The grave of the blessed Anastasia at Tbilisi’s Kukija Cemetry continues to attract scores of believers coming for veneration and prayer. Some knew her during her lifetime, and others found out about her after her departure. A visitor to her grave exclaimed, tearfully, “Love can work wonders, but how deeply one must love another to sit down and pray for them without stopping! How big must be her heart!” The blessed Anastasia’s life story may sound incredible to some, but witnesses to her ascetic exploit are still around, and miracles still happen to those who invoke her name in their prayers.
There are few known details about her life before her exploit. Her full name was Anastasia Nikisheva, and she was born in Russia in 1886. Her father, an engineer, brought his family from Saint Petersburg to Georgia, where extensive railway construction had begun. Parcels of land were distributed among the employees of the locomotive depot, and her family received a plot nearby the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos. There, they built their family home. The Lord took her mother at an early age, and she was left with her two other sisters in the care of her father. Soon, he remarried, but her stepmother disliked Anastasia. She envied her beauty and became openly hostile after her father’s death.
Anastasia was kind and pious. She went to church and sang in a choir. She had many suitors, but she chose a poor officer whom she had met at a ball at Vorontsov’s Palace. The officer proposed to her.
Jealous of her stepdaughter, the stepmother tried to disrupt the marriage. One day, she locked Anastasia in the house, and told her fiance that Anastasia had had an attack of madness, went to the hospital and was declared insane with no chance of recovery. This news struck the officer so hard that he shot himself in Anastasia’s view. His death changed the young girl’s life completely, and she took upon herself the feat of a fool-for-Christ.
At first, Anastasia moved to a pig shed to live and eat with the pigs. Later, she took on another extraordinary feat: she got herself a low bench and sat on it without rising, if only to change her position, from 1907 to 1960.
Her nephew Georgy Sazonov, who assisted her, remembers: “In 1940 when I was only five, I was asked to brush snow off her — for she was sitting in the open, exposed to the elements. She had no warm clothes except a woollen shawl that she had knit herself. Out of kindness, many people tried to bring her inside, but she protested. Other pious women, her helpers, would wash her right where she was, under the snow.” She ate the food God sent her with her visitors. Some would cook soup on a kerosene cooker that they put in front of her. Anastasia shared their meal. Some brought her milk, meat and even money, but she did not accept all the gifts. Some she would drive away throwing their gifts at them. Anastasia seemed to know the heart and mind of every visitor.
Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin) wrote about her far-sightedness and intuition: “She saw through every person; she looked at someone, and they felt as if she was piercing them all through. Many were baffled, not understanding how that was possible; some were awe-stricken, knowing that his hidden thoughts and details of his past, present and future had opened up to her.”
She performed her feat of incessant prayer for over sixty years. After all these years, her knees had become so stiff that she could hardly move them. By every law of nature, she would have perished within one year of her feat from hypothermia. But the Lord protected her. She showed no signs of being too cold or hot or suffering from the sores expected in anyone staying in the same position for extended periods. She never made a single complaint. Her stepmother, however, was unrelenting. As possessed by the demons, she denied her stepdaughter food and poured water on her in the winter trying to drive her from her bench. She persisted until her death. Like Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg, Anastacia was praying for the salvation of her fiance and the souls of all her kin and visitors.
A helper to all who came
Over years, people began to flock to her in greater numbers. In the years of militant atheism under Soviet rule, they were sometimes dispersed by the police. Yet people kept coming, and eventually, the authorities chose to look the other way.
In wartime, crowds of people were arriving. Everyone was anxious to know if their relatives were alive. Anastasia had the gift of knowing the fates of these people. To some, she gave a fistful of sand, indicating that their loved one was dead.
To others, she would offer meat during a fast. With that, she meant to say that their spirit was in such a sorry state that not even meat eating would make it any worse.
It was rumoured that even the first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party came to her for a chat. To him, she predicted a destructive flood and extensive damage on the right bank of the River Kura.
“Reinforce the right bank,” she advised. The authorities listened. A year later, the river flooded the city but caused no harm.
Archimandrite Raphael (Karelin) met Anastasia in the last year of her life. Father Raphael remembered with fondness the extraordinary silence that reigned in her courtyard amid a busy street. “From the first minute, one finds himself in another world, away from the one’s habitual routine,” wrote Archimandrite Raphael. He also remembered how she asked to bring her terminally ill sister to her. She prayed for her for four months. “I must prepare her path,” she explained.
Many people came to request her prayers for their sick relatives. She prayed and brought relief and healing. Sometimes, she would pray over an apple and give it to the sick person, who recovered after eating it. Archimandrite Rafael’s mother was healed in that way.
Her great exploit of seated prayer ended in 1970. Because her knees had grown together and become still, she was buried seated in a custom-made casket. The funeral service lasted many hours to allow the many priests and laity who knew her to bid their last farewells. There was too little room in the courtyard for everyone who came to her wake, and people took turns coming in small groups.
In the courtyard at 11 S. Khimshiashvili Street in Tbilisi, a boulder stands on the spot where the Blessed Anastasia ascetised. A wooden fence surrounds it, and an icon of her patron saint, Anastasia of Rome stands at its top, with a burning Lampad above.
The space under the shelter is so low that one must bow down to enter. The sacred silence still reigns. Placed amid the icons is Anastasia’s photo in her advanced years. On it, she looks like a weary warrior of Christ. Georgy Sazonov, the nephew who helped Anastasia when she was alive, still lives in the nearby house and keeps alive the memory of her great feat. Time has almost stopped its flow around here. With her invisible presence, the blessed Anastasia still comforts the anguished souls with her love and prayer.
Her grave at the Kukija Cemetry still attracts multiple visitors. Some travel great distances to request her prayerful assistance in their multiple troubles and sorrows.
Candles and an unfading Lampad light her grave, placed under a cover. Once in three hours, the faithful serve a Moleben every Sunday. Ramazan Salimyan, a Curd, is the caretaker of her grave. As a young man, he was healed from a crippling disease of the limbs by the prayers of Anastasia. Grateful for this miracle, he has been looking after her grave for several decades. He has heard multiple accounts of the miracles attributed to Anastasia, which he enters in a separate journal.
Among the visitors to her grave are many women who cannot conceive. Many come with gratitude for the children conceived by her intercession. Often, they name their daughters after the ascetic. Many people turn to her in prayers for help in finding a marriage partner and establishing peace and harmony in their marriage.
Apples still bring healing through the prayers of the Blessed Anastasia, as they did in her lifetime. Visitors lay to her grave multiple apples and sweets. After some time, they come to take them. By taking them with faith, they obtain relief from their troubles and healing from their ailments. Viewers can also find photos of apples with crosses or hearts, which appear miraculously on the fruit that visitors take home with them.
Everyone who comes to her grave leaves with a sense of inner peace and joy. That, together with the miracles she wrought in her lifetime and beyond, speaks of the blessed Anastasia’s sainthood. She pleased God and is now praying at His throne for those who flock to her. The people who knew her share the desire to see her glorified by the Church. Anastasia’s kin has the dream to build a chapel and a museum to keep the memory of her remarkable feat.