HOLY HIEROMARTYRS DANIEL, ONESIMUS AND ARSENIUS
and those with them (+ 1937)
and those with them (+ 1937)
By Vladimir Moss
Nun Maria, in the world Marina Stanislavovna Burdanova, was born in 1878 in Kiev into a noble family that was half Russian and half Polish. In her first marriage she was married to the pianist and composer Vladimir Ivanovich Pol. Marina Stanislavovna, a very beautiful woman, was a singer. Two children were born to her: a son Oleg (born May 31, 1900) and two daughters, one of whom was called Tamara (or Tatyana). At the beginning of the 1900s her marriage collapsed. She was married for the second time to the artist Burdanov and bore him three daughters. At that time Marina Stanislavovna and her husband were Tolstoyans. The family were infected with theosophist and Hindu teachings, and were strict vegetarians. Marina Stanislavovna taught music and singing. In 1914 the family was evacuated from Kiev to Moscow, where Marina Stanislavovna became a close friend of the wife of A.M. Gorky and moved in the highest cultural and public circles.
Oleg, the future Hieromonk Onesimus, was a remarkable child. His mother said that from his very birth Oleg was distinguished by the exceptional expression of his eyes. She admitted that she feared to look into them. Oleg did not have an easy childhood: his stepfather was jealous of his wife because her son was not his. So in 1914, when hs mother moved to Moscow with her second husband, he went to live with his father, who emigrated already before 1917 to Paris, where he died in the Second World War. After the revolution, feeling himself to be a burden in his father’s family, Oleg left the house and became a manual labourer in the Tolstoyan colony of Yasnaya Polyana. In 1918 he was called up into the army. But, being a Tolstoyan by conviction, he refused. He was arrested and threatened with shooting. At the trial Oleg was defended by a friend of Lev Tolstoy, Gorbunov-Posadov, who said that Oleg’s refusal to serve in the army was not counter-revolution, but human convictions, which did not allow him to take a weapon into his hands to kill people. At the trial he was asked what socially useful work he would do if they released him. Oleg said that he would agree to do any work, but preferred to be a teacher.
At that time the Pushkin experimental colony-school was being organized near Moscow, and Oleg became a teacher of mathematics there in 1921 while his mother taught music and singing. They remained there until 1924. While working in the school, Oleg abandoned Tolstoyism and began to study various systems of philosophy. Then he turned to the Russian religious thought of the beginning of the century. This brought him into contact with the Holy Fathers of the Church. He amazed all who knew him by his singleness of purpose. The well-known philosopher M.O. Gershenzon, who knew his family well, once said that he saw in the development of Oleg the development of a genius. Oleg was indeed very gifted. He had absolute pitch, but refused the temptation of becoming a musician. He was also a good painter, but rejected that path, too. He constantly said that he would not live long and had to hurry, so as to be able to tell people something clear about salvation from evil. He was planning a book called “The Island of Certainty”.
Oleg’s first spiritual father was the priest Fr. Roman Medved, who served in the church of St. Alexis. A brotherhood quickly grew up around this priest, a kind of “monastery in the world”. Oleg’s “meditations” were now replaced by prayer. Valeria Prishvina (later Liorko), the daughter of a tsarist officer shot in 1918 who belonged to Fr. Roman’s brotherhood, recalls Oleg’s first visit to the church of St. Alexis: “It was the eve of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 13/26, 1923. I dropped in at home after work, so as to go immediately on to the all-night vigil. ‘You’ve come at the right time,’ said mama. ‘A wonderful young man has come to us. He’s searching, in his words, for “elders”, in order to learn about the true Church… And I said to him, “God… look for the girl Valeria, she knows who you need.” I said that it would easiest to find you in the church. He’s going there today for the all-night vigil. You go up to him yourself... – we made an agreement with him about that.’ ‘But how will I recognize him?’ ‘It’s impossible not to recognize him. He is very tall, with wavy chestnut-coloured hair in a hat, with a tortured face – whether from tiredness or hunger – a beautiful face! Very gloomy, but then a childlike trustfulness breaks through in conversation. He has wonderful eyes – my heart sank when I saw them… just like on the icon of the Vladimir Mother of God.’ ‘Like in the Child?’ ‘No, like in the Mother of God… They call him Oleg Pol.’”
Oleg and Valeria were of the same age. Oleg read to her excerpts from his book, “The Island of Certainty”. A spiritual friendship grew up between them. These relations could have grown into love, but something stopped them – Oleg had a calling to the monastic life. Moreover, he had progressive tuberculosis of the liver which was becoming acute at that moment. The doctors counselled him to move to a different climate, go to the south. But what finally made his mind up was his reading, together with Valeria, V.P. Sventitsky’s book, “Citizens of Heaven”, on the Caucasian desert-dwellers who lived after the example of the ancient ascetics in the inaccessible mountains. Oleg and Valeria had the joint thought of living the ascetic life together in a “community” in the mountains. They supposed that their mothers and some others who thought like them would join them.
Valeria recalls: “We strove for the ascetic life, but by no means the solitary life. We rejoiced in the words of the Psalm of King David: ‘What is so good or so beautiful as for brethren to dwell together in unity.’ We also summoned to ourselves as our ally the book of S. Bulgakov, ‘Two Cities’, in which it was written: ‘In the apostolic and post-apostolic ages there appeared ascetics who highly valued virginity. Moreover, there was born the interesting, albeit quickly degenerating, institution of the living together of ascetics of both sexes.’ Fr. Roman Medved knew about our plans.”
Oleg decided to seek out desert-dwelling monks in Abkhazia. Armed with a recommendatory letter to some Tolstoyans living in Gelendzhik in Krasnodar region, he set off for the Caucasus. Arriving there in the spring of 1924, he settled with an artist couple, the Bironovs, and took casual jobs as a manual labourer. According to rumours, the nearest settlement of desert-dwellers was in the region of Krasnaya Polyana, and Oleg set off to look for them there. Several kilometres from the small settlement of Achish-Kho, he found the cell of Hieroschemamonk Daniel.
Fr. Daniel, in the world Demetrius Vasilyevich Bondarenko, was born in 1879 in the village of Volynki, Chernigov province into a peasant family, and had an elementary education. In his youth he worked in a sweets factory before going to the monastery of Novy Afon. He was tonsured with the name Demyan, but later took the schema with the name Daniel. Then he went into the mountains to become a hermit. He changed his place of residence many times, and built more than twenty cells with his own hands. In 1924 he settled alone in the skete of St. Nicholas near Zmeika, several kilometres from Achish-Kho in the region of Krasnaya Polyana. He used to descend twice a year to the nearest settlement in order to exchange wooden spoons cut out of boxwood for salt. He knew the mountains very well, and how to avoid falling into the abyss. He had a kitchen garden.
Seeing Oleg’s spiritual condition, Fr. Daniel let him live with him as a novice. Between the seasoned ascetic and the philosopher-novice there developed a close relationship full of respect and love for each other. During the free time available to him after prayer, Oleg devoted himself to writing.
During the winter of 1925 Oleg went to Moscow for necessary books and in order to read his writings to his friends and listen to their comments. He gave Valeria his completed work, “The Island of Certainty”, and the two friends studied liturgics and iconography together. They continued to dream of leading an ascetic life with their mothers and friends, including A.V. Lebedev, a member of Fr. Roman’s brotherhood, who was hopelessly in love with Valeria.
That winter Oleg rarely met Valeria except in society. Valeria Dmitrievna still hoped for the simple human happiness of love, but Oleg was drawn towards the monastic life. Oleg wrote to her on February 2/15, 1926: “You said: ‘The most daring work that I ever thought up is our love… I believe that here, on earth, paradise is possible – the paradise of the flesh.’ I want to tell you that I understand you, your thought, and I sympathize with it, but I do not know whether it is necessary to long for its realization on earth, because that would be too great a miracle. Perhaps it is enough to pray to the Lord that your thought be realized to the end (for a ‘community’, as I conceive of that now, is not yet its realization to the end) in the life of the age to come, for which it is necessary, first of all, to acquire the treasure in the heavens… The image of perfect love which you see belongs to the heavenly self-flowering blooms. Knowing human nature in general, this does not prevent me from relating to it with caution.” And in a letter to Fr. Roman Oleg wrote: “There is another love, an example of which we can see in the life of St. John Chrysostom. Florensky notes that his relationship with the holy Deaconess Olympiada is a relationship of exceptional love. St. Demetrius of Rostov himself points to this love in his life of St. Olympiada, calling it spiritual love and seeking parallels in the Apostle Paul and Persida. Whether this parallel is correct, I do not know. But what is important is that the lives of St. John and St. Olympiada are written separately. Their memorial is on different days and their names are not linked. They were a kind of support to each other, but both were equal in Christ (according to the expression of K. [Valeria (Kaleria) Liorko])… It goes without saying that I do not dare to affirm that our love is of this order, but, at any rate, it is directed in that direction. This is monastic love. The first who demonstrated this love was the All-Holy Virgin Mary… Now I shall speak about A.V. [Lebedev]. In relation to him this process of ‘entering into my heart’ was fully completed only in the past summer. The most remarkable thing about our relationship is that instead of jealousy, which is what there should be, if love is even a little mixed with earthly shades, the love between us increases all the time. Moreover, it is of a heavenly hue, as if passing over from Kaleria… If it were not for him, we would not know that our love can extend to the whole world, that it must not be limited by two people… Kaleria has helped me simply by her existence, but not only in this way – I have borrowed many thoughts from her, while treating them as my own. In general, we have one mind. And if the direction of A.V.’s thoughts does not completely coincide with mine, - he is more inclined to the line of the Russian intuitivists, who consider themselves continuers of Plato and Aristotle in philosophy, while I consider it more worthwhile to continue Descartes and Leibniz, - nevertheless, both directions are reflected in the soul of Kaleria and go along one line – the Orthodox spirit.”
Oleg’s work, “The Island of Certainty” was published on papyrus paper in several copies, and was kept by various people. But they were all at various times repressed, and the manuscript disappeared. We know only that one copy of the book was somehow sent to Oleg’s father in Paris in the 1930s, and a small extract from it was published in a Parish journal under the name “Wanderer”. (In the 1960s a copy was found in Moscow. It represents the first draft variant of the work, and is clearly incomplete in several places. It lacks the most vivid, third part of the work.)
In the spring of 1926 Valeria, Oleg and A.V. Lebedev again went to Fr. Daniel in Krasnaya Polyana. At Pentecost they visited the skete of the desert-dweller Fr. Sabbatius at Medoveyevka Polyana, about thirty versts away, and went to the valley of the river Pskhu near Sochi, where over a hundred monks (there was also a separate community of nuns) seeking greater quiet than was available in Novy Afon, were settled. Soon Valeria left, and then Lebedev.
In the autumn of 1926 Fr. Daniel and Oleg were visited by Oleg’s former pupil at the Pushkin colony, Boris Grigoryevich Kordi, the future Archimandrite Arsenius. He was born on June 21, 1907 in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Vladimir province into a middle-class family of Russianized Greeks, and received a secondary education. He lost his mother when he was young and lived with his father, an official on the railways, and his sisters in the city of Rostov, Yaroslavl province. In 1921, after the death of his father, he went to a special school with an agricultural bent in Pushkino, near Moscow. It was there that he first met Oleg, who was teaching mathematics there at the time. If in the beginning Boris wavered between theosophy, of which there were many followers among the teachers in the school, under the influence of Oleg his world-view became profoundly Orthodox. In 1924 the school closed, and Boris entered the Abramtsevo School of art, where he learned how to sculpt in wood. But he did not forget Oleg, but went to visit him in Krasnaya Polyana, and struggled there with him and Fr. Daniel from 1926 to 1929. He collected documents on the repression of clergy for Fr. Daniel’s book, “Close to Sunset” (samizdat).
Fr. Daniel said: “Just as the first monks were never in monasteries, and almost all were holy, so will it be with the last monks.”
The three men began to live together. They built new cells in the glen. The idea of an ascetic life with Valeria was abandoned. In the winter of 1926/27 Oleg wrote to Valeria advising her to enter a monastery, and inviting her to come to him for six months. However, Valeria had only a three-week vacation, her mother had been ill throughout the winter, and she was able to look after her and earn a living only with great difficulty.
On August 28 / September 10, 1927 Oleg was tonsured into monasticism with the name Onesimus by Hieromonk Metrophanes in the presence of Fr. Daniel, Fr. Arsenius, Sergius Skorokhodov and Monk Nicholas. The rite took place in a poor village cemetery church in the Sochi region.
In 1929 Fr. Onesimus was ordained to the priesthood. After his ordination, he did not abandon his literary work. In addition to “The Island of Certainty”, he wrote “Economics”, “The Economy of Man” and “On the Liturgy”.
The secret “closed” skete of St. Nicholas in which he lived with Fathers Daniel and Arsenius was in the jurisdiction of Bishop Barlaam (Lazarenko) of Maikop, the future Catacomb hieromartyr. Fr. Onesimus fulfilled the functions of dean of all the closed communities of the Maikop and Black Sea districts; they were hidden in remote, inaccessible places. The members of these communities, led by Bishop Barlaam, did not recognize either the renovationists or the sergianists. Since they rejected the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, they were in an illegal situation and therefore under constant threat of arrest. As Bishop Barlaam wrote to Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) of Gdov: “Intensive pressure has begun on the monastics from those outside. In opposition to this, we are increasing the numbers of [monastics] in the conviction that monasticism must not be destroyed together with the monasteries. We live in secret from ‘the outsiders’; not many even of our people know where we are. We have a large underground church with a full complement of church servers. We are able to ordain priests and administer communities. In Maikop we have a diocesan administrative organ – a permanent conference of presbyters. There are two deaneries.”
In January, 1929, with the blessing of Fr. Daniel, Fr. Onesimus visited Archbishop Demetrius in Leningrad and was sent by him to Bishop Barlaam at Peus on the upper reaches of the river Sochinka. On the way he stopped in Moscow and stayed for a few days in the family of Natalia Arkadyevna and Valeria Dmitrievna Liorko. Later Valeria married M.M. Prishvin.
On October 8, 1929 armed men burst into the St. Nicholas skete at Krasnaya Polyana, arrested the three monks and burned their cells. At his arrest the following manuscripts were found in the possession of Fr. Onesimus: (i) “On the apostasy of Metropolitan Sergius”; (ii) “On Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod and his Synod”; (iii) “Reply to Objectors” and “There are Few of You”; (iv) “Letter from Kiev to all the Faithful Children of the Holy Orthodox Russian Church”, Kiev, November, 1927; (v) “Beloved in the Lord, my spiritual children – priests and deacons ordained through my humility for the service of the Orthodox Church” (without signature); (vi) “Epistle to the Orthodox Clergy and Laity of Voronezh Diocese” by Bishop Alexis (Buj), ruler of the Voronezh diocese; (vii) “Declaration of Bishop Paul [of Starobela] to Metropolitan Sergius”, April 14/27, 1928; (viii) “The Essence of the Apostasy of Metropolitan Sergius”; (ix) “On the Church” by Bishop Barlaam of Maikop, September 12, 1927, Maikop.
On February 27, 1930 Fathers Daniel and Onesimus were convicted by the OGPU of being participants “in a counter-revolutionary monastic organization”, of “having warehouses of arms”, of “counter-revolutionary activity under the guise of the heremitic life” and of “anti-Soviet agitation directed at the overthrow of Soviet power”. Both Fr. Daniel and Fr. Onesimus were accused of being “the leader of a skete of the Black Sea branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”. In accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11 they were sentenced to be shot in the group case, “The Case of O. Pol, M. Oleynikov, Ya. Smirnov and others, Abkhazia, 1929”. During his trial Fr. Onesimus openly expressed his convictions. Among his writings taken away from him at his arrest we read: “Communism parts company not only with Orthodoxy, but with every religion, and in such circumstances to talk about their union means wishing to unite the immiscible.” The investigators noted that Fr. Onesimus’ manuscript, “The Economy of Man” was “a conglomerate of bourgeois theories [that] places the laws of economic development in dependence on ‘the higher spiritual essence that rules the world [God]’. It contradicts the Marxist theory of dialectical materialism. The author takes the position of denial of class warfare in society, and in general denies the existence of classes.” It was suggested to Fr. Onesimus that if he renounced his world view and agreed to work for the security organs, he would preserve his life. He categorically refused.
Fr. Arsenius was accused of being “a participant in the Black Sea branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”. However, because of his youth he was not sentenced to be shot. On February 27, 1930 he was sentenced to five (eight) years in one of the Siberian camps.
The arrested were sent to Novorossiisk prison, where many monks arrested in the mountains, in Pskhu and other places, were brought. They were put on barges in the sea in conditions of terrible suffocation. The monks sang prayers. Fr. Daniel was soon shot. Fr. Onesimus was taken to the prison in Rostov-on-Don, where he was shot, it would seem, in June, 1930.
Constantine Sergeyevich Rodionov, who visited Fr. Daniel and Fr. Onesimus in about 1928, gives further details about the last days of the martyr-monks: "Fr. Daniel's cell was consecrated to the Dormition of the Mother of God. I had a wonderful icon of the Dormition, a gift to my great-grandfather, Alexis Ivanovich Trubetskoy, from Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow. I gave this icon to Fr. Daniel, since he had no such icon in his cell…
"Before their arrests Oleg Pol [Fr. Onesimus] managed to collect the icons which were in his cell, sew them into a sack and send them from Chugush in a parcel to the monastery at New Athos. In the monastery they first received a telegram-notification: "Roses being sent," and then came the icons. Soon Oleg Pol and Fr. Daniel and Boris Gordi were arrested on Chugush and sent to Novorossiisk. Fr. Daniel's cell was burned. My icon of the Dormition was also consumed in the flames… Oleg Pol and Fr. Daniel, being monks, had long hair, which those who arrested them demanded that they cut. Oleg said:
'Take my head as well.'
"Oleg Pol and Boris Gordi were united in one thing. They were both accused of having created the counter-revolutionary society of the Archangel Michael.
"Valerie Demetrievna Liorko was at that time in Moscow. When she heard about the arrest, and that Oleg, Fr. Daniel and Borya were sitting in Novorossiisk prison, she asked me to find about the fate of Oleg from the husband of her sister, who was a chekist and lived in Novorossiisk. At that time I had to go through Novorossiisk on my way to Armavir, where I was going to give evidence on behalf of my arrested friend Stepan Petrovich Gamayunov. He was condemned as a kulak since he had a big apiary, and I had to witness that he was a good worker and member of a cooperative. All this took place in spring at Pascha,.. 1930. On arriving in Novorossiisk, I went straight to Alexis Vasilyevich Lebedev, the husband of the sister of Valerie Demetrievna. On entering, I saw another chekist through the open door. That was why I did not say anything substantial during our meeting and only chatted about trivialities. But I handed Lebedev a letter in which Valerie Demetrievna asked to know something about Oleg. I went to Armavir and in a few days again came to them, but this time to their house. They lived in Sadovaya street. Valerie Demetrievna's sister was alone. She said that she had asked her husband to find out about Oleg. Her husband had asked them. They had said nothing.
'Understand it as you like,' she concluded.
"After Armavir I went to Valerie Demetrievna, who was living there at that time… and told her everything. The silence of the chekists was eloquent. We both understood that Oleg and Fr. Daniel had been shot. Boris Gordi [Fr. Arsenius], who was a deacon, had been sent into exile..."
After the death of her son, Marina Stanislavovna lived for a while near Zvenigorod in the village of Dunino at the invitation of Valeria Liorko. She converted to Orthodoxy and in 1930 joined the choir of the church of St. Nicholas the Big Cross, while continuing to work as a teacher. In 1932 the church was closed, and Marina Stanislavovna moved to the last True Orthodox church in Moscow, that of the Serbian podvorye. On April 14, 1932 she was arrested, and on May 16 was convicted of being “a member of the church-monarchist counter-revolutionary organization ‘The True Orthodox Church’”. In accordance with article 58-11, she was exiled for three years to Kazakhstan. This was part of “the case of Ananin and others, Moscow, 1932”.
In 1935 Marina Stanislavovna was tonsured secretly into monasticism with the name Maria. She lived in Alma-Ata, and at the end of her sentence decided to stay there, working as a teacher in a music school. She was in canonical communion with Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovykh) with whom her son had also been linked.
From 1935 to 1937 Fr. Arsenius was in exile in Aktybinsk and then in Alma-Ata, where he met Mother Maria and Metropolitan Joseph, who raised him to the rank of archimandrite. Mother Maria adopted her martyred son’s friend, and together they organized a secret church in her house in Alma-Ata. On October 26, 1937 they were both arrested together with other exiled clergy and laity and accused of participation in “an anti-Soviet organization of churchmen”. On November 16, Mother Maria was convicted by the UNKVD of “participation in a counter-revolutionary church organization linked with Metropolitan Joseph (Petrovykh) under the direction of Arsenius (Kordi)”. The sentence was imprisonment in Alma-Ata, where Nun Maria died during a convoy of prisoners from one place to another. The place and date of her death are unknown. However, Fr. Arsenius was shot in Alma-Ata – according to one source, on November 16.