Bishop Basil of Kineshma was born Benjamin Sergeyevich Preobrazhensky, in 1875 (according to other sources, 1873 or 1876) in the family of Protopriest Sergius and Matushka Paula of Kineshma.
In those years many of the clergy did not distance themselves from the worldly environment, and borrowed worldly tendencies and a worldly cast of mind from it. But Fr. Sergius Preobrazhensky and his wife Paula were not like those. There was nothing worldly in their home, and no objects of secular culture. After all, how could anything secular compare with the Sacred Scriptures!
Fr. Sergius did not accept in his home guests whose aim was vain talk. The whole sense and aim of earthly life for the couple was the cleansing of the mind and heart by prayer and the sacraments. And a purified heart was better able to detect the insidious traps of this world and the craftiness and evil thoughts coming from the devil. And for that reason the parents tried in every way possible to protect their children from the influence of the world, knowing how difficult it is to uproot the thorns of sin and passion once they have already grown through.
Benjamin was brought up from infancy in an atmosphere of prayer and spiritual exploits. Only prayer, only church services, only spiritual exploits, only true joy filled his life from early childhood. The whole structure of the life that surrounded him was similar to the monastic. Neither news, nor gossip, nor vain conversations - nothing of all this penetrated the high fence of their house, which the children were forbidden to leave. And it was a joy for the child when their house was visited by poor brothers and wanderers. On the very day of his baptism, when Benjamin was brought home from the church, an old wanderer woman arrived in their house, looked at the boy and said:
"He will be a great man."
And there were other prefigurings of his exceptional future.
His parents did not even consider the study of letters to be important, and did not make haste about it. And this absence of worldly vanity taught the boy mental concentration, so that when the time came to study, he finished Kostroma theological seminary with a distinction (one of this fellow-pupils was the future hieromartyr, Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeyevsky)) and entered the law faculty of St. Petersburg university.
But however lofty the rules of piety in which a person has been brought up, and however accustomed he may be from childhood to the life of the Church, his human will remains free and the hour of free choice will without fail come in his life.
After graduating from university Benjamin decided to prepare himself for the profession of a secular writer. Knowing to perfection both the ancient and the modern European languages, he went to England (according to one source, in 1910) and entered one of the English universities in order to continue his education and become more closely acquainted with European culture.
Every summer he returned home. The waters of the Volga flow quietly, and at its higher points, where the villages stand, its banks are adorned and as it were spiritually strengthened by snow-white churches, amongst which the bell-tower of the Kineshma cathedral rose up invitingly.
Once Benjamin arranged with some friends to go on a restful trip in a boat. But for some unknown reason the boat capsized, and all those who had been sitting in it began to drown. And then Benjamin turned in prayer to the Lord, beseeching him to preserve his life and vowing to abandon secular education and enter a theological academy, so as to learn how to defend Orthodoxy. He had hardly had time to utter this prayer in his mind when he saw a long, thick plank. Taking hold of it, he swam to safety. All the others who had been sailing with him drowned.
The young man did not put off the fulfilment of the promise he had made to God and that very year he entered the Moscow Theological Academy, from which he graduated in 1901 with the degree of candidate of theology. On June 28, 1901 he was appointed a teacher of polemical theology, history and polemics against the Old Believer schism and local sects in the Voronezh theological seminary. Having been interested since youth in the ascetic side of the Christian struggle, he wrote a dissertation "On the Skete Paterikon", for which he was awarded the degree of master of theology.
When he was studying in the academy, Benjamin began to preach in the town churches. His sermons soon became so well-known and popular that he was also invited to the villages on the patronal feasts of the village churches. It was at this time that he understood that his listeners were not sufficiently enlightened, and he became a missionary-preacher in his native land of Kineshma. He carefully examined the parishioners of the churches in which he had to preach during church services, and chose from amongst them a strongly believing woman who had a good knowledge of the Word of God, round whom he began to collect a church circle.
In this circle the Gospel was read and then interpreted. Benjamin himself did some of the interpreting. Besides this, the appointed church services were read, and church chants and spiritual verses beloved by the people were sung.
It was difficult to organize these circles, but once created they gave fruit a hundredfold, educating many souls in such faithfulness and love for Christ that none of the misfortunes that came after could shake them.
During the renovationist heresy these circles became unshakeable fortresses of Orthodoxy.
As a missionary-preacher, Benjamin went round the parishes of the Kineshma uyezd on foot, founding circles of zealots of piety wherever he could, drawing them in by the reading and interpretation of the Word of God.
But what especially attracted them was perhaps the example and Christian exploits of the preacher himself.
In 1911 he was appointed teacher of foreign languages and general history in the Mirgorod men's gymnasium, and in 1914 - teacher of Latin language in the Moscow gymnasium. In 1917 he graduated from a pedagogical institute.
At a moment of mortal danger, Benjamin Sergeyevich gave a vow to devote himself to the service of the Orthodox Church, and in October, 1917 he became a reader in the Ascension church in Kineshma. He founded Orthodox circles for the study of the Holy Scriptures attached to the churches of the Kineshma diocese.
In 1918, when in the country as a whole and in the confines of the Kostroma eparchy militant and all-destroying atheism was raging and priests and monks were being tortured in their thousands, Benjamin became psalm-reader in the church of the Ascension, where his elderly father still served.
The authorities issued a decree forbidding the preaching of the Law of God in schools; so the light of Christ was forcibly removed from the hearts of the children. And Benjamin began to gather the children in the Ascension church and preach the Law of God to them there.
Being strict with himself and a strict fulfiller of the canons and regulations of the Church, Benjamin's father did not consider him ready for ordination to the priesthood and monasticism before he was forty.
And only on July 16, 1920 was Benjamin ordained to the priesthood as a celibate; he was then 45. The ordination took place in the town of Kostroma and was performed by Archbishop Seraphim (Mehscheryakov) of Kostroma. Soon after this his father died. After the death of his father Benjamin received the tonsure with the name of Basil, in honour of St. Basil the Great, and on September 19, 1921 (according to another source, September 14), he was consecrated as bishop of Kineshma, a vicariate of the diocese of Kostroma. Archbishop Seraphim of Kostroma and Bishops Hierotheus (Pomerantsev) and Sebastian (Vesti) carried out the consecration.
After his consecration to the episcopate, he redoubled his ascetic efforts. Having renounced all personal property, he settle on the edge of the town in a small bath-house which was in the kitchen-garden of a soldier's widow. The hierarch had no possessions or furniture, and he slept on the bare floor, putting a log under his head and covering himself up with some clothes. He hid his exploit from outsiders, receiving noone in this place. Those who came met him in the chancellery, which was attached to the Ascension church.
The bath-house was a long way from the church, one had to go through the whole town, but the hierarch did not want to find a nearer place for himself, although at that time he served daily. Every morning while it was not yet light he would walk across the whole town to the church, returning home late at night. Not once was he apprehended by robbers on the street, but he meekly and lovingly gave them everything he had, and soon they began to recognize him from a distance and did not come up to him anymore.
Besides the daily church services, in which he always preached without fail, the hierarch confessed his numerous spiritual children, going round the homes of all who needed his help and word of consolation, visiting monasteries and the circles he had founded scattered throughout the uyezd.
On major feast-days the hierarch served in the cathedral, and from Thursday to Friday there were all-night vigils in the church of the Ascension. The people loved these all-night vigils which were dedicated to the memorial of the Lord's Passion, and were present at them in great numbers. They were especially beloved of the workers, many of whom lived not in the very centre of the town, but in the environs, two hours' walk from the church. They stood through the all-night vigil and it was only late at night that they got home - in the morning they were again at work. But such was the grace of these services that people did not feel tired. During the Divine service the hierarch himself read the akathist to the Passion and there was such quietness in the church at that time, as if there were not a single person there, and every word was heard in the furthest corner.
The grace-filled words of Bishop Basil's sermon pierced the hearts and drew more and more people into the churches. After his sermons many completely changed their lives. Some, following the example of the hierarch, gave their property to the poor, dedicating their lives to the service of the Lord and their neighbours.
The light of faith and grace began to reach even the unbelievers, and Jews began to come to the church so as to hear the hierarch's words about Christ the Saviour.
Whatever people might think of the Christian faith and the Orthodox Church, almost everyone felt that the hierarch's words responded to the inner demands of the soul, clearly returning life to the soul and a feeling of meaning to life. And the authorities began to be more and more disturbed. But they found no excuse for arresting the hierarch, while his popularity amidst the people was so great that the authorities could not bring themselves to arrest him. And then they began to infiltrate people into the church whose task was to tempt the hierarch with questions during the sermon so as to confuse him.
Vladyka Basil knew that there were such people in the church, and he replied to many of their questions beforehand. Convicted in their conscience, and understanding the pointlessness of their situation, the atheists left the church without asking any questions.
Like a true pastor, the hierarch Basil protected his flock from every kind of evil and error. If he learned that one of his spiritual children was thinking incorrectly, then without wasting any time he hastened to visit this person.
Not far from the town of Vichuga there lived a sick eldress by the name of Martha Lavrentyevna Smirnova. She was a great ascetic. From childhood she had led a God-pleasing life, and the last 22 years she had passed in immobility, ceaselessly giving thanks to God. For this the Lord gave her the gift of discernment, which many of those who came to her for advice profited from.
In exile Basil of Kineshma learned that the eldress had begun to receive people who were in heresy and were going round everywhere glorifying her as a saint.
On returning from exile, Vladyka did not change his rule and set off on foot for Vichuga, visiting the homes of his spiritual children on the way.
He arrived at the cell of the eldress only by evening. It was full of people and the hierarch asked everyone to leave so that he could remain alone with Martha Lavrentyevna and her cell-attendant.
"I want to test you," said the hierarch, "to see whether you are in spiritual deception or not. I have learned that you are visited by some people from Ivanovo who have even given you their photographs and glorify you throughout the town as a saint. And yet they are not Orthodox. If you continue to mix with them, I will exclude you from my circle."
Without hesitation the eldress agreed to stop seeing the heretics.
In the home of one of the hierarch's spiritual children, Eudocia, the oil-lamp in front of the icon began to light of itself at midnight.
"It seems that the Lord is calling me to get up and pray," she thought, not sure whether to accept this phenomenon as from God or a deception. But she had already felt the spirit of deception in her heart - you pray so much, she said to herself, that the Lord Himself lights the oil-lamp.
In order to test this phenomenon, she invited an acquaintance of hers to stay the following night. But the oil-lamp lit up in her presence, too. Then she invited another witness to stay the night with her. The same thing happened with her. At midnight the oil-lamp lit up of itself.
This finally persuaded Eudocia to accept this phenomenon as from God.
When he had heard her out, the hierarch said to her severely:
"No, this phenomenon is not from God, but from the enemy, and because you have accepted it as coming from God I am laying a penance on you - you are not to have Communion for a year. And the oil-lamp will not light up again."
And truly, from that day the oil-lamp did not light up.
In the summer of 1922 the heretical church movement of renovationism arose. Throughout the country the renovationists captured churches and drove out Orthodox priests and bishops whom the authorities gave over to imprisonment and death. In those parishes whose church had been seized by the renovationists the hierarch blessed the priests not to leave their flocks, but to celebrate the Liturgy in the squares of the villages. He himself gave an example of this, and after every service he delivered a sermon which hundreds and thousands of people came to listen to.
The hierarch Basil served the Liturgy with the greatest reverence; often during the proskomedia his fellow-servers saw tears flowing abundantly down his cheeks. He told one of those close to him that during the Liturgy of the Presanctified, when the choir sings: "Now the heavenly powers are with us...", he had seen with his own eyes the heavenly powers standing in front of the altar in the form of white doves.
Soon after his consecration Basil of Kineshma got to know his future cell-attendant, who would share with him the difficulties of exile and imprisonment. Later, in exile, Metropolitan Cyril (Smirnov) of Kazan used to say of him:
"I have seen many cell-attendants, but not one like Alexander Pavlovich. Vladyka Basil has been lucky."
Alexander Pavlovich Chumakov was born at the end of the 19th century in the village of Polka in Kostroma province in a peasant family. He had a deeply religious mother who from childhood tried to instil a love for God and the Church into the boy. When Alexander came of age, she insisted that he went to the elders in Optina desert and received their blessing for his future life. And while he was going to Optina, past the villages he knew, all the girls poured out onto the road so as to laugh at him - look at the monk, they said. And he himself went with a heavy heart and was embarrassed by these gibes.
But when Alexander came to Optina and was present at the services and heard the Optina chanting, then his heaviness disappeared in a flash. And he felt as if he were standing in the heavens.
Alexander was two years in Optina; when the Russo-German war began he was drafted to the front.
Soon he found himself in captivity, twice he ran away and twice they caught him and imprisoned him, cruelly beating and mocking him.
In captivity, while he was carrying out forced labour, he was seen by a rich German woman who was enflamed with such a passion for him that she immediately proposed marriage to him. Alexander refused, she tried to persuade him, but her persuasion had no effect, and she began to compel him to live with her by force and threats. But the courageous warrior of Christ withstood this pressure, too. However, seeing that his life was in danger, he again fled, and this time succeeded in reaching his homeland. By this time the war had begun to change to civil conflicts, and Alexander Pavlovich became a psalm-reader in the church of the village of Polka.
Alexander Pavlovich went to a hierarchical service in Reshemsky monastery specially in order to look at an unusual hierarch. He walked beside Vladyka Basil, chanted together with him and Vladyka liked him.
"Alexander Pavlovich," he said, "come and serve as psalm-reader in the church of the Ascension."
"Alright, holy Vladyka, but first I must go to Elder Anatolius of Optina and receive his blessing."
"I myself used to go to Elder Anatolius," replied the hierarch, "but he's dead now."
"Then bless me, Vladyka, to be your psalm-reader," replied Alexander Pavlovich, bowing to the hierarch.
In 1922 famine broke out in the Lower Volga. Thousands died every day. In some cases the authorities took orphaned children and sent to children's homes in other towns. Not long before Pascha they brought some of these children to Kineshma.
Great Lent was coming to an end when the hierarch heard about this. After the service he gave a sermon to the people, calling on them to help the starving children.
"Soon the festive days of Pascha will be with us. When you come from the feast and sit at table, remember the starving children..." said the hierarch.
After this sermon many took children into their homes. The bishop himself rented a home for the children and put five girls in it together with a nurse, a pious believer by the name of Olga Vasilyevna.
He often visited them, and sometimes had to stay the night there. But on those occasions he did not change his rule, but lay on the floor in the kitchen with a log under his head. The hierarch was both a refined ascetic and overflowing with simplicity and love in his relations with people. When he visited the circles, the news of his arrival spread quickly, and people hurried to come and meet him. But the situation was of the simplest. Those who arrived fitted themselves in where they could. Vladyka often sat on the floor, singing spiritual songs and accompanying himself on the cithara. And his sermons, discussions of the Gospel and singing were so full of simplicity and love that it seemed as if he were a spiritual pipe in the hands of God. He wished for and sought no other lot. Neither gold, nor silver, nor a place in the world - none of this did he wish for; nothing except to be a true servant of God.
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