February 22, 2020

Saint Theoktista Mikhailovna of Voronezh the Fool for Christ (+ 1940)

St. Theoktista of Voronezh (Feast Day - February 22)

The blessed woman Theoktista Mikhailovna Shulgina was a lamp of faith and the bearer of a heavy cross in Voronezh during the difficult years of communist atheism. Saint Theoktista, like Saint Xenia of Petersburg, took upon herself the feat of foolishness for Christ after the untimely death of her husband. As a naval officer, he was killed during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. When this took place, Theoktista considered the transience of this temporary life, and despite her good education and noble lineage, she decided to take up the labor of being a fool for Christ.

Blessed Theoktista labored in Voronezh from 1920-1930. In Voronezh, she lived in one of the cells of the Aleksievo-Akatov Convent, and after its closure in 1931 she had to wander to different places, often spending nights in the open air. Many residents of Voronezh highly esteemed Theoktista for her purity and holiness of life, and wanted to receive instructions from her. There were also ill-wishers who hated her, because they could not understand her way of life. Theoktista, who humbly endured all the burdens that fell as her lot, endured ridicule, did not shy from beatings, and always prayed for her offenders. For her great humility and patience, the ascetic was awarded the gifts of the Holy Spirit - insight and the gift of healing through prayer.

Her acquaintances described the holy fool as follows: “She had a remarkable appearance. She was short, thin, tired, with special features and kind eyes." The shabby clothes and old shoes she always wore could not hide her aristocratic manners and good upbringing. Theoktista had a wonderful mind and clarity in the expression of thoughts. At first, during her wanderings, being a holy fool, she walked barefoot for the first seven years. Later, she put on big shoes on the wrong feet, with cut backs that constantly fell, rubbing her legs and very uncomfortable. And around the city and on long journeys, she was usually accompanied by some girl.

Anna Vasilievna Anisiforova, who often accompanied the blessed old woman, said: “When I began to walk with my Mother, I learned to decipher her eccentricities. Once in the village, they brought her sick babies. She kissed some, but not the others, so that they would carry them away. The first ones were happy, and I explained to them that death is waiting for these babies.” So it was.

Blessed Theoktista at times lived among various Voronezh residents, but had her circle of acquaintances whom she constantly visited. She stayed awake at night, spending this time in prayer. She often wandered from one shrine to another, from the Solovetsky Islands to Kiev. She traveled to Novocherkassk by train, but walked to Zadonsk, barely moving her legs and sometimes choosing the most violent weather. On the way, the ascetic prayed incessantly.

From the recollections of the spiritual daughter of the old woman, Agnia Likhonosova: “Mother said that she was illiterate, yet she somehow read the Latin letters on silver spoons. Mother knew both the whole Gospel and the entire church service, and one old nun, with whom I spent the night in Novocherkassk, said that mother knew such church prayers and chants that are rarely read and sung once a year, and not even all priests know them."

The discerning old woman was in a hurry to warn the believers about the impending disaster, helped financially in difficult times the families of the repressed, healing physical and spiritual wounds. The discerning old woman told those who asked her whether any of their relatives were alive. She prayed for people with various diseases - toothache, pneumonia, etc. She predicted a bloody revolution.

Once the holy fool went to a certain house and found the mistress there alone. With a sad face she said: "Are you all alone?" "How, mother, am I alone? Now Dmitry will come from work." "No, you are alone, he is not with you." The lady did not know that her husband had already been captured and sent to concentration camps. How the holy fool could have known this is still a mystery. Nevertheless, Blessed Theoktista did not abandon the family, but began to constantly help them with money, food, and advice.

Another time, Theoktista went with a woman to a village near Voronezh. However, suddenly the holy fool stopped and walked in the other direction. She went to an unfamiliar house and went inside. The hostess immediately rushed to embrace her neck with tears and began to ask about her husband. He supposedly left for a long time and did not give any news about himself. “Is he alive?!” the lady asked with sobs. To this, the holy fool reassured the woman and said that her husband was unharmed. "He will return Easter." Surprisingly, it later turned out that Theoktista told the stranger the truth. The husband returned home exactly on Easter.

And once, the holy fool even managed to drive away an angry bull. Theoktista walked with a woman accompanying her past a herd of cows. Suddenly, her companion noticed a huge bull and said she was afraid to continue on the road. "Mother, let's go around the herd, I'm afraid of the bull,” the woman said to Theoktista. "Do not be afraid." Theoktista went right at the bull. The animal began to let off steam and rushed directly at the companion. She closed her eyes and prepared for death. However, then she heard Theoktista's voice: "Girl, why are you there?" said the holy fool. The woman saw that the bull stepped aside. "Sorry, mother, I won’t be afraid anymore,” she said.

Agnia Likhonosova recalled: "She loved to feed the people. For many years she went to the bazaar and bought white rolls in the shops, and then distributed them, sometimes near the church, and sometimes carried them to her friends in the houses where she went. The bakers invited the blessed one so that she would buy bread from them, since mother knew everyone and said that whoever she bought from, they sold all their goods with special luck. And the cabmen, who also knew mother well, tried to get her in their carriage, believing that it would bring them happiness. And mother with full hands of rolls or loaves rode in a cab across the city to one of her acquaintances. And often she came to us, and sometimes she came holding in her hands a bag of gingerbread cookies or a roll. Our children liked it very much, but mother gave to whom she wanted, and sometimes did not give to anyone who really wanted to get from her.

Our dear neighbor, old man Pavel Pavlovich, was dying. Once he told me about my mother (although he didn’t complain about holy fools): 'She is the smartest, the kindest and the best I have ever known.' Pavel Pavlovich was dying of purulent pleurisy, and the disease spread so fast that they did not have time to call the priest, who was not easy to find then. Mother spent the night with us. At night, Pavel Pavlovich was very ill, and he was tormented by severe pain. He was moaning loudly, so that we could hear. We began to ask mother to go to him. She ordered to put jam in a saucer and went... Her visit was special, solemn and gracious. She went to his bed and sat on a chair, handed him a saucer of jam and ordered him to eat everything. Pavel Pavlovich ate without resistance and only said: 'What sweetness, what sweetness,' and as if he did not feel pain. Mother sat silently and left, we followed her. Pavel Pavlovich became silent and did not groan anymore. He died the next day without much torment.

Mother was a great servant of God, and she was honored and known by bishops, priests, and many in the city from the most diverse walks of life. Mother did not have a place where she constantly lived, and in the last years of her life she also came and went in all types of weather, sometimes she was all wet and icy. She coughed and was sick, but only occasionally she would lie down with close friends for two days and go again."

Theoktista Mikhailovna had a friendship with the Archbishop of Voronezh, Peter Zverev († 1929, glorified as a holy martyr), who sincerely respected the ascetic for the height of her spiritual life. In his letters from the Solovetsky camp to his flock of Voronezh (Archbishop Peter was exiled to Solovki in the autumn of 1927), Vladyka invariably requested the prayers of Blessed Theoktista.

Archpriest Mitrofan Buchnev spoke of the old woman Theoktista in such a way: "This servant of God is at the measure of Anthony the Great." With the blessing of the Optina Elders, Father Mitrofan spiritually nourished the community of girls gathered around him, for lack of monasteries. Going to a place from which he had not returned, Father Mitrofan left his community under the protection of Mother Theoktista.

In the last years of her life, Theoktista began to weaken, bouts of severe cough with sputum did not allow her to sleep. Doctors determined Theoktista Mikhailovna had consumption with rotten lungs. The time of death was near for her. She spent her last days in the house of Anna Alexandrovna. On the evening before her death, the blessed one asked Anna Alexandrovna, the mistress of the house where she stayed: “Where are you going to put me to bed today?” She was told the usual bed. "No, you will not put me here today." Her words came true.

Blessed Theoktista died on February 22, 1940, on Wednesday, at 10 o’clock in the evening. Agnia Likhonosova recalled that night:

"They came from Anna Alexandrovna's to inform us that my mother had passed away. We all jumped up and ran. It was probably about one in the morning. Mother was lying on a narrow little bed. She had already been washed and clothed. I won’t talk about my impression; for me, my mother was alive and there, but here Maria Alekseevna, a doctor who saw many dead people, said: 'I haven’t never seen such a dead person - these are relics.' Mother lay bright, wonderful, asleep in the eternal sleep of the blessed and the righteous. During her lifetime, she said: 'I’ll go home,' although she didn’t have her own home anywhere, but now she has gone home. Until dawn, we stayed with my mother. Those days, before the burial of Theoktista Mikhailovna, many people traveled. They read the Psalter and simply sat near her precious body. They buried her on Saturday, February 25, 1940. In the morning they put her in a small white coffin. When they put it in the coffin, I held my legs and remembered my mother’s words: 'You will put me in the coffin, mother.' The day was sunny. They didn’t put Matushka’s coffin on the sled, but they carried it in their arms until the cemetery. There were many mourners, everyone wanted to carry the coffin.”

They buried her at the Pridegchensky cemetery. In 1961 (according to other sources - in 1966), the remains of the blessed one were transferred to a new cemetery. The reburial was performed by Archpriest Nikolai Ovchinnikov (later Hieroschemamonk Nectarius), to whom his mother predicted the priesthood when he was still a doctor.

On September 16, 2009, in the Voronezh and Borisoglebsk diocese, the solemn transfer of the honorable remains of the blessed old woman Theoktista Mikhailovna from the Left Bank cemetery to the necropolis of the Aleksievo-Akatov Convent in the city of Voronezh took place.