Archbishop Barlaam, in the world Victor Stepanovich Ryashentsev, was
born in Tambov on June 8, 1878, in the well-to-do pious merchant-class family of Stephen Ryashentsev. In 1896 he graduated from the Tambov Classical Gymnasium and entered Kazan Theological Academy, graduating in 1900 with the degree of candidate of theology. On September 29, 1901 he was appointed teacher at the Ufa theological school, and on October 8 he was tonsured into monasticism by the rector of the Kazan Academy, Bishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky), being led to the tonsure by Elder Gabriel of Seven Lakes Monastery. The next day he was ordained to the diaconate, and the day after that - to the priesthood. In 1902 he was appointed teacher of the Ufa theological seminary and in 1903 - inspector, being at the same time deanof the yedinovertsy churches of the Ufa diocese. For Fr. Barlaam was very close to Bishop Anthony, and when the latter was transferred to the see of Ufa,he took his young disciple with him, making him inspector of Ufa theological
seminary and entrusting him with all the old-believer churches that had just joined the Orthodox Church.
Fr. Barlaam was distinguished by his carefulness in action and gentleness in dealing with people. This earned him great respect both from his colleagues and from his students. He loved church services according to the Typicon, and was an elder.
In 1906, in the rank of archimandrite, he was made rector of Poltava
theological seminary, where he published Faith and the Cause of Unbelief,The Christian Upbringing of Children, Work as Life, a work against theosophy,and other works.
On January 13/26, 1913, Fr. Barlaam was consecrated Bishop of Gomel (according to another source, of Mstislav). The consecration took place in St. Petersburg, in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. In October, 1918 he moved to Kiev, and on April 29, 1919 he was removed from the vicar-see of Gomel because of this move and his non-return. On June 23, 1919 he was arrested in Gomel "on suspicion of counter-revolution", but was released on the basis of a petition by five thousand believers. Accordingto another source, however, the Smolensk cheka in the city of Mstislav arrested Bishop Barlaam and a number of clergy and laity for "counter-revolutionary activity".
Bishop Barlaam took an active part in the missionary activity of the
Pochayev Lavra, leading huge crowds of pilgrims to the Pochayev festivities, and delivering flaming sermons calling the Orthodox people to be genuine Christians striving during their earthly life towards the Heavenly Homeland.
In about 1919 Bishop Barlaam became Bishop of Mstislav, a vicariate of the Mogilev diocese, and in 1922 he was temporarily administering the seeof Mogilev. Then he joined the renovationist schism, but repented and was received back into the Orthodox Church. On September 3/16, 1923, he was made Bishop of Pskov. Then from 1923 to 1924 he was temporarily adminstering the Gomel diocese. According to another source, however, from January to December, 1924 (according to another source, 1925), he was transferred back to Mogilev, before moving back to Pskov. At the end of 1924 he was arrested in Pskov and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, which he served in Yaroslavl prison. On July 13/26, 1927 he was appointed archbishop of Perm.
In the same month, Metropolitan Sergius issued his notorious "declaration", placing the Church in submission to the atheists. According to one source, on November 11/24, he was relieved of his archpastoral duties, perhaps in connection with his opposition to Sergius. However, in December, 1927 he was temporarily adminstering the Lyubim diocese, a vicariate of the Yaroslavl diocese. On February 6, 1928, Archbishop Barlaam was one of four bishops of the Yaroslavl diocese who sent an epistle to Metropolitan Sergius, breaking communion with him. Metropolitan Sergius reacted by issuing an ukaz on April 11, banning Archbishop Barlaam and those with him. Archbishop Barlaam, together with others, immediately issued another epistle, stating that they did not protest against Metropolitan Sergius' right of administration but against his Church policy. Among other things, they wrote: "The unwilling complicity of Orthodoxy with the socialist republic has become aggravated through the acceptance of the godless government by Metropolitan Sergius. The Church may not carry on external struggle, but the Church should devote herself to spiritual struggle with such a government."
According to one (dubious) source, Archbishop Barlaam re-entered communion with Metropolitan Sergius on May 10, 1928. However, according to the same source he participated in the so-called "Nomadic Council" of the
Catacomb Church in 1928, agreeing with the decisions but refusing to sign
them. In September, 1929 he was arrested and imprisoned in Yaroslavl prison for his opposition to Metropolitan Sergius, and on January 3, 1930 was sentenced to three years in the camps. In 1931 he was in Solovki, and in 1933 on Bear Mountain, near Petrozavodsk. According to another source he was in the city of Kotlas in the northern regions. In the Kotlas camp he was again arrested and sentenced to ten years in the camps. However, in 1933 his prison term was changed to exile in Vologda.
His brother, Hieromartyr Herman wrote in 1933: "The other day I was overjoyed that the true dove of God B (Barlaam) has been set free from captivity, but I still don't know any details. It is so much more joyous because there was so little hope for this and they even said that he had died."
In 1935, Bishop Herman wrote: "Victor (i.e. Bishop Barlaam) lives as
before in Vologda." And later: "Victor, it seems, has become a real invalid; he cannot walk for more than a few minutes due to the excessive exhaustion of his heart."
In May, 1936: "They went to Vologda in order to see the sick one. Two of the closest ones visited him. A tiny room with dirty wallpaper, thinly separated from the living quarters of the landlord by a curtain in place of a door. A poorly covered bed, near it a little table, and two other tables against the wall. And is all its furnishings. They write to me that he is
thin, pale and totally grey. In everything there is deprivation, as it seemed to them, which is correct, but this poverty is pleasing to him. He received them very lovingly, was interested in the life of his brother, and advised him to spend more time occupying himself with the inward world, rather than with external things, even if they be good. There is much truth in this. Then he gave them spiritual counsel and consoled them greatly. May C (Christ) save him. He is pleased with his ailment, which has chained him to his bed andhas almost made him an invalid. I myself deeply believe in the providence of this: it saves him from the exhausting changes of places (prisons) and undoubtedly helps him to accumulate more of that spiritual warmth which is so indispensable in our cold time."
In 1936 Archbishop Barlaam wrote: "It is very good for the soul's salvation to be a cell-attendant. As for myself, I would have gone to someone as a cell-attendant, but, alas, I have no strength and no opportunity. My
legs feel better, however [he had varicose veins]... But my general condition is worse. Before Cheese-fare Week I had a stroke. The doctor saw me twice. Now, glory to God, it is better. Everything tiring is harmful for me, so I had to shorten my prayer rule. I need fresh air, but all I can go outsidefor is ten minutes... I read the whole Psalter during Great Lent and am shortening the Hours. The Psalmist says: 'I remember days of old and gained knowledge of all Thy works' (142.5). For you too it is very profitable to
remember holy things in your life. It is not vanity, but a consoling relief for the soul; it is a substitute for spiritual reading."
Visitors to Archbishop Barlaam decreased, and the letters from his brother ceased. The pain in his legs and over all his body increased and he had a constant and penetrating cold which settled deep inside his almost immovable body. In 1941 he was arrested in the city of Vologda and on July 30 was sentenced to ten years in the camps. On February 7/20, 1942, he died in prison number one in the city of Vologda. According to another account, he starved to death in prison in the winter of 1942.
(Sources: M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshego Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St.
Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, pp. 846-47, 965; I.M. Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, chapter 16; William Fletcher, The Russian Orthodox Church Underground, 1917-1970, London: Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 64; Vladimir Rusak, Pir Satany, London, Canada: "Zarya", 1991, p. 40; Lev Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-1945, Moscow: Krutitskoye patriarsheye podvorye, 1996, pp. 585-586; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Katakombnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997gg.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4(8), 1997, pp. 12-13; Za Khrista Postradavshiye, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1997, pp. 212-213; M.B. Danilushkin (ed.) Istoria Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tservki 1917-1970, St. Petersburg: Voskreseniye, 1997, p. 539; I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyoz", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti,1998, p. 274)
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