Bishop Hierotheus (Afonin) was born in about 1891. In 1923 he was secretly consecrated bishop of Shadrinsk by Archbishop Andrew of Ufa. Later the consecration was recognized by Patriarch Tikhon. On Palm Sunday, 1923 he arrived in Nikolsk to serve there, too, and from August, 1924 is counted as Bishop of Nikolsk.
"On Palm Sunday," recalls Nun Seraphima, "the new Bishop Hierotheus served the all-night vigil. He was young, about 33 or 34 years old. Everyone liked him. He blessed people very well, he blessed everyone himself, and at the end of the service he said:
"'Well, now we shall begin to pray. Come tomorrow. Do not fear, I am a Tikhonite, sent to you by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon."
Fr. Sergius (Schema-Hieromonk Seraphim) said of him then: "This is a lamb ready for the slaughter. We are of one spirit with him. We shall tonsure some monks and nuns and they shall live in twos or threes without a monastery, beginning to save themselves and glorify the Lord."
Fr. Cyril remembers: "When Vladyka Hierotheus served in Nikolsk, some people doubted whether one could be a bishop at such a young age of 34 years. Once Vladyka was giving a sermon and asked whether anyone knew Metropolitan Peter. Then he showed us a card on the back of which was written: 'To Bishop Hierotheus'. That was a confirmation, he was really a bishop.
"I saw Vladyka for the first time when I had just finished seven-year-school. My father wanted me to study more. He went to the priest and asked him to acquaint me with all the services. He agreed, and suggested I come in the evening. The priest was a seminarist. He taught me for a month and then wrote to Vladyka Hierotheus. He replied: let him come to me at any time. It was 70 kilometres to Nikolsk, it was spring, the snow was beginning to melt. My father was uneducated and was embarrassed to go. He found someone and asked him to go with me. He told me I would be with Vladyka. We arrived in the evening. I immediately went to Vladyka. He lived in his cell beside the cathedral. They told him about me and I went in. He immediately saw what kind of bird had flown in to him. Coming up to me, he took both my hands and said:
"'Aren't you frozen?' Do you have a flat? Do you have food?'
"I told him everything about myself.
"'Well, he said, 'you'll live here and come to me every day. We have services in the morning and evening. You'll live here for a week.'
"They put me on the kliros. Since the bishop had given the order, they did not throw me off. Sunday came. It was in the Great Fast. They called me and said:
"'Vladyka has ordered you to go and read the rule. A reader should be able to do it.'
"Well, I knew the rule. I was not embarrassed, I just tried to get the stresses right. I read it through. They came up to me and said:
"'Vladyka said that you read well.'
"A little more time passed. He summoned a protopriest and said to him about me:
"'Take him to your flat and examine him.'
"Then the priest assked me: 'Can you serve a service?'
"Can you serve the Basil's [the service to St. Basil the Great]?'
"And Vladyka gave me a certificate saying that I could be a reader in any parish."
"Vladyka served in cathedral and chanted on the kliros every day," recalls Nun Seraphima. "He had a pleasant voice. When he chanted or served, something special filled the soul, a certain feeling of reverence and zeal for prayer, so that we experienced no tiredness and said that when the service came to an end we had not prayed enough. Vladyka gave very good sermons about saving the soul so as to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven prepared for the righteous and repentant sinners. Services were always celebrated without haste, which the old priests did not like. They called the priests of the cathedral of the Meeting of the Lord 'the old cathedral popes' because they came from a line of hereditary clergy. The 'cathedral popes' did not like Bishop Hierotheus and were unfriendly and hostile to him because he was young and they were old. They did not want to obey him, and they invented and wrote all manner of fables and slanders against him. Vladyka left the cathedral and went to the Kazan church. The renovationists also got a foothold in the cathedral of the Meeting of the Lord at that time. Vladyka expelled them from the Church and anathematized them by his episcopal power."
Around the Kazan church under Bishop Hierotheus there united all the true and zealous believers: the superior of the church, Protopriest Anatolius, Hieromonk Anthony, Hieromonk Anastasius and the priest Sergius Voyensky, who before his death received the schema with then name Schema-Hieromonk Seraphim.
Schema-Hieromonk Seraphim, in the words of his relative Helen Kontzevich, "was born in 1897 and was named Sergius. He spent his childhood in Petersburg, where his father, Constantine Voyensky, was the chief warden of the archives of the Ministry of Public Education and a historian. Strange to say, there was something similar between the Voensky family and the "Karamazovs" of Dostoyevsky's novel. The father of the family, having led from childhood a loose life, was light-minded, and his wife Olga, exasperated by his behaviour, was constantly at war with him, which created unpleasant scenes, so that the home atmosphere was very trying.
"This reflected adversely on the frail and sensitive boy. He early realized that his father lived at the mercy of his passions. Sergius did not wish to be like this. Therefore, he began to develop his power of will. He read books on the subject, slept on the bare floor, and even was about to try Yoga. Then one day he went to Valaam. The grandeur of the great monastery left a deep impression on him; there his soul found its home. He began to go frequently to Valaam on pilgrimage; he even talked his father into going there, where the latter by a miracle gave up smoking, which he had never been able to do. In 1917 Sergius finished Military Academy. The whirlwind of revolution scattered the members of his family: his father ended up in Malta, and Sergius and his mother found themselves in the city of Nikolsk, where they settled in the house of a priest and lived in great poverty.
"Here occurred Sergius' most significant meeting with the young Bishop Hierotheus. The bishop ordained him priest, and he served in a parish. Meanwhile the revolution was raging and the clergy was being exterminated. Bishop Hierotheus presented Fr. Sergius to Patriarch Tikhon as a candidate for bishop. The Patriarch called him to Moscow. He went, met the Patriarch, and on his return to Nikolsk was arrested. In prison he underwent the usual tortures inflicted upon members of the clergy by the atheist regime. He developed tuberculosis. He was finally released from prison to 'die at home', which in fact happened very soon, in the year 1923, when he was just 26 years old. On his deathbed his friend, Bishop Hierotheus, tonsured him in the Great Schema with the name Seraphim, and buried him with the rites of the Church.
"In 1915 I met Father Seraphim for the first time. He was then the student Sergius, a close friend of my brother, who was attending school in Petersburg. He was a short, thin young man, with dark hair, and with an extraordinarily kind and attractive face. He had beautiful, dark blue eyes. There was in him something not of this world.
"When the news came of Fr. Seraphim's death, I wrote to his father: 'Dear Uncle Kostya, How fortunate you are. You are the father of a saint.! On the day of your death he will come for you and take you to that land where he is now, where there will be no more tears and sorrow, but eternal joy.'"
Fr. Cyril recalls of Fr. Seraphim: "He was young, only 20 years old, and he said:
"'I want to be a priest.'
"'Well, marry then.'
"'I don't want to!'
"Bishop Hierotheus ordained him to the priesthood. Fr. Seraphim came to serve with us in the chapel in Zhirovikh. There was a learned man there by the name of Aristarchus Pavlovich. He was a complete unbeliever. And so Fr. Seraphim arrived from Nikolsk. The people gathered - not only in the chapel, but also in the courtyard. Well, Aristarchus Pavlovich wanted to have a look, to see what it was all about, and why there was such a crowd. With difficulty he pressed himself into the chapel and stood there. And suddenly - he himself recounted this - such grace enveloped him, such a fragrance as could not be compared with any perfume. He had never sensed anything of the kind. And from that moment Aristarchus Pavlovich became, like the Apostle Paul, a leading zealot. They made him warden. Then he was arrested. He did not fear the authorities in the slightest. They immediately shot him.
"Fr. Seraphim died young. They put him in prison, he got a cold there and developed tuberculosis. On his deathbed his friend, the bishop tonsured him into the schema with the name Seraphim. How they all pitied him! The whole town buried him. He was buried behind the altar. The authorities came and ploughed up the earth with a bulldozer, but the believers came during the night and put everything right again. And this happened several times. He was a great clairvoyant."
In 1925 Vladyka Hierotheus was arrested, and he continued to be harassed by the GPU, as well as by the Nikolsk clergy who were hostile to him.
His close disciple, Mother Seraphima, relates: "On June 17, 1926, I was tonsured with the name Seraphima in honour of Seraphim of Sarov, and the Lord counted me, the sinner, worthy to receive the tonsure from the hands of a hierarch. When Vladyka laid his hierarchical hand on my hand some kind of fire came out from it and passed straight into my heart and warmed it and set it as if on fire. I felt joy and wept abundantly. At the end of the service of tonsure Vladyka gave a short sermon and congratulated me on receiving the angelic rank. I experienced the same during the Presanctified Liturgy when Vladyka came out of the altar with burning candles and declared: 'The Light of Christ enlighteneth all'. At that moment the people should fall on their faces, but for some unknown reason I did not fall down but continued standing, and suddenly I felt a kind of bundle of fire burning in my heart, then I fell on my knees and was overcome with tears. I can't convey what I felt then, but some kind of fire burned my whole inner being. That's the kind of man our archpastor was. He had strength of will, he was himself full of Divine fire. Time flowed imperceptibly during his services, he thundered like a trumpet during his sermons. How sweet were his words to me, sweeter than honey to my heart. Yes! His lips were golden.
"But the enemy does not slumber. He could not stand seeing sinners turning to repentance every day and bringing joy to the angels in heaven. The demons attacked him with great spite. They caused him great harm. They also worked through the priests who did not respect him and tried by all means to get rid of him. But he endured everything like a good warrior on the field of battle. He was obedient to God. Life is higher than vanity. With grace-given strength, he found the road through the impurity of the earth straight to heaven. How he loved his people and cared for the salvation of their souls, how wonderful his general confessions were. Then, turning to the people, he would say severely that all foul-mouthed people, and thieves, and murderers, fornicators and adulterers, who were living in unlawful unions, should abstain from coming to Communion, but should weep and repent. How he comforted sinners, telling them to seek mercy from God!
"'You virgins, be not deceived by the vanity of this world, flee sin, do not drink wine, preserve your chastity, seek for yourselves a Heavenly Bridegroom, and not an earthly one.'
"After the end of confession he would raise the cross and, pointing to it with his finger, he would say:
"'Look at what you have now said, you have given a promise not to sin, and you have given it not to me, but to the Lord Himself. I am only a witness.'
"He had a wonderful effect on the penitents, who could scarcely restrain their groaning. Who did not weep then, whose heart was not touched?!
"'Fall to the ground and weep, recite the prayer of the publican,' said our bishop.
"From all sides there resounded groans and sobs. He went to pray in the altar, and having finished his prayer he came out with the cross in his hand and read the prayer of absolution. Having taken his omophorion, he stretched it in all directions over the worshippers and his powerful voice rang out:
"'I, the unworthy bishop, by the power given me, do forgive and absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Rise.'
"And happy was that man upon whose head the omophorion descended then. I myself experienced it on my head. I felt a special descent of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The bishop himself joyfully congratulated the people on the purification of their conscience, and we felt light in our souls, it was as if some weight had fallen away and the heart felt joyful. How many such general confessions there were during his life with us.
"Soon we suffered a great sorrow. Our dear archpastor fell ill and wanted to go away to be treated by the hot springs. Many tears were shed, we were so sorry to part with our dear father. We asked ourselves: will he come back? And at the thought that he would go away and not come back and we would not see him again, our hearts squeezed in pain and tears flowed in an unrestrainable torrent.
"In the end the all-merciful Lord heard our groans, and Vladyka said that he would not go, but would be treated here. And we began to treat him with a very simple treatment. I boiled pine buds in honey and brought them to him every day, and gradually his health began to improve and we were overjoyed at Vladyka's recovery.
"I came to him and he said: 'Matushka, I very nearly left you. I was completely in the other world, I saw my body remaining on the bed. I saw coming to me as if in a dream a beautiful youth, and he ordered me to follow him. We went off, and I looked back and saw my body remaining on the bed. We went for a long time, and encountered many things on the way. We passed them all by without stopping. Then we came to a beautiful garden whose beauty I cannot convey to you. How good it was there, what a fragrance, what trees and flowers, how beautifully the birds sang. I did not want to leave, but the beautiful youth said that we must go on. In the end we came to a room of indescribable beauty in which a virgin who was all shining in a wonderful light was sitting. I, the sinner, could not look at her. When I saw her, I fell down in fear and bowed down to her. I heard her saying to the youth:
"'"It is not yet time for him to come here. Lead him back to earth. Let him continue labouring to the glory of God and glorify My Son."
"'And we set off again. I cannot convey to you how much I did not want to leave that place. I woke up and felt that I was no longer in pain and that I had become healthy. The youth had disappeared. I was sorry that they had not left me there. And so, matushka, I'm with you again, and we shall glorify the Lord together.'
"'That's very good for us,' I said, 'and we are very glad that you have remained. What would we have done without you? How would we have lived?'
"'I think, matushka,' he said, 'that the beautiful youth was the Archangel Michael, and the wonderful virgin - the Mother of God, who sent me back to the earth.'"
Fr. Cyril recalls: "When Vladyka gave me the certificate that I could be a reader, my father learned that in Zhirovikh, 30 kilometres from us, they needed a reader. I put my rucksack on my shoulders and went there. And I stayed there until 1928, when they arrested the priest.
"Zhirovikh is a village of 80 households. Our church was small - tall people couldn't get into it. It was a chapel dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God at the appearance of an icon of the Mother of God. It's interesting how they built it. A peasant went early one morning to look for his horses. Some bells had been hung on the horses. He stood and heard the sound of bells. Where was it coming from? It seemed as if it was in the earth. The peasant was a believer. He went to the bishop in Vologda, 400 kilometres away. He asked what this could mean. The bishop said that a church had to be built there. The peasant hung an icon round his neck and went round asking for alms: give something for the building of a church. And then they decided that they would all bring one log, of a definite, fitting size, and there were eight villages and they brought hundreds of logs, a whole mountain was formed. They summoned an engineer and began to build it themselves. While I was there Fr. Anthony and Fr. Anastasius served there.
"Fr. Anastasius - in the world he was called Alexander - had struggled on Solovki. He was such a meek, humble man, he couldn't do anything himself, his sister, who was called Anastasia, helped him in everything. He wanted to go to Solovki monastery and asked his sister to accompany him. Well, she was going to take him, but then burst into tears:
"'You're so thin and weak, how will you stand it?'
"But he kept repeating: 'If only they took me! If only they accepted me!'
"He became a hieromonk there, and when the monastery was scattered he came to us in Zhirovikh as priest for the parish.
"Once Fr. Anastasius came up to me and said: 'I've received the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and there it is written that your joys are our joys. They're cutting our heads off and we're supposed to rejoice! I don't recognize Sergius.'
"And the next day they began to commemorate [Archbishop] Demetrius of Gdov.
"There was a poor man with us in Zhirovikh who often used to stay with Fr. Anastasius. He received him even though his cell was very small. But this poor man was terribly frightened of the police. If you said to him that the police were coming, he'd immediately run away. Well, this poor man was present when they came to arrest Fr. Anastasius. They took both Fr. Anastasius and the poor man and carried them off to Ustiug. The poor man then began to weep, but Fr. Anastasius said to him:
"'Don't fear those who kill the body but who cannot kill the soul.'
"Well, they shot the poor man on the spot. But for what? He was just a simple poor man. But Fr. Anastasius lived for a year in Ustiug. Then they shot him. This was already after the death of Vladyka Hierotheus.
"30 priests did not recognize Sergius, and all of them were arrested in one night. They were all swept away simultaneously as if by a wind. And their churches were taken over by sergianist priests. Then they, too, were arrested, and their churches were closed.
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