Bishop Arsenius, in the world Alexander Ivanovich Zhadanovsky, was born on March 6, 1874 in the village of Pisarevka, Volchansky uyezd, Kharkov province (according to another source, in the city of Chuguyev, Kharkov province) into the family of Protopriest John Zhadanovsky. From childhood was distinguished by his exceptional meekness and humility. In 1884, when he was enrolled in the Kharkov theological seminary as the shortest of the pupils, the seal of God's election revealed itself in the following remarkable manner.
"One day," he recalled, "Archbishop Ambrose of Kharkov, of blessed memory, arrived. We pupils were drawn up in rows in the assembly hall. Vladyka-archbishop passed down the rows, stopped at me, and drew me out into the centre of the hall.
"'Look, now he is the smallest pupil, but he will be a bishop.'
"Of course, as always happens in our life, nobody paid any attention to these words."
In 1888 he finished his studies at the Kharkov theological school and entered the Kharkov theological seminary. After graduating in 1894 he was appointed to the post of overseer-coach in a theological school, and then teacher in the Osinovsky church-parish school in Kharkov province. From January 26, 1896 to October 1, 1899 he was supervisor-tutor at the Sumsk theological school.
Once his father fell ill, and Arsenius decided to become a priest in his native village. But the Lord judged otherwise. Arsenius sent a letter to Fr. John of Kronstadt asking him to pray for his sick father and for him to know what path to choose in life. Fr. John replied with good wishes for the recovery of his father and a blessing for him to become a monk. After this his father soon recovered.
Arsenius was tonsured on July 17, 1899 in the Svyatogorsk Dormition desert in Kharkov diocese by Archbishop Ambrose. On August 14, 1899, Archbishop Ambrose came again to the Svyatogorsk monastery and ordained Fr. Ambrose to the diaconate. And the next day he blessed him to go to the Moscow Theological Academy.
In 1899 he entered the Moscow Theological Academy, and on his way through Moscow, he dropped in at the Chudov monastery. Here he venerated the shrine of St. Alexis, metropolitan of Moscow. When he approached, he felt an unusual joy and consolation, and it seemed to him that the shrine was surrounded by a kind of radiance. From that moment he became closely linked in heart to St. Alexis. At difficult moments of his life he resorted to his help and always received consolation.
On May 9, 1902 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Arsenius (Stadnitsky), rector of the Academy, and in 1903 he graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy with the degree of candidate of theology. His thesis was: "The Conversations of St. Macarius of Egypt from a homiletic point of view."
According to one source, Fr. Arsenius was appointed teacher of homiletics in the Tbilisi theological seminary on August 5, 1903, and treasurer of the Moscow Chudov monastery on September 2. According to another source, having been appointed treasurer of the Chudov monastery by Metropolitan Vladimir of Moscow, he arrived at the Chudov monastery on August 3, 1903 after attending the opening of the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov. On March 24 (26, according to another source) 1904 he was appointed deputy of the monastery and on March 27 was raised to the rank of archimandrite. It was here that an elder of the Chudov monastery, Igumen Gerasimus, prophesied that he would become a bishop.
Metropolitan Vladimir greatly valued the spiritual gifts and administrative skills of the new abbot. And indeed, during his time in this post Archimandrite Arsenius did much for the monastery, turning it into a seedbed of spiritual enlightenment for the whole of Moscow. He always attracted many worshippers to the Chudov monastery by his careful serving. And he catered for their spiritual needs by publishing the highly-esteemed publication Spiritual Diaries and various brochures on moral topics. During the last three years of his stay in the monastery he and the missionary Aivazov undertook the publication for the people of special religious-educational material called Mites of the Monastery of the Holy Hierarch Alexis. These Mites came out in tens of thousands of copies and were distributed throughout Russia. From 1912 Archimandrite Arsenius and Aivazov began to publish the journal Voice of the Church, which was considered one of the most lively and substantial theological monthlies. In 1911 Fr. Arsenius opened a branch of the Kamchatka missionary brotherhood attached to the Chudov monastery, and was responsive to the needs of the Moscow brotherhood of the Holy Hierarchs of Moscow.
Archimandrite Arsenius was also distinguished as an administrator. In the few years of his administration of the Chudov monastery he raised the standard of monastic life and significantly improved the material situation of the brotherhood. On being raised to the episcopate, he preserved his links with the monastery.
In 1913 Archimandrite Arsenius, together with his friend Hieromonk Seraphim (Zvezdinsky), the future hieromartyr bishop, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
On June 8, 1914, in the St. Alexis church of the Chudov monastery, he was consecrated Bishop of Serpukhov, a vicariate of the Moscow diocese, by Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow, Archbishop Alexis, who was in charge of the Donskoy monastery, Bishop Palladius of Perm and other bishops.
In November, 1916 he was named fourth vicar of the Moscow diocese.
During the Local Council of the Russian Church in 1917-18, many members of the Council lived in the Chudov monastery. During the battle for the Kremlin, they prayed in the cave church dedicated to St. Hermogenes, patriarch of Moscow. In July, 1918, soldiers fired at the Chudov monastery, and the next month it was closed and later destroyed.
After the closing of the monastery, Bishop Arsenius and the brotherhood settled in a small house in the Seraphimo-Znamensky Skete of the women's community of the Protecting Veil, Podolsk uyezd, near Moscow, where he had been spiritual father from 1912 to 1916. Schema-Abbess Famar had been told by Patriarch Tikhon to look after Bishop Arsenius, her spiritual father, and Archimandrite Seraphim in this remote place. And there, in the woods, in a house-church dedicated to St. Arsenius the Great, Vladyka Arsenius celebrated the Liturgy every day with Fr. Seraphim as chanter. He also occupied himself with medicine, painting, church singing and icon-painting. In the church was an icon of the Saviour not made by hands which had been painted by him.
In 1920 Vladyka went to his see in Serpukhov, where he was greatly venerated by the people.
In 1922 he founded the brotherhood of St. John the Theologian, which survived until the war. He used to say: "In view of the distressing condition of the Russian Orthodox Church, the brotherhood does not oppose itself to the official [Tikhonite] Church, but believes that it is a small, inseparable part of the one Body. The brotherhood rejoices in the joys, and grieves at the sorrows, of the Mother Church... With the blessing of a bishop, the brotherhood, in the event of a loss of communication with him (the death of the bishop or his imprisonment), does not suspend its existence, believing that it has the blessing, and is under the direction of, the Lord... All relationships within the brotherhood must be penetrated by freedom, which is inseparably linked with love in Christ. Only the combined realization of the apostolic feat reveals to the world, which is riven by passions and deception, the unbreakable unity of the Church of Christ..."
"The brotherhood of St. John the Theologian," writes Shemetov, "was a liturgical community. In the evening after work the 'little brothers' met in the flat of one of the members of the community. Then an altar was erected, candles were lit in front of an icon and the service began. And the huge cold city was daily lit up with the light of Christ kindled in the catacombs of the 20th century. In the words of an eye-witness: 'The Liturgy was the unifying centre, and often at that moment when the exclamation "Christ is in our midst!" was heard, the Divine Sufferer would enter the room noiselessly, and the prayer became winged. Moving apart the walls and penetrating through the ceiling, it strove upwards, to that City where every tear is wiped away and where unending joy reigns.' Bishop Arsenius, who was rather the inspirer and spiritual director than the organizer of the brotherhood, gave its members complete freedom, insisting only on one thing - the strictest secrecy, whose necessity was indicated as follows in the rules: 'The brotherhood recognizes itself to be open... to the Church hierarchy and all who are seeking salvation. However, the community has its meetings in secret from the world and does not disclose its existence to those who could reveal the secret or who for whom it could serve as a stumbling block, becoming wittingly or unwittingly co-workers with the spirits of evil... The little brothers consider it an important condition of the normal life of the community that they should fear nothing in the world except sin, being ready to suffer for the confession of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In 1923 Vladyka was retirned from the administration of his diocese. In 1924, after the closure of the Seraphimo-Znamensky skete, he moved to the village of Kuzmenki near Serpukhov and lived in the house of the superior of the local church, Protopriest Michael Pyatikrestovsky. Vladyka was accompanied by two sisters, Alexandra and Matrona, from the closed skete. Schema-Abbess Famar and other nuns and spiritual children of Vladyka also came to live in Kuzmenki. At this time it is said that he was raised to the rank of archbishop.
At the beginning of 1926 Vladyka was in Kotelniki, near Moscow, for the burial of Metropolitan Macarius (Nevsky) of Moscow. In March he was exiled to Nizhni-Novgorod province, and by the end of the year he was in the Seraphimo-Ponetayevo monastery, Nizhni-Novogorod province, where he was visited by Protopriest Basil Postnikov, Abbess Famar and others. After the closure of this monastery in 1927 Vladyka moved to Arzamas, where he rented a house. In the first half of 1928 he went to Perkhushino, where Schema-Abbess Famar, Hieromonk Philaret (Postnikov) and ten sisters were living.
Vladyka Arsenius refused to cooperate with Metropolitan Sergius, by which, according to the sergianist Metropolitan Manuel, "he caused the reposed Patriarch (then Metropolitan) Sergius much vexation". In 1928 he signed the decisions of the so-called "Nomadic Council" of the Catacomb Church through Hieromonk Andrew (Elbson?). He lived in Arzamas and near Moscow, and gradually restricted the circle of those close to him, withdrawing further and further from the world.
In 1929 he was arrested in Moscow, but through the intercessions of his Serpukhov flock he was released from prison and exiled instead to the town of Zvenigorod, from where he was again allowed to live in Serpukhov.
In the wave of arrests that took place in 1929-31, Abbess Famar, Hieromonk Philaret and others were exiled. Vladyka continued to care for Abbess Famar during her exile in Siberia, and she wrote to T.M. Nekrasova that she wanted to arrange a place for Vladyka in Maloyaroslavl. In 1936 Vladyka Arsenius gave the last communion to Abbess Famar (she was born on April 1, 1869 and died on April 10, 1936) and performed the funeral service for her in the little house at the Pionerskaya station where she lived during the last years of her life after her return from exile.
In 1931, for his fearless defence of the Church and exposure of atheism, Vladyka Arsenius was again arrested and sentenced to hard labour on Solovki, where he was stripped of his clerical vestments, shaved and placed in a barracks with three hundred other prisoners. But even here he did not cease to preach the word of God and raise the spirits of his fellow prisoners, which aroused the hatred of the chekists.
Vladyka Arsenius was released from Solovki after two months and moved to Serpukhov, where, on April 21, 1932 he was again arrested and sentenced in connection with the Moscow branch of the True Orthodox Church. He was imprisoned in the inner isolator of the OGPU prison, but was released on June 10 or 11. At the beginning of 1933 he was living in the house of E.I. Shavrova near Perkhushkovo station, Zvenigorod region, Moscow district, but was arrested there in the spring, being condemned on May 27. However, on August 14 it was decided to consider his sentence conditional. From the autumn of 1933 to April, 1937 he lived in a house bought by his spiritual children in the village of Kotelniki, Ukhtomsky region, Moscow district.
On April 13 or 14, 1937, Vladyka Arsenius was arrested in Kotelniki and imprisoned in Butyrki, Moscow. Between February and July, 1937 there were also arrested the priest Fr. Sergius Sidorov, the former superior of the church of SS. Peter and Paul in Sergiev Posad, the priest Michael Shik, Hieromonk Andrew (in the world, Boris Yakovlevich Elbson), the priest Fr. Peter Petrikov, the secret nuns Valentina Konstantinovna Zasypkina and Vera Emelyanovna Rozhkova, and the nun Matryona (Chusheva), Vladyka Arsenius' secretary, through whom he established contact with his spiritual children. On September 13/26 Vladyka was convicted of "leading and organizing an illegal, counter-revolutionary monarchist organization of churchmen - the followers of the True Orthodox Church." On September 14/27, 1937, Vladyka Arsenius and all those arrested with him were shot in Butovo field near Moscow.
Fr. Sergius Alexeyevich Sidorov was born on February 10, 1895 in the village of Klimovo, Murom district, Nizhny-Novogorod province, the son of a nobleman. He graduated from a theological seminary and a theological academy, and was ordained in 1920, serving in churches in Moscow region. He was raised to the rank of protopriest and became the superior of the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Sergiev Posad. He was arrested in 1930 (?) in connection with a branch of the True Orthodox Church and was sentenced to three years in the Siberian camps. After his release he lived in Klimov. On April 13, 1937 he was arrested and accused of taking an active part in the illegal monarchical society "The True Orthodox Church". He was shot on September 14/27.
Fr. Michael Vladimirovich Shik was born in 1887 in Moscow, in a family of Jewish merchants. He graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy and in addition to being a priest translated foreign literature. He lived in the town of Maly Yaroslavets in Moscow province, Sverdlova street 38. He rejected Metropolitan Sergius' declaration and served as a catacomb priest in flats in Moscow. In 1932-32 he was wanted in connection with the affair of the True Orthodox Church, but hid from arrest. He was arrested on February 15, 1937 and accused of taking an active part in a counter-revolutionary church organization. He was shot on September 14/17, 1937.
Hieromonk Andrew (Boris Yakovlevich Elbson) was born in 1896 in Moscow. He was from a German (according to another source, a Russified Swedish) family, and received secondary education. At the beginning of the 1920s he was arrested and exiled from Moscow. He was a spiritual son of Elder Nectarius of Optina, and was close to Fr. Sergius Mechev and Fr. Alexander Gomanovsky. He signed the canons of the "Nomadic Council" of the Catacomb Church in 1928 on behalf of Archbishop Arsenius. He served in the churches of SS. Constantine and Helen and St. Nicholas in Podkopayevsky pereulok in Moscow. Then he served in Murom and finally in the city of Kirzhach, Vladimir province, Krasnoarmeiskaya street 41. He was arrested on February 23, 1937 and was accused of taking an active part in the counter-revolutionary church organization, "The True Orthodox Church". He was shot on September 14/27. He was buried in Butovo.
The nun Valentina Konstantinovna Zasypkina was born in 1897 in Tula. Before her arrest she worked as a senior technician in the VIAM factory in Moscow. On April 14, 1937 she was arrested in connection with the affair of Archbishop Arsenius and was shot on September 14/27. She was buried in Butovo.
It is now known that between August 8, 1937 and December 19, 1938, the NKVD shot 20,762 people at Butovo, including about 370 church-servers.
Vladyka Arsenius appeared several times to his spiritual children after his martyric death. Tonya of Maroseika relates one of these appearances: "At the beginning of 1941 I again saw Vladyka in a dream. I saw him in some kind of private house. Vladyka was in light blue vestments with a golden mitre on his head; next to him there stood a hierodeacon in a sticharion of the same light blue hue. He was girded in cross-wise fashion in a golden orarion. Vladyka had a cross and sprinkler in his hands while the hierodeacon had a chalice with holy water, and they were loudly singing a moleben, and Vladyka was sprinkling all the people with holy water.
"I went up to Vladyka, he let me kiss the cross and sprinkled me abundantly with holy water, asking: 'Tell me, Tonya, do you have any bread?'
"I said: 'I have, Vladyka.' 'When you will no longer have any, take some from my sack, you won't starve with me. And do you have sugar?' 'I have, Vladyka,' I said. 'When you will no longer have any, take some sugar, too, from my sack.' And he again sprinkled me with holy water.
"I woke up and thought: would there really be a famine, as Vladyka had warned me in advance? And precisely four months later they began to give out bread by ration cards, and sugar also. Many began to be terribly hungry, but I, by his prayers, was in no need, and even had the opportunity to help others.
"That is how he looked after his spiritual children even when he was no longer with us."
(Sources: Bishop Arsenius, Vospominaniya, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, Moscow, 1995, appendix; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshago Tikhona, Patriarkha Moskovskogo i Vseya Rossii, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 841; Lev Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-1945, Moscow: Krutitskoye patriarsheye podvorye, 1996, pp. 56-565; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Novye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, vol. I, 1949, chapter 16, vol. II (1957), p. 279; "Zhiznennij put' Vladyki Seraphima (Zvezdinskogo) (1883-1937)", Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya, N 133, I-1981; "O svyashchennike Seraphime Zvezdinskom", Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya, N 134, II-1981; A. Levitin, in Russkaya Mysl', December 5, 1974; L. Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-45, Paris: YMCA Press, 1977; Russkiye Pravoslavniye Ierarkhi, Paris: YMCA Press, 1986; Shemetov, "Khristos sredi nas!", Moskovskij Tserkovnij Vestnik, May, 1990; Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 23 (1524), December 1/14, 1994, p. 14; Otyets Arseny, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Institute, 1994; Bishop Ambrose (von Sivers), "Istoki i svyazi Katakombnoj Tserkvi v Leningrade i obl. (1922-1992)", report read at the conference "The Historical Path of Orthodoxy in Russia after 1917", Saint Petersburg, 1-3 June, 1993; "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Kochuyushchij Sobor 1928 g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 3 (7), 1997, pp. 19, 28; "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Katakombnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997gg.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4(8), 1997, p. 5; Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 17 (1542), September 1/14, 1995, pp. 10, 15; Fr. Constantine Rovinsky, Besedy Starogo Svyashchennika, Moscow: Palomnik, 1995, p. 216; Pravoslavnaya Moskva, N 6 (102), February, 1997, p. 6; Za Khrista Postradavshiye, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1997, pp. 86, 105-106, 450-451; I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyoz", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, pp. 259-60, 325, 363)
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