HIEROMARTYR STEPHEN, BISHOP OF IZHEVSK (+ 1933)
and those with him
By Vladimir Moss
Bishop Stephen (in the world, Valerian Stepanovich Bekh) was born on September 13, 1872 in Zhitomir (according to another source, in the 1870s in Vologda province, and according to a third – in St. Petersburg) in a noble family. He graduated from the juridical faculty of St. Petersburg Imperial University in 1897. On November 8, 1897 he entered Moscow Theological Academy. A year later, when he was to be transferred to the second course, he was released from the Academy at his own request. On July 1, 1899 he was appointed zemstvo leader of the second district of the Yarensk uyezd, Vologda province. On August 15, 1900 he retired from the service, and on January 16, 1901 he was appointed teacher of the Law of God in church-parish schools. In September, 1903 he was again received into the number of the students of the second course at the Moscow Theological Academy.
"This is how Vladyka Stefan became a monk. The future Vladyka Stefan, then a young student, was walking along the street. He saw a big crowd in one entrance and asked:
"'What's going on?'
"'We're waiting for our dear Father John of Kronstadt.'
"A carriage came up. The crowd rushed up to it and pushed the young future bishop so powerfully that he felt towards Fr. John, who was just getting out. He looked at him attentively and went into the house. The crowd remained outside the house. The future bishop also remained, although he didn't know why. Suddenly an unknown person came out of the house and asked:
"'Is so-and-so here?' giving Vladyka Stefan's name in the world.
"'That's me,' said the amazed youth.
"'Batyushka is calling you.'
"His amazement increased. He followed the man who had been sent for him. Fr. John got up to meet him, calling him 'Vladyka'..."
On December 20, 1903 he was tonsured into monasticism. On November 5, 1906 he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1907 he graduated from the Academy with the degree of candidate of theology. On October 11, 1908 he was appointed assistant supervisor of the Solikamsk theological school. From July 28, 1911 he was supervisor of the Mengrelia theological school with the rank of archimandrite. (According to another source, he was ordained to the priesthood and became an archimandrite in about 1919.) From October 8, 1913 he was supervisor of the Bezhetsk theological school. On October 8, 1914 he retired from service in the theological schools and was appointed protopresbyter in the Army and Navy clergy. From October 28, 1915 he was supervisor of the Kargopol theological school. From 1918 to 1920 he was an archimandrite of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. In 1919 he was arrested in Petrograd, but soon released.
On September 26 / October 9, 1921 he was consecrated Bishop of Izhevsk, a vicariate of the Sarapul diocese. He is also mentioned by one source as having been temporary administrator of the Kirov (Vyatka) diocese. On November 9, 1922 he was arrested in Izhevsk and cast into Butyrki prison in Moscow. On December 27 he was sentenced to two (or three) years’ exile in Narymsk region for “counter-revolutionary activity”. At the beginning of 1924 (according to another source, on March 21, 1923) he was again arrested and put in the Taganka prison in Moscow. From there he appealed to E.A. Peshkova of the Political Red Cross to give him a sheepskin coat since “the frosts in Narymsk are savage”. On March 26 he wrote again to Peshkova thanking her and congratulating her on the feast of Holy Pascha. He was sentenced to two years in the camps and sent to Solovki.
In August, 1926 he was released, but encountered problems in Izhevsk, where Bishop Alexis (Kuznetsov) of Sarapul objected to Metropolitan Sergius’ decision to re-open the Izhevsk diocese and succeeded in making Metropolitan Sergius reverse his decision. Although a part of the clergy and laity in Izhevsk did not want to submit to Bishop Alexis, suspecting him because of his temporary fall into renovationism, Bishop Stefan found it difficult to serve in the circumstances and in the autumn of 1926 went into retirement in Petrograd. There he served in the church of St. Alexis the Man of God and, from September 21, 1927, in the church of the Transfiguration.
Elder Sampson (von Sievers) recounted the following incident when he was serving with Bishop Stephen sometime before 1925: "Vladyka Stephen was celebrating the Liturgy in the Krestovoy church in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. I was a hierodeacon. I brought out the Chalice. Vladyka read: 'I believe, O Lord, and I confess', lifted the veil and went pale - it was Human Flesh in Blood! Then he turned to me: 'Look, Father!' What was he to do? He turned and went through the left door while I went with the Chalice through the right door into the altar, and began to pray that the Lord would be merciful: how were we to distribute Human Flesh? Who would take it?... He prayed for about fifteen minutes with arms raised. Then he looked - and again it had taken the form of bread. Then he went out and communicated the people. This incident was known by Metropolitan Gurias, the priest-martyr Lev, who perished in the mines in Karaganda, and, it seems, by monk-martyr Barsanuphius, my favourite..."
Protopriest Fr. Basil Bondyrev, who had been with Vladyka Stephen during his first exile and was later shot, told the following story: "A huge bear lumbered up to us while we were preparing timber. He filled all of us with terror. At that time Vladykya Stephen and I and the other exiles were going to cut timber. Once we were working when we suddenly heard someone crashing through the grove. A bear! We all ran off in different directions. I, too, hid. Then I looked out and saw Vladyka Stephen standing where he was and the bear stretched out at his feet. Vladyka was feeding him with some bread and stroking him. And from that time the bear became completely tame; he would come up and lie down beside Vladyka, who would feed him."
Bishop Stephen enjoyed great authority among the believing people. He was considered to be a clairovoyant elder. He had the courage to tell people exactly what he thought of them.
He was in opposition to both the renovationists and the sergianists, and was the spiritual father of the first bishop who came out openly against Metropolitan Sergius' declaration - Hieromartyr Victor of Glazov. At the beginning of 1928 he was banned from serving by Sergius. According to one (dubious) source, he participated in the “Nomadic Council” of the Catacomb Church in 1928 through Monk Obadiah.
He served in various churches in Petrograd. Natalia Georgievna Kiter tells the following story about him:-
"Mama and I arrived in Petersburg in 1930, after a ten-year absence. Mama was a pensioner (she had been a teacher for many years), and received a pension, I don't remember exactly, of either 12 or 18 roubles a month. She went out one dark and frosty morning and returned only late in the evening, half-dead from tiredness. She hadn't eaten a thing all day.
"'The doctor discovered that I have cancer and has ordered me to have an operation immediately,' she said, dropping exhausted onto the bed.
"My heart trembled, but I tried to say with complete calm:
"'We shall go tomorrow. If one catches it early, it's not dangerous.'
"I spoke confidently in this vein. Mama was calm. I managed to get her into the hospital without any particular difficulty. In the evening I was visited by my neighbour, a very believing and intelligent old woman, Vera Alexandrovna Arbuzova, who lived with her daughter, Musya, a nurse.
"At this time I had no idea of true spiritual life, and only recently, 'to spite the Bolsheviks', I had begun to go to church. My soul had been searching for something for a long time, life seemed pointless. At the age of 18 I had suddenly been attacked by a terrible thought which deprived me of the strength to live. What was the point of working, of studying, of seeking, of hoping for anything, if everything ended in death? At this point my path crossed with that of the theosophists, and their teaching seemed to me, who did not know the truth, to be a revelation. I must add that from the age of 9 I had grown up without the beneficial influence of my deeply and sincerely believing parents. When the persecutions against the Church began, I, out of a confused feeling of protest, began to go to church. There I found rest to my soul, although I had no idea about the true life of the spirit. But the church was the only place where I felt in Russia, where the present disappeared without a trace.
"And now Vera Alexandrovna tried to direct me along the right path. But I didn't give in to her, relying self-confidently on my experience alone.
"'You know, Nata,' she turned to me. 'I want to suggest that you ask Vladyka Stephen. Remember, I told you about him, that he could pray for your mama. Let's go to Pesochnaya tomorrow, to the church where he is.'
"I put no particular hope on the prayers of an unknown bishop, but you clutch onto anything when grief comes.
"The next morning the three of us set off for the Liturgy. During the service I noticed, not far away, among the worshippers, an old, thin monk in a tattered old ryasa. His pale face looked ascetic, and there were straggly strands of grey hair sticking out from under his old skufya. Something drew me to look in his direction.
"After the service Vera Alexandrovna said to me, pointing at the elder:
"The people began to crowd up to him, asking for his blessing. A long queue was formed. We got up. Never before had I kissed the hands of a priest, and I immediately noticed that most people not only kissed Vladyka's hand, but also bowed to the ground before him. I was upset. All this seemed strange and barbarian to me. I was perplexed. How could this be?
"But while I was hesitating, I suddenly saw myself already standing in front of Vladyka. I raised my eyes to him and met his glance. What happened to me then! His glance penetrated into the very depths of my soul and immediately enlightened it, like a flash of lightning. I immediately saw its blackness and all his holiness. Suddenly I felt holiness. This was a new and unusual feeling for me, and I was struck, as if hit by something. Weeping, I fell at his feet and couldn't regain my calm. And to his sympathetic question I could only mutter:
"'Vladyka, pray for mama.'
"'And what is her illness?'
"I told him. He knitted his brow and shook his head.
"'Alright, but you also pray.'
"'I can't, Vladyka.'
"'Pray as you are able. We shall pray together.'
"I returned home somewhat calmer. The operation was appointed for the morning, just at the time of the Liturgy. I rushed straight from the church to the hospital. Would she be alive? In fear and anxiety I went into the ward. From a cot in the distance mama nodded to me, smiling. She was weak, but in full consciousness and kind as always. Musya Abramova told me that the doctor had warned her, since she was a nurse, that he feared that the sick woman would die under the knife... The last words that mama heard were the word of the professor:
"'We must be quick here.'
"But the operation not only went well, there was not even any of the festering from which so many sick people die, and her temperature did not even go up. Mama was released from hospital two weeks later. The stitches healed as if after a shallow cut in a young and healthy person.
"'I don't understand a thing,' said the professor, spreading his hands. It couldn't end like that. The sick said that they were struck how calmly and happily mama went to the serious operation, as if she were going on a walk.
"Mama's first outing was to the church on Pesochnaya. After the service Vladyka had a long, tender conversation with us. He joked, and tried to encourage us. We both wept. We quietly left the church. Vladyka caught up with us; he greeted us, smiling radiantly. His tall figure could be seen for a long time at the end of the alley.
"We didn't see him again. Shortly after this they arrested and exiled him. The accusation was: 'Opium for the people'. And - evidently through the prayers of Vladyka Stephen - mama was given two more years so as to receive a crown to her life so full of harsh suffering - an angelic, monastic crown [with the name Eugenia]....
"Vera Alexandrovna told me how Margarita Jul. Mei had seen mama in a dream on the very day of her death lying in the grave. Beside her stood an unknown elder-monk who was praying fervently. Vera Alexandrovna had had the thought of showing her the photograph of Vladyka Stephen.
"'That's him! That's him!' shouted Margarita Jul., although she had never once seen Vladyka Stephen in the flesh.
"They say that during the fast Vladyka ate nothing except one prosphora a day with holy water.
"'Receive Communion while there is the Chalice,' were his constant words.
"Vera Alexandrovna told the following stories from her life:
"1. Once we were standing in the church. Vladyka Stephen was at the other end blessing the people. I also went up. But Musya said:
"'Wait, let him finish blessing all the women first.'
"Finally we went up. Vladyka smiled and said to us:
'I've finished blessing all the women, now I can bless you, too.'
"Vladyka could not possibly have heard the words that were said in a whisper at the other end of the church. Musya was ready to fall through the earth out of shame! What clairvoyance from the Lord!
"2. There was a lady staying with us, not a church person. Once she said:
"'You keep saying about your bishop that whatever he prays for he receives. I shall go to him. Let him pray that so-and-so gives up his wife and marries me.'
"'Well, you know, I wouldn't advise you to go with such requests to Vladyka.'
"She went. She went ahead of us to receive his blessing. She had hardly opened her mouth when the tenderly smiling face of Vladyka suddenly darkened, he frowned and, without saying a word, turned away from her, and turned to the next person. The lady was very upset both with us and with Vladyka.”
Natalya Kieter continued her reminiscences: "A year passed. I had a dream. A door opened quickly and Vladyka Stephen entered in a fur coat. I had never seen him dressed like that, and he said:
"'I remember, Natalya, I remember.'
"That was all. I woke up. Immediately the news came of his death in exile..."
Vladyka Stefan was arrested in Petrograd in 1929, and was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years’ exile in the village of Pomozdino, Ust-Kulomsky region, Komi ASSR. On September 7, 1932 he was arrested in the village of Bad-Yel, Ust-Kulomsky region, and was cast into prison in Syktyvkar. On April 21, 1933 he was sentenced to be shot in accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11 for creating a counter-revolutionary monarchist church organization, ‘The Union of Peasants’, and leading this organization”. This was part of the group case, “The Case of the Church Counter-Revolutionary Organization, ‘The Union of Peasants’, Komi, 1933”. The sentence was changed to ten years in prison. However, before the sentence could be passed, Bishop Stephen died in prison on March 26 (or, according to another source, April 13/26), 1933.
The following were condemned together with Bishop Stephen in this case:
Priest Basil Andreyevich Ponomarev. He was born in 1869 in the village of Muzhichok, Khotinsky region, Belorussia. He went to Polotsk pedagogical seminary, and began to serve as a priest in Belorussia. In 1929 he was arrested and sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years in exile, which he spent in the village of Kerchemya, Ust-Kulomsky region, Komi. On September 15, 1932 he was arrested while in exile, was cast into prison in Syktyvkar, and on April 16, 1933 was condemned for “participation in the counter-revolutionary church organization, ‘The Union of Peasants’, headed by Bishop Stefan (Bekh)”. In accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11, he was sentenced to three years’ exile in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Priest Vladimir Fyodorovich Bachinsky. He was born in 1870 in the village of Bereznyaki, Kiev province. He went to the Kiev theological seminary and then served in the village of Moshny, Kiev province. In 1928 he went into retirement. In 1930 he was arrested in Moshny and sentenced to three years’ exile in accordance with article 58-10. He was exiled to the village of Pomozdino, Komi, where, on September 15, 1932, he was arrested again and cast in to Syktyvkar prison. On April 27, 1933 he was condemned and was sentenced in accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11, but on October 30, 1933 died in prison.
Priest Alexander Afanasyevich Tsitovich. He was born in 1872 in the village of Berezki, Khotinsky region, Belorussia, and went to a theological school. He served as a reader in Belorussia. In 1927 he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1929 he was arrested, and sentenced to three years’ exile in the village of Vilgort, Ust-Kulomsky region, in accordance with article 58-10. On September 15, 1932 he was arrested again and cast in to Syktyvkar prison. On April 27, 1933 he was condemned and sentenced in accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11 to three years’ exile in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Nun Ierusalima, in the world Catherine Nikitichna Kasif, was born in 1880 in the village of Verknyaya Belozerka, Melitopol province, Ukraine. She went to a church-parish school, and then entered the St. Joseph monastery, serving as treasurer. In 1930 she was arrested and sentenced to three years’ exile in the north in accordance with article 54-10. She was sent to the village of Bad-Yel, Ust-Kulom region, Komi, where, on September 15, 1932, she was arrested again and cast into prison in Syktyvkar. On April 27, 1933 she was convicted and sentenced in accordance with articles 58-10 and 58-11, but was released in view of the time she had already spent in prison. Nothing more is known about her.
Reader Sergius Konstantinovich Popov. He was born in 1878 in the village of Barzhenka, Veliky Ustyug uyezd, Vologda province. He finished three classes at Veliky Ustyug theological school. He went to serve in the Sinegorskaya church, Veliky Ustyug uyezd. During the First World War he served in the army. In 1929 he was arrested, cast into the prison in the village of Kyrnysha, Ust-Kulomsky region, Komi ASSR, and condemned to three years’ exile in accordance with article 58-10. On September 15, 1932 he was arrested while in exile and cast into prison in Syktyvkar. On April 16, 1933 he was convicted in accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11 and was sentenced to three years’ exile in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
Reader Alexander Alexandrovich Tikhomirov. He was born in 1871 in the village of Blagoveschenskoye, Vologda province into the family of a sacristan. He became a reader in Vologda province, but from 1925 to 1930 did not serve in church, but worked on the land. In 1930 he was arrested in his native village and sentenced to three years’ exile in accordance with article 58-10. He was exiled to the village of Kuzminki, Ust-Kulomsky region, Komi ASSR. On September 15, 1932 he was arrested in exile and cast into prison in Syktyvkar. On April 16, 1933 he was convicted in accordance with articles 58-10 part 2 and 58-11 and was sentenced to three years’ exile in the north. Nothing more is known about him.
(Sources: Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky), Die Russischen Orthodoxen Bischofe von 1893-1965, Erlangen, 1989, vol. VI, pp. 237-238; "Episkop Stefan", Russkij Palomnik, N 5, 1992; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyateishago Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 993; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Istoki i Svyazi Katakombnoj Tserkvi v Leningrade i obl. (1922-92 gg.)"; “Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Katakombnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997gg.”, Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4(8), 1997, p. 4; Lev Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-1945, Moscow: Krutitskoye patriarsheye podvorye, 1996, p. 536; Victor Antonov, “Svyashchenomuchenik Mitropolit Iosif v Petrograde”, Vozvrashcheniye, N 4, 1993, pp. 46-52; Michael Shkarovsky, “Iosiflyanskoye Dvizheniye i Oppozitsiya v SSSR (1927-1943)”, Minuvsheye, 15, 1994, pp. 446-463; I.I. Osipova, “Skvoz’ Ogn’ Muchenij i Vody Slyoz”, Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, p. 253 ; M.V. Shkarovsky, Iosiflyanstvo, St. Petersburg, 1999, p. 298 ; http://www.pstbi.ru/ bin/code. exe /frames/m/ind_oem.html?/ans; L.E. Sikorskaya, Vyatksij Ispovednik: Svyatitel’ Viktor (Ostrovidov), Moscow, 2010, p. 149 ; http://www.histor-ipt-kt.org/KNIGA/len.html)