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The Life of the Venerable Confessor Sophia (Grineva)

Venerable Abbess Sophia’s Sacred Journey

Venerable Abbess Sophia

Sophia, born Evgeniya Grinyova in 1873, grew up in a noble Moscow family. Tragedy struck early, however, when her father succumbed to pneumonia at the young age of 30. This left his wife, a mere 26 years old at the time, widowed with three young children. Sophia, the eldest, was only seven years old.

“Let the abbess pass!”

For a time, the orphaned children were entrusted to the care of the Belev Monastery. The abbess, a former governess who held the Grinyov family close to her heart, welcomed them with open arms. While residing within the monastery walls, the children frequently visited the church and the abbess’ quarters. Playing “monastery” became a favourite pastime, with Sophia naturally gravitating towards the role of the abbess.

From age 16, Sophia resided on her grandmother's estate in the Kaluga province, conveniently located near the renowned Optina Monastery, which she often visited. In one memorable encounter, an elderly monk, his gaze fixed upon Sophia, declared, “Let the abbess pass!” He then offered her a cross to kiss, gently stroked her head, and added, “What an abbess she will be!”

Vvedensky Stavropigial Monastery of Optina Pustyn

Vvedensky Stavropigial Monastery of Optina Pustyn

Sophia's sister, Maria recounted this episode. While Sophia and their mother were threshing wheat, a disabled peasant woman approached. Addressing Sophia’s mother, she declared, “Don’t marry off your daughter. Today I had a dream. Instead of the Mother of God on the iconostasis, there was your daughter.”

Sophia’s schooling and youth

Following her secondary education in Kiev, Sophia’s talent for singing, a gift from God, led her to pursue studies at the Kiev Conservatory. During her student years, an extraordinary event unfolded.

Kiev Conservatory, modern view

Kiev Conservatory, modern view

On a cold snow-laden winter day, while traversing a two-and-a-half-mile journey through the forest to meet a friend, Sophia encountered a menacing wolf. Facing what seemed like imminent danger, she instinctively crossed herself and offered a prayer. In that moment of terror, she vowed to dedicate herself to God’s service if she were spared. The wolf, as if listening to her plea, slowly retreated into the ravine and vanished.

However, the youthful spirit can be fickle. Sophia had a lively social life during her student years, attending balls and musical evenings. However, she had a deep desire for the monasticism that constantly conflicted with her social life. Sometimes, her friends observed changes in her mood where she would withdraw from social gatherings and become devoted to prayer and church attendance.

Through sorrows to monasticism

At the age of 22, Sophia’s promising career in music took a dramatic turn. She was diagnosed with diphtheritic angina, which left her voiceless for nine months. Despite seeking medical help from renowned doctors, her voice remained beyond repair, and some even suspected throat tuberculosis, recommending treatment in Switzerland. Sophia decided to seek solace and divine guidance at the Holy Trinity Monastery near Kiev, founded by a friend from her youth, before embarking on her trip abroad.

Unfortunately, Sophia’s health took a turn for the worse at the monastery, and the concerned abbess called upon an elderly priest to administer the last rites. Sophia was unable to speak and could only respond through tears and nods to the priest’s inquiries. However, after receiving the Holy Sacraments, a miracle happened. The next morning, Sophia woke up entirely healthy, and her voice was miraculously restored.

Overwhelmed by this divine intervention, Sophia left behind her secular life forever. In the same monastery, she was tonsured into the mantle.

Venerable Confessor Sophia in her youth

Venerable Confessor Sophia in her youth

Dugna Monastery

Following her monastic tonsure, Sophia, accompanied by another sister settled in a mountainous area near the Dugna Factory, a place where paroled convicts from nearby provinces resided. Here, atop a hill overlooking a scenic valley with two rivers stood an abandoned church dedicated to St. John the Merciful, which also housed an icon of the Mother of God known as “Consolation and Comfort.” This became the foundation for their new women’s monastery.

Sophia, assuming the role of abbess, led the community through challenging times. Poverty was a constant companion, and the factory workers actively sought to drive them away. Yet, Sophia’s unwavering faith and trust in God served as a beacon for the sisters, inspiring them to persevere. Miraculous interventions, attributed to divine guidance, frequently bolstered their spirits. In a remarkably short time, resources materialized, enabling the complete restoration of the church, the construction of humble monastic buildings, and even the establishment of a children’s shelter. This flourishing drew a growing number of sisters, with the community soon reaching nearly one hundred nuns.

Amidst the harshness of Dugna, a unique haven emerged – a “spiritual hospital” and a living testament to the power of faith. Many intellectuals who initially arrived at the “Consolation and Comfort” monastery harbouring doubts about their beliefs left profoundly transformed, their hearts touched by the genuine Christian life they witnessed.

Icon of the Mother of God “Joy and Consolation”

Icon of the Mother of God “Joy and Consolation” in a Riza. Vatopedi Monastery, Holy Mount Athos

To Kiev via St. Petersburg

After a decade of running the Dugna monastery community, Mother Sophia journeyed to St. Petersburg to attend to the affairs of her community. During her visit, she met with the Metropolitan of Kiev, Flavian (Gorodetsky). He was looking for a suitable leader for the Kiev Holy Protection Monastery, one of Ukraine’s largest, established in the late 19th century by Grand Duchess Alexandra Romanova (known as Abbess Anastasia in the monastic life). She became the abbess of the Holy Protection Monastery in 1913. Her tonsure took place at the Novodevichy Monastery in St. Petersburg, where Mother Sophia retained her name and was elevated to the rank of abbess. Through her exceptional kindness, humility, and simplicity, she quickly earned the respect and affection of the sisters in the Holy Protection Monastery, which at the time comprised an impressive set of thirty buildings — including churches, parish schools, residences for the sisters, workshops for gold embroidery and icon painting, a guesthouse, a hospital with advanced departments, a shelter for the underprivileged, and a clinic and pharmacy.

Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia Flavian (Gorodetsky)

Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia Flavian (Gorodetsky)

Beyond its core monastic practices, the Holy Protection Monastery served as a vital centre for pilgrims and those seeking medical attention. The monastery grounds housed several well-equipped hospitals offering free, state-of-the-art medical care.

Abbess Sophia, renowned for her unwavering energy, continued the legacy established by her predecessor. In recognition of her contributions, she received a commemorative medal in 1915 for her involvement with the Committee to Aid Wounded Officers and Enlisted Men.

That same year, during a visit to the monastery on his way to the frontlines, Emperor Nicholas II received a blessing from Mother Sophia. As described by Annenskaya (126), she “blessed... the Emperor with an icon and wished him happiness and success.” The Emperor, deeply moved, granted permission for the orphanage for children of fallen soldiers established within the monastery to be named after Tsarevich Alexei. This orphanage provided care for 48 orphans and later welcomed additional children from the western regions of the Empire. Notably, 59 of these children were guided towards Orthodoxy, transitioning from the Uniate faith.

Abbess Sophia (Grineva)

Abbess Sophia (Grineva)

Years of hardship

Mother Superior Sofia’s ten years at the helm of the Holy Protection Monastery, from 1913 to 1923, coincided with some of the most tumultuous periods in Russian history. World War I, revolution, and rising anti-religious sentiment heavily impacted the monastery and its inhabitants. Throughout the war and revolution, they provided aid to both White officers and Red Army soldiers, alongside clergy, risking their lives to save them and protect the monastery from destruction.

With the establishment of Soviet power, Mother Superior Sofia faced the daunting task of ensuring the survival of the community. Inspired by similar measures adopted by other monasteries, she established a labour and gardening commune as a means of supporting the sisters. However, in 1923, the “renewalist” movement members, actively supported by the authorities in Kiev, dealt a final blow to the monastery. The Bolsheviks, aligned with this movement, handed the St. Nicholas Cathedral, the main place of worship, to renewalists. The Protection Cathedral was also closed, and the monastic cooperative was shut down. The monastery buildings were repurposed, housing first Latvian riflemen and then workers. The once-sacred spaces of the churches were transformed into a children’s nursery, a printing house, and a book depository.

Kiev Holy Protection Monastery

Kiev Holy Protection Monastery

The way of the Cross

In a further escalation, Mother Superior Sofia herself was arrested in 1924.

In her memoirs, Mother Sophia’s sister, Maria, recounted: “They took my sister away to prison, just as she had foreseen. They drove her away in an open car, flanked by two commissars. Witnessing this distressing spectacle, the orphaned sisters, overcome by grief and fear, chased after the car, their screams and tears echoing in the wake.” This marked the beginning of Mother Sophia’s prolonged suffering, as she was transferred from one prison to another.

Upon her release, Mother Superior Sophia found refuge in the dacha village of Irpen. There, she and Archpriest Dimitri Ivanov, a former rector of the Protection Monastery, formed a clandestine monastic community primarily composed of the evicted sisters from the monastery. Living discreetly in private homes, they gathered at the dacha for worship under the cover of night. In 1934, it was within these clandestine confines that Bishop Damaskin (Tsedrik) secretly bestowed upon Mother Sophia the monastic schema.

However, this fragile sanctuary wouldn’t last long. The year 1937, marked by the brutal Yezhov terror, saw the arrest and deportation of the nuns. They were sent far north to a reindeer farm in Kamchatka.

Hieromartyr Damaskin (Tsedrik)

Hieromartyr Damaskin (Tsedrik)

Mother Superior Sofia’s autobiography reveals two further arrests, in 1928 and 1931. In 1928, while imprisoned, she endured immense hardship, as she battled a severe jaw abscess. Throughout her incarceration, she displayed remarkable fortitude and deep-seated Christian humility.

Upon release in 1932, Mother Superior Sofia, now an elderly and ailing woman, found herself in a desperate situation. She had been barred from residing in major cities, had no roof over her head and faced financial hardship.

Under the protection of the Mother of God

But the Most Holy Mother of God did not abandon her with Her care. In her final years, Schema-Nun Sofia found refuge in the suburban village of Pokrov, near the St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Protection Convent. The unwavering care of the Most Holy Mother of God sustained her.

She died on 4 April 1941, from bronchial asthma, missing the reopening of the Kiev-Pokrovsky Convent by only six months. The monastery reopened in October 1941 under German occupation.

Shrine with the relics of the Venerable Confessor Sophia

Shrine with the relics of the Venerable Confessor Sophia (Grineva)

By the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church dated August 25, 2012, Schema-Nun Sofia (Grineva) was included among the locally venerated saints confessors of the Kiev diocese. Her memory is celebrated on March 24 (April 4) - the day of her repose and on April 28 (May 11) - the day of the finding of her relics.

Today, her relics rest, like those of the Venerable Anastasia of Kiev, in the St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Convent of the Protection in Kiev.

April 04, 2024
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