Archimandrite Nectarius, in the world Nicholas Dmitrievich Benediktov, was born in 1876 in the village of Burlak, Tambov province, in the family of a priest. In 1905, for his participation in a strike, he was dismissed from his work. Until 1917 he worked as a clerk on the South-Western railway. In April, 1924 he was tonsured into monasticism on Novy Afon. Until June, 1927 he served in the church of the Pokrov Devichi monastery in Voronezh. He was arrested on June 20, 1927, and on September 23 was exiled for three years to Central Asia. He died in exile on October 7, 1929.
On March 18, 1928, Bishop Alexis was visited by Bishop Barlaam (Lazarenko) of Maikop in the North Caucasus, who was living illegally in the mountains while leading the anti-sergianist Christians of the Maikop, Black Sea and Armavir districts. On his way to Voronezh, Bishop Varlaam had united a whole series of parishes in the Poltava, Kharkov and South Kursk provinces, and in particular a group in the Sumsk district led by the priest Fr. Basil Podgorny. Since Bishop Varlaam was not able to lead these parishes himself, he handed them over to the spiritual direction of Bishop Alexis. Moreover, after getting to know Bishop Alexis, he decided to put himself, as well, under his spiritual direction. In this way a large swathe of parishes in the South of Russia came under the omophorion of Bishop Alexis.
In the spring and summer of 1928 the movement of the True Orthodox Christians spread to other dioceses in the Central Black Earth region. In the Kozlov (Michurinsk) district, where Bishop Alexis had previously served, the St. Nicetas church in the town of Kozlov joined the True Orthodox Church, as did the church in the village of Izberdey. In Tambov, the cemetery church of Saints Peter and Paul joined the True Orthodox Church.
On March 17, 1928, there arrived in Voronezh an emissary of the clergy of the town of Yeltz, the priest Fr. Sergius Alexandrovich Butuzov, who was born in 1896 in Moscow. He finished his studies at the 7th Petrograd high school, and in 1916 graduated from Moscow Theological Academy. He was ordained in the same year and served in Orel province from 1918 to January, 1928. He was arrested in 1924 on a charge of concealing church valuables, but was justified by the court. From February to September, 1928 he was superior of the Vladimir church in Yeltz. On returning to Yeltz from meeting Bishop Alexis, he placed his parish of the St. Vladimir church under his omophorion. When the second priest left the church, Bishop Alexis sent Igumen Pitirim (Shumskikh) to support Fr. Sergius. He helped organize a monastic community attached to the St. Vladimir church; this was later transferred to the Yeltz Znamensky monastery, which had left Metropolitan Sergius. On July 21, 1928, he was arrested in Yeltz and was exiled from the Yeltz region on September 12, although he had been released from prison only one-and-a-half weeks earlier. From September to December, 1928 he lived in Voronezh. Bishop Alexis sent Fr. Sergius to the Voznesensky church in Voronezh, but he was not accepted there because the church had already been occupied by the sergianists. So on January 2, 1919, Fr. Sergius became the superior of the church in the village of Nizhny Iskorets, Liskinsky region. He remained there until November 2, when he was invited by Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) to Petrograd. There he lived at the Vsevolzhskaya station from November 6, and served in the St. Moses church from the beginning of December. He was arrested on March 19, 1930 and sent to Voronezh. During his investigation he gave lengthy accounts of the position of the Church, the essence of the disagreements with Metropolitan Sergius, the movements of the Josephites, and the characters of many bishops and priests. On July 6, 1930, he wrote a penitent letter to the OGPU, asking that it be given wide publicity. On July 28, 1930 he was sentenced to five years in the camps. He was on Solovki from September 12, 1930.
Archimandrite Porphyrius Dmitrievich Shumskikh was born in 1885 in the village of Zhernovetx, Starooskoldsky uyezd, Voronezh region. As an igumen, he was one of Bishop Alexis' closest assistants and his personal secretary from 1928 to the middle of 1929. He served in Voronezh until March, 1928, and then in Yeltz until the beginning of 1929. In June, 1929 he went to see Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) in Petrograd, and then to Novomoskovsk to Bishop Joasaph (Popov), who raised him to the rank of archimandrite in July. He was arrested in February, 1930 in Voronezh and on July 28 was sentenced to ten years in the camps. From September 12, 1930 he was on Solovki, but was transferred to the White Sea canal camp by 1937. There he was arrested and on September 9, 1937 was sentenced to be shot. He was shot near Medvezhyegorsk.
In May, 1928, there was a meeting of the leaders of the True Orthodox Church in Petrograd. As a result of this, Bishop Alexis formally became the adminstrator of all the Josephite parishes in the south of Russia, fulfilling the duties of the exarch of the Ukraine. Bishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) handed over to Bishop Alexis the clergy of the Kuban and Stavropol who had previously been subject to him. The news of this event, in the summer of 1928, led to a mass movement of sergianist parishes in the Ukraine and the South of Russia to Bishop Alexis: in the town of Elizavetgrad (Zinovievsk), Kupyansky district, the town of Yeisk, various districts of the Kuban, etc. In May Bishop Alexis was forbidden by the OGPU from living in Voronezh, so on May 20, immediately after his return from Petrograd, he moved to Yeltz.
Fr. Sergius Butuzov witnessed during his interrogation in 1930: "After Bishop Alexis moved to Yeltz [in the summer of 1928], there was a wave of people uniting with him. My flat became a kind of wanderers' hostel, since every day two or three priests spent the night there. Most of these people came from Sumsk district, and Bishop Alexis ordained some tens of priests for that district."
On moving to Yeltz, Bishop Alexis appointed as his representative in Voronezh Protopriest Alexander Vasilyevich Palitsyn, who was born in 1852 in the village of Nikolskoye, Rannenburg uyezd, Ryazan province. He graduated from a Theological Academy and served in churches in Voronezh. He was arrested on September 25, 1919, but was soon released. He was one of the leaders of the Josephites in Voronezh. He died in October or November, 1928, and was replaced as diocesan dean by his assistant, Fr. John Steblin-Kamensky..
Another "Buyevtsy" stronghold was the Zadonsk district, where the leading figure was Archimandrite Nicander Alexeyevich (Sturov). He was born in 1865 in the village of Malinino, Khlevensky uyezd, Voronezh province. He was rector of the monastery of the Mother of God in Zadonsk in the 1920s. Patriarch Tikhon gave him the right to receive and unite to Orthodoxy all schismatics. He joined Bishop Alexis in 1928, and in September Bishop Alexis himself went to Zadonsk and succeeded in consolidating the True Church there. On his initiative the Zadonsk deanery came under the omophorion of Archbishop Demetrius (Lyubimov) from August 6, 1929. He was arrested on September 28, 1929 and on December 26 was sentenced to ten years in the concentration camps. He was imprisoned in Ukhtpechlag. On April 4, 1933 he was released and exiled to the north for the rest of his sentence. He lived in Vologda. On June 8, 1933 he was released from exile. From 1943 to 1955 he lived secretly in Voronezh. He died in 1955 in Voronezh.
In the spring and summer of 1928, a significant proportion of the parishes of the Staro-Oskolsky district, led by the dean, Archpriest Athanasius Shigalev, joined Bishop Alexis, as did the churches in the villages of Dronovo and Terebrino in the Belgorod district, and others in the Kursk district.
In all, the "Buyevtsy" branch of the True Orthodox Church encompassed about 40 districts of the Central Black Earth region.
According to one (dubious) source, Bishop Alexis signed the acts of the so-called "Nomadic Council" of the Catacomb Church in 1928 and was a member of the "Working Group".
In the spring of 1929 fresh repressive measures were undertaken by the authorities, some of them in connection with the just beginning collectivization campaign. On February 21 / March 7, 1929, Bishop Alexis was arrested in Yeltz (according to another source, in Moscow), and on May 4/17 he was condemned to three years in the camps according to article 58 of the criminal code, and was sent to Solovki, where he arrived on June 9. He never returned to his flock.
After the arrest of Bishop Alexis, Metropolitan Sergius appointed Archbishop Zacharius (Lobov) as head of the Voronezh diocese. However, the clergy did not accept him, but rather considered him as no better than a renovationist, and a secret college of priests loyal to Bishop Alexis was formed to administer the diocese. This college consisted of Archpriest John Steblin-Kamensky (the president), the priests Frs. Sergius Gortinsky, Eugene Marchevsky, John Zhityaev and Theodore Yakovlev, and Archimandrite Ignatius (Biryukov).
Fr. Eugene Samsonovich Marchevsky was born in 1882 in the village of Gorotan, Novgorod-Volhynia province. At the beginning of the 1920s he was serving in the Ukraine. In 1924 he was arrested and sentenced to three years' exile. From 1927 to 1930 he lived in Voronezh and served in the church of the Pokrov Devichi monastery (until May, 1929) and then in the church of the Alexeyevsky monastery. He joined the diocesan deanery committee in May, 1928 and the "priests' council" in the spring of 1929. He was arrested in February, 1930 and on July 28 was sentenced to five years in the camps.
Fr. John Georgievich Zhityaev was born in September, 1892 in the village of Sosnovka, Petrovsky uyezd, Saratov province, in a peasant family. He went to a parish school and from 1916 sang in the hierarchical choir in Voronezh. He was a reader from 1918, and in the same year was ordained to the diaconate. In 1922 he was ordained to the priesthood and was appointed rector of the Pyatnitsky church in Voronezh, later becoming rector of the church of the Alexeyevsky monastery. From the spring of 1929 he became a member of the "priests' council". In August, 1929 he was arrest, was freed for a time, and then arrested again in December and sentenced to two years hard labour on the trumped-up charge of 'stealing church property'. He worked on log-felling in Karelia. He was released in October, 1931 and returned to Voronezh, where he served in secret. On February 4, 1932 he arrived in Petrograd and lived illegally in the building of the Ioannovsky monastery. He was arrested together with the nuns of the monastery on February 17, 1932, and on March 22 was sentenced to five years in the camps.
Fr. Theodore Mikhailovich Yakovlev was born in 1897 in St. Petersburg province in the family of a peasant. During the civil war he worked as the head of a local police station. In the 1920s he served in the Vladimir church in Voronezh. From the spring of 1929 he was secretary of the priests' council that administered the diocese, and after the arrest of Fr. John Stelbin became rector of the Alexeyevsky monastery. He was arrested on February 11, 1930, and on July 28 was sentenced to be shot. The sentence was carried out on August 2, 1930.
Archimandrite Ignatius, in the world John Adrianovich Biryukov, was born in 1865 in the village of Budyennoye, Ostrogozhsky uyezd, Voronezh province. Until 1926 he was the abbot of the Dormition Valuysky monastery, Voronezh province. He had been leader of the monastery choir since the age of 14, and in view of his shortness had had to stand on a stool. He helped Archbishop Peter in introducing chanting by all the people during the services. When the Valuysky monastery was closed in 1926, he moved to Voronezh and joined the Alexeyev monastery, arriving there on January 5, 1926. He was an exceptionally noble and kind pastor, was diocesan spiritual father and de facto leader of the diocese's monastics. He entered both the diocesan deanery council (from May, 1928) and the "priests' council" (from the spring of 1929). On January 30, 1930 (according to another source - February 2) he was arrested in connection with the Voronezh branch of the True Orthodox Church, and, in spite of his old age and tuberculosis, was sentenced on July 28 to five years in the camps on June 28. He was exiled to Central Asia. On April 5, 1931 he was drawn into the investigation of the Moscow branch of the True Orthodox Church, and on May 20 his sentence was extended to ten years, which was commuted to the same period of exile in Kazakhstan, where he died on September 14/27, 1932.
The activities of the "Buyevtsy" were hindered by the lack of a bishop. In the beginning, after the arrest of Bishop Alexis, they were led between March and May, 1929 by Bishop Maximus (Zhizhilenko), who sent an epistle about this to Voronezh. In the "Buyevtsy" churches they began to commemorate Bishop Alexis in the ordinary services, and Archbishop Demetrius and Bishop Maximus - in the litany of fervent supplication.
However, on May 24 Bishop Maximus was also arrested. After this differences of opinion appeared among the Voronezh clergy. In July, most of the diocese began to be served by Bishop Joasaph (Popov) of Bakhmutsk and Donetsk, who lived in the town of Novomoskovsk in what was Ekaterinoslav province. The diocesan spiritual father, Archimandrite Ignatius (Biryukov) "with the brotherhood" applied to come under his omophorion. But the leader of the Zadonsk district, Archimandrite Nicander (Sturov) made a corresponding application to Archbishop Demetrius and received his written agreement to administer the district. When Archimandrite Nicander went to Leningrad, Archbishop Demetrius offered that he accept consecration to the episcopate, but Fr. Nicander refused on grounds of illness. Archbishop Demetrius served the Zadonsk district until his own arrest in November, 1929. In July, Igumen Pitirim (Shumskikh) and Hierodeacon Melchisedek came to him from Voronezh for ordination, but they were refused because of doubts concerning certain facts in their personal biographies. Then they went to Bishop Ioasaph and were raised by him to the ranks of archimandrite and hieromonk, respectively.
Since Novomoskovsk was significantly nearer than Leningrad, the majority of the Voronezh clergy were forced willy-nilly to be served by Bishop Joasaph, even sometimes against their will. Thus Fr. Theodore Yakovlev spoke in favour of joining Archbishop Demetrius and corresponded with him, but in August he nevertheless agreed with the circular of Bishop Joasaph declaring that the affairs of the diocese would now be administered by himself and Fr. Sergius Gortinsky. Bishop Joasaph was considered the ruling bishop of Voronezh and de facto served the majority of the "Buyevtsy" until the massive arrests at the beginning of 1930. Thus on March 5 the dean of Bobrovsky, Archpriest Alexander Archangelsky, sent him a letter asking him to appoint priests in six village churches of the district. On March 7, 1930, Bishop Joasaph wrote an epistle to the clergy and laity of the city of Tambov and sent it with a priest whom he had ordained, Fr. George Nikitin.
At first the activity of the little-known Bishop Joasaph aroused suspicions and fears in the Josephite leadership. According to one source, Archbishop Demetrius even considered the possibility of banning the Voronezh clergy who recognized him. However, this conflict was defused. From the camps Bishop Alexis transferred the administration of the diocese to Bishop Joasaph, which act was sanctioned by Archbishop Demetrius. But according to the witness of Fr. Sergius Butuzov, many Voronezh clergy still sent to Archbishop Demetrius, who was "well known throughout Russia for his steadfastness in Orthodoxy". Fr. Sergius himself received a proposal from Archbishop Demetrius that he accept a place under his leadership and on November 6, 1929 moved to Leningrad. Archbishop Demetrius wanted to send Fr. Sergius to Vyatka or Serpukhov, but the parishioners of the Moiseyevsky church at Porokhovy succeeded in keeping him for their church, where he was arrested on March 19, 1930, in connection with the "Buyevtsy" affair.
The OGPU's main excuse for attacking the Buyevtsy was the unrest that took place in the countryside with the beginning of collectivization in 1929-30. This unrest was supposedly organized by an ecclesiastical-monarchist organization in the south of Russia led by Bishop Alexis and coordinated in the Alexeyev monastery by periodical meetings of the Buyevtsy leadership. During one of these, in December, 1929, Fr. Theodore Yakovlev is reported to have said: "The clergy and believers are now suffering great violence at the hands of Soviet power. The churches are being closed, the priests are being arrested, and the peasants are being forcibly driven into the collective farms." Archimandrite Tikhon said that collectivization was a way of removing the peasants from their churches, which were then closed. And this is what in fact happened. Igumen Joseph (Yatsk) is reported to have said: "Now the times of the Antichrist have arrived, so everything that Soviet power tried to impose upon the peasantry: collective farms, cooperatives, etc., should be rejected."
If we can believe the records of the OGPU, at the beginning of 1930 the Voronezh peasantry rebelled against forcible collectivization in several places. Thus in Ostrogozhsky district alone between January 4 and February 5 there were demonstrations in twenty villages: Nizhny Ikorets, Peskovatka, Kopanishche, Podserednoye, Platava, Kazatskoye, Uryv, Dyevitsa, Godlayevka, Troitskoye, Drakonovo, Mashkino, Badyeyevo, Selyavnoye and others. At the same time there were demonstrations in the neighbouring areas of Usmansky district, from where they moved to the Kozlov, Yelets, Belgorod and other districts, encompassing more than forty districts in all. The OGPU considered that these demonstrations took place under the influence of the "Buyevtsy".
On January 21-22, in Nizhny Ikorets, some hundreds of peasants, mainly women, destroyed the village soviet, tore down the red flag, tore up the portraits of the "leaders" and walked down the streets with a black flag, shouting: "Down with the collective farms! Down with the antichrist communists!"
An active participant in this event was the nun Macrina (Maslovskaya), who said at her interrogation: "I preached Christ everywhere... [I urged] the citizens to struggle with the apostates from God, who are emissaries of the Antichrist, and [I urged] the peasants not to go into the collective farms because by going into the collectives they were giving their souls to the Antichrist, who would appear soon... In the village of Nizhny-Ikorets the believers do not go and will not go into the collective farm... In 1929 I went round many places and everywhere I preached against the communists..."
In February-March, 1930, the OGPU investigated 492 people in connection with these disturbances, of whom 134 were arrested. The anti-Soviet organization called "The Flock" which they uncovered was supposedly made up of 22 leaders and 470 followers, including 4 officers, 8 noblemen, 33 traders, 8 policemen, 13 members of the "Union of the Russian people", 81 priests, 75 monastics, 210 kulaks, 24 middle peasants, and 2 beggars. 134 people were arrested, of whom some were freed, some had their cases referred to higher authorities and some died during the investigation (the violent methods used to extort confessions during the 1930s are well-known). One of the accused, M.A. Vladytska, was found in possession of photographs of Archbishop Peter (Zverev) and Bishop Alexis together with some notes about their fates. This was considered evidence of guilt.
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