In 1951 V.K. wrote: "In spite of terrible persecutions, the 'Catacomb Church' existed and continues to exist in various places of the boundless Soviet Union. Particularly good places for her are the big cities, where massive accumulations of population serve as a convenient shield for the religious underground, the mountains of the Caucasus and the Altai, the impassible corners of the Siberian taiga and the Central Asian steppes...The organs of the NKVD-MVD have already discovered tens and hundreds of such underground religious organisations in various parts of the country, but they do not hide the fact that similar groups exist to this day.
"In the 1930s near Moscow several underground 'Tikhonite' groups were discovered. In one of the cities of the Caucasus there existed a strongly concealed Orthodox (Tikhonite) church. It numbered hundreds of people of both sexes, beginning with ordinary workers from local enterprises and ending with people of middle and higher education. At the head of the church was a former igumen of one of the monasteries of the Crimea who had survived the terror by a miracle. He had hidden from his Bolshevik pursuers for about twenty years and had led this group of fearless confessors of Christ for almost as many years... In this city there were two hideaways. One was in the yard of a cemetery watchman looking out onto the cemetery graves only a few paces away. A second hideaway was constructed under the floor of a cowshed. An ordinary collective farm cow stood there peacefully chewing the cud, while under the floor in the damp, dark basement a church had been built with all the appurtenances necessary for Divine services. At the four corners of the block in which the catacomb church was located, four old women sold seeds and watched the behaviour of the passing public. If they noticed anyone suspicious, they immediately told the catacombs. Adolescents were good couriers and passed on the instructions of their babushkas in good time. At critical moments, when danger threatened the worshippers, the leaders moved to another place while the rest of the congregation went through the entrance gates and scattered in different directions. And only several years later, during the German occupation, did the servant of God Fr. D. come out of his hideaway into the light of day and breathe freely.
It turned out that the former igumen had been in an illegal position since 1927. This Orthodox group reacted very negatively to the Bolshevik religious 'NEP' [after the Stalin-Sergius pact of 1943], calling Metropolitan Sergius and his stooges servants of the Antichrist. Later we had the opportunity to learn that their attitude to Patriarch Alexis was even more negative. His flirting with the Kremlin revolted them so much that even the so-called 'sergianists', thatis, the former supporters of the reposed Metropolitan Sergius, - even these fainthearted people turned away from the patriarch as from an apostate.
"In the inaccessible parts of the Caucasus ridge, in a huge basin protected on all sides by a wall of mountains, the tops of which were covered with snow for ten months of the year, there was a settlement of hermits. They had a cave-church where oil-lamps and candles burned and services were celebrated continuously. The council made up of several hieromonks and priests was led by Bishop M., who ruled the colony and maintained links with other underground groups scattered throughout the USSR. The colony was so secret that not even many of the underground groups in Sochi, Sukhumi and other cities of the coast knew about it. Among the novices and ryasophor-monks, and also among some of the hermits living on their own, one could meet major artists, musicians, teachers and journalists who had fled to this remarkable colony from Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov and other cities. The colony had a garden, vegetable patch, a herd of goats and a pair of donkeys. Almost the whole year round the hermits made crosses, spoons, boxes, caskets, cases and toys, and through the young novices they sent them to Sukhumi, Gagra and Sochi, where they entered into contact with rich Soviet holiday-makers and sold their artefacts to them and bought salt, matches, soap, nails, instruments, clothing and shoes..."
It is possible that the bishop of this colony was the same bishop asthe one described by Archbishop Lazarus of Tambov: "After Fr. Theodosius [of Minvody, +1948] died, some believers recommended that I meet a secret bishop who lived in the Caucasus. I spent two years under his guidance, fulfilling various obediences.
"In 1950 I was arrested. At that time I was in the area of Rostov and wrote a letter asking to see this bishop, not knowing that he had already been arrested. I was sent a telegram and went immediately to Boloshov, inthe Saratov district, and there on the street, at one o'clock at night, I was arrested. They had been waiting for me. I, of course, suspected nothing. They arrested me, brought me to the Party headquarters, and began interrogating me. I denied everything, afraid of betrayal. For three days they torturedme. I still did not admit to knowing him, but they showed me the telegram andmy letter. I replied that I was simply going to see a woman who had invited me, and spoke as though I were going to Moscow to Patriarch Alexis in order to be assigned somewhere. I was scared, naturally, and lost my head. I was 19 at the time. They wanted to make a separate case of it there in Rostov, but since I was adamant they decided to take me to Saratov for a face to face meeting with the bishop. They brought me into a large room. Sitting there were ten Chekists. I was scared; they all looked at me. With his back to me sat an old man. When they led me to him and ordered him to stand, I saw it was [my bishop], although I hardly recognized him: his beard was shaved, and he was blue, emaciated, with sunken eyes, but they were affectionate, kind. He told me that we were all here; there was no need to resist: ''We are all on the cross, and it will get worse; they will torture us.' He blessed meto ascend the cross, and we parted.
"They arrested 150 of us in all, including two hieromonks, in various cities and villages around the country. After the six months it took to decide our case we were sent to prison camp. They couldn't pin anything on us: there were no witnesses, no evidence; we were arrested simply becausewe were believers of the True Orthodox Church (TOC), who didn't agree with [Metropolitan Sergius'] Declaration; after 1927 our hierarchs and clergy were obliged to go underground. Renovationists were making a strong case for themselves; then came the Declaration, in Ukraine you had self-made clergy all around the Church was being tormented. Since they took the churches away from our bishops and priests we were forced to go underground. Furthermore, we saw that Stalin was behind Patriarch Alexis' election; the Sobor which elected him was not free; it was under strong pressure of the NKVD. Therefore our priests did not recognize him and continued their [underground] existence. And for merely not recognizing Patriarch Alexis, priests were given 25 years' imprisonment and laymen were given 10 years. So it was with us. Our bishop was sentenced to be executed, but it was commuted to 25 years since people were no longer being executed for violation of that particular statute, 58-11 of the criminal code. They charged us with 'group agitation and propaganda'. In fact, we conducted no propaganda whatsoever: we gathered secretly when a priest or hierarch came, fulfilled our religious needs, the Mysteries, had discussions when we could, and dispersed. We didn't print any leaflets, we didn't write any books, we didn't preach on the streets against the authorities. But they were set against us, accusing us of being monarchists, members of the True Orthodox Church, that we didn't recognize the Soviet regime They sought for us everywhere. Not just us personally, our group; there are catacomb believers all over the country; there's not a single city in which, to this day, there aren't at least a few people belonging to the Catacomb Church. Most are concentrated in the central republics.
"1950. The Church was in ruins; things were confiscated, even houses were confiscated, book were taken, vestments, mantias. I myself saw crosses bent down. They cursed, blasphemed; they called us antichrists. Whenever we went in to the examiner they always gave the order, 'Stand up, antichrist!'"
(Source: V.K. "Katakombnaya tserkov' v SSSR", Novoye Russkoye Slovo, 5 April, 1951; in Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1949-57, part 2, xix-xxi; Archbishop Lazarus, "Our from the Catacombs", Orthodox America, vol. X, no. 10 (100), June, 1990, p. 5)
Kind, gentle, welcoming to a rare degree, always seeking as if to serve everyone in some way, to help and please them - such was the secret monk Fr. Joasaph. He would take up the things of complete strangers and help the elderly and invalids in trains and buses, although he himself was no longer young, but an old man.
He never went into the open churches, being directed in this by the advice of the elders.
He sang beautifully. But after imprisonment - where he was put for refusing, as a Christian, to serve in the Red Army - he began to play the fool for Christ's sake. He went out into the yard at night and began to crow. Exactly like a real cock. They say that while he was living in Transcaucasia, where he often travelled by bus, he would suddenly begin to sing in a high, clear tenor some melody or other. And then he would suddenly make a noise like a cock and tell everyone:
"they put a cock into my stomach during the operation".
They all laughed at him... But in camp he really had had an operation for twisted bowels. And he had dreamed that there, in his stomach, was sitting a cock - or perhaps he had only imagined it. But in any case all this was noted by the authorities; and, of course, they regarded this cock as very dangerous agitation undermining Soviet power.
He was pursued by two men. But he was able to escape from their hands. But they threatened him:
"You wait, we'll catch you, you won't get out alive, remember that!"
To arrest him in an official manner would have been very unpopular, for he and his complete harmlessness were well-known in the town. So the authorities decided to act in an unofficial manner. And in this they succeeded.
This old man - almost nobody knew that he was a monk - sometimes went out to the mountains to collect medicinal herbs. He was an expert in these herbs. And this time, when he set out on this business, the two men did not let him slip away. He noticed them, but too late. Seeing his desperate situation, he fell to his knees, face to the ground, and began to pray in preparation for death. Then the killers, coming up to him, as he knelt with his head pressed to the ground, began to kick him from both sides in the stomach. Fr. Joasaph lost consciousness, remaining on his knees with his head to the ground. The killers ran away, but when evening came, under cover of darkness, they returned to their victim. Apparently they had not expected, or in their haste had not realized, that the monk appeared to be dead. And they quickly hung him up, simulating suicide. However, they were not able to hide the proofs of the murder...
On another day, some passers-by accidentally found him hanging in a very unnatural position. For he had managed to stiffen on the ground in the face-down position of prayer, several hours before they hung him up. And this was clear evidence against the official verdict of suicide!
The whole body of the murdered man was curled up. His knees were strongly bent, his hands pressed to his chest. His head was turned back, with the face turned forward... With a suicide the picture is different. The head and the face look down, as if to the feet, because the chin of a man who has hanged himself is always resting on his thorax, his hands stretched "downthe seams", his legs and even his feet forming one straight line...
It is very characteristic that the fingers of his hands - not only the right, but also the left hand - were frozen in the form of the sign of the Cross... It is absolutely clear that first the killing took place, and then, ten to twelve hours later, the killers simulated suicide.
But apart from the external appearance of the body, still more conclusive proofs were provided by the inner organs of the body. In a self-hanging there always remains the dark trace of the rope on the neck squeezing the throat and causing death. Here there was no such mark. At the medical post-mortem examination - which was performed by a woman - a massof congealed blood was found in the abdominal cavity. The liver seemed to have been cut in several places by very powerful blows. And the whole stomach had turned a deep blue colour. All this confirmed murder as the cause of death. But the authorities declared, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary, that the cause of death was suicide. And this confirmed that the death ofthe secret monk of the Catacomb Church had been planned and approved in the offices of the authorities. He was killed on August 26 or 27, 1968 (old calendar).
(Source: Schemamonk Epiphanius (Chernov), Tserkov' Katakombnaya na Zemlye Rossijskoj)
After the Second World War, there circulated in Russian =C3=A9migr=C3=A9 circles a brochure entitled, "Why I also believe in God". In it, the author, originally an atheist pilot, describes how he was commissioned to track down a groupof monks and priests hiding way up high in the Caucasus mountains. It must have been as late as the outbreak of the war. One day he spotted a ragged group of them on a high plateau. Upon seeing the plane, they began to run. The pilot clearly saw how they, apparently fleeing in the direction of their hiding place, were actually heading towards a wide chasm which separated them from the rest of that mountainous plateau. When they reached the abyss, they made the sign of the cross and, to the pilot's utter astonishment, they continued running in the air until, having safely reached the other side, they disappeared from sight into the rocky cliffs. The dumbfounded pilot was instantly converted and came to believe in God Who had hidden His faithful slaves from the eyes of evil men but had allowed him to be a witness of this great miracle of Russia's Catacomb Saints for the salvation of his soul.
(Source: I.M. Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, p. 441)
"Our" teacher Maria Vasilyevna was a wonderful person, if only because all her pupils loved her and always, when pronouncing her name, added "our". She was very attentive to all the pupils of the school. It was impossible ever to see her angry. She could get on well with everyone and everyone confided in her as in a mother, knowing that she never caused anyone any trouble at any time. There was something elusive in her which made her different from the other teachers. This elusive something which she hid from everybody was her flaming faith in God and His Holy Providence. And therefore if she learned about somebody that he or she was from a believing home, a believing family, she was especially considerate and kind to them.
But the director of the school was not only a member of the party, but also a convinced atheist and, apparently, connected with the KGB. He suspected Maria Vasilyevna of being a believer because she was not close to him and in a certain way distanced herself from him. And he thought up a plan to establish exactly whether she was a believer or not.
Now in the courtyard of the school there was a kind of ditch. And the director used this circumstance to conduct a test. But perhaps it was the other way round: the ditch itself was devised as a sham excuse for the test he had thought up. This trick of the director's served not only as a means of exposing Maria Vasilyevna, but also the whole staff and all the pupils with regard to their religious convictions. With this aim a holy icon of the Mother of God and Child was laid, with the painted surface upwards, across the ditch as a little bridge. Standing on the icon, the director explained that the whole school had to assemble in classes with their class teachers in the courtyard and then walk over the icon from one side of the ditch to the other. As he said this, he knocked on the very face of the Mother of God with his heels.
After this introduction he began to let everyone go in classes across this "bridge", following the expressions on the faces of those passing over. And in front of each class there first had to pass the class master or mistress, and then the whole class behind them. And when Maria Vasilyevna came up with her class and had to walk over the holy icon of the Mother of God to the other side where the director was standing, she stopped and said in a loud voice:
"I consider the fulfilment of your demand to be contrary to the Constitution of the Soviet Union. I am a believing Orthodox Christian. And I shall not walk over the holy icon of the Mother of God and God-Child!"
This was enough for the best teacher in the school to disappear completely, not only as a pedagogue, but also as a living person (we do not know where it happened). It was as if the earth swallowed her up. No-one ever heard anything more of her... Only there was a rumour that, as a believing Christian, she had been shot!...
(Source: Schemamonk Epiphany (Chernov), Tserkov' Katakombnaya na Zemlye Rossijskoj)
This life was published in Orthodox America.
In the early 1980s a small secret community of monastics was discovered in the high mountains about 60 kilometres from Sukhumi by the KGB. 18 monastics managed to take shelter in a cave. The pursuers in a helicopter threw a cask full of burning liquid into the entrance and set it on fire.All those hiding in the cave perished. Their names were: Irina, Maria, Eudocia, Ulyana, John, Gregory, Basil, Andrew, Stephen, and others.
(Sources: Russkaya Mysl'; Professor Demetrius Pospielovsky, "Russian persecution ignored by the West", The Globe and Mail, Toronto, October 1, 1983)
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