Bishop Alexis, in the world Alexander Vasilyevich Buj, was born in the village of Nikolayevksy (according to another source, Ksyenyevka), Novo-Kuskovskaya volost, Tomsk uyezd, Tomsk province), in 1892. He was from a peasant family who had emigrated from Siberia from the Vitebsk province, which explains his West Russian surname. He wrote: "I finished my studies at a parish and theological school in Tomsk and, not having the means to continue my education, I entered a church-parish school attached to the Krasnoyarsk Znamensky men's monastery, where I also became a clerk." This monastery was situated on the river Yenisei some thirty versts north of Krasnoyarsk. The monks lived according to a strict rule "in the spirit of Solovki on the White Sea or Finnish Valaam". While staying in the monastery, Alexander Vasilyevich studied as an external student at the theological seminary in Krasnoyarsk, and in 1915 passed his exams to the fourth class. However, he couldn't continue his studies because of lack of money. At the beginning of September, 1915 he became the cell-attendant of Archbishop Anatolius (Kamensky) in the Hierarchical House in Tomsk. With the blessing of Archbishop Anatolius, he was received into the local seminary and was able to finish his studies there and receive a middle-grade theological education.
On September 29, 1915 Alexander was tonsured into monasticism in the Hierarchical House with the name Alexis, and on October 11 was ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Anatolius in Tomsk cathedral. Being devoted to the archbishop, the young hierodeacon was in charge of his chancellery. On April 4, 1917 Archbishop Anatolius ordained him to the priesthood, and only in 1918 sent him to the Biisk catechetical school in the Altai to teach the Sacred Scriptures. For a whole year Fr. Alexis fulfilled the duties of inspector in this school, and returned to Tomsk in the autumn of 1919, when civil war was already being waged in Siberia.
In Tomsk he became the personal secretary of Archbishop Anatolius, and remained with him until the middle of 1920, when he moved to Irkutsk and entered the Prince Vladimir men's monastery. On June 27, 1922, Fr. Alexis was appointed superior of the monastery. However, the Bolsheviks soon closed it, and Fr. Alexis was arrested for supposedly counter-revolutionary activity and was for three months in Irkutsk prison.
Fr. Alexis was tall and thin, an inspired preacher, a great faster and a true monk. He celebrated the Divine services with great concentration.
On April 21, 1923 he was received into the St. Nicholas monastery, Samara. The local hierarch, Archbishop Anatolius (Grisiuk) wanted to make Fr. Alexis his vicar bishop in Bugulma, but was arrested before he could carry out this plan. Fr. Alexis was then appointed superior of the Alexander Nevsky men's monastery near Bugulma, where there was a famous icon of the Mother of God "Meet it is". On December 19, 1923 / January 1, 1924 Bishops Ioann (Poyarkov) of Dovlekanovsky, Mark (Bogolyubov) of Sterlitamak and Benjamin (Frolov) of Baikinsk decided to carry out the desire of Archbishop Anatolius and consecrated Fr. Alexis as Bishop of Bugulma in the Nikolsk Cross church in Ufa. This consecration was later recognized by Patriarch Tikhon.
However, Bishop Alexis did not stay long in Bugulma. In the spring of 1924 - officially, from July 19 - he became vicar-bishop of the Petropavlovsk Omsk diocese in place of Bishop Gregory (Kozyrev) who did not want to take up this post. Then, after signing the act transferring the highest authority to Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa on April 12, 1925, he was exiled to Kazakhstan, where he became bishop of Akmolinsk, then bishop of Vitebsk and then (in October, 1925) Bishop of Semipalatinsk, temporarily administering the Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk) diocese for two months. He also administered the Vitebsk diocese from the spring of 1925 to February, 1926. Then he became Bishop of Bishop of Kozlov (Michurinsk) and the superior of a monastery in the town, while also administering the Tambov and Kirsanovsk dioceses. From December, 1926 (the summer of 1927, according to another source), he became Bishop of Urazovsk, a vicariate of the Voronezh diocese. According to one source, he was imprisoned in Butyrki prison, Moscow, for six months.
On February 16/29, 1927, with the blessing of Archbishop Seraphim, deputy of the patriarchal locum tenens, he became guardian of the Church of Voronezh while remaining at the same time bishop of the Kozlov district. This happened after Archbishop Peter (Zverev) of Voronezh was arrested and imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in November, 1926, which encouraged the renovationists in the city, led by "Metropolitan" Cornelius (Popov) and "Bishop" Zacharius (Popov) of Ostrog, to rear their heads again. Soon Bishop Alexis found himself the target of a campaign by the OGPU, who undoubtedly planted stooges in his entourage.
In July, 1927, Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod issued his notorious "declaration" placing himself and his newly-formed "Holy Synod" in submission to the God-hating atheists.
On January 9/22, 1928 Bishop Alexis wrote an epistle to the clergy and laity of the Voronezh diocese concerning his separation from Metropolitan Sergius, in which he said: "By his actions contrary to the spirit of Orthodoxy, Metropolitan Sergius has torn himself away from unity with the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and lost the right to lead the Russian Church... I elect his Eminence Joseph (Petrovykh) as my highest spiritual leader..." The epistle was signed by ten representatives of the Voronezh clergy, including Archpriests John Andreyevsky, Nicholas Piskanovsky, Peter Novoseltsev, Elijah Pirozhenko, Paul Smirnsky, Sergius Gortinsky, Alexander Philippenko, John Stelbin-Kamensky and Michael Chilikin. It was then taken by Bishop Alexis' cell-attendant, the priest Fr. Stephen Stepanov, to Metropolitan Joseph, and received his approval.
Five days later, on January 14/27, Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod placed Bishop Alexis under ban "for schismatic activity". Then the sergianist bishop of Voronezh, Vladimir (Bogucharsky), announced the "fall" of Bishop Alexis. In April, Metropolitan Sergius entrusted the Voronezh diocese to Archbishop Macarius (Zvezdov) of Smolensk. However, the majority of the Voronezh flock, led by the above-named priests, refused to follow the sergianists.
Protopriest Nicholas Akimovich Piskanovsky was born in 1887 in the village of Stepanovka, Kobrinsky uyezd, Grodno province. He finished his studies at a theological seminary. Until 1914 he was a priest in the church of Grodno province. In August, 1914 he fled eastwards from the Western Ukraine and settled in the remote village of Ivanovka, 20 kilometres from Alexandria in Kherson province. He settled in the region with his relative, the future Hieromartyr Anthony (Kotovich). He fought against the renovationists, being almost the only priest in the whole district who resisted the heresy. He was made a protopriest. In 1922 was appointed rector of the Dormition cathedral in Alexandria at the same time that the future Hieroconfessor Igumen Barsonuphius (Yurchenko) was living there. After a few months there he was arrested and imprisoned on Solovki from 1923 to September, 1926. On his release on October 1, he was arrested again several times and moved from place to place as an administrative exile: to Poltava (in 1926), to Kursk and finally, from June, 1927, to Voronezh, where he served in the Ascension church He was one of the leaders of the Josephites in the diocese. On May 10, 1928 he was arrested and on July 31 or August 31 was sentenced to three years on Solovki.
He was on the main island of Solovki, in the fourth department, from 1929 to 1931, and became the spiritual father of all the confessing, anti-sergianist clergy there. Academician Likhachev, who was with him on Solovki, writes: "Fr. Nicholas Piskanovksy was another radiant person. He had a different character. One could never have called him happy, but always, even in the most difficult circumstances, he radiated inner calm. I don't remember him laughing or smiling, but meeting him was always somehow consoling. And not only for myself. I remember him telling my friend, who had been tormented for a year by an absence of letters from relatives, that he should endure a little and that a letter would come soon, very soon. I was not present at this incident, and so I cannot cite the exact words of Fr. Nicholas, but a letter arrived the next day. I asked Fr. Nicholas how he knew about the letter. And Fr. Nicholas replied that he did not know, the words just slipped out somehow. But there were very many such 'slippings out'.
"The cemetery church of St. Onuphrius belonged to the 'specials' - monks who had concluded a labour agreement with the camp, and was sergianist. The clergy of the sixth company did not form part of it. Fr. Nicholas had an antimins, and he would celebrate the Liturgy in whisper in the sixth ('priestly') company. The stories that almost 20 bishops served in the monastery church are not true. In my time prisoners were allowed to visit the church beyond the boundaries of the Kremlin no more than twice a year after being registered first. I don't know how it was before the schism in the Orthodox Church - perhaps the rules for visits were different.
"Fr. Nicholas knew that his wife had also been arrested, and was very worried about his children. He was worried that they would be taken into a children's home and brought up as atheists! And once, when they took him out of the camp, he was standing in a men's queue in Kemperpunkt for hot water. From the opposite direction a women's queue went to the same tap. When Fr. Nicholas came up to the tap, he saw his wife at the tap. While the prisoners shielded them (it was strictly forbidden for men to talk with women), Fr. Nicholas learned the joyful news that his children had been taken in by believers whom they knew. I have corresponded with Fr. Nicholas' daughter to this day, although I have never seen her.
"Fr. Nicholas' life was sheer torment, perhaps even martyrdom. Fr. Nicholas was exhausted by preceding arrests and exiles, he was weak and worked for a time in a net-weaving workshop. Occasionally, he invited us young people to his barracks, when he got a 'fish' - the notable Solovki herring, for the sake of which a certain number of monk-fishermen were retained in the monastery. I recently received from batyushka's daughter a short life, written in a simple and factual way. It is strikingly similar in its recounting of facts and its style to the life of Protopriest Avvakum."
Wherever he went Fr. Nicholas acquired the general respect and love of the believers. He had a very pious family that was beloved by all.
On October 12 (December 5, according to another source), 1931 he was released from the camp and exiled for three years to Kotlas in Archangelsk region. There he became the secretary of the Catacomb Archbishop Seraphim (Samoilovich) of Uglich until at least 1934. He died in the middle of the 1930s of tuberculosis.
Protopriest Peter Ioannovich Novosiltsev was born in 1883 in the village of Smirnovo, Nizhni-Novgorod province, in the family of a priest. He finished his studies at a theological seminary. He was arrested in 1926, and from November was in exile in Voronezh. He served as rector of the Pokrov church from November, 1926 to 1927. He was arrested on October 25, 1927 and on February 17, 1928 was exiled to Siberia for three years. Until the beginning of the 1930s he was in exile in Turukhansk region near Dudinki. In 1928, on his way through Yeniseisk, he met Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan. Nothing more is known of his further fate.
Protopriest Elijah Ioannovich Pirizhenko was born in 1888 in the village of Popovka, Kharkov province, in the merchant's family. He finished his studies at a theological seminary. He served in the Ukraine. He was arrested in 1923 and sentenced to the camps. He was on Solovki from 1923 to September, 1926. After his release he lived in Voronezh as an administrative exile and served in the Prince Vladimir cathedral. Fr. Nicholas was from 1928 to the beginning of the 1930s in exile in Turukhansk region, near Dudinki. In 1928, on his way through Yeniseisk, he met Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan. After his release he settled in Kazan. He was sentenced on May 25, 1935 to ten years in the camps. He was imprisoned in Khatyngakh, Yagodinsky region, Magadan province, where he worked as a night-watchman. He was arrested again on May 5, 1937 by the Far East UNKVD and sentenced to be shot. The sentence was carried out in Magadan.
Protopriest Paul Vasilyevich Smirnsky was born in 1873 in the village of Anoshkino, Ostrogozhsky uyezd, Voronezh province, in the family of a priest. He finished his studies at the Voronezh theological seminary and served in a church in the city. He was arrested on May 10, 1928 for antisergianist agitation and on August 31 was sentenced to three years' exile in Kostroma. At the beginning of the 1930s he returned to Voronezh province and served in the Archangels church in Gremyachensky region. He was arrested in the summer of 1937 and was sentenced to death. He was shot on September 25, 1937.
Fr. Sergius Dmitrievich Gortinsky was born in 1889 in Ryazan. At the beginning of the 1920s he was serving in Ryazan, and from 1925 - in the church of the village of Kazinka, Stavropol province. He was arrested at the end of 1926 and sentenced on February 4, 1927 to three years' exile in Voronezh, where he served in the church of the Alexeyevsky monastery. From May, 1928 he was part of the deanery council, and headed the Josephite priests' council. At the end of 1929 he was arrested and accused of taking over the rights of the administration of the diocese, but there was not enough evidence and he was freed. He was again arrested in February, 1930 and on July 28 was sentenced to death. He was shot on August 2, 1930. He suffered greatly in prison before his execution from bronchial tuberculosis.
Archpriest Alexander Leontyevich Philippenko was born in 1883 in the Dmitrievka, Alexandria uyezd, Kherson province, in a peasant family. He finished his studies at a teacher training college. In the 1920s he served in the church of the village of Semyonovka, Lysogorsky region, Pervomaysky district, Odessa province, where he met Igumen Barsonuphius (Yurchenko), and became friendly with him, completely sharing his views. He was first arrested and exiled in 1926, at which time almost all the members of his family died of hunger. He was arrested again on April 16, 1927 and on December 19 was sentenced to three years' exile in Voronezh, where he joined the opponents of Metropolitan Sergius. On May 9, 1928 he was arrested, and on August 31 was sentenced to three years on Solovki. After his release on October 12, 1931, he was exiled for three years to the north. Later he accepted monasticism and was made an archimandrite. In the 1930s he lived illegally in Kozlov (Michurinsk), working as a maker of brick stoves, and served in the True Orthodox Church. On February 11, 1946 he was arrested in Tambov province and was sentenced to ten years in the camps in Gorky province. He was released on November 11, 1954. From 1956 to 1960 he led more than 250 members of the True Orthodox Church in five workers' suburbs of the city of Temiratu (Kazakhstan). In November, 1960 almost all the leaders of the Karaganda Christians were arrested, including Fr. Alexander. Nothing more is known of his further fate..
Fr. John Georgievich Steblin-Kamensky. He was born in 1887 in St. Petersburg, the son of a privy councillor and a former officer of the Baltic fleet. In 1908 he finished his studies in the Naval College in St. Petersburg, and from 1909 to the beginning of 1918 he served as a lieutenant in the Baltic fleet. After demobilization he served as deputy director of the lighthouses of the Baltic fleet from 1919 to 1921. He was ordained to the diaconate as a celibate in 1920, and to the priesthood in 1923. In 1921 he was arrested but soon released. In 1924 he was arrested in Petrograd in connection with the affair of the Orthodox Brotherhoods and on September 26 was sentenced to the Solovki camps for three years. There he worked as an accountant, but continued to dress as a priest and go to services as long as they were allowed. On being released on October 1, 1927, Fr. John was sent for three years to Voronezh. He served in the church of the Pokrov Devichi monastery and was in fact in charge of it. At the end of 1928 Bishop Alexis appointed him diocesan dean, and after the arrest of Vladyka he became de facto leader of the diocese. On May 2, the authorities closed the church of the Pokrov Devichi monastery, and on the same day Abbess Dorogavtseva died. Many thousands of people attended her funeral on May 4, when Fr. John gave a flaming speech in which he said that the abbess had been a victim of the contemporary persecution against the Church. Fr. John had been under constant observation since March, and on May 6/19 he was arrested and imprisoned in July, being accused of enjoying great authority among the anti-Soviet population. It was said that peasants would come to him from the villages seeking cures for their headaches, etc. He acted with great courage during the investigation, refused to admit any guilt, and gave no evidence against anyone. On August 16, 1929 he was sentenced to three years in the camps. He was on Solovki from October 6. He was arrested in camp on February 12, 1930 in connection with the affair of the "Buyevtsy", and was imprisoned in Voronezh on May 5, 1930. On July 28, 1930 he was sentenced to be shot. He was shot on August 2, 1930.
Fr. Michael Nikolayevich Chilikin was born in 1869 in Kashira, Moscow province. He became a priest, joined the Josephites, and in 1930 was arrested in Kozelsk in connection with a branch of the True Orthodox Church. On November 27 he was sentenced in accordance with articles 58-10 and all to three years' exile in the north.
Fr. Stefan Nikolayevich Stepanov was born in 1904 in Omsk province. He was Archbishop Peter (Zverev)'s cell-attendant, and then, from 1927 to 1928, Bishop Alexis' cell-attendant. At the beginning of 1928 he took a letter from Bishop Alexis to Metropolitan Joseph. Fr. Stephen met Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) several times in September, 1928, and went with him to Taitsy, near Leningrad, where a secret store of Josephite literature was held. This literature spread to the Central Black Earth region, where it was gratefully received and multiplied by the peasants. Particular success was enjoyed by the brochure "What an Orthodox Christian must know". He was arrested in 1930 in Voronezh and on July 28 was sentenced to five years in the camps. He was on Solovki from September 12, 1930. It is said, however, that he continually witnessed against his archpastor, Bishop Alexis, even to his face.
The main centre of the activity of the True Orthodox Christians was the men's Alexeyev Akatov monastery in Voronezh together with the women's Pokrov Devichi monastery, and, in the first half of 1928, the Voznesenskaya and Pyatnitskaya (Nativity of the Mother of God) churches. In all, about 80 parishes separated from Metropolitan Sergius in the Voronezh diocese, mainly in the Ostrogozhsky, Usmansky and Borisoglebsky districts.
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