I'm coming to the end of my material on those of whom there can be no doubt that they are new martyrs or confessors of Russia. I still have a lot of material on more borderline cases. However, I have decided not to publish that material - with one exception, the life I am appending below of Schema-Metropolitan Gennadius Sekach, whose branch of the Catacomb Church, according to Stavros, is now seeking communion with the Matthewites. There is a lot of controversy about this man, and many True Christians would not consider him a true confessor. Let the life here appended be considered as a kind of witness for the defence. One thing is certain: his life is a vivid witness to the trials and tribulations of being a True Orthodox Christian in Soviet Russia.
I. CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE
Schema-Metropolitan Gennadius, in the world Gregory Yakovlevich Sekach, was born in 1897 (according to another account, 1898) in the village of Akulovo in Belorussia. His father, who was a well-to-do merchant, died when Gregory was three years old. His mother Anastasia was left alone after her husband's death to look after their eight children.
Anastasia was a very pious woman and brought up her children in the fear of God. The walls of her little white room were hung with icons and portraits of the Russian saints and local priests. She often visited the local church of the Iviron icon of the Mother of God, and would sell candles and icons from behind the counter. Being an honourable and pious woman, she was also given the task of collecting the donations of the parishioners for the local women's monastery, which was under the spiritual direction of St. John of Kronstadt. Every three months she would open the box, take out the money and take it directly to Father John in Kronstadt.
Gregory loved his mother and imbibed from her a living faith in Christ and the Mother of God. Once, on hearing that Anastasia was preparing to go to Kronstadt to see Fr. John, about whom he had heard so much from her, he asked: "Mamochka, take me to the holy batyushka."
Anastasia did not refuse and took her son with her. On arriving in Kronstadt, they found Fr. John surrounded by thousands of worshippers after the Divine Liturgy. It was impossible for them to push their way through the throng. But Anastasia resorted to fervent prayer. Suddenly Fr. John turned his gaze in her direction and came up to her. Anastasia gave him the money and asked him:
"Fr. John, bless my child."
Fr. John smiled at the child, made the sign of the cross over him and said:
"He will be a priest, and a pillar in the last days."
According to another account of this story, Gregory was still in his mother's womb at this time, and St. John said to her:
"From your womb will come a great hierarch who will labour greatly to strengthen the Church in the last days."
This blessing placed a grace-filled seal on the whole subsequent life of Gregory, and to deep old age he considered himself a child of the great
According to one account, Gregory was brought up until his twentieth year in the monastery of his aunt, Abbess Paula, who was sent into exile for the faith in 1924, and did not return. According to another account, at the age of 11 he fell ill with bone tuberculosis of his right leg, and lay in bed without getting up until he was 20. A doctor in Minsk examined him and concluded that an operation was inevitable, the result of which would probably be that Gregory would become a chronic invalid. Summoning all his strength, with the aid of his relatives Gregory travelled to Kiev. There the diagnosis was confirmed. And he was told that if he delayed, it would be too late to have an operation...
Gregory learned that there was a talented surgeon, a Jewish Christian, living in Marioupol. Arriving in Marioupol, he was quickly examined by the eminent doctor. An icon hung in the corner of the room with a lampada burning in front of it. Gregory lay on the couch, sorrowing over his illness and bitter life. A few hours later the doctor came in again. He looked tired, but his tone was firm. He said to the nurse:
"Give him a glass of spirit. Drink, Gregory."
"What are you saying, doctor? I'll die!"
"You won't die. Drink, I tell you, to the bottom, if you have faith!"
Gregory drank it all. The spirit stirred up his blood, and collected all the pus in one place. The doctor's scalpel extracted one and a half litres of liquid. Gregory was healed, but lay for a long time in hospital. Attributing his healing to the prayers of the Mother of God, he gratefully decided to devote his life to the faith.
However, he had not yet decided whether to become a priest, to enter a monastery, or to remain in the world as a layman.
So he decided with his friend (according to another account, six friends) to seek the advice of Elder Svyatopolk of Pochayev monastery. At the entrance to the elder's cell there were some tubs full of vegetables and a queue of people patiently waiting for the elder to come out. He came out, looked attentively round the people and motioned with his finger to some young people, Gregory among them. The door closed behind them, and the elder asked:
"Why have you come here, young people?"
They replied that they wanted to know what path in life the Lord blessed them to follow. The elder said nothing, but invited them to the table to eat. When they had sat at the table, he poured out the first course, which was borshch. But the borshch was a week old and unfit for consumption. Gregory's friend did not touch it, but Gregory ate it all. The elder came up to him and asked:
"Grisha, can I give you some more?"
His friend shuddered on hearing this. But Gregory replied:
"As you bless."
Then the elder came and poured him some good borshch. When they had stood up and thanked God, the elder said:
"Grisha, if you marry, your life will be a monastic one. And you will die in the rank of a hierarch."
But to his friend who did not want to eat any more he said:
"Go and get married."
According to another account, the elder said to Gregory:
"You will be a priest. Only understand that the life of a priest is a bitter one, like this borschch."
And then he kissed him on the forehead.
Gregory set off on a journey round the monasteries and sketes of Russia. Coming to Polesye, he found another clairvoyant schema-monk in Polesye, who said to him after praying for a long time:
"You will be a hierarch."
And then, after a pause, he added:
"And perhaps you will go higher than that, I don't know." II. A TIME FOR CONFESSION
The Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, and in 1918 Patriarch Tikhon and the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church anathematized Soviet power, forbidding Orthodox Christians to have anything to do with it. From 1918 to 1920 civil war raged. Anarchy, murder, theft and starvation were rife in the Russian countryside; hundreds of monasteries and churches were destroyed, and millions of Orthodox Christians received the crown of martyrdom. It was in these conditions that Gregory began the life of a preacher, and many a lost soul was converted by his words.
Once he gave shelter to Archbishop Simeon of Mozyr' in Belarus, who was fleeing from the renovationists.
The renovationist schism began in 1922, when, with the full support of the communists, a group of modernist, pro-Soviet hierarchs seized control of the Russian Church from its lawful head, Patriarch Tikhon. At one point about two-thirds of the churches were in the hands of the heretics. All those hierarchs who remained faithful to the Patriarch (36 out of 143) were removed from their sees and exiled, many of them to Solovki in the White Sea. The quality of the renovationists can be gauged from the following words from their Moscow "council" of 1923: "First of all, we must turn with words of deep gratitude to the government of our state, which, in spite of the slanders of foreign informers, does not persecute the Church... The word of gratitude and welcome must be expressed by us to the only state in the world which performs, without believing, that work of love which we, believers, do not fulfil, and also to the leader of Soviet Russia, V.I. Lenin, who must be dear also to church people..."
Archbishop Simeon had been given shelter by a humble, hunchbacked old woman named Eudocia, who was a former parishioner of the cathedral in which Vladyka had served. But someone betrayed them. The old woman was punished, and the bishop was sent to Siberia. He promised to appear with his things at the headquarters of the NKVD (the KGB in an earlier incarnation) the next day, but fled during the night and hid in various houses. Finally, exhausted, he came to Gregory, who was well-known for his care for the persecuted, and falling at his feet said:
"Child, receive me for Christ's sake. I have no more strength to wander around, I can't."
Gregory joyfully received Vladyka in his house. However, he, too, was betrayed, and after a month he was summoned to the police-station:
"Isn't an old archbishop hiding with you?"
"Yes, with me," replied Gregory boldly.
"Tell him to take his things and leave, and you go after him."
Gregory knew the Bolsheviks' weakness and put 100 pre-revolutionary roubles on the table - his mother's bequest.
"Well, okay," said the Bolshevik quickly, "let the old man live."
During the day they slept, hiding in the basement of Gregory's house, whose entrance was blocked by a stove. But during the nights they served the Liturgy. They had home-made candles, icons and a house altar. At five in the evening they would enter the house through a hidden entrance, light the lampadas in front of the icons, and begin Vespers. At three in the morning the Midnight service would begin, followed by the Liturgy. This was their daily routine.
After driving Archbishop Simeon from his see, the communists sealed the cathedral and put a guard at the entrance. Then they awaited the arrival of an official who would make an inventory of the contents of the cathedral and then dispose of them. Usually they would melt down the gold and silver vessels, sending the most valuable to the West. The books and icons would be burned. The relics of the saints would be destroyed or sent to the local museum where they would be mocked as "mummified corpses". Patriarch Tikhon had appealed to the Orthodox not to allow such sacrilege, and where possible the relics had been hidden, with dolls or other old bones put in their place. However, the chalices and diskoses could not be substituted... On seizing the churches, the Bolsheviks would go wild: they would put women on the altars and bow down to them, put on the priestly vestments and dance in them, thrust their bayonets through the eyes of the icons and trample on the Holy Gifts. Those who resisted (and there were many) were killed or tortured, some even in the altar...
There were many holy things in the boarded-up Mozyr' cathedral: 40 antimins, icons in gold and silver rizas, a priceless iconstasis, service books, crosses, the holy winding sheet. The old archbishop sobbed without ceasing:
"Gregory, what will happen to the holy things? I will die if the cathedral is sacked."
For two days and nights they did not sleep, pondering what they could do to save the holy things. On the third day, at midnight, Gregory crept up to the cathedral and went round it several times. Then, after making the sign of the cross three times, he calmly went up to guard and offered him his golden watch - the last thing that remained to him from his father. The guard took a covetous look at the watch, seized it and turned away, saying only:
"Wait a minute."
Gregory sat down on a bench and waited: five, ten, fifteen minutes. Then, understanding that the guard had deliberately given him the chance to enter the cathedral, he motioned to the church warden who was hiding behind some trees and they went into the cathedral by a secret entrance. A few minutes later they emerged, laden with icons, books, vestments, chalices, crosses. That same night they distributed these to the believers in various homes.
"Now I can die in peace," sighed the archbishop...
One cold February evening towards the end of the 1920s some guards were transporting money from the railway station to the bank on a sledge. Coming round a corner, the sledge skidded, and a sack of money fell onto the street. However, the guards were drunk and did not notice.
Early the next morning a priest on his way to church found the sealed bag and, not knowing what it was, brought it into the church and dumped it onto a chest while he changed his clothes. At that time Gregory was serving as a warden in the church. Glancing at the bag, he immediately understood what it was: state money from the bank. At first he decided to accept it as a gift sent from God sent for the restoration of the church. But then he thought again: what would happen to the unfortunates who had let the bag out of their grasp. 40,000 was a large sum even for those timesâ€¦ Those who had lost the money could expect the confiscation of their property and ten years in prison.
As it happened, the distracted guards came to the church to ask the priest's advice. When Gregory heard of their arrival, he went up to one of
them, who was standing despondently by the icon of St. Nicholas, and said:
"Nicholas, do you believe in God?"
"Well, what will you promise God if the money is found?"
"What a miracle that would be, if God sent me the lost money... It vanished into thin air. " Then, after a minute's thought, he was as it were enlightened and said: "I would become a monk!"
"Are you telling the truth?"
"God is my witness."
He went up to the second guard, an absolute drunkard:
"James, do they give you drink in prison?"
James peacefully replied:
"It can't be helped!"
"If the money is found, will you give up drinking?"
"I will, I will," said James, penitently falling on his knees. "Son, do you really know where the money is hidden? Help me, my children will remain without a provider!"
Gregory brought out the sack. The guards kept their word...
III. PRISON AND MARRIAGE
In 1927, Metropolitan Sergius, the deputy leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, had issued his infamous "declaration", in which he proclaimed, in the name of the Church, that the joys of the Soviet fatherland were the Church's joys, and its sorrows the Church's sorrows. Most of the senior bishops of the Church refused to accept the declaration and were either imprisoned or managed to flee into the underground. The bishops of Metropolitan Sergius' "Moscow Patriarchate" - or "Soviet church", as it came to be known - cooperated with the secret police, or NKVD, in denouncing the confessing Christians. Thus was born the Russian Catacomb or True Orthodox Church, of which Gregory was destined to become such a distinguished leader.
In 1929, to the sorrows of the faithful Christians caused by Sergius' betrayal were added the horrors of collectivization in the countryside and a full-scale campaign against all religion by Yaroslavsky's "League of Militant Atheists". In the town in which Gregory lived they decided to search all the houses and cellars. At midnight they found about 40 Christians who were in hiding and led them out to be shot. Among the victims was Archimandrite Alexander, a close associate of Archbishop Simeon. Hearing a noise, he had incautiously gone out into the street to see what was happening. He was immediately caught and joined to the group of those arrested.
Gregory was shattered - he was tied to Archimandrite Alexander by the closest bonds of spiritual friendship. Early in the morning he came onto the street oblivious to the world in his grief. Suddenly one of those who had taken part in the execution at dawn called him:
"Gregory, your archimandrite is lying in a common grave, on the top. I've just come from there, where we buried them. I specially laid him like that so that you could immediately find him. If you run now, you'll be able to take him!"
Gregory summoned up his last strength and rushed to the grave of the martyr archimandrite. He dug out his body and carried him away. It seemed to him that the archimandrite was still alive and breathing... The next morning the burial took place. He hid the name of the dead man from the authorities, saying:
"He's a stranger, we don't know who."
But his precautions were of no avail - someone denounced him. On the fortieth day after the burial an acquaintance of his from the chancellery came to him at night and said:
"Tomorrow they'll take you away. Get ready."
His first thought was to flee. But where to? Everywhere there were the same authorities, denunciations and spying. He decided to humble himself and give away both his own property and that of the archbishop and archimandrite.
The next morning they came and took him away. Without a trial, he was sent, first to the notorious camp for clergy at the former monastery of Solovki in the White Sea, and then for ten years to a camp in Kirov, where 20,000 prisoners were building an electric power station beyond the Arctic circle. In camp he helped the sick and suffering, washing their clothes and distributing sugar and cigarettes to those in need, while limiting himself in everything. He was appointed cook to the camp authorities - an unheard-of privilege for a prisoner, and one which may have saved his life. Nevertheless, from sleeping on a cold cement floor he developed tuberculosis in his leg which troubled him for the rest of his life.
When he was in Solovki (according to another account, on his way to Kirov), he and several other prisoners were travelling on a convoy of seven barges across the sea. The camp administration had decided to drown the prisoners on the first six barges. But Gregory managed to escape this fate - he was sitting on the last barge with the administration and only saw the drowned corpses of the prisoners from the first six barges knocking against the side of his own.
As if this were not a sufficient ordeal, when the surviving prisoners came to the land, they were given poisoned fish to eat. Every prisoner had to pass by a control point and breathe at the soldier to show whether he had eaten the fish or not. But the soldiers in his convoy took pity on him, knowing his kind heart and readiness to help all and sundry. They warned him that the fish was poisoned. He did not eat it, but smeared his face with it so that he should smell of it. After this, they released them all, thinking that they would all die within twelve hours.
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