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The Fate of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convents Sisters in the 20th century: The Feat of Faith and Piety.

Igumenija Domnika, the Mother Superior. The presentation about the fate of the convents sisters in the XX century at the Orthodoxy in the Fate of Ural and Russia: History and Modernity Conference dedicated to 125 years anniversary of establishing Yekaterinburgs Diocese and 200 year anniversary since the founding of the Novo-Tikhvinsky convent.

My presentation will address the lives of the nuns at Novo-Tikhvninsky convent during the time of persecution that the Church suffered in the XX century.
The XX century became the time of extreme trial for the Russian Orthodox Church. Those who wanted to keep their faith and Christian piety had to perform a very special podvig. We know that many Russian people performed this podvig fulfilling Christs promise: Gates of Hell shall not prevail against Church. Some spilled their blood for Christ or endured hardships in labor camps and exiles. They demonstrated the height of Christian faith that fears neither torture nor death. Others had to live in the midst of godless world where they kept their pristine piety and served as an example of love for God and their neighbor for their fellow citizens. Thanks to all these people martyrs, confessors and those who carried the light of Christian faith through the years of godless reign that we see today the rebirth of Russian Church in all its glory and beauty.
Our convents sisters were such keepers of Orthodox faith and today I would like to tell you about their feat in more detail.
First, it is important to understand what kind of a place Novo-Tikhvinsky convent became by the year 1917. In the beginning of the 20th century, Novo-Tikhvinsky convent was one of the largest in Russia. There were almost one thousand nuns, eighteen workshops in operation, alms-house, an orphan asylum, and a parochial school. The life of the convent had been established in the ancient communal life tradition. In terms of creating living environment, the convent served as an example for other monastic dwellings in Urals.
Revolutionary events disrupted the Novo-Tikhvinsky convents evolvement. In 1920s, the convent was shut down, military institutions were set up in the convents buildings, sisters were pushed out to go back into the world. But it should be stated that the convent did not cease to exit. Many sisters carried on monastic life-style in the world and continued to live in piety and prayer. The fate of the majority of the sisters is still obscure, but we conduct continuous research in our Church History Center at the convent to gather whatever information possible. At the present time, we found in archives criminal investigation files for twenty seven nuns of the Convent. Four of them were sentenced to be executed, seven sisters were sentenced to ten years of forced labor camps and at least three of the sisters died in the camp imprisonment.
Supposedly some sisters suffered the persecution when the convent was still functioning. In 1918-1920s, the first wave of repression hit the Church. In those terrifying years, the sisters of Novo-Tikhvinsky convent assisted the Imperial Family locked up in the Ipatievs house. In the spring and summer of 1918, novices Antonina Trikina and Maria Krokhaleva with the blessing of Mother Superior Magdalina (Dosmanova) brought food to the Ipatievs house until the day when the Royal Martyrs were murdered. We have an oral testimony that Novices Maria and Antonia were later also executed. Perhaps it is a mere legend, but in any case, we can definitely state that these two sisters committed a true heroic act, a feat. Self-defiance and courage shown by them will forever retain its place in history as an example of Christian love.
In 1929-1931, nine more sisters of the convent suffered in the new wave of persecutions.
This is what we know about one of them, novice Martha Prokopievna Sofonova. She came to live in the convent in 1912 at the age of fifteen. She carried out her obedience with diligence in the choir gallery. Novice Martha adored long monastic services. She lived in the abode for only ten years until the convent was shut down and she had to return to her home village of Bulzinskoe. There she found a job at the Church of Divine Intercession. In 1929, The Cathedral of Divine Intercession fell under a threat of being closed down. Novice Martha put together a petition and knocked on every door asking people to sign their names on the list of parishioners. She collected five hundred signatures almost the entire village. In 1930, novice Martha was arrested and charged with campaigning against the actions of Soviet authorities. She denied any wrongdoing during the interrogations and was sentenced to five years in a concentration camp. Soon after she was arrested, the Cathedral of Devine Intercession was shut down.

Novice Martha in 1968

Evidently, Novice Martha was a person of brave character. We know that in the course of her life, she was arrested on at least two more occasions. The reason for her last arrest was the same as for the first one: Novice Martha was petitioning to establish a Cathedral in the town of Rezh, where she lived at the time. She was arrested by the authorities and accused of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. At that time, she was already fifty years old. During her last arrest, she acted in the same way as when she was arrested the first and the second time: she did not confess or admit anything and was sentenced again to five years of imprisonment. After she served the term, she settled down in Sverdlovsk. It is known that she lead ascetic life: she prayed a lot most of the time in St. John the Baptist Cathedral, where she sang in a choir gallery.
The fate of the sisters who were persecuted in 1937-1938 turned out more tragic. It was the time, when the largest number of sisters in Novo-Tikhvinsky convent suffered. Some of them were executed, others were sent to camps for ten year terms.
A nun Anthonia (schema nun Arsenia) (Sycheva) was arrested in 1937. Her life presents a special interest. She ardently loved monastic life. Having spent twenty five years in the convent, she did not abandon monastic life-style after the convent was shut down. In 1920s, she lived in Pokrov (Intercession) district but often visited the Abbess Magdalina (Dosmanova) in Sverdlovsk. Nun Antonias heart was burning with the love for the Lord and she was unable to look indifferently at those who had no faith. Thus, for example, she would walk without fear into a neighborhood recreation center and tear off the communist propaganda posters from the walls; she would openly talk about God to children in the streets. She was austere to herself and others, courageous, and possessed spiritual discernment. A great number of former nuns from Ural convents lived at the time in the Pokrovsky (Intercession) District. For many of them, the nun Antonia became a spiritual Mother. That is precisely how she was addressed: Spiritual Mother Antonia. In November of 1937, nun Antonia was arrested. During the questioning, she openly stated to the interrogating officer: To me, the Soviet power is the rule of godless people, so I called it as such and spread the word around. I am ideologically dedicated to defend the Church from the repressions by the soviet authority She was sentenced to ten years in the correctional labor camp.

Schema Nun Arsenia, 1960s

Nun Antonia was fifty one years old at the time. Exhausting labor, insufficient diet, and other hardship of life in labor camp were more than she could bare. When she was unable to work any longer because of undernourishment, she would stay in the barrack to pray and sing orthodox chants. It was the camps warden who saved her life. He placed her as a nanny for his own children, and did not even object when she taught them orthodox prayers.
The ten years of imprisonment in the camp did not break nun Antonia; she remained the same person as always brave and fearless. Having served her sentence, mother Antonia returned to her native town. Every church holiday, she gathered believers to pray together; she delivered packages to prisons for the arrested priests and nuns. Nun Antonia reposed on February 15, 1972. During the last years of her life, she secretly took schema with the name of Arsenia.
Finally, during and immediately after World War Two, five more nuns of Novo-Tikhvinsky convent suffered during this last period of church persecution.
I would like to draw your attention to the following phenomenon: the sisters that we just spoke about were not outstanding Church figures. They were ordinary nuns. They lived their lives unnoticeably until the trial made the power of their sprit manifest.
Needless to say that a great number of people in the 20th century Russia were never arrested or jailed but they nevertheless lived heroic lives of feat and sacrifice. In this report, I would like to tell you about the fate of those sisters of our convent whose feat was of precisely such a nature.
We know now that about two hundred nuns settled in Yekaterinburg after the convent was shut down. Still others found home in small settlements around the town. The sisters would settle in small groups of three to five each. They tried to continue the monastic order: praying together, reading spiritual books, and singing church chants. Sisters worked in the churches, hospitals or civil industries to support themselves. Many managed to earn a living with the crafts that they learned and practiced in the convent.

Mother Magdalina

The largest community of former nuns of Novo-Tikhvinsky convent was formed in Sverdlovsk around Mother Superior Magdalina (Dosmanova) in a private house on the outskirts of town. Eighteen sisters lived with Mother Superior Magdalina permanently while others came to visit on a regular basis arriving from the city or neighboring villages. The Mother Superior was in her seventies; an experienced spiritual teacher, she had a gift of wisdom, insightfulness, and prophecy. She was teaching her spiritual children to pray Jesus prayer, to overcome passion, and to read the writings of church Fathers. Mother Magdalina reposed on July 29, 1934. She took schema right before her death.
The life of a nun Yevgenia Bazheva (a Novice wearing a frock) serves as an excellent example of a true monastic life in the world. At the age of fifteen, novice Yevgenia entered a convent where she spent twenty years. After the communist revolution, she came to live with her family but her brother refused to take her in. She left for town of Aramil, where she settled down with two other sisters from Novo-Tikhvinsky convent. There she lived for more than twenty years until 1945 when she moved to the town of Polevskoy, settled with her niece and got a job of a hospital janitor.

Novice wearing a frock Yevgenia

During all these years, novice Yevgenia strictly followed the rules of monastic life. She slept on a bed without a mattress, meticulously followed the monastic rule during the meals, i.e. never consumed meat and kept every lent. She would refuse milk in the time of lent even when she was seriously ill.
Novice Yevgenia never abandoned her prayer rule. She prayed during the day when her family went out or at night when they slept. Her niece sometimes noticed that novice Yevgenia at times stayed up all night long.
She tried to keep praying through the day. When she received visitors, she would greet them cordially, but spoke briefly in order to be continuously focused on the prayer. At that time, there were no functioning cathedrals in Polevskoy, and the believers gathered in a house of one of the women. Novice Yevgenia always participated in the meetings where she read Apostol and New Testament.
Despite many hardships and sorrows, novice Yevgenia sustained love for her neighbor in her heart. She always tried to help those in need, often visited people in their homes and read Psalter for the departed. She never asked for any monetary reward for her service.
It is a known fact that novice Yevgenia became a nun (took the veil) but she kept her monastic name a secret even from the closest ones, therefore it remained unknown. Nun Evgenia reposed in 1978.

Novice wearing a frock Yevgenia Bazheva in her mature years

And finally I would like to say several words about one more sister at Novo-Tikhvinsky convent -- schema nun Nikolaia (in the world Galina Andreevna Zasypkina) whom several sisters and I were honored to know personally. It was rather unusual that she began her monastic life when the convent was already officially closed. Later one, schema nun Nikolaia would constantly refer to the convent as our convent, although she never really lived under its roof. She however acquired its spirit and therefore became its virtual apprentice and daughter.
Galina Zasypkina came to the community founded by the Mother Superior Magdalina in 1930 -- almost ten years after the convent had been destroyed. Two years later, Mother Magdalina enrobed Galina in schema. Mother Magdalina taught young novice Galina to never renounce her faith and predicted that thus she would avoid the arrest. This prediction came true. Galina was never arrested despite her many acts of bravery: she brought parcels to jails for the detained nuns and priests; her home was always open for clergy. She was never hiding her faith, openly wearing her orthodox cross. In response to her coworkers admonitions to take the cross off, she replied: You say I am insane to wear my cross but I say that insane are those who do not wear their crosses. After the end of World War II, Galina lived for fifteen years in Krasnogorsky convent in Ukraine where she took a monastic schema with the name of Nikolaia. Later, when the convent was closed, she returned to Sverdlovsk, where she continued her monastic life-style. In 1970s, a small community of monastically minded lay people gathered around her.

Galina Zasypkina in her youth

The life of schema nun Nikolaia eloquently demonstrates that the essence of monastic living is in its internal spiritual work. This is why it was possible for monasticism to continue in Urals, although Novo-Tihkvinsky convent and other monasteries were closed. There is a saying: Where there is a monk there is a monastery. While the inhabitants of a monastery are alive, while they are keeping their internal monastic spirit and passing it on to others, -- that monastery remains alive, even though it has been physically destroyed.

Mother Nikolaia lived to see the resurrection of Novo-Tikhvinsky convent, and it is truly tanks to her that we are aware today of its spiritual traditions, that were practiced here in the past. Thus such traditions as Jesus Prayer and the reading of the Holy Fathers that were followed by the Mother Superior Magdalina and are practiced today in our convent. Although the typicon of the pre-revolutionary convent had been lost, and little do we know about its internal order, - we nevertheless feel our unity with the sisters who lived here a hundred or more years ago.
I would like to finish my talk with the words of archimandrite Aleksii (Polikarpov), a monk at Moscow St. Danilovksy Monastery. In 1950s, Father Aleksii lived in Sverdlovsk where he could often see in his Cathedral the nuns of our convent. This is how he spoke of his impressions in an interview: A Monastery in the world is a surprising phenomenon that manifested itself in the soviet times. It reminds us of the world of pagans where the first Christians lived. They projected the rays of Christs love upon the people and drew the peoples hearts to Him. It is a compelling testimony to the fact that a monastery is not defined by its walls but by a condition of a man, his overall focus on the Divine. I was deeply impressed by those sisters who served the people while living in the world in the world to which they belonged no more. They were the true nuns, different from everyone else around - they belonged to the other world.

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