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  The Way of a Pilgrim – Desert-Dweller Maria


      Maria Yegorovna Melezi was a simple, guileless woman, decidedly unattractive; she had coarse features and her face was covered with pox scars. She was devoted to her husband, Ivan Antonovich Melezi, a deeply believing and very kind Italian, and at his sudden death she completely lost her bearings. "Ivan Antonovich is gone! Ivan Antonovich is gone!" she exclaimed to everyone repeatedly. "What ever shall I do?!"

     Her grief was acute, her relatives, desiring to comfort her, offered that she come live with them. She took their advice and sold her house, bringing with her her belongings which she later gave to her relatives; gradually they also came into possession of her money.

     Marya Yegorovna's perpetual tears and sighs of "Ah dear, Ivan Antonovich! Ah, Ivan Antonovich !" tired and annoyed her relatives, and they came to find her presence burdensome. They began to reproach her, to treat her crudely, and then to insult her. From a room of her own she was moved to the kitchen, and then--into a small, cold corridor. But even there she bothered them, although she bore all this without murmuring.

    Then she chanced to hear about Praskovye Fominitchna (the clairvoyant schema-nun Seraphima) and went to see her. She liked it there very much; it was quiet, warm, no one scolded. And soon, with the consent of Praskovye Fominitchna, she went to live there permanently, as a sort of housekeeper (actually, she was more like a fifth wheel). One day P.F. said to her:

    "Marya Yegorovna, why don't you go to Inkermansky Monastery?"

    "What are you saying, Praskovye Fominitchna? I've never been there, and besides, I don't know the way!"

    "Just follow the railroad tracks and ask: Where is InkermanskyMonastery? You'll be shown the way. When you reach the bridge, cross it and continue along the road."

    "How is this possible, Praskovye Fominitchna? I'm afraid..."

"Go along, go along, don't be afraid." There was nothing to be done, and off she went .

A week passed, another. The third week

Marya Yegorovna returned--happy as a lark. "Oh, how nice it was there. Everyone was so kind, good. And how they fed me, how they fed me! 'MaryaYegorovna,' all the time, 'MaryaYegorovna!' Everyone was so pleased with me. One batiushka, quite old,

even bowed down to me; he thanked me ! I did some mending for them--underwear, socks, shirts. They were so pleased with me! And how they fed me.—and bread, and borscht

'Stay here, live with us!' Oh, it was so nice, so nice!"

     Some time went by and again Praskovye Fominitchna said:

     "Marya Yegorovna, you should go to Kherson; visit there, stay awhile."

"What are you saying, Praskovye Fominitchna! I've never been there, ever. And besides, I don't know the way."

 "Ask, people will show you."

 "But I'm afraid."

 "Go, don't be afraid."

And she went. She returned in three weeks, brimming with happiness.

     "Oh, it was wonderful! They were so glad to have me. One batiushka said: 'Stay here,' and another: 'Stay here.' And everyone fed me. And I ate and ate. I mended the underwear of one, the shirt of another, darned socks... I fasted there and received Holy Communion. Oh, it was so nice, so nice!"

     Again some time went by and P.F. sent her to St. George's Monastery, then to Bakhchisarai, to Sts. Cosmas and Damian Monastery, and finally--also on foot--to Kiev.

    Several years passed. On Pascha night there came a nun; she had a walking staff in one hand and an enormous bag on her back. while tied to her waist was a teakettle. She was very tall—like a tree. E.S., who looked after P.F., took a good look at the nun and exclaimed:

    "Marya Yegorovna! Christ is risen! Where have you been?!"

    "Truly He is risen t" replied Marya Yegorovna warmly. "Truly He is risen, me dear !"

    "Marya Yegorovna, after the service, please, come see me."

    "No, my dear. I'm going first to see my superior who indicated to me the path of salvation." Tears streamed from her eyes.

    E.S. was stunned. MaryaYegorovna, previously rather slow-minded, simple and uncultivated, was now uttering such words and with such feeling! Altogether another creature! In Kiev she had made the acquaintance of some highly spiritual elders. They opened her eyes to the spiritual calibre of her superior P. F., and approved her life as a pilgrim. There, too, she was tonsured and, with the blessing of an elder, she walked all over Russia--to Moscow, venerating the various holy sites.

    Several more years passed. Praskovye Fominitchna was no longer among the living. Her cell-attendant E.S. journeyed to New Athos together with a number of other pious women. From there, at the counsel of the brethren, they made their way on horseback to Soukhoumi, to the Drandsk monastery. The monk in charge of the guest house, on learning they were from Sebastopol said to her:

     "We have here your compatriot by the name of Melezi, known here as Desert-dwelling Maria. She lives some distance away in the mountains, in a cave. She was clothed in the great schema. There she has a cell-attendant who reads the rule for her."

"Is it possible to go see her?" asked E,S. "No-o-o; the river is swollen from the rains; you won't get through. Perhaps she will come herself," answered the monk.

"But how can she if the river is swollen?"

    "The Desert-dweller walks on water as if it were dry land!"

    So it was that the Lord rewarded a simple, illiterate women for her strong faith and simplicity, for her humility and obedience, with a miraculous gift--like St. Mary of Egypt.

    When M.E. was asked why she carried on her back a heavy sack with rocks, she would reply:

"It's easier to walk that way." 

    Here ends the account which reached me. Whether or not the pilgrims were able to see Marya Yegorovna this time or later is not known. Nor is it known how she died. One thing is certain: it was not long before the Revolution when all the monks, nuns and desert-dwellers were forcibly evicted from the Caucasus... There were rumors that they were put on board a ship.

     From Drandsk monastery there came to visit me in Simferopol the appointed inspector of the seminary, Archimandrite John Rayev (he later died from tuberculosis in Poltava). This was in 1913-1917. At that time, consequently, Drandsk monastery was still intact. It is probable that the desert dweller Maria was still alive around 1910-1911, possibly later.

    Today New Athos has been turned into a resort. 

(From "Stories About Righteous Ascetics" by +Metropolitan Benjamin Fedchenko; in Nadeshda #9; Frankfurt, 1983)


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