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Maria of Olonets: Desert Dweller of the Northern Forests

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 Bishop Nikodim of Belgorod






“In the foothills two miles from the monastery, Maria noticed a gorge…in it, a hollowed-out place like a cave, hidden on all sides by brambles and thickly-growing wild grapes which covered up its entrance. With tears Maria entreated them to settle her in this cave – this hermitic refuge which she loved so much – with the help of the Christ-loving landowner.” — excerpt from Maria of Olonets 

The monastic ideal is a complete renunciation of the world, and involves an inner struggle necessary for the soul’s ascent towards God. Those who have been most faithful to this ideal have been the desert dwellers – hidden far away from the seductive tumult of the world.

In the first half of the 19th century, the Russian land was rich in dense woods and forests in which the sound of the axe was rarely heard. In these dark forest preserves – in the mysterious silent depths of dense green thickets – not only wild animals lived, but many desert dwellers also made their dugout dwellings in the earth. There they performed secret ascetic labors known only to the One to Whom they had dedicated themselves in their hidden and deliberately buried life.

“…At the funeral service an inexplicable and miraculous heavenly light shone from Maria’s face. The shining emanated from her face like a ray from the sun, yet it was a cloudy day and the thin candles gave almost no light at all. This remarkable manifestation – a reverence beheld face-to-face – was the fulfillment of the promise of the Savior in the Gospel regarding the righteous who will shine ‘like the sun’ in the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father.” — excerpt from Maria of Olonets. 

Maria of Olonets offers an extraordinary account of one woman’s solitary struggle in the Russian forests. Maria’s life is a witness to the world of the reality of Christ’s otherworldly Kingdom.


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