January 30, 2018

Saint Pelagia the Fool for Christ of Diveyevo (+ 1884)

St. Pelagia of Diveyevo (Feast Day - January 30)

In the world she was known as Pelagia Ivanovna Serebrennikova. She was born in Arzamas to parents named Ivan and Parasceva, and she had two brothers named Andrew and John. In her childhood her father died, and her mother remarried a strict man named Alexei. As a child she came down with a severe illness, making her bedridden for a very long time. When she finally recovered, it was as if she was a different person, doing foolish things often. For example, she would go out to the garden in the middle of the winter, she would lift up her skirt in public, she would stand on one leg and spin around like a ballerina, and would scream for no reason. Her parents would punish her for these things, but her behavior did not change. Already from childhood she was nicknamed "fool" for her unusual behavior, and years later her mother understood that she was gifted at this time with the grace of foolishness for the sake of Christ.

Her parents gave her away in marriage when she was 19 to a man named Sergkei, and they were married in the Church of Saint John the Theologian in Arzamas on 23 May 1828. As newlyweds, her husband wanted to help her with her mental situation, so he took her with her mother and visited Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who conversed privately with her for a long time. On parting, the Elder bowed to her and said, “Go, Matushka, to Diveyevo and defend my orphans. God will glorify you there.” And he handed her a prayer rope. This was seen and heard by her husband and mother. As she walked away, a young monk standing outside the elder’s cell asked him who she was. “Trust God, Father John,” replied the Saint, “this woman whom you see will be a great luminary for the whole world. She is Pelagia Ivanovna, from Arzamas.”

Pelagia's situation soon proved to be too much for her husband. She began to spend all her nights in prayer and to play the fool, as if she had lost her mind. Pelagia suffered cruel blows and began to walk along the streets almost naked, acting crazily and suffering taunts and mockery. She spent every night in prayer on the church porch. When her husband gave her some money for her needs, she would turn around and give it all away to the poor. Sergkei therefore kicked her out of the house, and Pelagia returned to her mother's house. There, however, she was also treated cruelly and beaten by her father-in-law as well as from his children from his first marriage. One time his youngest daughter even tried to kill her by hiring a sniper to shoot her when she returned home from the city. When he missed his target, Pelagia was heard by her to say to turn the gun on himself, and thus he shot himself and died. Soon after her mother went to visit Saint Seraphim again about her daughter's situation, and he told her to allow Pelagia to do what she was doing, for it was pleasing to God. From that time forward, she was allowed to live freely as she desired.

In 1837, after the death of Saint Seraphim, the eldress Juliana who was a nun at Diveyevo and had the gift of clairvoyance, went to the home of Pelagia and asked permission from her mother to bring Pelagia back to Diveyevo with her. Pelagia was thus received into the Diveyevo community, where she continued her ascetic life as a "mad fool": she lived on the street in a pit filled with filth, she broke windows in the cells, beat her head against the walls of the buildings, always walked barefoot, pierced her feet with nails and in every way tormented her body, feeding herself on bread and water and never going to the monastery meals. Often, when going round the cells asking for bread, she suffered blows, pushes and kicks, calling herself "mad" and "a fool". Some sisters venerated her, others abused her as a mad woman possessed by a clairvoyant demon. Blessed Pelagia Ivanovna was venerated by all the blessed ones of Diveyevo: Parasceva Yakovlevna, Parasceva Semenovna, Parsceva Ivanovna, calling her "mummy".

Already during her lifetime, Blessed Pelagia used to heal those who turned to her. Thus the artist M.P. Petrov was healed of paralysis of the hand. She saw the whole life of any person and prophesied with clairvoyance. She appeared in dreams and performed healings. She quenched a fire at a distance. The sisters of the community, and the Abbess herself, took counsel with the clairvoyant blessed one. The fame of her clairvoyance spread everywhere and the blessed one was visited by many people from all ends of Russia. Four years before her death Blessed Pelagia foresaw the spread of Jacobinism and terrorism in the Empire. They would lead in the end to the murder of Tsar Alexander II, over which she constantly wept and prayed.

During this time there lived in Diveyevo yet another fool for Christ, Natalia Dmitrievna – “Natashenka”. Little is known of her background, other than that she came from a peasant family of the Orenburg province. At first, she too sorely tried the nuns’ patience — she would stand by the choir, her head uncovered, and make faces – and she would have been evicted had not Blessed Pelagia appeared in a vision to one of the senior nuns with a paper on which was written in large letters: “Do not touch Natalia; she is assigned to live here!”

Not long before Pelagia Ivanovna died, she saw from her window a woman coming towards her from the convent gates. She shouted at her, shaking her finger threateningly. The woman stopped. “Is it still too early, mother?” she asked. “Early,” answered the blessed one. The woman bowed low and left as she had come. She would return periodically for extended visits and, after Pelagia Ivanovna died, she remained there to live. Who was she? Her name in holy baptism was Nadezhda, but everyone knew her as Pasha of Sarov, or Parasceva Ivanovna.

After 20 years of asceticism, Blessed Pelagia, at the command of Saint Seraphim who appeared to her in a dream, shut herself up in a cell, began to avoid people, became silent, sat and slept always on the floor near the entrance door, and spent her nights in prayer. She fed mainly on black bread from which she rolled little balls which served her instead of beads for the Jesus Prayer. She never washed her body or cut her nails. The blessed one lived in the community until her death, and in accordance with Saint Seraphim, through her many souls have been saved.

Before her death she promised that those who remembered her she would remember and pray for. Blessed Pelagia reposed on January 30, 1884. She was granted to receive the Holy Mysteries from angels prior to her repose, as witnessed by Mother Anna. After her repose she was seen in a vision, kneeling before the Most Holy Mother of God together with Saint Seraphim. Blessed Parasceva Semenovna called her “a second Seraphim,” and she became known as “Seraphim’s Seraphim.” She was buried behind the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Trinity, as she had foretold seven years prior.