Captive Release

in Russia during World War I

St Nicholas
Russian holy card, 1911
St. Nicholas Center Collection

Last night during the Vigil, someone told me an amazing miracle of Saint Nicholas. When he lived in Jordanville, New York (near the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery) across the street from where he was living there was an elderly Russian couple. The elderly man told the story because he had experienced it himself.

He said that in Russia after the Revolution their home was invaded by the Komsomol one night. About two o'clock in the morning there was a banging on the door and three or four of the Komsomol (so-called) youths broke in and they told this man and his wife to sign a particular register; the register was a listing of all those people who were not Orthodox. And the Komsomol said, "You sign that you are not Orthodox."

The man said, "I can't do that because we are Orthodox."

And the Komsomol officer said, "No, you don't understand. We're asking you to sign your name here in the privacy of your own home and no one else will need to know. You just cooperate and sign here and you don't have to do anything, we'll even let you keep your icons on the wall—just sign your names."

Then the man of the house responded, "I can't do that because we are Orthodox, and I will not sign that we are not Orthodox in your book or any book, either in the privacy of my home or even on the crossroads will I do that."

At this point the officer became very upset and looked at the man's wife who was holding an infant child (they had two additional children) and said, "If you don't cooperate, I am going to kill this child right in front of your eyes. And I am serious about it."

At this point, the mother (his wife) held the child much closer. The two other children were crying and screaming. The parents tried to calm them down but the Komsomol offers said, "Sign. Otherwise you will bring harm to your family."

The man still refused and said, "I cannot do something like that because I am Orthodox and I will not sign that paper."

So the officer looked at one of the thugs with him and said, "Take care of that child." They grabbed the child from his mother and banged his head against the door knob and killed it right before their eyes. At this point the parents became almost hysterical but the Komsomol officer said, "Now are you going to sign?"

They said, "Absolutely not."

He said, "Then we'll take you to the prison." He ordered that the parents be taken out into the courtyard and they sealed the home—all the doors and windows—with the two children left screaming inside the home and they put up a sign which threatened anyone trespassing with death. They took the couple to the local jail and the next morning they were put on a train and sent into exile. The train traveled several days north. They came to a stop and they took the woman off and she was sent to some detention center for women. He continued for about another half day's journey and they took him off the train and put him into a camp. He was in that camp for two and a half years, during which he suffered greatly from malnutrition, dysentery, and pneumonia. He was working in the mines. The detainees had no heat and he would be sent to the mines where it was very warm, so he experienced a change of temperature. The whole barracks was always with diseases and with illnesses, with a great deal of deprivation. There were thirty-five residents in that particular barracks and they were all very weak and, of course, the authorities were just waiting for them to die off one by one. This man, however, persevered.

One evening, the door opened and in walked a fully vested Bishop in green vestments, complete with miter and staff. Vladika walked in and they all just stared at him—they couldn't believe their eyes: How could a fully vested hierarch come into that barracks? And he said, "Oh my. What a sorry lot you all look to be. I feel so sorry for you all. But I think we should do something." In the center of the compound there was a mound (as most of those centers had) and they used to place the guards on that mound and there they would have public whippings and executions. It was always elevated so it could be seen clearly. Vladika continued, "We'll go out on that mound and pray."

Well, they were so terrified and so awestruck that no one could move, and there were many who were so sick they couldn't move. And he said, "Why are you all standing and sitting there? I said, let us go out and pray and I will pray and you will all come up on that mound, and you will kneel down and pray. Come on now, everybody, let's go."

So those who could move got up and started and helped those who could not. And all thirty-five of them dragged themselves out of the barracks and up onto that mound and he led the way. No one reacted at all—no sirens, no guards, nothing. They couldn't believe what was happening to them, but it happened to all thirty-five of them so it was not a vision of just one man. As they got to the top of the mound, he turned to them and said; "Now everyone kneel down and pray." So they knelt down, but no one could pray. He said, "Say the 'Otche Nash' (The Lord's Prayer)." No one could say anything. They cried and cried. He turned and prayed for a long time. No one could remember the words of the 'Otche Nash'—they had been through such tribulations. So Saint Nicholas, after praying again for a long time, turned to them and said, "You couldn't even pray. You couldn't even remember the words of the 'Otche Nash' but your tears have been your prayers, and God has heard them and has accepted them. So, turn around and walk out the gate."

They were all amazed at this and said, "Well, we came this far and we haven't been challenged—now we are told to go out the gate." But they hesitated still and he said, "No, leave now. Turn around, no one will trouble you. Walk through the gates and go wherever you wish and you will not be hindered." They got up, and as they got up and started walking, they felt great strength; they all felt renewed as if they were twenty-one years old, as if they were well fed and completely healed and healthy. They started walking and as they approached the gates, the gates opened and they walked right through. The guards with their rifles were there; no one responded at all, it was as if they were invisible. They walked, all thirty-five of them, through the gates, but this man, who related his story to Father Barsanuphius, turned and said, "Who are you? What bishop are you?" And he said, "I am Nicholas."

And the man turned and walked through the gates and all thirty-five of them left the camp unhindered. He walked to the next village which was some day's journey—it had been half a day on the train but it took some days for him—and he went to that village where he remembered that they had taken his wife off the train. As he approached the village, he met an old lady and he told her his story; she wept and took him into her home. She said, "You stay here and we'll try to make contact with the camp which is near the town." This eventually happened and through someone who worked at this camp it was determined that his wife was still alive. They got a message through that her husband was in town and at a certain person's house. Miraculously, one day papers came through and she was released, so the two of them were united in that town. And his wife said, "Now what will we do?"

He said, "We will go back home and bury our children." They made their way back to their home which was still sealed with the faded sign on the door. They broke through, went into the house, and found the skeletons of their children which they buried in the yard of what had been their home. Eventually they left Russia with the retreat of the German army. Fleeing through Germany, they finally arrived in the United States.

From St. Nicholas the Wonderworker: a Sermon: December 6, 1990. © The Holy Nativity Convent, Brookline, Massachusetts; from the Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston.

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