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11. Bishop Alexis Bui of Voronezh
Russia's Catacomb Saints
Bishop Alexis Bui of Voronezh
AND THE BLESSED FOOL FOR CHRIST'S SAKE THEOKTISTA
Commemorated February 12 (†1936)
Let no man deceive himself. If any
man among you seemeth to be wiser
in this world, let him become a fool that
he may be wise. For the wisdom of
this world is foolishness with God.
I Cor. 3:18-19
The city of Voronezh is located in the heart of Holy Russia, not far from the holy monasteries of Optina, Sarov, and Glinsk with their holy elders who handed down the true Orthodox spiritual tradition even to our century.
Voronezh itself is at the center of a diocese which in 1903 counted 18 monasteries, 2500 monks and nuns, over 1000 churches and chapels, and nearly 3000 non-monastic clergy. The spiritual heart of the city was the Annunciation Monastery of St. Metrophanes, which treasured the relics of this great 18th-century saint, the first bishop of Voronezh. Later in the 18th century another great saint was bishop here: St. Tikhon, who ended his days in retirement not far away in the Zadonsk monastery. Another holy man (as yet uncanonized), Anthony, was bishop of Voronezh in the 19th century and was responsible for the canonization of both of his holy predecessors.
Another important monastery in Voronezh was the St. Alexis Monastery, with 30 monks before the Revolution; and the chief women’s monastery was the Holy Protection Convent, with 600 sisters.
After the Revolution of 1917, Voronezh was a leading battlefield in the Civil War, in which many died. From the beginning of the Revolution Voronezh was glorious for its new martyrs, of whom a few may be listed here:
Father George Snesarev, priest of the hospital church of the Sign of the Mother of God in Voronezh, was martyred in 1919. He was scalped (the skin and hair removed from his head) and given 63 wounds. Nails and pins were driven under his fingernails and toenails. He was so mutilated that it was almost impossible to recognize him; his relatives recognized him only by his hands.
In 1919, when the Red Army entered and the White Army left Voronezh, seven nuns of the Protection Convent were boiled in a cauldron with tar because they had a moleben served for members of the White Army.
Hieromonk Nekiary (Ivanov), an instructor in the Voronezh Seminary who had graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy, was killed in 1918 by means of various tortures of the cruelest sort: he was dragged by the feet, his arms and legs broken, wooden nails were driven into him, he was “given communion” with molten pewter. The martyr prayed: “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Lord.”
Archimandrite Dimitry was killed in 1918 after being scalped. There were other martyrs also in nearby towns.
The chief hierarch of the diocese at this time was Metropolitan Vladimir of Voronezh. In July, 1925, Archbishop Peter (Zverev) was sent to help the ailing Metropolitan, who died at Christmas of the same year. In 1926, on November 15, Archbishop Peter himself served for the last time in Voronezh.
The next day he was arrested by the GPU and sent away on a train, and in 1929 he died in Solovki. A number of the letters from Solovki of this holy new martyr have survived (Polsky, vol. 2, pp. 56-66).
After the departure of Archbishop Peter, Bishop Alexis (Bui), a vicar-bishop of the Voronezh diocese, took over the administration of the diocese. Bishop Alexis was tall and thin, an inspired preacher, a great faster and a true monk. He did not have a theological education, and had been Superior of a monastery in Kozlov. He celebrated the Divine services with heedful concentration.
This was a very difficult time, in Voronezh as in the whole of Russia.
The Revolution had brought profound anarchy and disturbance; the persecution of the Church went on unabated, and the secret police used every conceivable trick in order to trap people into “illegal” actions or statements. In Voronezh the GPU did its best to arouse disagreements between members of the clergy in order to use the words of the disputants, as reported by spies, as accusations against them. At the same time, Holy Russia was still alive, and there were still holy people as in earlier centuries; in Voronezh there was the holy woman Theoktista Michaelovna.
Just at this time, in mid-1927, the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius was published, and Voronezh was divided like the rest of Russia. All eyes were on Bishop Alexis, and he responded with a bold rejection of the Declaration and his announcement that he had chosen to be a follower of Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd.
This Epistle was signed also by six of the leading priests of Voronezh:
Archpriests John Andreyevsky, Nicholas Piskanovsky, Peter Novosiltsev, Paul Smirnsky, Alexander Philippenko, and John Steblin These brave priests suffered for this in the folowing ways:
Archpriest John Andreyevsky had an immense significance in the support of Orthodoxy in Voronezh. First he rose up against Renovationism, then he disagreed with Metropolitan Sergius. He was arrested in 1928 and exiled to Central Asia. When Bishop Alexis heard of his arrest, he came the same day fearlessly to the church where the priest had been serving and comforted his grieving flock. After returning from exile, Father John disappeared from sight and was not heard of again.
Archpriest Nicholas Piskanovsky was arrested and sent to Solovki, where he remained from 1928 to his death, probably in 1932. He made fishing nets there, while saying the Jesus Prayer constantly. He was the spiritual father of the whole of the Catacomb clergy and faithful in the Solovki concentration camp. All the bishops on Solovki who refused to accept the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius had great respect for him, and he was loved by everyone for his kindness, responsiveness, constant calmness of soul, and his ability to give consolation to those in every kind of grief.
Archpriest Alexander Philippenko was first arrested and exiled in 1926, at which time almost all members of his family died of hunger. Finding himself in Voronezh in 1927, he joined those who opposed the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius.
Soon he accepted monasticism and was made an archimandrite. Later he lived illegally in Michurinsk (Kozlov), working as a maker of brick stoves, and served in the Catacomb Church.
Archpriest John Steblin-Kamensky suffered in the Solovki camp from 1924 to 1927. He became a celibate priest after a career as a naval officer. He was arrested again in 1929; his letter to his flock from prison in 1929 has been preserved (Polsky, vol. 2, pp. 191-193), and is a document reminiscent of the epistles of love of the apostolic fathers of the ancient catacomb church.
All the remaining clergy of Voronezh who disagreed with Metropolitan Sergius were arrested in 1930; the monks of the St. Alexis and St. Metrophanes monasteries especially suffered at this time.
The St. Alexis monastery, until its closure after Pascha in 1931, was a center for local and travelling clergy of the old “Tikhonite” Orthodox outlook who opposed Renovationism and then Sergianism. No other church of this outlook remained.
After the closure of the St. Alexis monastery and the annihilation of its clergy, the part of the populace that was faithful to its shepherds and their outlook remained totally without churches and Divine services, not wishing to go to the open Sergianist churches. Secret priests would come rarely and by chance and would celebrate services in homes. Only trusted people of the same outlook knew about this, and they would tell others of like mind about the service. The priest would serve at night and then hide in a storehouse or barn, and when night would come he would leave for somewhere else. During the services the people would sing quietly and watch through the window in case someone should come. If there was a knock, first of all they would hide the priest and then open the door. There were cases when those in charge of the house did not know that there was a service, for they would be performed when they would go away to work. Some participants of the underground Church in Russia who came abroad in 1943 entered a church then for the first time in thirteen years.
For his Epistle Bishop Alexis was placed under suspension by Metropolitan Sergius, and then on February 21, 1930 was arrested by the GPU, dying in prison.
Concerning the latter days of Bishop Alexis’ life, we have the memoirs of the recently-reposed Archpriest Sergei Shukin, who thus recalls his encounter with him:
“In the summer of 1936 we were sent by convoy to the Ukhto-Pechersk concentration camp (in the far north). The transfer took almost a whole month, since every two or three days we had a stop at the following points: Kharkov, Orel, Syaran, Vyatka, and Kotlas. In Kotlas the railroad ended and we were conducted further on barges along the Northern Dvina and Vychegda to the harbor of Ust-Vym. From there we were taken on camp trucks to the various camp points.
"At first on this convoy there were no clergymen; it was a mixture of political and criminal exiles. But at each stop our convoy changed — some left, others were added. And at Syzran we were joined by Archbishop Alexis, formerly of Voronezh and Kozlov. He was an old bishop, about 65 years old, tall and of a large build, with an unhealthy color in his face. But the most extra ordinary thing was that Viadika was carrying with him two large and heavy suit cases. He could not carry them himself, and therefore he had to have help from others. The other people in the convoy had only a single bundle with dry bread and clothes, so as not to attract the attention of the criminals. But the important thing was that each carried his bundle himself and put it under his head at night.
“It was quite natural that the appearance of Vladika with two suitcases became of immediate interest to the criminals in our cell. My companions and I made the acquaintance of the Archbishop and advised him to be careful, especially at night, when the criminals went hunting for other people’s things. But Viadika did not feel well and, shrugging his shoulders, replied: ‘What can I do? Let them take them. . . All the same I will sleep at night,’ Then we decided that we would take turns at night and watch over Viadika’s suitcases ... The criminals were very dissatisfied with this turn of events and in the morning did not conceal their anger, but God preserved us from trouble.
"The same evening we were brought to the station for the further journey. Such transfers the NKVD always arranges at night, so as not to attract the attention of the local inhabitants. My companions carried Vladika’s suitcases and we were loaded into one of the compartments of a “Stolypin” wagon.
“Under the Tsarist government people in such convoys received hot food twice a day, but under the Soviets they were given only a “dry ration”: 400 grams of black bread, 20 grams of sugar, and a piece of herring. Water was given only twice a day, morning and evening. Therefore, receiving in the morning a cup of water and after this some salted fish, those in the convoy were tormented with thirst the whole day.
“The whole way Vladika Alexis lay and dozed. He spoke little and rarely; it was evident that he felt ill, and he ate nothing. Of course, both the wagon and the surroundings acted on him in an oppressive manner. The next day, when we arrived at the station of Kotlas, we were separated from Vladika. Although he was heading for the same Ukhte-Pechersk camp, he was put in a different transfer barracks and we didn’t see him again.
“Judging by the physical condition of Vladika Alexis, the camp regimen was beyond his strength. He could not work, and therefore he could expect the worst ration: 300 grams of bread and once a day a watery soup. Even if cupie could have sent him food parcels, it wouldn’t have been right away, until he could let them know his address. Even if he had been sent to the camp hospital, there he would not have received any treatment at all, since there were no medicines whatever. There was no thought given to the diet of prisoners either; the food was the most crude and monotonous. One has to suppose that Vladika could not survive long in such conditions. Such was the camp system of he NKVD in order to deliver them from those incapable of work.
"The influence of Bishop Alexis* on the future development of the True-Orthodox or Catacomb Church in Russia was considerable; Soviet researchers make him out to be the founder of a “sect,” called the “Buevtsy” (“Bui-ites”). One recent book on underground Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union gives a general summary, taken from Soviet sources, of this movement (which is obviously only the local part of the larger “Josephite” or Catacomb movement) which can be traced for some twenty years after the arrest of Bishop Alexis: [* William C. Fletcher, The Russian Orthodox Church Underground, London, Oxford University Press.]
"Soviet scholarship has, by chance as it were, provided fairly detailed information on one of the branches of the Josephites which provides considerable insight into the nature of the movement. The Buevtsy organization arose in the Tambov area in response to the events of 1927, led by Bishop Aleksii (Bui) of Voronezh, and was affiliated with the larger Josephite movement.
"The movement which was begun by Bishop Aleksii and which became known by his (secular) name, the Buevtsy, formed a part of that congeries of similar movements more or less united under the wing of the Josephite schism. Inasmuch as the Buevtsy movement maintained its identity, however, and exerted an historical influence of its own, it may also be considered separately.
"The Buevtsy movement appeared to be primarily a local movement centered in Voronezh and with its influence concentrated in the surrounding area. According to Soviet research, however, it did have direct links in many other regions as well. Organizationally, the movement appears to have been relatively sophisticated and well founded . . .
"The size of the movement is difficult to determine, but apparently it was relatively substantial, well able to attract adherents. . . Soviet researchers thirty years later had discovered traces of some forty congregations with a general membership of over 700 belonging to the Buevtsy movement in 1930.
"In view of the peculiar circumstances necessitated by clandestine Church life, however, it is difficult to imagine that Soviet historical research was able to identify more than a fraction of the adherents of a movement such as this, and these figures may indeed be without much value in estimating the size, strength, and influence of the movement.
"Bui himself was arrested on 21 February 1930, but it would not appear that the arrest of the movement’s titular head seriously impeded the progress of the Buevtsy. For the next three years at least, they continued their activity with great vigor, and for the following decade their influence continued to be felt” (pp. 69-71).
“Although its organizational center was in Voronezh, it enjoyed great success in the regions surrounding Tambov, 100 miles to the northeast, and, indeed, was active over a wide area of the Caucasus and the Ukraine.
“Apparently there was a fierce attack against the movement, which resulted in the conviction of its leaders and the dissolution of its organizational structure in 1930 or 1931 . . . After this initial attack the movement was reorganized by a subordinate and, again according to Soviet investigators, had following of some 200 people in 1932. The Soviet academician Mitrokhin states that ‘at the end of 1932 the organization of the Buevtsy ended its existence and its most active workers were convicted of anti-Soviet activity,’ but goes on to state that its adherents, despite the alleged destruction of the movement’s organization, conducted anti-Soviet agitation during the election campaign in 1939.
“During the collectivization campaign, the Buevtsy, like cognate movements throughout the country, conducted vigorous agitation against the Kolkhozes (collective farms) . . . Because the number of churches which the Buevtsy could utilize was far from adequate, a cult of informal shrines sprang up, thus giving the movement the advantage of locales which could attract people from numerous villages without the disadvantages of a fixed location, such as a normal church, which would be more susceptible to police pressure ...
"Eschatology played a considerable role in the doctrine of the Buevtsy. Subsequent Soviet scholarship suggests that this eschatalogical motif was intertwined with definite aspirations towards engineering a restoration of the monarchy” (pp. 107-109).
Later, “the Buevtsy organization embraced a number of people who subsequently became leaders of the True Orthodox Church, and even after this movement had been liquidated as an organization, these members continued their underground Orthodox activity throughout the decade of the thirties.” Further, according to the Soviet source (Mitrokhin) utilized by this book, “this very organization (Buevtsy) served both in idea and in its organizational relationship as the starting point for the followers of the True Orthodox Church in 1946-1952. Among the workers of the True Orthodox Church at this time we continually meet either active Buevtsy or people who at one time had been connected with them” (pp. 181-182).
Thus, Soviet sources themselves confirm the continuity of the courageous stand of Bishop Alexis in 1927 with the later True Orthodox Church which, as we know from many other sources, continues to the present day, just as persecuted and hidden as ever.
THE EPISTLE OF
BISHOP ALEXIS BUI OF VORONEZH
Greater joy have I none than this, to
hear that my children walk in the truth
(III John 1:4).
Standing on guard for Orthodoxy and vigilantly following all manifestations of church life not only in the diocese entrusted to our humility, but in general in the whole Patriarchate, to our great distress we have discovered in the latest actions of Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhegorod, who has returned to his duties as Substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, a rapid descent towards renovationism, an exceeding of the rights and authority reserved for him, and a violation of the holy canons (resolution of questions of principle in dependently, transfer and removal of bishops without trial or investigation, etc.; see Canonical Epistle of St. Cyril, Apostolic Canon 34).
By his actions against the spirit of Orthodoxy, Metropolitan Sergius has torn himself away from unity with the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and has forfeited the right of presidency in the Russian Church.
The Orthodox hierarchs and pastors have attempted in every way to influence Metropolitan Sergius and return him to the straight and true path, but they have not succeeded.
Being zealous for the glory of God and desiring to place a limit to the further infringement by Metropolitan Sergius of the wholeness and inviolability of the Holy Canons and decrees of ecclesiastical order, and to preserve unimpaired canonical communion with their lawful head, the Most Reverend Metrpolitan Peter of Krutitsa, Patriarchal Locum Tenens, — the Most Reverend Metropolitan Joseph and the Orthodox archpastors one in mind with him have condemned the actions of Sergius and deprived him of communion with themselves.
Being by God’s will and with the blessing of the Substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich, invested on February 6/29, 1927, with the high authority of being the guardian of the Church of Voronezh, remaining at the same time also Bishop of the Kozlov district, and entirely sharing the opinion and outlook of the faithful Orthodox hierarchs and their flock, from this time forth I separate myself from Metropolitan Sergius, his uncanonical Synod and their actions, preserving canonical succession through the Patriarthal Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa.
I have chosen the Most Reverend Joseph (Metropolitan of Petrograd), assigned by the Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa, on December 6, 1925, as third candidate to the post of Substitute of the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, as my highest spiritual guide.
I entreat the Lord “that He preserve our land in peace,” that He confirm and keep His Holy Church from unbelief, heresies, and schism, and grant zeal and courage to walk without reproach in His statutes.”
Administering the Diocese of Voronezh,
Bishop Alexis of Kozlov
(Seal) January 9/22, 1928
Metropolitan of Moscow
BLESSED THEOKTISTA THE FOOL FOR CHRIST
Commemorated Feb. 22 (t1936)
At the time when Archbishop Peter and Bishop Alexis were in Voronezh, a remarkable holy woman lived there, a fool for Christ, the blessed Theoktista Michaelovna.
The following two accounts come from two former residents of Voronezh, who personally knew the blessed one. The first, Archimandrite Mitrophan of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk church in San Francisco, spiritual son of the late wonderworker Archbishop John Maximovitch, told us the following:
It is difficult for a man to drive pride away from himself, to kill it. Human nature does not endure accusations and will always try to defend itself, to answer the accusation, even if it is correct. But the path of fools for Christ is a special one, the straightest one to God. They delight in hurting their pride. Theoktista Michaelovna deliberately drew persecutions on her self; many mocked her, hated her, and even beat her.
Who she was or where she came from —no one knew. It was said that she had been the wife of a high-ranking naval officer who died in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and that after this tragedy, becoming disillusioned in the solidity ‘of earthly life, she directed the gaze of her heart on high and took upon herself the exploit of foolishness for the sake of Christ. God rewarded her with a gift of clairvoyance with which she helped her suffering neighbors.
She was small of stature, skinny, worn out, with noble features in her face. She lived in the Voronezh Monastery of St. Alexis until it was closed (1931), and then took shelter with various people. She had literally “nowhere to lay her head.” She lived from time to time also in Novocherkassk, where she was very respected. It is said that she was received there by the Ataman (General) of the Don Cossacks; despite the armed guard around his house, she went everywhere freely, even to his private rooms. It was not for nothing that she was comforting people in Novocherkassk, for there were frightul catastrophes there; the town was almost entirely wiped out by the communists because the Cossacks had been a great support for the Tsarist government arid were suspected to be a threat due to their freedom-loving spirit. Both in Voronezh and Novocherkassk she had her own circle of people whom she would visit.
I knew her from my childhood. I remember how one time my mother brought me to the Monastery to visit her. We had tea in her quarters, and she herself waited on me and poured tea.
In Voronezh there was an outstanding pastor, Archpriest Mitrofan, who greatly respected her and received her with great honor. He also died as a martyr in 1931.
She had a special appearance. She would wear soldier’s boots of the largest possible size, always leaving the laces untied. She would walk intentionally through puddles; the boots would become filled with water and she would keep right on walking.
She had a cane — a stick with a top on it, just a dry branch, and she would always take this stick with her. But always her noble, aristocratic origin was apparent. She would walk and be swearing a blue streak — but at the same time she would be looking with the kindest eyes. While walking she would close windows along the street with the stick. She was a noisy one. She loved me very much and often visited me.
Theoktista Michaelovna’s most striking gift was that of clairvoyance, which she manifested in her last years with special clarity. Here are some cases which I personally witnessed.
1. It was already the frightful Soviet times, the 1920’s. My father was a priest and I was afraid for him. After a long separation from him, I somehow managed to come and stay with him. I greatly rejoiced at meeting my relatives again. One morning Theoktista Michaelovna sent the woman who served her to demand that I leave my father immediately and come to her. I did not want to do this at all, since the times were dangerous and I had come for a short time.
She went away and after some time came back with the same command from Theoktista Michaelovna. This happened three times at short intervals, until I finally went. I was thinking: “What can be so urgent?” But she was just sitting by the samovar and, in the calmest way, just as if nothing had happened, she poured some tea and offered refreshments, and conducted a quiet conversation on the weather, and inquired how I was getting along. I had to humble myself and submit.
In an hour my mother came in tears: it turned out that no sooner had I obeyed and gone to Theoktista Michaelovna than our house had been surrounded and after a thorough search my father had been arrested. Despite all attempts, I was never able to find out anything more about his fate. If I had been home they would have taken me too — Theoktista Michaelovna’s clairvoyance saved my life. Then she took on a totally different air and advised me to leave the city as quickly as possible.
2. The next incident concerns the death of my mother. I loved my mother very much and suffered terribly when she died. I was always repulsed by alcoholic beverages and never had any desire for them. But when I heard that my mother had died, in my grief I was so outraged at all the inhuman conditions of the Soviet daily struggle that surrounded me that out of despair I couldn’t endure it any longer, and I went out and got drunk — so badly that I barely managed to get home to my apartment. Theoktista Michaelovna had a certain chaste woman of high education who devoted her whole life to the blessed one; she was called Anna Vasilievna. And so I wrote a letter to this Anna Vasilievna about my great sorrow over my mother’s death, and asked that she inform Theoktista Michaelovna that my mother had died. And soon I received a letter from Anna Vasilievna where it was written: “Theoktista Michaelovna asks me to tell you that she cannot stand drunkards.” And so, in her clairvoyance, she had seen what I was doing.
3. I was working in Orel, where I had a temporary out-of-town job. When it was discovered that I was the son of a priest, they kept back my pay; this continued for several months. I had no money, and my family was very concerned over what I should do next.
I wrote a letter to Anna Vasilievna for Theoktista Michaelovna. In a few days I received a reply: “Theoktista Michaelovna asks that you be told that she has made arrangements for you to be paid.” At this time I was in the town of Eletz.
I regained hope and went to the telephone station to call the pay office in Orel and to find out what the situation was with regard to my pay ment. And they said: “Where are you? We have been searching for you to pay you.” And I received everything in full, as I never had before. And so dear Theoktista Michaelovna had indeed “made arrangements.”
4. Once I was walking with Theoktista Michaelovna on the street, and a well-dressed young woman, full of health, was coming towards us. Evidently something had been revealed about her to Theoktista Michaelovna, because all of a sudden she hit the woman on the back with all her might, and then added a strong, uncensored word, apparently corresponding to her secret vice. The woman froze on the spot, but then continued on her way, since she apparently knew what she was being punished for.
Anna Vasilievna related that Theoktista Michaelovna did not sleep nights, but would spend them in prayer and vigil. When she went visiting she would pretend to pick insects off herself and kill them, and all the time she would scratch. Of course, people judged her for this. When she was with outsiders, she would often begin to speak all manner of nonsense, and sometimes would spit with an oath. But as soon as the outsiders would leave, a coherent conversation of a clairvoyant eldress would begin. She had a remarkable mind and a refined way of expressing her thoughts and feelings. It was apparent she was well bred.
There was a great public square in Voronezh; on one side of it were the buildings of the Party’s Regional Committee, and the Regional Executive Committee, and here there were monuments to Lenin and Stalin. Chekist guards were standing everywhere. Once she went up to these monuments and in front of everyone relieved herself; a puddle formed. She was immediately taken to Cheka headquarters, and there, in the Chief’s office, she made an even bigger mess right on his desk with all its papers. She was detained and then released as abnormal.
She had a friend Anisia, who very much loved her. Once this Anisia became ill and was preparing to die, since no one could help her. Theoktista Michaelovna came to her and was told that Anisia was dying. “She’s pretending,” replied Theoktista Michaelovna, then went up to her, took her by the hand (and it was evident that she was really dying) and said: “Aniska, get up!” The latter instantly got up and began to prepare a meal for them, and all her disease was finished. This was in Voronezh.
A certain woman was subjected to a search by the police. She had a small store of money which she had hidden in a purse on a shelf. Suddenly the police came and the search began. Mentally she cried out for help:
“Theoktista Michaelovna, save me!” The one conducting the search touched the purse but saw nothing. He moved the whole buffet and all the shelves, but didn’t find the money.
Another testimony of Theoktista Michaelovna is given by a spiritual daughter of Archbishop Peter (Zverev) in Voronezh in the 1920’s; she is now a nun residing in a California convent, Mother X.
I see her, the blessed Theoktista Michaelovna, before my eyes as if it were yesterday, although such a long time has passed since I saw her last in the city of Voronezh. She was of short stature, dressed in a long skirt and a coat of some dark, ugly color; on her head were many heavy kerchiefs, as though there were something wrong with her, or she were sick. She didn’t walk on the sidewalk, but mostly right on the street. She was always accompanied by some woman, perhaps a nun or a novice from the Protection Convent of the Mother of God where the blessed Theoktista lived amidst the remaining sisters who had not yet been arrested and banished into exile. The Convent had been closed by the Soviets long before, and had been turned into a so-called “workers’ village,” its houses rented out to laymen.
Theoktista Michaelovna lived in one of the cells of the Convent. Since laymen lived there now, and the school children were indoctrinated with communist propaganda, the blessed one was often seen being followed by a band of boys — young hoodlums. Usually she would disregard them, but sometimes she would stop, turn to them and say something to them. We saw her from afar, for to come close to her was a bit risky, since she was known to all to be just crazy. There were families which she visited, and perhaps she would stay sometimes with some of them. She was known to all the older residents as a holy woman and was highly respected.
When Bishop Peter of Voronezh was arrested by the GPU on November 10/23, 1925, his flock suffered bitterly over the separation from him and appealed to blessed Theoktista. “Will Vladika return soon?” they asked; “when will Vladika come?” She replied: “He will come when we’re eating meat.” And in fact, her words were fulfilled precisely; the GPU did not detain him long, and he returned home, arriving in Voronezh in time for the funeral of Metropolitan Vladimir of Voronezh on December 28, during the fast-free week after the feast of the Nativity of Christ.
On February 2, 1926, Bishop Peter was raised to the rank of Archbishop of Voronezh, and he began to live then in a small house not far from the St. Alexis Monastery. Here Theoktista Michaelovna constantly visited him — evidently, he was a friend of the blessed one. She would go straight to his cell and sit on his bed, where she would wait until Vladika would send away those who were constantly coming to him. She would call Vladka always by his first name and patronymic.
I also remember that in the upper church of the St. Alexis Monastery, dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ, there were two wonderworking icons of the Mother of Gcd: the “Life-giving Fount” on a high place on the right side, to which little steps led with a metal railing, and at the same elevation on the left side, the Mother of God “of Three Hands.” One day every one in the church was very upset at the behavior of Theoktista Michaelovna:
She got up on the high place to the icon of the “Three Hands” and stood with her back to the icon and began to bawl somebody out with some rather crude language. A short time later some thieves broke into the sacristy, sawed through the iron grating in the window, and stole something valuable. Then people understood that this act of hers referred to those evil-doers.
It was said that if she gave you bread, it was a good sign. People tell how once she was drinking tea at the place of one of the sisters in the Convent, when suddenly she leapt up and poured water from a dish out the window into the yard; at this very time someone nearby had a fire in a chimney and Theoktista Michaelovna was “putting out the fire” by this gesture.
Once she refused to take a bread-roll from one woman, saying “You will need it yourself; you will live for so-many days (she gave the number) without anything else — you will have nothing else to eat.” This happened just as she said.
The righteous Theoktista saw the rapid liquidation of the Orthodox churches and monuments of Voronezh in the 1930’s, which was only a part of the satanic program that was conducted all over the much-suffering Russian land, to the appalled outrage of almost the whole Russian people. The reign of terror took such proportions that people thought some madmen had gotten loose and seized the reins of government. Thousands of people were being arrested at random and thrown into prisons without any idea why. Professor P. Kusakov of South America, then a young man, who still remembers the blessed Theoktista well, tells us that it was like a psychotic nightmare, after which people became stupifled and indifferent to everything. Those few who remained free had only one thought: how to survive and take care of their shattered close ones. In addition to all this, a man-made famine was raging all over the southern region, which had always been the most fertile part of Russia, when thousands of innocent people died from starvation.
All this the blessed Theoktista saw well and co-suffered with the remaining Christians. By the mid-1930’s all churches were closed, levelled by dynamite or turned into factory storehouses.
Christianity went deep under ground and the few faithful could steal away to church services only deep in the night. The heart of the blessed one, which inspired so many good deeds for her neighbors, could not endure any longer. One day blood rushed to her throat, and on February 22, 1936 (OS.), Theoktista Michaelovna died. It was said that before her death she dressed all in white to meet her Brdegroom, Christ, and died in the Convent. She was buried in the cemetery outside the city and her memory was erased from Voronezh. But the Christian conscience bears her image in loving hearts throughout the world, wherever there is knowledge and understanding of Russia’s Catacomb Saints.
Sources: Poisky’s Russia’s New Martyrs, Vol. II: Memoires of Rev. Sergei Shukin, Archimandrite Mitrofan, Nun Xenia, and Peter Kusakov.