HIEROCONFESSOR NICETAS OF VYATKA (+ 1974)
By Vladimir Moss
It is not known where Protopriest Nicetas (Illarionovich or Ignatyevich Rodionov or Ignatiev) was born. Once he was asked: “Is your homeland far?” “Far, where the vines grow – my homeland is there,” replied batyushka. “When the pilgrims went to Jerusalem, to the Black Sea, they spent the night with us.”
The hospitable house of his parents was always open for wanderers. Fr. Nicetas had a brother, Demetrius, who was eight years older than he, and their father used to explain his hospitality as follows: “I have two sons. Maybe they will have to go wandering…” That’s how it turned out, at any rate in the case of the younger son. Fr. Nicetas said that since his parents gave refuge to pilgrims, he himself was later hidden by kind people.
One old wanderer lived for a long time with his parents, and they buried him… Many years later, Fr. Nicetas would be secretly buried, at great risk, by those who gave him his last shelter.
Fr. Nicetas had a Christian upbringing; he said that he had been close to the Church from his young years, and declined from playing games: “The young people would go and play, but I – to the church…” From his childhood he read and chanted on the kliros, and learned all the services; the boy also read the Apostle, for which he stood on a bench.
Fr. Nicetas’ parents were called Illarion and Euphrosyne. They were tortured by the Bolsheviks – starved to death. They locked them in one of the rooms of their house and didn’t let anyone bring them food, telling everyone that they were ill. But the neighbours knew what kind of illness they had – they said that if they had had something to eat, they would have recovered.
Fr. Nicetas was apparently born at the beginning of the century. Thus when the revolution came he was 16 or 17. It is not known whether his parents were still alive at that time. He was caught by the reds with an appeal in his hands written by a starets called Jonah. The young man was taken to be shot, but on the way he lost consciousness and turned up in hospital, where a doctor he knew helped him to escape.
At some time in his youth, in the south, he met Archimandrite Seraphim and Matushka Catherine (Ilyinichna Golovanova). She was a nun in a monastery whose spiritual father was Archimandrite Seraphim, and had been raised in the monastery since her childhood. The future destiny of Fr. Nicetas was closely bound up with the destinies of these two people, although, unfortunately, we do not know under what circumstances their acquaintance took place. Perhaps it took place later, during his exile in Turkestan, where he was sent for refusing to serve in the Red Army. There were exiled clergy and bishops in Turkestan at that time. Fr. Nicetas met them, and, according to some information, it was there that he was ordained to the priesthood. They said that Archimandrite Seraphim was from some monastery near Tashkent. Perhaps Fr. Nicetas met him during his term of exile?
The exiles wanted to go to the mountains, where there was a place already prepared for them. But then they were scattered, and Fr. Nicetas remained alone. When his term of exile expired, he did not go to be registered, but set off from Moscow, where his brother Demetrius was, serving as a deacon. There also was Archimandrite Seraphim, who had come from Tashkent.
Fr. Nicetas said that during the time of his service in Moscow he twice held the robe of the Saviour in his hands; he raised it and showed the ark in which it was laid to the people. The robe of the Lord was in the Dormition cathedral, so did Fr. Nicetas serve there, or did he receive the holy object during a cross procession?
Fr. Nicetas was not registered in Moscow. His life there became more and more intolerable; they were searching for him, and at one point he had to save himself by jumping out of a moving tram. His position became especially difficult after the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927.
Fr. Nicetas’ name’s day was May 24 according to the old calendar – the feast of St. Nicetas the Stylite.
In Moscow there was a certain matushka who was nicknamed ‘dark’, that is, blind. Once for some reason she started to abuse Fr. Nicetas:
“Schismatic, schismatic, you’ve left Vladyka Sergius?! I’m going to Sergius now; he’ll come for you in a van and take you with him – you’ll serve with him!”
But Fr. Nicetas, without panicking, firmly explained that he would never serve with Metropolitan Sergius, adding:
“He goes round Moscow in a van by day, while I walk the streets by night…”
“What’s your name? Nicetas?” asked the clairvoyant matushka (she did not know his name).
At that point matushka as it were struck Fr. Nicetas on the head with the palm of her hand.
“So be a pillar of Orthodoxy!”
She had been testing him by reviling him as a schismatic…
It was during his time in Moscow that Fr. Nicetas got to know Bishop Maximus (Zhizhilenko), who had been consecrated to the episcopate with the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon specially for the Catacomb Church. They even rented a room together, but unfortunately nothing is known of their life together except the following tragic episode.
As they were returning home one evening, Bishop Maximus and Fr. Nicetas noticed a light shining in the windows of their room. This put them on their guard. “Something’s not right: there’s a light burning in the house, and our room is lit up…”
Fr. Nicetas went to the back door: the landlady, recognizing him, waved him away. It turned out that a search was taking place in their room: one policeman was rummaging in their things, while the other was dozing at the table. Fr. Nicetas tried to take Bishop Maximus away, but he decisively refused: “I have to go – my mitre and vestments are there!” He didn’t want to leave his hierarchical vestments in the hands of the police, so he went to the room and was arrested…
We don’t know whether this was the same arrest that brought Bishop Maximus to Solovki… But we know that on Solovki Bishop Maximus met the other Catacomb Bishops Victor of Vyatka and Nectarius of Yaransk. It was with the blessing of Bishop Nectarius that Fr. Nicetas was to carry out his service in Vyatka province…
This took place as follows. After Bishop Maximus’ arrest, they continued hunting for Fr. Nicetas, and it became impossible for him to stay any longer in Moscow. Archimandrite Seraphim was at that time in Yoshkar-Ola; and it was from there that Fr. Nicetas received an invitation to go to him. According to one version, this letter contained the advice to go to Kazan on his way, and meet Vladyka Nectarius. According to other versions, Fr. Nicetas first went to Fr. Seraphim in Yoshkar-Ola, and from there was sent by him to Bishop Nectarius in Kazan. “You go to Vladyka,” he said; “he’ll decide your course…”
Fr. Nicetas recounts: “I went to Kazan, and searched for the street, and the number of the house… I arrived – he was doing some carpentry. He was not tall, dressed in civil clothes and a jacket. “How can I find Vladyka Nectarius and see him?” “Right now,” he said, “you’ll see him.” He turned quickly – he was brisk, young, he’d only just left the Academy, He went up, put on his cassock, ryassa and klobuk, and said: “Here’s Vladyka Nectarius for you.”
Fr. Nectarius took his blessing and confessed that he felt awkward in front of Vladyka: “I took you for a novice…” “That’s nothing – I took you for a metropolitan…”
Fr. Nicetas was indeed impressive, good-looking. According to his spiritual children he was gifted both with good looks and height and a beautiful voice and hair…
Speaking about his voice: after the conversation, Vladyka Nectarius took Fr. Nicetas out of the cell to sing near the yard. When he began to sing, the neighbours began to run up and listen…
During their conversation, Fr. Nicetas said that he had not signed the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and after that was subject to persecutions in Moscow, so that it had become impossible for him to stay there. “Archimandrite Seraphim advised me to come to you, Vladyka…”
“So go to Vyatka province,” said Vladyka. “Go to Sanchursk, live there, it’s a bit quieter…“ And Bishop Nectarius wrote a paper with approximately the following content: “I allow Protopriest Nicetas Ignatyevich to serve in all the Orthodox churches of Yaransk diocese…” (At that time there still existed Orthodox churches subject to Bishop Nectarius, which he ruled from Kazan.). “Vladyka, I just went to stay with Fr. Seraphim, just for two weeks…” Vladyka slapped him on the shoulder: “Perhaps for twenty years…”
His prophetic words were fulfilled twice over – Protopriest Nicetas spent, not twenty, but forty years in those regions…
Having spent the night with Vladyka, in the morning Fr. Nicetas went to Yoshkar-Ola, where a telegram, like the finger of destiny, came for him: in the village of Gorodishche they had seized a priest… He had to obey the Bishop and set off for the vacant place in Gorodishche, the more so in that he had failed to resolve his destiny in any other way: Fr. Nicetas had nowhere to return to. They used to travel by cart in those days; they found such a transport, and just as they arrived at Gorodishche the wheel fell off, as if it had been waiting just for that…
The villagers were overjoyed at the arrival of Fr. Nicetas; there had been an elder Miron in those parts who had prophesied: the hill of Gorodishche will be covered with velvet… And truly it was covered with people as if with velvet: parishioners came to it from all sides, both on foot and on horse, so as to delight in the services of Fr. Nicetas. During the service, they say, no one left the church, and at the end the people did not want to disperse, as if waiting for something… This waiting was characteristic of people who, it seemed, had been starved of a true pastor, who did not know how to act at this terrible crisis in Russian life. Fr. Nicetas gave everyone the advice not to join the collective farms…
But disagreements began with the second priest, Fr. D., apparently because of his jealousy. The wife of this priest even went to Vladyka Nectarius with some kind of complaints against Fr. Nicetas. She came into the Bishop’s cell without a scarf: “So.. go away,” said Vladyka. She waited and waited, and went in again, but again without a scarf – and the hierarch again drove her out.
At this time in the village of Tabashino they had constructed a new church, and the local fool-for-Christ used to say as he walked near it: “A new church, but no batyushka. There’s only one batyushka, a long way away – Fr. Nicetas…”
Then the brother-builders went to Vladyka Nectarius and asked that Fr. Nicetas be sent to them. The Bishop looked favourably on their request. But even at this new place Fr. Nicetas’s life was not without sorrow.
The warden of the church in Gorodishche demanded the return of the batyushka they had come to love; the priest who survived Fr. Nicetas, they said, got so angry that it even got to the stage that his kamilavka rolled over the floor of the church… They returned Fr. Nicetas to Gorodishche; but sorrows followed him wherever he went.
It was about 1929, and he began to be followed. The police attacked him; first two, then four fell on him. They tried to force him to cut his hair, but he didn’t give in. They struck his head on the bench, and he lost consciousness. When he came to there were blood-covered hairs all round him – he had been shorn… They didn’t even let him gather up his hair… But they let him go.
Fr. Nicetas continued to say: “Even if you’re down to your last shirt, don’t go into the collective farm…”
Once a GPU chief dressed in a sheepskin coat came to him for confession, to hear what the priest was teaching the people. Fr. Nicetas told him, too, not to go to the collective farm – the same as he told everyone at confession. But he felt something not good in this “confessor” and noted that he did not come up for Communion.
Two weeks later, Fr. Nicetas and Matushka Golovanova, who was his reader at that time, went to friends for a cup of tea. When they returned, batyushka did not go to bed. The bed in his room remained undisturbed. Batyushka himself told the story: “I sat down and kept on sitting, fur cap in hand, without undressing. I felt a pain in my heart – probably something was going to happen.” There was a knock at the window. “They’re coming to take me,” said Fr. Nicetas with conviction.
Matushka Golovanova went with a candle in her hand to see who the uninvited guests were. The door of the cabin opened outwards, and Fr. Nicetas stood behind the opened door in the hall. The “guests” hurled themselves from the street into the hall and suddenly found themselves in impenetrable darkness. “Oh, the candle’s gone out!” cried matushka. Go into the living-room - it’s light there.” As they went into the lit up part of the house, Fr. Nicetas left the house: he was quite ready for the arrival of the “guests” and he even had his outdoor clothing on.
“Where is batyushka?” asked the “guests”. “He’s been called for some need to Serkovo.”
They looked round the house. Batyushka’s bunk was undisturbed – when they had checked they went to Serkovo.
That was how Fr. Nicetas’ parish life came to an end. After serving a moleben in the church for the last time, Fr. Nicetas started a life of wandering. His heart told him that he would not serve in a church again in this life. And perhaps he shouldn’t?
Fr. Nicetas stayed sometimes for one night, sometimes for two, sometimes for a month. Matushka Golovanova went for some time to Kiknursky region as a reader; she had a cell there. She chanted on the kliros, and herself drew orphans to church chanting. This was how she educated them.
It was difficult until the war, then it became still harder. During the war there was a kind of break in Fr. Nicetas’ Vyatka life. Before the war he again went to Moscow, where Archimandrite Seraphim and many of their acquaintances were gathered. They had much to talk about… But it was impossible to stay long in Moscow, and the day came when Archimandrite Seraphim said to Fr. Nicetas: “Return to Vyatka.” “You know, I have no documents.” “There’s your document,” said Fr. Seraphim, pointing upwards with his hand, “- the Lord!”
It was impossible to travel in wartime without being checked; and this time guards were walking with torches from both ends of the carriage.
“The man checking me trained his torch on me,” said Fr. Nicetas. “I had no documents, only an icon of the Vladimir Mother of God hidden on my breast…”
The guard looked in silence at Fr. Nicetas for some time, while Fr. Nicetas looked at him… Those accompanying batyushka almost died from fear.
Then the second guard came up: “Well, why aren’t you checking him?” “All done, let’s go,” replied his comrade unexpectedly.
Everybody was amazed that they hadn’t checked them. Fr. Nicetas especially venerated the Vladimir icon of the Mother of God, and she saved him more than once…
But again it was impossible to avoid sorrows. On returning from Moscow, Fr. Nicetas discovered that there had been a search at his last refuge, some valuable vessels and white vestments that batyushka especially valued (they were prepared for his burial) had disappeared. The strain from his emotions was too much for him and Fr. Nicetas fainted and fell, and hit his face so hard that a swelling appeared which remained with him for a long time. Eventually he healed it by applying oil from a lampada.
Were there any days in Fr. Nicetas’ wandering life when he experienced no feeling of alarm and which he passed in peace? We don’t know of any, his spiritual children remembered only unceasingly anxious days. It goes without saying that the authorities were tormented with the thought that Fr. Nicetas was hiding somewhere in the region. Already all the other well-known catacomb priests had been arrested, including Fr. John Razgulin, otherwise known as Lisinsky from the village of Russkaya Lisa where he was born in about 1906-07. He had been ordained by Vladyka Nectarius in Kazan, but, because of his lack of knowledge and preparedness, had not been given the right to serve. Vladyka Nectarius had ordained him as it were in advance, for the last times, in case there was no one left who could give the Christians the Holy Gifts. It only remained to Fr. John to acquire the wisdom of priestly service; but, on his return journey from the Bishop, arriving in one of the villages on a feastday, when the priests went out for the litia, he, too, without the blessing of the Bishop, appeared next to them in priestly vestments, which greatly amazed the local inhabitants, who whispered: “Look, Ivanushka’s a pope!” Apparently the rumours spread quickly, and a little later the incautious Fr. John was arrested, which was the result of his disobedience to his Bishop. Fr. John Lisinsky was about ten years in prison and died already at the end of the 1970s, remaining a secret priest. But since he had undertaken to serve the Divine Liturgy without the blessing of his Bishop, he apparently did not have a big flock.
Also arrested was the notable pastor Fr. John Protasov, who was remembered with gratitude for many years and before his death in prison succeeded in transferring his flock to Fr. Nicetas. And Fr. Nicetas remained the only priest in the whole region – his single combat with the atheist authorities had begun.
The police in five regions searched and searched for Fr. Nicetas, but could not catch him. Every day he was conscious that they were after him. Only God, Fr. Nicetas and his spiritual children know what this cost him. But this spiritual unity of theirs was worthy more than life. “For us he was irreplaceable,” remembered his children. “For us he was a great elder.” But they added: “Like every man, he wanted to live…” And he said to them: “If our Church will manage to come out into freedom, if I will be able to come out of the house without hiding – don’t tell me immediately, I won’t be able to bear it.”
Fr. Nicetas found a temporary refuge with one widow in the village of Krutoi, Lisisnky region. At that time they were conducting a search throughout the village – they were looking for deserters. Stopping at the house of the widow, the searchers unexpectedly decided to display some uncharacteristic mercy: “Don’t go to her, we won’t trouble the old woman…” But if they had found the priest in her house, they would certainly have “troubled” her. All ages were suitable for prison, and there quite enough old people in the Soviet prisons – apparently old women presented a special threat for Soviet power… This was just one day out of thousands which brought this kind of alarm.
Another day, in another place, they were also searching for deserters. But when they failed to find them they decided to change from hunting men to hunting thrushes. There were shots, whose cause Fr. Nicetas did not know, he only heard them beginning to beat on their gates and shout: “Here!” How was batyushka to know that a shot thrush had fallen into their yard, and the hunters of me just wanted to take the bird to show what good shots they were…
Batyushka had an attack of nerves and was too frightened to remain there. So when a neighbour with children who lived about ten houses away came into the house, he took hold of her like a little child and said: “Take me to your house!” She took him to her shed, where they made a hole out of straw and put Fr. Nicetas there. He lay there for three months without straightening up; he just cut out a little chink with his knife to see the light, and prayed. The mistress of the house did not always bring him food; if she didn’t bring him bread, batyushka would remain hungry. After these three months he could hardly stand on his feet, he continually fell and could hardly comb his hair…
It was difficult to find a refuge for batyushka. Some feared to have him in their house, others were in a dangerous situation for one reason or another. On the house-owners there lay a particularly heavy burden of responsibility, and during the secret services, which took place, of course, at night, they usually didn’t so much pray, as watched. There were false alarms – but, alas, not always false. The secret had to be kept so strictly that, for example, if two people came to batyushka they were not allowed to talk to each other about it.
The situation was so dangerous that Fr. Nicetas’ parishioners decided to move him to another region 50 kilometres away, where they thought it would be less dangerous. But to move 50 kilometres was easier said than done. A simple matter of a walk by foot was turned into a complicated operation. Fr. Nicetas with his big beard was very conspicuous, so he had to pretend to be a hunched-up old man with a pile of bast shoes on his back going to the bazaar. The roads were covered by the police, so they had to go along a path through the fields of rye. Boys went out in front to see whether it was safe for batyushka and those accompanying him to leave the village. By the time the boys returned, two policemen were already on guard along the path; if batyushka had tarried just a little longer, he wouldn’t have got through…
But when they arrived in their destination, the village of Sobolyak, another difficulty awaited them. It turned out that the woman had invited Fr. Nicetas only in order to serve some kind of need, and not at all in order to give him a place to stay. Those accompanying batyushka, his devoted spiritual children, were so filled with sorrow at the prospect of leaving him that they couldn’t restrain their tears. “What are you crying for?” said the mistress of the house. “Take your batyushka back with you!” She was frightened of taking him. Now it was time to weep for batyushka, whose legs were covered in blood after the long and dangerous journey. He was too weak to return, and besides, returning was very risky. The woman’s heart softened when Fr. Nicetas foretold the return of her husband, from whom she had had no news for a long time: “Write down the date and the time, and make ready a parcel for the prison – your husband will be alive.” And indeed, after some time she received a letter from her husband, and he himself soon appeared with a wounded arm.
Fr. Nicetas returned to Sanchuk region and lived in a village nicknamed “Pig’s clearing” with an old woman. When she left the house, batyushka would lock it from the inside on hook, which the old woman would open on her return by pushing a stick through the hole. Once when she was away some people came up to the house and began to knock and push on the door: “It’s locked from inside, she’s not opening up – it’s obvious she’s dead!” Fr. Nicetas was standing behind the door holding the hook… Alas there were few in whose hearts were preserved the words: “I will not give the Mystery to Thine enemy…” There were far more who would give away the mystery than keep it; they would either make a denunciation or let the cat out of the bag. This woman suffered because of that.
One nun of the Catacomb Church, remembering that time, says: “Can a man living in freedom stand what a hunted man experiences…?” It is hard for us to understand now how real and terrible that threat was. 40 people suffered for Fr. Nicetas at one time (according to another source – 30 at first, and 10 later). Batyushka went from place to place, they couldn’t catch him, so they began to arrest his spiritual children. One woman was arrested just for giving him some cream. It seems that in her simplicity she didn’t think of hiding that from the persecutors. They tortured those whom they arrested, beat them, demanding the addresses where batyushka was hiding.
Among those arrested was Matushka Catherine Golovanova. She was arrested twice. The first time they came and tried to torture her to reveal where Fr. Nicetas was; two policmen dressed in civil clothes took her to the house which they had under surveillance – an elderly man and his wife were living there. On seeing matushka, they rejoiced, and the wife, thinking that matushka was accompanied by her own people, started to talk joyfully. Matushka couldn’t stop her because the police were careful that she not give her any sign. The woman gave away the secret of Fr. Nicetas’ whereabouts: “O Matushka, dear one, how are you? You know, we accompanied Fr. Nicetas like this: we hung a bag full of shoes on him and he went…” Matushka finally succeeded in winking at her, the woman stopped short. “Well, why have you stopped?” asked the searchers. “I remember nothing…” “We’ll lean on you now – you’ll remember.” They took off their outer clothing, under which, as under a sheep skin, was the inner wolf – policeman’s uniforms and guns. But it was already late, and the exhausted police wanted to go to sleep. One was dozing at the table, the other was at the threshold – he was evidently guarding the door to prevent matushka running away. Matushka waited and waited, then she opened a window and ran away. She was on the run for half a year, and then they arrested her again. “Well, then,” they said, “how did you run away?” “How? Well, they were sleeping and I thought: why should I simply sit here, I opened the window and left.” “You did well,” they said. But now they didn’t doze. They condemned all forty at one go (according to another source – thirty at the beginning). Matushka Golovanova was the chief culprit. They really gave it to her at the interrogation: many years later Matushka S. saw scars from the interrogations on her back.
They tortured them so much that some of them couldn’t stand it and revealed the addresses where they could find Fr. Nicetas; but it seems that the pursuers had so despaired of catching Fr. Nicetas that they didn’t believe them even when they told them the truth.
At the trial one woman in her simplicity said: “If you let me go, I’ll go to Fr. Nicetas again the same day.” Not believing her, they said: “We’ve been looking for him for so many years without finding him, and you’ll find where he is in one day?!”
They gave Fr. Nicetas’ parishioners sentences of many years in length. Matushka Golovanova was given twelve years, two of them in a lock-up…
While Fr. Nicetas’ spiritual children were going to suffer, he himself had another thirty years of suffering and wanderings ahead of him. And he was surrounded by the sufferings of the people; the war tormented Russia, their own Russian people tormented the Russian people. So often they would go up to door, enter as if they were the masters, say to the servants of God: “Time’s up!” and take them away, together with their last possessions…
Batyushka came to Shamakovo in Kiknursky region. The father and two sons were at the front, the mother of the house remained with the young children. They had taken everything away, so they boiled the tea and the soup in the mortar, they didn’t even have any spoons. The sated man is no friend to the hungry, but in this house batyushka was given a refuge – God preserved him…
And it was amazing that what the majority of the Russian adults had forgotten how to do – keep secret, the children in these families where Fr. Nicetas was concealed were able to do.
Later, when they were grown up and had preserved this great secret of love and faithfulness in their hearts, they rememberd how Fr. Nicetas had brought them up – he taught them about the life to come. He said to the children: “If I didn’t believe in the future life, I wouldn’t be hiding, but would go out onto the street and walk, or go by car… This temporary life passes, and however long you live you’ll have to answer at the Terrible Judgement. These are only temporary sufferings. Let us endure. Prepare yourselves – perhaps you’ll have to suffer.
At confession he insisted: “Be meek and humble, do good works” – and they received these instructions with all their heart, both his big and his small spiritual children. The seed fell on good ground, and these words did not remain simple words. There are no meeker or humbler people in Rus’ than the children of these secret batyushkas, the children of the True Orthodox Church. And there are no firmer, more unshakeable people in Rus’ than they.
Fr. Nicetas loved to joke, especially with children. He loved to read verses; the kids would come in and batyushka would meet them:
There was a fight in the yard,
The bull fought with the pigs.
The chickens went onto the attack –
A bloody battle began!
There were verses on more serious themes, about Lenin and Stalin:
They’ve lost the whole of Russia,
The two mad fools…
And so Fr. Nicetas went from house to house in that most terrible time. He lived in one family where he served in a hut which the neighbours passed on their way to get water. The service was going on while behind the wall the neighbour’s bucket was tinkling as he went towards the well. The owners just couldn’t understand how they hadn’t been caught. Batyushka did think of settling with an old woman from his parishioners. But the enemy was everywhere; her sister was caught and sentenced to ten years for refusing to vote. He had to leave again…
It is known that Fr. Nicetas did not allow people to enter the collective farms or to vote. One could say: did he not demand too much from his spiritual children, if they were threatened with prison for that? In our lukewarm time we have different ideas, and it’s not done to remember the example of St. Sophia, who blessed her three children to torments for Christ. That was the position of Fr. Nicetas and other catacomb priests. It looks strange when compared with the mass of Soviet clergy, who from the ambon blessed their children to go and vote, so as to give their voices for the communists, for “the ideal man” – Stalin, who blessed their flocks to lie and be hypocritical without limit, and to carry out all the demands of the antichristian authorities… They will say: Fr. Nicetas and those like him were strict! But did they really love their flock more, did they really care for it more when they blessed the Russian people to deliver themselves into the most fearful slavery that has ever been seen on earth?
The absolutely rightless Russian slaves laboured on “the great constructions of communism” until they fell dead. These same slaves, turned into living frozen skeletons, mined gold in the mines of Kolyma in 50 degrees of frost and looked for opportunities to cling to the boxes in which the bosses warmed themselves at the stoves, so as to gulp down, if only for a moment, the warm air, getting in return for that gulp of warmth a kick up the ass… In earlier historical periods, the learned historians tell us, masters valued their slaves and took care that they were well-fed. But there was no point in these masters feeding their slaves: in place of the one who died of hunger several more would come…
And one of the forms of this unheard of slavery was the collective farm.
One of Fr. Nicetas’ parishioners left the collective farm. They arrested her and began to ask her about everything: why she didn’t go to the elections, why she didn’t go to the church. That [Sergianist] church was necessary for the Soviets – to make them obey Soviet power, whose herald it was.
They gave her eight years, although she had four children. The person who took her away from her children received half a pound of oil. But the workers on the collective farm worked without being paid. The milk went to the milk factory, and the oil – to the executioners and above – to their bosses and the bosses of bosses… It was real slavery; which was why they persecuted those who did not want to enter slavery so cruelly And in spite of the fact that those on their own were threatened with prison, the collective farm-workers envied them and said: you live like tsars… Although there was not much to envy: they didn’t let the cow of the private worker into the field, he had to pay 200 working days for the right of keeping a goat. It came to the point that in one village the president even said to one person who did not want to enter the collective farm: your land is not yours – it belongs to the collective farm; don’t you dare to cross the threshold! If the old house was destroyed, they didn’t allow them to build a new one or even repair the old one. They had to lay new foundations or replace rotten blinds secretly, at night. Once Fr. Nicetas’ parishioners nevertheless succeeded in building a new house, and they had to roll it onto the site of the old one – as if it had always been there.
They will say: Fr. Nicetas was too strict, insisting that his spiritual children did not enter the collective farms and kept their individual holdings. Yes, on the background of the general mindless obedience the refusal to enter the collective farm was a podvig which involved the bearing of sorrows, sometimes up to prison and death. But did not those who blessed the Russian people to obey the antichristian authorities condemn them to worse sufferings even here on earth, not to speak of eternal life? And what if all the batyushkas – or at any rate the majority of them – had acted as Fr. Nicetas did? It would probably have been harder to drive the Russian people into this yoke: after all, the people were waiting for the decisive word of the Church. Nevertheless, there were many Russian people who put up a firm spiritual resistance to the violence of the satanists. Of course, these spiritually strong people were able to find for themselves true pastors, but, on the other hand, you could equally say that it was precisely these true pastors who nurtured and educated such a strong flock.
Only gradually did the renovationist clergy re-educate the Russian people, training them all to think that for the sake of the preservation of life one could surrender one’s faith – and as a result the people lost both faith and life… “He who wishes to save his life will lose it; while he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8. 35).
In her childhood Matushka S. had a friend, who once went to a neighbouring village and did not return home. Matushka went to look for her; someone told her that the police had taken the girl in the field and put her in a tarantass. They let her out five days later. On meeting Matushka S. the girl said:
“Don’t give the impression that you are friendly with me…”
“Oh, what happened!”
Then she said that for three days and nights they had not let her eat or drink or sleep, and every night they interrogated her. They asked her: why don’t you join the collective farm, why don’t you marry, why don’t you go to church? This concern that citizens should visit the sergianist church was very characteristic of Soviet power. And do you know such-and-such? they continued to interrogate her. When she replied: “no” or “I don’t know” to all the questions, they threatened her that they wouldn’t let her out until she had signed that she would point the finger at such-and-such and such-and-such. The young victim, who was in her nineteenth year, couldn’t hold out and signed, and now she was frightened of speaking with her friend.
The investigator appointed a place of meeting in the thickets by the river, saying that a piece of paper or a cloth attached to a branch would signify the place. When she came for the meeting, she said only one thing:
“I know nothing, I don’t know them…”
“But you know such-and-such, and such-and-such. Go and listen to what they’re saying!” were his instructions.
Unable to endure such a life, the girl got a passport and went to her aunt, where she joined a sewing factory. After some time her mother went to see her daughter. But on the first evening a policemen appeared to check her documents.
“Well, stay for a month,” he said kindly.
Exactly a month later he appeared again. Unable to leave again, the frightened woman, knowing what this meeting held in store for her, tried to hide under the bed, but even there the policeman spied her out and ordered to come out. And he led her, knee-deep in the snow, saying all the while:
“Oh, I’m so sorry for you, the way you’re walking…”
Pity did not prevent this state criminal from being incarcerated in Perm. During the interrogations they kept asking her:
“What is your faith?”
“I’m an Orthodox Christian.”
“So you’re Orthodox… No, tell us what faith you adhere to.”
“I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…”
“No, what is your confession of faith.”
The poor woman couldn’t make out what they were wanted from her and finally she blurted out:
“I’m a True Orthodox Christian.”
“There – you should have said that long ago!”
They gathered from her that she belonged to the Tikhonite tendency. They gave her ten years. Such charges as: belonging to the True Orthodox Church of the Tikhonite orientation still produced long sentences. In 1958 a nun of the Catacomb Church was condemned on such a charge, and there were many like her.
At the same time that they were condemning the mother of the girl to ten years, they also took her acquaintance. The investigator began to ask:
“Well, tell us: did you go to secret batyushkas?”
“But she went to your place and received communion in your place,” suddenly said the woman.
The investigator laughed. Some time ago he had gone to a village, claiming that he was a secret priest and, what is more, the son of the Tsar, Alexis Nikolayevich, who had supposedly been saved and received priestly ordination. When some trusting visitors decided to fast in preparation for communion, the mistress of the house said:
“You sleep here, and batyushka over there in that room. Don’t disturb him, he’ll be sleeping the whole night… The women couldn’t stand it, after a time they looked through a crack in the half-open door – they very much wanted to see how the holy batyushka was praying, and to be joined to his prayerful spirit… But “batyushka” wasn’t at all thinking of praying, he was in deep sleep, spread-eagled over the whole width of the bed.
“Let’s not receive communion from him, something’s not right here…” decided the women.
The “batyushka’s” purpose was to find out who went to the secret Church. For this, as we can see, he didn’t shun any means.
In the house where Fr. Nicetas was living the mistress’ son had returned from the army; the boys and girls were walking together; the mother suddenly saw that her son was being taken by two unknown men into the rye field. She was frightened, her heart missed a beat. Not far away she noticed a van. It turned out that the bosses had come and were trying to persuade her son:
“You’ve served in the army – now you’re a Soviet person. Now they’ve released the 58-ers, watch your mother, she’s an elderly person – see whether a man with a knapsack comes to her…”
The young man told all this to batyushka. He advised him: when they come the next time, ask them how much they will give you for this. When the son did this, they replied:
“We will show our gratitude.”
The young man couldn’t stand it: “No, I won’t accept the lot of Judas!”
They left him… But it was already impossible for Fr. Nicetas to stay in the house, which was being watched by the police.
And so once again Fr. Nicetas was living in a shack, sometimes in a store-room. Or they would section off a small room…
Once at Pascha Fr. Nicetas was serving in a narrow little store-room, half of which was curtained off. During the Paschal service the priest has to change his vestments, and Fr. Nicetas couldn’t do this without an assistant. He remembered a service in a big Moscow church where the choir alone numbered 70 chanters, - all the circumstances of his long and much-suffering life appeared in a flash before his mental gaze, - and Batyushka fell onto the altar and wept – as an eye-witness remembers – like a child… But Batyushka was immediately consoled, for the Saviour appeared to him at that moment and strengthened him. He ordered that this incident should not be related to others until after his death…
While ahead of him there were still more temptations.
One night the neighbour’s house was on fire. The people gathered to look, as in a bazaar. Batyushka’s frightened spiritual children ran up and asked the mistress of the house where batyushka was. She didn’t know. It turned out that batushka was in a shack, not knowing how he could get out when the people were all around. The neighbouring shack was already on fire, the sparks were flying; it was only 200 or 300 metres to the wood. Batyushka gave his devoted parishioner the church utensils; they finally plucked up courage to leave. Some thought that they were leading out an old man, others – that it was Fr. John Lysinsky.
It was winter; they buried the suitcase in the woods in the snow; they wanted to go on on skis, but batyushka couldn’t. The parishioner’s family went home from the fire and began to call out to them in the woods: they thought that he had been captured. Fr. Nicetas said:
“Go to the neighbouring village, tell them that I wasn’t in the fire, I was with auntie…”
“What do you mean: you weren’t in the fire, your whole back is burnt…”
Later there were many rumours about that fire. The women gathered together in a huddle and put the question straight:
“Tell us, who was with you?”
Batyushka went fifty kilometres away. His spiritual children who remained in the previous placed did not dare even to ask where he was… They were afraid to pronounce his name aloud.
Yes, the 58-ers were released, in the big cities a “thaw” took place, a new generation of Soviet people grew up, a far more carefree generation that the previous one, and it seemed that those who were still alive from the older generation could begin to live more freely. And only for Fr. Nicetas and his faithful children did not consolation come. Many people began to come to him, once nine people at once – such meetings could not remain unnoticed. Fear for batyushka began to grow in the hearts of his children; Matushka Golovanova, who had already been released for some years now, was also worried. She wrote to batushka that it was time for him to change his flat, and he began to prepare to leave. But the owners of the house were very much against his moving, and detained him almost by force. Perhaps they liked having such a remarkable peson with them; besides, he received many parcels.
At the feast of the Annunciation there was a service, and on the next day (fortunately, not on the feast itself, when many people came), the president, the accountant and the party committee arrived. They noticed a lamp and a man’s hand pulling the curtain to in the uninhabited part of the house where Fr. Nicetas lived And in the inhabited part they came upon a woman they didn’t know, one of Fr. Nicetas’ parishioners, who said she was a seamstress. Without wasting time to work out who she was, they began to break down the door – it was sealed from the house, and the entrance was from the courtyard.
Fr. Nicetas was hiding in the basement, in such a shallow space that he could only lie down in it. The accountant looked into the basement and saw a grey-haired old man lying there. And again, as in the train, an icon of the Vladimir Mother of God was on Fr. Nicetas’ breast…
The clerk slammed the hatch down and said: “Nobody there!”
Many years later, he explained his action thus: “I didn’t want him to..” – and here he added a strong expression – “on my grave…”
The visitors took two or three suitcases with ryasas, some lengths of good material, a Gospel in a golden setting, an altar cross with some precious adornments and some crosses to be worn on the breast. Although the police were informed, the investigation proceeded slowly. Perhaps they shared that which they had plundered amongst themselves, for only a part – and not the most valuable part – was displayed in the village soviet, as if in a museum. Some foreign balsam was displayed for all to see, but the altar cross, for example, had disappeared…
Now, of course, Fr. Nicetas’ landlords who had so insistently detained him earlier, immediately asked him to leave. By this time batyushka was old and sick and moved with difficulty, and he had nowhere to go – everyone feared to take him in. He spent some days in an uninhabited house, then with an old woman, until that same parishioner who had led him out of the fire found him. They had to go many kilometres, but batyushka was exhausted and could go only three houses away. After asking the old woman to shelter him for a little longer, the parishioner went off in search of help. This time six people came – four men and two women. They were ready to carry batyushka and had made a stretcher. When batyushka came out to them and saw the stretcher he said:
“What kind of boards are these?”
They explained that they were going to carry him, but he refused outright. They set off on foot; one went in front as a scout while the others supported batyushka on both sides. This was after the Annunciation, at the wettest and muddiest time of the spring thaw. And they went at night because they feared to go during the day.
Batyushka’s legs just wouldn’t carry him, and they managed to go only about two kilometres before stopping in an uninhabited village. While batyushka was resting on some straw in the bath-house, the others tried to construct a raft made out of logs from another bathhouse. But batyushka also refused this method of transport. So they had to walk…
It was eight or nine kilometres to the next village. They stopped in an uninhabited house – to get into it they had to break down the fence and take away the roof. They found some coal and burned it, so as to get at least a little warm without drawing attention to themselves with the smoke. It was so cold that after putting on his boots on his soaked feet, one of the men stamped up and down on the same spot for half a day “like a physical culture instructor”.
When they finally got to the first big settlement, from where they hoped to take batyushka out in a car, it turned out that the place was full of police – apparently they had begun to look for batyushka. Fortunately, the wind had broken the wires supplying electricity, and under cover of the darkness into which the village had been plunged they were able to take batyushka down the streets. But where to go – that was the big question. And once again Fr. Nicetas had to take shelter in a shack. Only the mistress of the house knew about this, the rest of the family, which included one of the bosses, suspected nothing. They made a nest for Fr. Nicetas in the straw of the shack, where the tormented sick man had to spend a week until his children could find a car with a reliable driver.
Finally, Fr. Nicetas was taken to where he spent the remainder of his life until his death in 1974. Surrounded by care and love, he could rest a bit… But his illness became worse. He tried to hide his increasing sufferings, because he knew that his death and burial would impose a heavy burden on those giving him shelter. How and where were they to bury a man whom, according to Soviet power, was not supposed to exist?
For many years Fr. Nicetas commemorated Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, Archbishop Victor of Vyatka and Glazov and Archbishop Nectarius of Yaransk. And not having certain news of their deaths, he continued to commemorate for some years after their deaths. But then he was for a time without a bishop to commemorate. This naturally worried him. But in about 1955 he came under the omophorion of Archbishop Anthony Galynsky-Mikhailovsky. This took place as follows.
When Matushka Catherine Golovanova was put in the camps, she got to know a woman called Daria Pavlovna, and through her she got to know about Archbishop Anthony. Daria Pavlovna was serving an eight-year sentence and had been arrested at the same time as Archbishop Anthony, with whom she had prayed in the same house. Their places of imprisonment were not far from each other , so somehow they were able to correspond, putting little notes in holes or under logs. And Vladyka greatly consoled and strengthened Daria Pavlovna with these notes.
When Matushka Golovanova returned from the camps, she of course told Fr. Nicetas about the remarkable Catacomb hierarch. Her information was confirmed by the Catacomb batyushka Fr. Athanasius, who had returned from exile. He had served three sentences of eight years, five years and three years. He had been ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Nectarius before the declaration of 1927; and since he had refused to sign the declaration he had been immediately arrested. On being released, he went to Vladyka Anthony in Armavir and received ordination to the priesthood from him. Since the authorities knew about him, he did not have to hide as much as Fr. Nicetas did, and batyushka sometimes went to Fr. Athanasius for help. Once a sick girl had to be united to the Church. She couldn’t be taken to Fr. Nicetas, nor could batyushka, who was also sick, go to her. So he ordered that Fr. Athanasius be invited. Fr. Athanasius was able to go long distances around – for example, to Kozmodemyansk. So whoever could not go to Fr. Nicetas went to him.
So through Fr. Athanasius Fr. Nicetas came under the omophorion of Archbishop Anthony, and he now commemorated Metropolitan Philaret, first-hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, and Archbishop Anthony.
Another of the priests under Archbishop Anthony was Fr. Gurias, a good-looking, dark-haired priest who had served ten years in the camps. He had a family and lived after the camps in Kozmodemyansk. He was ordained by Archbishop Anthony. He lived openly, was very firm in his faith, but was condescending to those who had fallen. He once received the secretary of the village soviet with his wife, saying:
“They’re getting old, who can I not give them communion?”
Once, on entering a small town, and seeing that a house was full of people, he began the all-night vigil with a sermon:
“You don’t know me, or to what Church I belong. I want to explain.”
Then he explained, citing passages from the Old and New Testaments.
According to the witness of those who knew him, at the end of his life, in the middle of the 1980s, he was killed in a hospital, where he was given a treatment from which he died. Matushka Golovanova greatly valued and loved him.
Matushka herself had been raised from childhood in a monatery, becoming a nun with the name Catherine. At the age of 21 she was forced to leave her monastery destroyed by the Bolsheviks and went round the village churches as a chanter – she was an excellent choir leader. Her bishop (this was before the Church descended into the catacombs) blessed her to give sermons. According to the witness of those who knew her, she understood even the most complex church questions, and even, so they say, was able to reply to questions on any church theme. She herself said of herself that she ate more books than bread. She was Fr. Nicetas’ support during his suffering life; he respected her and listened to her opinions. Learning about Vladyka Anthony in the camps, she later went to him, was tonsured into the mantia by him with the name Antonia, and thus became, not Matushka Catherine or Aunt Katya, but Matushka Antonia. Vladyka Anthony himself said about her: “She is like a pillar with you stretching from earth to heaven.”
When the six had to accompany Fr. Nicetas from the dangerous place during the spring floods, one of them set off by train to Matushka Antonia to tell her about the catastrophe. When she got on the train she was so nervous that she shook; but tiredness took its tool and she dozed off. At this point it seemed to her that someone was bending over her and whispering that everything was alright with batyushka. When Matushka Antonia heard what condition Fr. Nicetas was in she was at first very worried, but on hearing about the incident on the train she calmed down and calmed her visitor. And truly, although they had to undergo many labours and suffer many sorrows, everything ended well.
Matushka Antonia died on August 17/30, 1979, already after the death of Fr. Nicetas.
One who also received the monastic tonsure from Vladyka Anthony was Matushka S. With the blessing of Fr. Nicetas, she was appointed to carry the Holy Gifts. She carried out this very responsible duty for 28 years. She always carried the Holy Gifts in a dry form.
Once someone they summoned the old woman: “She hasn’t communed for 30 years and is approaching death.” The old woman wept from joy. On the return journey she had to run and almost missed the bus, there were absolutely no roads. But it seemed to Matushka S. that she was travelling on a flat road because the old woman was praying for her. On other occasions they led her to some villages where the old women had also not communed for 30 years. And here also after receiving communion they did not live long – it was evidently God’s will; they received communion, and God took them. Matushka S. read a Lament over sins (the blessing of the community of the Three Hierarchs on Mount Athos) to them, and they sent their confession with her in envelopes. Once she was sent by Fr. Nicetas 30 kilometres to a certain village and then some more kilometres on foot by a big circuitous route.
Fr. V. was a spiritual son of Fr. Nicetas. He distributed the Holy Gifts while still a reader. Once he came to Fr. Nicetas, who told him that he was now under the omophorion of Vladyka Anthony. Later, with the blessing of Fr. Nicetas, he was ordained to the priesthood by Vladyka Anthony. A few years later, Fr. V. had to receive Fr. Nicetas’ flock.
The last days of Fr. Nicetas, besides his fears for his spiritual children, were darkened by another sorrow.
The sick man, who could not leave his refuge, was also unable to see Vladyka Anthony, and he gave his confession to Vladyka only through Fr. V. Vladyka awarded him with the mitre and showered him with prosphoras; and when he heard that Fr. Nicetas could not come to him he intended to visit him himself in order to tonsure him and raise him to the rank of archimandrite.
The date of Vladyka’s arrival was already decided on; everything had been collected for the journey, his vestments had been packed and a telegram had been sent to say that guests were expected. (Of course, it was impossible to announce his arrival directly; it had to be done in an allegorical form.) However, this telegram was interpreted incorrectly by the women who received it. They were frightened at the prospect of the arrival of unknown guests and, without saying a word to Fr. Nicetas, immediately sent a telegram telling them not to come. When Fr. Nicetas heard about this it was already too late, and a fitting moment for the journey did not present itself again. So the two men never met.
And then Vladyka Anthony’s name was besmirched by a slander. People said that he was a name-worshipper, although Vladyka had in fact fought against this heresy, for which the name-worshippers in the Caucasus had refused to recognise him. But when Fr. Nicetas heard these rumours, living as he was in almost complete isolation and not being able to check them out, he did not know what to do. Being on the edge of death, he did not know to whom to entrust his flock. Fr. V., his spiritual son, was under the omophorion of Vladyka Anthony, and Fr. Nicetas did not know whether to satisfy the request of his flock and hand them over to him.
Fr. Nicetas served his last service, a moleben and akathist to the Mother of God, on the feast of the 40 martyrs, March 9/22. He decided to take refuge in his sorrow to the Mother of God, who had always helped him out of all difficult circumstances.
“Let us ask the Mother of God what path she indicates for us. I as a man can go wrong. She has preserved me throughout my life,” said Fr. Nicetas.
They placed the lots behind an icon of the Vladimir Mother of God, one for the priests under Vladyka Anthony’s omophorion, and the other for those who did not recognise him. Then they took one out after prayer – it indicated the priests of Vladyka Anthony.
The next day it became clear that Fr. Nicetas’ end was near. They summoned Fr. V. He was at that time on quite a long journey confessing and communing the faithful; but, although he had not completed all that he had to do, he suddenly felt that he had to return home immediately. There they were waiting for him with the news that batyushka was dying…
When Fr. V. arrived him, batyushka told him to accept his flock, many of whom were present there. The priests managed to talk about the most important thing, then Fr. Nicetas did confession and received communion. He sat down, embracing Fr. V., and leaning closer and closer to him. They put him to bed and he seemed to doze off… After a time they noticed that he was departing, and Fr. V. began to read the prayers for the departing of the soul. He died very quietly. This took place on March 12/25, 1974.
They had to bury Fr. Nicetas… They dismantled the floor in one of the rooms in which Fr. Nicetas died and hastily dug out a grave for him under the floor. His parishioners came from the backwoods to say goodbye to their batyushka. There were so many of them that the neighbours were begin to notice something. They had to hurry. They made a coffin for batyushka and to the whispered chant, “With the souls of the righteous who have fallen asleep…”, they lowered him into the grave. Of course, the mistress of the house was especially worried, but they calmed her, saying: “Have no fear, the Lord preserved him for 40 years, he’ll preserve him now.”
There was no reason to fear. The burial was carried out without interruption and the house was put back in order. At night the mistress of the house clearly heard angelic chanting in the place under the floor when Fr. Nicetas was buried…
For nine months Fr. Nicetas remained under the floor. Then Vladyka Anthony ordered that his body be taken to the cemetery, which was done late in the autumn.
(Source: “I vrata adovy nye odoleyut yeyo…”, Suzdal’skiye Eparkhial’niye Vedomosti, N 4, June-July, 1998, pp. 32-40; N 5, September-November, 1998, pp. 35-40; N 6, December, 1998 – February, 1999, pp. 37-40 )