Kursk, Kharkov, Poltava And Belgorod Holy Confessors

In 1912 there arose a movement among the spiritual children of Monk Stefan (Podgorny) of the Spaso-Evfimievsky monastery in Suzdal. The "Stefanites" differed in practically no way from other Orthodox Christians except for their veneration of their elder and following of his commandments: no drinking, no smoking, the blessing of drinking water, etc. The movement spread furthest, not in Vladimir region, but in the south of Kursk province - the homeland of the elder, where his relatives lived, including his son and grandson.

It was his grandson, Fr. Basil Filippovich Podgorny, who became the leader of the movement in the 1920s. He was born in 1892 in the village of Trostyantsy, Sumy okrug and studied for two years in a village school. In 1907 he entered the Spaso-Evfimievksy monastery in Suzdal. In 1913 he joined the army, and in 1919 was serving in a field hospital in Denikin's army. Then he was in the RKKA. On March 19, 1922 was ordained to the diaconate in Sumi by Bishop Cornelius. On September 20, 1922 he was ordained to the priesthood by the same bishop when the latter had already joined the renovationist heresy. He was superior of the Trinity-Anninsky house church in the village of Syrovatka. After the liberation of Patriarch Tikhon from prison, Fr. Basil went to Moscow and repented before him, and was received in his existing rank. From 1923 he served in the Andreyevsky church in the village of Ugroyedy, Sumy okrug.

The movement acquired an organized character in 1924. In December, on the initiative of the former hieromonk of the Suzdal monastery, Fr. Isaiah (Kushnarev), there was a meeting of the followers of Elder Stefan in the village of Dronovka, Kursk province. This took place without the permission of the authorities. The question of a bishop was not resolved, but Fr. Basil was chosen as dean or confessor of all the "Stefanites", while Monk Isaiah was chosen as representative of the movement. The spur for the formation of this organization was Metropolitan Nazarius' calling them sectarians.

At the beginning of 1925 a delegation of "Stefanites" went to Bishop Constantine (Dyakov) of Kharkov, but he refused to receive them. But his assistant, Bishop Barlaam (Lazarenko), the future hieromartyr, was kindly disposed towards them and even ordained one of them to the priesthood. After Bishop Barlaam was appointed to Maikop in the Caucasus, Fr. Basil went to Metropolitan Sergius is Nizhni-Novgorod complaining about Bishop Constantine and with a request that he grant them a bishop. Metropolitan Sergius did not appoint a separate bishop for the "Stefanites", but he submitted their communities in Kursk province to Bishop Paulinus of Rysk, and in Kharkov province - to Bishop Constantine, writing to the latter that he should change his attitude towards the followers of Elder Stefan.

In 1927, after the publication of Metropolitan Sergius' notorious declaration, Fr. Basil went to Bishop Barlaam in the mountains near Maikop. Vladyka was also opposed to the declaration, did not submit to Sergius, and set off for the Ukraine to ordain several priests for the "Stefanites". At the end of August he settled in the village of Ugroyedy, Sumy okrug, and then moved to the village of Russkaya Berezovka in Belgorod okrug. By this time the southern part of Kursk province was divided between these two okrugs. Vladyka served legally, with the permission of the authorities, in the church of Russkaya Berezovka until December 10, 1927. Then he was summoned to the OGPU, but went into hiding and moved, now on an illegal basis, to the village of Dronovka. In February and the beginning of March, 1928, Bishop Barlaam went to Leningrad and met Vladyka Demetrius (Lyubimov), who, according to Fr. Basil Podgorny, ordered him to hand over the "Stefanite" communities to the nearest Josephite hierarch, Bishop Alexis (Buj). On March 18 this transfer was effected and Bishop Barlaam went to Maikop. But he retained his links with the "Stefanites" until his arrest in the autumn of 1929.

At first Bishop Alexis appointed Fr. Basil dean "of all the Ukraine and the Caucasus", but from 1929 only dean "of the Sumy church okrug" (including Sumy, Kharkov, Artemov, Belgorod and Vladimir okrugs, where there also existed "Stefanite" communities). Besides that, in March, 1928 he transferred him from the St. Elijah church in Ugroyedy to the St. Andrew church in Sumy. In 1928 the "Stefanites" held a conference in which they elected a deanery council composed of Fr. Basil, Hieromonk Joasaph (Chernenko) and the laymen (later priest) A.V. Ponomarev and I.F. Kondratenko. This council also had periodic meetings. The movement gradually spread, including Kupyansky okrug, the Donbass and even in Taganrog there appeared a "Stefanite" prayer house with a priest. In the Sumy area alone there were about 20 similar parishes: in the towns of Sumy, Akhtyrka, slob. Bolshaya Pisarevka, at Krasnopolya station, in the villages of Bolnoye, Yablochnoye, Radomlya, Vyazomlya, Trostyanets, Krinichnoye, and others.

After the arrest of Bishop Alexis in April, 1929, the "Stefanites" officially approached Bishop Paul (Kratirov) with a request that he accept them under his omophorion. Vladyka agreed to accept them, but only as separate parishes, and not as a single "Podgornyite" organization. So there was no formal union, although Bishop Paul de facto looked after them, giving hierarchical advice, resolving various conflicts in the communities, and several times sending their candidates for ordination to Archbishop Demetrius in Leningrad. He even sent clergy coming over from other movement to Fr. Basil, as the dean of the Sumy okrug. In general Bishop Paul was favourably inclined towards the "Stefanites" and defended them before Vladyka Demetrius, who by no means liked everything he saw in them (many Leningrad Josephites considered the followers of Elder Stefan to be hardly more than sectarians).

About two-thirds of the "Stefanite" communities were composed of prosperous peasants, and they naturally had negative opinions of what the State organs were doing, the more so in that the elder had supposedly "prophesied" that Soviet power would fall in 1933. The situation became especially tense in 1930 in connection with massive collectivization, which took place only with great difficulty in the "Stefanite" villages. Thus the president of the church council of the Trostyanetsky parish, I. Kondratenko, publicly declared: "They rob the peasants constantly, and the stupid peasants stupidly still give them bread voluntarily. One should not give bread to the Antichrist, for our bread is our blood, which the antichrist is shedding instead of wine, as is written in our holy books."

In the summer of 1930 a wave of anti-collectivization swept through the villages of Bolshe-Pisarevsky, Bogodukhovsky and Akhtyrsky regions, almost exclusively where there existed "Stefanite" communities: Polyanoye, Lyudzha, V. Lyudzha, Volnoye, v. Pozhnya, Dobrinskoye, Soldatskoye, K. Ivany, B. Ivany, Syennoye and Bakhirevka. At times the agitation acquired active expression. Fr. Basil witnessed during his investigation: "I know of an attempt by Isaiah Kushnarev, hieromonk of Vysoky, Akhtyrka region, to stir the people up to undertake a 'crusade' against Soviet power in the village of Nikitovka, Trostynetsky region. In the summer of 1930… with this aim in mind he preached in church against Soviet power and suggested to the peasants that they move against it in a 'crusade'… He had a plan for moving with the people to Trostyanets. But this attempt failed." At his interrogation Hieromonk Isaiah confirmed this fact and emphasized that, following his call, nobody in the community entered the collective farm or other Soviet organizations. At the same time under the leadership of the "Stefanites" Thomas Trokhov and Peter Zmiyevsky, there were two armed uprisings: on July 8 in the village of Korbiny Ivany, and on August 10 in the village of Volny. After their suppression the units of Trokhov and Zmiyevsky undertook several attacks of village cooperatives. It was these attacks that served as the only real argument for the OGPU's characterization of the Josephite movement as a "revolutionary, terrorist organization". But in fact these uprisings were undertaken without the blessing of the deanery council of the "Stefanites". Trokhov tried to receive the blessing of Fr. Basil Podgorny, saying that he was choosing a "green army", but he met with a negative reaction.

Soon after the suppression of these uprisings in the villages of Sumy and Kharkov okrugs, on October 16, 1930 13 leaders of the "Stefanites", including Fr. Basil and two members of the deanery council, were arrested. Fr. Basil was arrested as the leader of the Sumy and Debalstevsky group of the Kharkov branch of the True Orthodox Church. On January 2, 1932 he was sentenced in accordance with article 54-10 to ten years in the camps.

However, the arrests of most of the "Stefanite" priests took place later - in December, 1930 to January, 1931. For example, the superior of the church of the Archangel Michael in the town of Akhtyrka, Fr. Philip Nazarchuk, was seized after he and other members of the parish council had (on December 7) refused to give their signatures to the police that they would not hinder the removal of the bells.

On October 17, 1930 the OGPU arrested the leader of the "Stefanite" community in the Donbass, Fr. Theodore Pavlov. He was serving as superior of the Exaltation of the Cross prayer house in the town of Debaltsevo, and was also looking after communities in the towns of Makeyevka, Stalino, Slavyansk, Verkhyansk, Artemovsk, Roveneky, and the villages of Fashevka, Chernukhino, Konstantinovka and Nikitovka, The Verkhnyansk group number 200 people, the Debaltsevo group - 80, the rest were fewer in number. The "Stefanite" community in Debaltsevo was created at the end of 1927 by Hieromonk Isaiah (Kushnarev), and at the beginning of 1928 Fr. Basil Podgorny sent Fr. Theodore Pavlov to the town. After the arrest of the latter there were no more services, although clergy from the neighbouring Josephite parish at Khanzhonovka station came to Debaltsevo - Monk Ananius (Chernov) and the priest Fr. Metrophanes Dus. There were two nuns in the community - Catherine (Batyushkov) and Maria (Tarakanova). The four members of the parish council were arrested on January 16, 1931.

Fr. Alexander Vasiliyevich Ponomarev was born in 1888 in Sumy. He finished his studies at a theological seminary. He became a "Stefanite"

priest and a member of the illegal Deanery Council of the "Stefanites". On January 16, 1931 he was arrested in connection with the Kharkov branch of the True Orthodox Church, and on December 14, 1931 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years in the camps.

There were other True Orthodox, though not "Stefanite", communities in the Donbass. Thus in Kadievsky okrug (from 1929) there were three such parishes: in the village of Sokolovo, Pervomaisk region (superior of the church: Priest Sergius Petrov), in the village of Annenkovo, Kadievsky region (Priest Nicephorus Polous) and in the village of Troitskoye, Papasnyansky region (Priest Arcadius Solovyev). They were all under the omophorion of Bishop Paul (Kratirov) and were destroyed by the OGPU in January, 1931.

Fr. Nicephorus Petrovich Polous was born in 1884 in the village of Novo-Alexandrovk, Artemov uyezd, in a peasant family. He had lower education. From 1899 to 1905 he was a novice in a monastery, from 1906 - choir-master in the church in the village of Yelenovka, Kadievsky uyezd, and from 1909 - in the Transfiguration church in Lugansk. In 1920 he was ordained to the diaconate and served in the church in the village of Konstantinovka. In 1926 he was ordained to the priesthood and served in the church in village of Troitskoye. In November, 1930 he was arrested in the village of Annenkovo, Kadievsky region and sentenced in accordance with article 54-10 to eighteen months in the camps. He was sent to Lugansk prison. On April 30, 1931 he was arraigned for investigation in connection with the Kakievsky group of the Kharkov branch of the True Orthodox Church. On December 14, 1931 he was sentenced in accordance with article 58-10 to three years in the camps.

There was a large group of Josephites in Stalinsky (Donetsk) okrug led by Protopriests Seraphim Kirillov and Nicholas Tolmachev. It was composed of parishes in the villages of Elizavetovka, Grigoryevka-1, Grigoryevka-2, Yasinovataya, Staro-Beshevo, Rutchenkovo, Andreyevka, Olgovskoye and others. These protopriests had had contacts with Bishop Paul since 1927, although they officially joined him only in 1930. They had several illegal meetings of True Orthodox clergy - for example, in July, 1929 in the village of Staro-Beshevo, at which political questions - resistance to collectivization, non-payment of local taxes, etc. - were discussed. During his investigation Protopriest Tolmachev said: "In 1927 Bishop Paul suggested to me in his flat in Kharkov that I organize 'farmhouse' groups, to which special attention was devoted and on which great hopes were placed. These underground groups, organized as far as possible in every village, and in every factory, in the words of Vladyka Paul Kratirov, had to be the base of counter-revolution, the activisists of the cruellest and most irreconcilable struggle with Soviet power…" But such statements raise grave doubts, especially since they were elicited under threats or tortures.

Among the Donetsk Josephites there were also Johnites (not to be confused with the worshippers of St. John of Kronstadt who were justified at a church trial under Metropolitan Benjamin in Petrograd). Their community was in the village of Olgovskoye. It maintained contact with one of the leaders of the Johnites in the Western Ukraine, Priest Gregory Nikitin. Secret services took place in the house of D.G. Shakhovtsov. In 1930 the active Johnite nun Pelagia (Boiko) moved from Podolsk diocese to Stalinsky okrug.

Arrests of Josephites took place in this okrug in January, 1931, but only 7 people were repressed in this period: Protopriest Seraphim G. Kirillov, Protopriest Nicholas.V. Tolmachev, Priest A.F. Orlovsky, Nun Pelagia (Boiko), Church choir director P.A. Orlovsky and the laypeople D.G. Shakhovtsov and S.M. Sulina.

Some of the clergy of Marioupol okrug who separated from Metropolitan Sergius were linked with Bishop Paul and Protopriest Seraphim. The antisergianist movement in Marioupol appeared after Bishop Anthony (Pankeyev) of Marioupol was exiled to Siberia and removed from his see by Metropolitan Sergius. Discontent was felt especially in the brotherhoods and sisterhoods which had been organized by Bishop Anthony. In Marioupol itself the movement was centred for some time in the Greek cathedral church, but from 1929 the laymen who had separated from Sergius met only in the house of M.E. Kuznetsov, where the True Orthodox Monk Tikhon (Danilenko) lived. Besides this, there were several non-sergianist village churches in the okrug: in the village of Kirpichevo (Priest John), in the village of Petrikovka (Monk Andrew), in the village of Melekino (Priest Simeon Romanenko), at Maiorsk station (Hieromonk Ananius (Berezovksy). Some of them went under the omophorion of Bishop Paul in 1930 - January, 1931. At the beginning of 1931 6 people were arrested in Marioupol in connection with the affair of the True Orthodox Church in the Ukraine.

(Source: M.V. Shkarovsky, "Istinno-pravoslavniye na Ukrainye", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 48, N 9 (585), September, 1998, pp. 19-25; I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyoz…", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, pp. 320-321)

Archimandrite Macarius, in the world Macarius Anisimovich Velichko, was born in 1866 in the village of Kolesniki, Volhynia province. He received elementary education. He was tonsured into the mantia with the name Macarius, ordained to the priesthood and raised to the rank of archimandrite. He served in the Kiev Caves Lavra. On January 16, 1930 he was arrested in connection with the affair of the Kharkov branch of the True Orthodox Church. On January 2, 1932 he was sentenced in accordance with articles 58-10 and 11 to five years in the camps. On April 22, 1933 he was released early, but had to live only in two cities.

Archimandrite Eustratius (Lvovich Grumkov) was born in 1883 in Vilnius. He finished his studies at a theological seminary, was tonsured into the mantia with the name Eustratius, was ordained to the priesthood and raised to the rank of archimandrite. He was an igumen of the Kiev Caves Lavra. On January 15, 1930 he was arrested in connection with the affair of the Kharkov branch of the True Orthodox Church. On January 2, 1932 he was sentenced in accordance with articles 58-10 and 11 to five years in the camps.

(Source: I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyoz…", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, p. 285)


Hieromonk Seraphim was born in 1875 in Kharkov, or in the surrounding region. He was called Daniel. In his youth he entered a monastery and struggled in it. The monastery is to this day situated in the centre of Kharkov. At his tonsure Daniel was given the name Seraphim in honour of St. Seraphim of Sarov. Monk Seraphim was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) at the beginning of the revolution. Fr. Seraphim later left his monastery because he was ill and lived with a poor widow who looked after him until he recovered. In 1937 he was sentenced to three years for "illegal" activity. In 1946 he was sentenced for the second time to seven years. At his trial in Kiev, in the presence of more than ten clergy, a general offered Fr. Seraphim a parish on condition that he was registered and would serve with other priests who recognized the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. Fr. Seraphim was refused and was sent to serve his term in prison. On being released, he continued to serve the church in an illegal situation. He had the gift of clairvoyance.

Fr. Seraphim died in 1955. He was buried in secret. When his grave was discovered an army unit arrived to lift the coffin. When they had dug down to the coffin, they found that a corner of it had already wasted away and a fragrance could be smelt through the opening. The bosses said: "The believers put so many perfumes into the coffin that the fragrance spreads to this day." When they opened the coffin, the body was lying in such a condition as if it had been buried only yesterday. When the boss was told that the body had been lying in the grave for one and a half years, he was embarrassed and said: "This cannot be." But when he was finally convinced, he was very perplexed what to do. Soon the coffin with the body was taken somewhere else. Many people from the city of Chugeva, 45 kilometres from Kharkov, were witnesses of this event.

No one knows where Fr. Seraphim's grave now is. The boss only said: "We shall see that they don't come in crowds to his grave." When he was still alive, batyushka used to say to his spiritual children: "When I die, they won't give peace to my body in the grave."

Before his death batyushka said: "I cannot appoint a priest for you, but I give you instructions on how to live if you want to be saved. I entrust you to the Mother of God, and if you follow my instructions, you will be saved."

(Source: I.M. Kotlyar, in Russkij Palomnik, N 18, 1998, pp. 144-145)

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