(thank you to Natalia Hawthorne for finding and translating this story)
St. Nicholas and the Church Keys
This story is told by nun Maustrigia.
During the Soviet persecution of churches, her monastery was closed down and all the nuns were told
to leave. Nun Maustrigia had been living in the monastery with her blind sister. Now they didn’t have
anywhere to go… So they took their only belongings – a few pieces of bread and their robes – and
decided to walk to the town of Tobolsk.
They reached the town and entered the church. There was a service going on. There was a big icon of
St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the church. The nun prostrated in front of the icon and prayed with
tears, “Save us, O Holy Father Nicholas! What’s to become of us? Where are we to go?”
The service ended, and then the priest came up to her.
– You’re a nun, right?
– Yes, father.
– Would you like to stay and work with us – help with cleaning the church?
She could barely talk from the joy that overcame her.
– Yes, father!
– Excellent, so stay then. You can live in a small room under the belfry.
– But I also have my blind sister with me…
– That’s fine, you can both stay there.
Then the church warden came up to Maustrigia, showed her around and explained how to lock the church. The lock was rather tricky – you needed the key to open it, but you could lock the door without using the key.
The sisters felt grateful and blessed. They were sure that St. Nicholas interceded for them and took care of them. Now they had a roof above their heads and food to eat. Each time, after cleaning the church, nun Maustrigia would make three prostrations before the big icon of St. Nicholas and thank him for his help.
One day, the priest and the warden came to Maustrigia for the keys to the church. This time it was not
to prepare for the church service, but to get church records with the list of all the parishioners that was demanded by the local Soviet authorities. The priest looked very worried. He rushed her:
– Maustrigia, hurry up and give me the keys!
Immediately she reached for her belt where the keys were always hanging, but they were not there!
– Father, I don’t know where the keys are… They were supposed to be right here…
The priest and the warden were very upset and told her to go look everywhere she could possibly think
of and find those keys. They had to submit those papers ASAP, otherwise the whole church would be in
big trouble, people could get arrested, or worse… The nun rushed to the church and started looking everywhere around the church, on the ground, in the grass… Then through the church window she saw the icon of St. Nicholas and decided to come closer and pray to the Holy Wonderworker for help. As soon as she came closer and looked inside – she saw that the church keys were lying on the rug right under the icon of St. Nicholas! She must have dropped them there when doing her prostrations, then she locked th
e church as usual without using any keys and it never even occurred to her to double-check that she still had them. Maustrigia ran to the church front porch. The priest and the warden were pretty angry and upset by now. They figured they’d have to break the door in order to get inside. And the fancy lock would not be easy to replace either. The nun rushed to tell them the exciting news:
– Father, I have found the keys!
– Where? Where?
– Here, come and see! – and she led them to the church window. They saw that the keys were lying by
the icon inside the church. But how could that help? The warden was very annoyed:
– We don’t need this kind of janitors! How are we supposed to get the keys now? We’ll have to break
the door anyway.
So the priest and the warden went to get the tools in order to break the door and cut out the lock. In
great grief, Maustrigia went back to the window to pray to St. Nicholas. She felt suddenly so overcome
with fear that she and her sister would be cast out into the street again that she no longer knew what she was saying. She cried:
– Holy Hierarch of Christ, have pity on me and my blind sister! We are about to get thrown out into the
street. Just hand me the keys, it wouldn’t cost you any trouble! She cried and cried… Then she decided to go get her sister so they would pray together. Their room was in the basement under the belfry and the entrance was by the front porch of the church. Approaching the front porch Maustrigia cast a glance at the front door… and couldn’t believe her eyes – the keys were sticking out of the lock right there on the front door! Maustrigia remembers, “I cried at the top of my lungs, I don’t even know what. I kept thanking St. Nicholas over, and over, and over again.”
The priest and the warden showed up.
– What’s going on? What’s all this screaming?
– Take a look! Nicholas the Wonderworker gave me the keys!!
The priest and the warden saw the keys and turned quite pale, both of them. In silence, they unlocked
the church. The priest immediately put on his epitrachelion and started serving a moleben in front of
the icon of St. Nicholas.
Nun Maustrigia and her sister continued to live and work at that church, until the priest was finally
arrested and the church was closed.
Source: “To the Light”, 1992
Russian original version of the story: