The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:16)
She was blind from birth, but from a very young age Blessed Matrona was filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit to be able to clearly see the sins and passions and even the thoughts of people who came to her. Born totally without eyes she was blessed with the ability to foretell future events. This simple, illiterate woman, born in a remote Russian village in a poor peasant family is now known and honored throughout Russia as a powerful intercessor before the Lord and a worker of miracles but is less well known here in America.
Blessed Matrona was born in the village of Sebeno, about 300 kilometers south of Moscow in 1885. She was the fourth child born into a poor family and was initially seen as another unwelcome mouth to feed. Prior to her birth, her mother decided to send her to an orphanage in the nearby village of Buchalki but she had a dream in which she felt a sign from God to accept and care for the child. Matrona’s family lived directly across from the village church and were a pious family and all frequently attended services. Matrona especially loved the church services and spent most of her time there, literally “growing up” in the church. There in the church she stood, riveted to one spot, immersing herself in the worship, learning by memory all of the hymns and prayers of the divine services. Even as a young child, before she learned to talk, her parents at times discovered her, in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, pulling the icons from the family icon corner and speaking to them in her childish language.
Beginning around the age of 7 it began to be noticed that when Matrona prayed for the sick they often recovered. From that time on a steady stream of sick people from their village and the surrounding province made their way to the family home begging Matrona to pray for them. People came to her with a multitude of problems and concerns besides sicknesses: loss of a job, unhappy love, what decision to make regarding a move, psychiatric illnesses… In gratitude for the help they received they would leave gifts of food and other items for the family. Her parents, expecting that this blind child would be an unwelcome burden on a poor family, now realized how God was blessing their family and village with this “handicapped” child. When she was 17 years old she lost the ability to walk, the cause of the paralysis never discovered. She never complained of her new handicap, but bore it as the will of God.
At the age of 14, Blessed Matrona joined a group of pilgrims who journeyed to the city of Kronstadt to see the famed Russian priest and miracle worker, Father John of Kronstadt. Father John, with his own gift of spiritual discernment, demanded that the crowd make a space for him to meet the teenager. As he greeted Matrona he exclaimed: “Here goes my successor, the eighth pillar of Russia!”
Blessed Matrona always emphasized that it was the power of God , and not her own that brought healing to anyone: “What, Matrona is God? Is that it? It is God that helps!” She always prayed in a loud voice and insisted that the people who came to her have faith in God and repent of their sins. She required that everyone who came to her wear a cross throughout their lives. She herself followed the same, strict pattern throughout her life: she devoted her nights to prayer and her days to receiving visitors, sometimes up to forty a day. A tiny woman, she usually sat on her bed cross-legged, while visitors knelt before her bed. Matrona would reach out her hands and with her fingertips touch her visitors head and make the Sign of the Cross over them and pray for them, giving a word of consolation or advice as needed. With her love and compassion for people she held them in her arms and prayed for them as they sobbed in pain and despair. It is said that she had a small depression on her forehead made by her fingers because she made the Sign of the Cross so frequently, slowly and carefully.
With her spiritual gifts she predicted the coming of the Russian Revolution and described in detail how churches would be desecrated and closed and how believers would be persecuted and killed. During World War II she was often the only source of information on the safety of sons and husband who had gone off to fight in the war. To one family she would be reasurring: “Alive! Wait for him…” To another: “They’ve died, arrange for the burial service”.
With the ascent of the Communists Matrona’s life was in danger. In 1925 at the age of 40 she was forced to flee to a friend’s home in the relative anonymity of Moscow. Two of her brothers, Mikhail and Ivan had become staunch Communists and were irritated by the constant stream of the sick and the suffering coming to see their sister in the family home. The brothers also knew the danger they and their family faced from the Communist authorities since their village home had become a place of religious pilgrimage. Here in Moscow Matrona continued her ministry of prayer intercession for the sick but was forced to continuously move from apartment to apartment, one step ahead of the Communist authorities who sought to put an end to her popularity. She lived as a homeless wanderer without her own home, possessions or even food, being completely dependent on what was given to her.
Once a Communist official came to arrest Matrona who did not leave her residence but calmly waited for his arrival. She greeted him with a warning: ” Go, go quickly, there is trouble for you at home! A blind woman has no place to hide. I’ll sit here on the bed, I won’t go anywhere.” Fearful, the policeman ran home to find that his wife had been badly burned by the stove. He managed to get her to the hospital and saved her life. When he returned to his office the next day, his chief asked him: “Well, did you get the blind woman?” He replied: “I’m not taking her anywhere. If that blind woman hadn’t told me, I would have lost my wife, but I was able to get her to the hospital in time.”
She predicted the day of her death, giving everyone instructions concerning her funeral and burial. Until the end she frequently received Holy Confession and Holy Communion. She remained very humble and like ordinary people she admitted that she was afraid of her approaching death. Before her death on May 2, 1952 she instructed those around her:
“Everyone, everyone who will come to me: tell me, as if I were alive, of your sorrows, and I will see you, and hear you, and help you. After my death few people will visit my grave, only close friends, and when they die my grave will be abandoned. But after many years people will hear about me and come in crowds for help in their sorrows and with requests for prayer for them to the Lord God, and I will help everyone and listen to everyone.”
Blessed Matrona was glorified as a saint of the Orthodox Church on May 2, 1999. Her relics are enshrined in the Protection Monastery in Moscow where every day hundreds of people stand in long lines to bring her their problems, illnesses, and needs as they ask for her prayers before the throne of the Lord.
The life of St. Matrona reminds us that all of us are called to a life of holiness and that this is possible for all of us. She was not a nun, never attended a seminary, in fact was an illiterate, peasant woman yet was so filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit that she was able to see people’s needs and sins, predict the future, and perform countless miracles even after her death. The Bible teaches that when a person is cleansed of their sinful passions and is filled with the Holy Spirit the presence of the Spirit produces certain “gifts” or “fruit”. These include the ability to read the hearts of people, perform miracles, predict future events… (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) as well as characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (see Galatians 5:22)
Why is it that we do not have people like her among us in America today? Where are these people who can predict the future and perform miracles? St. Matrona was immersed, she was “marinated” in the divine services of the Church, spending countless hours in her village church along with hours daily of her own private prayer. What are we in America immersed or marinated in? To what do we devote our time? Television, internet, Facebook, movies, magazines, shopping…. The Bible also describes the “fruit” of this type of immersion: adultery, fornication, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissension… (see Galatians 5:19) Which do you prefer in your life, the fruit which St. Matrona had or the fruit of this world?
Tropar of St. Matrona of Moscow
Chosen by the Holy Spirit from your swaddling clothes, O blessed eldress Matrona, you received bodily weakness and blindness from God for spiritual cleansing. You were enriched with the gift of foresight and wonderworking and have been adorned with an incorruptible crown from the Lord . Therefore we offer you crowns of praise in gratitude crying out to you: “Rejoice O righteous mother Matrona, fervent intercessor before God for us!
– Father Edward Pehanich