Bishop Laurence, in the world Eugene Ivanovich Knyazev, was born in Kashira. He came from a priest's family.and graduated from St. Petersburg
Theological Academy in 1902. Then he became a rector of theological seminaries, first in Novgorod, then in Vilnius, where the future Patriarch Tikhon was archbishop. From November 6, 1908 he served as a teacher, and was inspector of the Tauris theological seminary. There, beloved by teachers and pupils, he attracted the attention of society and Bishop Alexis of Tauris. He was distinguished for his modesty and quietness, and was in spiritual communion with the Optina elders, who highly esteemed him. He practised the Jesus prayer. On January 24, 1912, at the age of 45, he was tonsured as a
monk on Valaam by Archbishop Sergius (Stragorodsky). On March 5, 1912 he was ordained to the priesthood, and in February, 1917 in Moscow he was consecrated Bishop of Balakhna, a vicariate of the diocese of Nizhni Novgorod, by Patriarch Tikhon.
When the revolution came, he said:
"Now I must become spiritual, now the Church is in need, and I must serve her."
In the same year he organized the Holy Transfiguration Brotherhood. From April 4, 1918 he took temporary charge of the Nizhni-Novgorod diocese after the retirement of Archbishop Joachim (Levitsky), living in the Caves monastery. He often served, and especially loved akathists and reading the prayer "My All-blessed Queen" in front of the icon of the Mother of God the Quick Hearer. He always gave sermons after the Liturgy.
His three last sermons ended with the words: "Beloved brothers and sisters, we are living through a quite special time, before us all there stands the feat of confession, and for some - martyrdom."
In the house of a matushka which he often visited he used to say that a martyric end had been foretold him. They told the story that when he was living in Vilnius he gave gave his klobuk to a women's monastery, asking them to put it in order. The nun who occupied herself with this work cleaned it, ironed the basting, put it on the kamilavka and went up to the mirror to see whether it looked right. She was raising the klobuk above her head so as to put it on herself when she suddenly fell down unconscious. She had seen a
fiery crown above the klobuk.
Vladyka spend one year and seven months in Nizhni-Novgorod. Towards the end of 1918 they came to the hierarchical house looking for Archbishop Joachim, and, not finding him, asked: "Where is the hierarch?" They replied: "In the Caves." They went there and arrested Bishop Laurence.
Vladyka was two months in prison, first in the new palisade, and then in the old. At that time there were still house churches in the prisons. There they brought hierarchical vestments for Vladyka, and he served there on feastdays.
There were many people in the cells, but no cots, everyone slept on the floor, but Vladyka had a bed, and the prisoners believed that whoever layon Vladyka's bed would be released to go home - which was what happened. Many people asked to rest on his cot.
Every day matushka and her relatives brought him parcels. Vladyka sent back notes, linen and empty bowls. Once he sent back a worn out prayer rope, requesting that it be exchanged for a new one. This prayer rope was givento Fr. Barnabas (the future bishop), who took them and said: "A working prayer rope."
On the eve of the Mother of God of those who Sorrow, October 21, during the day Vladyka was summoned to the Cheka. He went on foot through the whole city, accompanied by one soldier with a rifle. Along the road people wentup to him and asked for his blessing, while those who followed him noticed that Vladyka often took out a handkerchief and, evidently, wept. Passing a church, he stopped. It was the church's patronal feast, and the all-night vigil was in progress. Some of the worshippers came out, and Vladyka blessed them.
Until then there had been no interrogations. But now they accused him of writing an appeal to the people at a conference of the clergy in the summer, in which the following words of the Apostle Paul were quoted: "Put on the
whole armour of God". His signature was under the appeal as being the president of the conference. Protopriest Alexis Porfiriev, the superior of the cathedral, signed as deputy president. They were summoned together. Fr. Alexis was summoned after Vladyka, until then he had never been summoned.
That day he was in a particularly joyful mood, and he said goodbye to everyone in the cell in the firm conviction that he was going to be released.
After they had been accused they were sentenced to be shot. However,
they were offered clemency on condition that they renounced their priesthood. They refused. Then the final sentence was read out.
Vladyka had the Holy Gifts with him. He communed himself and then communed Fr. Alexis. Vladyka was calm and joyful, Fr. Alexis wept. Vladyka said: "Why are you weeping, we must rejoice. I'm ready!" Fr. Alexis replied that he was sorry for his family. Afterwards Fr. Alexis' daughter told matushka that she had never seen her father weep.
They were led into the garden and placed on the edge of a freshly dug grave. Vladyka raised his arms and prayed a fiery prayer, while Fr. Alexis stood with his head lowered, with his hands folded on his breast, repeating the prayer of the publican: "O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." The Russian soldiers refused to shoot. They had heard the chanting of the Cherubikon.
They summoned some Latvians (according to another source, Chinese), who carried out the sentence.
At about eleven o'clock, the mother of the woman who gave this account was standing not far off with some other people when they heard shots in the garden. Then the lights went out in the house and the drunken Latvians came out. But the investigator who had conducted the affair, came that night at the request of Vladyka to the people who were close to him, bringing his things. He told them everything, threw the things down and went off to his homeland in Latvia, saying that there had been no substance to the crime.
Vladyka Laurence was tall with blonde hair and light blue eyes, and was a little hunched. His voice was quiet, and his movements were measured. He cared little for his outer appearance. He was forty-two years old when he
died. Of his relatives, only his widowed mother survived him.
Some time later, a woman who had known Vladyka well was on her way to the early Liturgy when she passed the Cheka and saw two bodies being taken out of the gates. She boldly asked who they were. They replied that they were the bodies of a bishop and a priest. "Where are you taking them?" "To Mochalny island. From there they will be thrown into the Volga."
Fr. Alexis' daughter told her mother that her father never served the Liturgy without reading the akathist to the Heavenly Queen, "the Joy of all who Sorrow". He died on that day.
The above account is supplemented by the following written by Hieromonk Alexis (Voskresensky) in 1919: "On June 1, 1918, in accordance with my own will and a resolution of his Reverence Laurence, bishop of Balakhna and ruling hierarch of the Nizhegorod diocese, I was transferred from the Nizhni Novgorod Caves Monastery to the Oransk monastery. Now that I have completed my first year in this monastery and have entered upon my second year, I consider it necessary in the present notes to give an account, albeit short, of the events which took place both in the monastery of my personal and private life, and in the life of the Oransk community, for they have an historical significance for the community, which is why it would be unforgiveable not to recount them in writing and thereby consign them to oblivion.
"On June 24, 1918 there began the affair of Archimandrite Augustine which was to be so unfortunate for the Oransk monastery. Both at the beginning of this sad affair and after the arrest of Augustine [which took place on July 7], the monastery led an extremely anxious life, for it could not be unaware that the surrounding population had been incited against it and could inflict any unpleasantness it wanted on it, the more so in thatthe man at the head of its administration, the treasurer and hieromonk Demetrius (Arkhangelsky), had no authority even among the brotherhood, not to speakof the surrounding inhabitants. He did not possess those characteristics which are necessary for a man upon whom the lot has fallen of being at the headof a well-known organization. Everybody recognized that they were living through a critical time, so order was maintained as if by itself, for everybody considered it his duty to fulfil the duties laid upon him in a conscientious manner, and not out of fear. In the course of this life everybody was conscious of the need to see a man at the head of the monastery's administration who would have had experience of life and possess in abundance the qualities necessary for a monastic community. Such a man had been promised to the monastery since July 9 by Bishop Laurence. Archimandrite Arcadius had been his deputy for 15 years, and at the given time was governing the Oransk Gulyaevsky desert. And Bishop Laurence had issued a corresponding resolution granting Fr. Arcadius the rights of the deputy of the monastery.
"Finally, during the night of July 18-19 Archimandrite Arcadius arrived. Almost on his footsteps there appeared at the monastery the regional commissar of the Nizhegorod department of the Commissariat for the separation of the Church from the State, K.S. Karpov, together with a comrade of his. Karpov and his assistant and the treasurer of the Nizhegorod Caves Monastery, Hieromonk Simeon, had arrived to carry out an investigation of the affairof Archimandrite Augustine and an inspection of the character of his administration. From July 24 the commission, joined by Archimandrite Augustine, Igumen Polycarp, the treasurer Hieromonk Demetrius and Hieromonks Raphael and George, set about their business. At the same time Hieromonk Simeon began interrogating the whole brotherhood about the life and behaviour of Archimandrite Augustine. The work of the commission and Hieromonk Simeon lasted for several days. They brought to light a mass of malpractices and
filth which soon appeared in the columns of the "Nizhegorod workers' and peasants' broadsheet".
"August came without anything of note happening. We received obscureand confused rumours about the fate of the arrested Archimandrite Augustine, but it never entered the head of anyone to think that this sad story might have a bloody d=E9nouement. It became known that he was being accused, not because of the character of his monastic administration, nor even for malpractices in that connection, but for counter-revolutionary activity amidst the peasants of the settlements surrounding the monastery. Unfortunately, just at the moment that Archimandrite Augustine was under arrest, the attempt on the life of Lenin and the assassination of Uritsky took place. In response to this
there burst out a universal terror, the red terror, and shootings began everywhere. This circumstance had a decisive influence on the bitter fateof the unfortunate Augustine, too, which is testified by the fragmentary information supplied by various people, among them myself now. They recount that after Augustine had been transferred to prison, he together with an ardent monarchist (Protopriest Nicholas Orlovsky of the Kazan church in Nizhny-Novgorod) who was under arrest with him, and another priest, celebrated the Liturgy together in the prison church around the feast of the Dormition. This was his last priestly act.
"On the night of August 17-18 he appeared before the bench of the military-revolutionary tribunal.
"'Do you recognise Soviet power?' he was asked.
"'I do not recognise it and never will recognise it!'
"With this reply Archimandrite Augustine signed his own death sentence. By the decision of the military-revolutionary tribunal, he, Protopriest Nicholas Orlovsky and 15 other people whom I do not know were sentenced to shooting, and the so-called "Mochalny island", which was downstream alongthe Volga a little below the Caves monastery, was assigned as the place of execution.
"At dawn all those doomed to die were seated in a ferry which sailed to the fateful spot. All the unfortunates were in an state of exaltation, animatedly talking to each other and expressing the hope that they would die for the truth. They even served a pannikhida over themselves while still alive.
"On arriving at the island, all those doomed to die were placed in the required positions. Archimandrite Augustine stood firmly with his eyes fearlessly fixed on the red army men who were preparing to fire a volley. But when it rang out, the archimandrite continued standing. A second volley rang out, and a third, but to the amazement of all he continued standing, and only after the fourth volley did he fall down dead, and was buried by the red army men, or, to be more exact, he and his companions in death were covered with a bit of earth so carelessly that the inhabitants of the Caves settlement were later obliged to dig a common grave for the slaughtered ones.
"And many, many victims were offered to the terrible spirit of the times in those evil days. My cousin, Priest Alexander Alexeyevich Voskresensky of the village of Panov in Arzamas district, and his son Peter were killed in the same way at that time. Unfortunately, even now, as I write these lines, the details of the deaths of these relatives of mine are completely unknown to me, and I know no more about the death of Archimandrite Augustine.
"In spite of the fact that the time was terrible for everybody, the usual life of the monastery did not die, nor did the agricultural work which the brotherhood occupied itself as usual come to an end. They greeted the death of Archimandrite Augustine in silence, and it must be said that they had neither enough courage, nor love, nor brotherly Christian forgiveness to raise their prayers for the slaughtered man, who appeared to many in sleep, usually in the form of one preparing to perform a priestly service. I did not fear to raise his name in the common prayers. But his Reverence Laurence went still further: on the very day of the death of Archimandrite Augustine, August 18, he served a common pannikhida for the repose of the souls of the slaughtered Archimandrite Augustine and Protopriest Nicholas in his Caves monastery, not in the least suspecting, of course, that the same fate awaited him in the near future.
"The Soviet government decided to nationalise all church and monastery lands without exception, and universal decree to this effect was issued. Bishop Laurence, who was very cautious in his actions, recognized that if deprived of their lands the continued existence of the churches and monasteries was unthinkable, which is why he signed a protest against this governmental decree and sent it to the Nizhegorod region land department, persuading the senior member of the Nizhegorod Diocesan Council, the cathedral protopriest Alexis Porfiriev, and some others, to sign, too. This aimless measure proved fatal for those who signed it. It seems that his Reverence Laurence was arrested on August 24 and sent to a new prison. A few days later the other people who had signed the fatal paper were subjected to the same fate. Among them was the former regional Marshal of the Nizhegorod nobility Alexis Borisovich Neidgardt. On his arrival at the prison, the bishop was offered a special room, but he preferred to stay in a common cell, spending his first night on the bare floor. The next day his fervent admirer Catherine Ivanovna Mesina appeared at the prison bringing him a bed. They accepted the bed and passed it on as was intended, but arrested the woman who brought it, although she was released a few days later. His Reverence spent the rest of his days in prison, leaving his room only when he was required either for an interrogation or to carry out forced public labour, which consisted either in cleaning the prison courtyard or in flinging hay, or, finally, in trips to fetch water in barrels, etc. In his free time in the room, without paying any attention to the remarks and mockeries of the prisoners that were cast at him from the first day, the bishop was almost entirely occupied in praying. And he prayed with such fervour that the mockery stopped of itself, and those who were there, softened in heart by the hierarch's exploit of prayer, unwillingly began to imitate his praiseworthy example. Vladyka had no small consolation in being allowed to serve in the prison church, and he let no feast or Sunday pass without offering the bloodless sacrifice for himself and the people. His cell-attendant was allowed to meet his Reverence not less than twice a week, and sometimes (for example, on feastdays, when he carried out the duty of book-bearer while the hierarch served) more often. Through him Vladyka was provided with more nourishing food.
"Days and weeks passed as the archpastor, together with Protopriest Alexis Porfiriev and the other people, languished in prison, and no end to it was in sight. His Reverence at first entertained the hope of being released, but as time passed his hopes diminished. They say that the bishop twice sent his cell-attendant to a protopriest of the town of Balakhna with a request to inspire the citizens of Balakhna with the thought of petitioning the authorities for his release as the bishop of Balakhna. It seems that this embassy was not without effect, for the citizens of Balakhna collected up to 16,000 roubles which they were intending to offer as a deposit. And at the same time they gathered signatures for a petition for the release of his Reverence. This thought also occurred to the citizens of Nizhni-Novgorod, and signatures for a similar petition were collected in the parish churches.
"Of course, this movement could not go unnoticed by the authorities, who were in no way inclined to grant the request. The anniversary of the October revolution (October 24) and the triumph of Soviet power was approaching. On the night of that day his Reverence Laurence, Protopriest Alexis Porfirievich and Alexis Borisovich Neidgardt appeared before a military-revolutionary tribunal in the house of "the struggle against counter-revolution, speculation and sabotage" on Malo-Pokrovsky street. It seems that after giving a negative reply to the question: 'Do you recognise Soviet power?' they were taken out into the garden of the house, where they were shot. Rumours circulated in Nizhni-Novgorod that after his Reverence had been shot he fell, but did not die, and by an instinct of self-preservation crawled towards the gates, covered in blood. He was on the point of reaching them when one of the sentries noticed him. He struck him with his gun-stock so powerfully that the hierarch's head split and his brains came out. After receiving a first volley, Protopriest Alexis Porfiriev moved around the garden, but then he was shot for a second time - this time, for good.
"On the next day, which was the anniversary of the triumph of Soviet power, all those in prison, including his Reverence Laurence and Protopriest Alexis Porfiriev and the others, should have been released on amnesty. But the evil spite of men had carried them all away from the stage of life some hours earlier..."
Bishop Laurence and those with him were shot on October 24 / November 6, 1918.
According to another source, Bishop Laurence was mocked and cruelly tortured, but said to his torturers:
"Do what you will, but I will not renounce my convictions."
Before his death he called on the soldier to repent, and declared that Russia would be saved.
(Sources: M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshego Tikhona, Patriarkha Moskovskogo i Vseya Rossii, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 978; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1957, vol. II, pp. 277-78; N.V. Ivanov, "Zapiski", Posev, no. 1, 1988, pp. 60-63; Za Khrista Postradavshiye, 1917-1956, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1997, p. 27; "Vospominaniya o ep. Lavrentii (Knyazeve), Nadezhda, 1985, Frankfurt: Possev-Verlag, N 12, pp. 59-63)
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