ivanovna visited venerable Seraphim in Sarov, and had that extended conversation with him that determined her future and set her on a path of spiritual exploit. Upon her return home, Pelagia Ivanovna began the life of a fool-for-Christ, as she fully renounced the worldly life. Barefooted, half-naked, and hungry, she ran around the town in madness, spending nights without sleep and praying before the closed doors of the church. Her husband, as well as her relatives, who misunderstood what great endeavor she took upon herself, subjected her to beatings and torments, starving and restraining her in chains. The grace of God was what nourished her and strengthened her to endure the tortures. In 1837, the sisters of the Diveyevo monastery saw Pelagia Ivanovna, took pity on her and brought her with them. This is how the prophecy of Father Seraphim was fulfilled.
Her first cell attendant beat her so badly that it was impossible to watch her without compassion. She self-provoked everyone to beat her, since in her foolishness for Christ, she acted madly and would beat her head and hands against the walls of the monastery buildings. She rarely stayed in her cell, spending most of her time in the monastery yard: either sitting in a pit filled with filth or at the corner of a guardhouse. She walked barefoot during all seasons, intentionally poked her feet with nails, stepping on them, making every attempt to torment her body. She ate bread and water, and even that not too often.
She practically never slept, except perhaps sitting down occasionally for a nap. She used to walk away for the night and keep her vigil standing someplace in the monastery all night long, facing east and in complete disregard of rain or bitterly cold weather. She never fell sick. Pelagia Ivanovna never trimmed her nails or visited a bathhouse. Three years before her death, she fell down during a winter blizzard at a monastery garden and her apron dress with undershirt froze to the ground. She spent the entire night, or about nine hours, lying this way.
Her prayers protected Diveyevo and its residents whom she used to call her daughters. She was truly like a mother to the monastery, as nothing was done without her involvement. Her blessed advice was needed in everything – either at giving out obediences, or receiving and expelling anyone in the monastery.
There is a description of Pelagia Ivanovna made in 1874 by the artist M.P. Petrov: “An old, dirty, barefooted woman with super-long nails sat crouching on a woolen floor-mat.” “Upon my arrival, she immediately got up and stood erect to her full height before me. She was a woman of beautiful build with truly unusual and expressively bright eyes.”
During various circumstances throughout her life, Pelagia Ivanovna kept on saying: “I am Seraphim’s”, “Seraphim corrupted me,” “the elder (i.e. Seraphim) is really nearby.” She unceasingly held her prayerful vigils over the Diveyevo monastery till the end of her life. “Look how many kids I have got,” she used to tell another blessed woman, Pasha of Sarov, professing her love of the “orphans” of Diveyevo. She showed her genuine and heartfelt care for Hegumenia Maria as well, about the latter’s daily chores and troubles in managing the monastery. Altogether, it fully confirmed her rightful and dutiful attention to the great elder’s request: “Come, come to Diveyevo and keep my “orphans” in your care.” Her prayerful intercessions kept them safe and helped them enter into life eternal. Without a doubt, she keeps them safe now, raising her prayers and beseeching for them before the Throne of God.
People of all walks of life began to flock to Diveyevo to meet her, hear her words of wisdom, consolation, advice or rebuke, each according to their needs. She had a gift of prophecy and would usually say what was spiritually beneficial to a particular visitor. She was affectionate with some of them, and stern with others, while few were chased away, thrown stones at, or even castigated. Her voice sounded like a bell, powerful and filled with grace, just as the voice of St. Andrew, the fool-for-Christ, was known to sound. Everyone who heard her speak at least once would never forget the formidable power of her words. She used to speak unabatedly, either in parables, or plainly and firmly, depending on the spiritual needs of her listeners.
She was fond of flowers, and, when she held them, she used to finger through them, whispering prayers. Before her passing, she seemed to have held flowers all the time, since people wanted to please her, as these flowers soothed her. As she held and fingered them admiringly, she remained serene and cheerful, just as if she, in her mind, had already found rest in the other world.
Blessed Pelagia found her blessed repose on January 30, 1884. Her funeral took place on the ninth day with the great throngs of people present. Pelagia Ivanovna was buried at the monastery’s cemetery behind the sanctuary of the Trinity Cathedral.
A monument on the blessed elder’s grave has four signs that read as follows:
1) “With the blessing of the elder of the Lord Hieromonk Seraphim, Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrennikova, born Surina, left the earthly pleasures, her husband and children, and took upon herself an exploit of a fool-for-Christ. She endured persecution, beatings, insult, and chains for Christ’s sake. Born in 1809, she spent 47 years in the monastery and passed away to the Lord on January 30, 1884, being 75 years old.”
2) “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven. As she endured it all and conquered everything with her love of God, so do now, for the sake of His love, be patient with our infirmities and, with the cross of your exploits, intercede for us.”
3) “Seraphim’s Seraphim, blessed Pelagia of Holy Trinity Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery. For the Lord’s sake, she took up her cross and lived fully with the Lord while on earth and entered into life eternal to be forever with the Lord.”
4) “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Following your treacherous path of foolishness for Christ’s sake, you did not hold out on anybody before, so do not forsake your beloved monastery now, in your blessedness of being present in the Lord’s eternal glory.”
Blessed Pelagia Ivanovna’s relics rest at the Kazan church of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery, next to the blessed Paraskevi Ivanovna and Maria Ivanovna. On July 31, 2004, they were jointly added to the host of the local saints of the Nizhny Novgorod Diocese. The holy relics of the blessed Pelagia were uncovered on September 17, 2004. In October 2004, the Council of Bishops has issued a blessing to allow for a universal veneration of the Diveyevo blessed women Pelagia, Paraskevi and Maria.