October 2, 2015

Testimony of a Miracle of St. Justina from 19th Century Russia

The Temptation of St. Justina

The following account was written by Hieromonk Clement Sederholm, a Lutheran convert to Orthodoxy and disciple Elder Anthony of Optina (+ 1865), one of the two founders of Optina Monastery. It was published in his book on the Life of Elder Anthony in 1869.

The devout maiden R. (now a novice in the T. Convent) was subjected to the same temptation as was once the holy Martyr Justina: she was pursued by a certain man who, seeing that all his efforts to arouse in her a mutual love for him remained futile, turned to a sorcerer, and with his help began to direct magic spells against her. Being forewarned about this through a faithful servant-woman, and beginning to feel in herself the action of the enemy's power, this maiden had no one from whom to seek help except God, for she had no acquaintance with anyone of spiritual life.

One night the servant-woman saw a dream wherein a tall monk entered her lady's room and led her out dressed in a monastic garment. Soon after this dream, the girl's relatives, who until then had never hosted any monks in their house, unexpectedly expressed their wish to meet Elder Anthony. In the evening of the same day, by the special design of God's Providence, Fr. Anthony without any invitation visited that family although he had never met them before. This visit was very important, for by it was clearly indicated the Providence of God for this family, the manifest activity of the demons of which many folk are now unconscious, as well as the spiritual power of Fr. Anthony. Here is what we know for sure about this visit:

Elder Anthony of Optina

When Fr. Anthony entered the house, a large crowd of demons visibly attacked him with curses and threats, forbidding him entrance. The Elder was not frightened by the threats of the enemies of the human race; he humbly invoked the help of the Name of God and God drove them away. When Fr. Anthony entered, everybody noticed that his face was deadly pale. The servant-woman, seeing him, recognized him as the man whom she had seen in her dream.

The Elder understood that the only salvation for this maiden was to go to a convent. But her relatives did not wish even to hear of this, and Fr. Anthony did not find it possible or profitable to persuade them; and therefore he only prayed for her deliverance from the enemy's nets that surrounded her, and by his letters strengthened her in her torment from the invisible power of demons, which had been brought against her by the sorcerer.

After a while, Fr. Anthony advised the entire family to visit N. Monastery, where several people were being tonsured into monasticism. This advice was accepted, and through Fr. Anthony's prayers the rite of tonsure made such a deep impression on the mother of the maiden R. that when leaving the church she unexpectedly gave her consent for her daughter to enter the convent. The maiden R., with great joy and thanksgiving to God, made haste to take advantage of her mother's permission and entered the T. Convent where she now lives.

However, the sorcerer boasted that he would drag her even out of the convent. And indeed, the young novice continued to feel within herself the action of the enemy's power, having repose neither day nor night. Again she found strength in the prayers and counsel of Fr. Anthony. The young sufferer received final deliverance from the temptation of the enemy that tormented her through the prayers of the great hierarch, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, now reposed in the Lord, whose name is revered everywhere in Russia and even outside of Russia. Once, he appeared to the maiden R. in a dream, read the 60th Psalm, ordered her to repeat after him all the verses of it, and then gave her the command to read this Psalm daily. Upon awakening, she felt that the temptation which had been tormenting her for many years had completely departed from her.

We know that this account might appear unbelievable to many readers, but do we not find a multitude of similar cases in the narrations of the lives of the saints which the holy Church considers to be true? Furthermore, the reliability of this account, which was taken down from the maiden's own words, is confirmed by the very letters of Fr. Anthony to her, which we received and published in their original form in the collection of Elder Anthony's letters numbers 296-298.* Here are the actual words of Fr. Anthony from his letter of the 2nd October, 1864:

"When the hour arrived that I, by the will of God, came to visit you, I first encountered a whole crowd of demons. With abusive language they prohibited me from entering, but the Lord drove them away. Although I am myself a great sinner and not worthy to save others, the Lord God by His great mercy to you chose me, unworthy as I am, as an instrument to speedily lead you forth from the deep abyss (which was revealed beforehand in your servant's dream). If we would have postponed your departure for another year or more, then only God knows what else might have happened to you. Your experience during the last two years spent in your parent's home was revealed to me so clearly that I cannot think of it without a heartfelt shudder. Not knowing this beforehand, I was right in advising you to pray to the holy Virgin-Martyr Justina, for your situation then was very similar to hers, as I have just recently learned. With my whole heart I thank God with tears that your holy soul has been delivered from the nets which had ensnared it."

Elder Anthony concludes his letter to this maiden, who was then still suffering the effects of her experience: "Be full of hope. You and I, even lying flat in bed, will be saved by the prayers of the saints for us; for if the prayer of even a single saint can give much help, then when all the saints start to pray for us, without any doubt the Kingdom of Heaven will be ours!"

* The Letters of Abbot Anthony to Various People, Moscow: Optina edition, 1869, pp. 381-2.

From the book Elder Anthony of Optina, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994, pp. 128-131.