January 24, 2020

Saint Sophia of Shamordino (+ 1888)

St. Sophia of Shamordino (Feast Day - January 24)

Sophia Bolotova was born in 1845 to a noble family. Her father was Mikhail Pavlovich Bolotov, who graduated from the School of Philosophy and Law of St. Petersburg Imperial University and was trustee of bread reserve stores in the Bogoroditsky district of the Tula province, participating in projects to free peasants. Her mother was Alexandra Dmitrievna, who raised six children, two sons (Dmitry and Eugene) and four daughters (Sophia, Maria, Elena and Barbara). Alexandra Dmitrievna was a very pious woman, and her children received both a secular and religious education. Four out of six children became monastics, while one died in childhood (Barbara) and the youngest married into nobility (Elena). Her brother Dmitry Bolotov was tonsured a monk with the name Daniel and became famous as an Optina icon painter. His most famous work was the portrait of Elder Ambrose of Optina lying on pillows.

In 1875, at the age of 30, Sophia married a former student of the Medical and Surgical Academy, nobleman Andrei Nikolaevich Yanko. They married at the Trinity-Sergius Lavra on October 22, 1875. Their marriage lasted a little over a year, and Andrei Nikolaevich died suddenly, but on January 17, 1877, three days after the funeral, Sophia Mikhailovna had a daughter, Nadezhda.

For three years, Sophia lived on her estate in the Tula province, she ran a household and did a lot of charity work. She spent a lot of time with her daughter and worked with orphans of the poor. In 1880, she sold the estate to move to her father in Yekaterinoslav, but in Tula she was informed of his death. Having learned from the neighbors about Elder Ambrose of Optina, she went to him for spiritual instruction and an indication of her future life. Arriving in Optina, she decided to fulfill her desire for a monastic life and became the spiritual daughter of the Elder Ambrose.

As a test, the elder ordered her to marry the elderly Kozelsky landowner Nikolai Astafiev, which she did. He was a capricious man with a difficult disposition, and she carried this cross for four years. After the wedding in 1880, Sophia Bolotova and her daughter moved to her husband’s Kaluga estate, which was located near the Optina Monastery. Sophia carried out the instructions of the Elder Ambrose with great responsibility and love, and he said that he did not have and will not have another novice like her. Nikolai Astafyev died on May 19, 1884. As he was sure that after his death Sophia would leave for a monastery, he donated a bell to Shamordino Monastery and requested that he be buried in this monastery.

Sts. Ambrose and Sophia, founders of Shamordino Monastery

In the village of Shamordino, on the estate of the deceased widow of the court counselor Klyucharyova, in accordance with the Definition of the Holy Synod of June 13–20, 1884 No. 1216, a female monastery was created, founded by Elder Ambrose. This convent, which was near Optina, would open its doors to women who were poor, sickly, or even blind. Most convents were very poor and had to rely on the incomes of women who had a certain personal wealth in order to remain open. Saint Ambrose made it possible for any woman who wished to become a nun to follow this path of salvation.

After that, Sophia entrusted her nine year old daughter Nadezhda to her godmother and petitioned the Bishop of Kaluga and Borovsky Vladimir (Nikolsky) for admission to the Shamordino Convent: “Having long been striving for monastic life, and now that I am widowed, I decide to fulfill my cherished desire and ask Your Grace to let me act to be numbered among the sisters of the new Kazan community of Peremyshl Uyezd and to move there to live, for which I expect your gracious Archpastoral decision...."

On August 13, 1884, the abbot of Optina Monastery, Saint Isaac, and the confessor of Sophia, Elder Ambrose, sent Bishop Vladimir the submission for approval of Sophia as the abbess of the community under construction, attaching a letter of recommendation towards this. On September 4, 1884, Sophia was tonsured a nun by Ambrose of Optina, and later he tonsured her into the schema, preserving the name of Sophia.

Sophia served as abbess for four years. She was noted for having "a firm character, an ardent faith in God and a deep submission to the elder, she gave everything to the glory of God and to the benefit of the monastery entrusted to her." Having established and arranged the monastery, she died in 1888, leaving behind a well-established community, in which there were 250 inhabitants.

Even during her life, Elder Ambrose said that "Mother Sophia is holy!" She was glorified as a Saint in 1987. Shamordino began to decline after the death of the first abbess, Mother Sophia. Saint Ambrose went there in June 1890 to straighten out the convent’s affairs. He was unable to return to Optina due to illness, then winter made it impossible for him to travel. Father Ambrose continued to see visitors at Shamordino, even though his health continued to deteriorate in 1891. He reposed in the Shamordino Convent on October 10, 1891.

By 1918, some 800 women lived in the convent and its sketes, making it one of the largest monastic establishments in Central Russia. In 1910, after leaving Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy planned to go to Shamordino, where his sister Maria was living as a nun. The convent was shut down by the Soviets from 1923 until 1990, when it began to be restored.