HIEROMARTYR BARSANUPHIUS OF KHARKOV
and those with him
By Vladimir Moss
Igumen Barsanuphius (Grigoryevich Yurchenko) was born in 1880 in a prosperous peasant family in the village of Lozavatka, Mikhailovsky uyezd, Kherson province. He finished his studies at a missionary theological seminary. Until 1905 he worked as a teacher in the city of Alexandria. From 1907 he was a novice in the Kiev Caves Lavra. He was tonsured in the Lavra. From 1915 to 1920 he was a teacher in the Birzyukov monastery in Kherson diocese.
In 1918 he was almost shot by a band of Bolsheviks who demanded a large sum of money from the community under threat of death. The whole brotherhood had already been made to stand against a wall, waiting to be executed, but the sum of money demanded was somehow found and they escaped death. It was wonderful to hear Fr. Barsanuphius relate the unusually joyful condition he was in when he was so overcome by a foretaste of eternal life that death became something desired, he longed for it to come about as soon as possible. And how great was his disappointment when he did not achieve this aim because of the remission of the execution.
For a short time the community was subjected to the common lot of looting and repression. Then, under cover of night, Fr. Barsanuphius ran away and hid in the house of his brother. However, he was arrested and imprisoned in terrible conditions in stuffy, damp basements, where his cassock rotted away from the damp and, besides other sorrows of imprisonment in that terrible time, there were so many insects exasperating the prisoners that they had to be scraped off like rubbish.
After a time, in 1921, Fr. Barsanuphius was released and was appointed by Bishop Onuphrius (Gagalyuk) to a parish in the village of Verkhniye Vairaki, near Yelisavettgrad, where by his sincere and zealous service he soon won general respect both among the lay believers and among the clergy.
The rise of renovationism revealed him to be a firm warrior in defence of the truth of the Church and a fearless exposer of the schismatics. Therefore the diocesan hierarch, Bishop Onuphrius, appointed him missionary in the struggle against renovationism for the whole Alexandria region. Having received this assignment, he arrived in the city of Alexandria, which is part of the Yelisavettgrad diocese.
At that time there was no Orthodox church in the city. Moreover, none of the true believers was well-known. Fr. Barsanuphius appeared in the cathedral of the Dormition during the Liturgy, which was being celebrated by the renovationists, and stood unnoticed at the back. He was tall, with a big beard and was dressed in monastic garments with a staff and prayer-rope. His attractive outer appearance fully corresponded to his inner beauty. Since he could not fail to be noticed, at the end of the Liturgy he was surrounded by the believers, who were already worried by the creeping in of innovations into the church, which had been exposed by certain zealots of piety. One of them had a book of the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. From it they could see that the actions of the renovationists were not canonical. But the authoritative voice of the Church was necessary. Therefore the first questions put to Fr. Barsanuphius were: Was he Orthodox? Who was he? Where did he come from? And what joy there was when they learned the answer to this burning question. But at that point the unknown Fr. Barsanuphius was invited by one of the zealots of Orthodoxy Ivan Savvich Mironov to his house, where others had also gathered. There the real church situation was finally clarified: Fr. Barsanuphius told about his appointment to the Alexandria deanery and read the epistles against renovationism of Bishop Onuphrius and others. A discussion took place on how to take if only one church from the renovationists.
But this unexpected joy did not last long. Having learned the state of affairs in his new mission, Fr. Barsanuphius returned to the place of his former service, where he was arrested (in the autumn of 1922) and taken back to Alexandria, where he was put in prison. There he remained until April, 1923. The only contacts with him consisted in the above-mentioned zealots of Orthodoxy taking it in turns to bring him parcels (food, etc.). In the Great Fast Fr. Barsanuphius was released from prison. By that time, the above-mentioned group of people, who had started to build up an Orthodox parish, had grown into a large community, which after several attempts succeeded in getting the civil authorities to transfer one of the four renovationist churches (which was already fairly empty) to them. Fr. Barsanuphius was appointed the superior of this church, which was in the name of the Protecting Veil of the All-Holy Mother of God.
It was from this time that Fr. Barsanuphius' most active ministry began. The servant of God attracted everyone to himself by his unusually welcoming manner, his sincere love, his attentiveness to everyone, his kind, meek and humble manner and by his irreproachable personal life in fasting and unceasing prayer and abstinence in all things (on Wednesdays and Fridays the whole year round, and throughout the Great Fast, he ate nothing before the evening, and in the first week of the Great Fast and in Passion Week he did not eat for three days). During services he was attentive and concentrated, completely immersed in prayer. In the parish church services were conducted according to the monastic typicon, but they were not exhausting. One would go in on a weekday while he was serving and would hear his gentle voice from in front of the altar, and a certain peacefulness and compunction filled one's soul. The comparatively large church soon began to fill up with believers from all ends of the city. The rumours about what had happened in the church of the Protecting Veil and about the unusual batyushka spread far, even beyond the bounds of the region, and at almost every service there were people from the environs. Many who had attended the service went to Fr. Barsanuphius' flat for advice, asking what to do so as to have a right church. And they received the instructions they needed. Each of his services contained a simple edifying sermon, and in these sermons he fulminated against evil, the vices of everyday life, calling people to repentance. The truth was made clear and the lie of renovationism was exposed. The believers were exhorted not to condemn their brothers who had got caught in this or that net, but to pray for them. And in general batyushka used every opportunity to edify the people: whether during needs, or at feasts, over a cup of tea, the conversation always revolved around current church events or soul-saving themes. Many wanted to invite batyushka to their homes, and so invitations to a cup of tea were not uncommon. On these occasions batyushka would speak or read from the Gospel, especially for young youths and virgins, in whom he stirred up a desire for the truly Christian life. He would often read from the works of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov.
Very soon all the renovationist churches became empty and a large part of the city's clergy repented, while in the region out of eighty renovationist parishes there remained even less than ten. In fact, there was an extraordinary revival of church life in the city. Fr. Barsanuphius went to Patriarch Tikhon on church matters, and, since he was a hieromonk, he was raised by his Holiness to the rank of igumen (in 1923). When he returned, his flock rejoiced at the patriarchal blessing, and were strengthened by his reading epistles condemning the renovationist higher church administration in the church.
This greatly enraged the remaining renovationists, and especially the GPU. A group of renovationists was formed in the city led by Bishop John (Slavgorodsky) and a priest by the name of Chorny (who was, if not an open stooge of the GPU, then at any rate one of their co-workers who often visited that institution). This group, together with the city authorities, took measures to strike a blow at Fr. Barsanuphius and the community he led. But the religious exaltation had reached such proportions that the authorities decided not to undertake direct measures to liquidate the whole of the movement. Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested several times (in 1923, 1924 and January, 1925), and there was even an open trial attended by a great mass of people, in which Fr. Barsanuphius replied so wisely to the lawyers' ingenious questions that it served for his yet greater glory without engendering any serious consequences except, it seems, for a monetary fine. The trial was summoned because of the baptism of a child which had been carried out, supposedly, without the prior registration by the civil authorities - an omission that used to be punished with great cruelty.
Although the above-mentioned renovationist group had three empty churches, including a cathedral, it received permission from the authorities to use the single Orthodox church (of the Protection), supposedly on equal terms. In order to realize this aim, they with their bishop at their head came to the Protection church on Lazarus Saturday not long before the beginning of the service and demanded the hand-over of the keys of the Protection church on the basis of the instructions of the central authorities. Since rumours about the forthcoming invasion had already filtered into the community, the church was closed and the keys hidden. Up to a thousand people gathered. Some had come earlier to do confession (because of the large numbers of those wishing to do confession they were told to come before the service), while others had begun to assemble because of the rapidly disseminated rumour about what had happened in the Protection church. The whole of this huge number of people, who could not fit even into the spacious area around the church, strove to defend the church. They did not allow the renovationists even as far as the doors. The local authorities, who opposed the Orthodox in every way possible, came to the aid of the renovationists in all kinds of local communist organizations, including the komsomol and the mounted police. But all of these were unable to frighten or disperse the gathered people, who consisted mainly of fearless women tightly pressed to the main doors. Finally the fire-brigade appeared and drove the Orthodox away from the doors with their water cannons. Then the renovationists and their helpers went to the doors and with the help of locksmiths broke the locks.
The next day “Bishop John” entered the church and was met with “Many years, Master!” while the Orthodox stood to one side, shouting: “Wolf in sheep's clothing" and other names appropriate to his activities. From the moment the renovationists took control of the church it emptied. On the most holy days of Passion Week and Pascha the Orthodox were left without a church. The community was still strong at that time, and measures were immediately taken to obtain the return of the church to the Orthodox. An enormous number of signatures were collected, representatives of the community were elected and began to act. First they went to the regional centre of Kharkov. But since it was from there that permission for the renovationists to seize the church had been given, no positive results were obtained. They appealed to Moscow. And there with great efforts, after several journeys, and with the help of acquaintances among the powerful of the communist world, they succeeded in obtaining an order for the return of the church by the feast of the Transfiguration, 1924.
At the same time, the authorities accused Fr. Barsanuphius of being the organizer of the people's rebellion. To create a case, they also arrested several members of the parish council and group of fifty, including some women. Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested in the following manner. After midnight representatives of the authorities arrived at his flat, knocked insistently at the door, burst in and carried out a search. As a result of the search they supposedly found a packet with material implicating Fr. Barsanuphius in the organization of the rebellion. The packet turned out to be in the bed of the future Peter Mikhailovich Chernobyl (the future Archimandrite Nectarius), who happened to be sleeping there that night and who was also arrested. It was obviously a forgery, and Fr. Barsanuphius, when presented with it, said as much:
"It's a forgery. You brought it here."
The investigator said something crude and laughed. Then he ordered Fr. Barsanuphius to dress quickly. Within a few days not only Fr. Barsanuphius, but all those who had been present in the flat were arrested and imprisoned in the local jail. The case lasted for more than three months with many interrogations and threats, but it was so mendacious that when it was passed to the so-called higher instance, it was terminated and all the prisoners (who included Fr. Nectarius) were freed after three months in prison.
On the second day after his release, Fr. Barsanuphius was again serving at the feast of the Transfiguration to a double general joy: the church had been recovered from the renovationists and batyushka had been released. And again batyushka's activity continued in the same spirit and with still greater power. But again not for long.
On the eve of the feast of the Nativity of Christ, in the same year, Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested during the night by the GPU and immediately despatched to Kharkov. The local GPU refused to tell the community where he was. But they guessed: representatives from the community went to Kharkov and obtained his release. He returned from Kharkov around the New Year, but again not for long.
Now something quite unexpected happened. Fr. Barsanuphius' activities had aroused the envy of the clergy, all the more since rumours began to increase that the community wanted to see him made a bishop. This became known to the diocesan hierarch, Bishop Onuphrius. For this or some other, more serious reason, in April, 1925 Fr. Barsanuphius was suddenly and unexpectedly appointed district dean and superior in the town of Pervomaisk (Olviopol), in Odessa diocese, where there was not one Orthodox church. At the very height of the community's flowering, Fr. Barsanuphius was torn from it and sent to a remote little town under the complete control of the renovationists. In his place was appointed a protopriest who later joined the sergianist schism. Under his leadership the community became so weak that the authorities blew up its wonderful stone church and everything came to an end. Then the same happened to all the other churches. Not a single church remained in the town.
No amount of delegations, signatures of the whole community or tearful appeals before the diocesan bishop could change this appointment. The community became widowed, and bitterly lamented its lot.
At this point Fr. Barsanuphius displayed self-sacrificial obedience. Without delay, with sorrow tearing his heart, he tearfully said goodbye to his flock and went into the unknown to fresh sorrows. On arriving in the new town, he with difficulty got to the cathedral church and in the presence of the semi-renovationist superior of the cathedral made an announcement about his appointment as superior and dean of the whole district to the members of the community. The superior, Protopriest S., received him coldly, but he was quickly surrounded by the love of the community and fixed up with a flat.
News about him circulated round the district already after the first service. The cathedral began to liven up. Priests and laymen arrived to consult him about moving from renovationism to Orthodoxy. Many of the laymen did not even know that their priests were renovationists. One of the protopriests, Simeon, left the renovationists and joined the Orthodox. And so the Orthodox now had a church in the town.
But this church revival was short-lived. The local renovationist bishop and the GPU became alarmed. On the second day of Holy Trinity, 1926, Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested and immediately despatched to Kharkov, while the only Orthodox church in Pervomaisk was closed. The petitions of the community were ignored. Fr. Barsanuphius was imprisoned in Kharkov prison, and after several months was again released, but without the right to leave Kharkov. On being released in a strange, overcrowded city, he had difficulty in finding accomodation and had to go to the GPU regularly for registration.
The future Archimandrite Nectarius organized services in Pervomaisk in private houses, and frequently went to Kharkov to visit Fr. Barsanuphius and bring back letters from him. On one of these visits he was ordained as a reader by Bishop Onuphrius.
In Kharkov, too, Fr. Barsanuphius soon won general respect and love. He visited what was almost the only Orthodox church, and sometimes served in it. His service in this church, where very many clergy and hierarchs who were not allowed to leave the city were gathered, did not last long, because in 1927 Metropolitan Sergius' notorious declaration was published. This caused new disturbances among the people and gave the authorities the excuse to intensify the persecution. Part of the clergy recognized the declaration; those who did not recognize it were arrested and sent into exile, while the non-commemorators ceased communion in prayer with the commemorators and began to worship in flats at night. Fr. Barsanuphius organized a catacomb community consisting of about ten people. The Orthodox led by Fr. Barsanuphius rejected Sergius’ declaration as being a God-hated abomination, a form of cooperation with the antichristian authorities.
Fr. N. Vinogradov and Igumen Barsanuphius went to meet Bishop Paul (Kratirov), but in the course of their conversation they came to doubt in the Orthodoxy of Bishop Paul, as a result of which Bishop Paul refused to give them his blessing (Archimandrite Nectarius explains this on the basis of Bishop Paul’s views being slightly to the left of the two priests’). The priests were much closer to Bishop Damascene of Staroduba.
Fr. Barsanuphius was dean of the Pervomaisk area, and, according to the witness to the OGPU of Ivan Chubtsov, was also active in the Zinovievsk (Yelisavettgrad), Alexandria and Kremenchug areas. The overwhelming majority of the parishes of his deanery followed him: in the villages of Pustelnikovo, Golovkovka, Zvenigorodka, Marto-Ivanovka, Ivanovka, Berezovka, Novaya Praga, Nedogarok, Krasnaya Kamenka, Voinovka, Schastlivoye, Kukulovka and Novostaroduba. Only the Pokrov church in Alexandria and the church in the village of Protopopovka remained with the sergianists. However, the Protopopovka Christians later joined the Josephites. In Alexandria the Josephite clergy – Protopriest A. Kotovich, Protopriest John Shvachko and Fr. Nicephorus Bryukhovetsky served in flats. There were no Josephite monasteries in Alexandria, but there were sisterhoods. In 1929 the superior of the church in the village of Berezovka, Hieromonk Abercius (Orlenko), tried to organize with some of his parishioners a secret skete in Siberia. This attempt failed and he returned.
So as to be sure about the truth and to avoid any self-willed actions, contact was made with Moscow, with Petrograd and with the authoritative hierarchs of the Church. By journeys or letters or messengers information was received, together with oral and written epistles of such hierarchs as Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, Metropolitan Agathangel, Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich, Bishop Basil of Priluki, Bishop Victor of Vyatka, Bishop Alexis of Voronezh, Bishop Hierotheus of Velikij Ustiug, and other bishops and priests. Copies of letters were received even from the locum tenens of the patriarchal throne himself, Metropolitan Peter, in which this hierarch clearly and simply exposed the unlawfulness of the actions of Metropolitan Sergius. In certain of these he with Christian love beseeches Metropolitan Sergius to renounce the course undertaken by him.
Fr. Barsanuphius decisively, with the aid of many believers, both in Kharkov itself and in his former parishes and in other places, supported the believers in various ways: by letters and by personal meetings. Thus as the persecutions connected with the declaration increased, and the Church that did not recognize Metropolitan Sergius was almost completely liquidated in its visible form, a community was formed around Fr. Barsanuphius which he served secretly. It consisted not only of local inhabitants, but also of people who arrived periodically from distant places: the Donbass, Kuban district, Poltava, Kherson, Odessa, and even Belorussia. Fr. Barsanuphius' activities in this period broadened considerably. He was as it were the centre of a well-known church district. He was visited by the clergy of dissolved monasteries, by priests, monks, nuns and laymen of every age and calling. Some came to receive consolation in sorrows, others on church business, others for personal spiritual instruction.
People came to him from all over. Young people of both sexes also came. They were captivated by his words and the beauty of his spiritual life, and declared their readiness to enter upon a God-pleasing life under his direction. Such people with his blessing lived sometimes in groups, being directed in their lives by his advice. However, he never created special rules for anyone. He gave general church rules to all those wishing to live a God-pleasing life: in the morning - morning prayers and the midnight service, at lunchtime - the hours, in the evening - Little Compline with the evening prayers. He blessed the more zealous to follow the whole cycle of services. In spite of the at that time widely spread phenomenon of secret monasticism, Fr. Barsanuphius tonsured none of those who desired it, and in general did not approve of that kind of monasticism. He is known to have tonsured only one novice of the Khoroshevsky monastery who was living in obedience to an older nun. To Fr. Nectarius he said: to serve the Church, you need to have been in a monastery for at least two years. However, to all of his spiritual children who were inclined towards the monastic life he gave the instruction to live in a monastic way: to pray, to fast according to the typicon, to avoid unseemly society, not to eat meat, and to strangers not to give the impression that you do not eat it. And in general he told his spiritual children who were not near an Orthodox church, which included almost everyone, to pray the services prescribed by the typicon: Vespers, Mattins, the Hours, the Typica, together with the reading of instructions - everything that was permitted for laypeople without uttering the priestly exclamations. The prescribed readings from the Apostle and the Gospel were read. And such prayers with chanting and reading were carried out sometimes even in the presence of large numbers of people, usually at night, in the flat of one of the believers. Commemorations of the dead were arranged, and there were even cases of burials. They themselves accompanied the dead with chanting of the Thrice Holy hymn, etc. Fr. Barsanuphius approved of these acts and would serve the burial service at a distance.
However, the GPU did not slumber. They discovered both the secret services and the appeals and letters that defined the relationship of all these people to the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. On January 1, 1931, in one night a massive arrest was carried out of the bishops that remained in freedom, the other clergy and even the laypeople who had displayed some zeal in this respect.
Fr. Barsanuphius himself was arrested on January 16 for being “a leader of the Kharkov branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”. From January to June the same accusation was levelled by the OPGU against all the leading Ukrainian Josephites. 140 were arrested: two bishops, fifty-two priests, nineteen monastics, seven deacons and readers, and sixty laypeople.
Those arrested were subjected to many and various kinds of tortures. The most common form of torture was deprivation of sleep for many days: people remained in this condition for 5, 10 and even 20 days in a row, standing or sitting under the observation of sentries who took turns at their posts. People were tortured day and night by being kicked or prodded; they did not allow them to doze off. Some were deprived of parcels, others were beaten, others were kept in solitary confinement, or in incredibly cooped-up conditions, in rooms which were full to overflowing and hermetically sealed in summer or very cold. Also, they would give them nothing to eat and then feed them to satiety without giving them anything to drink. Shootings were staged, and many other things.
Fr. Nectarius, the biographer of Fr. Barsanuphius, who died in the rank of archimandrite in the Russian Church Abroad in Jerusalem in 2000, apart from what he saw and heard, had to endure some of these torments himself. Thus he writes that in his cell was a sentry who allowed none of the prisoners to sit or sleep at night. Some of the prisoners went go out of their mind from sleeplessness, and were ready to sign anything to stop the torments (if they understood what they were doing when they signed). Archimandrite Nectarius was taken several times from the torture cell to interrogations. The interrogator would swear at him and shout:
“You’ll stand there until the Second Coming! But look, here’s a better idea: we’ll hang you upside down! And they you’ll sign!”
He took out a revolver, put it straight to Nectarius’ face and threatened to shoot. Then he beat him with the handle of the gun. But Nectarius still refused to sign.
He spent four or five days in the “standing chamber”. Then they gave him a rest for several days and again led him into the chamber. This time he had to stand without sleeping for eleven days. Then he was hurled into the basement, where the interrogator came with his revolver and said:
“This is your last place. Now we’ll sit down and decide your fate. Tomorrow you’ll be shot.”
It was February, very cold, and the basement was full of snow, but Nectarius was so weak and so wanted to sleep that he fell on the snow and fell asleep.
The next day he was taken to the district court in Poltava. However, the trial was still in the future. The interrogations continued. As a rule, they took place at night. Once during a nightly session the interrogator said to him:
“In your Scriptures it is written: ‘You must be obedient to every authority’. Why then do you not submit to Soviet power?”
I was silent. Then the interrogator put the question directly:
“Do you agree with the world-view of Soviet power?”
“No,” I replied, “I do not agree.”
“Let us suppose that,” said the interrogator. “I understand: you are against the civil authorities. But why are you against the Church? Why do you not recognize the lawful Metropolitan Sergius?” And, without waiting for my reply, he replied himself: “Because you do not need the Church, but politics! And counter-revolution! Therefore you have chosen for yourselves as instructors such counter-revolutionaries as your Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, and Demetrius of Gdov, and other most evil enemies of Soviet power…”
The aim of all these tortures was to get answers from those arrested that were desired by and useful to the NKVD. They wished to establish the existence of a fictitious revolutionary political organization and draw as many people as possible into it. For this they needed all kinds of information, even about non-existent things, and this they tortured their victims: was he there or there, who was also there, was such-and-such a person with you, what did they say, what did they read. Or: since you are already doomed, make a clean breast of it, reveal the counter-revolutionary organization and save yourself, etc. People were summoned for interrogation and torture at any time of the day or night. If they did not get what they wanted, the torturers continued their work, forcing people to write under dictation or simply sign a prepared protocol. If they did not get what they wanted, there would be more abuse, kicking, playing with revolvers under the accused person's nose, staged shootings, etc. They would say: "You will stand here until the very Coming of Christ", "We shall hang you head down and that's not all we'll do," "Your crime is such that you will be shot in any case, but you can save yourself - we're waiting for a sincere repentance." And then it was suggested that they save themselves by revealing the counter-revolutionary organization or becoming their man: "you can pray and do other such-like things, we don't persecute the church," etc.
The prosecutor’s conclusion declared that “the counter-revolutionary organization of churchmen, ‘The True Orthodox Church’, had many branches and embraced the whole of the Soviet Union”, including the Ukraine. There was supposedly a tightly organized structure in the Ukraine controlled by the centres in Moscow and Leningrad. This net, according to the OGPU, consisted of three main branches: Kharkov, led by Bishop Paul (Kratirov), Dnepropetrovsk, led by Bishop Joasaph (Popov), and Odessa, led by Fr. Gregory Seletsky and Abbot Barsanuphius. The first branch contained eleven groups: Kharkov, Sumy, Stalino, Kiev, Debaltsevo, Kadievo, Marioupol, Popasnyan, Berdyansk, Slavyansk and Krasnoluchinsk. In the second branch there were three: Novomoskovsk, Krivoy Rog and Ladyzhino. And in the third branch there were: Kharkov, Poltava, Yelisavettgrad, Alexandria, Nikolayev and Kherson. Each group was in its turn composed of cells: “Each group and cell had its immediate leaders chosen from the most trusted and reliable people, who had links with the leaders of the branches… Thanks to the constant links between the centres and the branches, a systematic leadership of the counter-revolutionary activities of the peripheral branches of the counter-revolutionary organization was guaranteed.” Such assertions were undoubtedly far from the truth. The Josephites not only were not in “constant contact” with each other, but sometimes had tense relations with each other.
On December 14, 1931 there took place the first trial in connection with the affair of the True Orthodox Church. A special meeting of the OGPU College passed a sentence of antisoviet activity on one hundred and twenty six people – fifty-three were condemned to three years in the camps, fifty-eight to exile to the northern regions for three years, five were deprived of the right to live in twelve inhabited points while being restricted to their place of residence for three years, and ten were released. On January 2, 1932 the College condemned the fourteen leaders: Bishop Paul, V.V. Podgorny and Fr. Gregory Seletsky to ten years in the camps, while Bishop Joasaph, Abbot Barsanuphius (Yurchenko), Abbot Eustratius (Grumkov), Archimandrite Macarius (Velichko), A.I. Krasnokutsky, N.V. Tolmachev, Fr. Theodore Pavlov, Fr. D. Ivanov, Fr. B. Kvasnitsky, S.P. Labinsky and Fr. John Skadovsky were sentenced to five years in the camps.
Among those condemned were:
Protopriest Anthony Kotovich. A relative of Hieromartyr Nicholas Piskanovsky, he was born in 1885 in the village of Novy Dvor, Grodno province, in the family of a priest, and went to a theological seminary. From May, 1916 he served as a military priest near Riga and in Torzhok. From 1918 to 1921 he was priest of the church of Ivanovka, Taganrog uyezd, Then he moved to the Alexandria region, and served in the village of Kukulovka, Alexandria uyezd. He took no part in renovationism. In 1923 he was appointed second priest of the Protection church while Fr. Barsanuphius was first priest. When Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested, he took his place, and in 1926 became dean of the Alexandria region. He was arrested several times, both in connection with the affair of Fr. Barsanuphius and for his refusal to recognize the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. When Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested and the new superior of the Protection church submitted to legalization, Fr. Anthony publicly declared in the Pokrov church, where he was serving as dean, that he was leaving the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Michael of the Ukraine. In March, 1928 he came under the omophorion of Bishop Alexis (Buj) of Voronezh. Most of the parishes of the deanery followed him. But since there was no church in Alexandria itself, he began to serve together with Protopriest John Shvachko and Priest Nicephorus Bryukhovetsky in flats, celebrating the Liturgy every day. After the arrest of Bishop Alexis, he came under the omophorion of Bishop Maximus (Zhizhilenko). Soon after this, he was arrested for the last time in 1929 in connection with the discovery in the flat of the Glinsk dean, Fr. Simeon Ryabov, of antisergianist literature sent him by Fr. Anthony. Fr. Anthony was imprisoned and charged with being “a participant in the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”, and on January 3, 1930 was sentenced to five years (according to another source, three years) exile in accordance with article 54-10. He was sent to Yeniseisk (or the north) and shot in the second half of the 1930s.
In March, 1928 Fr. Anthony’s Matushka Nina Feofilovna brought to Bishop Alexis in Voronezh a petition that he accept the Alexandria parishes under his omophorion. She was also arrested, with six priests, a deacon and three laymen, on January 16, 1931, and was subjected to tortures in the GPU in Alexandria. She was exiled, and returned at the end of her term. What happened to her thereafter is unknown. Several of those who attended Fr. Anthony’s illegal services received long sentences. One of them, the virgin Charitina, received a ten-year sentence in the camps.
Priest John Polikarpovich Shvachko. He was born in 1873 in the village of Gubovka, Alexandria uyezd, and went to a theological seminary. He served in a church in the Alexandria region, but after its closure in 1926 found himself without a parish. He lived in Alexandria. On January 16, 1931 he was arrested for being “a participant in the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”, and on December (September) 14 was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years’ exile in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Priest Hilarion Pavlovich Genkin. He was born in 1881 in Yelisavettgrad, and finished his studies at a theological seminary. In 1909 he was ordained to the priesthood. He served in the village of Krasnaya Kamenka, Alexandria region. In June, 1929, Fr. Hilarion, together with the Inguletsky dean, Fr. Nicholas Fomenko, went to Petrograd and was received by Archbishop Demetrius under his omophorion. The Alexandrian Josephites commemorated Vladykas Alexis and Demetrius until 1931. Fr. Hilarion succeeded Fr. Anthony Kotovich as Josephite dean of Alexandria. But the life of the deanery was de facto administered in many things by Archimandrite Barsanuphius, who had served there until the middle of the 1920s. In 1930 Fr. Hilarion was placed under guard on a charge of antisoviet agitation “against the removal of bells”, but was not condemned. On January 16, 1931 he was arrested in Krasnaya Kamenka in connection with the affair of the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the True Orthodox Church. On January 17, 1931 he was arrested for being “a participant in the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”, and on December 14 was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years in the camps and sent to a camp. Nothing more is known about him.
Priest Gregory Rodionovich Bublik. He was born in 1889 in the village of Aleshka, Tauris province, and went to a theological seminary. As a priest, he served in the village of Krasnaya Kamenka, Alexandria region. In 1930 he was under investigation “for anti-Soviet agitation”, but was not condemned. On March 10 (or January 16), 1931 he was arrested for being “a participant in the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”. On December 14 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years in the camps and was sent to a camp in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Priest Ivan Savvich Zhushman. He was born in 1882 in the village of Zelenoye, Petrovsky uyezd, Kursk province, into a peasant family, and went to a theological seminary. He served in the village of Schastlivoye, Alexandria region. On January 17, 1931 he was arrested for being “a participant in the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, the True Orthodox Church”. On December 14 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years’ exile and was sent to the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Priest Dionysius Arkadyevich Oratovsky. He was born in 1871 in the village of Maleshty, Moldavia, and went to a theological seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood and served in the church in the village of Kukulovka, Alexandria region. In 1928 he was under investigation on a charge of “incorrect composition of lists of believers”, but was not condemned. On January 17, 1931 he was arrested in Kukolovka in connection with the Alexandrian group of the Odessa branch of the True Orthodox Church. On December 14, 1931 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years’ exile in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Priest Theodore Vasilyevich Belinsky. He was born in 1879 in the village of Krasnopolye, Alexandria region. He finished his studies in a theological seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood and served in the church of Kukolovka, Alexandria uyezd. On January 17, 1931 he was arrested in connection with the Alexandrian group of the Odessa branch of the True Orthodox Church. On December 14, 1931 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years’ exile in the north.
Priest Nicetas Porfiryevich Olshansky. He was born in 1886 on Donskoye farm, Preobrazhenskaya station, Khoper uyezd, in a Cossack family. He finished his studies at a theological seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood and served in the church in the village of Voinovka, Alexandria region. In 1926 and 1929 he was under investigation on a charge of antisoviet agitation, but was released after two months. On January 17, 1931 he was arrested in connection with the affair of the Alexandria group of the Odessa branch of the True Orthodox Church. On December 14, 1931 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years in the camps, and sent to Siblag. On September 4, 1933 he was released from the camps and departed for Sukhumi. Nothing more is known about him.
Few of those condemned in this trial returned home. Many died in unbelievably difficult circumstances. Fr. Barsanuphius himself received five years in the Temnikov camps, and was then transferred to the Sarov camps, where he was accomodated in the main church.
To his great joy, Fr. Nectarius met Fr. Barsanuphius again in the Temnikov camps. “They put him in our barracks, and now we were able, as before, to pray together, celebrate services and have spiritual discussions. Communion with him brought me great consolation. Every time I received a blessing from him, I experienced a joyful feeling, and if there was bitterness or disturbance in my heart, it immediately left me. Not only to me, but also to the other believing prisoners batyushka brought consolation in the sorrows and difficulties of camp life. His friendly manner and radiant external appearance attracted everyone. His behaviour in the prisons and camps, as Fr. Nectarius observed, was remarkable. He said with complete sincerity that prison for him was a spiritual school, and he accepted imprisonment as an opportunity for spiritual improvement, without fear and with gratitude to God.
Fr. Barsanuphius was placed in the cells of inveterate recidivists, criminals who had lost all human feelings, bandits, murderers, thieves, etc. And here his truly Christian behaviour often pacified even these beasts in human form. Some of them became so attached to batyushka that even before parting with him they sought to communicate with him by correspondence or in some other way. In the cell he behaved as a priest and a monk. In spite of the noise and shouting and swearing, and the heavy tobacco smoke, he would stand for hours in prayer with his prayer rope, as if not noticing the situation around him. Whatever parcels he received he shared with everyone. He did not descend to the environment he was in, but neither did he despise it; he forced everyone to look on him as a true servant of God. In the camps, in spite of all prohibitions, he categorically refused to do any work and did not allow his external appearance to be changed in any way: only by force was he shorn and his beard shaved off. He was never despondent, always in a state of prayer. He comforted many.
During Fr. Barsanuphius’s first sentence, as he was being driven from camp to camp in unimaginable conditions, he nearly died from typhus. In Sarov he was beaten almost to death by the criminals, and on leaving camp in the middle of the 1930s he was a completely hunched-up invalid, like St. Seraphim of Sarov, unable to walk without the help of crutches. It was difficult to recognize the comparatively young, tall, well-built Fr. Barsanuphius.
As a result of his invalid condition, and through his relatives' getting to know the authorities, at the end of his sentence he was able to return to Kharkov. Externally he had changed, but internally he was the same man. And without losing a minute he started work: the saving of souls. Once again there were services in his flat and in the flats of others; services were conducted at night; he communicated and strengthened the remaining believers.
The persecution had reached the point where it was dangerous to have icons in a cooperative house, and even in private houses; it was risky for those serving in Soviet institutions even to look into a church or to cross themselves in public. Burials were now carried out with a special Soviet ritual, with music and red flags. In families children who were studying in schools often persecuted their parents who practised religious rites.
Since it was now almost impossible for a priest to walk in the streets in priestly attired and not be noticed, Fr. Barsanuphius took off his priest's clothes and took on the appearance of an old man in the usual Russian long shirt with a belt round his waist. In this way he was able to visit many of his faithful spiritual children, both in his former parishes and in other places: in the Kuban, the Donbass, Belorussia, in several towns of the Ukraine and in Odessa. His main aim in these trips was to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, take confessions and give communion. Only his faithful, who knew each other, attended these services.
Fr. Nectarius was a witness of one of these journeys of Fr. Barsanuphius. In a house surrounded by a high fence on the edge of a town, batyushka confessed people for two days, and during the night. News of his whereabouts passed from one person to another. There was not even time to eat. Other priests carried out a similar type of service in other towns. Some lived in one place without any kind of registration; only the family with whom they lived knew about them, together with those who came to the services, which were carried out sometimes in underground churches. There was such a priest in the Kharkov region. And another in the Donbass. One priest went around with a grinding lathe. One archimandrite, on returning from the camps, became a stove-repairer.
In the course of his service as a priest in the Soviet period, Fr. Barsanuphius was arrested up to 25 times. In all interrogations he behaved fearlessly, with the dignity of a servant of God. In difficult moments, as he himself said, he fell silent, praying inwardly until he received an inner reply, and without paying attention to the enraged interrogator. Then he gave a fitting reply that broke all the cunning webs of the interrogator, who then, changing his tone, praised the direct and courageous confessor.
The main thing for Fr. Barsanuphius was to keep the commandments of God and the canons of the Church without admitting any concessions. Nothing could make him transgress the established ecclesiastical laws concerning marriages and the burials of, for example, suicides or non-Orthodox.
He was counted worthy of grace-filled revelations and visions. Thus in the camp in Sarov, after he had been beaten, the Lord counted him worthy of an inner spiritual illumination. And during a serious illness he was transported as it were into the other world and had a whole series of visions. And there were others during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
Though an invalid, Fr. Barsanuphius would periodically go to serve his flock in various parts of the Ukraine, Belorussia and the Kuban. During one of his trips, to Odessa at the end of 1936, he was arrested and put in prison, where he was deprived of every means of communication with the outside world. At the end of the investigation, on May 21, 1937, he was sentenced to five years in Kolyma, the coldest part of North-Eastern Siberia. According to some sources, he was released from there on June 13, 1942. However, according to another source, Fr. Barsanuphius did not arrive at the camp. We have no information about the long and difficult journey there in railway cars. But a chance eyewitness described a person who looked just like him and who died in Kamchatka, without arriving in Kolyma....