27. Priest-Martyr Elias

Russia's Catacomb Saints

27Priest-Martyr Elias
AND HIS MATUSHKA EUGENIA CHETVERUKHIN
Commemorated February 16 (†1934)


When a manfully and posttively turns
to the side of eternal truth, or else
completely turns away from it,
he no longer lives and is obliged to die.
He has gone through everything that this
life can give and has become ripe
for the future.

St. Herman the New Martyr


T
he life of Father Elias is closely bound up with the righteous wife given him by God, who fully shared his sufferings and joys. Evgenia was very pious girl who had thought of becoming a nun, but at the counsel of Elder Barnabas of the Gethsemane Skete had begun to look for a pious bridegroom. Elias’ parents had laid great hopes upon him, since he was a brilliant student at the university, but after meeting Evgenia the two began to read spiritual books in earnest; he quit the university and an enticing career, and entered the seminary at the St. Sergius Holy Trinity Lavra.
The family of Evgenia lived in obedience to holy elders. Her mother knew many elders and frequently went to see them. Seeing this, Elias Nikolaevich also wished to have an elder who would guide them. Evgenia advised him to go to the Gethsemane Skete to Elder Barnabas. The next day the young seminarian went to the Elder. The Elder met him with kindness, sat him down, brought a samovar from somewhere and began to give him tea to drink; for the whole time he said, stroking him on the head, “You are my martyr. You are my confessor.” Then he gave him several instructions for guidance and let him go. The happy seminarian returned to the guest house. Finally he had a spiritual guide to whom he could entrust his whole life. In the evening he went to church and with astonishment heard that they were commemorating the newly-reposed Hieromonk Barnabas! What indeed was his astonishment and grief when he found out that only a few hours after he had left him, Elder Barnabas had died. Upset, he returned home.
But the Lord did not leave unfulfilled the sincere desire of his believing soul. After some time his fellow students offered to take him to the Zosima Hermitage, which was not far from the Trinity Lavra, to see Elder Alexis the hermit (who was later to draw the lot to elect Patriarch Tikhon). Elias willingly agreed. The Elder received them warmly and soon became the spiritual director of Elias and his fiancee. When he first saw them together, he cried out: “What a tall one he is, what a small one she is!” And indeed, Elias was very tall and strong, a regular knight, while Evgenia was a small and fragile girl. With the blessing of Elder Alexis they met each other twice a month in the house of Evgenia, and twice a month he would write her a letter, which Evgenia’s mother would always read in advance; and thus several years passed. Elias finished the seminary successfully and began to study in the Theological Academy.
At this time Evgenia was 25 years old, which at that time was considered not young. There was a new law at that time, that the students of the Academy could become married. A certain elder of Moscow, in obedience to whom Evgenia’s family was living, tried to hurry up their wedding. Elias obeyed the elder and went to Evgenia’s parents. But here there was an unexpected hindrance: Evgenia’s father absolutely refused to give her to him in marriage, since he had no means to supprt her. Elias became angry and left, slamming the door after him. Evgenia’s mother, however, persuaded him to ask her father again. And he had to repeat the whole time that they would be able to live on their own means, although In fact all their money consisted in a small sum which Eugenia had earned giving music lessons, which with the blessing of her mother she was putting away for her dowry. Finally the father agreed. They celebrated their wedding quietly and modestly and right away set off on their honeymoon journey to the Zosima Hermitage to prepare with their beloved elder for reception of Holy Communion.
Evgenia’s whole family had great reverence for Elder Alexis. One of her relatives, who later become a monk, often went to the Zosirna Her mitage and over and over saw the same dream: It seemed to be some kind of feast day. The founder of the monastery, the ascetic Zosima, stood in the midst of the royal doors and was anointing everyone that came up; after the anointment, in their shining white garments, they went straight through the royal doors. This dream, especially because it was repeated so often and because the women also were entering the altar, was very disturbing for the young man. Finally, when he saw the dream for the sixth time, he went to Elder Alexis. The Elder did not explain the meaning of the dream, but only asked whether there were many people. “There were many, Batiushka, a whole crowd.” “Well, glory to God, glory to God,” the Elder repeated joyfully.
The young married pair spent almost a month in the monastery. They returned then to Moscow and rented an apartment in Sergiev Posad, near St. Sergius’ Monastery. They lived in extreme poverty, but just as they had promised to Evgenia’s father, they lived on their own money. Matushka always noted that for their whole life she had never owed a penny to anyone, and they lived so poorly that Evgenia could afford to put only six pieces of firewood a day into the stove to warm up the apart ment which was therefore never very warm.
When their first child was born they immediately sent a telegram to Evgenia’s sister. When she came she declared that she had known of the birth of the child before the telegram had arrived. “But how?” they asked. “St. Seraphim appeared to me in a dream and said: ‘Go and congratulate them. A son has been born to them and his name is Sergius.” And indeed, they called their first son Sergius, and the second son Seraphim.
Fr Elias finished the Academy before the Revolution broke out. After being ordained, he served for a short time in a poorhouse church and then was transferred to the church of St. Nicholas in the Tolmachev district of Moscow, where he served until his arrest in 1932.
Fr. Elias was a fervent priest. He never shortened the services. He read out loud the stichera which were to be sung, and often read the canons. Matushka went to church every day and directed the choir. In that sad time after the Revolution had broken out, the church of St. Nicholas in the Tolmachev district was a source of spiritual light for many believers. One woman parishioner of Fr. Elias remembers: “Oh, our church in Tolmachev, shining with purity! But it was so cold that your feet froze to the floor!” Still, in every circumstance Matushka did not lose hope in God.
Thus, once on St. Nicholas’ day Matushka returned from church and, putting her hand in her pocket, discovered that it was empty; and on this day they usually gathered the parishioners at their house for a modest meal. Matushka quickly returned to church and asked Batiushka if he had some money. With a guilty look he gave her only a few copper coins. There was nothing to be done about it, and Matushka went home; on the way she reflected how good it would be if she only had two roubles. She would buy some peas, a little oil, and something else, and there would be plenty. With such thoughts she went home.
It was a warm spring day, and in front of their porch there were immense puddles. On her feet she had only cloths wound about, since it was impossible to get shoes in those days; and with this footwear she began to jump through the puddles. Suddenly she caught sight of some carefully folded rouble notes, which like two little boats were floating on the water. She dished them out and began to ask the passersby whether they had lost two roubles; but they all said no. Then Matushka, thanking God and repeating once again, ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be given you,’ she set about preparing a frugal meal.
Another time, Matushka and Batiushka were setting out for the Zosima Hermitage. At that time the Monastery was no longer able to feed those who came, since there was barely enough to feed its own monks. But it was just on this day that they had not a penny for themselves. Still, Matushka did not change her decision to go, but she went to an old psalm-reader to ask whether he might look after the children in their absence. On the way she repeated, ‘Place your sorrow upon the Lord, and he will sustain you.’ This was something that characterized Matushka; the words of Scripture which for most people were simply words from books that are learned mechanically, for her were alive and real. Coming home she unexpectedly came across a large object wrapped in a linen sack. Matushka, fearing that it was a corpse, began to run away; but then she saw that the object was too small and she forced herself to return. De ciding that it was probably a child who had been abandoned, she looked into the sack and literally froze to the spot; it was full of all kinds of food— meat and oil, bread, and, in a word, everything they needed for the journey.
Probably someone from the country had come to sell them in the city, but, fearing the militia, had thrown the sack by the side of the road.
Of course, not everything ended so successfully for Matushka, but still she never lost her presence of mind. Once an unknown woman came to her and offered to sell for her a whole bag full of groceries for a rather small sum; with difficulty she gathered one penny at a time and gave the money to the woman, who brought Matushka to the train station where, according to her words, the groceries were located. When they came to the station the woman told Matushka to wait for her and she would go to the station booth for the groceries. Matushka waited for several hours before finally going herself to the booth, only to see that the door was locked tight and that there was no one there. It was difficult for her to return home, where her hungry Batiushka and children were waiting impatiently. On the way Matushka thought of how one should pray for such people; after all, they help our salvation—while, to be sure, at the same time they destroy their own souls. Entering the room and encoun tering the astonished glances of the family, Matushka said “Get up, children, let us pray; Glory to God for everything! They have robbed us!”
But all these losses were insignificant in comparison with the grief which Matushka suffered when her youngest son Vanya died. He was playing with some older children on the street and caught a cold, and since Matushka could not look after him all the time (she was singing every day in church), the cold turned into meningitis. At this very time Matushka broke her arm. Everything piled up on her at once: the fatal illness of her son, her broken arm, hunger; but all the same she managed every day to be at the church services. Vanya’s sufferings were so in tolerable that he himself said: “Is it true, Mother, that I too am a martyr?” He died on the same day as Elder Alexis. Fr. Elias in his funeral sermon remarked that on this day a very small child had died after suffering more than grown-ups, although he had not sinned as much. The nun who served in the altar came up to Matushka and said: “Dear Matushka, I congratulate you—you have one son already in paradise!” Towards the end of her life Matushka forgot about Vanya. She would say: “I had five children.” And then with a guilty smile she would add: “I do not remember everything from my life; the Lord has taken away from me the most difficult part.”
II
Fr. Elias led an ascetic life. Only two weeks in the year would he spend with his family in the country, where the children would rest, while the church was being repaired and cleaned. In general he served every day without omitting or shortening anything in the services. In the evenings after the Divine services, there were spiritual conversations.
Matushka saw to it every day that her Batiushka would manage to eat before midnight. He came home every day after 11 o’clock. In the morning Batiushka would still be sleeping, and already some spiritual daughter would run up to see whether he was up yet (the majority of the parish was composed of young people). Matushka would never murmur at these vexations, but would only say: “A certain slave of God came by; she is not very happy.” And then later this slave of God would be called to the kliros for a talk. Later, Bishop John said to Matushka (she went to his church after Fr. Elias’ death): “Your Batiushka was my ideal, and you were his faithful helper in everything.”
In that difficult time of hunger they were able to preserve the beauty and splendor of the church and the richness of the vestments. How proud they were of their Batiushka when he served in splendid and beautiful vestments, or when he would read to them and explain the works of the Holy Fathers. Once, after an especially successful talk about St. John Chrysostom, Batiushka walked past the kliros and Matushka told him quietly: “He has shown us the height of the humility of wisdom.” (from he Saint’s troparion).
It was the year 1932. Everywhere there were searches, arrests, and exiles. Several parishioners of the church were arrested, together with any of their relatives. Batiushka was called to the NKVD, and they promised that if he were to give up the priesthood he would not be touched.
Some friends of his were trying to get him a good position as an art expert in the Tretyakov Gallery. Not knowing what to do, Batiushka came home, and Matushka strengthened him for his struggle of confession.
Soon it was Fr. Elias’ namesday and some guests came. For some reason Batiushka came to life and was very happy and joked. Only late in the evening did the guests depart; in a few minutes one parishioner returned and whispered to Matushka that the police were watching her very carefully. Matushka thanked the girl and went outside. A group of three men came up to her and asked where the Chetverukhins lived. Matushka pointed to the house and gave the number of an apartment, while she herself quickly ran home. “Batiushka, they have come for you!” she said as she entered the room. Batiushka put on the epitrachelion of Elder Alexis and read the prayer before the beginning of any good work. He had not managed to finish the last words when there was a crude knocking at the door. Matushka met them with a low bow: “Come in.” They were in a hurry and asked, rather confused: “Isn’t it you who showed us the way?” “Yes.” “Well, get ready.” In general they were very kind and allowed them to say farewell to each other. While Matushka was quickly getting together what was necessary, they made a superficial search. On the way out one of them said: “Well, Matushka, you can sleep peace fully; we will not bother you any more.”
“How can I sleep peacefully now?” replied Matushka. The whole night she spent in prayer and tears, but towards morning, all the same, she dozed off. And then she saw an extraordinarily magnificent Lady who told her: “Do not fear. They will not do anything to your Batiushka in prison. I will intercede for him.”
“Do you really have authority in the prison?” Matushka asked in astonishment. “I have authority everywhere. Do not fear; they will not do anything to him in prison; but you pray to Adrian and Natalie.” And with these words the splendid Lady vanished. Matushka awoke with perplexity as to why the Mother of God (she understood that it was precisely the Most Pure Virgin who had come) had commanded her to pray to Adrian and Natalie. When she read their life (August 26) and found out that Adrian was a martyr and Natalie had suffered out of compassion for him and strengthened him, it became clear to her why the Most Holy Theotokos had told her to pray to these saints.
After Batiushka’s arrest new misfortunes came to Matushka. They were thrown out of their apartment, and for some time they wandered about, until they were taken in by a certain family. The children were thrown out of school: their immense library was stolen. But the greatest loss was the death of their only daughter. Mashenka was the last child in the family. When Matushka was expecting her, she went to Elder Alexis, who was still alive at that time. He met her with the question: “Who is there?” “Sinful Evgenia,” she replied. “Are you alone?” “No, Batiushka, there are two of us.” Going up to get his blessing, she asked “Batiushka, what will I have?” “A daughter, only you will have to sew her a wedding garment.” Matushka was surprised: “of course, if it is a girl one has to sew a wedding garment.” And only after Mashenka’s death did she understand the words of the elder—that her daughter had become the bride of Christ.
The daughter died of a simple children’s disease; her weak organism (she was only five years old) was unable to fight against the hunger and the cold and the disease all at once. In such circumstances (at that time Evgania’s mother had also died), she was strengthened, as she herself said, only by one thing: the prayer of St. John Chrysostom, which she repeated unceasingly—”Glory be to God for everything.”
III
Because of all these misfortunes, it was only after two years that Matushka was able to go to her husband, who was then in exile in Krasnaya I Vishera River district. It was difficult to get to this isolated northern vil lage during the muddy season of spring, but finally she reached her destina tion. She brought a Gospel and a little bottle of holy water for Fr. Elias. The Gospel was taken away from him immediately, but they were interested In the bottle. “What is this?” “For you it is simply water, but for me it Is holy. It is my medicine,” Matushka replied. And she was allowed to give It to Fr. Elias.
Batiushka, as Matüshka Evgenia immediately noticed, had changed Frightfully. He did not bless her, but on the contrary said, “Here I no longer function as a priest.” He looked as if he had been tortured, as if broken. This meeting lasted a long time, and Batiushka was able to tell her everything.
In the prison where they had brought him after his arrest, he was placed in a special cell. The small room was absolutely full, and at first glance there seemed no free space at all. Batiushka did not know what to do, but someone called out to him: “Crawl under the bunks!” This was not so easy for Batiushka, who was so tall; but finally he managed to get under the bunks and lay down on the dirty floor, full of spit.
It was impossible to fall asleep in such circumstances, and the cries and cursing in the room would not permit it anyway. Batiushka remem bered his spiritual children and how they had respected him, and he burst into tears. He related also how he had been driven to Krasnaya Vishera over the barely frozen snow. The thin layer of ice had immediately broken under his feet, and the prisoners with every step fell up to their waists in deep snow. One man who was walking next to Batiushka said: “I used to love the forest, but now I hate it,” and he shook his fist at the forest. Soaked to the bone, having had nothing to eat or drink all day, they were forced to go for the night into a hut. The exhausted men immediately dropped to the floor and fell asleep like dead men.
But to Fr. Elias sleep did not come. In the deep night a groan burst out from his very heart: “0 Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me? I served Thee faithfully; I gave my whole life to Thee. HOw many akathists and canons I read; how fervently I served in church. Why hast Thou forsaken me to suffer so? Oh Mother of God, 0 Holy Hierarch Nicholas, 0 Holy Father Seraphim, all the Saints of God! After all my prayers to you, why am I so tormented?”
The whole night he cried out thus unto the Lord. Then suddenly, a divine visitation, like fire, touched the soul of the sufferer with unearthly consolation, and the light of Faith mystically illumined his heart and began to burn with an unutterable, all-consuming love towards Christ, which in St. Paul’s words “is not possible for a man to utter” (II Cor. 12:4). When the morning came he was a new man, born again, as if he had been “baptized with fire.” And after this night he could no longer live an ordinary life. He said to Matushka: “Do not think that even if I get out I will ever serve as I did before. The old world is gone forever, and there is no return.” The world to which he had been accustomed had disappeared for him forever, for a glimpse of otherworldliness had been granted to him through the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos, as She had promised his Matushka, the new St. Natalie. Hence there remained for him only either to give in and become an ordinary Soviet slave-citizen, or else to die entirely to this world. The straightforwardness of his character did not allow him, under the conditions of atheist oppression, to bear ‘the yoke of the priesthood.’ He understood this and chose death as union with the Giver of Life—Christ our Lord!
Already at their farewell Batiushka Elias told his Matushka: “You know, now I have come to burn intensely with love for Christ. Here I have come to understand that there is ultimately nothing better, nothing more wonderful than Him. I would die for Him!” They said farewell, and again Matushka set out on the long and difficult journey home. When she arrived a telegram was waiting for her. There had been a fire in the camp club, and Fr. Elias had burned together with eleven other men. How fitting—the very name Elias means “aflame”!
After Batiushka’s death, Matushka was sick for a long time, but then she undertook the writing of her memoirs. At this time she had a dream: There appeared to her, as if alive, Fr. Peter Lagov (a priest who had been shot several years before this). He told her: “Dear Matushka, you should pray to St. Sergius, St. Seraphim, and the Priest-Martyr Pamphilus. Let us pray together: Holy Father Sergius, pray to God for us! Holy Father Seraphim, pray to God for us! Holy Hieromartyr Pamphilus, pray to God for us!” Awakening, Matushka reflected that their family had always revered St. Sergius and St. Seraphim and had named their two sons after these saints; but she had not even heard of the Hieromartyr Pamphilus.

Coming to church and opening the Menaion, she discovered that that very day was the commemoration of Hieromartyr Pamphilus (Feb. 16). After reading the life of this Saint she found out that St. Pamphilus was a highly educated presbyter who had an immense library and had died together with eleven other martyrs, some of whom had been burnt to death in a fire.
IV
The rest of Matushka’s life was not easy. She was alone, without a husband, with a child in her arms; but still, just as before, every day she sang and directed the choir in church. After the death of Fr. Elias, Matushka went to sing in the church of St. Gregory of Neo-Caesarea, where a certain Bishop John was serving. He was quite young, not more than forty. A strict ascetic himself, he demanded from the singers a precise fulfillment of the Typicon. The long monastic services and the intense life of the parish could not be pleasing to the authorities. In 1937 during Great Lent they came for Vladika. Someone warned him in advance, and he was ready for his arrest. When the police asked him to come out for a few minutes, Vladika went up to Matushka and told her: “Dear Matushka, if I do not return in 15 minutes, begin Compline without me.” Of course, he never returned.
Matushka had great reverence for the memory of Bishop John. She never let out of her hands the prayer rope which he had given her and which had become grey from constant use. It was placed in the grave with her.
The Second World War began. New misfortunes piled upon Matushka. One son was arrested, and two others were sent to the front, from which the elder one did not return. She herself suffered hunger. But she always remained the same calm Matushka, hoping in God. Once, however, she began to doubt, seeing such misfortunes coming to believers, and she asked herself whether the end of Christianity had really come to Russia. With these thoughts she lay down to sleep and saw a dream: the Mother of God said to her: “As long as the lamp is burning before the shrine of St. Sergius, the Russian Church will stand.” Still Matushka continued to doubt, and she prayed: “0 Mother of God, if it is really Thou, make me to see this dream a second time.” The next night she again saw the same dream. In relating this Matushka unfailingly would add: “And the lamp is still burning.”
The years passed. Matushka led the same kind of life as before. Always there were people around her, because after the death of Batiushka, at his request, she had taken upon herself the guidance of his spiritual children. Under the conditions when many even of the clergy became apostates from the faith, she preserved a large number of people for the Church. Immediately after the end of the war Matushka received a letter from her youngest son; he was returning from the front. All the windows had been broken in her house, and Matushka wanted to repair them before his arrival. But at least 100 roubles were needed for this and she had not even a kopeck. As always, Matushka hastened to prayer. And then, the next day there came to her a young girl who offered her 100 roubles. Of course, Matushka was thunderstruck by such a gift from a girl who was unknown to her. But the girl explained that during that night her mother, one of Fr. Eiias’ former parishioners who had died some time ago, had appeared to her and said: “Don’t you want to give 100 roubles to Matushka Evgenia for the remembrance of my soul?” And so the Lord once again miraculously helped Matushka in her needs.
Towards the end of her life Matushka received from God an undoubted gift of clairvoyance. Once she was going to church with one of her spiritual daughters. With her usual swift walk she passed by two country boys whom she saw for the first time. Matushka, without stopping, stroked them on the head and said: “Nicholas and Sergius.” Suddenly her companion decided to check on Matushka. She stopped and asked the boys their names; ‘Nicholas and Sergius,” was the answer.
It seemed that so many temptations and trials had already fallen to the lot of Matushka, but evidently the Lord wished to test her faith to the end, and likewise to manifest to a world gone mad the whole righteousness of His servant. At the age of 80 Matushka fell and broke her rib, and from this incorrect treatment her muscles became atrophied, and she did not get up again from her bed until she died. Thus she lay for ten years, spending her time in reading, prayer, and spiritually nourishing many. In her netieth year, because of careless treatment, she developed bed sores and her body became so rotten that those who bathed her could see the bones of her spine. Her suffering was immense. Her daughter-in-law (she lived with her youngest son) often mocked her and asked: “Here you gave everything for your God—both your husband and your children—and how does He repay you?” Matushka replied: “Whom the Lord loves He chastens.” “And why is He chastening me because of you?” Matushka smiled and said: “That means He loves you too.”
In the last years of her life Matushka undertook seriously the writing her memoirs. She profoundly understood the whole significance of her fate and that of her close ones. She loved to recall that she had been the witness of many canonizations of saints, in particular, of St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. Hermogenes of Moscow. And she often added: “And I will die when there will be a canonization.” She did not say who would be canonized, but evidently she had in mind the New Martyrs, since a month before her death she said: “And you know my Batiushka, and Vladika John, and Fr. Peter Lagov, and all of them—they are all Holy Martyrs”; and with special emphasis she repeated: “Holy Martyrs.”
A few days before her death a priest was asked to come so that she could receive Holy Communion. And after she had received Communion, suddenly this practically dead old woman, in a clear distinct voice, said: “Beloved Batiushka! May Christ save! What happiness!” The priest stood on his knees before her bed and said: “Dear Matushka, when you will be with God, remember me also, a sinner.”
A few days after this Matushka died. Her children and we all stood around her and saw something we had never seen before or would see after: her face began to change and from an ordinary modest old woman, which she had seemed to be during her whole lifetime, she became an extra ordinarily magnificent, splendid woman. One of her sons whispered: “Probably she has just met her Batiushka now.” A minute later it was all over; her soul flew away from her body, and Matushka became like an or dinary dead person.
Matushka Evgenia lived a long and extraordinarily difficult life. She never spoke loud words, never taught anyone; but the very manner of this quiet, humble old woman was the best lesson in Christian piety for those who, in our godless times, wish to live according to the command ments of Christ. Just like St. Natalie, who outlived St. Adrian and died in peace, she also was a martyr together with her martyred Batiushka, Father Elias.
Nun Maria Erastova

There came to Abba Joseph the Abba Lot, and said to him: “Father, according to my strength I keep a modest rule of prayer and fasting and meditation and quiet, and according to my strength I purge my imagination; what more must I do?” The old man, rising, held up his hands against the sky and his fingers became like ten torches of fire, and he said, “If thou wilt, thou shalt be made wholly a flame.”
Paradise of the Fathers