The highest feat of foolishness of Saint Barbara Skvorchikhinskaya (in the world, Barbara Vasilievna Arkhangelskaya; November 20, 1890 – February 27, 1966) is not very well known to Orthodox readers, since the saint died relatively recently – in 1966. But her holiness was so obvious that the Church, shortly after her blessed death, canonized her as a venerable.
Varvara was born in 1890 in a large family of a modest rural priest. When the girl was two years old, her mother died, and a few years later her father also died. The children were looked after by compassionate people, but they still had to live very poorly and hungry. At the age of twelve, Varenka [nickname for Barbara] entered the Diocesan Women’s School, where she, like an orphan, studied on full support. In 1909, the future ascetic received a teacher’s certificate. After that, for some time she lived with relatives who persuaded her to marry. But the girl refused to marry.
The 1917 revolution found Varvara as a teacher in a rural school. Despite the global changes that took place in the country in connection with the coup d’état of 1917, Barbara openly spoke to the children about God, sent disciples to the temple, and she herself attended all services religiously. The children loved her very much for her soft, kind and sympathetic character. For many of them, she became a second mother, with whom they could talk heart to heart, get wise advice, pour out their grief.
One of her students described the portrait of her teacher as follows: “Nicely dressed, in a fur coat, in a velvet hat, a very fluffy shawl thrown over her hand.” The new teacher was neat, modest, but she did not dress according to country standards, fashionably, “in a city style”. In the village, she was respected and called “priest-like” Barbara Vasilievna.
New times dictated new conditions on teacher’s work. The headmaster of the school announced at the meeting that according to the directive that came from the leadership: “Now we will teach the children that there is no God.” Barbara Vasilievna interrupted him: “Where did He go? Yesterday He was, today is, and tomorrow will be gone? “. The director said that V. I. Lenin “abolished God.”
After this meeting, Barbara Vasilievna did not show up at school for some time. And a little later she came there in an unusual outfit. The teacher’s head was wrapped in a red kerchief (as a sign that madness had entered the heads of people), on one leg she was wearing a shoe, and on the other a galosh (like two laws – one reasonable, and the other not). On the same day, the teacher threw the tables and stools out of the room in which she lived, turning them upside down, and began a new life for herself, to which, apparently, she was called by God himself in some revelation known only to Mother Barbara
The compassionate Yakovlev family, who knew Barbara well, let her live in their old dilapidated shepherd barn measuring two by two meters. The former teacher covered the small windows of the barn with curtains so that light did not penetrate into it. She rarely went outside, mostly at dusk. She began to walk in old torn clothes, usually barefoot. Barbara lived in complete neglect of the flesh. She did not clean, did not wash, did not comb, eat or drink almost nothing. Not far from the house, mother dug up a small fontanel, which has survived to this day and is revered by pilgrims as healing.
She lived blessed by what the Lord sent her through believing people. On the day, a glass of porridge or soup was enough for her, and at the end of her life she ate only the size of a matchbox of food a day. During the years of the godless Bolshevik government, more and more people came to mother Barbara to talk about God, to receive consolation and spiritual prayer help. Already in the pre-war years, the blessed one acquired the gift of prescience. With the outbreak of the war, mothers and wives reached out to her in order to receive news about their children and husbands, who were sent to the front.
A former student of mother’s Barbara recalls that when her family first received a death notice for her father, they were comforted when they went to BarBara: “He is alive,” said the blessed one. Indeed, after being surrounded, her father survived and after a while wrote a letter to them. But later, the news came again that he was missing. Mom and daughter again went to Barbara. This time she did not directly explain anything, only said: “I see flowers.” So they realized that their father had died, which in fact was later confirmed.
In the forties, Varvara went into complete isolation. She went outside only at night. She did not let anyone into the house, she always talked through the door. The ascetic distributed the food that people brought her to children and the poor, leaving only a small part for herself. If any of those who came in secretly wished for alms, the blessed one took nothing from them. Later, she stopped even going out for water, relying in everything on the will of God. There were periods, especially in winter, during blizzards, frosts and blizzards, when there were no visitors, and Barbara starved and tormented herself with thirst for several weeks.
But even more surprising was the fact that without having any connections with the outside world, without reading newspapers, listening to the radio, and without talking to people about what was happening around, the blessed one knew in all details about world events. Moreover, this knowledge concerned both the political life of his country and the course of the entire world history. She was never wrong and knew the future for sure. Some of the information that the reverend possessed was available only to the secret services. Therefore, the special services became interested in her personality.
We do not know what kind of information was discussed. But Blessed Barbara received official recognition of her prescience from the KGB in the mid-fifties. “Lives recluded, but knows everything,” as stated in one of the documents that accused mother of being an American spy. True, how she received news from America, the special services did not manage to establish. But they managed to set them on the blessed special commission, which included the Ufa commissioner for religious affairs, the chairman of the village council, a doctor at a local hospital and two local foremen. They were instructed to “open” the blessed dwelling and bring her “into the light.”
These “specialists” first broke down the windows, but they turned out to be too narrow to get through them. Then they broke the roof and climbed through it. They dragged the blessed one out of the barn by force and led barefoot, half-naked through the forty-degree frost. On the way to the village council, the commission in every possible way mocked the blessed one. She was scolded, her body was pinched with anger to the point of bruises. They threw her on the floor of the village council room and shaved her bald head. It was as if the demons, through their human servants, were taking revenge on the saint for all her love for God. Not even a month later, God punished all these offenders in such a way that few dared to say a bad word against the blessed woman.
After such an outrage, Barbara lived for some time with her friends Yakovlevs, and then moved back to her dilapidated barn. Only this time, she aggravated her exploits even more. The firewood brought by the people remained untouched, although there was severe frost in the yard. Barbara also stopped cooking food on the fire. She gave out all the clothes that were donated to her.
In order for us to get a little closer to the mystery of understanding how it was possible for a saint to live in an unheated barn amidst the frosts of the Urals, let us turn to the conversation between the Monk Seraphim of Sarov and N. Motovilov: “Notice, Your Goodness, that it is as warm around us as in a bathhouse, and look at this: neither you nor I have any snow melting even under our feet. So this warmth is not in the air, but in us. It is the same warmth with which the Holy Spirit warms hermits and hermits. This is how it should be, because the grace of God should dwell within us, in our hearts.“
Lines of people again reached out to the blessed Barbara. This has already become a real pilgrimage. People were traveling not only from the nearest regions, but also from afar. Although it was very difficult to get to the Skvorchikhino village. The buses did not go there. You had to walk twenty kilometers from the nearest station. But people walked, and there were a lot of them. The authorities did everything possible to somehow counteract this, but it was all in vain. Some invisible force was protecting the saint. One day in 1958, a prosecutor, an investigator and a policeman came to her. They came with the firm intention of taking Barbara to a nursing home. But when the blessed one began to talk to them, all their determination disappeared somewhere. They felt as if they were small children, and in front of them was not an elderly old woman, but a wise, great force, with which it was impossible to argue and which could not be contradicted. This change startled them.
– Barbara Vasilievna, who are you after all? – the embarrassed authorities ask with surprise.
– I’m just a believing teacher who raised a lot of children.
– Well, Barbara Vasilievna, excuse the disturbance, excuse me, good-bye, – and the important persons left, like guilty schoolchildren.
In the fall of 1962, a fire broke out in the barn where the blessed one lived. For some time, the old woman moved to live in the house of the same Yakovlevs. The Eldress’s admirers jointly bought her a small, cozy, well-equipped house, but she refused to live in it. Instead, the monk moved to another abandoned barn, woven from thin trunks and branches of trees. It was an old, rotten and useless building. The roof in it was almost open, in some places there was rotten straw, there were holes everywhere. Only three walls remained intact. There was no stove at all.
In such conditions, especially in winter, no one, even a healthy and strong person, could survive in this house. But it was there that the seventy-year old woman Barbara moved to live in May 1963. Her admirers tried to sheathe the walls of this shelter with roofing material, poke holes with grass and paper, patched up the roof a little and built a fourth wall from scrap materials. This place became the last refuge of the blessed mother. It was also a place of special miraculous phenomena.
One of the spiritual children of Blessed Barbara told that she had come to her when there were severe frosts on the street. But, having entered the barn, open to all winds and blizzards, she stopped feeling the cold. It was as if some invisible force was warming the air inside this shelter.
Much in the life of Mother Barbara will forever remain hidden. The feat of her seclusion lasted for about 36 years, and over time it became more and more aggravated. Prayer was the main content of a blessed life. Through prayer her soul breathed, through prayer she acquired the Holy Spirit, by which her body was vivified and warmed in terrible frosts.
Day and night she carried the feat of prayer vigils. It is not known for certain how many hours the ascetic kept to sleep. But she also spent a short time of sleep in a heroic deed. Living in a hut, she slept in the stove in the winter, putting ashes under her head like a pillow, and in the summer on the floor in the corner of the hut. Having settled in a barn, she slept on the ground in summer, in a snowy “nest” in winter, or sitting on a chest.
The saint always strictly kept her fasts. In the last years of Great Lent, mother lived only on bread and water, she also ate onions, did not use sunflower oil. She did not eat meat at all. After death, when they dressed the ascetic, it was also revealed that she was still wearing a shirt on her body, where she inserted pins with the point to the body. For all the years of her seclusion, the saint has never been to church, but she regularly received communion from the priests with the Holy Gifts. And she told people to always go to Church.
Through the exploits of her life, the blessed one acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit, who clearly rested on her and manifested itself in special signs and wonders. A lot of evidence has been collected that the eldress was prescient. But she showed this gift only if it could benefit the human soul. Those who came to her only out of curiosity, she sent away. There are also many testimonies that through the prayers of the blessed one, people got rid of incurable diseases.
Eyewitnesses told about the wonderful singing that came from the barn where the ascetic lived. Repeatedly over the course of several years, the inhabitants of Skvorchikha saw how radiant light emanated from the hut and came out blissful all in radiance. This is how the witnesses tell about it:
“At first, her house kind of lit up with radiance. Then she went out herself, and in front of her, about a meter and a half away, was someone who looked like a child. Mother was all in radiance, and she was wearing light clothes. And she herself is young, beautiful (as in the photograph, when she was still a teacher). The radiance lasted until the blessed one returned back to her cell. “
* * *
“I guarded the sheep at night not far from the barn where the blessed one lived. I looked, and across the field, as if soaring above the ground, Barbara Vasilievna was walking and a star was burning above her, illuminated by rays, above her very head. I felt creepy, the time was the first hour of the night. I looked – she prayed, turned around and went to her shed. And the star again accompanies her to the very house. “
* * *
One villager out of curiosity decided to spy on mother at night. “Approaching the barn, I saw Barbara Vasilievna and a white column of light leaving her to heaven. I was seized with such horror that I fell on my face and from fear I do not remember how long I lay motionless. When I came to myself, there was no light, no blissful. I myself will never go to spy on her again, and I will order everyone – do not go and look.“
* * *
Like Elder Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Barbara was given by God to people for consolation and support in the difficult times of Soviet persecution of the Church of God. Thousands of people turned to her for help. With all those who came, the blessed one spoke invariably affectionately and with great love. But she could also speak sternly, firmly, with pressure, in order to enlighten the lost. She never said too much. Her every word was weighed and filled with grace. Mother’s admonitions were short and laconic. Sometimes she spoke with parables and allegories that came to her.
Two weeks before her death, God sent His blessed angel to warn her of the impending end. Here is how an eyewitness tells about it:
“It was February 13th. I go up to the blessed shed. My trail in the snow is the first, there are no other traces. But I hear a conversation going on in the barn. One voice belongs to mother, and the other – gentle, wonderful, like none other on earth – [belongs] to someone else. This voice speaks loudly, but I can’t understand a word. This voice speaks loudly, but I cannot understand a single word. I walked around the shed – I did not find any tracks leading to the hut in the snow, there was also a meter of snow on the roof. The hair on my head under the hat went up. I listened again – there was a conversation, but I don’t understand anything. Only the last words of Barbara Vasilievna made out: “Okay, I’ll get ready.”
Just before her death, the Lord allowed the blessed one more suffering. On Saturday evening, February 26, a fire broke out in the barn. There was a feeling that the demons periodically set fire to the old woman’s dwelling, trying to drive her out of any place where she worked. So it was this time. The dwelling burned down completely, the eldress was almost unharmed. The minor burns she received could in no way have been the cause of her death. But, nevertheless, the blessed one quietly and peacefully gave her soul to God on February 27, 1966. She was then in her seventy-sixth year.
When they put the saint in the coffin, there was the impression that a child of eight or nine years old was lying there. The blessed one was light as a feather, and her face was like an angel. The priest at this time was forbidden to conduct divine services outside the temple. Therefore, the eldress was buried in absentia. The coffin was carried by nine tenth-grade girls from among those who came to the funeral.
A huge number of people and pigeons saw off the eldress on her last journey. It was not clear where the birds came from, but while the procession was going on, hundreds, maybe thousands of pigeons circled over the coffin in the sky, and after the burial they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. On the day of the funeral, the Sun began to play, as on Easter, everything was in rainbow circles, even spring drops began, as if it was not February in the yard, but the beginning of April. Although the day before there was a severe frost. Miracles at the eldress’s grave began to take place immediately after the burial. There were also recorded many healings from the water collected in the spring, which the saint dug up. These miracles are still taking place, for which there is a lot of evidence.
Now the holy relics of Blessed Barbara Skvorchikhinskaya are in the Theotokos-Tikhvin women’s monastery in the village of Priyutovo, Belebeevsky district of the Republic of Bashkortostan. In 2001, Patriarch Alexy II gave his blessing to glorify the ascetic among the venerated saints of the Ufa diocese.
Troparion to holy blessed Barbara Skvorchikhinskaya, Tone 5
You have acquired the image of Christ’s humility, our holy blessed mother Barbara, you had the purest prayer to God and unhypocritical love for people, you have acquired the grace of God to intercede for people, now in imperishable relics you rest and stand before the throne of God, you have been granted the privilege of seeing the Lord, pray for us to the merciful God that He may save our souls.
Kontakion to Saint Blessed Barbara Skvorchikhinskaya, Tone 5
To the new wondrous saint of the country of Ufa, now we joyfully bring you, oh, mother, laudatory singing, you, as on who has boldness before Christ, free us from all troubles, so we call you: Rejoice, all-praiseworthy Barbara, blessed hermit.
Prayer to Saint Blessed Barbara Skvorchikhinskaya
O holy, blessed Mother Barbara! Through your good deeds on earth, you have received in heaven the crown of righteousness, which the Lord has prepared for all those who love Him. Therefore, as we watch over the grave of your honorable relics, we rejoice in the glorious end of your earthly life, and we honor your holy memory. O thou, standing before the Throne of God, accept our prayers and offer them to the Most Merciful God, that he may forgive us all our trespasses and help us to stand against the wiles of the devil, so that we may be delivered from afflictions, diseases, troubles, afflictions, and all manner of evil, May we live a godly and righteous life in this present age and may be granted through your intercession, however unworthy we may be, to see good things on earth, glorifying God alone in his saints, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.