Venerable Elena

Elena Vasilyevna Manturova was born to a noble family and lived not far from the Sarov monastery at the family estate in the village of Nucha. She was of cheerful disposition and did not give spiritual life a thought. However, one accident caused her to turn her life completely around. While travelling through a provincial town of Knyaginin of Nizhny Novgorod Province, she saw a vision of a gigantic terrifying serpent. It was so black and so frightfully dreadful, its jaws so threatening, that it seemed she would be devoured right away. The serpent descended lower and lower, so close that Elena Vasilyevna felt its breath all over her. Then she uttered a cry: “Queen of Heaven, save me! I take a vow that I will never marry and enter the monastery!” The dreadful serpent immediately soared up into the sky and vanished.

Since then, Elena Vasilyevna was completely transformed. She grew serious, spiritually alert and began reading holy texts. Worldly life became intolerable to her, and she longed to leave for the monastery where she would shut herself in. She went to Sarov to Father Seraphim seeking his blessing to enter the monastery. Father told her instead: “Why, matushka, what is it that you came up with! No, not the monastery, my joy, as you will get married!” “What are you talking about, father!” – uttered Elena Vasilyevna in dismay.  – “I will never marry, I cannot, as I gave my word to the Queen of Heaven to enter the monastery, or She will punish me!” “No, my joy,” – the elder continued. – “Why don’t you get married? You will have a fine and pious Bridegroom, matushka, so that everyone will envy you! Well, don’t even bother, matushka, you will certainly get married, my joy!”

Elena Vasilyevna left in distress. Arriving home, she prayed and cried a lot, asking for the Queen of Heaven’s intercession and guidance. The more she tried and tested her feelings, the deeper she understood that all the worldly and earthly cares were not for her as she has been born anew spiritually. Elena Vasilyena visited Father Seraphim a few more times only to hear him say over and over again that she must marry instead of going to a monastery. For the next three years, Father Seraphim prepared her for the forthcoming change in her life and for entering the Diveyevo community. Finally, he told her: “Well, now, if you really desire so, go then to this small community, twelve verst from here, run by Agatha Semenovna, Colonel Melgunov’s widow. Stay there for awhile, my joy, and give it a try!” Elena Vasilyevna rejoiced and went straight from Sarov to Diveyevo.  By then she had turned twenty.

After staying at Diveyevo for about a month, Elena Vasilyevna was called in to see Father Seraphim, who told her: “Now, my joy, it is about time you were betrothed to your Bridegroom!” Terrified, Elena Vasilyevna broke into tears and exclaimed: “I do not want to get married, father!” But Father Seraphim calmed her down saying: “How is it you still do not understand me, matushka! You just need to mention to your superior Xenia Mikhailovna that I instructed her to betroth you to the Bridegroom and have you robed in black robes… That is what I meant by marrying, matushka! That is who your Bridegroom will be, my joy!” And then he added: “I have your whole God-loving life in front of my eyes! This is where you are destined to stay, as there is no better place for reaching salvation than here. That is where mother Agatha Semenovna’s relics are. Visit her every evening, she walked that path and you can do as she has done. You need to go on the same path, for if you choose not to, it will be impossible for you to find salvation. Do not desire to be like a lion, my joy, for it is hard, and I will take care of it. But be like a dove, and behave like the doves with one another. Live there like a dove for three years, and I will help you. Here is what I instruct you to do: as your rule of obedience, read the Akathist daily with the Psalter and psalms, and keep a morning prayer rule. Spin flax into yarn and let another sister assist you by combing and rippling it. You can spin and learn, while another one will sit by you and instruct you how to do it. Keep yourself in silence, do not talk idly with anyone, answering to only most urgent inquiries and even then answer “as if with difficulty.” When you are questioned, respond “I do not know!” As soon as you hear others saying needless things amongst themselves, leave right away, so as “not to fall into temptation.” Never stay idle, be mindful of your inner thoughts, always stay busy. To avoid falling asleep, eat moderately. On Wednesdays and Fridays, eat just once a day. From waking hour till lunchtime repeat: “Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” From lunch till nighttime repeat: “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” In the evenings, walk outside and say the Jesus prayer 100 times and a prayer to the Theotokos 100 times and never tell anyone what you do. Pray so that no one sees or even assumes how you do it, and you will be equal to the angels! As your Bridegroom is away, do not be despondent and persevere and do not lose courage. With prayer, that everlasting and inseparable prayer, prepare yourself. He will walk in at night, softly, and bring you a ring, a finger ring, just as He did to Catherine, the Great Martyr. Therefore, prepare yourself for the next three years, my joy, and have it all ready in three years. Oh, what an unspeakable joy it will be, matushka! I am talking here about your taking the veil, matushka. Take the veil in three years, having thus prepared yourself, for it is not necessary to do it earlier. As soon as you take the veil, you will have such grace inside you and you will ascend higher and higher, oh, how it will be then! When the Archangel Gabriel appeared before the Mother of God and announced the news to Her, She was perplexed at first but immediately responded: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be according to Thy word.” That is how you will respond as well: “let it be according to Thy word!” That is the kind of marriage and the Bridegroom I am talking about, matushka. Be obedient to me and never tell anyone about it before it is time, but keep faith that everything spoken here to you will be fulfilled, my joy!”

Overcome with gladness, Elena Vasilyevna returned home to Diveyevo. Having put simple black monastic garments, she resumed her monastic endeavors with love, unceasing prayer, constant contemplation, and in complete silence.

Venerable Seraphim wanted to appoint Elena Vasilyevna a superior nun of his Community by the Mill. When father excitedly announced his will to her, Elena Vasilyevna was greatly confused. “No, I cannot, simply can’t do it, father!” she told him right away. “I always was obedient to you in everything, but I cannot be now! Rather, ask me to die, right here, right now, by your feet, but to be a superior is neither what I want nor what I can do, father!” Despite everything, when the mill was built and the first seven maidens settled there, Father Seraphim instructed them to seek her blessing and treat Elena Vasilyevna as their nun superior, even though she stayed in the community by the Kazan Church until her death.  It so deeply confused the young ascetic that, even before her passing, she kept insisting, as if in fear: “No! No! As father wishes, but I just cannot obey this will of his, how can I be a superior here! I am not even sure how I shall be held responsible for my own soul, while here there are others to be accountable for! No, please, may father forgive me, I simply cannot obey him in this!” Nevertheless, Father Seraphim entrusted all the newly arriving sisters into her care and, speaking of her, would always say “Your lady, your superior!”

Despite being nominally called a superior of the Community by the Mill, Elena Vasilyevna labored and carried obediences equally with other sisters. When Father Seraphim gave his blessing to dig a Kanavka, as commanded by the Queen of Heaven, he pointed out to the visiting sisters her commitment and diligence: “Your Superior, your lady, she labors so hard, and you, my joy, why don’t you set up a tent for her, a linen tent, so that your lady can take a break from her hard work!”

Exceptionally and inherently kind, she was keen on doing good in secret. Knowing the needs of the sisters who had poor families and the visiting beggars, she gave away everything she owned and whatever she received from others, but did so discreetly. As she walked by or, while at church, she would offer alms to someone saying: “Here, matushka, such and such asked me to give it to you!” All she had to nourish herself was a baked potato and some flat bread that used to be stored in a bag hanging on her porch. No matter how many were baked, she never had enough of them. “How odd,” nun the baker used to tell her. “I have just filled your bag with breads and where are they all gone?” “Ah, matushka,” Elena Vasilyevna would meekly answer. “Please, forgive me for Christ’s sake, matushka, do not be sad because of me. What can I do, I have this weakness, as I love them so much and eat them all!” She slept on a stone barely covered with some raggedy rug.

Once the Nativity churches were consecrated, Father Seraphim appointed Elena Vasilyevna a church sacristan and reader. For this purpose, he asked Hieromonk Father Hilarion from Sarov to tonsure her as a riassophore nun, and it was duly performed.

She stayed continually at church reading the Psalter six hours in a row, since there were only a couple of literate sisters. Due to this shortage of readers, she would even spend the night at the church at times, resting right on the church’s brick floor.

Her repose was of a miraculous and mysterious manner. Cured from a serious illness by Father Seraphim, her brother Mikhail Vasilyevich Manturov received his blessing to sell the estate and to use the money from the sale to build the churches to the Nativity in Diveyevo. All his life, Mikhail Vasilyevich Manturov had to endure humiliation for this godly act. He, in turn, bore it humbly, patiently, meekly, good-naturedly and in silence, all out of his love and unfathomable faith in the elder. He rendered complete obedience to him, doing nothing without his blessing, and surrendering his own life into the hands of the Venerable Seraphim. Father, in return, fully entrusted him in everything that related to settling things in Diveyevo. Everyone concerned knew it and duly paid full respects to Manturov, implicitly obeying him as the executor of Father Seraphim’s will.

When Mikhail Vasilyevich Manturov fell sick and was about to die from a malignant tertian fever, Father Seraphim called Elena Vasilyevna to come see him. He told her: “You were always obedient to me, my joy, and I want to give you one more obedience… Will you do it, matushka?” “I always obeyed you,” she said, “and I am ready to obey you now!” “You see here,” the elder went on, “your brother Mikhail Vasilyevich is quite sick and it is time for him to die, matushka. But he is sorely needed in our monastery for our orphans… So, here is the obedience I have for you: take his death upon yourself, matushka!” “Bless, father!” calmly and humbly replied Elena Vasilyevna. Father Seraphim had a really long conversation with her afterwards, pleasing her heart and talking about death and future life eternal. Elena Vasilyevna listened in silence, but suddenly she responded in embarrassment: “Father! I am afraid of death!” “How can we be afraid of death, my joy!” said Father Seraphim. “It will be an eternal joy for you and me!”

Having returned home, she fell ill, lay down and said: “I will not get back on my feet again!” Once, having changed in appearance, she joyfully cried: “Holy Igumenia! Matushka, do not forsake our community!” During her last confession, the dying one told about the vision and revelation she had been honored to receive. “I should not have talked about it earlier,” explained Elena Vasilyevna, “but now I can! I was at church where I saw, standing in the Royal Doors, a sovereign Queen of indescribable beauty, who called me saying: “Follow Me, behold and see!” We entered the palace; I do not have words, no matter how much I try, to describe its beauty, father! It was made from a clear crystal, while its doors, locks, doorknobs and all furnishings were of pure gold. It was gleaming, radiant and splendid to such an extent that it was difficult to look at it. As soon as we approached its doors, they opened by themselves and we entered an endless hallway framed with closed doors on both sides. Upon reaching the first door, it opened as if on it own as well, and inside I saw a great room.

There were tables, armchairs, just as splendid, as if on fire from some unspeakable decorations. The hall gradually filled with dignitaries and some young men of rare beauty were seated there. As soon as we entered, everyone rose in silence and bowed down to the Queen. “Look around here,” She said gesturing at them. “They are my pious merchants….” The next room looked even more beautiful, it was as if awash with light! It was full of only young maidens, one prettier than another, dressed in robes of extraordinary lightness and wearing shimmering crowns on their heads. The crowns varied and a few wore two or three of them. The maidens were seated but rose silently as we entered and bowed down before the Queen. “Have a good look around: aren’t they pretty? How do you find them?” She asked me kindly. I took time looking at them lined on one side of the room and then, who do you think I saw – one of the maidens, father, as my doppelganger!” Saying that, Elena Vasilyevna first looked confused, paused and soon continued: “This maiden smiled and wagged her finger at me! Then, by instruction of our Queen, I turned towards the other side of the room and saw a maiden with a crown of such a striking beauty that I even felt envy!” uttered Elena Vasilyevna and sighed. “All of them, Father, were sisters of our community from days past, residing there now and in the future! But I do not have permission to name them. Having left this room, its doors closed on their own behind us. We approached the third room and found ourselves in another less radiant room. It was also filled with our sisters as in the previous room, from the past, from current times and of the future. They all wore crowns, less shiny though, and I have no permission to name these either. Next, we moved on to the fourth room. It was poorly lit and full of sisters from the past, present and future, who were either were seated or laying down. Some of them, dreary and long-faced, were crouching from illness and had no crowns at all. Everyone bore the signs of affliction and untold sorrow. “And these are the slothful!” the Queen told me pointing at them. “They are maidens, too, but as they were negligent, they will never be exulted!”

Elena Vasilyevna died at twenty-seven years old on the eve of Pentecost, on May 28, 1832, having spent a mere seven years in the Diveyevo community. The following day, on Trinity Day, during the Memorial service and the singing of the Cherubic Hymn, everyone present watched in amazement as the deceased Elena Vasilyevna smiled three times as though lying alive in her coffin. Father used to say: “Her soul fluttered up like a birdie! The Cherubims and Seraphims parted to let her pass! She had the honor of being seated like a maiden not too far from the Holy Trinity!”

Elena Vasilyevna was buried next to the head superior mother Alexandra, to the right from the Kazan church. There had been previous attempts to bury deceased lay people in that spot, but the grave would get flooded with the burial deemed impossible. This time, however, the grave stayed dry and the coffin of the Seraphim community’s fervent intercessor was lowered there safely.

Elena Vasilyevna, who was of remarkable beauty, had an attractive appearance, rounded face, expressive dark eyes and dark hair, and of a high stature.

The veneration of Elena Vasilyevna in Diveyevo began soon after her repose. Beginning from 1850s, the monastery held a written account of the miracles and healings that took place on her grave. Unfortunately, this register was lost. After the Diveyevo monastery closed in 1927, and after the subsequent closure of the Kazan church, the nearby gravesites were leveled to the ground. In July of 1991, excavations revealed the gravesites of Venerable Alexandra, Martha and Elena, as well as one of N.A.Motovilov. The graveyard mounds and the crosses were restored. At the end of 2000, in preparation to the glorification of the venerable women of Diveyevo, the excavations were performed and the relics of the ascetics were found. On December 22, 2000, Elena Vasilyevna was added to the community of local saints of Niznhy Novgorod Diocese. In 2004, the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church approved her for universal veneration. Her holy relics are held at the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery.

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