In one of the convents of St. Petersburg, in the beginning of the twentieth century, there lived the nun Tatiana. From the vision described by her, it seems that she was not very spiritually advanced. Therefore, the event described was spiritually instructive for her, and for later generations it became an authoritative witness of the importance of the Jesus Prayer.
Once early in the morning, during the break after the matins service, around 5:00 AM, Tatiana was in her cell. This was a time for a brief rest before the next service. She had just fallen asleep when she was visited by a mysterious vision. As if awake, it seemed that she was preparing to go to the church of St. Nicholas in St. Petersburg. She was dressed in full monastic garb. In order to arrive on time, she climbed into some kind of carriage, and at that moment she suddenly seemed to be in the heavens, on a gloomy plain. She was seized by a feeling of fear and helplessness. She saw a multitude of people, whose faces were dark and depressed. After a moment of silence, Tatiana asked them, “Why are you in such despair?” They answered, “Because death came upon us suddenly, just like it did with you.”
Tatiana then understood that she was among the dead, and she was seized with great fear.
At that moment her Guardian Angel approached her, shining with an unearthly light, and ordered her to follow him. He showed her the toll-houses, at which a soul is judged, after it departs from the body, for its sinful actions while on earth. He also led her to the place of eternal torments. One of the places there was filled with the souls of deceased men and women, adults and children. They told Tatiana that their souls would remain in that place until the Last Judgment. Tatiana looked at them with sympathy and then asked, “What do you do here? Do you pray to God? Do you see your Creator?”
With anguish they answered her, “Unfortunately, we cannot see God, nor can we pray to Him. For our spiritual negligence and laziness during our earthly life, we now remain in anguish and sorrow. And even though we did not commit any serious sins, we were indifferent to the requirements of the Gospel and the commandments of Christ. It seemed to us that the requirement to pray unceasingly (I Thess. 5:17), i.e., to say the Jesus Prayer, did not pertain to us. Now we see that it also pertains to laymen. With the help of the Jesus Prayer we should have acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit and united with Christ. Our purified hearts should have become temples of God, when in fact they were breeding grounds for decaying lusts. Just as the body cannot live without air, so also our soul cannot be born for eternal life without prayer.” Hearing this, the Nun Tatiana made the sign of the cross. After a pause, they added: “We are condemned to eternal torments. Our pleas do not reach God. Only our Orthodox brethren living on earth can help us by fervently praying for our souls.”
Then Tatiana’s guide said to her, “Although you are a nun, you deserve similar punishment, for during your life you neglected the Jesus Prayer. You are not a bride of Christ. Your heart is possessed by the cares of the transitory world.”
Ach!” Tatiana cried out. “Within me I feel horrible torment, as if my soul is on fire. Oh, how I wish I could die and be taken up immediately to heaven, avoiding these horrible toll-houses!”
“Only the saints die that way,” answered the Angel, “the saints who for their entire life kept in their heart the Jesus Prayer and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only they ascend directly to Paradise, for their souls became a paradise while on earth. Where the Lord God is—there is Paradise. Know that if a person trains himself to say the Jesus Prayer continually, when his hour of death comes, Christ Himself will take his soul and it will abide with Him forever. Likewise, prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos will incline Her to be our Intercessor before Life Eternal. In whatever condition death finds a person, thus will he be judged. Whoever dies with the name of Jesus Christ on his lips, will be with Him in His Kingdom. Whoever carries all the cares of his life on his shoulders, not hoping in God, him the Lord God will not help. Now I will show you the place of torment for careless monks and nuns.”
Then Tatiana saw groups of monastics, their sins which were not cleansed away through repentance, and their eternal sufferings and torments. In departing from Tatiana, the Guardian Angel ordered her to write down and describe everything she saw to those living on earth for their correction and salvation.
As soon as Tatiana awakened, she crossed herself with the words of the Jesus Prayer and said with relief, “Glory be to God, it was only a dream!”
She had only just said these words when her soul appeared again next to her guide—her Guardian Angel, who began to lecture her, saying, “Don’t think that this was just a dream. Your soul was actually on the other side of life. In order for you to be convinced of this, you will now be sent to the place where you deserve for twenty days.”
Tatiana fell at his feet in despair, and with tears she fervently began to implore her Angel to forgive her weak faith and grant her time for repentance. The Angel asked God to forgive her sin and allow her to return to earth, under the condition that she fulfill the task assigned to her. Upon awakening the second time, the nun went directly to the Abbess of her convent, and in the presence of all the sisters she related what she had seen and heard.
The truth of her vision she confirmed by the correction of her way of life, and she became a zealous and pious nun. At every opportunity she shared what she experienced in the after-life.
Whoever believes in the truth of this vision and uses this knowledge in his life, will not lose anything, but will only benefit. For one thing is for sure—at some time we will all die.
Translated by Archimandrite George