Blessed Dunyushka - her full name was Eudocia Alexandrovna Sheikova -
was born in a peasant family in the village of Puzo. Her mother Alexandra
died early, when Dunya was two years old, and her father Alexander married
again. Dunya's real mother was very pious, but her stepmother was of a
different spirit. She tried to kill Dunya's father with arsenic, and
succeeded when he was taken away to Siberia. Dunya herself said that for
seven years she had known that her step-mother was trying to poison her
father, and had told her father:
"Don't drink that water, look, it's muddy."
In the same village there lived Dunya's uncle and aunt. Dunya learned piety from them and lived with them during her adolescent years. Uncle was the churchwarden; prayer in church was not enough for them, and they prayed a lot at home. When Dunya was nine, she and her friend Maria went to Sarov, and there an elder knocked their heads together, from which moment they lived side by side for three years. Maria would reap while Dunya sat on the sheaves and sang. They always went to church together hand in hand. Dunya would always walk in a warm scarf and homespun coat, and never showed her face. In their youth they went to Sarov, Diveyevo and Ponetayevka. Dunya recounted how they once sent to see Pelagia Ivanovna in Diveyevo. She was feeding the doves at the fence. Dunya went up to the fence.
"Go away, you scamp, don't scare the doves," said the cell-attendants.
Dunya cried and would not go away. She had a morsel in her hands, and she threw that, too, to the pigeons. Pelagia Ivanovna said:
"Why are you driving her away from me, bring her here and feed her."
Some said that the love between Dunya and Maria was from the devil, others - from God. If Maria was in trouble, Dunyushka would not be separated from her. Maria was beaten by her parents, and Dunya by her relatives. They kept driving them away from each other, but they held hands and walked along singing. They also went to church as a couple. When Maria died, Dunya went every day to the church, and although when Maria had been alive they had begun to throw stones at them, when she was on her own they did it even more. They would not let her into the church on feastdays, and she could only go to liturgies she had ordered.
In her seventeenth year she fell seriously ill. She could only walk with a stick, but she was able to put wood in the stove herself (her aunt had died by this time). Later, however, when she was twenty, she became even worse. It was Christmas, and she cried out:
"I'm dying, I'm on fire."
The two girls who used to come to her took her out into the courtyard and poured two buckets of cold water onto her. Then she said:
"Take me into the cell."
Then they laid her on a bench, and she never got up again. She never received treatment from doctors, and no one knows what her illness was, but everyone says that Dunyushka was a great sufferer. She was completely chained to her bed for about 35 years and had to be carried to her execution. Several families in the village took constant care of Dunya, providing her with everything she needed. She was always surrounded by "nurses" - girls from various places who were voluntarily called to serve her. She lived in great poverty, in the same few clothes till she died. She never cut her hair or her nails.
The Orthodox Russian people does not simply feel compassion for such sufferers. They are surrounded by a special veneration, which is rooted in a special faith in the divine election and gifts of grace of all those who innocently undergo great suffering. Such was Dunyushka's reputation. She was often visited by people from afar who were seeking spiritual edification and consolation. And there are still living people who witness from their personal experience that Dunyushka had the gift of clairvoyance.
When Daria Timagina joined Dunya there were three of them: Dunya, Daria and Dunya's uncle. In her time Dasha Timagina had been on the point of marrying, but the Sarov Elder Anatolius (in schema Basil) had blessed her to go in obedience to the sick Dunya. (The elder died in 1919, and in 1927 his relics were discovered to be incorrupt.) Then other pious girls came to join them, and they created a rule. They would sing verses, kontakia and akathists. Dunya could be consoled only by prolonged singing and reading. She read well, but was unable to write. She read lives of saints most of all, bringing them from the church, although she had some of her own. Dasha, like Dunya, had a good voice. She could not read, but she could recite the Psalter and chant verses and hymns by heart.
Dunya complained that she needed a novice who could read, so Fr. Anatolius blessed Annushka to join her. She loved singing and reading, and knew the church typicon. She was then twenty-three and lived with Dunya for eighteen years. She came to her from a worldly life. Dunya forced her to clean the floor, and she would say:
"Tell me to dance a little."
And Dunya allowed it, she let her do anything. Thus she read novels secretly, without letting Dunya know. Dasha saw it and told Dunya. Then Annushka began to cry:
"But what can I do, Dunya, I'm bored. I'll run away..."
And she wanted to run away. It was still the evening, otherwise she would have run away. But in the night she saw herself in the church in Ponetayevka, and she saw what looked like St. Seraphim feeding a bear. She went up to him, bowed at his feet. He blessed her, gave her a dried crust and said:
"Oh you idler! Look, I'm giving you something to do - go and nurse my children."
And he took her by the hand and led her into a cell. And there stood two cradles with two small girls lying in them.
"Nurse them," he said - and left.
She began to nurse them, but they began to cry. She wanted to run away. She ran up to the door, but it was like a wall: it was impossible to get out.
Anna woke up. And she told Dunya her dream. And Dunya said that these girls were her and Dasha. She persuaded Anna to stay and told her to pray to the Heavenly Queen.
I.N. records that once his father brought her some bread. She always accepted his offerings, but this time for some reason she refused to take it:
"You need it," she said.
On his way home, he met a woman who complained that she had nothing to feed her son who had arrived, she had no bread. He understood that the bread which Dunya had refused to accept was destined for this family.
Once Dunya was visited by a woman from Moscow who was endowed with a good voice. Dunya listened to her singing and then suddenly said:
"You're not wearing a cross."
The woman objected three times.
"I'm not blessed or a fool-for-Christ, I'm a sick maiden," said Dunya, "but you're not wearing a cross. Fear the Heavenly Queen," she concluded, pointing to the Iveron icon of the Mother of God.
And the woman admitted that her cross was in her purse.
People recall that Dunyushka was venerated by the venerable clairvoyant elder of Arzamas, Archimandrite Sophronius. In those difficult years Fr. Sophronius used to comfort the Orthodox, prophesying that atheism would not reign forever in Russia, but that there would come a time when our Russia would again rise in the strength and glory of Orthodoxy. Fr. Sophronius never saw Dunya, but he deeply respected her, and he used to advise pilgrims setting off for Sarov to call in on the sick Dunyushka.
"She is higher than I," he would say.
Not long before the events in August, Fr. Sophronius sent Dunya a gift - an icon of the Saviour wearing a crown of thorns. On seeing the icon, Dunya wept:
"O batyushka, what have you sent me..."
And Dunyushka more than once prophesied her own death. There was a custom in the village that when someone died they rang the bell six times. But Dunya said:
"They won't ring either the big or the small bell for me."
Her girl-servants objected: "For you we'll ring as on Great Saturday."
"They'll throw me out like dung," replied Dunya.
In the summer of 1919, in obedience to the insistent demands of Dunyushka, some of the girls dispersed to their homes. The rest remained. But in the end three went to their deaths with Dunya - two Darias and Maria. The only one of them who was local, from Suvorovo, was Daria Stepanova Timagina. Nothing is known about the other Daria except that her homeland was somewhere to the east of Nizhni-Novgorod, and that she had several times served the sick Dunya with fervour. Maria was a native of Mordovia. She had once married, but then fell ill with some illness of the legs and then went to blessed Dunya, with whom she remained to live.
In 1919 Darya Timagina was about 35 years old, having spent 18 of those years without parting from Dunya. But about two weeks before the fateful events - witnesses her god-daughter, Ryasofor-nun E. - Dasha felt a terrible anguish and went for a few days to Ponetayevsky monastery, not far from Sarov. On her return she said that on the way back from Ponatayevsky four birds had pecked at her head.
Soon after this an armed detachment arrived in the village. It was endowed, in accordance with the laws of "war communism", with the fullness of judicial and executive power. They say that the detachment was flushing out deserters, and the son-in-law of the priest, the teacher Antipas Pavlovich, made a denunciation that deserters were hiding in the house of Dunyushka, who was stirring them up not to go into the Red army...
An investigation - that is, interrogations and beatings - was begun and went on for only two days. They beat Dunyushka and the nurses - the Mordovian Masha did not let slip a single word. They also beat the constant visitors of Dunyushka's little cabin. The whole village was in a state of great agitation. But one of Dunyushka's admirers, Peter Karasev, who died in about 1962, related how the fear disappeared at the first blow, and he did not feel any pain, but felt joyful and peaceful:
"I wanted to be beaten again for Dunyushka".
They summoned nobody to the trial, which took place in Antipas Pavlovich's house. There are different accounts of its course and the content of the sentence. Some say that Dunyushka was particularly condemned for praying for the tsar. And extra provisions were also found in her house. The latter is quite possible, for her numerous visitors - who included merchants from Arzamas - always brought Dunya something. Others say that the judges had different opinions and they had to refer to a higher authority.
Nothing is known about the nature of the "crime" of Dunya's "nurses", but everyone unanimously witnesses that right until the evening of August 4/17 there was a real possibility of their escaping execution. There were no constant guards around the house, and some of the girls were able to leave. Daria Timagina, the other Daria and the Mordovian Maria voluntarily decided to share blessed Dunya's lot.
In the evening of August 4/17 all four were transferred to the neighbouring izba, which had been given to Dunya by a deceased old woman, and were placed under guard. Dunyushka's house, which had been terribly ravaged by the prolonged search, was set alight and burned to the ground that same night.
At dawn on August 5/18, some women who had gone out to milk their flocks saw four columns of light rising from earth to heaven above the cemetery.
At about 10 in the morning the priest Basil Radugin came to the arrested women, informed them about the death sentence and offered that they receive Communion. Dunyushka asked:
"Are you forbidden to intercede for us?"
The priest replied that he couldn't help them, and that the same threat hung over him, too. After this all four partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
At about 11 a cart came up to the house. The whole village already knew about the impending execution, and a large crowd of people had gathered, but those who came too close were driven away by the soldiers with lashes. The two Darias and Maria carried Dunya out on their arms, laid her into the cart and themselves mounted upon it.
Ryasofor-nun E. was 22 at that time, and well remembers the scene: "The people all around were weeping, but the condemned women were smiling happily, crossing themselves and saying farewell to everybody. My godmother was tall, good-looking, with a beaming face - a strong one, she was. She was bowing in all directions and saying:
"'Forgive me, Orthodox, forgive me.'
"Turning to my mother, she said:
"'Olga, take my coat.'
"My mother went up to the cart, but the soldiers drove her away. But my godmother continued saying farewell:
"'Farewell, Orthodox, forgive me for Christ's sake.'
"And they all said farewell and smiled happily - you know, they had just had Communion..."
The cart, surrounded by soldiers, moved off towards the cemetery. The soldiers were beating Dunya with lashes all along the way. The nurses joined hands over Dunya, protecting her from the blows. The lashes fell on them, but they smiled all the while, as if they felt nothing. John Anisimov, who died in about 1924 of typhus, used to say that when they were beating the girls with lashes on the way to the place of execution, he suddenly saw a White Dove with outstretched wings above their arms as they defended Dunya. And the blows rained down on the wings, and the soldiers said that the lashes bounced backed from those those being beaten as if from something elastic. At the moment of the vision Anisimov felt an especially sharp pang of compassion for the sufferers which freed him from any fear for his own life.
They were shot on the territory of the cemetery of the village of Suvorovo, fifteen kilometres from Diveyevo.
Dasha Timagina was holding Dunyushka in her arms. The first time they fired blanks for some reason. Dasha shuddered and dropped Dunya to the earth. At that moment one of the soldiers refused point-blank to shoot.
"I can't. I can see something white, with white wings, near them."
The commander of the unit swore terribly and pushed him aside. He also seemed to be experiencing some kind of terror, and was trying to suppress it with constant swearing. After the second shot it seemed that Masha the Mordovian was still alive. Ryasofor-nun E. says that she was still "quivering", so they thrust a bayonet through her throat.
Then they called some people who were standing at a distance to dig a grave. Basil Ivanovich Seednov was one of those called. He relates that when a big hole had been dug, the soldiers wanted to push the bodies of the shot women straight into the grave with their boots. But he hastily jumped into the grave and asked them to give him the bodies. He covered the faces of the dead with their kerchiefs. There is a rumour that later, at night, some people secretly brought some coffins and transferred the bodies into them, singing the burial service according to the full Orthodox rite.
After the shooting, the commander of the unit who had been in charge of the shooting read the sentence.
"They were real witches, no wild animal would have tolerated what they did."
And he added with a smirk:
"But Christ is risen, and they will arise."
More than once the soldiers expressed their terror by calling the dead "witches". The imperturbable calm and joy of those doomed to death always terrifies murderers. But there was something special here - the extreme degree of defencelessness and orphanhood. The fact that they were women, and virgins, and one of them was chained to her bed with an incurable illness - all this tore at the heart and appealed to their compassion.
Some years after the execution, a fire destroyed half the village, and many said that this was their punishment for not defending Dunyushka. Her memory was linked in the minds of the villagers with a recognition of their guilt.
Twice a year every year, on August 5/18 and the day of St. Eudocia, March 1/14, many venerators of Dunyushka from new generations gather in Suvorovo, Nizhni-Novgorod and other parts of the region. At memorial feasts they sing a song about Dunyushka composed in Suvorovo: "O our mother Eudocia..." Before the funeral they carry out Dunya's great prayer rule, which contains the troparia to the Iveron Mother of God and St. Seraphim. Dunyushka had a special veneration for the Good Gatekeeper and promised to hear everyone who sang this troparion at her grave: "Before thy holy icon..."
The spiritual eye undoubtedly perceives in the exploit of these new passion-bearers the participation of the great wonderworker of Sarov, who was not slow to come to the help of his "orphans". In this region his prayers are felt everywhere, and everywhere the traditions about his miracles and prophecies are preserved.
The icon of the new passion-bearers, which will undoubtedly be painted sometime, should contain the Iveron Mother of God and St. Seraphim in the upper corners. In the centre is Dunyushka in the arms of Daria Timagina in such a way that they form a cross. To the right and left of them are the other Daria and Maria the Mordovian. And above them - the White Dove. He Who accomplishes the all-conquering moral union of mankind demonstrated His help and defence here in the image of the outstretched wings. They are ready to shadow everyone who does not waver in his hope on the day of sorrow. Amen.
(Sources: Manuscript by Fr. Barsonuphius (1977); Hieromonk Damascene (Orlov), Mucheniki, Ispovedniki i Podvizhniki Blagochestiya Rossijskoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi XX Stoletiya, Tver: "Bulat", 1992)