In the city of Kuibyshev there lived a family: a pious mother and her daughter Zoë. On the evening of New Years Eve, December 31, 1956, Zoë invited seven of her girlfriends—and just as many young men—over for dinner and dancing. At that time it was the fast for Christmas* and Zoë’s mother begged her not to plan a dinner, but the daughter insisted on having things her way. That same evening her mother went to church to pray.
All those invited came, except for Zoë’s fiancé who hadn’t arrived yet. His name was Nicholas. The young women and men got into pairs and Zoë was left alone. Not knowing what to do and without really thinking, she took down the icon of St. Nicholas the wonder-worker from the wall and said, “I’ll take this Nicholas and I’ll go dance with him,” not paying any attention to her friends, who advised her not to commit such a blasphemous act. “If God exists, let Him punish me,” she said. And so she started to dance. She did two or three twirls, when all of sudden there was a fearful noise in the room, a whirlwind, and a blinding light flashed like lightning.
The former joy turned into fright. Everyone fled from the room scared. Only Zoë stood there motionless, with the icon of St. Nicholas stuck to her chest, petrified and frozen like marble. The doctors, who arrived quickly, were not able to bring her to her senses in spite of their attempts. The injection needles, which they tried to stick in her, bent and broke as they hit her marbleized body! The doctors wanted to take her to the hospital, but were unable to move her from the spot. It was as if her feet were nailed to the floor. But her heart was still beating! Zoë was alive. However, she was no longer able to eat or drink.
When her mother came back and saw what had happened, she fell unconscious and they took her to the hospital, where she stayed for several days. Her faith in God’s compassion and her warm motherly prayers for the forgiveness of her unfortunate daughter, by the Grace of God, restored her vitality.
Zoë came to consciousness and with tears she sought forgiveness and help.
Zoë’s house was surrounded by a crowd of people. The faithful who came, or, even yet, walked from afar, the curious, doctors, and spiritual leaders. But the authorities quickly ordered the house closed to visitors. Two policemen guarded the house in alternating eight-hour shifts. Some of the guards’ hair turned white, even though they were still young (28-30), from the fright of hearing Zoë’s terrifying cries every night.
Night after night her mother was next to her, praying.
“Mama, pray! Pray, because I’m lost on account of my sins! Pray!” Zoë would cry.
The Patriarch was told all these things and asked to pray for Zoë’s recovery. The Patriarch replied, “The one who is punishing her will also have mercy on her!”
After that, Zoë’s allowed visitors included:
1. A prestigious professor of medicine came from Moscow. He confirmed that her heart did not stop beating.
2. Priests, who the mother had invited so they could take St. Nicholas out of Zoë’s hands. But they could not pull the icon away from Zoë’s petrified hands.
3. The Hieromonk Seraphim from the Glinsk desert, who had come to Kuibyshev for the feast of the Nativity, performed the Holy Water service and blessed the icon. Afterwards he said, “Now we must wait for some sign at Pascha! If nothing happens, it means the end of the world is drawing near!” These words show his deep faith in miracles.
On the eve of the feast of the Annunciation (which that year fell on the Saturday of the third week of Great Lent) a genial elder approached the guards and asked them to allow him to see Zoë. The police guards refused. The elder came again the following day, but was again refused. The third time, on the day of the Annunciation, the guards allowed him in. The guards heard how much compassion he spoke to Zoë as he entered, “Now then, did you get tired from standing?”
A little time passed and when the guards wanted to kick the elder out, he wasn’t to be found in the room.
Everyone was sure that it was Saint Nicholas himself. Zoë had stayed standing there for exactly four months (128 days) until Pascha, which that year fell on April 23 (May 6 on the New Calendar).
On the night of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ Zoë started to cry out especially loud: “Pray!”
The night-shift guards started to tremble and asked, “Why are you crying out so frightfully?” Pay attention to her answer: “How dreadful, the earth is burning! Pray! The whole world is lost because of its sins, pray!” From that moment Zoë was revived, her muscles started to become soft; she came back to life. They eventually put her on a mattress but she continued to cry out and call all to pray for the world which is lost because of its sins, for the earth which is burning because of its lawlessness.
“How did you stay living up till now? Who fed you?” they asked her. “Doves, doves fed me,” she answered. From this, it was clear she had received mercy and forgiveness from the right hand of the Lord Almighty. The Lord forgave Zoë’s sins, by the attendance of St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker, and because of her great tribulations, and her standing for the duration of 128 days.
All of these events shocked the inhabitants of Kuibyshev and the surrounding areas. Many people again found their faith in God, having seen the miracles, hearing her screams and her entreaties for us to pray for the people who are lost on account of their sins. They returned to the Church with repentance. Those who didn’t wear a cross started to wear one, even though at that time you might have paid with your life just for that. The return was so en masse that the churches didn’t have enough little crosses for everyone who sought one.
With fear and tears the people sought forgiveness for their sins, repeating Zoë’s words, “How dreadful, the earth is burning, we are lost because of our sins! Pray! The people are lost because of their lawlessness!”
On the third day of Pascha, Zoë left for the Lord, since she had traveled the difficult road of standing for 128 days before the face of the Lord for the forgiveness of all her sins. The Holy Spirit had preserved her life all of these days for the resurrection of her soul from the death of sin, just as in that eternal day to come it will resurrect her body for life everlasting; for that matter, just as her name itself means: Zoë—life.
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