Matrona of Moscow
Saint Matrona the Wonderworker of Moscow (born Matrona Dmitrievna Nikonova, Russian: Блаженная Матрона Московская, 1881 - May 2, 1952), is a renowned saint of the Russian Orthodox Church who had the gift of spiritual vision and the gift of healing from early childhood. Her feast day is commemorated by the Church on May 2.[note 1] The readings for her feast day are Galatians 3:23-29, and Luke 7:36-50.
An account is preserved whereby St. John of Kronstadt, upon discerning the 14-year old Matrona among a crowd of pilgrims that had come to see him, asked everyone to step aside and let the girl come through and approach him. As she walked towards him he exclaimed: “Here is my successor, the eighth pillar of Russia.” To this day no one can explain the significance of that phrase spoken by him. However, the fact that Saint John of Kronstadt, known for his gift of spiritual foresight, singled Matrona out in the crowd and sought to converse with her, testifies to his having recognized the Holy seal on her, and how she would serve Russia and the Russian people during the persecution of the Church.
Matrona was born to Dmitry and Natalia Nikonov in the village of Sebino in Tula Province, slightly over 300 kilometers south of Moscow, in a very poor peasant family. She was the fourth child.
The Nikonovs lived in such poverty that to feed and clothe a fourth child seemed impossible, and before the baby was born, Natalia decided to send it to an orphanage sponsored by Prince Golitsin in the neighboring village of Buchalki, where underprivileged and illegitimate children were brought up at the prince’s expense. Shortly afterwards however her mother changed her mind after she had a prophetic dream. Her unborn daughter appeared to Natalia in the form of a white bird of holy beauty, with a human face and closed eyes, alighting on her arm. Accepting the dream as a sign, the God-fearing woman decided to keep the baby, who was indeed born totally blind, with firmly shut eyelids over empty eye sockets. The baby also had a raised birthmark in the form of a cross-shaped protrusion on her chest. Her mother took this as a sign from God.[note 2]
Baptism and Infancy
As is the custom, she was baptized 40 days after birth. When the local clergyman Vasily Troitsky dipped her into the font, a column of light, sweet-scented steam rose up from the font to the ceiling. The clergyman was amazed, and said: “I have christened many an infant, but have never seen anything like this! This infant shall be a saint!”. The child was christened Matrona, in honor of the venerable Matrona,[note 3] a Greek zealot of the 5th century.
A friend of Natalia’s later related that when the child was still nursing, her mother complained, “What can I do? The baby doesn’t take my breast on Wednesday and Friday – she just sleeps all day and it is impossible to wake her up.”
The blind Matrona had been endowed by the Lord with spiritual foresight. Already in her infancy, at night, when everyone was asleep, the girl somehow made her way into the holy corner where the icons stood, took them down from the shelf, and attempted to converse with them. Her parents were most surprised when they found their little daughter occupied in this manner for the first time.
As she grew, village children often made fun of Matrona, mocking her with cruel games. They would hit her with stinging nettles, knowing that she couldn’t see, and once they put her into a pit, watching curiously as she felt her way out of it and shuffled home. Because of these “games,” Matrona stopped playing with other children and stayed at home.
The Nikonov home was situated near the beautiful Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which served seven or eight surrounding villages. Matrona’s parents were known for their piety and, as they often attended Divine services together, Matrona “grew up” in church. When Natalia didn’t know where the young girl was, she often found her there, standing quietly in her usual place, behind the door near the west wall. She knew the church prayers and hymns and often sang along with the choir.
Gifts of Spiritual Vision and Healing
As little Matrona grew up, she suddenly began evincing the gift of spiritual vision. Her relatives recalled that even as a child she not only perceived human sins and offences, but even thoughts. She felt approaching danger and foresaw natural disasters and social upheavals.
During one feast day her mother was getting ready for church and began calling to her husband to go with her. For some reason however he refused, saying he would read and chant the prayers at home. In the meantime, her mother stood in church deeply perturbed by her father’s conspicuous absence at the service. Due to this preoccupation, she prayed most absent-mindedly. When she returned home from church, Matrona turned to her and said: “You were not at church, Mother.” “What do you mean, I wasn’t at church?” asked mother in surprise. “I have just returned from church — see?” The girl, however, remarked: “Now father – he was in church, but you were not there!” With her spiritual vision the girl had seen that the mother was only ‘physically’ attending church service, while in spirit she was outside the church.
At the age of 7, besides the gift of spiritual vision, Matrona developed the gift of healing. This fact became widely known, and from that time on the Nikonovs’ home began to draw the ailing and afflicted from all over the region, who made their way there daily in the hopes the little girl would work a miracle for them. People begged Matrona to pray for them and cure them of their illnesses, and through her prayers, many people received healing from sickness and consolation in sorrow. They came from surrounding villages, and later even from other districts and regions on foot, by cart, and in wagons. Matrona often prayed for bedridden invalids, who would be raised to their feet, healed. Out of gratitude, they left food and gifts for her parents, so instead of being a burden, Matrona soon became the family’s main provider.
Matrona said prayers over water and gave it to those who came to her. Drinking this water and sprinkling it about protected one from a variety of dangers. The contents of these prayers is unknown, but, of course, at that time it was difficult to obtain Holy water sanctified by a priest who had the canonical right to perform this task. It is known, however, that miraculous healing occurs not only through small amounts of holy water blessed in church, but also through springs and wells associated with righteous people who spent their prayerful lives near these springs, as well as springs near places where holy icons appeared.
At the age of 17 Matrona suddenly lost the use of her legs. From that moment on and to the end of her days she was unable to walk. However, she never complained of her fate meekly accepting this heavy burden from God.[note 4] So, to the end of her days she remained seated. Her “sitting” in various homes and apartments where she found shelter continued for another fifty years.
Revolution and Later Life
When still a teenager Matrona predicted the Revolution in Russia. She described in detail how churches would be desecrated and plundered, how believers would be persecuted, and what a bloody struggle would unfold for the land.
Matrona herself was forced to lead a vagarious life in soviet years. In 1925 at the age of 40 she was forced to leave her native village because of her two brothers, Mikhail and Ivan, who were both staunch communists, and as such, atheists. The two were irritated by the ceaseless procession of needy and ailing folk coming to their homestead because of Matrona. Besides, bearing in mind the persecutions that revolutionary authorities subjected Orthodox Christians to, the brothers feared for their own lives and the lives of their family and kin.
For this reason Matrona, with the help of friends, found herself in Moscow, where she had relatives and acquaintances. She was forced to move from one apartment to another, avoiding confrontation with the atheist authorities. The Lord kept watch over her; she always knew in advance when they were coming to arrest her, and so she was able to move on and avoid arrest. Her friends always managed to take her to some safe place in the nick of time. At a time when other religious people were sent to Stalinist labor camps or sent into exile for their beliefs, no one ever betrayed Matrona's location. People continued to come to Matrona for advice and for help with their troubles.
Matrona’s life followed pretty much the same pattern as always: in the daytime she received visitors, and at night she prayed. In this manner she spent her years.
A story, related by her biographer, Zinaida Zhdanova, tells how Matrona told Zinaida's mother, Evdokia, described as being a plain 28-year-old, that she would marry a handsome nobleman. Evdokia moved to Moscow and became a cook at the house of a rich nobleman whose son, Vladimir, was betrothed to one Shukhova. Shortly thereafter, Vladimir is said to have had a dream in which a voice told him to marry a woman named Evdokia. The next morning he asked if there was such a woman in the household, met her, and nearly fainted. Later, he was sent for training to Perm with Evdokia, and Zinaida was born shortly thereafter.
Although blind, Blessed Matrona was always surrounded with icons. In Moscow, in the room in which she lived for a long period, there were icon corners with icons from floor to ceiling, and glowing icon lamps before them. One woman, working in the Church of the Deposition of the Robe in Moscow often came to Matrona and later recalled how Matrona told her, “In your church I know all the icons and where they are.” People were astonished to learn that Matrona had a visual conception of the world, like those with sight. Zenaida Vladimirovna Zhdanova once said sympathetically, “It’s a pity, Matushka, that you can’t see the beauty of the world,” to which Matrona answered, “Once, God opened my eyes and showed me the world and His creation. I saw the sun and the stars in the sky and everything on the earth, the beauty of the earth, mountains, rivers, the green grass, flowers and birds.”
In an even more remarkable example of her clairvoyance, she helped a college architecture student revise a paper required for graduation by describing in detail some of the great architectural achievements in Florence and Rome, including the Palazzo Pitti.
Zinaida Zhdanova referred to the Blessed Matrona as “the epitome of the angel–warrior incarnate, with sword of fire in hand fighting evil powers”. Matrona was born a Saint, something that set her apart from other Orthodox zealots, who with their deeds over time were granted the gift of Saintliness from the Lord. Obviously, this helped her manage the torrent of sorrow and grief that countless visitors inundated her with daily. People who came to her for help were Muscovites and from other towns, representing diverse stratum of society: some were common folk, others, intelligentsia and military folk. There were so many of them! At times the Blessed Matrona received up to forty people a day! At times she consoled a crying person by taking their head into her hands and simply holding them thus, praying all the while. And the person would leave thus fortified spiritually, although they had just been close to utter despair.
World War II
During the Great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 Matrona told Zinaida Zhdanova that she made invisible visits to the front to help soldiers. In those years she was often people’s only source of information regarding their relatives and friends. She replied to people’s questions saying: “Alive! Wait for him (her).” Or “They’ve died. Arrange for the burial service.”
Against Unclean Spirits
Matrona cured people of various torments, cast on them by demons. Once four men brought an old lady to her, who was waving her arms like a windmill. After Matrona read some prayers over her, the woman grew calm and stopped waving her arms. On another occassion, a lady suddenly fell ill with epilepsy; during her attacks, she fell to the floor, foaming at the mouth and squirming and arching convulsively. They brought her to Matrona. The latter sat tensely, leaning forward and stretching out her little hands, and then pronounced: “Oh, what a big demon they’ve sent into her!” Reading the necessary prayers over the head of the unfortunate possessed woman, Matrona addressed the woman with the words: “I shall not cope with your demon alone. If you help me, then you shall live. You need to take the sacrament every Sunday”. And that is what the woman did.
Matronushka was forced not only to treat the victims of witchcraft, but to fight with those practicing sorcery. She frequently mentioned that she was waging a struggle against witches and other evil powers and that struggle was taking up a lot of her strength. Of sorcerers, Matrona said, “To those who enter willingly into union with the powers of evil, dedicating themselves to witchcraft, there is no escape. It is forbidden to go to these old women for counsel – one heals and the other causes harm.” Folk medicine and pagan spiritual practice continued to be widely practiced in Soviet Russia, particularly in the form of fortune telling and a pagan approach to natural healing. Matrona helped many victims of these practitioners.
The help that Matrona gave to the ill had nothing to do with charmers, fortune-tellers, and so-called folk healers and other magical dealings, in which the ‘healer’ is in contact with dark forces, but was of a true Christian nature.[note 5] The righteous Matrona was therefore hated by sorcerers, as is witnessed by those who knew her well during the Muscovite period of her life. Above all Matrona prayed for people. As a righteous one of God, richly endowed with gifts from on high, she asked of the Lord miraculous help for the suffering. Her help was also unmercenary, and she took nothing from anyone.
Militant atheism, the growth of estrangement and malice, the rejection of traditional faith by millions of people, and life without repentance led to heavy spiritual consequences. Matrona felt and understood this well. On the days when political demonstrations were held, Matrona urged everyone not to go outside, but to close their windows and doors. Hordes of demons, she said, occupied the entire area, filling the air and troubling people. Perhaps, here, Blessed Matrona, who often spoke allegorically, wanted to remind those around her of the need to guard the ‘windows of the soul’ – as the Holy Fathers sometimes call the senses, from evil spirits.
Thinking of the years after the revolution, Zenaida Zhdanova once asked Matushka, “How can God allow so many churches to be closed and destroyed?” Matushka replied, “It is the will of God to reduce the number of churches because there will be few believers and no one to serve.” Later, she said,
- “The people are under hypnosis, they are not themselves, a terrible power has come into being…This power exists in the air and penetrates everything. In earlier times, swamps and impenetrable forests were the habitations of these forces because people were going to churches, they wore crosses and their homes were defended by icons, lampadas and blessings. Before, demons could only fly near these houses, but now they inhabit both houses and people because of unbelief and apostasy from God.”
She is said to have predicted her own death three days in advance, accepting all visitors during those final days. She gave all the necessary instructions, asking to have her funeral service in the Church of the Deposition of the Robe on Donskaya Street, where Fr. Nikolai Golubstov served. She also asked that people not bring plastic flowers and wreaths to her funeral. Until the end, she frequently had confession and Holy Communion. She was very humble and like ordinary sinful people, she was afraid of death and did not hide her fear from those who were close to her.
She predicted that several years after her death her grave would become a site of pilgrimage, and so it happened. Following her death in 1952, her grave-site became a pilgrimage site, and more than thirty years after Matrona’s repose, her gravesite at Danilov Monastery's cemetery continued to be one of the holy places of Orthodox Moscow, where people from every corner of Russia and abroad come with their sorrows and sicknesses.
On March 8, 1998 the appropriation of the holy relics of the Blessed Matrona took place. A year later on May 2, 1999, she was canonized as a Saint of the Church of Russia with Patriarch Alexei II (Ridiger) presiding.
At the request of the nuns of the Moscow Pokrovsky (Convent of the Holy Intercession of the Mother of God), who cared for her grave, the relics were transferred to that Convent. From then on the Convent has become a site of pilgrimage for people not only all across Russia, but from all over the world. The nuns carefully collect and write down all testimonies of miraculous help received by people from the Blessed Matrona.
St. Matrona led an ascetic life on her bed of pain. She fasted constantly, slept little, her head resting on her chest, and her forehead had a small depression by the innumerable signs of the Cross that she made.
Matushka didn’t give sermons, she didn’t play the role of a teacher. She gave concrete advice on how to deal with this or that situation, and always prayed and blessed. In general she was not talkative; her answers were brief.
The life of St. Matrona reminds us that all of us are called to a life of holiness and that this is possible for all of us. She was not a nun, never attended a seminary, in fact was an illiterate, peasant woman yet was so filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit that she was able to see people's needs and sins, predict the future, and perform countless miracles even after her death. The Bible teaches that when a person is cleansed of their sinful passions and is filled with the Holy Spirit the presence of the Spirit produces certain "gifts" or "fruit". These include the ability to read the hearts of people, perform miracles, and predict future events,[note 6] as well as having the characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience and kindness.[note 7] St. Matrona was immersed and "marinated" in the divine services of the Church, spending countless hours in her village church along with several hours daily of her own private prayer.[note 8]
She was Orthodox in the deep traditional meaning of the word. Her loving compassion for people and her fidelity to the Holy Orthodox Church was the focus of her spiritual life. Her ascetic labor stemmed from the root of centuries of traditional piety, and this is precisely what happens to those who appeal to her for help: they are confirmed in Orthodoxy and a daily life of prayer. Hundreds of thousands of Orthodox people know of Matrona, or ‘Matronushka’ as many Russians lovingly call her. Everyone who asks for her protection and intercession before God with faith and love feels that she helps now, just as she did in her earthly life.
The Blessed Matrona, just like any true Christian zealot, taught people Christianity not so much by words, as by the deeds of her whole life. Physically blind, she taught and continues to teach people true spiritual vision.
“Blessed Matrona, you who have great boldness before God, pray for us sinners!”
Chosen by the Holy Spirit from thy swaddling clothes O blessed eldress Matrona,
Thou didst receive bodily weakness and blindness from God for spiritual cleansing,
Thou wast enriched with the gift of foresight and wonderworking and hast been adorned with an incorruptible crown from the Lord.
Wherefore, we offer thee crowns of praise, in gratitude crying out:
Rejoice O righteous mother Matrona, fervent intercessor before God for us!
An angel in the flesh wast thou revealed to be, O blessed Matrona, fulfilling the will of God. Though thou wast born in bodily blindness yet the Lord who maketh wise the blind and loveth the righteous enlightened thy spiritual eyes that thou mightest serve His people and the things of God were made manifest through thee.
Wherefore with love we sing to thee such things as these:
Rejoice, chosen one of God from thy youth;
Rejoice, thou who didst shine forth with the grace of the Holy Spirit from thy cradle.
Rejoice, thou who wast enriched with the gift of miracles even as a child;
Rejoice, thou who wast filled with wisdom from God most high.
Rejoice, thou who foresawest the will of God with noetic eyes;
Rejoice, thou who didst put to shame the wise of this age who are blinded in mind.
Rejoice, thou who ledest deluded souls back toward God;
Rejoice, thou who assuagest sorrow and affliction.
Rejoice O righteous mother Matrona, fervent intercessor before God for us.
- HOLY TRINITY RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, a parish of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Monday, May 2, 2011 / April 19, 2011 (Church Calendar).
- St. Matrona passed away on the actual calendar day of May 2nd, and is in fact commemorated by the Russian Orthodox Church on May 2nd (noting that the new calendar day of May 2nd is regarded as April 19th in the Old Style).
- Holy Scripture testifies that the Lord sometimes chooses His servants even before they are born. As He said to the Holy Prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Matrona also seemed to have been chosen for a special purpose; from her birth, the Lord gave her both spiritual gifts and a heavy cross that she bore with humility and patience throughout her life.
- Saint Matrona, Abbess of Constantinople (Matrona of Perge), + ca. 510, feast day November 9.
- Some have asked why God allowed this, but in the view of pious Russians, one only has to look at how the Lord tested his elect in the Old and New Testaments to see that such an event doesn’t contradict either His power or goodness. Not only was Matrona’s spiritual life unhindered by this event, but it served to glorify God through the her patient longsuffering.
- "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." (James 5:16)
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
- Galatians 5:22.
- She was "not of this world". Contrast this pattern of life to one where countless hours are spent on television, internet, facebook, movies, magazines, shopping, etc.; the Bible also describes the "fruit" of this type of immersion (i.e the fruit of the world): adultery, fornication, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, and dissension (see Galatians 5:19).
- Lucia Ciornea (Transl.). The Life and Miracles of Saint Matrona of Moscow. 2nd ed. 160pp. ISBN 9789731360126
- BLESSED MATRONA OF MOSCOW: SAINT AND WONDERWORKER. (.PDF). The Road to Emmaus. Vol. VIII, No. 1, Winter 2007 (#28).
- Compiled and translated by Thomas and Sonia Hulbert, from the Russian editions:
- The Life and Miracles of the Righteous St. Matrona of Moscow. Women’s Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God in Moscow, 2000.
- Memoirs of Zenaida V. Zhdanova. The Life of Blessed Matrona of Moscow and Her Miracles in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Comp. by A.Khudoshin, Kiev, 2005.
- Personal testimonies from many Orthodox Christians whose lives have been touched by St. Matrona.
- St. Matrona of Moscow. The Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
- From Volume Four of the Synaxarion. Compiled by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, Mount Athos.
- Fr. Edward Pehanich. The Blind Saint With Sight: St. Matrona of Moscow (1885-1952). American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the U.S.A.
- Tatyana Shvetsova. SAINT BLESSED MATRONA. The Voice of Russia. May 11, 2007 15:12 Moscow Time.
- Blessed Matrona, Orthodoxy and the World, Russian Orthodox Church Website.
- Matryona Nikonova at Wikipedia.