May 15, 2012

Elder Seraphim (Tyapochkin) and the Astonishing Miracle of St. Nicholas

Archimandrite Seraphim (Tyapochkin) was born on 1/14 August 1894 in a pious noble family. The infant was called Dimitry and was the last child in the large and amicable family of the Tyapochkins. At the age of seven Dimitry was prematurely accepted into a religious institute. From a young age the boy felt God’s summons and his priestly calling.

In 1911, having received his parents’ blessing, Dimitry entered a religious seminary, and in 1917 he continued his studies at the Moscow Spiritual Academy. After the Academy was closed down in 1919, Dimitry Tyapochkin moved to Yekaterinoslav, where he was married and became ordained as a deacon and later a priest. These were the years of the godless Soviet rule’s harshest battle with the Church. Everywhere sacred objects were profaned, churches and monasteries were destroyed, the clergy was persecuted. In 1933 Father Seraphim’s beloved wife died, and in 1941 he was arrested and condemned to 10 years of concentration camps. Father Seraphim’s path of suffering began in one of the camps in Kazakhstan. Father Seraphim did not like to talk of his life in camp, but it became known from his relatives that while he was in the camp, he continued his service as a faithful pastor of Christ’s Church, led spiritual discussions with the prisoners, baptized new converts, confessed them, gave burial rites to the dead. All of this was strictly forbidden by the camp administration, and violation of the rules led to incarceration, from which one could often not return alive. Therefore, all services were held in the strictest secret from the administration. The prisoners themselves sang the services. They also prepared priestly vestments for Father Seraphim out of towels, and embroidered them with crosses. During these years in the camp Father Seraphim felt himself like a chalice, which was gradually, drop by drop, filling up with grace-filled love for God and others. At the same time his heart was becoming filled with simplicity and childish innocence. This was felt by all the prisoners who were in contact with him, even the most hardened criminals, and all of them trusted him completely.

After ten years of camp, before regaining freedom, the investigator asked Father Seraphim: “What are you planning to do when you are free?” Father Seraphim replied: “I will continue serving as a priest, just as I have up to now.” – “Well, in that case," decided the investigator, "stay for a while yet.” And Father Seraphim was sentenced to another five years and sent into exile in the Krasnoyarsk region.

After being freed from camp in 1955, Father was taken into the Kuybyshev diocese by its Bishop Jeronimus. In 1956 there occurred an event which shook the entire Orthodox world – the famous “Zoya’s stand.” Let us briefly bring back to mind that miracle.

A certain Zoya (or Zoe), who was a worker at a pipe factory, decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her friends. Her religious mother was against merriment during Christmas Lent, but Zoya did not heed her. All the friends gathered, and only Zoya’s fiance Nikolai was delayed somewhere. The music played, the young people danced, and Zoya alone had no pair. Mad at her fiance, Zoya took down an icon of St. Nicholas and said: “Since my Nicholas is not here, I will dance with St. Nicholas.” At her girlfriend’s counsel not to do it, Zoya arrogantly replied: “If there is a God, let Him punish me!” With these words she began dancing. At the third round the room became filled with great noise, a whirlwind appeared, a blinding light struck like lightning, and everyone ran out of the room in fear. Only Zoya remained rooted to the spot with the icon of St. Nicholas clamped to her breast, petrified and cold as marble.

She could not be moved from the spot, and her feet seemed to have grown into the floor. However, despite the lack of outward signs of life, Zoya was alive: her heart continued beating. From that time on she could neither drink, nor eat. The doctors applied all possible effort, but could not bring her to her senses. News of the miracle quickly spread all over the city, and many people came to look at Zoya’s stand. But after a while the city administration suddenly realized what was happening, and all approaches to the house were barred, a police guard was put around the building, while the curious and visitors were told that there was no miracle and nothing had happened there at all.

The guard detail that stood at Zoya’s post heard her cry out at night: “Mother! Pray! We are perishing in our sins! Pray!” Medical investigation confirmed that the young woman’s heartbeat had not ceased despite the petrification of her tissues (they could not even give her any shots – all the needles broke off). All invited priests, after finishing their prayers, were unable to take the icon out of her frozen hands. But on the feast of Christ’s Nativity Father Seraphim (then still Dimitry) came, served a moleben, and blessed the entire room. After that he took the icon out of Zoya’s hands and said: “Now we must wait for a sign on the Great Day (i.e. Pascha).”

Before the feast of Annunciation a certain old man of noble appearance asked the guard to let him through. He was refused. He appeared on the next day, but the next shift did not let him through either. On the third day, on the very day of the feast, the guard did not detain him. The guards on duty heard the old man say to Zoya: “Well now, are you tired of standing?” Some time passed, but the old man did not come out. When they looked into the room, he could not be found (all the witnesses were sure that it was St. Nicholas himself who had appeared).

Zoya stood for 4 months, until the very day of Pascha. In the night of the bright Resurrection of Christ, Zoya loudly cried out: “Pray! It is terrible, the earth is burning! All the world is perishing in sin! Pray!” From that time she began to come alive, her muscles became softer, more pliable. She was laid in bed, but she continued to cry out and ask everyone to pray for the world perishing in sin and for the earth burning in iniquity.

By the prayers of St. Nicholas the Lord showed mercy upon her, accepted her repentance, and forgave her sins… All that happened so amazed the inhabitants of Kuybyshevo and its environs that many people turned to faith.

After Father Seraphim took the icon from Zoya, he was arrested. He spent two years in prison. He was forbidden to tell anyone of taking Zoya’s icon, and after his term ended he was sent to serve in a distant village. However, a great flow of pilgrims continued to arrive there, wishing to venerate this miraculous icon, which always stood in the church where Father Seraphim served. After a while the authorities demanded that the icon be removed, and it was transferred to the altar.

In 1960 protopriest Dimitry Tyapochkin was tonsured into monasticism with the name of Seraphim, and the following year hieromonk Seraphim was made an abbot. At first no one came to the services in his village church, sometimes only two or three old women. The walls of the church were covered with frost, and snow fell from above. It was obviously necessary to begin repairs, find people, resources, materials. But Father Seraphim did not make any visible efforts to engage in reconstructive work. Except for daily prayer. And gradually help came. The Lord sent donors, helpers, builders, – all that was necessary.

Father Seraphim loved church services and was piously strict in following church rules. In the altar the elder stood with great awe and always served the liturgy in a pious condition. Father Seraphim considered sermons to be an integral part of the service and constantly preached in church. He spoke feelingly and with heartfelt conviction. To each listener was revealed that which was necessary to him at the moment. During confession Father Seraphim helped people open up their souls with all sincerity. He knew from experience that without help from above a person cannot offer true penitence to God, and so he himself, often with tears, quietly pleaded with God to send the grace of penitence to the sinners.

The Lord granted Father Seraphim a peaceful and blessed Christian end. He reposed in the Lord on April 19 (the 6th by the old calendar), 1982, on the second day of Christ’s bright Resurrection.