40. The Catacomb Church, 1976

Russia's Catacomb Saints


The Catacomb Church, 1976
(As reported in the Russian publication Nasba Strana,
Buenos Aires, April 26, 1977, p. 3, and Religion and Atheism
in the USSR, July 1976, no’ 8, ps 18-19.)
IN THE SOVIET UNION it is not allowed to take out of the country the provincial newspapers of the “autonomous republics” or of districts or coun ties But the information to be found in such local newspapers is usually much more interesting and significant than the “official” news printed in the Moscow newspapers Pravda and Izvestiya or than the sensational declarations of many of the “dissidents” in the capital.
According to the account of the Moscow correspondent of the Reuters news service (May 13, 1976), the newspaper Soviet Abhazia (published in the city of Sukhumi) has reported the trial and judgment of a priest of the True- Orthodox (Catacomb) Church of Russia, Archimandrite Gennady (Gregory Se kach in the world), in connection with the uncovering of a large and highly organized part of the Catacomb Church’s activity in the south of Russia.
According to Soviet Abhazia, Gregory Sekach was converted to the faith during the Second World War. He later attended and completed a seminary course and served for some time as an officially-registered priest (non- monastic) of the Moscow Patriarchate. Being a conscientious priest, however, he inevitably came into conflict with the church authorities, themselves under the pressure of the officials of the atheist regime, and in 1962 — at the height of the Khrushchev persecution — he was accused of violating the Soviet laws concerning religious “cults” (specifically, “for attracting children and young people to church”) and was deprived of his parish and official registration as priest.
After this, Father Gregory “disappeared” from Soviet life and went literally into the catacombs, He entered into contact with the True-Orthodox Church, which had continued to exist as an underground body for all the years since the time of Metropolitan Joseph and the other confessing bishops of 1927, having no contact at all with the Communist-dominated Moscow Patriarchate. In two years of underground activity Father Gregory built up a catacomb parish in one of the Cities of the Ukraine, and here also he received the monastic ton sure with the name of Gennady. A certain Bishop Seraphim of the Catacomb Church raised Hieromonk Gennady to the rank of Archimandrite and sent him to the republic of Abhazia, to the industrial city of Tkvarcheli in the region of “New Athos” on the shore of the Black Sea, the site of the famous metochion of the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos which was destroyed by the Soviets in 1924. Soviet Abhazia admits that the Soviet authorities were unable to discover anything about this Bishop Seraphim, who apparently con tinues his catacomb activity.
Here in ten years, from 1966 to 1976, Father Gennady managed to organize several secret communities of the Catacomb Church, to build for them a whole series of secret house churches in private dwellings, and to form several monasteries for men and women as well as a secret theological school.
Father Gennady’s helpers, as the Soviet newspaper relates, travelled throughout the Soviet Union in order to meet with secret groups of believers. These helpers “recruited” many young men and women into their ranks and brought them back to Abhazia, where they were settled in various industrial and factory jobs in Tkvarcheli and in the evening attended the underground theological courses. Many of these young people received the monastic tonsure and returned to their native places to conduct religious activity among the people there.
This activity was uncovered by the Soviet anthorities in 1976 with the arrest of Archimandrite Gennady, who was betrayed by an informer. His collaborators and helpers were not caught, but Archimandrite Gennady himself was sentenced to four years in a forced-labor camp. Soviet Abbazia ascribes to these activists of the Catacomb Church an extreme fanaticism and an anti-Soviet political activity (manifested in the distribution of anti-Soviet leaflets).
All this, of course, is only an account of an article in a Soviet news paper (and even the artide itself seems not to have been brought out of the Soviet Union: therefore it is impossible to give any precise evaluation of all these details. The general picture, however, both from this account and from other reports from Soviet sources and from new emigrants to the West, is clear: the activity of the Catacomb True-Orthodox Church continues in Russia, attaining at times a remarkable degree of organized activity (considering the cruel Soviet circumstances, where it is a crime against the State to worship secretly and not at officially-tolerated churches), and having the ability to preserve its members from arrest even when an important center of its activity has been uncovered. As long as the Soviet tyranny will continue in power, we will probably receive no more than hints, such as this article contains, about the actual life of the Catacomb Church in Russia. It is obvious that when freedom returns to Russia, much about this secret life will be revealed that is scarcely even suggested today.
Bishop Seraphim is only the second member of the present-day hiƧr. archy of the Catacomb Church to be publicly known in the West by name (the other being Metropolitan Theodosius, the present chief hierarch of the Cata comb Church). Interestingly, from the earlier history of the Catacomb Church in Russia (which is much better known to us than the post-World War II era) we know of a Seraphim who would, in fact, probably be a bishop today if he is still alive (he was born in 1903). This is the clairvoyant elder, Hierotnonk Seraphim, before whom an Optina monk prophetically bowed down and took a priest’s blessing when the elder was only five years old; we know of the cata comb activity of this Father Seraphim in 1941, when he pastured a flock in the literal underground, going from town to town and miraculously escaping detec tion by the Secret Police, who were constantly looking for him.* Perhaps one day we will know whether today’s Bishop Seraphim is this very offspring of Optina Monastery and its tradition of elders, keeping Holy Russia alive even under the reign of godlessness.
Undoubtedly, Father Gennady, in accordance with Soviet practice, is being subjected to cruel treatment and tortures, both in order to make him reveal the names of other members of the Catacomb Church, and in general as a punishment for his “crimes” against the Soviet State. All Orthodox Christians who care for their suffering brethren should offer up fervent prayers for his well-being and salvation.