A SAINT OF KOLYMA AND MAGDAN
Commemorated June 12 (†1938)
The Lord appeared unto me saying,
Yea, I have loved thee with an
Without Me ye can do nothing.
With God all things are possible.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Revolution. Russia produced a whole “cloud of witnesses,” who sought not only their own personal happiness and that of others in the saving enclosure of the holy Orthodox Church, but labored hard to transfigure secular society by means of the principles of life in Christ. One such benefactor of society was Bishop Onouphry, who, in giving his life to Christ, gained true happiness while still in this world, and shared this with his brethren. The people who knew him and recorded for posterity some precious crumbs of information about him, all bear witness to the profound spiritual joy they experienced in contact with him—who was with Christ—and patiently await that longed for moment when the gates of Heaven will open and they shall again behold their beloved Archpastor.
At the turn of the century, Russia abounded with holy monasteries. Almost every month a new monastic community would spring up, some of them quite abundant in true zealous ascetics. A number of high-quality religious magazines began to come off the press (“Strannik,” “Saul-Profiting Reading,” “Christian Reading,” “Soul-Profiting Converse,” “The Russian Pilgrim,” “The Russian Monk,” “The Rudder,” etc.), Pilgrimages to holy shrines and remote monasteries and sketes were very popular. In a word, the spread of the monastic ideal was enthusiastically supported by society which gave to it its best sons and daughters as offerings to God. And these “sacri fices” eagerly embraced their chosen path and soon produced an abundant harvest of God-pleasing virtues for the whole of Holy Russia.
The literature dealing with the righteous men and women of that time shows the intimate union which existed between men and their loving God, Jesus Christ. Many accounts from the lives of these God plea.sers were widely published and inspired God-fearing youth with a realistic and accessible ideal towards which to strive. One youth who embraced this ideal early in life, was the future saint-ascetic, Hieromartyr Onouphry.
BISHOP ONOUPHRY WAS born some ten years before the turn of the century. He was the son of Maxim Gagaliuk and was given the name of Anthony at baptism. Evidently God called him to the monastic path relatively early, judging from the fact that he became bishop soon after completing the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. We do not know which monastery he first entered, but from the recollections of Bishop Nektary (of Seattle) we can surmise it was somewhere in the south of Russia. Once, on a visit to a parishioner, he was offered some grapes. Declining the offer, he told about an incident in his early years in the monastery which illustrates his ascetic zeal. The monastery was situated in a vineyard, and in order to go from church to his cell, he had to pass through the rows of vines. One Sunday (or feastday) in summer, having received Holy Communion at Liturgy, the young Onouphry was returning from church to his cell with a very holy feeling from the reception of the Divine Mysteries. The abundance of ripe and fragrant grapes attracted his attention. He stopped. There was peace and sunshine around, and a quiet peace filled his heart. “How glorious is everything created by God,” he thought. He decided to break off a cluster of grapes and eat it. But since it was still mid-summer, it was not easy to break off the branch. Having tried unsuccessfully to break it with his hands, he stooped down to bite it off with his teeth. At this moment the thought flashed through his mind: he, who had just partaken of the Heavenly Food of the Precious Body and Blood of the Son of God Who created the world and everything in it, was lowering his dignity and, like a dumb beast, biting with his mouth. As a reminder of this, he resolved never to touch grapes again in his life. This he fulfilled thus imitating St. Sabbas the Sanctified who never ate apples after having eaten a stolen fruit in his childhood.
In 1923, he was consecrated bishop and sent to the town of Krivoy Rog in the Cherson region. While still an archimandrite he used to visit it, and now he became its first bishop.
He is first remembered as young, fair, with long blond hair, ascetic looking, not very tall, but stately and reserved. His mother later recountedthat his “usual food was a prosphora, some potatoes without salt and a piece of bread,” and that he spent his nights in prayer. His face was emaciated, pale, with refined features, as if carved out of ivory or fragrant wax; truly, it was the face of a saint.
His talks were impressive, especially those given when he served the Divine Liturgy. He seemed so down to earth, so accessible, so close to the people, as if he were some close relative, yet he was always a little distant, removed from the prosaic part of life—a man not of this world. At the same time he was full of life, as if he knew the secret of deep, elemental happiness, and he was exceptionally strong emotionally. People immediately sensed his spiritual strength, were drawn by his warmth, and followed him into that other-worldly reality where he led them by means of the church services where God is close and present in the Holy Mysteries; the inspiring stories of righteous God pleasers who, thanks to their nearness to God, performed wondrous deeds in His name; and his flaming sermons that fortified the faithful with burning zeal to follow Christ to Golgotha. His own faith, so clearly manifest in his words and deeds, acted like a spark igniting the faithful. But soon it seemed as if the time had come when all the holiness acquired by Holy Russia was put to the test in view of the rising lawlessness and the frenzy of the God-fighters.
Bishop Onouphry’s cathedral was the Church of St. Nicholas, which later, in 1930, was destroyed just as the Ascension Church had been in 1928. The Protection Church remained standing, but it was turned into a granary. The relatively short period of Vladika Onouphry’s bishopric in Krivoy Rog was a veritable triumph of Orthodoxy. People of all ages filled the church to capacity whenever he served. They would come from the neighboring villages and would stand through the long services. Many young people forgot all their various amusements, such as movies and dances, and under his influence continued to be close to the Church despite the godless propaganda of the Komsomol (Young Communist League).
In the summer of 1924 Bishop Onouphry was arrested. When the news arrived about his departure, the believing townspeople rushed to the railroad tracks. The train slowly left the station. Vladika Onouphry stood at the window grating and blessed the people. What occurred next is impossible to describe: in great sorrow people fell down on their knees in reverence before their beloved Archpastor. Everyone’s tears and loud cries created one large sob which hung over his orphaned flock until finally the train disappeared from sight.
The next year Bishop Onouphry was assigned to Elizabethgrad, head of the Odessa diocese. In 1927 he was arrested again and exiled to Krasnoyarsk. Then he served in the cathedral of Kursk. He was a zealous accuser of renovationism in the Odessa region. It should be noted that the beautiful Odessa Cathedral, which eventually was blown up, was being closed by the Communists at approximately this time. After the usual degrading process of taking down crosses, etc., the doors were boarded up and for a long time it remained in this state. One university student, who lived near-by, chanced to notice that on several occasions in the dead of night a light would flicker inside. She made an investigation and discovered that satanists were performing their abominable “black mass.” Her further bold investi gations proved to her that the Soviet Communists, while openly propagating the lies of atheism, in actuality are anti-theistic and practicing satanists (as was made public after the coming of the Germans). This is evident also in their hatred of churches, icons, crosses, clerical and monastic garb—all that reminds them of the God they hate. (See “Orthodox Path,” 1960, p. 89, in Russian.)
The mother of Bishop Nektary (of Seattle) was a spiritual daughter of the Optina Elder Nectarius, with whose blessing she was later tonsured a nun. Although the anti-Christian forces were already operating powerfully during the 1920’s, it was still possible. although with great difficulty, to have contact with the Optina saints. She was in constant contact with them while living in Kharkov at that time. Her son Oleg (the future Bishop Nektary), who was then an altar boy, recalls the following:
“Bishop Onouphry arrived in Kharkov in 1924 at the height of the battle between the Orthodox people and the Living Church, and instantly proved to be a true pillar of Orthodoxy. One’s first impression of him was of a man not of this world. He was tall, very thin and pale, as if he had tuberculosis. He was a great ascetic; this could be seen in his every gesture as well as in his deep concentration, self-control, and constant prayer. When he would enter the altar, his presence alone would evoke a profound silence even among the nQisiest acolytes. It was as though a saint had entered. During the Divine services, nothing else mattered for him but prayer. Many times I had the opportunity of helping him in the altar. He served with exceeding reverence. Truly, he stood before God while he celebrated the Liturgy, entirely engrossed in prayer. During services he demanded absolute silence from the people. Once, while he was standing on the cathedra during the Divine Liturgy, the church being full of people, a mad woman loudly yelled out several times, “Viadika Onouphry,” which echoed throughout the church. People immediately started to push her out of the church while she continued crying slowly, “V-l-a-d-i-k-a O-n-o-u-p-h-r-y.” He had such self-control that he did not even blink his eyes, and continued standing as if at attention before God Himself. He served as if he were in another world; often it seemed to us as though he were present only in body.
“He stayed no more than two or three years in Kharkov, and during that time everyone came to love and respect him very much. My mother was under the spiritual guidance of Optina Elder Nectarius. But since Optina was very far from Kharkov, and the times were so bad, there arose many questions which she was unable to ask Elder Nectarius. She turned to Bishop Onouphry and thus he began to visit our home quite often. He likewise had great respect and veneration for the holy Starets Nectarius of Optina and had many answers to his questions brought from the elder by my mother on her visits there. Unfortunately, I was too young to understand and remember it all.
“Not far from Kharkov there used to be the St. Nicholas Convent; it was closed by the communists, and all the nuns had to leave. The abbess rented several houses in Kharkov where the nuns lived and kept their old rule of monastic life. Bishop Onouphry also resided there. He attended trapeza, conducted talks, and in general, his presence was very uplifting in those terrible times of persecution.
“The Soviets used the Living Church as one of their weapons, and in the whole of southern Russia only two small churches remained true Orthodox; the rest were either destroyed, closed, given over to sacrilege, or turned over to the Living Church. Thus, the small church on the outskirts of Kharkov was not only packed with Orthodox worshippers, but at one time had as many as 24 priests and 12 bishops regularly celebrating. Of course, these clergymen were from closed churches or were being transferred from one place to another. They were thus homeless, and the Bishop of Kharkov, Constantine, gave them lodging. Bishop Onouphry’s see was actually in Elizabethgrad and his residence in Kharkov was only temporary.
“The following incident shows Bishop Onouphry as a loving pastor and a strict observer of pure Orthodoxy. Once there came to him a priest from some distant church; repenting that he had concelebrated with the clergy of the Living Church, he begged Bishop Onouphry to receive him back into the bosom of Orthodoxy. To this Bishop Onouphry answered that it was beyond his power and advised him to go to Moscow and see Patriarch Tikhon (which places this incident before the Patriarch’s death on March 25, 1925); but meanwhile he called the abbess and ordered her to receive the poor hungry priest with maximum love, invite him to trapeza, keep him warm, and provide him with everything necessary for the journey to Moscow. But he himself would not be present at trapeza so as not to concelebrate with a clergyman of the Living Church in any way.”
A spiritual daughter of Bishop Onouphry, who preserved for us one of his portraits (see pp. 383-384) and a beautiful poem dedicated to him, re calls him in the following way:
In the years when Bishop Onouphry was in Kharkov, he attended a certain anti-religious meeting in the opera theater on Rymarsk Street. Bishop Onouphry, answering one atheist orator, asked him: “Christ was sold for 30 pieces of silver; for how many have you sold Him?” This question provoked such a clamor that the meeting was broken up and the people were told to leave. The question of the real reason for atheism was settled!
When Bishop Onouphry was incarcerated in Kharkov prison, the Soviet authorities paid one drunken criminal to kill him. The criminal broke through the wall of the jail and, with an axe in his hand, he confronted the bishop. “What do you want?” the bishop asked. “To kill you.” “What have I done to you? Well, go ahead and kill me.” But the very sight of the Saint so touched the conscience of the hardened criminal, that he was moved to tears. The criminal threw down his axe and remained sitting at the feet of the bishop weeping as the bishop told him about Christ. This is the picture which met the eyes of the jailors when they came in. And so, the criminal was locked into the same cell as the bishop.
While Bishop Onouphry was in Kharkov, there was a fire in the new Baturin grammer school on Maskaloff Street. The mother of three children who attended that school related the following:
On the eve of the Annunciation, March 25, the atheist administration deliberately presented an evening of anti-religious movies with refreshments. All the school children were invited, as well as all preschool children. During the showing of the film, which was directed against the Mother of God, a cry was heard: “Fire! Children, run for your lives!”The whole projection booth was in flames. A frightful panic arose; there was no one in control. The wooden staircase was already in flames, and in terror and desperation, the children began to jump out of the windows from the fourth floor. On the street under the windows a heap of children’s bodies began to grow. The first ones were all dead, but the woman’s children remained alive because they fell on top of the other children. The narrow Baturinsk alley was heaped with corpses and the panic-stricken crowd of citizens prevented the firefighters from rendering assistance. This particular mother, when she ran to the school, saw her eldest daughter Vera holding a sheet together with other children, upon which the children escaping from above were jumping down. The terrified mother an,dously looked for her two younger children in the tumult of people and bodies, and soon she found the shoes of her youngest daughter Lucy. Pulling her out all bloody and covered with soot, she saw that she was alive, as was her oldest son Victor. God had saved them. In two days the common funeral of the victims of the fire took place without, of course, the participation of any clergy.
Along the entire length of Maskaloff Street, the doors of almost every apartment house were open, and when the funeral procession began to move, two, three or four little coffins would come out of each door and join the procession. It was said that many parents who had lost their children in this fire suffered mental breakdowns. In view of the rumors in Kharkov concerning the causes of this catastrophe, the head of the NKVDpublished an article in which he warned that for the spread of “false rumors” the propagators would be prosecuted. The total number of children who perished in this fire was never officially publicized. These innocent sufferers were victims of the communist plague and their blood, like that of Abel and of the infants of Bethlehem, cries out to heaven.
On October 12, 1926, Bishop Onouphry was arrested again. This time he was exiled to Old Oskol where, although under surveillance, he had relative freedom. His fame as a holy man was recorded for us by a woman now living in - New Jersey, Maria Mostiko.
Old Oskol is an old country town, located on top of a small hill, which previously had been noted for its beautiful churches. These churches were all destroyed by the Bolsheviks. Nothing had been built in their place, and in some places there were the ruins of old walls which threatened to fall down upon the unwary people walking past. The town was surrounded by small neighborhoods and hamlets, and a majority of their churches were closed or used as granaries.
Originally, the authorities exiled Bishop Onouphry to Old Oskol, an insignificant provincial town, in order to limit his influence among the people. Before this time he had been under arrest and lived in exile.
“At the end of the 1920’s, I lived with my parents near the town of Old Oskol in the Kursk province. We often used to go to that town to visit my older sister who was studying there until 1929. Next to the house where my sister lived, I had a girlfriend. During one of our visits, my friend, having found out that we had arrived, immediately ran to my sister’s and began to beg me to go with her to the St. Nicholas Church, saying that today a holy hierarch, Bishop Onouphry, was serving. We came to church and I was instantly struck by the Bishop’s appearance—he was thin, tall, with a pale, almost transparent face, and he looked very much as Christ is portrayed on icons. He served peacefully, withut hurrying. The church was filled with people, who prayed with great concentration. But what struck me most of all was this: when, after the end of the Liturgy, I came up together with others to the bishop to get his blessing, he called me by my name, having never before seen me.
“The next day I was the witness of a great miracle: when the bishop raised the chalice during the consecration of the Holy Gifts, suddenly a child yelled loudly. It turned out that this child, in the arms of his mother who stood opposite the altar, saw through the holy doors that the bishop was all aflame, and this is when he cried out, pressing himself against his mother: “Mama, look! The priest will get burned—he’s all on fire!” The child could not quiet down for a long time, repeating the same words in spite of his mother’s continual assurances that there was no fire. Everybody in the church heard the child’s screams, but they did not see the flames. When, after the end of the Liturgy, the mother approached the bishop to receive his blessing, she told the bishop what had happened, but the bishop, in his humility, said that it had only been the child’s imagination.
“Sometime later, at the end of the 30’s, one pious woman, who unfailingly attended church daily, told me and my mother-in-law about a miraculous healing she had received through the intercession of Bishop Onouphry. This woman had suffered from a rash which not only caused her pain and itching all over her body, but also forced her to live absolutely isolated because it was extremely contagious. Two nuns who had visited her had also broken out with this rash. No medical treatment brought her any relief. In such a condition she would not allow herself to visit Bishop Onouphry, fearing to infect Vladika; but upon hearing about the healings that took place through his prayers, she finally had the courage to write him a letter—as to a saint. One day she knelt before an icon of the Holy Trinity that was in the corner over her bed, and for a long time with tears she prayed to God, calling also upon the bishop as a man who was pleasing to God, to grant her healing. Having become tired from kneeling at prayer, she leaned on the bed and fell asleep. In a light dream she saw that the bishop was next to her and together with her was praying before the holy icon; then he took the icon from the wall, blessed her three times, hung the icon back in its place, and disappeared. Here she woke up. She saw that the icon and everything else remained as it was before, but she instantly felt that she was completely healed from her sickness; there was no itching, the scabs had disappeared, and she was absolutely healthy. Simultaneously, the two nun-sisters who had caught the infection also received healing. She washed herself and instantly ran to the bishop to thank him for the miraculous healing. After this miracle she would visit the temple of God every day and never missed a service.”
Here are several more cases testifying to the clairvoyance of Bishop Onouphry.
1) One young girl who often went to church, and who loved very much the church services which Bishop Onouphry conducted, had a fiance who lived far away. Periodically he would live in Old Oskol; perhaps he was a student who received special training there. He had met this girl, they had fallen in love, and the young man had promised to return and marry her. The bishop praised this young fiance and told the girl that in order for him to return and for them to be happy in their family life, it was necessary for her to continue going to church, to read at home every day the Holy Gospel, and to receive Holy Communion ‘every Sunday faithfully. Three days before the appointed time of the arrival of the fiance, the girl became sick; the bishop gave her Holy Communion—and she quietly passed away. The mother of the girl wept and kept accusing the bishop that he had not warned them of the approaching tragedy, but the bishop answered that if he would have said to the young, blossoming, healthy girl that she would die soon, she would have fallen into despondency and would have been deprived of the Heavenly Kingdom. Since she spent that time attending church, confessing and receiving Holy Communion, she became betrothed to the Heavenly Bridegroom Himself, who took her to Himself.
2) In the church in the village of Yamsky, there served an old priest, Father John, who was burdened by the repression of the Church—with the closing of the churches and the arrest of clergy. In order to console him, Vladika told him that he would serve in this church until his death. Batiushka believed the words of the clairvoyant bishop, and all the parishioners were overjoyed about this. However, soon Father John was arrested together with other priests; some of them were shot, and the others, together with Father John, were put on a train and sent into exile. The old priest was absolutely exhausted with the journey, and according to the unutterable mercy of God, the administration considered that he was a hopeless case and threw him out of the train, saying, “Let him die there; why should we transport a dead corpse?” Some peasants from a neighboring village happened to be passing by,and recognizing in him a priest because of his appearance, and discovering that he was still alive, they took care of him, saying that the Lord had sent them His angel. Father John recovered, returned to his small village of Yamsky and continued to serve in his church until the coming of the German Army. When news came that Fr. John had died in Yamsky, people who had been skeptical when Father John was arrested and exiled now became convinced of the genuine clairvoyance of Bishop Onouphry.
3) When I lived in Old Oskol during the timeof the Second World War, I often used to visit a woman who had a cow and used to sell us milk. Once when I came to her as usual for milk, I heard the moans of her sick brother, whose legs had turned black up to the knees and caused him excruciating pain. I was shocked to hear this woman yelling and cursing her suffering brother. This brother previously had had his own apartment, but he had lost it and they would not accept him into the hospital because the hospitals were filled with wounded people. I began to reason with her, reminding her that it wasn’t Christian to treat her sick brother in this way. But she continued to mistreat him and threatened to throw him out into the street like a dog, since he was worthy of even worse sufferings. Explaining this seemingly cruel attitude, she told me the following frightful story about her brother. He was a communist and worked as an executioner for the NKVD. He was well paid and enjoyed a wonderful apartment. His work consisted of shooting priests and other condemned people. He even boasted that he received an extra 50 rubles for each neck. (The Soviets had the custom of forcing condemned men to turn their backs to the executioner who would shoot them in the back of the neck.) This brother was hoping to kill Bishop Onouphry for which he expected to receive 100 rubles, but the Bishop had prophesied: “He will not see my death—I will die in exile—but he will be frightfully punished for his evil deeds.” And thus were his words fulfilled.
4)1 often saw a priest who had left the priestly rank and had become an atheist in order to please the Bolsheviks. He even used to blaspheme God and slandered Bishop Onouphry. Vladika prophesied that he would undergo a horrible death if he did not repent. And what do you think happened? He fell down a flight of stairs from the second floor. For his atheistic propaganda he was paid a good pension. Soon after this accident, he fell from the same staircase a second time and was killed, leaving behind a wife and three small children.
5) Once Vladika was traveling at a very slow pace because of a crowd that thronged around the carriage. One atheist student, having heard much about the bishop, desired to come close to the carriage to take a look at him. He was very surprised to see that the bishop, having noticed him in the midst of the crowd, beckoned to him lovingly and bestowed upon him God’s blessing. Later this student came to believe in God, and desired to take upon himself the priestly rank. He was then arrested, exiled, and shot, as his friends informed his parents upon their return from exile.
6) In the Streletsky neighborhood in the town of Old Oskol, there was a church in honor of the miracle-working icon of the Kazan Mother of God which the Bolsheviks were planning to use as a granary. The parishioners fervently prayed and asked the prayers of Bishop Onouphry that their church might be saved from defilement. They hid their local miracle-working icon and with fear awaited what would befall them next. The bishop prayed and told the parishioners that they should not lament for the church would not be used as a granary. And truly, when the Soviet chiefs came to inspect the church, they lifted part of the floor boards and it appeared to them that under the floor there were millions of worms, while at the same time the parishioners who were present there saw absolutely no worms. The Soviet officials issued a report on the unsuitable condition of the church for use as a granary—and in this manner the church was preserved, although it was closed. The church remained closed and unused until the coming of the Germans, after which it was immediately opened and Church services were conducted there once again.
Equally remarkable is the next miracle, which was reported by witnesses. The bosses were amazed by the enormous number of people who attended the services of Viadika Onouphry in Old Oskol, and they decided to summon him to their office in order to forbid him to conduct missionary activity on such a large scale. When Bishop Onouphry entered their office, he was startled to see how these Soviet bosses, as if moved by an electric current, leapt up from their seats, dropping their hats. As the bishop left, they reproached one another, asking why each of them had leapt up and removed their hats. They agreed among themselves that upon his next visit they would sit quietly with their hats on. However, nothing came of it: when Bishop Onouphry was again ordered to report to their office, the same thing occurred. The bishop, being clairvoyant, told them that they should pick their hats up off the floor and remain seated. They replied nervously, “No, sir, we can stand a little and you may sit down, rest for awhile, and then go home; when we need you again we will call for you.”
Viadika Onouphry arrived in Old Oskol with his elderly mother. There Viadika came under observation by the NKVD and was forbidden to visit the homes of his parishioners, even the sick, which caused him great sorrow. Having become convinced that it was impossible to hide a light under a bushel even in a rural area of the province, and that the people came from far away to see the beloved archpastor, the godless authority again arrested Vladika and exiled him. His mother died soon after his exile from Old Oskol.
The loving parishioners began to send him parcels at the prisons, as earlier they had brought them to his apartment. Viadika would distribute everything to the needy and exiles who were together with him in the concentration camp. The prisoners loved Viadika very much and always tried to fulfill for him the most difficult work. The bishop was exiled altogether twelve times.
Finally, the parcels which were sent to him began to be returned by the postal system, by which one could surmise that the Bishop was no longer among the living on earth, and that he was now in the heavenly abode together with the rest of Russia’s New Martyrs who had suffered from the God-fighting communists.
And so, on November 9, 1929, Bishop Onouphry was arrested again and it was reported that he was sent to the Urals. During the years of the barbaric Soviet “collectivization” and the exile of the best wheat-growers of all Russia into the concentration camps, the clergy was also systematically liquidated. The Metropolitan of Odessa, Anatole (Grisiuk), who always commemorated Metropolitan Peter as head of the Church, was arrested at this time; his sister, wife of the future Metropolitan Alexis of Vilna (also killed by Soviet spies), died from shock at the moment of his arrest. There followed the arrests of his vicar-bishops: Parthenius (Brianskikh) and Onouphry, who was evidently free for a short time. By the end of 1934 and up to the Second World War, the south of Odessa and Cherson had no pastors or churches whatsoever in spite of the infamous Sergianist betrayal. Bishop Onouphry was sent to the infamous eastern Siberian concentration camp system known as the Baikal-Amur Magistral.
It took over nine months to get to the city of Chita in central Siberia. The prisoners were shipped in freight cars like cattle under heavily armed escort. At every stop a thorough search was conducted on the roofs and under the cars for would-be escapees. Prisoners who died during this part of the journey were thrown down from bridges into a river or tossed off the train into the forest. In Chita all the prisoners were thoroughly searched, checked against the lists several times a day, frisked all over the body and forced to go to the camp baths where their hair was cut and shaved; clergy were no exception: one guard would hold the arms behind the back, a second would hold the head, and the third would shave the hair.
On the third day all prisoners were lined up and forced to march to the harbor, where they were placed on a barge and shipped at first along the River Shilka and then the Amur River to Blagoveshchensk. There they stopped overnight and the next day again the same roll call, the search, the sanitary inspection and the determining of each man’s classification. Of course, as always, the commission found everybody quite fit for work. The same day they were forced to march on the outskirts of the city to another camp in long lines of over a thousand men, the “labor army” as the Soviet bosses used to call their victims. While walking past Bugunda River, they saw on a highly elevated picturesque location, surrounded by forest, the former Holy Dormition Monastery (founded in 1905); on the top of the church, instead of a cross, hung a red flag with the cabbalistic emblems of hammer and sickle. This camp already several thousand prisoners. The new prisoners were moved into barracks made out of boards full of holes; they were surrounded by the usual barbed wire fences and watch towers with machine guns. In the morning, after some watery lentil “soup”, they vere marched past the watch towers to their work area to dig the ground. Some work brigades were issued shovels, others were given picks or carts to haul dirt. Some prisoners were there for years, dragging dirt a mile-long distance, back and forth.
In this ant heap-like camp there were already several bishops, some over sixty years old. Besides Bishop Onouphry, there were Bishops Anthony (Romanovsky), Joseph (Orekhov), and Barsonouphius (Luzin). None of these concealed their clerical rank; they gave advice to the other prisoners and helped them in any way possible. Here, working days and sometimes also nights, the hierarchs recalled the words of Christ uttered to St. Peter: Verily, perTh Iswj unto thee, When thou wast thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldst; but when thou shalt he old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldst not (John 21:18).
Any kind of church service was, of course, strictly forbidden, but we have records of how it was done nevertheless, in the tradition of the catacombs: funerals were served, people baptized, priests ordained, even bishops consecrated (this was possible when several bishops were together). As a rule, all prisoners were constantly shifted from one camp to another, so the hierarchs had to perform the ordinations quickly before they were sent further north into the dreaded land of Kolyma and the “Arctic Death Camps”.’
Kolyma is a mountainous region along the Kolyma River, its tributaries extending from the Arctic Ocean south to the Okhotsk Sea at Magadan. This area became important in the early 30’s as a prospective site for large scale gold production, but it has been known since the middle 30’s throughout the world as the location of a large labor camp system where indescribable atrocities were committed by the Soviet state. Magadan, the main port serving this area, is the site of a large transit prison camp and is often used to refer to the whole northeastern corner of Siberia with its vast number of death camps dotting the mountainous interior. In these death camps “enemies of the people” labored like dumb beasts in sub-zero conditions, perishing from cold, hunger, and fatigue—usually a short time after their arrival on account of the lack of adequate food, clothing and shelter. Although the original purpose of these camps was the production of gold using expendable prison laborers, within a few years they became sites for the extermination of millions of people whose only “crime” was that they held ideas contrary to the atheist regime.
After being carted like cattle across Siberia and shipped several thousand at a time from Vladivostok to Magadan or to ports on the Arctic Sea, the prisoners were sent to various places in the interior where they were forced to work just a short time before being put to death. The only ones who ever had a chance of survival were common criminals who were sometimes strong enought to endure the harsh conditions. When they became physically useless, the “counter-revolutionaries” were simply exterminated—hundreds each day. From the late 30’s to the late 50’s Kolyma was probably the most ruthless concentration camp in the entire world, comparable to the Temnikoff and Solovki camps of the 20’s and the Baltic-White Sea Canal camps of the 30’s; in each of these millions perished annually as a result of a lifestyle designed to undermine the very existence of the human spirit. Kolyma is the epitome of Soviet achievement, the fruit of chiliasm, a foretaste of the Kingdom of Antichrist on earth.
To reach Kolyma, the prisoners were packed onto the boat “Sakhalin” and shipped down the Amur River to Nikolaevsk. From there on American- made ships (bought from the United State in exchange for the gold of the Kolyma slave-labor), the prisoners crossed the Okhotsk Sea to the land of Magadan. Having landed in Okhotsk, the slave-prisoners were driven on foot for miles under heavily armed escort through the dense taiga to the shores of the Kolyma River. In the forest during the day, and especially at night, clouds of vicious stinging mosquitos would transform the unprotected, exhausted and totally wasted human beings into bloodstained, disfigured, barely moving shadows in rags. Everyone forced out his last strength so as not to collapse otherwise the guards would “pin him down,” that is, they would drag the unfortunate one into the bushes and “pin” into his stomach a sharp stake, so that he would not escape. It was well known that a guard was not responsible for the murder of a prisoner, but for an escaped one he risked his own head.
To confirm such inhuman actions, let us recall what the Solovki and Baltic-White Sea Canal prisoners recorded. During the time when the executioners Dzerzinski and Bahrman were in charge of Solovki, there was exiled a priest by the name of Uspensky and his son. The son soon got ajob as a guard. He would escort groups of prisoners from one camp to another; apparently his cruelty earned for him the trust of the NKVD. One winter, during a blizzard, he had to escort a group of prisoners among whom was his own father. Already old an sick, the father could not walk straight through the deep snow; he would often stumble and fall and apparently slowed the procession. Then the depraved son ordered his father to step aside into the bushes, and there he shot him. The shots echoed through the forest and the Solovki blizzard, to the singing of the north winds, buried in snow-white vestments the new hieromartyr. The next spring the body of the archpriest with a bullet in the back of his neck, was discovered—incorrupt, the holy relics of a saint. But the son Uspensky, having performed such an abomination, was rewarded by the NKVD bosses by a promotion and enjoyed a temporary confidence—iff’their midst. For the next several years he was the chief in the Bear Hill camp and all concentration camps beyond the Onega Lake, until he was shot in the Ezhov Purge. During his time another cruel villain was his assistant in the Povenetsky region of the White Sea Canal, a former Old Believer, Ikonnikov.
The survivors of the grim expedition finally reached the river. On the shore there were several ghostly barracks and a dilapidated dock for the steamers. Here all the prisoners were loaded onto a barge and a relatively small steamer, the “Cuckoo Bird,” pulled out and travelled down the river along its golden shores and through virgin forests, bringing a new crop of slaves to the gold mines where already tens of thousands of them, condemned to an early death, were swarming like ants, knowing neither winter days nor summer nights, extracting with their very life’s breath golden bull for the godless Soviet idolatry.
The Kolyma concentration camp of the Magadan territory was the same kind of establishment as all Soviet camps: the barbed wire fences, the towers with the ever vigilant guards, the evening roll calls, the meager food and inhuman work conditions... The only difference was that from Kolyma there was no place to run, and no one would sacrifice himself to the wild animals. Days of rest were often turned into work days in honor of some Soviet achievement or one of the many tyrants like Lenin or Stalin. In the beginning of September, the navigation usually stopped, and the shipments of new slave- laborers postponed until spring. The people who perished during winter would be replaced in summer with new “enemies of the people,” and so it continued year after year. This was the atmosphere in which Bishop Onouphry was to finish his earthly sojourn.
One witness, Archbishop Athanasius (Sakharov) wrote: “Particularly unforgettable were the times of utmost despair, when we grieved for the Paradise lost—the possibility of conducting Divine services of God. Good Friday comes and we are in the forest, sinking in the mossy mire with the danger of falling into a so-called ‘wolf-hole’ covered with snow; whoever fell into them would be lost instantly. In such an atmosphere we would confess to each other, we would open to each other the most secret, the most sacred thoughts.
Many believers, upon recognizing in their co-worker a priest or bishop, and knowing well that the future held no hope of ever getting back to life in the world, asked these secret bishops to tonsure them monks; in this way they accepted their lot as a monastic obedience. These secret monks filled the empty gaps in the ranks of the visible spiritual warriors, combatting by the purity of their redeeming sufferings and passion, the evil forces of the enemy of our salvation. We know some who were tonsured in this way and we know that their testimony is true. There they encountered genuine saints. Who can comprehend the sweet visions which were revealed to these innocent lambs of Christ as they were (and still are today) being led to the slaughter? Who can say what price is being paid today for the preservation of Orthodoxy in the midst of this evil generation? It is indeed through their prayers and their sacrifice that the world still stands.
Here the last trace of Bishop Onouphry’s earthly existence was obliterated. His holiness undoubtedly led many to Paradise. In 1938 rumors reached his distant flock in the south of European Russia that he had been shot while attempting to escape, but this rumor was unfounded. Almost no one returned from Kolyma.
It is understandable why the communists found it necessary to torment and destroy such a good man: evil despises goodness and light, because it reflects God. Those who actually believe in communism as an idealistic philosophy, of course, cannot explain why, to bring happiness to men on earth, it was necessary to torture and destroy such an epitome of goodness and virtue as Bishop Onouphry. But we can understand this on the basis of the Orthodox patristic teaching on spiritual blindness: the communists cause such suffering because their conscience is impure and adulterated; they are in a state of deception and their lofty dreams of human betterment are only a mirage concealing the actually murderous intent of their system.
May the example of those who, like Bishop Onouphry, suffered and gained the victory over the servants of Antichrist, save us from this terrible deception! Amen. F.H.
Sources: Polsky, Russia’s New Martyrs, Vol. II; Regelson, Tragedy of the Russian Church;
Conquest, Kolyma, the Arctic Death Camps;
M. Mostiko, “Bishop Onouphry” in Orthodox Russia, No. 6, 1972;
Archimandrite Seraphim Verbin, “New Martyr Archimandrite Gennady” in Orthodox Path, 1963; personal memoirs by Bishop Nektary of Seattle, Vera Kontzevitch, Rev. Sergei Shukin, Matushka Alexandra Pawliusjk.