CAVAET: PDF VERSION IS DELIBERATELY TAMPERED WITH
14. Bishop Damascene
BUILDER OF THE INVISIBLE CITY OF GOD
Commemorated December 4 (†1935)
Two loves have built two cities:
the City of God and the city of man.
Bishop Damascene, who in the world was Dimitry Dimitrievich Tsedrik, was born in Cherson, in the family of a poor postal official. The whole family was penetrated by an elevated Christian spirit. This is shown by the fact that the brother of Bishop Damascene, Nicholas, became a priest, and at the very beginning of the October Revolution in 1917 was executed by shooting for his fearless confession of the faith and his accusation of the Bolsheviks.
Bishop Damascene received his higher education in an agricultural institute, which he finished with the title of agronomist. Later, during his exile in the region of Turukhan, this education came in very handy for him. After his graduation, Bishop Damascene entered the Institute of Eastern Languages in Kazan. After completing it he accepted monasticism and worked as a missionary in the Peking mission. Where he was after he returned from the Far East we do not know.
THE EARLY YEARS OF THE REVOLUTION
Bishop Damascene appeared as a Hieromonk in Kiev in 1919. The Metropolitan of Kiev, Anthony Khrapovitsky, personally knowing and valuing Hieromonk Damascene, assigned him as Diocesan missionary. He became an auditor at the Kiev Theological Academy, and at the same time he was numbered among the brethren of the St. Michael Monastery.
It was not in the character of Bishop Damascene to be inactive and to concentrate only on himself. He found a small brotherhood of Saint Vladimir in a cozy corner of town not far from the monastery. No matter what might be happening on the streets of Kiev (this was during the civil war), and no matter what kind of weather it was, Hieromonk Damascene unfailingly came on feast days at six o'clock to the brotherhood, served a moleben and akathist, and then gave a sermon even if very few people were present. On one stormy winter evening as he was about to leave the brotherhood, gunshots were heard from on the street. The door on the street was instantly locked. After some time, since nothing more was heard, everyone went out on the street. On the opposite side, against the brilliant white snow, there could be seen the dark figure of a murdered man. Bishop Damascene cried out in agitation: "What kind of Christians are we! Around us they kill people, and we hide instead of helping!"
The events of the civil war forced Hieromonk Damascene to leave Kiev and go to the Crimea, where he was soon raised to the rank of archimandrite and assigned as superior of the Saint George Monastery, which was blown up at the beginning of the Second World War by the Bolsheviks. Soon after the establishment of Soviet authority in the Crimea, Archmandrite Damascene was arrested and spent many months in prison. Then he was freed and exiled from the Crimea.
From the Crimea he set out for Moscow to see His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, who consecrated him as Bishop of Nezhin and Glukhov, governing the Diocese of Chernigov, because Archbishop Pachomius had already been arrested. The activity of Bishop Damascene in the Diocese of Chernigov was short but energetic. A gifted preacher and missionary, bold and energetic, Bishop Damascene spent a large part of his time traveling about the cities and towns of the Chernigov Diocese. He was arrested many times in Chernigov and spent much time in prisons, where seventy or eighty people were placed in cells built for twenty. Among the prisoners, as everywhere else, the extraordinary bishop enjoyed renown and respect. When he was free, everywhere he went, at the first opportunity he would organize a "house church." This was true later also in Turukhan and other places.
Altogether Bishop Damascene, together with his periods of arrest, spent about two years in the Chernigov Diocese. Then, like other bishops, he was exiled at first to Kharkov, then arrested and sent to Moscow, where he was placed in the Butyrka prison. At that time it was already the custom that bishops who were exiled not immediately to distant places, would travel through Moscow and without fail would serve a solemn pannihida in the Donskoy Monastery at the grave of Patriarch Tikhon. By this they emphasized their solidarity with him, their faithfulness to his testament, and their readiness to remain on his path of the cross.
EXILE TO POLOI
Bishop Damascene spent several months in the Butyrka prison in Moscow. His only consolation at this time, as he related, was the reading of an English Bible which someone had given to him there. From Butyrka Bishop Damascene was sent to the region of Turukhan, where his place of residence was to be Poloi, which was 150 miles north of Turukhan and north of the Arctic Circle. One could travel there on steamship only during the short summer, and at other times over the frozen Enisei river by dogsled. Bishop Damascene went there early in the autumn; there was no more navigation on the Enisei, and the winter path had not become firm. Therefore he had to stay several months in Krasnoyarsk, a large and wealthy fishing city on the river Enisei with many churches and monasteries and the ringing of bells. Bishop Damascene's appearance there caused a sensation, and he had no problems with daily life at all. The monks and nuns of the many monasteries of the city and its environs, upon which the Soviet power had not yet laid its hands, evidently because of remoteness, considered it their duty to come to Bishop Damascene and receive his blessing. Soon the broad Enisei froze and Bishop Damascene had to set out on his long journey, accompanied by a convoy of the GPU. The long narrow sleds were pulled by six or twelve dogs. The journey lasted about six weeks.
At the time of Bishop Damascene's arrival in Poloi, it did not deserve the name of village, because it was composed mainly of a single house, in which lived the family of a hunter. There was another little house in which two exiled bishops lived, and finally there was a half ruined cabin, the roof full of holes, with a broken-down stove and holes two inches wide in the board walls; this was the future cell of Bishop Damascene.
The Arctic summer together with the spring lasts for a month. At this time the tundra comes to life and is covered with a carpet of northern berries. But with the coming of summer there appear a myriad of tormenting mosquitoes and swamp gnats. They stick to the face and even penetrate shoes, biting the feet until they bleed. The local residents smear their faces with tar against the stings of the mosquitoes: Bishop Damascene wore a net. Bishop Damascene indicated how tormenting these mosquito bites were in one of his letters: "Where has this Egyptian plague been preserved?"
In the summer there are white nights, literally illuminated by phosphorescent light. In the winter it freezes up to sixty-five degrees below zero and more, for about six months; the Arctic night lasts twenty-four hours, alternating with a semi-darkness softened by the light of the snow and a thick twilight, interrupted by the northern lights for about an hour or two a day. And the snow covers everything, muffles everything, fills everything, but protects against the fierce frost, making up for the large holes in the walls of the houses.
The vegetation consisted of age-old cedars on the banks of the Enisei and some bushes. Here Bishop Damascene's knowledge of farming came in handy. He was able somehow to have a small garden and planted some vegetables, which were so lacking for the people beyond the Arctic Circle, something which caused scurvy to run wild there. These vegetables and the parcels saved Bishop Damascene from scurvy. Reindeer ran about in whole herds, and there were polar bears.
Such were the conditions of weather and climate in which the persecutors of Christianity placed these entirely innocent bishops. These conditions could not help but be reflected in their health.
How did Bishop Damascene arrange his life in Poloi? At first he and the subdeaon who had accompanied him had to stay with the bishops who were living there, since the half-ruined house, which had become vacant because of the death of the former occupant, needed much repair, and it was possible to make repairs only in the spring and summer. At this time his cell attendant arrived, and the work proceeded at full speed. Bishop Damascene was acquainted with carpentry, and he repaired the hole in the roof himself. He taught his cell attendant how to prepare and dry bricks by hand; from them they remade the stove. They left holes in the walls-the snow did the best repair job on them. Being a lover of labor and inventive, Bishop Damascene with the help of his cell attendant made the things that were most necessary, and likewise a wooden altar-table, glueing the boards together with fish glue. Using particles from his own chest cross, Vladika was able to make an antimension from a simple cloth with a cross drawn upon it.
The mail, which came to Turukhan on dogsled once a month, brought Bishop Damascene several parcels with wheat flour and grape wine from his numerous friends and admirers. In a place where previously there had not stepped a single Christian foot, now every day the Liturgy was celebrated.
Thus Bishop Damascene wrote to his clergy, "And I see all of you, my near and dear ones, standing with me at the altar-table." When the Liturgy was celebrated for the first time, the few inhabitants of the village of Poloi came; they had no idea of Christianity, being for the most part pagans of Mongol blood. Bishop Damascene had some knowledge in medicine and was able to give them medical help. Hearing the church singing, the children leaped up and began to sing themselves, and it required much effort to quiet them down.
The day of Bishop Damascene began with Liturgy. After Liturgy he ate, and then he took his prayer rope in his hands and occupied himself with the reading of Sacred Scripture, with the mail he received, and so forth; or he would give spiritual instruction to his cell attendant. Then, with his prayer rope in his hands, he set out for a walk on the shores of the Enisei. Thanks to the extraordinary transparency of the Arctic air, from the high bank of the river there was a view to such a distant horizon that, in the words of his cell attendant, even the Ukraine was visible.
After his walk he would perform the evening Divine services. In the interval between the Divine services all the work was performed. Vladika washed his own clothes and baked prosphora himself. One should add that it was necessary to keep heat going the whole day and night so as not to freeze. This could be done because there was plenty of firewood around. Illumination was by means of smokey sticks with oil, by candles (when they were sent), or by lamps; one can imagine how much soot and smoke was caused by one or the other, and how ruinous this was for the health of Bishop Damascene!
In Poloi Bishop Damascene was cut off from everything happening in the rest of Russia; he lived as the hermits must have lived in the time of Ivan the Terrible. On his table was the Sacred Scripture, the history of the Church, and the Lives of Saints. He was first of all an Orthodox monk, and in his forced seclusion he continued to seek the Kingdom of God within himself. In a letter of January 28, 1928, he wrote from Poloi: "It is essential to understand that the condition of this Kingdom of God upon earth is entirely independent of the outward conditions and forms of public life, and likewise that the fruits of the possession of this Kingdom are felt by every believer entirely independently of his material and public position, and these fruits give him the possibility of living in peace and joy in the midst of deprivations, belittlements and trials. This explains the peace and light by which the bitterness of imprisonment and misfortune are turned into joy among our confessors, and their readiness for the further sorrows which are the result of their present sorrows."
It is natural that this feeling of the dark kingdom brought Bishop Damascene into an eschatological way of thinking. In this connectiion he is a representative of his epoch. The whole pre-revolutionary epoch is characterized by precisely such vague eschatological presentiments. This may be seen most strongly of all in Vladimir Soloviev in his Three Conversations on Antichrist and in his poem "Pan-mongolism;" quietly there arises, to replace the star of Bethlehem, the red five-pointed star. It already signals the approach of a new epoch, and declares beforehand the manifestation of something new on the horizon of human history. After the twilight (represented by pre-revolutionary literature), there comes the night; Bishop Damascene and his contemporaries entered into the realm of night.
The sensitive and receptive Bishop Damascene felt this darkness most vividly, and he called on people to place against it the Light which Christianity gives to every believing soul. "And our great good is in the fact that every believer, being the bearer of this Light, is not lost and does not go astray in the midst of the surrounding darkness. Only one must partake of this Light more frequently." Such, in a few words, was the attitude of Bishop Damascene in Poloi.
From the banks of the Enisei, the penetrating gaze of Bishop Damascene looks through the limitless expanses of snow towards his flock, and in the twilight of his cell and in the northern lights there is raised up a fervent prayer for his perishing spiritual native land.
One winter day there was an extraordinary event: someone was coming. They were bringing Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan to a village even farther north than Poloi. Metropolitan Cyril went from one exile to another, and finally he was being led to the region of Turukhan, almost on the very Pole. What a meeting there was between both hierarchs in Poloi!
And this is in the twentieth century! In the West there is the noisy sound of jazz, music resounds, the ringing of church bells is heard... Theaters and movie houses are open; churches are also open. But alike to the lightminded and to those who think profoundly, to believers and unbelievers, it is a matter of indifference what is happening in the East, beyond the Arctic Circle.
It is not known whether Bishop Damascene knew Metropolitan Cyril earlier. Only one thing is clear: that after their meeting in the region of Turukhan they became friends.
Bishop Damascene and Metropolitan Cyril belong to those who have conquered Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and who loved not their souls even unto death (Apoc. 12:11), a death on the cross. In his epistle to Metropolitan Sergius, Bishop Damascene writes: "We had already conquered, but you hindered us." This victory, or, as Bishop Damascene called it, "the royal path" by which the Church went before the Declaration, consisted of a self-sacrificing confession on the part of the whole clergy, to the very last one.
It was in Poloi that the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius found Bishop Damascene. How great was the impression it left on him may be seen in the fact that he wrote in connection with it 150 letters. It was impossible to send such a large number of letters by mail; they would not reach their destinations. Therefore Bishop Damascene decided to part with his only cell attendant (the subdeacon had already left earlier) and to send him with these letters to Moscow and to several large cities in the Ukraine; some of the letters were delivered personally, but the majority were placed in mail boxes in various cities.
RETURN TO CENTRAL RUSSIA
THE DECLARATION OF METROPOLITAN SERGIUS
Before Bishop Damascene stood the question: What should he do? How should he arrange the rest of his life? His soul was divided in two: on the one hand, he was drawn away from the world; and on the other, he could not remain a passive spectator of the destruction of what was most dear to him, the Russian Orthodox Church.
From Krasnoyarsk on November 28, 1928, he wrote: "I had a plan to remain in the Siberian Taiga for the rest of the three years which were given to me after the completion of my exile in Turukhan ... Siberia seemed to me the most hopeful refuge in my position. However, letters and telegrams from my close ones have inspired me to change my plans, and today I am leaving for Starodub in the province of Bryansk, where the clergy has invited me 'unanimously.' Earlier Starodub was a part of the diocese of Chernigov. I am also inclined to visit European Russia by the desire to become more closely acqainted with the condition of things and to see certain people."
Although he was not allowed to visit Moscow, he did manage on his way to go there and see Metropolitan Sergius personally. He wrote: "I see something providential in my illness - otherwise I could not have gone to Moscow, while now I not only have been there and have seen some necessary people, but I even had a prolonged conversation with Metropolitan Sergius. As for the result of this conversation, I will say the following: If from afar I still assumed the possibility of the existence of facts which might justify his conduct, now these assumptions also have been destroyed. Now for me there is no justification whatever for Metropolitan Sergius and company!"
Settling in Starodub, Bishop Damascene did not feel himself either calm or firm. The whole time he was in expectation of some change. On May 21, 1929, he wrote: "I received an invitation from Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov) of Petrograd to be his helper, and of course I refused, as before I have refused the offers of the Sergianists."
According to his custom, Bishop Damascene here also was full of energy. He saw most of his friends, conducted with them and with bishops friendly to him an active correspondence, and prepared a statement against Metropolitan Sergius. He did this after a whole series of waverings and doubts: Was it even worthwhile to address Metropolitan Sergius with an epistle of reproach? But the active principle in Bishop Damascene took precedence over the contemplative and ascetic principle.
Bishop Damascene accepted everything he saw at this time in a most churchly way. From Starodub he wrote on December 23, 1928: "How monstrously great is the crime which is now being performed - the murder of the souls of children! Are there any pure joys among contemporary children? Now, it seems the whole atmosphere is filled with the fluids of evil and corruption. Now only those who preserve in themselves the grace of Christ are isolated from the influence of these satanic fluids."
And again: "I will share further with you my conviction that the whole meaning of the present trials consists in the fact that the time has come to purify our life, the life of faith, the life of the Mysteries of Christ, from outward layers. It has become too clear that for many, especially the lukewarm, the outward form of religious life has completely replaced the essence of this life, and this is why the outward success of the atheists has become possible. As for this success of theirs, it is a fact, as far as it concerns the corruption of the generation of children and young people."
In his epistle to Metropolitan Sergius in connection with his Declaration, Bishop Damscene writes: "Examining the present sorrowful path of the Russian Church in the perspective of eternity, one comes to an understanding of the exalted meaning of all the present trials. The quenching of the spirit of faith in the masses, the abasement of the ideals that bring salvation in the Church, the forgetting by pastors of their duty, the multplication of lawlessness because of this, and the growing cold of the love of the many - could not but lead to serious consequences. In every organism the quenching of the spirit causes convulsions. We stand too far in our church life from the commandments of Christ, from the guidance of the teaching of the holy Apostles, and from the testament of the Holy Fathers, martyrs, and confessors. Terrible sorrows have become indispensable, so that at least by this means our attention might be turned to the great sin of those bearers of the name of Christ who are called to sanctity.
"In case the Soviet authority, against all reason, will continue to stubbornly view Orthodoxy in general as counter-revolutionary - well, what of it? We shall go to Golgotha. But before this the Church must fulfill its duty before the world and in this connection must step forth with an authoritative word of warning to the perishing people. The justice of the world is wavering. The lie has become the law and foundation of human life. The human word has lost every bond with truth, with the Pre-eternal Word; it has lost all right to be trusted and respected. People have lost faith in each other and are drowning in an ocean of insincerity, hypocrisy, and falsity.
"If there had not occurred such a great quenching of the spirit of faith and love among the believers in the preceding period, the faithful servants of the prince of darkness would not have found among us so many voluntary and involuntary helpers for himself."
The long isolation of Bishop Damascene from Soviet life, his remoteness from the gradual process of Sovietization, caused him to be unrealistic about the life around him. In the repressive measures of the Soviet authority, apart from their immediate result, there was hidden a profound meaning. Between the bishops and priests who were languishing in concentration camps and prisons, and the mass of the faithful, no matter how firm they might strive to stand in the faith, there had opened up an abyss of mutual misunderstanding. The confessors strove to lift the faithful to a higher step and to raise their spiritual level to their own. The mass of the faithful, weighed down by the cares of life and family and blinded by propaganda, on the contrary involuntarily went downwards. Visions of a future golden age of satiety, of complete liberty from every outward and inward limitation, of the subjection of the powers of nature to man; deceptive views in which fantasy passed over into science (painless childbirth, direct connection with America through the North Pole, the changing of the climate of the Arctic, harnessing of the sun's rays, etc) were used by the Bolsheviks to seize in their nets the overwhelming majority of the people. Only a few individuals could preserve their elevation of spirit.
BISHOP DAMASCENE AND METROPOLITAN SERGIUS
The stay of Bishop Damascene in Starodub was marked by his energetic battle against the new church policy of Metropolitan Sergius which was set forth by him in his Declaration of August 19,1927. A series of epistles by Bishop Damascene, and in particular his epistle to Metropolitan Sergius in connection with his Declaration, made absolutely clear the reasons for this battle. Summing up briefly their content, one may say that the formal reason for the protest against the Declaration was the fact that Metropolitan Sergius, who was a temporary and not a totally authorized substitute of Metropolitan Peter, exceeded his authority, which he assumed without canonical foundations. By his usurpation of authority Metropolitan Sergius placed in question the canonical legality and efficacy of all the measures which he introduced beginning with the Declaration.
One thing was certain: such activity of Metropolitan Sergius, which continued to develop, served for the destruction of the Church and an abasement of its dignity and authority, for the undermining of faith and its work of salvation.
"When I reflect on the activity of Metropolitan Sergius, I recall the words of the epistle written before his death by Metropolitan Benjamin: 'Now we must leave off our learning, our self-opinion, and give place to grace.' On the part of Metropolitan Sergius we see precisely the opposite of this testament of the hieromartyr. He himself closes his eyes to the threatening danger before which our Church has been placed, and he draws others away from a proper preparation of themselves for this danger. Instead of giving expression to the Church's true awareness by which its further course has already been defined and its will has been expressed not to deviate from the path of the Cross given from above, Metropolitan Sergius cowardly hides from the sorrows which are unavoidable in a direct course and gives himself over to the enemies of the Church for the sake of the preservation of outward prosperity, and he draws others onto this same path."
Despite the execution of many bishops, the imprisonment of the Patriarch, the closing of churches, the destruction of monasteries - despite the cruel persecutions and decrease of the number of believers, church life flourished with such a blossoming as it had not known perhaps for several centuries. In all the churches there were formed sisterhoods which served the churches and occupied themselves with charitable works, in particular for the imprisoned clergy; and there were strong church councils that defended the churches. Collections were made for prisoners, there were spiritual concerts, spiritual talks, lectures, all-night prayers. The cathedrals and still-remaining monastery churches in which Divine services were performed according to the typicon were always overflowing. Freed from the outward care of the government, cleansed by persecutions, the Church breathed deeply and fully. It did not fear persecutions; it was not hemmed in by the deprivation of material goods. Believers from their scanty budgets would have found the means for the upkeep not only of the clergy, but also for theological academies, if such had been permitted. The Church became a state within the state, and its spiritual power triumphed. The authority of the clergy, who were in exile and prison, was incomparably greater than it had been in imperial times in different circumstances. The bishop who travelled by hired cab or streetcar, or who even walked on foot, attracted greater respect from the believers than did a bishop travelling in a carriage in imperial times. Usually the believers would wait for their bishop outside in the street, would accompany him to his cab or streetcar, and sometimes to his humble dwelling. If a bishop was in prison, he would receive such a quantity of parcels that he would not only feed his own cell, but would give also to others. There would only have to be a rumor of an expected release from prison, and then before the gates of the prison the faithful would gather, a believing cab man would come from somewhere in the neighborhood and at the necessary moment drive up triumphantly: "Master, bless me to take you home."
But the Soviet authority strove, together with its outward demands, to interfere also with the inward side of the Church, to act upon its spiritual life. It was this attack precisely on the inward life of the Church, under the appearance of a legalization whose dimensions and boundaries it was impossible to foresee but whose aim was clear, that was the reason for a fervent protest, in particular on the part of Bishop Damascene.
"That which you accept under the name 'legalization' in essence is an act of servitude which does not guarantee for you any rights whatever, but lays on you serious obligations. It was naive to expect anything else. The communist authority is open and logical. It has openly declared itself hostile to religion and has placed as its governmental aim the annihilation of the Church .... It will not cease openly and clearly to declare its God-fighting aims both through the higher government officials and through its smallest agents. Therefore it is most naive and even criminal to think that the so-called 'legalization' on the part of the Soviet authority has as even a part of its aim to provide for the good of Church. And if the aim of a legalization is not good then that means it is evil.
"Has it really not entered your head that the information given by you has nothing whatever in common with the Church's interests? And has the thought not dawned on you that if they were to increase a little these demands of accountability, and if you would fulfill them conscientiously, the believers would turn away from you with disgust as open agents of the security organs, all the more because the authorities themselves are striving to place you precisely in such a light? Reflect especially on the fact that your present legalization, as a part of the plans of an authority that has declared war against the Church, is a step toward the conversion of all of you into the same kind of submissive servants in the hands of the authorities for the destruction of the Church, as are all the renovationists?
"It seems to us that Metropolitan Sergius wavered in his conviction of the almightiness of the all-conquering Truth, the almightiness of God, in the fatal moment when he signed the Declaration. And this wavering, like a frightful shock, has been transmitted to the whole body of the Church and has caused it to shudder ... Innumerable and infinitely heavy are the inward consequences of the Declaration - this selling of the primogeniture of the Truth for the 'lentil soup' of false and unrealizable goods. But apart from the inward shocks, of course it will have other conseqences also which are more evident and palpable."
Bishop Damascene evaluates with the greatest mystical depth the inward essence of the Declaration in his essay "The Seal of Christ and the Seal of Antichrist," even though the Declaration itself is not mentioned there.
"Why is it that the seal of Antichrist, as St. John the Theologian affirms, will be placed not upon the forehead and the hand simultaneously, but upon the forehead or the hand? Likewise, St. Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea, writes: 'He will strive so that the mark might be placed upon everyone ... In some it will be on the right hand, so as to instruct those who have been deceived to be bold in their deception and darkness. This will occur because at that time there will be people who will affirm that it is possible and permissable to recognize the God-fighting authority of Antichrist if only one remains a Christian in one's soul. From such ones Antichrist will not demand that they share his way of thinking; in other words, upon all such ones he will not place the seal on their forehead, but will demand of them only the recognition of his authority, which is, according to St. Hippolytus, the seal on the hand, since through recognition of the human authority which will be God-fighting and against God, lawless and filled with every impiety, a Christian by this very fact will cut off from himself every possibility of doing good and righteous deeds, for in his faith there will be missing the chief sign of uprightness - the confession of God as God and the recognition of Him as the Being that stands above all. All such ones, even though they might bear the name of Christian, in very deed will be, according to the works of their hands, true servants of Antichrist, who has deceived them by the worship of his image, which is the mark of the beast. Repentance is impossible for such ones, according to the teaching of the Holy Church; and it is impossible only because the seal of Christ and the seal of Antichrist are incompatible, and the reception of one banishes the presence of the other. The banishing of the grace of the Holy Spirit through the mark of the beast fills the heart of all such ones with the first sign - fearfulness - which will bring them to an easy destruction. St. Hippolytus writes: 'On the contrary, if anyone will be deprived of the Holy Spirit, that is, if one will not have upon himself or has lost the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit which was given in Holy Chrismation, he will fight with fear in a cowardly manner, will hide, will be afraid of the present temporal death, will conceal himself from the sword, will not endure chastisement, since he is constantly thinking about the world.' "
In other words, Orthodoxy and every religion is incompatible with communism, because the one excludes the other. In this Bishop Damascene is in agreement with Metropolitan Cyril.
BISHOP DAMASCENE AND METROPOLITAN PETER
Who, after all, could resolve the question on which path to lead the ship: on the path of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, or that of Metropolitan Sergius? This dispute between the Tikhonites and the Sergianists could be resolved only by Metropolitan Peter, the canonical substitute of the Most Holy Patriarch Tikhon. A disciplined man who desired not to step away a single inch from the canons, Bishop Damascene dreamed that the voice of Metropolitan Peter might resound through the whole Orthodox Church.
But Metropolitan Peter was in the remote village of Ho in the province of Tobolsk. How could he be reached? If one were to write a letter and send it by mail, at best it would not reach its destination. If one were to go oneself, one would be stopped on the way. One thing remained: to send to Metropolitan Peter a trustworthy person in order to give him a series of documents which illustrated the situation of the Church and a letter with a request to give his opinion and make a reply in whatever form Metropolitan Peter might consider the most acceptable. This was a project which was extraordinarily difficult to execute! First of all, money was required.
However, Bishop Damascene had at his disposition a large enough sum of money that he might, without losing time, send a courier. It was already the month of May. Considering the climatic conditions of the place where Metropolitan Peter was staying, one would have to hurry with this matter.
"Our pilgrim already left before I received the parcels. I could not keep him any longer. Pray there that the Lord might bless my undertaking. I have given him a a complete picture of the most various material; I have also sent copies of the Sergian decrees and appeals. One can expect a reply only in August" (letter of May 21, 1929).
Later he wrote: "Our pilgrim gave over everything successfully, and has already returned with a reply - for the time being only an oral reply, but a written reply should be received soon. Everything I sent turned out to be new there. He could not send a reply immediately for reasons of an entirely outward character. The emissary says that after becoming acquainted, grandfather (the name Bishop Damascene gave to Metropolitan Peter) spoke of the situation and further conclusions from it in almost my own words."
The courier reached with difficulty the distant village where Metropolitan Peter was. One can only imagine how difficult the journey was for him; he was aware that in Soviet conditions he could have been followed on the road and seized, and the matter could have been made to look like a widespread counter-revolutionary organization in the Church with terroristic aims! And when he came to the last train station, how could he get to the little village, which was 120 miles from the railroad, without arousing suspicion from his lack of knowledge of the road? No less difficult was it, once having reached the village, to seek out Metropolitan Peter there. None of the local inhabitants, who were foreigners and summer visitors, supposed that the sick old monk who was taking refuge in the corner of a hut in the midst of a large family, was the chief hierarch of the once mighty and pompous Orthodox Church.
The emissary found Metroplitan Peter completely ill. It was dangerous, both for the courier and for Metropolitan Peter, for him to remain in the village and wait for a reply; and the careful reading and studying of 22 documents and the making of a decision in accordance with them required time-and strength, which in Metropolitan Peter was already declining.
It is remarkable that, despite the watchfulness of the security agencies of the Soviet authority, the courier of Bishop Damascene managed to get through unnoticed and brought misfortune neither upon himself nor upon the bishop who sent him.
With ever-increasing tension, Bishop Damascene waited for a reply from Metropolitan Peter. However, in October he wrote: "But what actually am I waiting for? I am coming to the idea that even a decisive word from Metropolitan Peter will not change the situation essentially, for the essence of the great sin which is being performed is not understandable to many. Perhaps it will be correct to leave everyone in a peaceful ignorance of the sin which has been performed ... I begin to think that our chief aim must be the inward strengthening of ourselves for bitter trials? (letter of October 5, 1929).
Metropolitan Peter never gave his answer from exile. Perhaps Metropolitan Peter himself experienced a feeling of hopelessness before the evil which was ever more inundating the land and gave over the guidance of the Russian Orthodox Church into the hands of God, as was done by Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich after his short tenure as substitute of the Locum Tenens.
Bishop Damascene usually wrote his epistles with several copies and sent them to his friends. Each of them was instructed to recopy the letter by hand or on a typewriter with several more copies and to send them to the enclosed addresses, ranging everywhere in the Soviet Union: Siberia, the Caucasus, the Ukraine, the Urals. This activity of Bishop Damascene was the last spark of his indefatigable energy. Then there was a break and a going over to the underground Church after his final departure from Metropolitan Sergius.
BISHOP DAMASCENE'S CITY OF GOD
In what did this break consist? In a return to the idea by which Bishop Damascene was guided when he was still a hieromonk: by means of a patient and prolonged preaching among persons carefully chosen, in house-churches, solitary cells, and the like, he began to create a tightly-knit church brotherhood of believers sincerely devoted to the idea of Orthodoxy, a small Church which nevertheless would be the more noticeable on the surface of public life the deeper it sunk its roots into the hearts of the people. At that time this idea had been a kind of foreknowledge of the fulfillment of Vladimir Soloviev's presentiments: but now it was founded on facts.
"Those children of God who have not fallen under the pressure of the satanic hurricane and have not been bruised by the pieces of the great shipwreck, are clearly aware of the situation and with complete calmness and confidence will undertake the building of the true Church of Christ on the foundation of it which still remains, without excessive nervousness, without unnecessary complaints: for the process of its building will comprise the whole meaning of their life ... Step forward to this holy undertaking, and immediately you will find peace and clarity of soul, repose and foreknowledge. Remember that the builders of the Church are not only the clergy, but also all the believers, all who strive toward Christ. And our path toward Christ is primiarily expressed in this process of building. The process consists in the fact that we offer ourselves as bricks in the holy building of the Church of Christ, which is His Body. If our inward part is composed of the love of Christ, our thoughts and feelings and will are cemented by the grace of Christ. If we will consciously place this brick of ours at the foundation of the Church for further building, then the very Creator of the universe will reveal a place for it, so that no storm can move it or cast it down. In the face of the great destruction which has occurred, it is evident that each of us must begin to raise up the building from its foundation. The example of the first builders will give us definite forms for such work. Think of them, become more acquainted with them in the holy Apostles, the holy martyrs and confessors, and in the writings of the Holy Fathers of that period."
Bishop Damascene turns the thoughts of his friends and venerators to the times of the martyrs and confessors, because after the thousand-year history of Christianity in Russia, the Church has been thrown back to the times before Constantine the Great, to the times of Nero and Diocletian.
"Let us bring our own bricks to the immovable foundation of the righteousness of Christ, of the Divine Truth, of eternal salvation. Without many words, without loud phrases, create first a small nucleus of a few people who are striving towards Christ, who are ready to begin the realization of the evangelical ideal in their lives. Unite yourselves for grace-given guidance around one of the worthy pastors, and let everyone separately and all together prepare themselves for yet greater service to Christ ... Just a few people united in such a life already makes up a small Church, the Body of Christ, in which the Spirit and the Love of Christ dwell ... If we do not become members of the Body of Christ, the temple of His Life-giving Spirit, then this Spirit will depart from the world, and the frightful convulsions of the dying world organism will be the natural result of this."
Bishop Damascene believed in the victory of Christianity: "Your reflections on the morning and evening of Christianity are incorrect, for they as it were exclude the presence of day. I look otherwise at the situation. The purpose of the Church is a constant battle; this is why it is called the 'militant Church,' battling with the prince of this world - that is, with all those who by all possible means and ways press the spirit of man, bind it, as it were mix it with matter, gradually surpress in it the call from heaven, deprive it of the opportunity even to feel its own true nature, the true purpose of its life in this world, and even harden it against the eternal Light. For the spirit that has become attached to earth, this Light even now becomes painfully tormenting, which is why there is occurring a rebellion against the Light, an effort to put out its remaining rays in this world. All this is contained in a single word: evil. As long as there is occurring a conscious battle with these conditions of life in the domain of the prince of this world, a battle with evil, so long will the 'day' of Christ's Church endure ... It is joyful to realize that only this Light possesses the life-giving quality of constantly creating, igniting noble lamps of the Light in the midst of darkness which to all appearances has already covered everything. Therefore, let it be that darkness has temporarily covered the earth (from the sixth to the ninth hour), let it be that the lamps of certain Churches are hidden under bushels so as not to be put out by the satanic whirlwind (as has occurred with the majority). After a short time of rest from the Lord (perhaps even the time when the darkness will imagine that its work has already been completed), the lamps will be revealed, will come together, will ignite a multitude of others which had been put out, will pour together into a great flame of faith which, when efforts are made to put it out, will burn more brightly; for many which have been put out and have felt the torment of the darkness and the cold of Tartarus will prefer to burn upon the bonfire of the flame of faith than again to be immersed in darkness."
But all this is in one's dreams; what of the Soviet reality at this present moment? "And so, we are a minority ... What is that to us? Does one need to step back before the attack of militant atheism? May this not be! No matter how few we might be, the whole power of Christ's promises concerning the invincibility of the Church remain with us. With us is Christ, the Conqueror of death and hell. The history of Christianity shows us that in all the periods when temptations and heresies have agitated the Church, the bearers of church truth and the expressors of it were few, but these few with the fire of their faith and their zealous standing in the Truth have gradually ignited everyone ... The same thing will happen now if we few will fulfill our duty before Christ and His Church to the end.
"The fearless confession of faith and of one's hope and a firm standing in the Church's laws are the most convincing refutation of the Sergian deviation and are an unconquerable obstacle to the hostile powers directed against the Church. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Already in this period of his life in Starodub, Bishop Damascene gradually was training his friends and followers to the idea that Christianity would be forced to go underground so as to preserve itself in purity and in uncorrupted beauty of spirit. The longer he lived in freedom, the more were dispersed his illusions concerning the possibility of influencing the mass of the people which not long before this had been called the "God-bearing" people. But this idea matured completely only in Solovki. After he had returned from imprisonment in Solovki he was a convinced partisan of departure from Metropolitan Sergius and going over to a semi-legal, and later an entirely underground, existence of the Orthodox Church.
THE LATER EXILES OF BISHOP DAMASCENE
In November, 1929, Bishop Damascene was again arrested. This time his prison was Solovki. There Bishop Damascene met many who thought as he did, with whom previously he had only been acquainted by correspondence. Unfortunately, in this period it was very difficult to have correspondence with Bishop Damascene - letters did not arrive, and replies were not received. After he was set free in 1934, Bishop Damascene said almost nothing about his stay in Solovki, except that hunger forced those in Solovki to collect at the seashore all kinds of shellfish and snails to satisfy it to some degree. This was the period of the forced collectivization of agriculture and the terrible famine which was caused by it.
There was one other thing which Bishop Damascene mentioned about his stay in Solovki: To rest from the "bedlam" surrounding him, he would go off into the forest. There, as other exiles of the same period related, they found him on his knees in deep prayer.
Evidently the experience of life in Starodub and the close contact with the world of the concentration camps (by comparison with which even Poloi seemed paradise), where political prisoners were mixed and sometimes placed under criminals, left a profound imprint on the further thought of Bishop Damascene. He already was turning away from any widespread activity; he no longer wrote long letters, addressed to a broad circle of believers. He became convinced that in the conditions of Soviet reality and the general corruption, only an underground Church was possible. And the chief thing: he saw the mass exodus from religion, the success of anti-religious propaganda, the atheism which was growing right and left. Now it was no longer a majority, but a minority which one could hope to save.
Believers in 1934 were a small flock-these were not the called, but the chosen. One had to think about the welfare of this small flock. Bishop Damascene found his small flock on his last trip to Kiev. He went about the cities which he knew, visited those who thought as he did, and sought out new ones.
While in Kiev Bishop Damascene called a certain archpriest, a professor of the Kiev Theological Academy, to join his flock. The archpriest absolutely refused - he would not go into the underground, but would remain in his tiny church ... For some reason the refusal of this archpriest caused a great shock to Bishop Damascene. He had a heart attack. Could it really be that up to now - more than six years after the issuance of the Declaration - it was not clear that in place of the "legalization" of the Church it was a liquidation of the Church which was going forward with increasing pace? What more was there to hope for?
The friends and venerators of Bishop Damascene tried to keep secret his place of residence. But how could one protect Vladika, who did not take off his rasson, who did not shave his long beard, who after so many years, continued to act like a bishop and would walk about Kiev with his bishop's staff when he was forbidden to show himself in the Ukraine at all! He did not know how to hide himself. He thought thus: "We are all as sheep for the slaughter."
Even earlier, soon after the publication of Metropolitan Sergius' Declaration, Bishop Damascene had thought about the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the image of two of the Churches of the Apocalypse: those of Philadelphia and Laodicea. The Church of Patriarch Tikhon was the Church of Philadelphia: And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write ... Thou hast a little strength, and has kept My word, and hast not denied My name (Apoc. 3:7-8). Him that overcometh I will make a pillar of the temple of My God and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God ... and My new name (Apoc. 3:12).
And side by side with the Church of Philadelphia, the Church of Laodicea - that of Metropolitan Sergius: And unto the angel of the church of the Laodicians write ... I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich ... and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear, and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see (Apoc. 3:14, 18).
Bishop Damascene told his followers, as far as possible, not to work in government service. Whoever can sew, let him work at home. Whoever can occupy himself with some other handicraft, let him so occupy himself with it that he may live a Christian life and flee from evil. Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly. "It is better to be satisified with less and to preserve one's freedom of spirit."
ASCENT TO THE HEAVENLY CITY OF GOD
In the autumn of 1934 Bishop Damascene was arrested again. But what a contrast with the previous years-no parcels, no food, no clothing, no money! No correspondence was allowed. Whoever disappeared behind the gates of the prison was erased from life forever.
Many months later there came rumors that Bishop Damascene at this time was in some collective farm in Kazakhstan and was working as a bookkeeper. Slowly there came further rumors that Bishop Damascene had been transported by various convoys to the north and then again to the south. His beloved spiritual son was with him-Father John Sm., an outstanding priest, a superb preacher, a confessor, who had gone almost out of his mind after his first exile, when he was beaten mercilessly, chiefly on the head. He was unable to walk. Bishop Damascene threw down the sack with his things, gave them to some believer, and took Father John on his shoulders; thus they went to the north. Then news ceased to come at all. The last news was in 1935: in Kazakhstan Bishop Damascene was arrested and was again sent to Siberia. After this-total silence.
After the Ezhov terror in the mid-30's there was a legend spread about the death of Bishop Damascene. He was taken with the usual convoy to the far north. Somewhere on the shore of a great Siberian river in late autumn he was waiting for a ship. At the last minute another priest was brought, dressed in a light cassock-he had been brought in what he had been wearing when arrested. Bishop Damascene took off his own rasson and with the words, "Whoever has two garments, let him give to one who has none," put it on the priest. But his ruined health could not endure the cold, and right there on the ship, on which the convoy was to travel for several days, he died. His body was wrapped up and sent to the deep of the great Siberian river.
But here is another version of the death of Bishop Damascene: He was imprisoned in a Siberian prison. From the common cell he was brought into solitary confinement - without windows, without light. On the floor of this cell, there was frozen water, and the walls were covered with frost. In this cold and darkness, perhaps even without food, Bishop Damascene stayed until his feet were frostbitten and gangrene set in ... It is difficult to imagine without horror all the frightful days of the torment, like that of Gethsemane, of Bishop Damascene. In the prison infirmary Bsihop Damascene died of this gangrene.
In the 20th century the Russian people in their own native land have been present at the raising of their Church upon Golgotha, its crucifixion, its death on the Cross, its placing in the tomb until the bright resurrection, by the will of God. The entire rest of the world that still calls itself Christian passed by the foot of the Cross on which the Russian Orthodox Church was crucified-indifferently, coldy, sometimes even with scoffing, just as the scribes and pharisees passed by. No one stretched out a sponge so as to quench its thrist before death. No one wrapped it in a clean shroud or brought sweet spices. Not a single one of the Eastern Patriarchs did this - those to whom the Russian government had given so bountifully. For them indeed Moscow had been the Third Rome, which supported them morally, materially and politically.
In Europe the people were unable to understand a simple thing: The tragedy of the Russian Orthodox Church was only the beginning of the tragedy of all Christianity. The attack against Christianity is conducted from two sides, and the pincers are closing in. On the ideological front there is being conducted from underneath the skillful work of the replacement of Christianity by anti-christianity, using Christian and church terms and forms for the greater success of Bolshevik propaganda. For this purpose there was even proclaimed the compatibility of Communism and Christianity.
The Russian Orthodox Church for more than 50 years has borne the cross of confession, and by the prayers of her great confessors of our time the gates of hell will not overcome her. In a short, chance conversation, the Serbian Archbishop Nicholas of Ochrida in connection with the Russian Church has said: "At the present time before the Throne of the Almighty, the voices of Russians are drowning out all the rest!"
Sources: E. Lopeshanskays