Yesterday, whilst exploring the environs of Sofia, I found a rarely visited Russian nunnery which, despite the Party having built a now demolished club house by the gate to intimidate the nuns and disrupt the atmosphere, unlike most, narrowly survived eradication: a paradise nestling hidden in a small streamed ravine on the fringes the city. The tiny, bright eyed, bearded, smok besmirched mother superior (they keep a cow and poultry) showed me around… she looked 80 but was probably 150 because she talked about the Revolution and the escape from Russia as if it were yesterday. There was much of the aristocrat about her. She spoke in a beautiful unmannered English redolent of the governess.
The Patron of the nunnery is St.Seraphim, a Russian prince turned saint whose tomb is to be found in the crypt of the Russian church in the centre of Sofia where, earlier in the day, I had witnessed the baptism of a young woman who stood before the towering, bearded priest in solitary awe as her head, hands and feet were annointed. She was alone, unsupported by family or friends, though sure in the knowledge that the saint lay metres beneath her feet. If he is as good a friend to her as he has been to the nun, she will have cause to rejoice. For the nun told me a story. When she was a girl she had her identity card stolen by a pickpocket. Immediately, she went to church and prayed to her saint, St. Seraphim. She returned home fearful of telling her parents. The loss of a document during Communism was a serious matter. Two days later, her father, a judge, came to her room. He seemed extremely serious and she was afraid he knew something. He asked her if she had lost anything. Of course, she had, but before she had found the courage to answer he opened his hand revealing her identity card. “This is yours!” It had been lying on the pavement in front of the office where he worked. A coincidence? The nun attributed her good fortune to St. Seraphim.
The nunnery chapel is modest but there were huge votive candles on sale. I bought the longest and dedicated it to Shirley, a friend of mine who died in London last week. Her daughter in law in England was cheered to know that on a sunny hillside in a country Shirley possibly never even thought about, a light shone for her for a little while.