We dedicate this story to the life of Schema-nun Irina, a righteous servant of God and ascetic of our time. The Most Holy Theotokos blessed her to carry her heavy cross throughout her life and tonsured her to the schema. Throughout her life, she worked multiple miracles by the grace of God and set an outstanding example of the love of God and the neighbour.
Prediction of a fool-for-Christ
The would-be Christian ascetic Iraida Avraleva was born in 1924 and was of noble lineage. In pre-revolutionary times, her family lived in a Russian village in their ancestral home. When her parents John and Paraskeva were getting married at church, a fool-for-Christ came up to them and predicted, “Your first daughter will be mediocre – nothing to write home about. But your second will become a nun and will bring you to tonsure. Eventually, this prediction came true.
After the revolution of 1917, the family had their ancestral home confiscated, and became homeless. Iraida’s parents were reduced to begging in the streets. Later, her father was arrested and sent into exile to the Solovetsky archipelago. His name was Ivan Avralev, and he was a pious Christian. He had memorised the entire Gospel and Psalter, and his faith helped him live through the prison years. After his return from the prison camp, the family moved to Samara. There, they had their second daughter named Irina. Irina finished secondary school with distinction, completed her higher education and went to work as a department manager in a department store.
The calling of the Theotokos
In those years, the Holy Theotokos appeared to her in a dream dressed as a hegumeness. “Iraida, when are you coming to Me?” she asked. Two years later, she had the same vision, but this time the Theotokos spoke more harshly. Iraida went to the local archbishop Alexey (Palitsyn) to ask for his blessing to become a monastic. Father Alexey advised her to see the elders of Kyiv-Pechory Lavra, as all monasteries in Russia had been closed down.
On her arrival, she was met by Elder Damian (Korneychuck), who was a hundred years old. People waited long hours outside his door to see him, but when Iraida appeared, Father Damian walked out of his cell to meet her. “You are late,” he remarked. “Did you know that in the book of life you are written down as a nun?”
They had a conversation, and the elder disclosed to Iraida the hardships that expected her in her life. Impressed by their immensity, Father Damian addressed the Mother of God on the icon, “O Holy Theotokos, how is she going to endure all that?” Then, turning to Iraida, he announced, “The Mother of God said that you will endure.”
Metropolitan of Kiev John (Sokolov) first directed Iraida to Lebedinsky Convent outside Kiev, and then to the Kremenetsky Convent of the Theophany.
The nuns of Kremenetsky convent were doing small crafts to earn their food. There was no electricity, so they worked in the light of a wicker lamp. One night, Iraida had not noticed a needle sticking from a chair and sat down on it in the dark. The needle entered her bloodstream and travelled inside her body. Iraida felt it moving, especially when it came close to her heart. She was 26 at the time but fearing that she had little time to live, the nuns served a Moleben, and performed extreme unction on her. She received tonsure into the mantle with the name Ignatia. By some miracle, the newly tonsured nun survived, and the needle stopped bothering her.
A spiritual child of Saint Kuksha of Odessa
While she was still in Kiev, she met Holy Venerable Kuksha of Odessa on her visit to the caves. He later became her spiritual father. As she was getting ready to visit him, she again had a vision of the Theotokos in which she tonsured her to the great schema. When she came to Father Kuksha, he said to her upfront,
“Congratulations on your tonsure to the schema!”
“No one has tonsured me yet,” she replied.
“The Mother of God has clad you in a schema, and I will tonsure you today.”
“But father, I am not old enough yet,” she objected.
“I cannot ignore the blessing of the Mother of God,” replied the elder and that same night he tonsured her to the schema with the name Irina.
Bitter sorrows ahead
After that tonsure, Nun Irina experienced some severe sorrows. One day as she was standing at prayer, a horrid-looking devil appeared to her in a vision. “I will have all the people turn away from you, young and old, to make you regret your choice,” he vowed. But the ascetic made the sign of the cross and answered, “The Lord will not abandon His servants.” Immediately, the devil disappeared.
By that time, the secret schema-monk was already on the most wanted list of the USSR. Her older sister and her husband, a military officer, were combing through all the monasteries. They had engaged the police in the search. The police were on their way to Kremenetsky convent where she was staying.
That day, Nun Irina was working in the field with the other sister when the hegumeness came and gave her her clothing bag. “Nun Ignatia, the police have come. They are looking for you,” she said. “Here are your things. Go to Father Kuksha, and then wherever he directs you. Immediately, she departed to her spiritual father, who blessed her to ascetise in the mountains of Abkhazia.
For years, she lived in the harsh conditions of Abhasian highlands, amid the elders of the Glinskaya Pustyn and other warriors of Christ. She spent the time preceding her arrest in hermitage and seclusion.
When active persecution of the Church resumed in the Khrushchev era in the late 1950s, special units of the KGB were dispatched to hunt down the remaining monastics in the mountains. Nun Irina was caught in an ambush and sent home to be “reformed”.
Pressure to “reform”
Among the general public, anti-religious agitation was rife. Her whole family turned against her because of her faith. They mocked her, pelted her with stones and assaulted her with knives and forks as if possessed by the devil. When the Venerable Kuksha was tonsuring her into the Schema, he warned her, “Never have any worldly clothes. Always wear your monastic robes, even if you have to put your head on the block for it. The Mother of God herself gave them to you, and She will never abandon you.” Nun Irina was always steadfast in her obedience to her spiritual father. Because of her monastic dress, the police were stopping her in the streets, the children mocked her and pelted her with stones. One night, three thugs confronted her in the street and nearly killed her. But the Lord always protected His beloved child from harm.
Finally, Schema-nun Irina was put into prison, where she continued to confess her faith in Christ openly. She refused to sign any written pledges. When they brought her for fingerprinting, she refused to give her hands. She held them crosswise to her chest so hard that three able-bodied men could not make her yield. Hearing her screams, the other inmates threatened the prison guards with a rebellion if they did not leave her alone. The prison guards had no choice but to give in to their pressure.
The inmates loved Nun Irina and treated her with deep respect. She brought many to the faith. Because she was preaching faith to the inmates, the prison authorities often put her in the disciplinary cell, but she always bore her punishment with dignity. When she was finally released, she continued to receive large numbers of letters from the inmates thanking her for her company and asking for her advice.
Even animals sensed the sanctity of Nun Irina. Once a German Shepherd guard dog got off the leash and ran towards the nun. But when it reached her, it put its front paws on her shoulder and licked her face. Astonished, the prison guard remarked, “If it had been some other prisoner, my dog would have torn him to pieces.”
A miracle at Christmas
One Christmas eve, Nun Irina was sitting in her solitary cell chanting the Nativity Canon. Suddenly, the door of her cell opened, and a woman in a long dress walked in. In her hand, she carried a basket with different treats, which she put out on the table. When she finished, she bowed to Nun Irina, and Nun Irina bowed back to her. Finally, the visitor left. When the guard came in early in the morning, the schema-nun said to him,
“Look! Someone came to visit me at night!”
He was terrified. “Oh, no! I have the key to the lock of the cell door.”
“But where do you think I got all this,” she said, waving at the table with the treats.
Speechless, the guard muttered,
“Please do not tell anyone. They will shoot me if they know. I did not give the keys to anyone.
It was not until after her release that Nun Irina knew from her spiritual father that Saint Anastasia Deliverer from Potions was her surprise visitor on Christmas night.
Life after prison
After her release in 1964, Nun Irina joined a monastery in Samara. The other nuns remembered that she always kept a strict fast, ate little and slept rarely. Yet they all named as her most spectacular gift her great love of God and the people. She always gave sympathy, comfort and reassurance to all who came. She always encouraged her sisters to say Jesus’ prayer as a means of avoiding empty talk. In the memories of her monastic sisters, her face always glowed with the light of God’s grace each time she approached the Cup. Everyone at the monastery had a deep respect for her. Some saw the divine light coming from her cell as she prayed at night.
As Elder Damian had foretold, she bore the heavy burden of ill health during the last 24 years of her life. While in prison, she acquired multiple arthritis. By 1980, she could no longer walk, and by 2001 she was confined to her bed. One of her spiritual daughters remembers, “When I went into her cell, it was illuminated by some unearthly light. Nun Irina was lying on a tiny narrow sofa. I was most struck by her lively look and her glowing eyes. She was always gentle and kind, with a smile on her face. She had an exceptional gift of prayer. She could see the future for years ahead, and multiple miracles occurred by her prayers.”
Nun Irina knew ahead of time the exact day and hour of her departure. Shortly before her final hour, her late parents appeared to her. She fell asleep in the Lord on 4 March 2004 after taking extreme unction and communion. Multiple instances of her intercession have been reported since her departure. Grant rest, O Lord to the soul of Your Departed Servant Schema-nun Irina, and have mercy on us sinners, by his holy prayers.
Prepared by Anastasia Parkhomchik
Adapted from: https://spzh.news/ru/istorija-i-kulytrua/77931-bogorodica-skazala-chto-vyderzhishypamyati-skhimonahini-iriny-avralevoj
What a joy to read about Schema-nun Irina. It was so inspirational for me. I still have tears in my eyes.
Pedimos a Schema-nun Irina que interceda por es ta pequeña comunidad de San Nectarios en Bogota, Colombia, somos muy poco y hay tantos hijos de Dios sin encontrar el verdadero camino, que ella sea quien interceda ante la Santa Theotokos!
What a beautiful and steadfast ascetic and cross-bearer, patiently and joyfully enduring all things. Beautiful account!