Our dearest Mother-Church has a precious treasure which few people know. It lives a silent unnoticeable life, which every day nourishes the body of Christ, me and you, with the great power of night prayer. It is situated on the holy land, which is abundantly poured by the blood of martyrs – our ancestors, Russian Orthodox Christians. It was founded long ago, in 15th century, by the mercy of Holy Hierarch Nikola the Wonderworker. “God’s grace and my prayers will be here” – monk Varlaam was told by God’s saint, who glorified this place with his miracle-working icon, performing uncountable healings on the believers.
This treasure is the only Old-believers’ convent in Russia. It is situated near the town of Uglich, a citadel of Orthodoxy, in a picturesque village Uleima. The life of the convent flows in accordance with ancient monastic statutes, which means that the main portion of the everyday common prayer is performed at night, instead of sleeping, which is so necessary for flesh.
Prayer deep at night is a great deed, as the Holy Fathers say.
“Kneel down, sigh, supplicate the Lord to be merciful to you; He is especially yielded to mercy by night prayers, when you make the time of rest into the time of cry” (H.H. John Chrysostom).
“Trust me, the fire does not destroy the rust of metal so well, as the night prayer – the rust of our sins” (H.H. John Chrysostom).
“Every prayer which is performed at night, will be in your eyes more honourable than all deeds of the day” (venerable Isaac the Syrian).
Nuns of the Nikolo-Uleyma convent, even though they are of venerable age, perform this angelic doing diligently. Truly, God’s strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)!
Interview with the hegumenia of the convent mother Olympias
Mother, tell us for Christ’s sake, why did you despise the world and became a nun?
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us. How I found myself in a convent? It is a simple and a difficult question at the same time. We came here in 2003 together with my sister Eugenia, now deposed, nun Eusebia, Heavenly Kingdom to her! She was 17 years older than me. As much as I remember her, she always labored a lot for the glory of God. She loved God and cared about the true life.
We had lived in Siberia, in Omsk, which has nearly 1,5 million inhabitants. There was no temple since 1937, when the church was destroyed and a bath-house was built out of its bricks.
There were many Old-believers in Omsk. On great feasts we went to Novosibirsk to our spiritual father Mikhail Zadvorny to pray, confess and receive the holy communion. There we met believers from our city. Once father Mikhail blessed me to create a church in Omsk: “God bless you, Olga Ivanovna, so that you have your own church in Omsk!”
I am a building engineer by profession. I worked as a head of the production department in a good place – the capital construction department of the city executive committee. I had a lot of relatives, acquaintances, friends and colleagues who later heartily helped me in the building of the church. And most of all I had a great desire to labour for such a godly deed.
In one year with God’s help our only Orthodox Old-believers’ church in Omsk was consecrated in the name of Holy Hierarch Nikola the Wonderworker. We acquired the main liturgical books, learned to read, sing Znamenny Chant and conducted all festive and Sunday services. All my big family supported and helped me. Old Believers from all over the Omsk region started to gather in the church. These were such wonderful years in my life! There were such kind and God-loving people in our parish led by our spiritual father Mikhail!
Years passed by. I buried my parents, who had come to live with me, for they were elderly. My daughter had a church wedding. I buried my husband. My sister Eugenia also widowed. But the All-merciful and All-seeing God was with us.
Oh how much would I want to have adequate power of word and thought to be worthy to describe in detail their virtuous life for common benefit, to uncover their glorious and blessed ways, narrow and thorny, but resolute and steadfast ways to God. Lord save all Orthodox Christians of Omsk!
Once I heard that a parishioner from Novosibirsk went to a convent and lived there for half a year. Then I learned that our Old Believers’ convent had existed since 1998, although there had been no information available about it. I visited her, asked her in detail and a strong wish to see it with my own eyes kindled in me, although she tried to dissuade me.
It was not difficult to go there together with my sister Eugenia: she was so nimble. We received the blessing for the trip from bishop Silouyan and already on Radunitsa we were in the convent. We spent 20 days here: we prayed, laboured, learned about the monastic life. Here for the first time in my life I read books on monasticism, on genuine ascetics, who left everything they had had in the world and followed Christ. At that time the convent was headed by mother Varsonofia, who is now a schema-nun. Three other elderly women lived there together with her.
She “got hold” on me and started to insist that I should leave the world and become a nun. For me it was a very unexpected suggestion. How can I leave everything, I have such a wonderful church, good work, position, full sufficiency. Three years left until pension. Daughter, relatives – and I should leave it all behind, no one would understand me…
I could not tell anything definite to Hegumenia Varsonofia. And my sister Zhenechka was ready to stay at the convent immediately… But she didn’t insist, for she understood, how difficult it was for me to make such a step.
We boarded a train. In my head and before my eyes there is mother Varsonofia with her request to move to the convent to help her. I understood that I must step on Omsk soil with already with a decision made: Lord, Thy will be done, I give myself into Your hands, lead me according to your Providence! I lay down on the shelf and started to remember all my life: I lived in poverty and in wealth, not refusing myself pleasures. At first it was interesting but then that wealth started to burden me. It is not mine, it does not fit my soul. I remembered the words from the Holy Gospel, which tells us not to look for wealth on earth, but for the Kingdom of Heaven. It seemed to be written especially for me. Truly, no one is closer to doom and more unfortunate than people who do not have a mentor in the way of God.
And then I calmed down and felt relieved. I went to sleep and got up with a firm decision to leave the world and go to the convent.
In half a year I accepted the monastic rank – the second birth – with the name Olympias. My new life started.
– How was life here at that time organised?
– It was a total devastation here. The biggest building in the monastery is the cathedral of st. Nikola with 5 heads. The middle part of the building – between the church and the bell-tower – was completely destroyed, and what was left from 1609, from the times of Polish-Lithuanian intervention, was in deplorable state. The other churches – of the Most Holy Life-giving Trinity and of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple – were also in a bad state.
In 1917 the Soviet power closed the convent and transferred its property to museums. Then it was used as a granary, a schools, a prison camp, an orphanage and a neuropsychiatric boarding.
In 1992, the authorities transferred the convent to the Russian Orthodox Old-believer Church. While externally the buildings retained the appearance of church buildings, inside everything was completely destroyed or redesigned. There were heaps of broken bricks, glass, stones and ferroconcrete.
We rolled up our sleeves and started to clean the territory and cultivate the 2.5 acres as a vegetable garden with God’s help. We toiled from dark to dark with breaks for prayer. Labour and prayer, prayer and labour – this is monastic life. The Lord also told His disciples not to look for easy ways to salvation.
The main thing in the monastery is the everyday service according to the Statute: the complete circle of divine service with evening and night common prayer. According to the words of the Holy Fathers, great power is ascends from a place, where the prayer of the slaves of God is brought to Him for all the world. I am sure: God will hear and have mercy upon us. We, nuns and monks, add our two mites as the Gospel widow, in hope to make the Lord glad – the One Who gives us humility and strength, reason and long-suffering, crown and joy.
– So the prayer is the very heart of all life of the convent?
– Certainly. Prayer is the most important thing for every Christian. Prayer unites with God and the one who loves it will surely become a son of God. A warm, sincere prayer with tears and pure repentance is the remission of sins, love for sorrows and hardships, suppression of warfare, food and illumination of soul, occupation of Angels.
This is why Christ invites us: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Mt.11:28-29)…
Divine service in the convent starts in the evening with 4 canons of the rule – this is the everyday monastic rule. In addition on the evening before Friday we pray the canon to Sophia Wisdom of God and the evening before Saturday – the canon to Angel the Dreadful Commander. Then we serve the Vespers and the Compline. The night prayer order consists of the Midnight Office, Orthros and Canonical Hours. If there is a priest, then these are followed by Liturgy. But unfortunately we have it very rarely, only on the great feasts. All the time we live here we grieve over the lack of a priest. If we had a good shepherd, it would be so good for us.
The pilot of our convent is bishop of Yaroslavl and Kostroma Vikenty. He is kind, God-loving, unwearying in prayers. But his burden is very heavy, so he can visit us only 5-6 times a year to accept us for confession and administer the Holy Communion. We thank God for this and wish bishop Vikenty many many years, good health and salvation of soul. Approximately once in a month, for 12 great feasts we are visited by father Anatoly Nosochkov who lives near Yaroslavl.
In addition to common prayer divine service and monastic rule we want to pray for all our relatives, our children, whom we left in the world – with Psalter, canons and ladders <prayer ropes>. World is world. It entangles people like spider’s web. So we have a lot to pray for… This is why we are here, this is our main duty. A nun must also have some handwork. Personally I like to weave ladders. Also we should read a lot of soul-nourishing literature. Glory to God, there has been published so many books lately! A very edifying book is “100 Sermons by Metropolitan Korniliy”. It is truly a book for every day, as well as his other book, “Speeches and Articles by Metropolitan Korniliy”. Christ save you, Holy Hierarch!
– Some people say that this place is holy, that during the Time of Troubles enemies brutally dealt with the local people…
– Yes, the place is holy, flooded with blood of innocent people. Two thousand people – inhabitants of the covenant and of the surrounding settlements – were buried alive in the Church of saint Nikola, when Polish-Lithuanian troops blew it up in the beginning of the 17th century. The thunder from this explosion was heard 10 kilometers around. We still remove stones from the garden. This is a really holy land. There is such grace here! And such beautiful temples!
– How does the Lord render a monk for wakefulness and labours?
– If a monk observes all God’s commandments, fulfills all rules and sincerely prays to God with tears and his head down, he expiates the sins of his relatives until the 7th generation. This is the kind of grace given to a monk! A person comes to a monastery, devotes himself to God, receives a tonsure. He gives a vow to God to hate his parents – father and mother, hate his children, all relatives. To hate the world. Only in this case a monk devotes himself completely to God, has fear before the Lord. And with time this fear turns into love to the Most High. Of course it is difficult and is not given at once. But with God’s help everything will come.
It is the world what we need to hate. For a worldly person it is difficult to understand. It wounds his ear. But it is said absolutely correctly. You cannot choose any other word. How the world cannot be hated? If, standing for a vigil, we would think instead of prayer: how are our children? Are they healthy? Have they gone to church? Leaving for a monastery, monk has left his relatives and children for the will of God. Can we, humans, do something better than Lord God, if we already missed something while living in the world?
I left my children on the hands of Nikola the Wonderworker. He is the patron of our family. He saved my parents. They were drowning, they fell under the ice together with the sledge and the horse. They just remember how they cried out: “Nikola the Wonderworker, help!” They came to their senses on the bank. The horse is standing, all covered in frost. They are wet to the skin, sitting in the sledge. Who could pull them out? They were completely under the ice! Dad came to himself first. He touched mom, she started to move. Alive! He whipped the horse and it brought them home. As soon as they entered the yard, they say to us: “Girls, unharness the horse and do not ask anything! Put her together with the cow so that she can get warm and give her warm water!” And then they went into the icon corner, water still pouring from them, and prayed until the morning. And then they told us everything.
So the Lord rewards us sevenfold and hundredfold according to His mercy. We should just pray diligently and live according to His commandments. But the devil tempts, he lies in wait day and night, every hour and every second. So we should constantly be wakeful and control ourselves, pray and protect ourselves with the sign of the cross.
– Mother, how old are you?
– I am 68.
– What would you wish and advise to the young people in the world?
– That the road of every Christian from home to the church does not overgrow. Attend the church, take your children together with you to the common prayer, to confess, to receive the Holy Communion – this is the main thing. For only sincere confession with great faith and prayer may save one. We sin with every step. Now there are computers everywhere, internet and the like. There is a lot of entertainment. But all these are the nets of the devil. In no way allow your children to watch everything they want. Only the programs acceptable for Christians at the discretion and under the control of parents.
– What one should be and do to be named an Orthodox Christian and deserve salvation?
– This question is superimposed upon the previous one. If a person goes to church, loves his children, give them the Holy Communion, and not only feed them. A sow also feeds her children, but it is called a sow. Forgive me for Christ’s sake for such a comparison. Love of Christian mothers to their children is certainly higher than this. As Lord God Himself told us – to live according to the commandments. Pray to God and confess more often. Not once a year. At least once every of the four Lents, if possible. Give children communion more often. Especially the infants.
– Mother, the last question: may anyone who wants come to the convent?
– Of course, every sensible Old-believer may come to pray and help with the work. Everyone will certainly receive great benefit for soul from God, if he prays in the convent diligently and with faith. Just please notify in advance by phone, for sometimes we have very many guests and there is no place left. You are welcome!
Interview with the first Hegumenia of the convent schema-nun Varsonofia
– Dear Mother, our first question is the following: why do people leave the world and become monks and nuns?
– Monastery and convent is a house of prayer. People who love prayer come here, so that no worldly concerns would distract them from this doing. We pray every day, according to the Statute, and the main part of the divine service takes place in the night. It is impossible to pray this way in the world. The night prayer is higher and stronger. In former times people in all monasteries prayed at night.
The Lord was born in the midnight, resurrected in the midnight and will come in the midnight. This is why the night prayer is such a great deed. People go to the monastery to devote as much of their time as possible to God for the salvation of soul.
– This is what I was going to ask: why the main part of the divine service is at night and not in the evening? Now I understand.
– Yes. In former times people prayed at night in the churches in the world as well, especially during the Great Lent. There is a lot of work in a convent, so is we sleep at night and go the church in the morning, we will not be able to do the work in the household and on the farm. And we have also our personal Rule to pray.
– Nuns pray so much: the divine service, the rule and the Psalter with canons. Why is it important to pray so much?
– Do you ask why? It is a very strange question for me. How else? The ancient desert fathers prayed to God day and night. They prayed constantly. All our life and work is also conducted in prayer. This is why people leave the world – to have an opportunity to pray more. Life in the world, especially in a city creates a lot of obstacles for it. It is much easier in a convent, here all life has one goal – unceasing prayer.
Why is it important to pray? Because we are temporary inhabitants of the earth, we want future life, and to deserve it, we should entreat God to forgive our sins. What do we read in the Symbol of faith a few times a day? “I hope for the resurrection for the dead and the life of the future age”. It means I want to be risen and receive the life of the future age, not this life. In these words there is the meaning of our life. To despise the present earthly life for the future life. And while the earthly life has not finished, the Lord has not given us death, we should pray a lot for ourselves and for the people to entreat God to give us eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Often people pronounce the lines of “I believe” without thinking about their meaning, but this meaning is very deep. This temporal life is given to us so that we prepare ourselves for the future life.
– When is it better to become a nun, if one has decided to devote oneself to the monastic life?
– At any age. In the former times some people lived in monasteries and convents even from the age of 15. They were brought up in this way. They accepted tonsure at 20-25. There are still 20-30-years-old monastics in Romania now. There the monastic life did not dicontinue, and here in Russia it was destroyed. Until 1998 there had been no convent in our Church. And how many there had been before the revolution, in the woods! They were all closed.
I knew a schema-nun, who went to the convent when she was 20 and lived as a nun during the most terrible years of persecutions from the Soviet power. After the devastation of the convent she did not get into a prison or a camp, but was taken as a nanny into a family of a military officer. She lived until 98, having been a nun for 78 years!
One can become a monk at any age, starting from the young age and until the end of life. Some people start to think about becoming a monk just before death, for the tonsure covers all sins, same way as the Holy Baptism. Monk receives a new sinless life in Christ and a new name. Of course, the earlier one becomes a monk, the better, so that one can labour, pray hard so that one’s sins are forgiven, and then begin a new pure life.
I saw nuns for the first time in the Altay mountains, when I was 20. their God-loving life and sincere striving for God lit up a wish inside me to follow their path. But my life developed in such a way that I accepted tonsure only when I was 54. My husband, bishop Silouyan (of Novosibirsk and all Siberia – note by the author), became a monk and a bishop. Naturally I also was tonsured. Metropolitan Alimpiy blessed me to go here and be the head of the convent. I have been living monastic life already for 25 years.
– Is monastic life a more sure way for salvation of soul, than life in the world?
– Certainly, for a person commits less sins and becomes closer to God. There is a lot of vanity in a big city, you always run to work, to do shopping, there is no time to think about God. All your thoughts are busy with worldly concerns. And here we have nowhere to rush. Pray, work, read. A Christian cannot be without reading spiritual books. You read lives of saints of this day in the morning, a good homily – it is like you took your medicine for the whole day. You have given your thoughts a right direction right from morning. Your soul gets illuminated, you have more concentration, remembrance of God. Before there were no books, and now they are available to all.
– And what are the spiritual dangers of monastic life?
– If you pray and remain in obedience, there are no dangers. If a monk’s soul is in a humble state and in obedience, he is being saved.
– There is an opinion, that not all should become monastics. For some have to continue the human race, to live a worldly family life.
– Monasticism is not for all – it is for those who can contain. To choose a family life also means to choose a feat. You should bring up kids, which is serious labour. But if you live a family life and do not give birth to children as it is fashionable now, to use contraception – this is a great sin, worse than any.
We will all come to the same end – death. No one has stayed on earth to live forever. The most direct way to salvation is monastic life. But there are other ways. Some people devote themselves to family, to bringing up children, this is a roundabout way, through mountains, rivers and ravines. Family people suffer everything in life. Some devote themselves to science, which God does not need. There are different ways but one end – the Last Judgment. If one wants to save his soul. He should try to give himself to worldly concerns as little as possible and for this it is not necessary to become a monk. One can pray a lot at home too, do good works. But life in the world is organised in such a way that sometimes one does not have time even to say the beginning prayers, and has to run to work, to get money, to feed the family. And in the convent all life is devoted to God. In this respect this way of salvation is more comfortable. But I will repeat, the end is the same, only the ways to it are different. One can be saved in different ways.
– It is interesting, is monasticism a calling, a talent given from God, or is it available to everyone?
– I think that it is available to everyone, you just need a wish to devote oneself to God. In the former times more people became monastics, the wish to be with God was stronger, for people were brought up by pious people and not by television. The present generation does not know anything about monasticism, there are almost no monasteries left.
People were deprived of faith. Monasteries were closed and destroyed. I still saw the Convent of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in Moldavia, in the big Old-believers’ village Kunicha. I prayed there on the Easter week in 1958. More than 30 nuns lived at the Convent, they had their own priest father Hieromonk Ippolit, they celebrated liturgy every day. How beautiful it was there! White adobe houses-cells on the slopes, roads paved with bricks between them. Apples, apricots, cherries blooming! Everything around is white! A real paradise!
In the times of Khruschev’s persecutions for faith the convent was destroyed. The nuns went to live in various places in Moldavia and Russia, wherever they had relatives. The church was closed. A village hospital was made in it. The adobe houses where nuns had lived were bulldozed into the ravine. Now this convent is restored, but there are only three nuns. People do not become monastics, they are afraid of monastic labours, immersed into the worldly concerns. There is little faith now.
– What is your message for the Old-believer youth of today?
– Pray as much as you can! Read more, for there are lots of spiritual books now, which are must-read.
Concerned Christians may come to the convent to work. Such help is mostly needed in spring and summer. You can also help the restoration and improvement of the convent financially.
+7 (48532) 4-74-24 (city number)
+7 (961) 027-82-69 (mobile of Mother Hegumenia Olympias)
Nikolo-Uleyminsky Convent, village Uleyma, Uglich district, Yaroslavl region, Russia
Olga Zakharova, curator of the Educational department of the Moscow Metropolis of the ROOBC, 2018
We are grateful to Vladislav Plastinin for his participation in the preparation of this publication.
Photos by: Vladimir Chunin.
 Tuesday on the second week after Easter, when the Church prays for the deposed.
 The highest level of monastic consecration
 Rule is the `order of prayers for every day