Nicholas Motovilov: sufferer to help St Seraphim

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Nicholas Motovilov: sufferer to help St Seraphim

Postby Barbara » Sat 28 January 2017 3:48 am

Today is the day of the repose of Nicholas Alexandrovitch Motovilov, famous in Orthodox circles for his conversation with St Seraphim of Sarov. The undecipherable pages enumerating this dialogue were discovered by the Church writer Sergei Nilus many decades later and published on the eve of the opening of the relics of St Seraphim in 1903, prior to his glorification.

How did all this come about so smoothly ? Not only was the timing amazing, but the find of these important notes in an ordinary schoolbook amidst household receipts and the refuse of an attic filled with [probably] pigeons for many a year was so remarkable as to be impossible without Divine intervention.

Furthermore, Motovilov's handwriting was impossible to decipher. Nilus was about to give up after many attempts when he felt a boost of heavenly help to find a key to Motovilov's writing style. From there, the Orthodox author started the unraveling process and got it published.

St Seraphim gives discourse on the Holy Spirit to NA Motovilov on a late November day in 1831 - 8 inches of snow already on the ground in the Sarov area forest with snow falling all the while

We can see that at each stage, the project to bring this instruction to the world may have failed. But every obstacle was overcome by assistance from Above.

Did Motovilov perhaps have to offer his own suffering to God to help the process ? And of course the larger endeavor to make a little-known ascetic known across all of Russia and to the entire world ?

I contend that this nearly unbelievably creepy experience of the disciple may have helped pay a price to ensure that his mission to make the humble hermit known and canonized would succeed despite the Devil's intense opposition.

Follows the hair-raising story as translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [Moore] in his biography of St Seraphim of Sarov from Motovilov's own autobiographical notes :


"Nikolas Alexandrovitch Motovilov, “Seraphim’s servant” as he liked to call himself, had been granted a miraculous healing and the further privilege of seeing with his own eyes St. Seraphim’s illumination by the light of Tabor or, in other words, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Being a fervent and sincere man, he wanted to perpetuate Father Seraphim’s memory. So he decided to visit Kursk (the saint’s birth-place) personally in order to collect information about his childhood and youth; he also wanted to visit the Kiev-Florovsky Monastery [ St Feofil of the Kiev Caves' sister Anna was a postulant here, and then tonsured a nun shortly before Feofil's repose in 1853. We don't know what year this was that NA Motovilov wanted to travel there.].

The journey had very sad consequences for Nikolas Alexandrovitch. Through the permissive will of God, the enemy inflicted upon him an illness in revenge for his literary labours; for his writings served to enhance the fame of one of God’s Saints — Father Seraphim — to a very considerable extent.

Certain circumstances which preceded N.A. Motovilov’s illness throw light on its origin. Once during a talk with St. Seraphim the question somehow arose as to the reality of diabolic assaults on men. Motovilov who had had a worldly upbringing did not fail, of course, to doubt the existence of the evil power. Then the saint told him of his terrible fight with the devils for one thousand days and nights, and by the power of his word, by the authority of his holiness which excluded all possibility of even the shadow of a lie or exaggeration, he convinced Motovilov of the existence of devils, not as phantoms or figments of the imagination, but as a stark and bitter reality. The impetuous Motovilov was so stirred by the elder’s talk that he cried from the depths of his soul:

“Father, how I should like to have a bout with the devils!”

Father Seraphim, in alarm, cut him short:

“What on earth are you talking about, your Godliness! You don’t know what you are saying. If you knew that the least of them can turn the world upside down with it’s claw, you would never challenge them to a fight.”

“But Father, have the devils really got claws?”

“Ah, your Godliness, whatever do they teach you at the university? Don’t you know that the devils have no claws? They have been represented with hoofs, horns and tails because it is impossible for the human imagination to conceive of anything more hideous. And they really are hideous, for their conscious desertion of God and their voluntary resistance to divine grace made them, who before the Fall, were angels of light, angels of such darkness and abomination that they cannot be portrayed in any human likeness. Still some likeness is necessary; that is why they are represented as black and ugly. But having been created with the powers and properties of angels, they possess such indomitable might against man and everything earthly that, as I told you already, the least of them can turn the world upside down with its nail. Only the divine grace of the Holy Spirit which has been given to us Orthodox Christians as a free gift through the merits of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ — only this frustrates all the wiles and artifices of the enemy.”

An uncanny feeling crept over Motovilov. While he was still under the saint’s protection he could defy Satan’s malice. But, by the permissive will of God, his reckless challenge did not remain unanswered. It was accepted.

When Motovilov went to Kursk after Father Seraphim’s death, he did not get much information about the childhood and youth of the saint. Of the near relatives who had known Father Seraphim as a child, some were dead, while others had forgotten the facts. Even the house where the saint was born and brought up was destroyed, and new buildings had sprung up in its place. However, one old man was found who was a contemporary of Father Seraphim, and who supplied Motovilov with the facts which have been included in all the editions of the saint’s life. The actual journey to Kursk and his stay there were without mishap.

The storm broke out on his way back to Voronezh.

Motovilov was obliged to spend a night at one of the post-stations on the road from Kursk. As he was quite alone in the room for travelers, he took his manuscripts out of his suitcase and began to sort them out by the dim light of a single candle which scarcely lit up the spacious room. One of the first records he discovered contained a description of the cure of possessed lady of noble parentage called Eropkin at the Shrine of St. Metrophan of Voronezh.

“I wondered,” writes Motovilov, “how it could happen that an Orthodox Christian who partook of the most pure and life-giving Mysteries of the Lord could suddenly be possessed by a devil, and moreover, for such a long period as over thirty years. And I thought Nonsense! It is impossible! I should like to see how the devil would dare to make his abode in me, especially when I frequently have recourse to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.”

At that very moment he was surrounded by a horrible, cold, evil-smelling cloud which began to makes its way into his mouth, while he made convulsive efforts to keep it tightly shut.

The unhappy Motovilov struggled desperately, trying to protect himself from the stench and icy cold cloud of the cloud which was gradually creeping into him. In spite of all his efforts it got into him completely.

His hands became exactly as if they were paralyzed, and he could not make the Sign of the Cross; his mind became frozen with terror and he could not remember the saving name of Jesus. Something terrible and repulsive had happened, and Nikolas Alexandrovitch experienced a time of dreadful torture. A manuscript in his own handwriting gives us the following description of the torments he experienced:

“The Lord granted me to experience in my own body, and not in a dream or apparition, the three torments of hell. The first was that of the fire which gives no light and which can be extinguished only by the grace of the Most Holy Spirit. This agony lasted for three days. I felt myself burning, yet I was not consumed. Ten or eleven times a day they had to scrape off the hellish soot which covered my whole body and was visible to all. This torture ceased only after Confession and Holy Communion, through the prayers of Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh

Archbishop Anthony [ Smirnitzky ] of Voronezh, highly regarded by St Seraphim

who ordered litanies to be said for the suffering servant of God Nikolas in the forty-seven churches and monasteries of his diocese.

Then I was tormented for two days by the unbearable cold of Tartarus, so that fire could neither burn nor warm me. According to the wish of His Grace, Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh, I held my hand over a candle for about half an hour, and though it was thickly coated with soot, it did not get warm in the least. I described this experiment on a whole sheet of paper and signed it by stamping it with my sooty hand. Both these torments were visible to all; yet with the help of Holy Communion I could partake of food, drink and sleep to some extent.

But the third torment of Gehenna, though it was still shorter by half a day, for it lasted only a day and a half (possibly a little more), caused me the greatest terror and suffering as it was something indescribable and incomprehensible. It is a wonder that I remained alive! This torment also disappeared after Confession and Holy Communion. This time Archbishop Anthony himself administered the Holy Sacrament to me with his own hands. This torment was the undying worm of Gehenna. The worm in this case was visible only to Archbishop Anthony and myself. But my whole body was riddled with this pernicious worm which crawled through the whole of me and in an indescribably frightful manner gnawed at my vitals. Though it crawled out through my nose, mouth and ears, yet it went back in again. However, God gave me some power of it, and I could take it into my hands and stretch it like rubber.

I feel myself compelled to make this declaration, for God did not grant me this vision for nothing. Let no one think that I dare take the Lord’s name in vain. No! On the day of the Lord’s awful judgment, He Himself — my God, my Helper and my Protector — will testify that I did not lie against Him, my Lord, and against the operation of His Divine Providence which was accomplished in me.”

Soon after this terrible test which is beyond the experience of ordinary men, Motovilov had a vision of his patron St. Seraphim who had comforted the sufferer with the promise that he would be cured at the exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and that until that time the devil residing in him would not torment him so cruelly.

The exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon actually took place thirty years later, and Motovilov lived to see it and was in fact cured according to his great faith.

On the day of the exposition of the relics of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (1865), Motovilov was standing in the sanctuary praying and weeping bitterly because the Lord had not granted him a cure for which his tortured soul was waiting according to the promise of St. Seraphim of Sarov. During the Song of the Cherubim, he glanced at the bishop’s throne in the apse and saw St. Tikhon there.


The holy prelate blessed the weeping Motovilov and vanished from sight. Motovilov was healed instantly.

(St. Seraphim of Sarov: A Spiritual Biography by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore. Chapter IX: Are the Torments of Hell a Reality? pp. 209-215) ... nofsaints/

[ Added by Barbara : Icon of St Tikhon of Zadonsk added for better appreciation of that miracle ending Motovilov's unimaginable sufferings ; illustration of Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh, and corrected typos ]


After surviving all this, after the earlier miraculous cure from the brink of death by St Seraphim decades before [ referred to at the start of the quoted text ] and another cure effected through the prayers of Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh, Nicholas Alexandrovitch Motovilov reposed on January 14/27 1879.

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Re: Nicholas Motovilov: sufferer to help St Seraphim

Postby Barbara » Sat 25 February 2017 3:48 am

In case anyone is skeptical as to how a practicing Orthodox Christian could possibly be possessed by a devil or devils [ could be multiple ones ] -- just as Motovilov by his own account above doubted when he read the case of Mrs Eropkina's cure after over 30 years at the shrine of St Mitrophan -- here is the following tale of a 48 year long possession.

This true life story occurred also in the first half of the 19th century :

""I was twelve years old when I first thought of going to Starets Feofil for advice," related a Kievan woman, Evfrosiniya Mikhailovna Tsybulskaya. "I was left an orphan and lived with strangers, in great want and grief. I was offended and oppressed. But having heard from good people that a 'holy batiushka' was living at Kitayev, I decided to see him, no matter what, and tell him of my grief. I didn't go alone. There were two women with me. As we were going through the woods, we met a tall, ragged monk.

'Whom are you looking for?' he asked, walking up to me. 'For Father Feofil,' I replied to him.

'Well, if you have need of him, go to his cell,' the monk said.

Along the way I wept bitterly, but my companions roared with laughter over the appearance of the starets. I was seized with annoyance that they were laughing at a man of God. 'You are silly,' I said, 'and both of you will often shed tears because of the righteous one.'

We had no sooner come to Feofil's cell than we saw that same starets coming behind us. He did not say a word to us but only looked sternly at my companions and went into his cell. In a minute he brought me a prosphora but to my companions he gave potato peelings and a dead crayfish which meant a great shame for their shameless, dissipated way of life.

'Batiushka, I want to enter the Rzhishchevsky Monastery,' I tearfully said to the Starets while accepting the prosphora.

'No!' the Starets said firmly. 'You will not live in a monastery. Near one, yes, but you will not enter it.'

'Why not, Batiushka?' I asked.

'Why? Because, until the sixty-sixth year, you will weep but in forty-eight years God will send a priest who will save you.'

I did not understand his words at that time but, in fact, a terrible misfortune did befall me. When I was eighteen, I became afflicted with a black illness and I wept dreadfully. It is a terrible, torturous illness. At first, I would be fine and well all week, working and toiling but as soon as Sunday or a feast day arrived, then the misfortune would arise. Right from morning something would begin to stick in my throat as if to choke me and my stomach would burn like fire, as if unclean spirits had taken command, and I would cry with all my strength. I tried everything and took all manner of medicines. The only relief I received was when I would run to the Great Lavra Church and come before the miraculous icon. For a while, I would feel better, but hardly would the blessing of the bread or the Cherubic Hymn begin, when I would be seized again and it would burn so terribly that I would have killed myself with a knife if only I had more strength left. I would run outside and run around the Lavra, crying at the top of my voice from the pain. It continued that way for forty-eight years, just the length of time that Starets Feofil said it would

Finally, one day I was in the Lavra, hurrying to church, weeping as usual,


when an old, grey-haired priest came up to me.

'What are you weeping about, you unfortunate creature?'

I stopped and told him about my terrible grief.

'Well, don't weep,' he told me. 'The Lord is merciful. Come closer and open your collar.'

I did so and he tied my neck tightly with a lace and then removed an icon of St. Dimitry of Rostov from his chest, hung it on my neck, looked at me compassionately, gave me his blessing and walked away saying:

'Pray, servant of God, pray fervently!'

St Dimitry, Metropolitan of Rostov-Veliky, who was born 40 kilometers from Kiev

A week went by and a feast came up. I was certain that I would have another seizure but no, nothing happened. I went to church and waited. The Cherubic Hymn was sung — nothing. The 'I Believe' and 'Our Father' — still nothing. The liturgy ended and I returned home — nothing. The illness had vanished as if it had never been at all. I ran to the Great Church and fell on my knees before the icon of St. Dimitry of Rostov and began to thank him with tears of gratitude.

Why didn't I turn to Father Feofil for help? I did, and asked for his holy prayers. He would comfort me, give me a prosphora and send me home saying, 'Go and have patience. This is fated for you. For these sufferings angels in heaven will weave you a crown.

I lived with my sister in Pechersk at that time and we worked as laundresses. Our poverty was unbelievable. To make matters worse, my sister began to lose her eyesight and could not work. If it were not for Starets Feofil, believe me, I would have taken my own life in my youth. He was like a guardian angel, guiding and comforting us. Sometimes he would send his sister [ the Anna mentioned in the first post ], who lived in the Florovsky Monastery as a postulant, to visit us with a prosphora. He would order her to see that we rose in time for matins every morning and once he came himself. When he arrived, we were already up and preparing to go to church. He praised us for our diligence, saying, 'That's right, toil my children. Pray and don't be lazy.'" ... rt-11.html


What is all the more intriguing is that in neither case, Motovilov's nor Evfrosiniya's, did their respective starets intervene much except to offer comfort.
Instead the sufferers were directed to seek help from other sources. In Motovilov's case, St Seraphim directed him to go to Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh and then appeared, telling the disciple that his cure would occur when the relics of St Tikhon of Zadonsk were displayed for veneration.

In the laundress of Kiev's case, cure would come not from any of the hundreds of Saints led by Sts Anthony and Feodosy whose relics lie in the Near and Far Caves. For example, there is one ascetic called Venerable John the Long-Suffering to whom Evfrosiniya may have thought to appeal in prayer

Relics of St John the Long-Suffering in Near Caves [ + 1160 ]: "The enemy of salvation brought terror upon the ascetic...: a fearsome serpent, breathing fire and sparks, tried to swallow the saint. For several days these evil doings continued. On the night of the Resurrection of Christ the serpent seized the head of the monk in its jaws...[ After prayer by the Saint ] a bolt of lightning flashed, and the serpent vanished. " - surely a role model for Evfrosiniya as these tortures by the Devil continued for over 30 years !

But cure for the miserable woman, occupied by a devil for nearly half a century, would only occur through an unknown Priest who would arrive in the Lavra, perhaps on pilgrimage.

In neither case did the Starets tell his possessed disciples why each was enduring such travails.

St Feofil's words - right to the point as always - offer the best explanation : "It is fated for you."

Interestingly all 3 of the deliverances from severe and prolonged demonic possession occurred through the auspices of Saints who reposed in the 18th century.

St Mitrophan of Voronezh, who healed the noblewoman Mrs. Eropkina, reposed in 1703;
St Dimitry Rostovsky 6 years later in 1709, and
St Tikhon of Zadonsk in 1783.

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