By Abbess Ariadna
`Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God, consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.’ (Heb.13:7)
Abbess Rufina with the Vladimir Icon
Chapter I: Olga Kokoreva
On June 27, 1872, in the town of Perm, a daughter was born in the family of the merchant Andrei Timofeyvich Kokorev, and named in Holy Baptism Olga.
The Kokorev family led a full life, and the mother of little Olya, held a special benevolent influence over her daughter. She taught her how to read and write, and would tell her stories of the Holy God-pleasers, especially the Solovki Saints, Zossima and Sabbatius . With her whole soul little Olya received these stories, and secretly at night would get out of bed, dress entirely in black, and fervently pray before the ancient icons which adorned the beloved icon corner in her bedroom.
Once, when her parents had left her alone at home for an extended period, Olya, who was then eight years old, began daily visits to the local Dormition Convent, whose Abbess was Rufina. During this time, little Olya had a dream of her future life. She saw a bishop in full vestments who held in his hands a box. Giving the box to Olya, he told her, “In this box is your life.” She looked in the box and saw a multitude of small, shining crosses, and underneath them one large pectoral cross. Upon the return of her parents, Olya began to implore her mother to allow her to enter the convent. Her alarmed mother, who thought Olga was still too young, opposed her desire, but finally gave in and took little Olya to the convent.
On August 15, 1880,. the ninth day after her arrival, Olya was summoned to appear before Abbess Rufina. As the Abbess clothed little Olya in the robes of a novice and signed her with the cross, the Monastery bell resounded, calling the faithful to the Vigil for our Lord’s Transfiguration. “You shall be an Abbess,” said Matushka Rufina. “This is the first time in my life that I’m clothing a novice to the accompaniment of bells.” But Olya’s family regarded her stay in the convent as only temporary. In fact they were hoping to give her in marriage, and were even looking for a husband for her. The constant presence of the family, and its insistent meddling into the monastic life of the young novice, was a distracting intrusion into the even paced quietness of the monastery’s life. With God’s help, a simple solution was found. In 1887 the Dormition Convent was visited by Abbess Angelina of the newly founded St. John the Baptist Convent in Solykamsk. When Novice Olga was selected by Abbess Angelina as one of her future assistants, Abbess Rufina gladly let her favorite go. Thus Novice Olga was transferred to St. John the Baptist Convent in Solykamsk, and began to prepare for the acceptance of the Riassaphore.
During this stay in Solykamsk, she took upon herself a podvig like that of the Pillar Saints. She would spend whole nights standing motionless, with arms uplifted, calling with sobs to the Heavenly Queen, “Oh, Most Blessed Lady, Virgin Mother of God, I pray to you at this hour, and my faith is strong. But do not abandon me, Oh Most Blessed and Most Good One, and help me at the time when perhaps I will be assaulted with coldness of soul and won’t be able to pray to you as I do now. In those days of temptation strengthen me, Oh, Lady, strengthen my spirit and forgive your slave. Amen.”
Chapter II: Novice Olga
Novice Olga was eighteen years old on October 22, 1890, when her tonsure into the riassa was announced to occur. As she was preparing to bid fa
rewell to the world, suddenly a strange thought flashed through Novice Olga’s mind, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have some hot tea and soft, white bread?” All of a sudden, as she stood near the monastery Church, she heard a voice, “Here I am walking and thinking about how to offer someone some white bread.” The young novice shuddered from the surprise, turned around, and saw before her an elderly man of a strange appearance. He had an unusual haircut, was barefoot, and wore a long peasant shirt tied with a rope around his waist. His look was simple, bright and peaceful; and in his hand he held a piece of white bread. This was the Fool-for-Christ, Blessed Basil Ivanovitch. After this occurrence Novice Olga would often have talks with this Blessed Fool-for-Christ. He would always address her as Olga Simyenovna (Simeon’s daughter) instead of Olga Andreevna, which was her real name in the world. Once, unexpectedly, as it always was with Blessed Basil Ivanovitch, he told Novice Olga, “My, what a bridegroom I have found for you!” Knowing the wish of her late mother that she would return to the world and marry, the poor girl, who was still dreaming of tonsure and preparing herself for it, began to weep bitterly, thinking that it would be her lot to live in the world.
However, nothing new happened in the life of Novice Olga, and the date of October 22, 1890, was approaching. Novice Olga went to see Blessed Basil, and was met by him in a busy and concerned fashion. He was mumbling to himself and searching for something. Finally he found a piece of linen cloth, in which were wrapped eighteen candles. The Fool gave them to Novice Olga, and said in a hurried manner, “You will light these on the day of your wedding.” And a few days later the riddle of number eighteen was solved. An order from the local bishop arrived that Novice Olga’s tonsure be transferred to October 18. Only then did the naive girl understand the mysterious meaning of the words of Blessed Elder Basil.
Chapter III: Monasticism
As the years passed, the authority of Mother Olga became more firm. With the labors she performed in the Convent, Mother Olga continued to strengthen the religious convictions which had brought her to the Convent. She was very interested in the lives of the Valaam Elders, whom she had met, and with whom she corresponded about spiritual questions. As her spiritual strength grew, and her position amidst the faithful people who surrounded her in the Convent became more firm, she was seen by many as a future leader and Abbess. Always viewing these opinions concerning her as temptations and sins, she continually strove towards the secluded life of prayer, and was always afraid to take any part in the leadership of the Convent. In this regard she opened the voice of her soul to Archimandrite Arethas, who was the Elder-Abbot of St. Simeon of Verkhoturie Monastery, and also spiritual director of many nearby convents. Listening quietly to the agitated words of Mother Olga, this wise and spiritual elder, in accordance with the advice given her by the Valaam elders, Archimandrite Jonah and Schemamonk Elias, blessed Nun Olga to take an opportunity to go to Moscow. The opportunity occurred thus: a nun of the Moscow Passion Convent, Seraphima, who was visiting relatives in the Urals, suggested that Mother Olga go with her to Moscow to live a spiritual life in the Passion Convent. Her trip to Moscow was blessed by the Abbess of her Convent.
The Passion Convent, however, did not give her the spiritual peace that she sought. Thus, again with the blessings of Valaam elders with whom she still corresponded, she returned to Perm County in 1900. She returned though, not to Solykamsk, but to Verkhoturie. Stopping for the night about 50 miles from the city, the young pilgrim had a dream in which she was sailing on a river with a thick rope tied to her neck, which was attached to three loaded barges. She was sailing against the current and was pulling the barges after her. Only much later did she understand the dream: having become Abbess, Mother Rufina pulled three Convents against the current of the Russian Revolution: St. John the Theologian, Smolensk Mother of God in Vladivostok and the Vladimir-Theotokos Convent in Harbin. Having arrived at the Protection Convent in Verkhoturie, Mother Olga was given many obediences: working in the handicraft and icon shops, organizing the 75 voice choir, later becoming its director, and finally being the closest assistant of the Abbess, Taisia. And so the prophecy of the Righteous Basil came true: she became the daughter of St. Simeon of Verkhoturie.
The Young Abbess Rufina
Chapter IV: The Abbess
Fulfilling the request to revive the ancient monastery of St. John the Theologian as a convent, the Holy Synod, in 1911, sanctioned the request of Bishop Palladius to bless the tonsure of Riassaphore-nun Olga of the Protection Convent, with the name of Rufina, and to raise her to the rank of Abbess. This was accomplished in order to send her to the city of Cherdyn in Perm Region, to revive the Monastery of St. John as a convent, which had been closed by Catherine II. The solemnities of tonsuring Mother Olga took place October 18, 1911, in the Dormition Convent, where thirty-one years earlier, she had begun her monastic endeavors.
On November 12, Bishop Palladius of Perm and Solykamsk, bestowed upon the newly elevated Abbess Rufina the Abbatical Staff in the Dormition Convent of Perm and addressed her with the following sermon:
“It was pleasing to the Lord God that in the city of Cherdyn, the ancient monastery of the Holy, Glorious Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian be revived. Originally a men’s monastery, it is being reopened, more appropriately for this locale, as a women’s convent.
“Where once there was total desolation, later a glorious monastery flourished. And now, thanks to God, this holy place is again being erected, and again the extinguished lamps are being lit, with the hope that they will serve as beacons for the desolate area surrounding this monastery. There is no doubt that many of the inhabitants of the Theologian Monastery received boldness before God;=and are glorifying Him in Heaven, in the Kingdom of the Righteous Ones. Glorified is the name of God at this very moment with the gathering of the present monastics. From this time forth, those whose souls were darkened and laid heavy with sorrows, will find for themselves in this convent, peace and light for their souls. May God grant that the spiritual life in this convent will flower and be raised to the proper height, so that those who seek light will find that light in this convent….
“With the grace of the Spirit of the Most High, now you, most worthy Abbess, have been raised to be the spiritual authority of this young convent. A special responsibility of guidance for the salvation of the souls of these inhabitants, who are entrusted to you, has been placed upon you. May this be of paramount importance for your care, intentions, words and actions.
“No doubt it is difficult to rule a convent where great heedfulness and foresight in all actions is required. Do not, however, trust in your own strength, but in the help of God, and be obedient and submissive to His Providence.
“The world keenly watches every step of monastics, not seldom with the aim to throw reproach at the monastery…. It is necessary to have discernment in everything, and not to place upon the sisters works and rules which are too difficult to carry out. It is also necessary to make as a rule that which is bearable – only then can you demand the unwavering fulfillment of obediences.
“May God give you, most honorable Abbess, with His help, the possibility to install a true monastic life in this convent, which is in full accord with the commandments of the Holy Fathers.
“It is necessary to bring up the sisters spiritually, so that they will willingly hasten to the Temple of God on their own and find in it peace and comfort for their souls. The chanting should be solemn and should touch the soul. It should give contrition in the ancient manner and melt the souls of those who pray. It should not give pleasure with its external sounds to the ears alone. The Church reading, as well, should be solemn, well articulated and comprehensible. It should be done without haste, and meaningfully read from the soul with full awareness of its height before God. There should be readings in Trapeza also, so that not only the body, but also the soul is fed. For this reason it is necessary that the Lives of Saints and the Word of God be read by good readers, so that to all who listen it may be clear and audible. Idle talking should not be permitted during the time of handiwork; and in order that the handiwork be performed with prayer on the lips, the Word of God should be read by one of the sisters. So that good order should rule in the Convent, the Abbess, for her heart and soul to be one with her sisters, should perform all the rules and regulations of the Convent herself. The sisters then will be obedient to her not for fear’s sake, but for their consciences’ sake. You should not love some and hate others; support one and not care for the others. The Abbess should, with great heedfulness, take care of her sisters, remembering always, that for each fallen soul she will give an answer to God. It is necessary to use great caution, and only in necessary cases should a sister be allowed to leave the monastery, even for a short stay in the world. A person who is not spiritually strong might be ruinous to the souls of the other sisters, and often disastrous to the Convent.
“You should take heed not only of the external, but also the internal order of the Convent, so as not to give any opportunity for temptation. For it is said, `Where the rules and governance of souls is not brought to life, there is great perishing of souls.’ The Abbess must also be able to spiritually heal the sisters entrusted to her; for one soul has one sickness, another soul a different one. When a sister falls into despair and is despondent, she should be encouraged, inspired, and comforted. There are souls who are too zealous and enthusiastic for podvig, for which they are not prepared. Those you must restrain and instruct so that they do everything to the measure of their capabilities, and thus, with blessing, they will cut off their own will. If such ones will not be restrained from selfappointed ascetic labors, they will inevitably enter into the sin of judging, pride, haughtiness, and self-opinion. For according to the Scriptures, their punishment will be to fall. Some souls require, according to their nature, only pure love and a good example, and gentle and careful treatment. And by this might St. Paul’s exhortation be fulfilled, `I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.’ (1 Cor. 9:22)
“That is why the Abbess must know how to teach humility and endurance by her own example. A great sin does that Abbess perform, who has not destroyed her own self-love and personal feeling, or who, according to her foolish zeal, not having discerned the sick ones, is giving to all the same medicine. She must be very careful with those whose souls are seriously sick, whose wounds have grown old and festered to such an extent that they need at first the softening element of the oil of love in order to avoid careless and crude handling of these serious wounds. This will avoid further pain, which often leads to despair. The Abbess should have limitless love for her spiritual children, a love that nothing can shatter. She must co-suffer in soul with them, constantly praying for them to God, asking His help in order to continu
e responsible obedience. There should be no such thing as, `today we love, but tomorrow we hate.’ Here is the example of St. Seraphim: everyone who parted with him, was filled with joy, consolation, and tenderness of heart. For all he had a word of consolation; he loved all with Christ’s love, and for all, without exception, he had a word of a loving father: `My Joy.’ These words of love warmed all who came to him. He is an exalted example of love towards one’s neighbor and is worthy of imitation. Our own wills must be denied, so that in everything we do, we will perform the Will of God. You must be penetrated with the realization that you are not doing your own will but God’s Will. This will inspire you, and give you strength in the heavy task of ruling this young convent.
“Here is your staff. Let it remind you that you must hope, not in your own strength, but in God’s help. May it be a true staff of fair ruling. Leaning upon it, go with joy along your path. May the Grace of God lead you to the path of perfection, and together with you, may it lead all the sisters of this Holy Convent to Heaven and to Christ. Amen.”
On November 13, 1911, the newly appointed Abbess Rufina left Perm for Cherdyn. She was accompanied by seven sisters; they were given to her by the Abbess of the Protection Convent, Taisia, whose main assistant had been Abbess Rufina.
Abbess Rufina, having arrived with the sisters at the place of the ancient St. John the Theologian Monastery, found the Church in half ruins and next to it a tiny but – there was nothing else.
For the next eight years Abbess Rufina worked hard to restore and build the convent. In 1912 the Church was built anew. In the place of the hut, within the Convent grounds, stood two large stone buildings to house the sisters. A third stone building was soon begun. Mother Rufina conceived the thought to lease from the city council a piece of,land in order to start a farm and tree-growing enterprise, which was so indispensible for that still primitive part of Russia. The same year she went to St. Petersburg, where she had a long conversation with the Minister of Agriculture, A. V. Kryvoshen. This outstanding statesman was exalted from the ideas of Abbess Rufina, and within a short time the Convent of St. John received, ten miles from Cherdyn, a parcel of twenty square miles of land with fields, grazing meadows, hay fields, and forest. The Convent acquired agricultural machinery, horses, and cattle. The sisters learned how to plant, reap, cut hay, timber the forest, and prepare firewood. A portion of the sisters even lived on the land.
In 1914 the First World War broke out. St. John’s Convent also participated in the war effort. In the Convent Church, tireless daily prayers were sent to the Altar of the Most High for the peace of the whole world, for the salvation of the soldiers who were defending the homeland, for the granting of victory to the Christ-loving warriors, and for the repose of the souls of the fallen soldiers who gave their lives for the Faith, the Tsar, and the Fatherland. The Convent organized relief for the wounded soldiers with the handiwork of the sisters, and sent things to the front. Above all the Convent opened an orphanage for the children of soldiers who died at the front. This orphanage was dedicated to the Romanoff family, because of the boyar, who in 1601, was exiled to Cherdyn. The Emperor, Nicholas II, deigned to appoint his daughter, the Grand-Duchess Tatiana, as the protectress of the orphanage. Thanks to the Tsar, the orphanage received a stipend. By 1917 there were seventy-five orphans, who were children of fallen soldiers.
Chapter V: Imperial Confidante
During the summer of 1917 Mother Rufina visited Moscow, and there became acquainted with the Convent of Mary and Martha, which had been founded by Her Imperial Highness, the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth, the sister of the Empress and widow of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. With love and kindness Grand-Duch
ess Elizabeth received the Abbess from Cherdyn. They spoke of how to help people, philanthropy, about the causes of the All-Russian Disaster, and finally about personal work. At this time Emperor Nicholas, together with his family, was exiled to Tobolsk. The Grand-Duchess asked Mother Rufina to go to Tobolsk in order to obtain permission to see the Empress, to whom Abbess Rufina was to deliver a series of family advices and requests.
With great zeal in her heart, Mother Rufina took upon herself the fulfillment of these requests. But for some unknown reason, the local bishop, Theophan of Solikamsk (t Dec. 11, 1917), was against the trip and Abbess Rufina was forced to abandon the fulfillment of the requests of the Grand-Duchess.
Chapter VI: New-Hieromartyr Theophan of Solikamsk
The fate of St. John’s Convent in the epoch of the revolution was the same as befell all institutions of piety. The Convent was searched many times, directly plundered, and suffered various forms of arbitrary attack, along with deprivation. All of this was conducted, not by local citizens, but by irresponsible representatives and regiments of the military revolutionaries. In the summer of 1917, in the midst of loud phrases about a “war to the victorious end”, Kirensky’s pitiful slogans began to reach Cherdyn from Petersburg. “Save the Revolution” was in the air, but they had forgotten about the war and Holy Russia.
Among the other revolutionary slogans, “Down with capital punishment” and “save the Revolution” were very audible, however the daily reality was just the opposite. Whenever the Communists appeared, instantly executions would take place, without trial. And with the executions, ,there occurred murders, assaults,and even more degrading, were the tortures, which had long been forgotten by cultured peoples. People died in various ways.. Not many, however, went to Eternity by such a cruel deatli as the one suffered by Bishop Theophan of Solykamsk, the bishop who refused to bless Abbess Rufina to go to Tobolsk to see the Empress. In this instance the Communists showed a special form of sadism, which was of no benefit even for themselves, because the execution of the bishop was conducted before the eyes of many witnesses.
The Communists dragged Bishop Theophan to the shores of the already frozen Kama River, on December 11, 1917. There they began to rip off the clothing from their victim, while others began to plait the bishop’s hair into small braids, in order to tie them together and put a rod underneath, and in this way, lift their victim into the air. And this is the Twentieth Century!!!! In a few minutes the bishop, his arms and legs tied with ropes, was ready for torture by the animal-like godless ones. The torturers cut a hole in the ice, and on both sides of the hole placed benches. On each bench two Communist “operators” stood, holding the rod that went through the braids of the Bishop Theophan. Slowly, the torturers began to submerge the bishop into the icy water and then lifted him up again in half a minute. Again they lowered him into the icy Kama. In twenty minutes, after having switched executioners, they had satisfied their demonic desires. The body of Bishop Theophan was covered with ice two inches thick, but the Martyr remained alive. The crowd of witnesses, among whom were many devotees of the Martyred Bishop, saw this horror with their own eyes (one even survived the Second World War and lived, until her death in 1974, in California). Holy New-Hieromartyr Theophan pray to God for us.
On January 5, 1919, the town of Cherdyn was occupied by troops bf the White Army. This union of like-minded souls was not to last for long, however, for orders soon came from the White Headquarters that the troops should retreat. In June of 1919, Matushka Rufina evacuated with the Tobolsk regiment of the White Army in a freight car. With her fleeing sisters, she abandoned the Convent of St. John, and by August the train reached Novo-Nicholaevsk. Having received permission
to found the Mary and Martha Sisterhood, the “traveling convent” accepted 150 children into their orphanage and nursery.
Once again retreat was necessary, and the sisters had to abandon their new God-pleasing work. Abbess Rufina, with her sisters, obtained a freight car in the column and moved east to Chyta. An epidemic of typhus broke out among the sisters and the sick were left at the Convent in Chyta.
In February 1920, Abbess Rufina, abandoned and exhausted, arrived in Vladivostok. She soon received news that the sick sisters who had been left in Chyta had recovered and would be joining her. Knowing that they would be tired and hungry from their journey, Abbess Rufina spent all the money she could spare, 400,000 rubles, for some bread, and met the sisters with it on the railroad tracks. By that time it was impossible for the train to reach Vladivostok.
With the help of many good people and a Vice-Admiral, Matushka Rufina was given four acres of land behind the city cemetary of Vladivostok, and received permission to build a new Convent. She was also given the right to use the cemetary Chapel, “the Joy of All Who Sorrow.” Soon the Convent was on its feet again. The sisters quickly cleaned up the graves, increased their handiwork, and helped conduct Church services.
But by God’s Will, in three years these good works also had to be abandoned, as the time came to evacuate Vladivostok. As a pilgrim, with a knapsack on her back, and her staff in her hand, Abbess Rufina arrived in Harbin, Manchuria at the beginning of June 1923. For several months she was bedridden due to a severe illness, and during this period her faithful sisters lived apart from her in Mo-dya-gu, laboring day and night in order to earn for themselves a piece of bread from their handiwork.
Chapter VII: Manchuria
In June 1923, Abbess Rufina became seriously ill. Her condition became serious, and she spent a long period of time in bed. Because of the difficulty of going to the hospital, she was treated by a local doctor, who even cooked for her. At that time the only source of income the sisters had, in order to pay the mounting bills, was to bake prosphoras. After a serious seizure, Abbess Rufina was admitted to the hospital, where the doctors said there was little hope for her recovery.
While in the hospital in 1924, during another seizure, which lasted 1 to 2 hours, Abbess Rufina was granted a divine vision. Both the Nuns Anemaisa and Ariadna, who were in the room with Abbess Rufina when she lapsed into unconsciousness, saw her raise both arms, open wide her eyes and meekly say, “Oh miserable mankind! Oh, what you are depriving yourself o8 Oh Lord, send me any kind of sufferings, but do not deprive me of this joy!” Both Nuns came close to her bed. She was in a state of deep prayer, and remained silent for awhile, and then, one after another, tears began to roll down her cheeks. Having calmed down, she opened wide her eyes and saw the Nuns standing nearby and said, “Oh Sisters! I was in Heaven! How good it is there! How many Saints are there! They were dressed in white, glistening garments, with long flowing hair, but I didn’t recognize anyone. In the distance I saw our Lord, Jesus Christ on a Throne of Glory, in a great light. I saw myself as I am now, in this white gown. How good it is there! There was no sickness, I didn’t feel tired, and I was seized with Divine Joy, my heart trembled. I remembered all humanity, and feeling deep sorrow for all people, I began to pray fervently. The Lord mercifully glanced at me, but said nothing. Everyone who surrounded me, also wearing white apparel, looked at me with smiles, but didn’t push me away”.
But her words, “Oh miserable mankind! Oh, what are you depriving yourself off” Matushka did not remember. Only when she was told of them did she remember that truly she had uttered them, and had felt sorry for the whole world from the bottom of her soul.
From that moment Matushka Rufina began to withdraw herself, as if departing this world. Apparently, she thought she would be carried away to the feet of Him, Who had vouchsafed her the mercy of beholding His unutterable Glory.
After her release from the hospital, she began to regain her strength, and only occasionally would the seizures return.
In August of 1924, with the blessing of Metropolitan Methodius of Harbin, a Convent was founded by Abbess Rufina and dedicated to the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God. The first Liturgy was performed there on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord in that same year.
The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God
Chapter VIII: Miraculous Renewals
The miraculous renewals of icons was first witnessed in the Convent of the first Tuesday of Great Lent in 1925. A dark Icon of the Mother of God “of the Akathist” suddenly became light. A priest was asked to serve a Moleben before the renewed Icon, but when he expressed doubts as to whether the Icon had in fact been dark, it quickly became dark again. Abbess Rufina commented that the Icon darkened again due to the “soot of unbelief,” but she prophesied that before the renewal of Russia the Icon would once again be renewed.
Another miracle of God’s Mercy was manifested in the Convent on August 26, 1925 (o.s.), the Feast of the Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God. An Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God was miraculously renewed in Abbess Rufina’s hands. In 1924 a” pious and elderly lady gave the old and damaged Icon to the Convent, remarking to the novice who accepted it that she couldn’t throw it away in spite of its condition. Abbess Rufina accepted the Icon and placed it in a prominent place in the Church, which at that time had few icons. Because of its condition many people complained, and so the Icon was moved to a corner of the Altar. Even there, however, the presence of the Icon was criticized by the clergy.
On the Feast day of the Icon, when several people were to be released from prison, Abbess Rufina decided to bless them with the Icon. She requested that the Icon be brought from the Altar and when Mother Ariadna handed it to her, it quickly began to lighten, the way that fog scatters in the sunlight, and became cleaned of the dust and dirt that time had settled upon it. Holding the Holy Icon in her hands, Abbess Rufina exclaimed, “Look, look, a miracle is taking place. The Icon is being restored!”
After only a few minutes the Icon looked as though it had just been painted. The face of the Mother of God was lightened, the tin covering was brightened, and the halo above the face of the Virgin radiated a flowing light. This miracle occured at 2 p.m.
An hour later a Moleben was served by one of the hieromonks of the Convent, who only a few days earlier, had recommended that the Icon be burned and the ashes thrown into the river. With tears he begged forgiveness from the Mother of God.
This miracle strengthened the Sisters in their faith that the Mother of God was Herself directing their lives invisibly, and was watching over their spiritual progress. Seeing in this miracle an indication from the Mother of God as to what the Convent should be called, Metropolitan Meletius blessed the changing of the name of the Convent to the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.
On April 26, 1926 there was a fire at the Convent and one Icon, that of God the Sabaoth, was miraculously preserved and renewed. A flow of miraculous healings began to occur from that Icon as well as from the Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God. The apparition of these obvious signs of God’s Mercy, began to be widely known, not only among the Russian population, but among the Chinese as well, not only in the city of Harbin, but along the whole territory of the Chinese Eastern Railroad.
Chapter IX: Clairvoyance in Harbin
The living conditions in Harbin were highly unmonastic. The sisters rented an apartment in a row of twenty. Abbess Rufina always followed the ascetic way of life in its full meaning, and suffering in her soul, poured out her troubles before the miracle-working Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God. Her prayers were not in vain, as a true miracle occurred as a result of them.
Seeing the inescapable sorrow of Matushka Rufina, the Mother of God showed her a way out of this difficult living situation. Looking for an acceptable place for a Church _and monastic quarters, the Abbess found a location that would be quite suitable, but there was no money. Sorrowing with this heartfelt weight, once while praying long before the beginning of Divine Liturgy, she saw an elderly lady, Martha Menovna, who used to frequent the Convent. Surprised at seeing her so early at Church, Abbess Rufina asked the reason for her early arrival. The lady answered tearfully that at 3:00 a.m. she was awakened in a strange way, and clearly heard a voice which said, “Go to the Convent and tell Abbess Rufina that she should do what she has decided upon, and the rest will be added.” This was remarkable because the old lady knew nothing of Abbess Rufina’s intentions. Soon after that another old lady, who had great love for Abbess Rufina, died and her husband donated, in her memory, $5,000.00 to the Convent. Thus the Convent could move. And in August 1927, relocated to its new location on Post Street.
Abbess Rufina never saved money. Whenever it was needed it would come. She spent large sums of money for the publication of educational brochures and leaflets.
During this period of the Convent’s existence in exile, over six hundred girls were given a home, educated and prepared for life in the Convent’s Orphanage of Saint Olga. But even the quiet life in Harbin, and the growth of the Orphanage could not silence the sensitive and clairvoyant Abbess Rufina. Not once did she talk about the frightful events to come, which she saw with her spiritual eyes. Often she warned the sisters that the time would come when they would have to leave Harbin also. As early as 1927 she told the people who surrounded her that they should prepare to move the Convent to America – that God was leading them there. However, at that time the eight thousand mile move was not possible, so the Convent bagan a gradual move to Shanghai, where a new Convent was founded, as well as an orphanage for little girls. As her successor in Harbin whe appointed the Nun Ariadna, who, in 1917, had enterred the Convent of St. John the Theologian in Cherdyn.
Abbess Rufina loved to spend whole nights in prayer. The sisters thought that this was the cause of her ailment, but it wasn’t. She didn’t pray externally. She prayed with love, going deep into herself. She would at times keep these Vigils for several weeks in a row, and even, not long before her death, for months in a row. She prepared her soul for its departure from the body with prayer and vigils. She also began the All-Night Vigil Services, which became very popular, especially during the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God.
In 1931 Abbess Rufina’s gift of clairvoyance was exhibited in Harbin. A young man, under the influence of intellectuals of his time, seeing the “progress” of Communism, lost his faith in God. And although he was of a pious family, unsure of the existence of God, he decided to no longer wear a cross around his neck. Shortly thereafter his father died, and out of respect to his father’s memory the young man decided to go to Church to receive Holy Communion. But how could he receive It without a cross around his neck? he wondered.
He had heard of Abbess Rufina, and so decided to go to the Convent for Divine Liturgy as the atmosphere was different from that of a parish community. The kindness and accessiblity of Abbess Rufina won his heart. After showing him to her office and exchanging the usual introductory formalities, she looked deep into his eyes and said, “There is something I must do for you, but I have forgotten what.” And with that she began to think very hard. The young man was silent and said nothing about the cross as he thought Matushka Rufina wasn’t feeling well. Suddenly she exclaimed, “Oh yes!” She jumped up and called Sister Eutropia (later Mother Evgenia) and said something quietly to her. Through the door the young man could hear Mother Rufina ask the Sister to bring something to her. Having returned to her office, Abbess Rufina began to murmur a prayer. When the Sister returned with something in her hand, the Abbess approached the young man with exceeding joy which shone in her eyes, and said, “Here, I prepared for you a little cross. The only trouble is I don’t have a chain, but that’s. alright. I’ll take the one from my own cross.” Although she was radiant, the young man noticed that Abbess Rufina was very tired and had even become pale. Describing this case of clairvoyance, the man concluded, “I cannot express what my soul experienced. Only a man who gains back his faith could understand it.”
Chapter X: The End of Her Earthly Life
About to depart for Shanghai, Abbess Rufina foresaw that she would never return to Harbin. In the summer of 1937 the illness from which she suffered worsened. In one of her sleepless nights, Nun Ariadna, who was in Harbin, heard the voice of her Abbess calling, “Gutya, hurry up!” (Gutya is the diminutive of Augusta, which was the name of Mother Ariadna in the world.) Having had no news from Shanghai, Nun Ariadna left at once for Shanghai and arrived on July 8, the Feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. She rushed to Abbess Rufina who was bedridden and very weak, but peaceful.
On the Feast day of St. Olga (July 11), Abbess Rufina’s name day in the world, although still very sick, she was able to attend the Moleben served in the Convent’s Church. On August 1 she began to ask several times whether the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God had passed. Those who surrounded her could not understand why she should ask that. Her condition worsened, and it was decided to take her to the hospital. Foreseeing the approach of death, the Abbess called the sisters to her and gave them her motherly counsel: “Live in peace, love and agreement. Love God above all, and give to Him your souls and hearts.” After those words each approached her for her blessing with the miracle-working Icon, and she asked from each forgiveness. She was asked by all instructions and blessings for the future.
On several occasions during her last days, Archbishop John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai brought Abbess Rufina Holy Unction and Communion. She prayed constantly, often calling out the name of Nun Ariadna and that of her spiritual father, Father Peter. She felt sorry for some Vera, for whom she prayed for a long time. She begged that some unknown person be fed and given shoes and clothing. On Friday, August 14, she asked again that all the sisters and the orphans come to the hospital for a blessing. They all stood around her bed weeping. As she prayed constantly and often mumbled different things, the sisters nearby noticed that her arm had become blue, but the nails of her hand remained normal.
In the evening, Archbishop John came again and gave her Holy Communion. He stood there for a long time and awaited her death. Peacefully she said, “Everything is finished, I will go to a new apartment.” She read Psalms and sticheras to the Feast of the Dormition, and then said, “The bells are ringing.
They sing beautifully. There are lots of people. Hurry up, let me go.”
During these pre-death hours, she would answer the thoughts of those nearby. Thus when Nun Ariadna was in bitter despair, and was thinking, “What will I do?” Abbess Rufina instantly answered, “Ask everything from the bishop, and in Shanghai, leave everything as it is.” How terrible they felt as they saw the terrible hour of death arrive. “Great mercy of God was given to mankind, limitless mercy and love does the Mother of God show to us sinners, yet we are deaf and blind to the Divine Voice of Love…. We here, outside of Russia, more and more, are summoning upon ourselves the righteous wrath of the Judge. There is no peace or love in our hearts. If all of us, exiles from our native land, would fall down with a mighty cry before the miracle-working Icon of the Heavenly Queen, and with one voice and heart exclaim to Her thus: `Oh Mother of God, save the Russian land and save us!’ Then wouldn’t she hear us? Oh yes, my beloved ones! She will hear us! She will obtain for us, from Her beloved Son, the possibility of changing His wrath to mercy. If we only repent and give a promise to direct our lives according to the Commandments of God.” These are the words of Abbess Rufina before her blessed repose.
At 3:25 a.m., August 15, 1937, the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, her breathing became quieter and slower. At 3:49 she took a last, deep breath. Instantly, her face changed – Abbess Rufina was breathless. On their knees, the sisters wept for a long time. Mother Ariadna closed the eyes of Abbess Rufina forever, and crossed her arms on her breast.
“And thus, our Spiritual Mother and Directress left this life, but her life’s work continues to live. And I, the humble successor of the late Abbess Rufina, witness even now many examples of her intercessions before the Throne of the Most High and before the Queen of Peace, which have been revealed to us personally and witnessed to by many who knew her, and even those who didn’t know her during her life. In a sequence of letters and oral accounts it has been described how the late Abbess Rufina appeared in visions and dreams, calling people to prayer, to help those with needs, and how she appeared with words of consolation and instruction. It is difficult to enumerate the individual cases, but I will cite only one which is more striking.
We received a letter from the United States – from St. Louis, Missouri – which described the appearance of Abbess Rufina three times in a dream to a lady who was seriously sick. Abbess Rufina told her to pray in order to strengthen the state of her soul and body which was tormented by illness. Thus even after her death, she remembers us, our sicknesses and needs, both spiritual and physical, and hastens to help and instruct us.
“Let my words not sound strange to you, believing Orthodox readers. For each of us must always remember the words of the Apostle: `Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and today, and forever.’ (Heb. 13:8) If there were people who loved Him in the first centuries of Christianity, then there are even today, though not always visible to the world,those who are both misunderstood and persecuted. But they were, and will remain, true sorrowers for all those who suffer. Without them, without their prayers. without their poduigs, the world will cease to exist. And that city will perish in which there are none who love God. Doomed is that land where there are no ascetics who stand up for the Truth.
” `Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God, consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.’ (Heb.13:7, RSV)” The sisters became orphaned and only then did we understand why our Abbess kept inquiring whether the Feast of the Dormition had passed. Abbess Rufina was buried in the cemetary of Liu-Ka-Vay, in the city of Shanghai, where many Russian emigres found their last resting place. Abbess Rufina is not amidst us any more, but her spirit is alive in the Convent of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God which she founded, and which stems from the ancient St. John the Theologian Monastery in Cherdyn. Unseen ties connect the Holy Convent with its beloved Abbess whose pure soul even now stands before the Throne of the Almighty.
+ Abbess Ariadna