10. Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich

Russia's Catacomb Saints

Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich
Commemorated December 12 (†1935)

A true Christian is a warrior
fighting his way through the regiments
of the unseen enemy to his heavenly
St. Herman of Alaska

In the autumn of 1930 there came to the just-begun construction of the White Sea Canal* some convoys of prisoners from Solovki.  They were received and first of all sent to the bathhouse for “sanitizing" -- that is, disinfection of the clothes they were wearing, and a compulsory shaving with a machine of the hair on their head, face, and whole body.  Then there was a medical examination by the physicians who were themselves prisoners.  Here for the first time, when I was working as a physicians’ helper at this station, I saw Archbishop Seraphim, a tall, bent-over old man with his head and face already shaved under machine number one.  Often, when talking with him after this, I learned much from him, and from other bishops who had come with him I learned also about him; of these latter I shall name only Archbishop Pachomius of Chernigov, for the younger ones might still be in the torture-chambers now, and every mention of them in the press will increase the weight of their bonds.

Archbishop Seraphim, in the world surnamed Samoilovich, was born about 1882 and studied at the Poltava Theological Seminary.  He became a monk at a young age in one of the southern dioces after several years of teaching in the seminary.  He was assigned at the beginning of our century as a missionary in the Aleutian-Alaskan Diocese of the United States of America, where he was a fervent fellow-laborer with Bishop Tikhon, the future Patriarch.  Bishop Tikhon highly valued this zealous missionary, who united personal asceticism and an intelligent approach both to the half-wild Aleut flock and to the American government in Alaska.  He spent six years in all in America.

After Bishop Tikhon was assigned to Yaroslavi in 1907, he called Hieromonk Seraphim and assigned him as Abbot of the Tolga Monastery, four miles above Yarosiavi, which was the summer residence of the Yaroslavl bishop.  Anyone who has travelled along the Volga before 1920 will remember how, when the ship stopped at the Monastery dock, the crew and passengers would go down to the dock and pray at a moleben before a copy of the Tolga Icon of the Mother of God (whose feast is August 8/21), venerating the holy image, and how the ship would depart while the Monastery choir was still singing “Queen of the world, be our intercessor.”

Father Seraphim wrote a serious historical work, A History of the Tolga Mo 1314-1915, in preparation for the celebration of the six hundreth anniversary of the Monastery in August, 1914.  For the benefit of the Monastery and the surrounding flock, he built and opened in 1913, a mile from the Monastery at the edge of a splendid forest, a school of bee-keeping for the orphan children the Monastery looked after.  Three weeks before the six-hundreth anniversary of the Monastery, however, the First World War broke out.  The Abbot, in the very first days of the War, built hospital wards and actively helped Archbishop Agafangel in the governing of the Diocese during the years of war and revolution.  His courage and presence of mind saved the Monastery from destruction in the summer of 1918, when the Communist Chekists ran about in the days of the ‘Yaroslavi Uprising” into the cells, basements, and grave vaults in the Monastery cemetery in search of “rebels.”  350 innocent Yaroslavl citizens were executed by firing squad as a reply to the assassination of the military governor, Commissar Nahimson, and the Economic Commissar Zakgeim.

Soon Father Seraphim was transferred to Uglich, where he was made abbot of the Protection Monastery and raised to the rank of Archimandrite.  In 1920 he was ordained bishop in Uglich, a diocese filled with the memory of the Tsarevich who, 329 years before the martyred Tsarevich Alexis of our own days, had received the same kind of cruel end.**

In 1915 Bishop Seraphim was raised to the rank of Archbishop, and in the difficult and confused days after the death of Patriarch Tikhon he was appointed (in 1926) as one of the Substitutes of the Patriarchial Locum Tenens, and occupied this position from November, 1926, to March, 1927 (the period when Metropolitan Sergius was under arrest).  Archbishop Seraphim categorically refused to issue a declaration of collaboration with the Soviet authorities, which the latter were demanding at this time (the same declaration which Metr. Sergius was later to issue), saying that “I do not consider myself authorized to decide basic questions of principle without the hierarchs who are in prison.”  On December 16/29, 1926, he addressed the episcopate of the Russian Church with this message: “I implore my colleagues, the bishops, to help me to bear the heavy and responsible cross of the governance of the Russian Church; I beg you to cut your correspondence and relations with me to the minimum, leaving all except matters of principle and those affecting the whole Church (as, for example, the selection and ordination of bishops) to be decided locally.”***

All the predecessors of Archbishop Seraphim in the position of Substitute of Locum Tenens were in prison, and he knew that the same fate was awaiting him as well as the successor he would choose in case of his own arrest.  Therefore, when entering into the exercise of the authority of this position, in December, 1926, he did not assign any successor.  When, at his interrogation by the GPU, he was asked:
“Who will be the head of the Church if we do not free you?” he only replied: “The Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”  At this reply, the astonished interrogator looked at him and said:

“All of you Bishops have left substitutes for yourselves, as did Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Peter.” “Well, I myself have left the Church to the Lord God,” repeated Archbishop Seraphim, “and I have done this on purpose.  Let it be known to the whole world how freely Orthodox Christians are living in a free government.”****

Three days later Archbishop Seraphim was freed and sent to Uglich, and he governed the Church until March, 1927, when he gave over the government to Metropolitan Sergius, who had just been freed from prison.

Four months later Archbishop Seraphim accused the apostasy of Metropolitan Sergius (the Declaration of July 16/29, 1927), and soon he was arrested and sentenced to five years in concentration camp, being sent to Solovki.

There almost the whole time he languished at the common labors. Once when dragging bricks in the construction of a two-story building, he fell from a ladder and broke a rib, which healed poorly and made him an invalid. But no kind of persecution could break his powerful will.

I myself saw him for the first time after his arrival with the convoy of prisoners from Solovki in the autumn of 1930 at the assignment point called “New Birzha,” near the northern semaphore station “Mai-Gub,” on the 1urmansk Railroad.

Later I was able to have a closer acquaintance with him.  Having gone on invalid status, he often was in the ambulatory section, and we, the physicians’ helpers, tried to help him; he was suffering from chronic pleuritis is well as a decompensated miocarditis and general arteriosclerosis.

Once, at the end of October on a damp, inclement day, passing by thc disinfection cabin, where things were disinfected behind a hermetically sealed door, with a prisoner-invalid for a watchman outside the room to keep robbers out, I heard myself called by name.  Going up, I saw Archbishop Seraphim, numb with cold, standing watch.  “They put us invalids at this post or two hours at a time, but I have been standing here from twelve noon and they haven’t sent anyone to replace me.”  (It was then about 6 p.m.) I ran to the invalid barracks.  “Where is the chief?”  “He went to the movies,” replied the clerk.  “Tell him that I am going to make a report to the Head of he Sanitary Division, that he is keeping prisoner Samoilovich at an outdoor post for six hours instead of two.”  The clerk roused himself and ran to the movie house.  Ten minutes later he ran back.  “The chief has ordered him to be replaced, and asks you not to make a report.”  “Good, but in ten minutes will check,”

And in fact, he woke up a decrepit colonel who was dozing on a board-bed and sent him running to replace Vladika.  The old man ran to the disinfection room.  Half an hour later I again went into the barracks.  The numb Archbishop with satisfaction was drinking some hot tea from a cup, and I wished him a good rest.

He was considered a “prohibited one” — that is, he had no right to go out of the camp into the administrative buildings outside the barbed-wire fence.

Once he asked me to call Archimandrite Gury Yegorov, who worked in the Financial Division and was a fierce supporter of Metropolitan Sergius; later he was freed from exile, having finished his five-year term in concentration camp in 1934, and in 1946 was ordained Bishop.  From that time on he was head of the “Patriarchal” Church in Central Asia, with the title Bishop of Tashkent and Central Asia.

Axchimandxite Gury frowned.  “After all, the Archbishop is not ‘ours,’ and it’s not fitting for me even to talk with him, I have no right to receive a blessing from him.”

“No one is asking this of you, Father Gury.  But after all, he is a prohibited one, and you and I have passes.  If, knowing who you are, he has asked you to come to him in camp,” I protested, “can we, ourselves prisoners, refuse to visit a prisoner in the camp, even if he is a heretic?  A physicians’ helper shouldn’t have to teach an Archimandrite.”  He was upset and came with me. I accompanied him to the ambulatory section and left him together with the Archbishop, whom I had summoned there.

The handsome forty-year-old Archimandrite-bookkeeper, bending his head, spoke with the bent-over, decrepit Archbishop.  What they talked about, I don’t know.

In March, 1932, Vladika was freed six months before the end of his term, counting (in accordance with the decree of 1931) five days of labor equal to six.  This was arranged for him by the pious prisoners of the book keeping division, who counted the working days in such a way as to reduce the term.  In 1934 this “liberal” decree was revoked.

Archbishop Seraphim was sent by convoy into exile into the region of Komi, where the Zyryani people live, to the north of Vyatka.  He grew weaker in body, but was firm in spirit.  He considered that in an epoch of persecutions there should not be any single centralized Church government.  A bishop should govern his diocese independently.  In exile he should be the head of the secret Church wherever he is staying; he should ordain secret priests and perform secret monastic tonsures.

From believers I heard that Archbishop Seraphim did not return from exile.  His sentence ended in 1935.  It is said, vaguely, that he died some where without medical help, in deprivation — which is easy to believe for anyone who knew the condition of his ailing heart, even in 1932.

The ailing Archbishop Seraphim was often brought to my mind in my wanderings in prisons and exiles, when, deprived of physical contact with believers, I mentally remembered him in prayer.  I thought of his meekly-smiling, exhausted face, and bowing down in prayer I would literally feel on my head his thin, rough Archpastoral hand covered with scars.


Archbishop Seraphim wrote several epistles protesting the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius.  As a vicar of the Yaroslavi Diocese, he signed, together with Metropolitan Agathangel, Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd (who was in Yaroslavi at the time), Archbishop Barlaam of Perm, and Bishop Eugene of Rostov, a statement of separation from Metropolitan Sergius on February 6, 1928 (Russian text in Poisky, vol. II, pp. 10-11).  At the same time be sent the following epistle to Metr. Sergius in his own name.  The tone of courageous protest, based not on any narrow “letter of the law” but on heartfelt concern for the good of Christ’s Church, coupled with sincere compassion shown for the erring Metropolitan Sergius, make this one of the classic documents of the founding bishops of Russia’s Catacomb Church.

Later, in the summer of 1928, Archbishop Seraphim sent a new epistle accusing Metr. Sergius of the serious sin of “drawing our faint-hearted and infirm brethren into neo-renovationism” (cited in Regelson p. 585).


Your Eminence:

The period of more than half a year which has passed since the issuance by you of the Declaration of July 16/29, 1927, has indicated that all your hopes for a “peaceful arrangement” of our church matters, for bringing our whole church government into proper order and arrangement, have been in vain, and your “confidence in the possibility of our peaceful life and activity within the bounds of the law” is completely unrealizable and under the present conditions can never come into being.

On the contrary, facts almost every day testify that for Orthodox people it has become even more difficult to live.  It is especially difficult to acknowledge that you, who so wisely and firmly held the banner of Orthodoxy in the first period of being the Substitute of the Locum Tenens, have now gone off the straight path and have gone into the byway of compromises which are against the Church.

You have subjected us to the sphere of terrible moral torments, and you have made yourself the first of such tormented ones, for you must suffer both for yourself and for us.  Previously we suffered and endured irs silence, knowing we were suffering for the truth, and that the power of God was with us and could not be conquered by any sufferings.  This power is what strengthened us and inspired us with the hope that at a time known to God alone the truth of Orthodoxy would be triumphant, for to it alone is promised unfailingly that whenever needful the almighty help of God will be given.

By your Declaration and the church policy founded upon it, you are trying to lead us into a sphere where we will now be deprived of this hope, for you are leading us away from the service of truth; and God does not help lies.

We are loyal citizens of the USSR.  We obediently fulfill all the commands of the Soviet authority.  We have never intended and do not intend to rebel against it, but we wish to be honorable and upright members also of the Church of Christ on earth and not to “repaint it in Soviet colors,” because we know that this is useless, and that serious and upright people will not believe it.

While it is still not too late, while this terrible abyss has not yet entirely overwhelmed you, this abyss which is ready to swallow you ingloriously and forever, gather together your intellectual and moral powers which not long ago were still strong; stand up in all your spiritual stature; issue another declaration to correct the first one, or at least one similar to the one which you sent in the first period when you were the Substitute of the Locum Tenens; cut with the grace-given impulses of the Spirit the chains which bind you, and come out into holy freedom.  All the true Sons of the Church will pray to God for you; all the good shepherds and courageous archpastors will immediately be on your side.  All the many sufferers will embrace you spiritually—this voice of witnesses of pure truth who are exiled from their flocks and the brethren; the unconquerable Truth itself will be for you.  It will show you the further path; it will preserve and defend you.

Dear Viadika: I can imagine how you must suffer!  But why do you, experiencing these sufferings yourself, not desire to lighten them for those who at one time trusted you?  With what joy I gave over to you my own rights as Substitute of the Locuin Tenens, believing that your wisdom and experience would cooperate with you in the governance of the Church.

But what happened?  Can this fatal act really not be corrected?  Will you really not find the courage to acknowledge your error, your fatal mistake, the issuance by you of the Declaration of July 16/29, 1927?   You wrote to me and sincerely believed that the path you have chosen will bring peace to the Church.  And what do you hear and see now?  A frightful groan is carried up from all the ends of Russia.  You promised to pull out two or three sufferers here and there and return them to the society of the faithful; but look how many new sufferers have appeared, whose sufferings are made yet deeper by the awareness that they are the result of your new church policy.  Does this groan of the sufferers from the shores of the Oba and Enisei Rivers, from the far-off islands of the White Sea, from the deserts beyond the Caspian Sea, from the mountain ridges of Turkestan — does this groan not reach to your heart?

How could you, by your Declaration, place upon them and upon many the stigma of opponents of the present civil order, when they and we in our spiritual nature have always been foreign to politics, guarding strictly, with self-sacrifice, the purity of Orthodoxy?

Is it for me, who am younger, to write these lines to you?  Is it for me to teach an experienced and learned Hierarch of the Russian Church?  Still, the voice of my conscience compels me again and again to disturb your spacious and good heart.  Show courage; acknowledge your fatal mistake, and it is impossible for you to issue a new declaration, then for the good of the Church, give over the authority and the rights of the Substitute of the Locum Tenens to someone else.

I have the right to write you these lines and make this offer, for many now reproach me, saying that I handed over these rights of the Substitute to you hastily and without reservation.

Having experienced myself this burden of church governance, I believe that in the quiet of your cell you are shedding bitter tears and are
a frightful anguish of spirit.  And we pity you and weep together with you.

And if there are separations of dioceses and parishes from you and your “Synod,” this is an alarm-bell, a frightful alarm-bell of the exhausted hearts of the faithful, one that should be able to reach your heart and ignite it with the flame of self-sacrifice and readiness to lay down your life for your friends.

May the Lord help you and bless your courageous decision, which your archpastoral conscience will whisper to you and which we do not dictate to you, but with filial love offer to you for the salvation of your soul and the good of the Church.

It seems to me that one way out of the situation that has been created would be for you and all the faithful in our land who think in an Orthodox way to direct your gaze to the eldest Hierarch of the Russian Church, His Eminence Agathangel, Metropolitan of Yaroslavl.

Go to him with love and trust.  Despite his advanced age, he has remained wise and powerful in spirit.  His appeal from Perm was an act of zeal for the salvation of the Church.  Stretch out your brotherly hands to him, give him a warm, brotherly greeting, ask him to help you out of this terrible and burdensome situation, and hand over to him your rights as Substitute until His Eminence, Metropolitan Peter, should return to power.

We archpastors, together with you, will help him in the governance of the Church with whatever strength and understanding we have, even with out the organization of a “Synod.”*****

Seraphim, Archbishop of Uglich, Vicar of the
Yaroslavi Diocese, Former Substitute of the
Patriarchal Locurn Tenens.
Jan. 24/Feb. 6, 1928.

Sources: Polsky’s Russia ‘s New Martyrs, Vol. II, pp. 12-16. The author (who has also used the pen-names of S. Nesterov and Alexei Rostov) is still living in Italy, and is a correspondent for the Russian newspaper Nasha Strana, Buenos Aires, Argen tina. Michael Z. Vinokouroff, memoires.

* One of the notorious Soviet slave-labor nrojects of the 1930’s in northern Russia.

** The Tsarevicb Dimitry, who was killed in 1589 at the instigation of Boris Godunov; commemorated in the Orthodox calendar on May 15.

*** Facts and quotes in this paragraph have been added from TM. Andrvvev, A Brief Survey of the History of the Russian Church from the Revolution to Our Days, Jordanville, 1951, p. 49; and Lev Regelson, The Tra, of the Russian Church, YMCA Press, Paris, 1977, p. 584 (both in Russian).

**** This incident is as related in the Messenger of the Russian Student Christian Movement, no. 7, July, 1927.

****** Translated from the Russian text in Poisky, vol. II, pp. 16-18.