Little Alla And the Big Padlock: On the Modern Life of the St. Thecla-Holy Dormition Convent in Russia

Having visited the Convent of St. Thecla and the Dormition, situated in the village of Senino not far from Optina Monastery in Russia’s Kaluga region, I was fascinated by the abundant mercy and grace that the Lord has been pouring on this place through the prayers of the nuns and their father confessor. Its mother superior, Abbess Vitalia (Kochetova), has shared wonderful stories with me that can be compared with those from the Lives of Monastic Fathers of olden times. Mother Vitalia speaks.


A Miraculous Healing

Many years ago one woman brought her little daughter Alla, who had cerebral palsy, to Optina Monastery and carried her into the church in her arms as the child couldn’t walk. After venerating the relics of the holy elders of Optina, the girl began to timidly walk on her own, though her feet remained rather weak.

When she grew up, she came to Optina Monastery again to thank the venerable fathers for her healing. And the Optina Elders, through the living elder, our father confessor Archimandrite Anthony, blessed her to join our community in Senino. Now Alla lives at our convent and performs her obedience as much as her physical strength allows her. Within her first year at our convent her health considerably improved. The following miraculous story is associated with Alla.

Church of St. Thecla

Once a group of pilgrims from Moscow came to us. We were waiting for them and planning to make a guided tour around the convent for them, to tell them about this place and its heavenly patrons. But since the shrines of the Kaluga region are numerous, our guests arrived to us very exhausted late in the evening by the end of our Vigil service. They asked us to arrange a short tour around the convent for them so that they could have a rest after that.

We were sorry for them. I blessed our guide, Sister Thecla, to recount the history of our convent to the pilgrims in brief and prayed to St. Thecla inwardly: “Holy Virgin Martyr Thecla, please help! Touch the hearts of our guests so that their visit could be for their spiritual benefit and that they might feel the grace of our convent and its relics!”

Icon of the Virgin Proto-Martyr Thecla

When the Vigil was over, the nuns went to their cells. One of the nuns, the guide, led the visitors into the Church of St. Thecla and told them a little about the convent. After that she suggested reading a short troparion to St. Thecla, but they obstinately refused, pleading fatigue:

“We will pray at home! If anyone feels like praying, they can do so.”

Next we came up to the entrance door which turned out to be locked. We decided to call the driver, who had stayed in the car, to ask him to come and open the doors. But all the mobile phones suddenly stopped working at that very moment. At last our pilgrims realized that something was wrong here. So when I suggested reading the troparion once more, and everybody agreed. We sang the troparion and the phones started working again. We called the driver, Pavel. He was a very tall, strong yet non-religious man; he would drive pilgrims to holy places without entering any churches.

Pavel came up to the door and pulled it from the outside, but it wouldn’t open. It should be mentioned that this door is never locked with a key: it is always either latched or padlocked. The driver looked around and saw a church shop near the church where the light was still on. And it was our Alla, the one I mentioned earlier, who had stayed in the shop till late hoping that some of the pilgrims would be willing to drop in after the tour and purchase some mementoes of their visit.

Thus Pavel went inside the shop and asked Alla to help him unlock the door. “Yes, no problem!” she replied.

As Alla was walking towards the church, she thought: “How can it be that the door doesn’t open? We normally use only a big padlock, but there is no lock on it now.”

Alla came up to the church and easily opened the solid oak door with her feeble hand barely moves (a result of her cerebral palsy). The driver (a healthy fellow) was dumbfounded… In the meantime, they heard the voices of the pilgrims singing the final part of the akathist hymn to the Virgin-Martyr Thecla. At length they sang “Amen!”, and all the pilgrims moved one after another towards the door.

Everybody, especially the driver Pavel, was overwhelmed by this unusual and edifying occurrence. Pavel kept asking very loudly:

“What should I do?! How should I pray to St. Thecla?!”

At this the pilgrims examined the door for a long time, trying to find out what had happened and why it did not open. Noteably, the feast of the icon of the Holy Theotokos of the “Sign” was celebrated on that day.


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