Δευτέρα 14 Δεκεμβρίου 2009

By Vladimir Moss

He was born on October 26, 1887 in St. Petersburg. His father, George Georgievich, was the director of the chancellery of the Naval Ministry, and in the last years before the revolution – a senator and privy councillor. He was also president of the Russian Society of Maritime Law. John’s grandfather, George Pavlovich (+1882), was during the last years of his life the governor of Vilnius in the rank of privy councillor. At that time he acquired the estate of Biutsishki in Vilnius uyezd, where John spent his childhood. Here in the estate his mother, Olga Alexandrovna, was buried. She was the daughter of Rear-Admiral Alexander Pavlovich Zhandr, and she died on August 17, 1902.
John received his first education at home. Olga Alexandrovna exerted a huge influence on him and his two sisters, Olga and Elizabeth – they died in the city of Kashin, Tver province. From his childhood the boy felt the warmth of her maternal love and the power of her blessing. But she died early, when John was only fourteen. Looking at his mother on the day of her death, he felt both sharp pain at her loss and that the rest of his life without his mother would witness to the movement in his soul that she developed. It seemed to him then that every bad act of his from now on would be a defilement of her radiant memory and a violation of his obligations in relation to her.
After the death of his mother John finished four years at the gymnasium, and, in accordance with family tradition, chose to serve in the fleet. He entered the Naval cadet corps, finishing in 1908 with the title of guards marin. Then he was appointed to the cruiser “Knight”, and from 1908 to 1909 was in foreign waters. In 1909 (or 1912) he was promoted to the rank of midshipman, transferred to the First Baltic Fleet and served on a minesweeper. From 1909 to 1910 John Georgievich was a company commander on the cruiser “Admiral Makarov”. In 1911 he was awarded with a silver medal by the Italians for helping sufferers during the 1908 earthquake in Sicily and Calabria. In June 1917 he was retired from the fleet for reasons of health.
In the summer of 1918 he worked on a scientific expedition studying the sandbanks of the Neva. In 1919 he was mobilized and until 1921 served as assistant director of the lighthouses of the Baltic fleet and at the same time carried out the duties of a reader in the Holy Trinity church in Petrograd. During this period he firmly decided to become a clergyman and give himself wholly to the service of God. The grace-filled support he felt when he made this decision led him clearly to understand that the Lord was calling him and would not abandon him in his earthly trials.
Having decided to become a priest and entrusted himself completely to the will of God, he went to the grave of his mother in the estate that had belonged to them near Vilnius. Falling down to the earth, he felt peace and calm descend into his soul, and a warmth as if his mother were blessing him again. On returning to Petrograd in 1920, John Georgievich was ordained to the diaconate.
In 1921 Fr. John was arrested by the Cheka for the first time, but soon released. In the summer of 1923 he was ordained to the priesthood for the church of the Holy Trinity on Stremyannaya street. There he gave all his time and energy to his flock. Soon Patriarch Tikhon appointed him rector of this church and raised him to the rank of protopriest.
It was the time of the renovationist schism, and persecutions began against the Tikhonite Church. The life of the parishes was activated, and brotherhoods were organized. Under the leadership of Fr. John the believers began to gather not only in the church, but also in flats, where akathists were read, and the priest explained one or two chapters from the Holy Scriptures.
The OGPU began to interfere more and more into Church life. About forty clergy and laity were arrested in Petrograd. On February 2, 1924 Fr. John was arrested in connection with the case of the Orthodox Brotherhoods. He was accused of uniting Orthodox around him. During interrogation Fr. John said that he served molebens in the flats of some of his parishioners, after which they drank tea and discussed religious matters. That was enough for the authorities. On September 26, 1924 he was sentenced to three years on Solovki. In all thirty-five clergy and laity were sentenced to the camps.
On Solovki Fr. John worked as an accountant, and always walked in priestly clothing and went to church services as long as this was allowed. He wrote letters to his father, sisters and spiritual children. Many of these letters have survived to this day.
Towards the end of his term it became increasingly obvious that the authorities were not going to allow Fr. John to live in Petrograd, and his spiritual children had to reconcile themselves to a prolongation of his absence. And so it turned out: on October 1, 1927 he was released and sent for three years’ administrative exile to Voronezh. Arriving in November, he was given the place of a priest in the Alexeyev church of the former Pokrov Devichi monastery, and after some time was appointed its rector and one of the deans of the Voronezh diocese. He served in the church until its closure on May 2, 1929. Thanks to his efforts and active support, the Voronezh parishioners gathered together frequently and sent food to Archbishop Peter (Zverev) of Voronezh and other prisoners on Solovki.
Fr. John rejected the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and remained to the end of his life faithful to the “Tikhonite”, True Orthodox Church. He was in communion with Metropolitan Joseph, Archbishop Peter and Bishop Alexis (Buy).
In 1928 persecutions against the Church increased, and everywhere the authorities organized meetings of workers demanding the closure of churches. 275 flats were built on the territory of the Devichi monastery, and unbelieving people were accommodated in them. Thus in addition to the nuns who remained in their cells there lived 872 people. On September 2, 1928 a meeting of the inhabitants of the workers’ village in which the monastery was situated took place. 217 people were present, and 100 people were invited from outside, so unsure were the authorities that they could obtain the closure of the church. One of the speakers immediately pointed out that the followers of Archbishop Peter (Zverev) were increasing their activity. “… ‘Zverevschina’ had again raised its head, its nest was not completely destroyed, it is necessary to destroy it through the GPU.” Others supported the speaker.
“In the 31st cell there lives Pope John, a follower of Zverev. I live in cell number 89 and I see how the wives of the counter-revolutionaries Nechayev and Pushkin (the former founder of the Ternovaya church) visit him. The nuns teach the children of workers to go to the priest for a blessing.”
“It is already clear to all that the music of the church bells is the music of counter-revolution. As long as this counter-revolutionary nest exists here, the workers’ village will not exist.”
“The nuns are hindering the cultural development of the growing generation and are winning the sympathy of the inhabitants not only within the walls of the monastery, but far beyond its walls.”
On September 8, 1928 an article appeared in the Voronezh newspaper, “Commune”, calling for the monastery to be turned into workers’ flats, and the church – into a club. It called for a “decisive battle” with the counter-revolutionary statements of the nuns and their leader, Fr. John.
After the arrest of Bishop Alexis and the death of Protopriest Alexander Palitsyn at the end of 1928, Vladyka Alexis appointed Fr. John as diocesan dean, and in March, 1929 he was the de facto leader of the Voronezh diocese. Articles appeared in the atheist press demanding his arrest. On March 4 the assistant head of the police Podkopayev sent a “top secret” message to the OGPU saying that Fr. John was conducting agitation against Soviet power.
At five o’clock on May 1, 1929, when the atheists came to break the cross on the dome of the church, the abbess of the Devichi monastery died. This coincidence amazed many in the city. Later the authorities accused Fr. John of affirming that her death was the result of persecutions against the Church. The burial of the abbess took place on May 4, and after the burial Fr. John blessed everyone and advised the remaining nuns and parishioners of the monastery to hold out together. On May 6 (19) Fr. John was arrested, and on May 21 he was interrogated. On July 4 Agent Victorov composed an indictment, in which we read: “Having received the leadership of the nuns of the former Devichi monastery, [Fr. John] Kamensky, so as to become a specially venerated ‘pastor’, obtained for himself a portrait of the ‘eldress’ Theoctista Mikhailovna, who is well-known among the hysterical element, and began to occupy himself in exorcizing the demon-possessed, and other similar machinations. Thanks to the rumour spread by the nuns that Kamensky was ‘holy’, he began to acquire great authority among the hysterical element and in general among antisovietically inclined believers. Kamensky began to be visited not only by believers from Voronezh, but many peasants also came to him from the villages of the Central Black Earth region, asking him to heal them of headaches, etc. Kamensky gave advice to everyone who came to him, and particularly how to behave in the present conditions of life and what attitude to take towards Soviet power. Sometime Kamensky personally, but usually through the nuns who were close to him, spread various provocative rumours undermining Soviet power and insinuating anti-Soviet idea, mainly among the inhabitants of the Workers’ Village (the former Devichi monastery). When Metropolitan Sergius published his declaration of loyalty to Soviet power, Kamensky and other exiled priests of the city of Voronezh broke with Sergius and began to recognize the leadership of Metropolitan Joseph of Leningrad. They began to spread rumours about Metropolitan Sergius that he had given in to Soviet power, had become a heretic, red, etc. After the arrest of Bishop Alexis Kamensky became the diocesan dean, and for that reason the whole leadership of the ‘Josephites’ in the Central Black Earth region passed into his hands. Since he is an extreme rightist element among the churchmen, Kamensky personally and through the nuns conducts an active struggle against the churchmen who are in one way or another loyal to Soviet power. Through the nuns Kamensky spreads rumours that Soviet power is going to perish soon, that other states will come and conquer all those loyal to Soviet power. On February 16, 1929 Kamensky personally in a sermon in church said with regard to the proposed introduction of bread ration books: ‘Citizens, there are no reserves of bread, a famine is threatening, whoever can let him store up food, all these are harbingers of coming battles.’ As a result, the nuns and women of the workers’ village began to store up food, queues were formed, and a panic that there really would be a famine, etc., and one of the workers, giving in to this influence, was storing up flour at 2 roubles 80 a pound. The death of the former abbess, coinciding with the moment of the closure of the church of the former Devichi monastery and the removal of the cross was used by Kamensky to stir up religious fanaticism and incitement of believers against Soviet power. Kamensky said that the abbess was a victim of the contemporary persecution against religion, and he (Kamensky) was a defender of the faith against the dark forces of hell (Soviet power). At the burial of the abbess, Kamensky, remaining in the cemetery to bless the believers, said: ‘Look, we are again together, again one flock, soon better times will come and we shall again triumph.’ In the circle of those close to him Kamensky usually turned the conversations from religious topics to political ones. So, for example: in February of this year, while a guest in the house of citizen Eusebius Fomich Kalinina, while discussing the contemporary construction of Soviet power, adduced an example from the Bible: ‘Madmen, you will build, but I will destroy’. When a former teacher (her name has not been established) complained to Kamensky that they were forcing her to teach children unbelief in God, she was advised to drop her job and not bring up children in unbelief.
“One can deduce how authoritative Kamensky was among the believers from notes taken from him during a search in his house: ‘Greatly respected batyushka, I turn to you again with the request that you pray for Alexander, he was at his place and was working, but they fired him and he began to drink… Your prayer will reach God, and I believe that he will again go there and stop drinking vodka.’… In the notes that believers give to Kamensky in church they write: ‘for the health of so-and-so who has gone astray’ (‘gone astray’ means ‘unbelieving’), supposing that Kamensky will be able to turn the unbeliever to God, and make him a believer again.
“Everywhere the nuns spread the idea that Kamensky is a martyr, a sufferer from Soviet power, the persecutor of Christians. Often Kamensky himself has said: ‘Well, what if I go into exile, I can unite believers around me everywhere, they will always feed me, so all their (the authorities’) efforts to do something to me are in vain.’”
Fr. John denied the charges against him and said: “I do not sympathize with actions directed against religion. I think that the teaching of children in schools in an anti-religious direction, etc., is incorrect. I have no doubt that faith in the crucified Christ is invincible, and that the apparent triumph of materialism is a temporary phenomenon. The photograph found during the search of my flat of the old woman known in Voronezh as the wanderer Theoctista Mikhailovna came into my possession by chance from a woman that is known to me only by name (Catherine). I received many notes asking for my prayers. Among the notes there are some that ask for prayers for prisoners and those who have gone astray. By ‘gone astray’ I understood fall away from the faith or nominal believers who are living in an unlawful manner. During the whole of my service in the former Devichi monastery, unfailingly on every feastday and every Sunday, and sometimes also on weekdays, I gave a short instruction of a purely spiritual character without in any way touching on the civil authorities or on the necessity of storing up this or that kind of food. In particular, I gave such an instruction on February 16.
“After the death of the abbess I neither personally nor through anyone else spread rumours through the city. I am still less guilty of having ever calling myself or incited others to call me a true pastor in the exceptional sense of being called to save believers from the dark forces of the hell of Bolshevism, but I do not deny that I consider myself to be one of the faithful pastors of the Church of Christ, who are obliged by word and life and spirit and faith and purity to be a model for believers and to guard them from the darkness of unbelief. And I confess that, according to my faith, not only materialism, but also the very ‘gates of hell’ will not prevail over the Church of Christ. I left the grave of the abbess before its closure, but it is true that I blessed those who came to me. Moreover I comforted them as far as I was able, but I did not say: ‘Don’t grieve, we’ll get what is best for us’…
“To those who came to me and asked about entering a cooperative, collective farms, communes, etc., about taking part in the new structure of agriculture, I always replied in this spirit: that if in this, as far as I know, no renunciation from the faith is required, then it goes without saying that there can be no sin in such a participation…”
From prison Fr. John secretly sent a letter to his flock which said: “If during my service in Voronezh and stay amongst you, you, who have been entrusted to me by the Lord, have not felt that your faithfulness to Him is dearer to me than my own life, then, alas, neither this letter nor any other will reveal this to you. But if I truly love you with the love of Christ, and if I partly take comfort in our sorrow, since it witnesses also to your love for me…, I now want for the last time with tears in my eyes to ask you… If you do not depart from the Cross, then we shall be close to each other during our separation, however long it may last…”
On August 16 he was sentenced to three years in the camps, and was again sent to Solovki.
This time, however, his stay on Solovki was short. On April 23 (February 12 or February 20), 1930 an order came to Solovki for his arrest and his despatch to the Voronezh OGPU together with Fr. Nicholas Dulov. On May 5 (or March 5) Fr. John was imprisoned in Voronezh.
Case № P-24705, “The Church-Monarchist Organization, ‘The Buyevtsy’ (TOC) in the Central Black Earth region (February to July, 1930) was brought by the OGPU for the Central Black Earth region, and consisted of seven volumes. Between February and March 134 people were arrested, and 492 people were indicted. The accused were held in Voronezh prison.
The first interrogation took place on May 15. Priest Nicholas Dulov had been broken by cruel tortures, and agreed to testify against the accused. The investigator therefore had to prove nothing more than his close acquaintance with Fr. John, who said: “During my time in freedom in Voronezh, Priest Dulov came twice to Voronezh, the first time at the feast of the Trinity (at the beginning of June), 1928, and the second time in November in the same year. We saw each other twice in the church. The first time he served in the cathedral with the clergy of the former Devichi monastery, while the second time he was only present at the service. After the first service I invited him to have lunch with me. No conferences of priests with the participation of Dulov were arranged. Dulov did not bring me any brochures; I don’t know the brochure, “What the Orthodox Christian Must Know”. In general, I was interested only in the opinions of authoritative hierarchs, and not in anonymous brochures.”
On May 20 Fr. John was accused of “spreading church-monarchist leaflets and brochures and spreading various kinds of provocative anti-Soviet rumours, and of conducting agitation against all the actions of Soviet power in the sphere of collectivization, the industrialization of the USSR, his ultimate aim being to prepare the believing masses to speak out against Soviet power, overthrow it and restore the monarchy. As a result there were massive outbursts of the population against Soviet power and its actions in many regions of the Central Black Earth region.”
Later during the case Fr. John was called one of the initiators of the anti-sergianist movement of the True Orthodox Christians in Voronezh, which at that time formulated public opinion in the city. In the protocol of the interrogation of Fr. Sergius Butuzov it was said: “… They created that firm mood of the masses which drew in its wake the whole of the Voronezh clergy.”
According to the case records, in order to achieve the practical leadership of the “Buyevite” movement of the True Orthodox Christians in Voronezh, there was created instead of the legal deanery council a secret college for administering the Voronezh diocesan centre of the TOC composed of five people. Its president was Protopriest John Steblin-Kamensky, and its members: the priests Fr. Sergius Gortinsky, Fr. Eugene Marchevsky, Fr. John Zhityaev and Archimandrite Ignatius (Biriukov) – the diocesan spiritual father, who headed the Josephite monastics of the TOC in the Central Black Earth region. The college had a wide net of propagandist-messengers in the diocese. The most important of them were Archimandrite Tikhon (Krechkov), Igumen Joannichius (Yatsuk), Hieromonk Melchisedek (Khukhryansky), and the laymen Polyakov, Kartsev and Karelsky.... After the arrest of Fr. John the secret college was led by Fr. Sergius Gortinsky, and the rector of the church of the Alexeyev monastery, Fr. Theodore Yakovlev, was made a member in the capacity of secretary. The college maintained links with Bishop Alexis in camp.
One of the main points of the indictment was the immediate participation of “Buyevite” clergy in massive uprisings of the peasants. The Alexeyev monastery was accused of playing the leading role. In 1929 and at the beginning of 1930 there were supposedly meetings of the “Buyevite” leadership there in order to coordinate their work among the peasantry.
On getting to know the indictment, Fr. John demanded that he be given the opportunity to reply to the accusations. Two days later the investigator gave him that opportunity. He wrote: “I categorically refuse to accept that I am guilty of the accusation I am charged with. I have not belonged to a monarchist church organization… Peasants, members of communities and clergy came to me on various church business. I never had any political or organizational discussions with anybody…”
The investigation came to an end of July 14, 1930. On July 23 the result was sent to the OGPU college. On July 28 the college reviewed the case and sentenced eleven men to death in accordance with articles 58-10 and 58-11: Protopriest John Steblin-Kamensky, Archimandrite Tikhon (Krechkov), Protopriest Alexander (Arkhangelsky), Priest Sergius Gortinsky, Priest Theodore Yakovlev, Priest George Nikitin, Hieromonks George (Pozharov) and Cosmas (Vyaznikov) and the laymen M.P. Tymchishin, Euthymius Grebenschikov and Peter Vyaznikov. The sentence was carried out on August 2 in Voronezh.

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