AND THE HOLY NIGHT OF RUSSIAN MONASTICISM
Commemorated April 1 (†1944)
Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you
out of the world, therefore the world hateth you... if they
have persecuted Me, they will persecute you also.
IN THE VICINITY of Petrograd in the early 1930’s a small monastery still remained, where many came on pilgrimage — the Hermi tage of St. Macarius the Roman.
Early one morning we boarded a train and travelled to the Liuban station. There were thirty of us making a pilgrimage. Having stopped to drink some tea at the monastery metochion in town, we started out on foot for the monastery.
At first the way lay through fields. Around us ears of rye swayed in unison, then we passed rustling fields of oat, then pink fields of buckwheat upon which the passing wind made violet-colored waves. Being city dwellers, we rejoiced in the open spaces, the sun, nature.
Having rested in a village, we entered the forest. Father P., who led us, began to recite by heart the Akathist to the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow. Everybody caught up the refrain and later the canticles of the canon. The prayer lasted for a long time; finally the last note died away, but the forest still continued to stretch out just as dense and endless as ever. Everyone was tired and grew silent. Our feet began to ache and swell. Our shoes rubbed our heels until they hurt. Our bodies ached.
We walked and walked — there was no end to the dense green forest. Already dusk was descending, and we still did not know how far we had to go. From one side of the forest the moon appeared; its rays mingled with the twilight, while we continued to walk. Fiinally we came on a clearing in the forest. Down the hill there ran a small stream, and farther on there appeared a log church. Against the sky a bell-tower was silhouetted, under which was the dark roof of the monastery buildings. And then from a distance there came to us the thin sound of the monastery bell. ‘ hadn’t heard a monastery bell for so long, and everyone came to life and almost at a run descended the slope, hoping to arrive in time for the Vigil service.
Here long ago, on a tiny island of firm soil, surrounded on all sides hy impenetrable bogs, St. Macanus the Ronian had settled and lived a hcinut’ life. The closed tomb with his holy relics was located in the monastery diiir Ii. On the site of his cell a small chapel had been built. The monks had drained a large space in the marsh for the church and monastery buildings, hid l out pathways, drained and cultivated parcels of land for fields and vegetable gardens. The Bolsheviks had taken over the fields, depriving the monks ot their sustenance. Believers would bring from town sacks of dried bread, intl the monks would process them and bake bread for the common table of nionk and pilgrims.
Many paupers and fools for Christ had found refuge in the monastery. One of these was Misha, who was well known to everyone from the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in Petrograd. His loud voice was familiar to us, and we respected this white-haired old man with youthful black eyes. I remember when once the doctor had done a bad job of extracting one of my teeth, amid my jaw was swollen for several months and hurt a great deal. I had to wear a bandage. Misha came to me once during the Liturgy and whispered into my ear: “Go to Novodevichy Convent, take oil from the vigil lamp before the icon of the Martyr Antipas and anoint your cheek with it. Look at you — you think you’re smart, going to get healed by a doctor.” I turned around, but he was already gone. So I went to the Liturgy at Novodevichy Convent, but the nuns who were selling candles did not even know where they had an icon of the Martyr Antipas. We barely managed to find a small icon. I did as Misha had told me: anointed the cheek with oil and took some oil from the vigil lamp with me. And soon everything passed away: the inflammation disappeared and the jaw stopped hurting. This same Misha had previously been an atheist intellectual, an engineer. But when the Lord touched his soul, this shocked him so much that he took upon himself a severe ascetic way of life and became a fool for Christ. After my meeting with him in the monastery he disappeared. We heard that he had been arrested and shot at the whim of an interrogator.
It was a very difficult and frightful time when I visited the monastery. Pray to St. Macanus and the Iveron Mother of God!’ Father N. consoled me. The icon of the Iveron Mother of God at the monastery was a special one. The Holy Virgin was painted in full monastic attire in mantle and with a prayer-rope in her hands.
The superior of the monastery, Bishop Macanus, had taken the schema, hardly ever left his cell, and rarely conversed with the pilgrims, except for some of his spiritual children. Several times we met him in the corridor and in church. But finally I had the opportunity to visit him and talk with him. Closed-up, serious, sad, he made a strong impression on the pilgrims; and if anyone conducted himself noisily or in general unbecomingly, or missed church services, Vladika through his cell-attendant asked such a person to leave the monastery. Young people were rather afraid of him and tried hard not to infringe the strict monastic rules.
Matins began at four o’clock in the morning, followed by the early Liturgy. There followed, at nine o’clock, the late Liturgy and a moleben, which ended between noon and one oclock. Then there was the meal. At four o’clock there was Vespers or the Vigil service, an akathist, and after it a requiem service. The services ended between eight and nine o’clock in the evening. After this there was supper, and around midnight Nocturnes. After spending some time, I finally had to go back to the city. At the station town, in the metochion church, I attended the All-night Vigil. For a long time I knelt before the icon of St Macanus. It appeared that with his look he encouraged me. And indeed, everything went well, and I returned without being arrested.
We visited the Hermitage several more times. n a severe frost at the end of the Nativity Fast we arrived at the monastery in order to be with the monks on the feast of St. Macanus. Father P. wished to receive the sacrament of Unction from Vladika. Our clergy gave Unction not only to the seriously ill; in those frightful times everyone lived under the constant threat of sudden violent death, or else in conditions where it was impossible to receive the holy Sacraments. Monks and some of the believing laymen usually gathered during the Nativity Fast or the Great Lent to receive Unction.
That day Father P. served the Liturgy in the small church on the site of the Saint’s wilderness cell. Vladika Macanus came to pray together with us. At the direction of Father P. I came up to Vladika for a blessing and presented Father P.’s request for Unction.
“Why does Father P. wish the Unction so much?” asked the Bishop. “He has a heavy weight on his soul,” I answered. Viadika looked at me sternly, and suddenly tears gushed from his eyes. He began to sob uncontrol lably. “If you only knew what heavy trials lie ahead for us, how much suf fering and torment! Our monastery will be devastated, our sacred things defiled!”
He continued to sob. A frightened novice was about to run up to Via dika, but Father P. restrained him. They all left quietly.
I stood before the sorrowing hierarch, profoundly shaken, seized by presentiment of an approaching storm. He spoke as if to himself, oblivious of me. Then he gradually came to himself, walked up to the icon of the Saint, kissed it, left the church, and set out along the path to the monastery. His tall, dark figure stood out sharply against the pure white sheet of snow, which glistened under the bright rays of the winter sun.
Within a year his prophecy was fulfilled. The arrests of “Holy Night” (when thousands of the clergy and faithful were arrested in one night) broke out and swept from the face of the earth all the remaining monasteries and monastic and lay communities. That night I also was arrested.
Viadika was sent to a concentration camp in Siberia, and was a night- watchman there.
This is his story, a tale of the condemned homeless wanderings of a Catacomb Hierarch-confessor, whose only crime was that he was a successor of Christ’s apostles and that his heart belonged first of all to Christ.
Schema-Bishop Macarius, in the world Cosmas, was the oldest son of many children of the Vasiliev family. He was born in Guba village in Tikhvin province of Novgorod in 1871 and from his childhood was drawn to church services and its otherworldly singing. As a teen-ager he went to Petersburg, where he often visited the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra and listened attentively to the inspiring sermons of Hieromonk Arsenius who was a professional missionary primarily against sec tarians and schismatics. The latter was quite popular and his name used to appear often in the press, and he was known and respected by Pobedonostsev himself.
With the aim of creating a missionary-oriented monastery with Mt Athos typicon, he revived the St. Macanus the Roman Hermitage, located in the marshy wilderness of the Novogorod region, not too far from Petersburg. By the turn of the century, St. Macanus Monastery was already well established with 200 monks; it had a stone church and four major stone buildings, a metochion in a nearby town and a guest house — all of which attracted and gave consolation to many visitors.
When the young Cosmas first arrived at the monastery at the age of 23,he found himself in the midst of a group of other young aspirants for monastic and missionary life. As a novice he chopped fire wood and did other manual labor as his obedience, as remembered by one of his friends, Fr. Conon, who came there together with him. In 1897 he was tonsured by Abbot Arsenius and given the name of Cyril. By 1900 he was already hieromonk and head of the monastery metochion in Luban where he stayed for the next five years. In 1906 Father Arsenius went to Mt. Athos as a missionary to combat the new heresy of “name-worshippers,” and Father Cyril was made his successor as the Abbot. Fr. Arsenius unfortuately succumbed to the heresy he went off to fight and never returned to his monastery. The monastery, however, continued to flourish and even the Revolution did not touch it due to the impenetrable marshland of its location, for truly, it was pointless to the Bolsheviks to organize anything on its premises.
In 1923, according to the decree of Patriarch Tikhon, he was consecrated liethop by Hierarchs Seraphim of Kolpinsk and Micah of Archangelsk, who gave hun the title of Bishop of Luban, the small town where the monastery metochion, ii “podvorye” with the guest-house was located. At that time many new bishops were made so that, in view of the constant arrests, at least some bishops would be kit to govern the flock. However, the same year Bishop Macanus was arrested. The I klsheviks, having inflicted an artificially created famine of their own making, when hundreds and thousands were dying from starvation, now forced the Church leaders II give up church valuables: chalices, crosses, etc., with the pretense of helping the victims of hunger.. In actuality, however, they sold these valuables (church property) abrroad to strengthen the Soviet power. And many innocent people perished during this time. For the supposed concealment of church valuables of St. Macanus’ Monastery, its Abbot was arrested and condemned to five years’ imprisonment. He was sent to “the Crosses”—the infamous Leningrad prison, then to Solovky con tentration camp and other prisons, which were designed according to Lenin’s plan to simply liquidate the undesirable “thinking” element of the general population. ‘ he was in the colonies for the forced exiles, where he looked after cattle and performed other menial labor. After three and a half years there, he was set free thanks to an amnesty and returned to his monastery. There, in order to dedicate himself entirely to prayer and to have less contact with worldly life, he accepted the great schema with the name of his beloved St. Macanus—the founder of his monastery
He lived upstairs in a cell; his cell-attendant was Hierodeacon Bucol, a former peasant boy from a neighboring village. Daily he celebrated early Liturgy in the side altar, not pontifically, but as a simple priest, only with the small omophonion over his phelon. He attended all other services standing on the ciros, always wearing the embroidered schema cape (see his photograph, p. 369). He was always deeply engrossed in prayer and seemed to live in the world of the saints. But, as was to be expected, he did not manage for long to avoid contact with the God-hating authority of the communists.
On February 18, 1932, during the “Holy Night” of the Passion of Rus sian monasticism, he was arrested again—this time with the whole of his brotherhood and that was the final end to the monastery of St. Macarius the Roman which had existed for so many centuries. Within a short time most of his monks perished.
Bishop Macanus was sent again to “the Crosses” where he spent two months of preliminary confinement, and afterwards he received a relatively short sentence of three years’ “voluntary” exile to the city of Verny (Alma-Ata) which he spent in the prison of that city and only then was sent for a “voluntary” settlement in the village of George near the town Frunze. Because of his ill health he was relieved from work, but during nights he was compelled to guard hay. One night he went to church to receive confession, returning safely.. For that he was again arrested and locked up in prison where he spent eight months under very wretched conditions.
In 1935, having completed the sentence of his “voluntary’ settlement, Bishop Macanus came back home, to the site of his monastery which now lay in ruins. What could he do? His cell-attendant, having had a similar prison ex perience, was still around. Together they settled in Chudovo, a town not too far from Luban. But now the question arose of how they were to live. Where could they obtain a livelihood? In the Soviet Union those who had completed their time of sentence were to be allowed, according to article —58, to receive their “living permit of residence” only if they showed their “work card” (a type of ID card). The Bishop however, did not have it and thus for several years had to exist without that “living permit”. But God helped him and he lived illegally with a believing family.
During this time he served secretly as a catacomb hierarch, disseminating the Mysteries wherever needed, baptizing, ordaining priests, consecrating catacomb bishops. In 1937 the mass arrests of the clergy increased again, and he, hiding from his inevitable arrest, went to Central Asia where he spent a year. Then he returned to Chudovo where, finally, he managed to obtain the required “living permit”. There he stayed until the war and the coming of the Germans, at which time he found himself in the middle of the front.
Fr. Bucol was with him all this time. The war was raging. With the in crease of Soviet guerilla troops it was highly dangerous. They managed to escape to a neighboring village and sought shelter in a small cabin at the mercy of some peo ple. Their stay was prolonged; the famine was fierce. The area even during peaceful times did not abound with food, for the soil of the Novgorod region is poor. One night the old lady of the house where they were staying saw a strange dream: a golden carriage drove up to her poor dwelling and in it was a majestic Queen who said: “I have an elder here; he is very tired. He must be given rest.” Thus did the Queen of Heaven herself intercede for the suffering schema-elder. The next day a Catholic priest came to the old lady and said, “I heard that an Orthodox bishop and I cell-attendant live here.” Hearing this the bishop came out and the priest told tim how they could escape west to the Pskov Caves Monastery. They immediately pitt their knapsacks on their backs, took walking staves and left for the monastery. soon they safely reached their destination where the monks received them with love and honor. This monastery, after the Revolution, found itself on the territory of free Istonia and thus escaped the common fate of the thousands of other monasteries of he suffering Russian land. It was in a thriving state, peaceful and had a sufficiency d everything. The Bishop again began to liturgize daily at the dawn of day as he was accustomed to do and even began to dream of returning home to his helovcd St. Macanus and to re-establish his monastery for the third time. But the Lord saw that his true confessor of His was ready for his eternal home. In the terrible years of life in Soviet Russia, he was revered by thousands of Orthodox people for his holy prayers, help, and kindness in serving his fellow brethen. Many people risked their lives and freedom in order to enlighten the sufferings of this Bishop during his in numerable exiles and persecution. To these he was a true zealot of Orthodoxy, who guarded the testaments of the holy Church at the cost of his personal stil fering. The Bolsheviks could not break this righteous one. His sufferings eanwd him his crown. It was time now for him to go to his heavenly home.
In the night before April 1, 1944, the town of Pechory was sev(reIv bombed by the Soviets. They bombed the town for the whole night, in four st rikes with intervals of 40 to 50 minutes. Fortunately for the monastery, the huge twit ton bombs fell outside the monastery. Within the monastery fell some ten hitinits of smaller caliber. One of these fell across from the refectory and tore out an tilil oak tree by the roots. A piece of the bomb penetrated through the window franic into the cell of Schema-Bishop Macanus and killed him instantly. On titi analogion in front of him there was an opened gospel and a prayer hook: tlitv were covered with the Bishop’s blood. The clock had stopped at 9:47 p.m. All lu monks were hiding in bomb shelters, but Bishop Macanus had refused to go ti the cellar and had remained in his cell praying. The bombing caused till monastery much damage, and there was even more damage and many casualties in the neighboring town of Pechory.
Thus did this holy confessor meet his Lord—on the day of Christ’s Resurrection. April 1st. The body of Bishop Macarius was buried in the caves from which the Pskov Caves Monastery takes its name. And so did Soviet bombs end the earthly life of a confessor of God’s truth who had already suffered much inside the USSR, and who well earned the title that is his by right of a New Martyr of this much-suffering age.
A witness from Germany. Natalia Georgievna Kieter. shared with us her experiences of the terrible persecutions of Orthodox Christians at that time.
‘‘The ‘Holy Night’, so called by the people. was the night of the l7th-ISth of February, 1932. I remember it well because on February 16 my mother died. She had only recently accepted secret tonsure and was a nun in the world. On February 18 our spiritual father, Hieromonk Benjamin, was expected: he was to celebrate the funeral in our home. For a long time I waited for him, and finally telephoned him at his apartment. I was told: ‘He cannot come; you understand.’ A long pause fol lowed, and I understood without words that he was in a dangerous Situation. I wished to look for another priest but not a single one who was not a Renovationist was available in the whole of Petersburg. No church had a priest that day. I was in the Valaam metochion nearby. All the priests from there were arrested. Fortunate ly, I happened to find a kind Batiushka in the cemetery. He was not a Renovationist which was most unusual for it was only the Renovationists who were not arrested.
‘‘Soon I learned of the tragedy that took place in St. Macarius Monastery and with one teenage boy I hastened there since I knew that not a single person was left there. The church was boarded up and it was guarded by NKVD agents. It was an incredible incident in our Soviet life. The holiest object of the monastery was the chains of St. Macarius which for centuries had been exposed for veneration by the faithful. They had to be saved.
On our way to the monastery we had to go through a dense forest and thick marshes. We barely managed to escape being sucked into a quagmire. Avoiding the roads where we might be spotted, we sang a molehen to St. Macanus. After a series of adventures we managed to reach the monastery. Breaking a window, we crawled into the church where we saw a whole box of church valuables still there. I took the holy chains of the Saint together with many icons and church books. St. Macarms covered us with his mantia from the eyes of the NKVD agents and miraculously we were not caught. I kept the holy chains at home until such a time as it would be possible to give them to the Church. But it was dangerous even for me to keep them. I therefore gave them for safekeeping for awhile to a friend, a young woman of kindred spirit and a co-worker in the vineyard of the Lord. She placed them temp)orarily in a drawer of her night table. Suddenly her brother, a young scholar, was arrested and accused of religious propaganda. The NKVD agents stormed into the house for a search. They turned everything upside down; they looked into every single box and only the drawer in which the chains were kept was not opened. The miracle was that, having found nothing, they set the brother free. Truly St. Macarius had protected us all. Soon after this incident I brought the chains to a certain nun who took them to Moscow. Where are the chains today?”
The date was February 18, 1932 (n.s.). It is a radiant and yet a terrible date, the Passion Friday of Russian monasticism—ignored by all and almost unknown to the whole world—when all of Russian monasticism in a single night disappeared in to the concentration camps. It was all done in the dead of night and with the full knowledge of Metropolitan Alexis — about which there is sufficient evidence. In Leningrad there were arrested: 40 monks of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra; 12 monks of the Kiev metochion (the other monks had all been arrested in 1930); 10 monks from the Valaam metochion; 90 nuns of the Novodevichi Convent; 16 nuns of Abbess Taisia’s Leushinsky metochion; 12 monks from St. Theodore’s Cathedral; 8 monks from the “Kinovia” of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra’s “Big Okhotko”; a hundred or so monastics from various other Leningrad churches. In all — 318 people. That same night all the monks and brethren of the St. Macanus the Roman Monastery were arrested and brought to Leningrad as vicious criminals whose very presence was a threat to society; they were treated as deadly insects which must be stamped out.
The wave of arrests, like thunder, rolled over the Russian land, striking chiefly the monastic population which so recently had been the glorious guardian of the nation’s morals and values. It also struck many of the white clergy and laymen who, in one way or another, were close in spirit to monasticism. For example, the flaming sermons of the parish priest Father Alexander Medvedsky were the cause of his arrest. All were sent to the Kazakhstan region from where almost no one ever returned.
At the same time, in Leningrad alone many churches were closed and destroyed. (Levitin-Krasflov gives an accurate listing—see p. 222 of his book). Even the parish church to which the famous scientist I.P. Pavlov (of Pavlov’s dogs) so ardently belonged (he went personally to Moscow to try to save the church) was struck, and, as soon as he died, this magnificent architectural monument dedicated to the Theotokos of the Sign (Znamenie) was blown up with dynamite (1937), and not a trace of it remains. By this time, of course, all of Russia’s 1,400 monasteries—not counting sketes and newly-formed monastic communities—were closed and, with a handful of exceptions, obliterated.
‘‘We all,’’ recalls a witness, “felt miserable during this frightful period, almost to the point of nausea. Everyone felt as though they [ authorities] had sadistically spit into our souls or beaten our mothers to death before our very eyes. It was a terrible feeling of hurt and rage, and yet one was helpless. I experienced this frightful state during that spring of 1932” (Levitin-Krasnov). Little did these people suspect that soon after this “Holy Night”, the freedom-loving United States of America was to recognize the Soviet tyranny as a lawful government. And all the while, the puppet-bishops of Sergianism declared throughout the whole world that Christians in Russia were free.
Sources: Nun Veronica, Memoires, published by Russian Life Press, San Francisco, 1954;
Archpriest Gerasim Shoretz in Poisky’s The New Mart yrs of Russia, Vol.1, p.181, Vol. II, p. 284;
LP., The Death of Schema-Bishop Macanus, in “Orthodox Russia,” — 13-14, 1944;
A Krasnov-Levitine, Likhie Godi, Paris, 1977, pp. 215-20;
Natalia G. Von Kieter, manuscript. (All in Russian.)