Russia's Catacomb Saints
The life of Boris Talantov is a “typical” Christian biography of Soviet times, culminating, in his last years, in an untypical boldness in speaking the truth concerning the religious situation in the USSR. He is an example of the shocking truth of the statement made by the writer Anatoly Kuznetsov, who escaped from the Soviet Union and came to the West in 1968: “It is impossible to be a Soviet citizen and at the same time a 100 per cent decent human being.” Boris Talantov was an honest man who kept the Orthodox faith to the end and his Christian conscience clean; and therefore there was simply no place for him in the Soviet system — except prison.
The chief events of his own biography were described by Talantov himself in his “Complaint to the Attorney General of the Soviet Union” of April 26, 1968 (English text in Religion in Communist Dominated Areas, August 15131, 1968). The quotes that follow are from this document, in the words of Talantov himself.
Boris Talantov was born in 1903 in the province of Kostroma, in the family of a priest. In 1922-23 he attended the Mezhov Institute in Moscow.
"My close relatives and I suffered greatly from the lawlessness and arbitrary rule of the state security agencies during the Stalin period. My father was condemned by a troika (a committee of three secret police officials who sentenced their victims without hearing or appeal) in 1937 at the age of 62, and in spite of his age and illness was placed in the Temnikovskiye camps (Sarov Monastery), where the writer Yuli M. Daniel is now located. On February 5, 1940, I submitted a petition to the attorney general of the RSFSR for his early release from imprisonment on the grounds of illness. After prolonged red tape, the attorney general’s office informed me only on December 19, 1940, that my father had died in the camps on March 12, 1940. The sole reason for his arrest and conviction was that he was a clergyman. My brother Seraphim Vladimirovich Talantov, working as a hydraulic technician in 1930, at the age of 22 in the city of Vologda, was arrested and convicted without any cause. He perished in concentration camps on the White Sea-Baltic Canal. I myself from 1930 to 1941, due to my origin, was continually subjected to threats from the state security agencies. In 1954, I was expelled from the Pedagogical Institute for religious convictions, though the cause was officially entered as invalid status.
Working without reproach, as the documents can show, for my whole life each day I expected that I would be arrested without cause—‘to rot in prison,’ or would be fired from my job with ‘blacklisting.’ Therefore, I held it my duty to write the newspaper Pravda a letter of protest against the tyranny and lawlessness of the state security agencies” (pp. 126-7).
This letter, the first of many documents to arouse the ire of Soviet officials against the author, was sent by Talantov anonymously on July 18, 1957. “I do not know whether this letter reached the editor of the newspaper Pravda, but ultimately it reached the Kirov KGB (state security-political police, formerly GPU) Headquarters. The latter, by studying the handwriting, established that the author of the letter was me. On July 29, 1958, I was summoned to the KGB Headquarters, where in writing I confirmed my authorship and expressed the regret that due to faintheartedness I had not signed the letter. On August 14, 1958, 1 was fired from my job at the Kirov... Polytechnic Institute ‘on my own wishes’” (p. 127).
Far from being intimidated by such pressure, Talantov wrote several other letters, now openly under his own name, which he describes as follows:
“I. A letter to the magazine Science and Religion containing a refutation of one lie of anti religious propaganda. It was sent on October 31, 1960, and has essentially gone unanswered.
“III. A letter to the newspaper Izvestiya, “The Soviet State and the Christian Religion,” received by the newspaper’s editor on December 19, 1966” (p. 127).
This last letter was an amplification of an Open Letter to Patriarch Alexy written by Talantov and signed by twelve believers of the Kirov region. “The letter contained mainly a description of unconscionable actions of the local Bishop John aimed at setting church life in disarray. Therefore, the believers requested the Patriarch to remove Bishop John immediately. Among other matters, the letter noted that local civil authorities have, from 1960 to 1964, illegally and forcibly closed 40 churches in the Kirov area (53%), had the icons and iconostases in these churches set afire, plundered the church valuables, and had a number of churches completely destroyed without any necessity for so doing” (p. 123).
The ‘Open Letter of Kirov Believers to Patriarch Alexy’ was sent abroad by some method unknown to us and on December 8, 1966, the BBC radio released its content.
“On February 14, 1967, I was summoned to the Kirov Headquarters of the KGB in regard to these letters. At this point it was proposed to me that I officially repudiate my signature on the ‘Open Letter of Kirov Believers’ which had become well known abroad. In a written explanation I pointed out that, as an author of the ‘Open Letter’ and of a letter sent to the editor of the newspaper lzvestiya, I confirm the genuineness of my signature to the ‘Open Letter’ and express my readiness to stand firm on the accuracy of what both letters contain... On the very same day a KGB official removed from my apartment my working flies consisting of outlines of various philosophical works with my commentary...
“Later, on February 25, I learned from a BBC broadcast that at the same time that I was confirming in the Kirov KGB Headquarters the genuineness of my signature to the ‘Open Letter of Kirov Believers,’ in London Metropolitan Nikodim had declared this letter to be anonymous and therefore not worthy of any credibility. He made clear his readiness to swear to the truth of his statement on the Cross and the Scriptures... This assertion of Metropolitan Nikodim greatly distressed me, as an Orthodox Christian, since from previous correspondence with the Moscow Patriarchate I was convinced that Metropolitan Nikodim could not be in doubt of the authenticity of the ‘Open Letter.’ Therefore, on March 22 I sent to Patriarch Alexy a letter in which I refuted the assertion of Metropolitan Nikodim about the anonymity of the ‘Open Letter of Kirov Believers’ and confirmed the credibility of its contents.
“In addition to myself, the ‘Open Letter’ was signed by seven more citizens of the city of Kirov. Early in April, they were individually summoned to the Kirov City Council in regard to this matter. Here, inquiries were made by the secretary of the City Council, L. Ostanina, who labelled me ‘a dangerous individual with foreign connections,’ and threatened prison for anyone who signed any further letters of this kind. In spite of the threats, all confirmed that they had signed the ‘Open Letter’ voluntarily and fully conscious of what they were doing....