Venerable Martha

Venerable Martha (born Maria Semenovna Milyukova) was born on February 10, 1810, of the peasant family in the village of Pogiblovo (currently Malinovka) of Ardatov District.  The family of Milyukovs, leading a pious and God-pleasing life, was well known to the elder Seraphim of Sarov. Apart from Maria, there were two older children, sister Paraskevi Semenovna and brother Ivan Semenovich. With the blessing of Venerable Seraphim, Paraskevi Semenovna entered the Diveyevo community and became an elder who lived an exceptionally spiritual life. After becoming a widower, Ivan entered the Sarov monastery.

When Maria turned thirteen, she joined her sister Paraskevi and visited Father Seraphim for the first time. It took place on November 21, 1823, on the feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple. The great elder, foreseeing that this young girl Maria is a chosen vessel of the grace of God, did not give her the blessing to return home but instead had her stay at the Diveyevo community.

This exceptional, wondrous young maiden, an unequalled and angelic child of God, began her ascetic endeavors very early, exceeding in austerity other sisters of the community who also excelled in asceticism. Her source of nourishment was unceasing prayer, and she would answer any inquiries with heavenly meekness. She lived in almost complete silence. Father Seraphim was especially fond of and doted on her, revealing to her his revelations about the future glory of the community and other great spiritual mysteries.

Soon after Maria joined the Kazan church community, the Most Holy Mother of God instructed Venerable Seraphim to form a new one next to it, the one She pledged mother Alexandra about. Two weeks after the vision of the Mother of God, namely on December 9, 1825, Maria and another sister visited Venerable Seraphim. Father announced to them that they must follow him to his far-away cell. Having arrived there, father offered two lit candles (that he brought with him, together with oil and dried breads) for them to hold. He instructed Maria to stand by the right side from the wall Crucifix, with Paraskevi Stepanovna on the left. There they stood with the lit candles for more than an hour, while Father Seraphim prayed standing between them. Once he finished praying, he venerated the Crucifix and told them to pray and venerate it too. That is how, on the eve of founding the new community, the venerable one shared a mystical prayer with the sisters whom the Mother of God had chosen to serve Her and the community.

For the next four years, Maria strived ascetically, assisting Father Seraphim and the sisters in building their new community.  Joining him and other sisters, she harvested timber and logs for the mill blessed by the Mother of God for use in the new community. She also delivered stones for the construction of the Nativity of the Mother of God church. She ground flour and carried out other obediences, always keeping her prayer of the heart, silently lifting her flaming spirit up to the Lord.

She spent a mere six years in the community and then peacefully and quietly gave her spirit away to the Lord, on August 21, 1829, being nineteen years old. Foreseeing in spirit the moment of her passing, Venerable Seraphim cried suddenly and told his cell neighbor Father Paul with utmost grief: “Paul! Think of it, Maria is just gone, and I feel so sorry, so sorry for her, you see I cannot stop crying!” He used to say about her in the afterlife: “She was deemed worthy of such a grace from the Lord! She dwells near the Throne of God in His Heavenly Kingdom, right next to the Queen of Heaven and the holy maidens! She is a Schemanun Martha, for I tonsured her. Anytime you visit Diveyevo, never pass by her grave but kneel down and say: “Our lady and mother Martha, remember us at the Throne of Our Lord in His Heavenly Kingdom!” Soon after that, father called for the churchwoman, Xenia Vasilyevna Putkova, who he usually instructed to write down names on remembrance notes, and told her: “Here, matushka, list her as nun Maria, for she was deemed worthy, by her own deeds and through my intercessory prayers, of Great Schema! Pray for her, all of you, as Schemanun Martha!” According to the words of Venerable Seraphim, she is at the head of the Diveyevo “orphans” in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the heavenly abode of the Mother of God.

Maria Semenovna was tall and beautiful; she had an elongated, pale and fresh-looking face, blue eyes, and thick, dark brown hair.

In 2000, the Schemanun Martha 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 Most Holy Mother of God of the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery.

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