At the turn of the 20th century there were two saints in Russia with the name Matrona and surprisingly similar fates. Both of them were blind and bedridden, lived not far from Moscow and were glorified by the Orthodox Church in 1999. These are only a few of the many similarities that these two saints have. Today, as we are celebrating the memory of St Matrona of Anemnyasevo (+1936) we would like to introduce you to her edifying life. Its similitude to the fate of the widely revered blessed Matrona of Moscow (+1952) makes one’s mind marvel at God’s providence and disposes the soul to this lesser-known saint with the same warmth.
Matrona Belyakova was born on November 6, 1864 in the village of Anemnyasevo (Ryazan province). Her parents were not pious Christians. They were the poorest in their village and looked slightly underdeveloped. Matrona’s father drank heavily. There were 8 children in Matrona’s family, of whom, similarly to St Matrona of Moscow, she was the fourth.
Unlike St Matrona of Moscow who was born blind, the girl was healthy until she was 7 years old. Matrona’s parents took a dislike to her from the very birth, and the girl had to endure much more abuse and beatings than her peers. At the age of 7 she fell ill with smallpox and became blind. Since that time, Matrona was assigned to look after the younger children.
Little Matryosha was 10 years old when she accidentally dropped her sister off the porch step. The girl’s mother became very angry and began to severely beat her. At that moment, Matrona saw the Queen of Heaven. She told her mother about it, but that did not stop her. The vision repeated thrice. During Her last appearance, the Mother of God gave the girl a scroll. Matrona never told anyone what was written on it. On the following day, the mutilated girl could not get up from her bed. She never walked again and also stopped growing. Matrona remained the size of a 10-year-old child for the rest of her life. Her capabilities were limited to rolling from side to side, moving her hands and taking small objects.
We know that St Matrona of Moscow also lost her ability to walk at the age of 17.
Gift of Healing
According to the life of St Matrona of Moscow, people began to flock to her when she was only 7 years old.
Matrona of Anemnyasevo had to lay in her father’s house enduring abuse from her neighbors until she was 17. The only thing that comforted her soul was prayer. The villagers began to come and ask her to pray for them. In those days, people suffering without guilt were revered as “God’s people.” Matrona’s prayers helped all who came to her with faith to receive healing even from incurable diseases.
Over time, the girl became known throughout Russia; tens and hundreds of people came to her every day for 50 years.
Blessed Matrona knew by heart many prayers, akathists and church hymns. When asked how he had learned so many of them, Matrona said, “Kind people come and share them with me, and with God’s help I memorize some of them”.
St Matrona treated each visitor differently. She instructed some and healed others, denounced people of their sins, warned against mistakes and consoled them in sorrows. In many different ways she tried to lead everyone to a truly Christian, God-pleasing life.
Harassment from Relatives
While in her parents’ house, all donations that Matrona’s grateful visitors gave her were taken by her father and spent on drinks and tobacco. The saint gave the rest to people in need.
When Matrona’s parents died, she was oppressed by her brothers and sisters, who saw her only as a source of income. When people built a house for Matrona, her sister seized it by court action.
After that Matrona moved to her nephew’s house. He was a believer and a kind person. But her hardships continued. The nephew’s children were often teased by their peers because of their cohabitation with the physically crippled Matrona. At that time, the country had already “abolished” the faith. The saint was very grieved that innocent people were suffering for her.
Every month Matrona invited a priest and received communion. Since the age of 17, she stopped eating meat. She fasted on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and hardly ate anything during church fasts. She also voluntarily endured cold. In the summer, because of the stuffiness, Matrona was carried out into the inner porch, where she stayed until winter. She never asked to bring her back inside the house and always waited for her relatives to decide when it became too cold for her.
On cold days, visitors asked her in surprise:
– Aren’t you cold?
– Not at all. Look how hot I am.
She held out her hand, and it really was hot.
From the life of St Matrona of Moscow we know that her parents wanted to send her to an orphanage. We also know that her brothers who were members of the Communist Party disliked her because of the many problems that she caused them professing the Christian faith.
Persecution by the Authorities
Just like St Matrona of Moscow, Matrona of Anemnyasevo was persecuted by the atheistic authorities.
During the Great Lent of 1933, the saint changed greatly. Previously, she had spoken with everyone in simple terms, delved into everyone’s troubles and willingly talked about everyday life. Now she was no longer interested in earthly life, and concentrated fully on spiritual things.
In 1935, on an accusation of a local person, a criminal case was opened against “the priestly family of Pravdolyubovs and the cripple Matrona Belyakova” (at that time disabled people were called cripples in official papers). 10 people were arrested, but they were afraid to interfere with Matrona for a long time. Then the village council wrote a character reference calling Matrona “a harmful element, strongly influencing the other villagers with her holiness…” Eventually they came for Matrona. With fear, the chairman of the village council lifted the little woman over her bed and carried her to the car. On the way to the city, the car broke down twice. First, the saint was taken to Ryazan, and then to Moscow.
Moscow is the city where both blessed Matronas lived for some time and ended their earthly journey.
Little is known about Matrona’s life in Moscow; she lived here for about a year. Her first months here were spent in jail, where she was revered by many prisoners. They prayed together and sang akathists.
There is some evidence that St Matrona’s prayers healed the hopelessly ill mother of her investigator. He was able to release the saint, who was already very sick and dying at that time. The investigator assigned her to a nursing home, where she died on July 29, 1936. The burial place of the saint remained unknown for a long time.
In 1999, the Council of the Ryazan diocese glorified Blessed Matrona as a locally revered saint. In 2000 she was canonized as one of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia for general church veneration.
As a lightning of the heavenly fire you shone forth in the land of Ryazan,
O Blessed Elder Matrona whose memory we celebrate today
Singing glory to Christ and asking Him through your intercession
To grant us patience in ailments, sorrows and adversities,
And to our souls His great mercy.