“One day, Mother Natalia will come to Vyritsa (settlement near St. Petersburg). People will be asking for her help and prayer, as they have been coming to me.” St Seraphim of Vyritsa told his spiritual children. The blessed Natalya settled down in Vyritsa six years after the saint’s death. She arrived with the blessing of Saint Simeon of the Pskov Caves. He considered her a saint and sent many of his clergy to ask for her blessing. There were always many animals around Matushka Natalya. It seemed as if she understood their language, and they listened to her, a fool-for-Christ. The people who knew her left a lot of accounts of the miracles attributed to her, and many accounts of her spiritual exploits.
Not much is known about the ascetic’s life before she came to Vyritsa. She was born in 1890, most probably to an aristocratic family. Her refined manners, the correctness of speech and knowledge of French revealed her noble descent. Some suggested that she was a distant relative of the Romanovs – the Russian royals. Others believed she was a nun. But few could say anything about her background with certainty. What little is known about her is that after the Russian Revolution she went to the Caucasus Mountains to live among some well-known Russian Orthodox monks, and in 1955 she cane to the Pskov Caves Monastery. There, she met the elder father Simeon (Zhelnin), who noticed the purity of her spirit and blessed her to settle in Vyritsa. Throughout her known life, she continued to serve God and people as a fool for Christ’s sake. She usually dressed as a novice and covered her hair. Sometimes, however, she dressed up in unimaginable ways and wore exquisite hats and other clothing.
In Vyritsa, the blessed Natalya would stay in makeshift houses, or sheds on the land plots of pious Christian women. She kept many animals – goats, rabbits, chickens, geese and dogs. The animals occupied one part of the house, and she received visitors in the other. People would start to flock to her soon after she arrived. Some sought her advice, others - her holy prayers.
The faithful could discern her great spiritual concentration behind her sometimes odd behavior. The blessed Natalya practiced the feat of night prayer. Archpriest Vasily Shvets (+2011), who was also living in Vyritsa, stayed at Natalya’s house for the night. He woke up several times, and each time he saw her praying on her knees for those she knew well and those, who were still planning to visit her for the first time.
Through her, God sent healing from severe maladies to many sufferers, as well as His help in `difficult situations’. Everything she did, even the oddest things, she did with a deep and healing inner prayer. One sufferer was relieved when she gave him a sip of red wine, and another was cured of chronic headache when she pulled his ears. A prosphora (church bred) from her hands, or even a piece of bread or sugar with some goat’s milk, brought comfort and support in their spiritual struggle to those in trouble.
Her relationship with animals was quite extraordinary. They were her helpers, sometimes bringing people to their senses. Her dogs always went to meet her first-time visitors at the station. They recognized them among a crowd of people, took their clothes gently between their teeth and directed them to the elder.
Ducks, a gift of prayer. Archpriest Vasily Shvets also recalled how Natalya’s ducks helped him to pay off his debts. He decided to settle in Vyritsa and bought himself a house. He had to borrow a lot of money. Natalia visited him as he was moving in.
“How has your life been lately? I heard you were deep in debt. But do not worry, I have come to help,” the woman said. “But how?” “Here, I have brought you some ducks,” she replied, giving him several ducklings from her shed. Father Vasily took to them in no time. They walked around the village on their own and returned home safely, laying eggs almost every day. Father Vasily, a former medical researcher, soon had researchers and doctors visiting him for advice and consultations. He never took payment from them for his help, but everyone would leave behind some money in an envelope. A year later, he paid off his entire debt. It became clear to him that Natalya’s ducks, and the eggs that they were laying, were a reminder of her prayer for him.
Visitors from the secret services. Someone had tipped her off to the KGB, and one day a group of visitors came to her house. Their anonymous informer had said that she was of royal lineage and received suspicious guests. Natalya foresaw the visit. She borrowed a ball gown with a deep cut, twisted her hair, put bright lipstick on her lips and went out to meet her visitors. “Please keep it short, dears! I am off to my wedding. See how I’m dressed?” – she told to the officers.” “Who are you?” “The Tsarina.” “What do you do for a living?” “I sell milk, from this male goat. I have other animals, too. And poultry. And I have more male goats growing up. See these three behind the stand?”
A goat walked up to them as they were talking, and pushed an officer gently with its horns.” Immediately, Natalya went on the offensive. “Goats are everywhere. The authorities should start doing something about it. They have lost all fear. They did not stop at attacking a uniformed policeman.
– People say you that you are a descendant of the royal family. “Liars! Would you like some milk?” Natalya showed the officers a bucket of diluted lime. Again, the goat plucked an officer with its horns. “These goats! What are they thinking?” exclaimed Natalya. One of the officers lost his patience. ‘What? A royal? With all these goats, dogs, and cats? She is just insane!” As they were leaving, Natalya said to one of the visitors: “If I were you, I would run straight home. Your wife is very ill. She will get much worse if you do not hurry!”
Later, the man returned to the eldress to request her prayers for his sick wife and thank her for her direction. In her feat of fool-for-Christ, she was most inventive.
With alcoholics, she would sometimes pretend she is drunk. She drank water from a bottle as if it were vodka. Then she offered some to her visitor, relieving him from his passion for drinking. She was fearless in denouncing the transgressions of the authorities. Once on a voting day, she drove to the polling station on a sledge drawn by a goat. To the bewildered onlookers, she explained, “I am voting for the Soviets. Let them live!”
Stopping a tram with only a word. Ekaterina Savelyeva, an acquaintance of Natalya, remembers travelling with her to a service at St. Nicholas Church. Suddenly, a tram came to a screeching halt in the middle of the road. The doors opened, and the blessed Natalya walked in, radiant with joy. “I was going about my business and met some people I knew on their way to the church. So I stopped a cab for them.” The driver did not know what to say. He had not even touched the brake.
Warning about the trouble to come. Mother Natalia was visiting a woman. She came to her door with a dog on a leash and a basket with a cat and a chicken. She walked through the door and went straight to the kitchen, took the lid off a pot with red beet soup, took out the meat and gave it to the cat and the dog. The hosts did not like it. “Mother, thank you for visiting us, but please do not overstep the limits,” they said, politely. “But I have come to tell you that it will be freezing cold in your house soon,” explained Natalya.
The hosts did not understand what she meant, but several days later a bad storm broke out and tore off the roof. They mended the roof, but it was still very cold, and the woman host’s son in law had a bad cold. He was ill for a long time, and the doctors could do nothing to help him. Finally, the hosts remembered Natalya’s words and asked for her prayers. Natalya visited them again and asked for an iron and the son in law’s underwear. She ironed it well and said: “I have warmed it for you, now take it to his hospital ward and have him put it on.” Soon, the man recovered.
Father Savva’s blessing from Natalya. Hegumen Savva (Ostapenko) (+1980), who lived at the Pskov Caves Monastery, was preparing for tonsure to the schema (highest degree of monastic spiritual order). His confessor, Elder Simeon said: “I will give you my blessing if Matushka Natalya gives you hers. Spiritually, she is far more advanced than I am. So go to Vyritsa and find her there.” Father Savva travelled there twice, but Mother Natalia was not there. He returned to Father Simeon, and the elder advised: “Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal her to you.” Father Savva prayed vehemently and travelled to Vyritsa again. He was walking down the street toward her house, and she was already expecting him outside. “Schema-monk, Schema-monk! Goats have devoured your schema. So go help others so that they will be saved. Goats ate your schema, so go help others so that they would be saved. Father Savva, let me tell you this. You will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven in the end, so be my friend. Goats ate your schema.”
Father Savva was popular among women parishioners. They were following him in crowds. When she was referring to the goats, she meant these women. So elder Simeon did not bless Father Savva to take the schema and advised him to wait. He finally took the schema many years later.
Predicting the future for Archbishop Proclus. Vladyka Proclus (Khazov), Metropolitan of Simbirsk and Novospassk (+2014), was one of her dearest friends. She knew him since he was a boy and called him “birdie”, probably referring to his service in the Air Force. She foretold his ordination as bishop, monastic tonsure and his elevation to an archbishop. When the would-be archbishop was still a student at a religious seminary, he travelled with Father Vasily Shvets to see the blessed Natalya. She greeted them: “I was expecting you. It was revealed to me today that you were coming!”. Natalya asked Father Vasily to serve a prayer office, and every time he invoked the names of the saints, she added, audibly, “Saint John of Kronstadt, pray God for us! Holy Blessed Mother Xenia, pray God for us!”. Natalya continued to chant these names throughout the day. When the seminary student asked her why she was doing it if they had not been glorified, Natalya replied, “The glorified saints need not be named, but these must be. You should know that you will be one of those who will discover the relics of Father John of Kronstadt and participate in the glorification of Blessed Xenia…”. And so it happened.
Departure to God. Shortly before passing away, she had a vision of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, who warned her of her approaching death. She fell asleep in the Lord in 1976 on the eve of the Feast of the Theophany. She was laid to rest in the cemetery in Vyritsa.