SHEPHERD OF CATACOMB LAY BROTHERHOODS
Commemorated January 26 (†1938)
Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have
nests; but the Son of Man hath not where
to lay His head. And he said to another,
Follow Me. Luke 9:58-59
Having prepared himself for the service of the Church, the young man married and became a priest, being pastor of the church in the town of Old Constantinovo. As a young priest be arrived in my town of Zhitomir straight
from the front in 1917 and received a small church in the center of town. There he organized a brotherhood of laymen in the spirit of the early Chris tians. His wife, however, being of worldly interests, left him and married a Bolshevik. Father Arcadius quietly gave her a divorce and lived himself with his mother. This freed Father Arcadius to devote himself entirely to church work and to his flock. With zeal and the strength of youth, he turned his at tention to the defense of the Orthodox Faith, attracting great numbers of the faithful with his flaming sermons He celebrated church services every morn ing and evening And these fer ent, apostolic services supplied a stream of burning joy and faith for the souls of the persecuted Christians. He was allaflame. He never rested and never thought of himself.
To such an extent was he selfless that he was able to give to the first beggar anything he had. The bleak Soviet reality with its ever increasing poverty and overwhelming deprivation of the very essentials of life, gave, of course, ample opportunity for a Christ-loving pastor to ex tend charity. Seeing an impoverished man on a cold night with his pants ripped, Arkady would not hesitate a minute to give him his own. And since he always wore his riasson and cassok, he could easily get away with it undetected. His mother, however, would discover his art of philanthropy in doing his laundry and often would jokingly tell her neighbors—”Last night Arkasha again came home without his pants.”
Father Arcadius had a great power of prayer. In our church during the services there were no conversations or moving about; everyone prayed with concentration, just as Batiushka did in the Altar. Often everyone in church would fall to their knees spontaneously. Everyone would sing.
The persecution of the Church increased with every year, and the de voted pastor endured great trials, going from one danger to another. The Cheka persecuted the faithful; everywhere churches were being closed and the faithful were fired from work just because of their religious convictions, And Father Arcadius, burning constantly with heavenly fire, drew to himself more and more of the faithful and united them in a single-minded devotion to God.
He at once organized brotherhoods of laymen for bringing Christian work to the suffering Russian people. I was a member of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood. We were all burning with zeal and enthusiasm. Those who wanted to join the brotherhoods were solemnly received by giving their vow to carry out the aims of the brotherhood, which required, first of all, devotion to the purity of Orthodoxy — never to renounce it, even under threat of death; secondly, the wearing of modest attire; then fasting, and so on. The acceptance into the brotherhood was conducted very solemnly.
Everyone had to make the necessary preparation for Confession and the reception of Holy Communion. Then everyone would remain in church, and before the reading of the Gospel we had to repeat the words spoken by Father Arcadius — the rule of the brotherhood — and to confirm them with a vow. We were then all given large lighted candles, which we were to treasure until death. After wards we would receive Holy Communion.
In our Brotherhood there were several groups: one was a missionary group, conducted by Father Arcadius himself, whose aim was to fight sectar ians, atheists, and the Living Church; then there was a group of singers; a group which visited hospitals, taking care of the lonely and sick and those poor people who had many children; then a burial group, whose duties were not only to bury the faithful and see that they received the Church’s burial service, but also to obtain and deliver coffins to the grave; and since the times were very hard, often we had to drag the coffins on little carts or sleighs to the cemetery, and even dig the grave. Don’t forget what extremely difficult years those were! Then there was also a philanthropical group.
At first Father Arcadius had two churches: a small one dedicated to the Annunciation, and a larger one dedicated to the Three Holy Hierarchs, whIch was formerly a seminary church, the other buildings of the seminary being occupied by the secular authorities. When the Brotherhood became too conspicuous for the authorities, its members were fortunate enough to obtain a former Old Believers’ church, dedicated to St. Ignatius the God-bearer, where we managed to exist until 1937; but that year the church was closed and the members of the Brotherhood began to gather around the cemetery church. The Brotherhood bad two priests: Father Julian Krasitsky, who was later forced to flee; and Father John Sirov, who stayed to the very end and secretly conducted church needs. Thus, my child was baptized by him in 1939, even though for conducting church services one would be immediately exiled, But God protected him, and I was in contact with Father John until the com ing of the Germans.
In 1921 there came the order of Patriarch Tikhon forbidding the giv ing of church vessels into the hands of unbelievers, especially the Holy Cha lices, which had been blessed with the grace of God. Father Arcadius, as a devoted son of the Church, followed the Patriarch’s appeal and would not give over the Church’s valuables. But the satanic authority was doing its evil deeds. One day, right after the Divine Liturgy, Father Arcadius was arrested by Cheka agents. That was in 1922, during the Bright Week of Paseha. When the Chekists took him, the whole mass of people moved together with the arrested Father Arcadius to the Cheka building. Then the Cheka soldiers took rifles and yelled with hatred: “Everyone go home or we will start shooting!” Everyone was silent, clinging to one another, holding their breath. And then, out stepped a nun by the name of Seraphima and bravely said: “No! We will not leave until you release our Father Arcadius or arrest us all together with him.” Then the soldiers put down their rifles and did not push us away, and we formed a wall; so they began to push us into the Cheka building. But since the crowd was enormous, they began to close the doors, and thus they ar rested 35 women and 17 men. They put us in the basement of that building. Our choir leader was there, so instantly that dark building was filled with Paschal singing. Then they took us out and pushed us into the yard near the garage, and began to conduct us, one by one, to be interrogated; and then we were pushed out into the street. We were given a statement to sign which said that Father Arcadius had started a riot, but not one person signed it. Then a note was added to that statement, indicating that the people them selves had refused to leave their spiritual father. And this every single person signed individually, as if by mutual consent. Among those imprisoned were young girls about 16 years old, induding myself, and we also signed.
The news of Father Arcadius’ arrest was instantly spread throughout the city, and the Cheka building was besieged by an endless amount of food parcels for the arrested ones. Thus all of the arrested ones were fed with these parcels, as well as the guards.
In the meantime, Father Arcadius was tried for the uprising, and then for refusal to give up church valuables. At the open trial many witnesses were called. They all said the same thing, speaking of Father Arcadius as a fine man, an unmercenarY, a priest who had devoted his whole life solely to the service of God and men. Many examples were brought forth of his good ness and exceptional self-sacrifice. There was no evidence against him at all. But the judge, who was young and very proud and self.assuted, with cynical frankness declared that the whole description of Father Arcadius given by the witnesses was not a justification of him, but rather constituted an increase of the accusation which had been made against him; for the ideas which he so warmly preached and put into practice contradicted the ideals of the Soviet regime, and such people were not merely unnecessary to the Soviet govern ment, but were extremely harmful to it.
At first Father Arcadius was condemned to death, but then be was given ten years in prison. He was imprisoned for five years in our town of Zhitomir, which made his lot somewhat easier, since there was constant contact between him and our Brotherhood. In prison he gained the love not only of the prisoners, but also of the jailors and guards, and thanks to this he man aged several times to give Holy Communion to the condemned, who were then led out to be shot. He saved many souls. And, of course, the food given to him by our Brotherhood helped his fellow-prisoners.
After his release, in 1927, Father Arcadius went to Petrograd for a meeting with our (Catacomb) hierarchs, and from there he made a pilgrimage to Sarov. There the closeness to the great Saint Seraphim made him decide to embrace monasticism. He returned to Petrograd, received the monastic tonsure, and soon was made bishop by the hands of Metropolitan Joseph himself, the actual founder and head of the Catacomb Church. He was made a vicar of the Poltava diocese, but he never saw his diocese. On the way to his flock, having arrived in the city of Lubin, he was arrested and sent to Kazan, from where he mannged to escape, living in hiding for a long time in Petrograd, secretly celebrating Divine services at the Kiev-Caves Metochion and inspiring Catacomb brotherhoods.
Then he left for Moscow, where he was arrested and put into the in famous Butyrka prison, being later banished to the Solovki concentration camp. A witness recalls Bishop Arcadius’ triumphant celebration of Divine Liturgy in Moscow: the church was filled with light, and amidst a multitude of loving and eagerly-listening believers stood the young pastor-hierarch, and everywhere there was spiritual joy, beauty and exalted prayer. And then, suddenly — a dreary night at the railroad depot—his exile to Solovki. Through a crowd of women, standing alone, who had gathered to see him off, a group of armed Red Army soldiers conducted Bishop Arcadius to a prison car fenced with barbed wire, and then there was the last glimpse of the beloved shepherd as he thrice blessed them through the grating of a dimly-lit window of the moving train. When he returned from Solovki, he was already an almost unrecognizable, gray-haired old man.
The president of our Brotherhood, Natalia Ivanovna Orzhevskaya, and others went all the way to Solovki in order to receive permission to see him, but they were not allowed even to receive a blessing from him. In a large room two rows of tables were placed. At one row of tables the visitors were seated, at the other, the prisoners. Between them a whole crowd of guards were constantly walking back and forth, making such noise that one literally had to scream in order to be heard. And, of course, they were not allowed to approach for a blessing because of the “danger of infection.”
Years later, Bishop Arcadius related that they proposed to him that he remain voluntarily
Solovki occupying a position as cashier, and that they even promised to stop the constant spying and watching over him — provided that he would renounce the rank of priest; but he preferred life in total deprivation keeping in his heart the Lord God.
After being released from Solovki, Bishop Arcadius was deprived of the usual Soviet identity permit, without which one’s very existence becomes illegal, and this ‘doomed him to constant homeless wanderings. Secretly, how ever, he managed to travel around and visit the brethren of his Catacomb brotherhoods. Several times he visited his mother in Zhitomir, where his ar rivals were a great inspiration and support, both for the. clergy and for us sinners.
Factually our St. Nicholas Brotherhood was deprived of regular lead ership after 1922, but we managed to continue up to 1937, when the last church was closed and the Brotherhood, of course, was not registered, but the remainder of our members continued to gather in the cemetery chapel. In 1934 Bishop Arcadius secretly visited Kiev and saw Schema-bishop Anthony. In his wanderings, which were mostly at night so as not to arouse suspicion, he had contacts even in Georgia and Siberia; but then once again be was arrested in the town of Rytsk. His whole life was one of suffering for Christ. Hardly would he return from one exile than within a month he would be arrested and again exiled. There was not much difference between freedom and exile.
At the time when he gave his monastic vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, he was given as his patron St. Arcadius of Viazma and Novo-torzhsk.* St. Arcadius, a fool for Christ of ancient Holy Russia, led a life of homeless wanderings, often praying on a certain huge rock. Now, being in his wanderings a new homeless Arcadius of crucified Holy Russia, could he fail to stop at the site of his Saint’s Monastery in the town of Viazma? And venerating the rock upon which the ancient ascetic had knelt in prayer, the modern confessor had to realize that he was deprived even of a cold rock upon which he could stay to rest for a while and pray.
Once, when his strength was undermined from this constant loneliness, homelessness and fear for the next day, being secretly in Moscow, Bishop Arcadius was tempted to visit Metropolitan Sergius. In order to see the Metropolitan, one had to go through great difficulties and dangers. And when he finally saw Metropolitan Sergius and told him about his situation, the latter, not listening to him, abruptly asked Did you register with the GPU? Until you are registered there, I will not speak with you When Viadika Arcadius was walking out of the Metropolitan s office, he noted that both Metropolitan Sergius and all his clergy were well fed and wore clean clothing, and when he looked around at the people who were waiting outside the office in hope of seeing the Metropolitan in order to get help and encouragement, being themselves destitute and miserable, he understood that his path was different, and that he had to return to his hapless wandering And so he left
Above him was a wide starry sky, in his heart there was peace He was in the blissful state of being deprived of everything that a man can possess But that something which was burning in his pastoral heart, no one could take away from him! For he was a shepherd of Christ s catacomb flock and was aflame with zeal for pure Orthodoxy—and he bravely marched on and on, distributing the Bread of Life to his brethren in Christ, scattered like the stars above him over the wide horizon of the Russian land Thus, finally, in 1938 he was spotted in the territory of the wide Volga River, in the city of Kostroma, was thereupon arrested, and was never heard of again. Those were the years of the Ezhov purge, when many perished without a trace and when the Catacomb Church went deep underground, hiding any trace of its exis tence — until the time pleasing to God, when from within its bosom will shine forth through the whole world the blazing glory of Russia’s Catacomb Saints...
* Commemorated Jan. 28, June 11, and Aug. 14.
Sources: This account was compiled from materials supplied to the St. Herman Brotherhood by Bishop Arcadius’ spiritual daughter, Irene Mashin, who also supplied the photographs and gave corrections to chapter 8 of Polsky’s Russia’s New Martyrs, vol. II, pp. 84-87.