That we live in an increasingly secularized society, as contemporary Christians so often lament, is undeniable. Yet how many of us can honestly claim that we have suffered anything beyond the slightest inconvenience or embarrassment for our beliefs? While it is true that displays of explicit religiosity in public settings have become increasingly frowned upon, personal faith continues to be valued. Works of charity and philanthropy, whether performed by individual believers or religious organizations, are universally praised. As much as the tide may be changing, few of us need to worry about being carried away by it so long as we stand firm. In this, we are very fortunate.
Not so very long ago – indeed, within living memory – the situation was very different in the Soviet Union. A young woman named Tatiana Nikolaevna Grimblit, unexceptional in any way apart from her virtue, was repeatedly arrested and exiled, and finally executed, for doing no more than helping and supporting others who had likewise been arrested and exiled. Such was the nature of the militantly atheist regime of the twenties and thirties of last century that these simple acts of Christian charity, performed by an ordinary young woman with no political allegiance, were regarded as anti-revolutionary agitation deserving of capital punishment. One cannot help but recall the prophecy of St. Anthony the Great recorded in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”
Born in 1903 in Tomsk, a town in southern Siberia, Tatiana received an upbringing typical of her time and place. By 1920, when the civil war had spread to Siberia and political repression had begun to take hold of the country, Siberia became a place of exile and imprisonment for many. Young Tatiana, only seventeen years old, began to use her own earnings (she then worked as a teacher in a home for troubled children) and whatever she could collect in the local churches to acquire provisions for those incarcerated in the local prison. Her practice was to visit the prison, ask the administration which of the prisoners had not received any parcels with foodstuffs, and then ask that the provisions she had brought be given to them.
In 1923, when Tatiana was twenty, she traveled with provisions for prisoners in Irkutsk, over 1,500 miles away – which even under today’s conditions is more than a full day’s drive from Tomsk. Here she was arrested and charged with anti-revolutionary activities: quite simply, for showing Christian charity to the imprisoned. She was released after four months in prison, but then was again briefly imprisoned in 1925, at the age of twenty-two, again for helping inmates. During this time Tatiana, who had always been a sincere believer – her grandfather, Archpriest Anthony Misiurov, instilled in her love of God and Church – became acquainted with many outstanding bishops and clergy imprisoned in Siberia.
Her works of mercy began to draw more attention from the authorities, who began assembling testimonies about her activities, resulting in the following appraisal: “Tatiana Nikolaevna Grimblit has contact with the counter-revolutionary element of the clergy that is in the Narym region, Arkhangelsk, and in the Tomsk and Irkutsk prisons. She carries out collections and sends them in part by mail, usually with a letter. Grimblit has close contacts in all the Tikhonite parishes, among whom she carries out collections.”
On May 6, 1925, the head of a secret division of the OGPU questioned the twenty-two year old Tatiana about whether she helped clergy and through whom she had parcels with provisions delivered. She readily explained her activities, saying that for the past five years she had been arranging to have parcels sent or brought to bishops, clergy, laity, and people completely unknown to her. All the while, she refused to name any of the clergy whom she had helped or to name anyone else who had assisted her in providing and delivering these provisions. She was arrested the next day and was thereafter in penal exile – first being moved around Siberia, then through Kazakhstan, and finally to Turkistan – until March 1928. She was twenty-four when released from her third term of imprisonment.
Shortly after her release, Tatiana moved to Moscow’s historic district, Zamoskvorechie. There she sang on the kliros at the Church of St. Nicholas in Pyzhy, the rector of which was her close acquaintance, Archimandrite Gabriel (Melekessky, 1888-1959), who was later to be glorified as a Confessor of the faith. Undeterred by the unimaginable suffering she must have gone through, Tatiana not only resumed her acts of charity, but in fact increased them.
By the age of twenty-five, after several arrests and two years of imprisonment, Tatiana had already become a nationwide benefactor. Helping prisoners by visiting them, providing them with material goods, and offering them moral support became her means of serving Christ and neighbor. In terms of her labors of charity and assistance, of her dependability and persistence, and of the breadth of people she helped, there was no one like her. For many she came to be a new Philaret the Merciful.
At the beginning of the thirties a new wave of religious persecution swept through the country, during which tens of thousands of clergy and faithful were arrested. On April 14, 1931, Tatiana was arrested for the fourth time. At her interrogation a few days later, she again readily admitted to helping the imprisoned and exiled. She explained that she helped everyone she could, especially at the beginning, regardless of whether they belonged to the Church or not, and regardless of whether they were imprisoned for political or criminal charges. All that concerned her was that they were in need of assistance and had no one to help them.
A few days later, on April 30, 1931, Tatiana was sentenced to three years imprisonment and sent to the Vishersky labor camp in the Perm Oblast. Here she found a new way of helping her neighbors by training as a medical assistant. In 1932, having been released with restriction of movement, she chose to move to the old town of Yuryev-Polsky in the Vladimir Oblast. Once the restrictions were lifted in 1933, Tatiana left for the ancient town of Alexandrov, in the same region, where she found work as a medical assistant in a local hospital. She made her final move in 1936, this time to the village of Konstantinovo in the Moscow Oblast (quite near the Trinity-Sergius Lavra), where she found employment in the regional hospital as a nurse and laboratory assistant.
Tatiana continued not only to use all means at her disposal to render material help to imprisoned clergy and believers but, just as importantly, she wrote letters to them, often becoming their only source of moral support from the outside world. One of her imprisoned correspondents, Bishop John (Pashin) of Rilsk (1881-1938), who was later glorified as a New Martyr, wrote the following to her from the camp in which he was imprisoned:
“My very own, dear Tatiana Nikolaevna! I received your letter and do not know how to thank you for it. It breathes with such warmth, love, and good cheer that the day on which I received it was among the very happiest for me. I read it three times in a row, and then read it again to my friends: Vladyka Nicholas and Fr. Sergius, my spiritual father. Yes! You have a good heart, and you are happy – for which you should thank the Lord. This is not from us; it is a gift of God.
“You, by God’s mercy, have understood that the greatest happiness here on earth is to love and help people. And you – weak, poor thing – with God’s help warm the unfortunate like the sun by your kindness, helping them as much as you can. Remember the words of God spoken through the mouth of the Holy Apostle Paul: my strength is made perfect in weakness. May the Lord grant you the strength and health to follow this path for many, many years and to do good humbly in the Lord’s name. Your story about illness  was also moving, as were your further adventures. How wisely and mercifully has the Lord arranged it, so that you, having experienced a serious illness,  went on to study medicine and now work in the field of treating the sick and suffering, simultaneously earning a little money, essential for you to live on and for helping others. How many tears will be wiped away, how much suffering will be eased by this holy work… You work in the laboratory, in the pharmacy? Wonderful! Remember the Holy Great-Martyr Panteleimon the Healer with his box of medicines in his hands (as he is depicted in icons) and work in the name of the Lord, labor for the glory of God. May the sign of the Holy Cross guard all the medicine, spread into powders or poured into vials. Glory to the Lord God!”
Another of her correspondents, Archbishop Averky (Kedrov) of Volhynia and Zhitomir (1879-1937), who was himself later executed, wrote the following to Tatiana from his place of exile in Birsk, a town in Bashkortostan located on the right bank of the Belaya River:
“I received your sealed letter, and afterwards your postcard. For both one and the other I offer you my heartfelt thanks. Glory to God – they are, as before, full of good cheer and light, strong faith and firm trust in the providential guiding hand of the Almighty. Glory to God! May this life-giving spring never run dry and be diminished in your soul, which here on earth makes the acceptance of life’s adversities, misfortunes, blows, failures, and disappointments so much easier. The path of your life, blessed by the Lord, has not yet been long, but how many storms have flown over your head. And not only over your head: like sharp weapons they have gone through your heart as well. But they have neither shaken it nor moved it from its cornerstone, the rock on which it rests – by which I mean Christ the Savior. These storms have not extinguished the flame of faith, burning brightly and ardently. Glory to God: I rejoice in, and bow down before, your struggle of unwavering devotion to the Creator and before those painful afflictions, trials, and moral suffering through which your path has gone, leading to the victory in your soul of Christ over Belial, of heaven over earth, of light over darkness. May Christ save, protect, and help you continue to stand fearlessly and unwaveringly upon the divine watch of His holy saints…”
Of all places on earth, Tatiana most loved Divyevo, home of the convent that had had such a place in the heart of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Her spiritual father, Archpriest Pavel Peruansky – who was later to repose in prison on the first day of Pascha, 1938 – served as rector of the Church of the Kazan Icon in Divyevo. In a letter written to Archbishop Averky (Kedrov) on September 5, 1937, who was then in exile in Birsk, Tatiana expressed her love for Divyevo: “My dear Vladyka Averky! For some reason I have not heard any news from you in a long time. I traveled to Divyevo and Sarov, spending a wonderful month there. Wonderfully good. No, it cannot be any sweeter in Paradise, because it is impossible to love anything more. May God bless those people whose beautiful souls are now before me. I fell deeply in love with that place and I am always drawn there. This is already the third year I have been there, each time staying longer. I would stay there forever, but I do not have a blessing to do so. But everyone blessed traveling there on break.”
On the same day she wrote this letter, Tatiana was arrested for the final time. The officers from the NKVD found her writing a letter to a priest in exile, breaking her off mid-sentence.  Leaving for prison, she left a simple, calm note to a friend with careful instructions for informing her mother. She concluded the note with these words: “I embrace you all firmly. I thank you all for everything. Putting on my cross, the one I have on me, I knew that I would be going again. I will not only go to prison for God, but even to the grave with joy.”
The NKVD, after interrogating Tatiana herself, questioned her colleagues from the hospital in Konstantinovo about her activities there. One spoke of her relationship with patients:
“I know that Grimblit visited a patient in the hospital with whom she had no relationship in terms of medical care. As a result, the next morning the patient told the doctor that he had dreamed all night of monasteries, monks, cellars, and so forth. This fact led me to think that Grimblit held conversations with patients about religion.”
Another colleague, speaking of Tatiana’s firm profession of faith, reported:
“Grimblit, in the winter of 1937, while sitting with a gravely ill patient in the ward, stood up and demonstratively made the sign of the cross over the patient in the presence of patients and medical staff. In conversations comparing the situation in prisons during the Tsarist regime with the present, Grimblit said: ‘Under Soviet rule one can findjust as many outrageous things as before.’ Replying to the question of why she leads a frugal life, Grimblit said: ‘You spend money on wine and movies, and I spent it on helping prisoners and the Church.’ When asked about the cross she wears around her neck, Grimblit repeatedly replied: ‘I will give my head for the cross I wear around my neck. No one will remove it while I am alive. If anyone tries to remove my cross, he will have to remove it along with my head, since it is worn for ever.’”
Another accused her of abusing her authority:
“I know that Grimblit is a very religious person who places religion above all… Moreover, Grimblit used her official position for inculcating religious feelings among the hospitalized patients. When on duty, Grimblit would issue medication to patients with the words: ‘With the Lord God!’ She simultaneously made the sign of the cross over patients. Grimblit put crosses around the neck of weak patients.”
Finally, another colleague spoke of Tatiana’s feelings about the younger generation:
“Regarding the upbringing of children in the present time, Grimblit said more than once: ‘What could can be expected of today’s children in the future, if their parents themselves do not believe and forbid their children to believe.’ And, in reproach to parents, she said: ‘Even if you turn away from God, sooner or later He will call everything to account.’ In 1936, my nine-year-old daughter told me that Grimblit had taught her how to make the sign of the cross, for which she gave her treats.”
Following these testimonies, Tatiana was again interrogated. In reply to a question about how she showed her religious beliefs in regard to the Soviet authorities and the people around her, Tatiana replied: “Before the authorities and those around me, I have tried to show myself to be an honest and conscientious worker, thereby demonstrating that a religious person can also be a necessary and useful member of society. I have not hid my religiosity.” Asked whether she admitted her guilt in carrying out anti-Soviet agitation while working in the hospital, she replied: “I have never carried out any anti-Soviet agitation anywhere. When people felt sorry for me and said ‘You would do better to dress and eat better than to send money to someone,’ I would reply: ‘You can spend your money on nice clothes and on choice foods, but I prefer to dress more modestly and eat more simply, and then use the money left to send to those who need it.’”
Following her interrogation, Tatiana was placed in a prison in Zagorsk (known before and after the Soviet era as Sergiev Posad, the town in which the Trinity-Sergius Lavra is located). On September 13, 1937, the investigation was concluded and the indictment compiled. On September 21, before the indictment was submitted for judgment, Tatiana faced a final series of questions:
“You have been accused of anti-Soviet agitation. Do you admit your guilt?”
“I do not admit my guilt. I have never engaged in anti-Soviet agitation.”
“You are accused of carrying out sabotage and of the deliberate killing of patients in the hospital in the village of Konstantinovo. Do you admit your guilt?”
“I do not admit my guilt. I have never engaged in subversive activities.”
On September 22, Tatiana was sentenced to death. On the following day she was sent to a prison in Moscow, where she was photographed for her executioner. She was shot on September 23, 1937, and buried in an unmarked mass grave in Butovo. She was thirty-three years old.
Tatiana Nikolaevna Grimblit was legally rehabilitated in the final months of the Soviet Union’s existence, on October 11, 1991. But this, of course, was of no ultimate significance. More importantly, she was formally numbered among the saints by decree of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on July 17, 2002.
The memory of the Holy New Martyr Tatiana is celebrated on September 10/23, as well as on the feast day of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (the Sunday nearest to January 25/February 7) and the feast day of the Synaxis of the New Martyrs of Butovo (the fourth Saturday after Pascha).
Troparion, Tone III:
Emulating the myrrh-bearing women in virtue, thou didst minister diligently unto those in prisons and shackles; and, showing unto us the image of evangelic mercy, thou didst accept a martyric death for Christ, O all-glorious Tatiana; standing now before the throne of God, pray thou that our souls be saved.
A notebook filled with poems written by St. Tatiana, dating from 1920 through her times in the camps and prisons, has been preserved. One commentator has described nicely the impression made by these poems: “It is not grandeur of poetic style that attracts the reader of these verses, but primarily the limitless and eternal love for Christ expressed in word and attested to by the very life and death of the holy martyr.” The titles of the poems give some idea of their content: “Eternal Memory,” “At the Cross,” “All-Night Vigil,” “Quiet,” “In Prison,” “The Mystery of Siberia,” “Prayer,” “Tears,” “In Exile,” “To the Guardian Angel,” “Have Mercy on Me, O God,” and many more. Employing a simple ABAB rhyme scheme, they contain reflections on her life, her faith in God, and the fate of her nation.
We conclude by offering our rendition of two of her poems into English:
Lies and slander shall I get
For my love and my labor,
Any my name every soul will forget.
Thy remembrance of me is the greatest favor.
O my Christ, wouldst Thou remember my name?
Thine eternal remembrance grant me, I implore.
And behold! Joyfully I advance on my way.
Gone the grief, and the torment’s no more.
Who has granted relief to my mournful heart,
And filled it with love and with joy,
Into great deeds turned a labor so hard
And ennobled my wearisome toil?
I have clothed my youth in the cloth of repentance
And drunk this cup to the dregs,
Thou wilt grace me with Thine everlasting remembrance,
In my faith, when I am laid to rest.
Twelve years are drawing to a close,
My end is looming nigh.
Thus come to me my childhood hopes,
The days I left behind.
They want to give my soul delight,
Their gaieties abound,
Their prayer’s pure, their heart is light,
With faith they do resound.
My comfort did not lie in game,
In pranks and joyful play.
Thee I invoked and unto Thee I prayed,
And early chose my way.
O Lord, I give Thee all my youth,
My vigor and my strength,
I shall stand firmly by Thy Truth,”
At sixteen thus I prayed.
“My heart is pure. By troubles of the world
It has not been yet enslaved.
Take it make it Thine abode,
From sin it shall abstain.”
I always prayed before Thy Cross. To me
Thou hast patiently inclined Thine ear,
I’ve know what prison is since seventeen,
Thou has given me strength and taken my fear.
And here I’ve been for thirteen years
In service of Thy will,
My strength and youth, my joys and tears,
I place before Thy feet.
O Lord, accept me on my path,
My end is drawing night.
Forgive me in Thy love. And grant
Thy likeness as my guide.