On his release after eight years in the camps, Gregory went to Kiev, to the Catacomb Schema-Archbishop Anthony (Abashidze), whom he knew, and asked him for advice. His problem was that as an "enemy of the people" he had no "propiska", or registration documents, and without documents he was condemned to unemployment and therefore to another sentence in Siberia for "parasitism". Bishop Anthony advised him not to return home to Belorussia, but to marry a girl called Anna and in this way get a passport.
The Lord sent him five children - two boys and two girls and another boy who was stillborn. However, the marriage was not a success; there were quarrels and painful scenes. After the war the couple went to Schema-Archimandrite Laurence of Chernigov for advice. Anna threw herself at the elder's feet:
"Father, what kind of husband is he for me? And what kind of father? He doesn't care about anyone. Strangers and wanderers are dearer to him than those close to him."
And she poured out her heart for more than an hour.
The elder listened to her in silence. Then he called Gregory and whispered in his ear:
"From now on you are Monk Gennadius. Go with God. " And he blessed him with his prayer rope "in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
About his wife he said:
"Let her raise the children alone. Leave the house and everything in it. Take a rasson and books and go into the world."
But Anna did not let him go. She sapped his strength, opposed his every step, turned the children against their father and constantly demanded money. Once she even tried to poison him, putting poison in his drink. But Gregory made the sign of the cross over the wine before drinking and miraculously remained alive.
After leaving the camps, Gregory went round many secret monasteries and sketes, passing on the last words and blessings of prisoners who had died in the GULAG. Just before the war he was once more imprisoned, and found himself in the death cell in Gomel. There he got to know the Catacomb Bishop Seraphim (Pozdeyev), who later consecrated him to the episcopate.
Bishop Seraphim, in the world Michael Alexandrovich Pozdeyev, was from an aristocratic family (according to some, he was in fact the Grand Duke Michael Romanov, brother of the Tsar, and photographs do indicate a very close resemblance). However, after the revolution he did not want to emigrate from Russia together with almost all the other aristocrats, choosing rather, like Moses, "to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb. 11.25). His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon kept Michael close to himself, tonsured him as a monk, and then, two or three days (according to another source, two or three months) before his death in 1925, consecrated him secretly to the see of Smolensk (according to another source, Novosibirsk). However, Bishop Seraphim did not reach his see. Very shortly after his consecration he was arrested by the GPU and sent to the prison in Gomel. (The same fate was shared by Bishop Tikhon of Gomel, consecrated by the patriarch two days before his death. Before he could reach his see he was put in prison in Gomel.)
As a rule, no-one came out of Gomel prison alive. But miracles took place for the believers. And in Gomel there was a chekist, or secret policeman, whose aunt was an abbess. Occasionally he would take the prisoners out for a walk at eleven o'clock at night so as to give them the illusion of freedom and incline them towards betraying others. His aunt besought him to save Gregory and Seraphim. He was touched by her plea, brought the two prisoners to his room, gave them food and drink and took them back to the cell. That was all he could do.
A week later, Bishop Seraphim was sent to the Butyrki prison in Moscow. There they tried to force him to serve them, but he remained unshakeable. So they sent him off to die a slow death in the Kemerovo camps of Western Siberia. Gregory remained in the prison in Gomel. But the image of the confessing bishop remained indelibly in his mind...
One night Gregory was called for "questioning" by the chief warder of the prison. Dressed in a leather jacket, with a bloody whip in his hand, the warder was in a rage. Fixing his eyes on Gregory, he suddenly brought the handle of his pistol down on the fingers of his right hand. (To the end of his life Vladyka was unable to form his hand correctly to make the sign of the cross.) Then, brandishing his whip in one hand, he cocked his pistol with the other and brought it to the face of Gregory:
"Who do you think you are?! I'll eat you alive!"
Gregory remained calm and firm.
"There's no Christ here, I'm the master! If I want, I can get rid of you without trace and scatter your ashes to the wind!"
"May the will of God be done," replied Gregory fearlessly.
"I'm god here, I'm the master! I!!" roared the warder, beating his breast.
Suddenly the door swung open and the commandant of Gomel prison came in.
"Surname of the prisoner?" he asked.
"Place of birth?"
"Akulinka - the Byelorussian village of Akulovo."
The face of the commandant changed:
"And what was your mother's name?"
It turned out that they were from the same village. Gregory remembered - they had been at a wedding together, he had been the best man while the commandant had been a guest, they called him the matchmaker. The commandant ground his teeth and turned on the warder almost as wrathfully as the warder had turned on Gregory:
"You what, you good-for-nothing, you'll eat people alive here?! Now you sign him off for me!"
He signed a piece of paper and took it with him. They went down the corridors to commandant's room.
"You probably know that they don't let people out of here alive. Tomorrow there's going to be an execution. How did you get in here?"
"I was exiled to Kirov, to Siberia."
The commandant dialled a number and got through to the Kirov jail. From there he was told that Gregory was counted among those who had disappeared without trace.
"Right," said the commandant, putting down the receiver. He shook Gregory's hand, opened the door and said:
"Where to?" asked Gregory fearfully, doubtless expecting a bullet in the back.
"Go wherever you like."
In Gomel prison the prisoners were often killed by asphyxiation. They were taken by night into a special room and killed either with a pillow or with a cord. They say that many went to this room with joyful faces, glad that their unbearable tortures were at last coming to an end.
The next day the chief warder was shot: the inspection committee discovered that he was involved in some plot with the accountant. For, as the Prophet David says of the evil man, "he opened a pit and dug it, and he shall fall into the hole which he hath made. His toil shall return upon his own head, and upon his own pate shall his unrighteousness come down" (Psalm 7.15-16).
IV. BETWEEN THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL
In 1939 there were only four Orthodox bishops at liberty in the whole of the Soviet Union, and the great majority of the churches had been either closed or destroyed. However, the outbreak of war with Germany changed the church situation radically - at least in the German-occupied territories. For the Germans granted permission for the opening of churches, the Orthodox brought out the chalices, icons and other church valuables, and church life was restored to something like normality.
On the Feast of the Annunciation, 1943, in the town of Mozyr', Gregory (or Fr. Gennadius as we shall now call him) was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Leontius (Filippovich) of the Ukrainian Autonomous Church (later archbishop of Chile in the Russian Church Abroad) and given a parish. However, he was in a very difficult position. The Germans were in the town by day, and the Soviet partisans by night. At any moment he could be caught and killed by the Germans, on the one hand, and on the other - by the partisans. He constantly had to perform a kind of balancing act.
"Who are you with?" one side would ask.
"I am with Christ," he would reply.
He never took money for burials. And yet he had to carry out ten or more burials each day. For death mowed down the people in their thousands. Hunger and destruction were everywhere. People were glad if they could kill a scraggy horse and make soup out of it. During the day the Germans fleeced them, while at night the partisans took their last possessions down to their foot-bindings and their dried crusts of bread.
Once he met an old acquaintance of his, the dean of a region in Belarus. He gave the impression of being glad to see him, kissed him, invited him to eat with him, and, after asking him to wait for a quarter of an hour, ran to the shop to buy food. Gennadius felt uneasy, his heart beat strongly. He felt the approach of some misfortune. There was no-one else in the room except a seven-year-old boy, the priest's son. Several minutes of tormented waiting passed. The boy looked at Gennadius with great interest.
"Child, where is your mama?"
"Mama's gone to the shop," said the boy, without taking his eyes off Gennadius.
"And where has papa run off to?"
"Papa told me at the gate: 'You stay with dyadya, I'm going to the Gestapo.'"
Gennadius remembered the dean's hatred of the partisans and understood what was happening. He immediately flew out of the room, rushed through the backyard and into the peat-bog. In the distance he saw two figures with guns. He hid. The two German soldiers passed by. He understood that they were looking for him. He got to his home, and the next day left the area.
That day the Germans accidentally shot another priest, who was also called Gregory. As for the dean, when the Germans retreated, he hanged himself.
How many such cases were there! Everybody betrayed him: his own people, strangers, Germans, Russians, Gestapo, partisans...
One evening, on returning from a parishioner, Gennadius fell into a partisan ambush. They tied his hands behind his back and led him to their leader Kovpak. In this situation he could expect only death by shooting. Once again, however, he was saved by a chance acquaintance - Kovpak turned out to be a distant relative of Gennadius' who had been at a wedding together with him. Kovpak took him by the arm and led him into his dug-out.
"You know," he confided to Gennadius, "before I was sent to Belorussia to serve as a partisan, I went into a church and asked the priest to serve a prayer service for me. After the service the priest blessed me with a large cross, saying: 'Keep this cross as the apple of your eye. If you lose it, you won't have an army and you yourself will be killed. But with the cross you will be successful and conquer everywhere.'" Then Kovpak loosed his knapsack and drew out of it a big brass cross covered with enamel and carefully wrapped in white linen. "Look, I always carry it around with me."
"So you have faith?" asked Gennadius.
"Without prayer you'll get nowhere. Pray, and God will help you."
"Tell me what to do. Tomorrow we're going to attack a little placed called Loyev. There are huge numbers of Germans there. What must I do? If we lose the battle, we're all done for."
Gennadius stood up to pray.
"Don't go. You yourself will perish, and your whole army with you."
"If we don't go onto the attack, the Germans will certainly surround us. I don't see any way out." And Kovpak took his head in his hands, desperately searching for a solution.
Gennadius again stood up to pray and was as it were enraptured. After a time he said:
"Take your soldiers and go through the marsh."
"It's impossible, not one of us knows the way. We'll all perish."
"I'll show you the way. I know all the places around here."
Kovpak put Gennadius at the head of his soldiers, and that night they set off. And so the partisan unit was saved by the prayers of Fr. Gennadius.
Another time a German general was being pursued by the partisans. Fr. Gennadius hid him in a coffin and started to cense the coffin and read prayers over it. When the partisans arrived, he said that he did not know where the German was. The danger passed, and batyushka let the general out. After a time the general sought him out and thanked him heartily:
"You saved my life..."
Metropolitan T., Gennadius' closest disciple, writes: "He saved people throughout his life. It didn't matter who the person was. For him the main thing was to save the life of a man. During the war he saved partisans when they were threatened with reprisals. But he also saved Germans from the partisans, thereby risking his own life."
V. THE PASTOR OF SOULS
After the war, Fr. Gennadius devoted all his energy to preaching, to the founding of a monastery, and to charitable work for orphans. His zeal, unacquisitiveness and compassion drew people to him as iron filings are drawn to a magnet. They saw in him a father - and this aroused the envy of the red clergy of the Sovietized Moscow Patriarchate. They slandered him to the authorities, and he was several times summoned to the local official and warned. They even sent criminals to him, warning him that they would kill him - and it sometimes came to actual blows. Once they bribed a big-boned criminal to kill him. And the criminal was about to slit his throat, when his eyes met those of the righteous man. He turned away his eyes, he couldn't go through with it, and confessed everything to Fr. Gennadius.
People came to him in their thousands: some for advice, some for a blessing, some for material help. No-one went away dissatisfied. Fr. Gennadius gave each person what he needed, as he was able.
Fr. Gennadius used to serve openly, but according to his closest disciple he never came under the omophorion of a patriarchal bishop. He was able to do this because of the exceptional conditions prevailing in some parts of Belarus after the war. Taking advantage of this, Fr. Gennadius, together with Fr. T. (later Metropolitan T.) and novice Timothy (later Vladyka Gregory) were able to serve openly for some time in the village of Novoropsk in Bryansk region without entering the patriarchate or submitting to the local patriarchal bishop.
Novoropsk was specially protected by God. During the German occupation the village's Nikolsky church, which had three altars, was opened. A priest served there, and he was helped by an old woman called Pignulka. Once while she slept she received a revelation:
"To save Ropsk, it is necessary for a moleben to be served on the place of the Boris-and-Gleb church."
After the Liturgy they went in a cross procession to the place and served a moleben there until three or four o'clock. As a result Novoropsk was miraculously spared during the war, although all the surrounding places were burned down, sacked and abandoned. In connection with this one believing woman had a vision in which she saw Novoropsk surrounded by a high white wall which stretched to the heavens, while within these walls there was a fragrance as of narcissuses and the trees bloomed with white flowers...
A lime tree grew on the place where the Saints Boris and Gleb church had stood. In memory of the destroyed church they hung an icon of the Mother of God on a branch of this tree. And it hangs there to this day. They used to light lampadas in front of it. But you don't see it immediately now because it is surrounded by branches on all sides...
Nun V. relates that in 1958, while she was still a laywoman, she went to her mother in Novoropsk for a holiday.
"Go to our church and have confession. Some good new priests are serving there," her mother advised her.
At that time Fr. Gennadius and Fr. T. were serving there. However, she had no intention of going to church, and departed for Moscow without seeing the new priests. There, in 1959, she had a dream. She dreamed that she was going towards the lodge in the courtyard of the church in Novoropsk - the lodge in which the parish priests usually lived. The door opened, and there stood an old priest who said to her:
"You didn't want to come, you didn't come - well, you don't have to!"
She had never seen the new Novoropsk priests before, but then it turned out that the priest whom she had seen in her dream looked exactly like Gennadius. In this dream she had begun to complain to Fr. Gennadius:
"I've got such a headache..."
And he had replied:
"Your head needs no other medicine than what is contained in Holy Communion."
The next year she went to Novoropsk, confessed and received Communion from Fr. Gennadius, and from that moment her fate became intertwined with his.
In about 1961 Fr. Gennadius and his disciples moved to Shorse in Chernigov province, where he organized a small house church and monastery. The community consisted of thirty people. The authorities soon learned about it, and he began to suffer persecution. Several times he was summoned to the police, who demanded that he renounce Christ. But Gennadius was firm and refused to sign the papers they placed in front of him. The chief of police was amazed:
"I've seen many popes in my time, but only two others like you. All the rest are ours - you're not one of ours."
Another time he was called to the local official of the Council of Religious Affairs. He greeted him, asked him to sit down and handed him a document for his signature. It was an undertaking to work for the authorities. Such documents usually required of priests that they report on the activities of church people and dissidents, pray for the Soviet authorities at the Divine Liturgy, have no contact with any exiled or foreign bishops, abstain from teaching the faith to parishioners and especially children. If the priest refused to sign he was sent to prison or the camps. In the Brezhnev period he could be sent to a psychiatric hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There he would be forcibly injected with drugs or electrocuted...
After reading the document, Fr. Gennadius looked the official straight in the eyes and firmly declared:
"I would rather lie at the foot of a fence with the dogs and gnaw bones, but I will not betray the faith!"
From this time Fr. Gennadius descended completely into the catacombs. He was driven out of Shorse and moved to Novy Afon (New Athos) in the Caucasus, where he again began to organize a monastery. He bought a house without difficulty because the area was very isolated and quite dangerous - robbers plied their trade in the vicinity. Moreover, the climate was very changeable, which created additional difficulties. One nun had a donkey on which they brought supplies to the monastery.
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