Nicetas (Lekhan) Hieroconfessor Of Kharkov

Hieroconfessor Nicetas, in the world Nicetas Auxentievich Lekhan, was born in 1893 in the Poltava district. He was from a poor peasant family. It seems that he had no theological education. Nevertheless, as a priest he was renowned for his flaming sermons, which breathed the spirit of ancient Orthodox popular wisdom and were distinguished by their literary correctness.

Fr. Nicetas married, and a daughter was born to him. In 1923 he was ordained to the priesthood in the Dnepropetrovsk diocese and served in the village of Ovsyuki, Cherkassky province. In this village there lived some True Orthodox nuns, who had come there from various closed monasteries. They told him about sergianism, the way in which the official Russian Church under Metropolitan Sergius had surrendered to the communists. But he was young then and did not listen to them particularly. But then, as he himself related, the Lord sent him a penance for his service in the "sergianist church": he was arrested. Throughout his years in prison he considered it a punishment, and not an exploit. He thought the sam with regard to those convinced sergianist bishops and priests who were arrested in spite of their agreement with the atheists. When Fr. Nicetas had worked out the real church situation, he even wrote a book about it.

Fr. Nicetas said that there were some Christians in prison who did not give their names to the atheists. They only said that they were Christians. They were tortured and kept in isolation cells. Fr. Nicetas himself always declared openly to the investigators that he was against Soviet power. And when they asked him why he had written against Soviet power, didn't he know that he would get prison for it? batyushka replied: "I knew, but I wrote because it was the truth."

Such a reply was characteristic of Fr. Nicetas, who always forbade his spiritual children to lie. Once a nun advised him to hide from the Catacomb Christians that he had been in the Moscow Patriarchate. But he honestly told people that previously he had been in the "Soviet church", and then realized that it was a sin.

He was condemned three times by the authorities. During his first term he understood that he could not be with Metropolitan Sergius. When he came out of prison, he was offered a parish and agreed to take it, but did not commemorate the bishop of the official church. Then, when the authorities compelled him to sign the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, he refused and was imprisoned for the second time. When the Germans occupied the Ukraine in 1941 he was freed, and for a time served openly in the village of Belousovka, where he had many spiritual children who remained faithful to Orthodoxy. After the end of the Second World War he was offered the chance to remain a priest and serve officially in a church, but for this he would have to join the communist party. He refused, was arrested on the denunciation of a komsomol member, and was given a 25-year sentence.

In 1955 there was a big amnesty after the death of Stalin, and Fr. Nicetas was released. He arrived in the village of Ovsyuki and began to serve as a priest. However, his wife had long ago left him for another man, and his house had been turned into a school.

So he went to the catacomb nun Mastridia, who had been for 36 years in a monastery and who lived in the same village with her niece. Fr. Nicetas lived in their house for a year. However, there was little room in the house and it was not seemly for a priest and a nun to live together, so he had to think of finding some other accomodation.

While in prison Fr. Nicetas had met the Orthodox gypsy Antipas, who now invited him to live with him in Moldavia because, as he explained, there were many sergianist priests there, but he wanted a True Orthodox priest. There, in Moldavia, Fr. Nicetas was again arrested. However, he was released after one night in the house of preliminary detention.

After this Fr. Nicetas had to leave Moldavia, and for a long time he lived as a wanderer. Then he arrived in Kharkov, poor, with a stick, a prayer rope and a thin ryasa, and stood with the beggars on the threshold of the church. But he did not go inside. His future spiritual children wondered who he was and why he didn't go into the church. Then they got to know him, and decided to go with him to Glinsk Desert. There they received Communion and Holy Unction, but he did not come up. They thought: what kind of a man is this? Then little by little he began to tell them that it was wrong to go to the Moscow Patriarchate. They asked why he hadn't told them before. But he said that they wouldn't have believed him immediately. Then he told them about the new heresy, sergianism, which Metropolitan Sergius had introduced by his declaration in 1927. They did not all believe him straightaway. Some followed him, but others hesitated for some years. They decided to test the truth of his words. The Soviet official in charge of church affairs in Kharkov had a servant, an illiterate woman, but a Christian. She suggested that Mother A. come and look through the papers and journals in the possession of the official. Mother A. went and found the text of the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in the papers. This convinced her to leave the sergianists and join Fr. Nicetas.

After coming to understand the heresy of sergianism, Fr. Nicetas was always looking for a True Orthodox bishop so that he could offer repentance for having belonged to the "Soviet church" and be united with the True Church. In this respect he shared the heavy fate of many similarly placed pastors and laymen in the post-war period who could not find canonical bishops in Russia, although there still were some. When he could not find a True Orthodox bishop, Fr. Nicetas put his hope on the mercy of God and began to perform Divine services in view of the constant requests he received from his numerous Catacomb flock. Fr. Nicetas' position was justified by the fact that he was recognized by other True Orthodox clergy who had pre-revolutionary or non-sergianist orders. For example, he had links with the brother of New Martyr Ishmael Rozhdestvensky, Fr. Michael Rozhdestvensky (+1987), who later buried him. He also had links with Fr. Gregory Trosinetsky and others. In the 1970s a reader in the Moscow historical museum obtained for Fr. Nicetas a valuable document composed by Hieromartyr Demetrius of Gdov, the leader of the Catacomb Church in the 1930s, in which Archbishop Demetrius blessed all antisergianist clergy to carry out Divine services if for reasons that did not depend on them they were unable to find a true bishop. Fr. Nicetas made a photocopy of this document which remains to this day.

As his ruling bishop Fr. Nicetas began to commemorate the first-hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastasius, and then Metropolitan Philaret. And he wrote a little book about Metropolitan Philaret which he distributed among the believers. Fr. Nicetas more than once tried to contact the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad. He sent a letter to Metropolitan Philaret and Archbishop Leontius of Chile asking to be received under the metropolitan's omophorion. But at that time it was very difficult to make contact.

However, in 1977 Fr. Nicetas succeeded in sending his written confession to Metropolitan Philaret, and by the beginning of the 1980s another priest who had links with abroad made a written request to Archbishop Anthony of Geneva concerning Fr. Nicetas. And then the Synod accepted this recommendation of Fr. Nicetas as a truly Orthodox pastor.

Fr. Nicetas never possessed a Soviet passport. At first his spiritual children tried to get him registered in Kharkov, but the head of the passport section honestly said that he were registered he would be spied on, and it was better for him to live somewhere in the countryside and become a shepherd or bee-keeper in some private household. That is what they did. Later, with God's help, he managed somehow to avoid having his documents checked.

At first, Fr. Nicetas's spiritual children in Kharkov took him to live with them. But he often had to move from one flat to another since the neighbours denounced him to the police. The fact that he was not arrested at that time was a miracle of God. Some years later, towards the end of the 70s, batyushka's spiritual children succeeded in buying a small house for him in a village, where he settled.

The Kharkov community numbered about thirty people, but new people gradually came, and by the 60s Fr. Nicetas already had a large flock. When catacomb priests died the orphaned flock would stream to the remaining living priests. Thus among Fr. Nicetas' flock were believers who had previously belonged to the flocks of the True Orthodox priests Fathers Andrew, Paul and Alexis.

When Fr. Andrew died, his flock, who lived in Chuvashia, did not know where to find a True Orthodox priest. But one believer had a dream in which the reposed Fr. Andrew took him by the hand and said to him: "Go to him".

Fr. Paul was also a very good and zealous priest. He was killed in a tragic way, being knocked down by a train. None of his spiritual children knew about this, and he was taken away to one of the Kharkov morgues. And they were about to bury him, since three days had already passed. But the Lord arranged it that one believing woman, a worker at the morgue, saw a little bag with the Holy Gifts round Fr. Paul's neck. She did not let them bury him, but said that people were bound to come looking for him. And sure enough, a few days later the servant of God Raya, who was looking for Fr. Paul, came to the morgue and recognized him. His grave is in Kharkov.

Fr. Alexis was also a Catacomb Orthodox priest living in a village in the Kuban. When he died, his spiritual children went to Fr. Nicetas.

Thus there gathered around Fr. Nicetas a flock composed of people from Siberia, Central Asia, Chuvashia, Central Russia and other places. Many believers were sent to him by Mother Margarita of Voronezh. At Pascha up to 100 people from various places would gather at the village where Fr. Nicetas lived, but this was only a part of his flock. There was no church in that village, so when batyushka's spiritual children arrived and stood all together at the bus stop, people were amazed seeing so many women dressed in scarves and long dresses. So that bus stop acquired the name: "The Saints' Stop".

Of course, denunciations were made. Following these denunciations inquiries were made from the centre, but once again, through the Providence of God the local chief was a believer and a decent man. And he replied to the centre that he had not seen any no "religious gatherings" in that village. Even the chief's wife crossed herself when she passed the little house in which Fr. Nicetas lived. Thus the people there were good, the whole village was believing.

Fr. Nicetas was known to Catacomb Christians throughout the Soviet Union thanks to his missionary activity, for he composed numerous little books and pamphlets which were greatly beloved by the believers, who thirsted for the word of righteousness. Batyusha said about the Moscow Patriarchate in his booklets that those who had consciously left should not even drop in to the "Soviet churches" in case they were deceived again. Concerning the "patriarchs" of the Moscow Patriarchate he said sorrowfully that an abyss awaited them, because they were like Judas, only Judas had betrayed Christ while they were betraying the believing people, especially the children, who were deprived of church education by the atheists, while the Moscow Patriarchate dared to bless and support such an authority.

Mother A. went with Fr. Nicetas round the parishes. Once they came to Biisk in Siberia, where a drunkard hurled himself at batyushka because of his beard and long hair. He shouted: "You're a priest, you're against Soviet power!" The next morning, when he had slept it off, he began to beg forgiveness. And this happened constantly. Numerous temptations awaited batyushka on the road. But he had to go, everywhere believers were waiting for him to perform baptisms, marriages and funerals. When batyushka arrived at distant communities, he did not serve the Liturgy, but communed the believers with the Reserved Gifts. He often had to hide when neighbours or the police interrupted a secret Divine service. Once batyushka was going to perform some needs in a village with the nun Eustolia with a basket full of prosphorae. Suddenly some men appeared, seized him on the road and took him to the village soviet. But batyushka prayed for deliverance to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The president of the soviet wanted to write down an affidavit of the interrogation, but for some reason not one of his pens worked. He got angry and said: "Take the sorcerer out of here!" But he did not allow Fr. Nicetas and Nun Eustolia to be put on a bus, so they left on foot. That was how St. Nicholas saved batyushka from yet another imprisonment.

Batyushka was a fine preacher, he gave sermons every Sunday, usually on moral themes. He called on his flock to live honestly and decently, without doublemindedness and without compromising with their consciencese or taking part in the works of darkness done by Soviet people. He called on all to be true Christians.

As indicated above, Fr. Nicetas' wife had abandoned him after his first arrest, fearing that she, too, would be arrested. She nourished in their daughter a dislike of her priestly father, and she renounced him. Some years later, Fr. Nicetas' spiritual children arranged a meeting, and his daughter said to her father and his spiritual children: My Papa is a very good man, but he has chosen a way of life which means that I cannot be with him. So this meeting must be the last one." At that time she was studying in an institute and she was ashamed before her student friends because her father had a beard. Then she said openly that she did not believe in God, although after saying this she blushed from shame. Batyushka suffered much because of his daughter's unbelief. And once he wrote a whole apologetic work for his daughter. He wrote that many famous people in the history of mankind had believed in God, and produced various examples. This work was brought to Fr. Nicetas' daughter, but when she read it she became very angry and said that if her father had been there, her mother would have put him in prison again.

On April 20, 1983 there died Ivan Nikiforovich Polchaninov, the reader and founder of Fr. Nicetas' church.

Fr. Nicetas fell ill three months before his death. Every day he communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. He died on the feast of St. Catherine, November 24, 1985 (old style). He was buried by the True Orthodox priest Fr. Michael Rozhdestvensky.

(Source "Vospominaniya dukhovnykh chad ob o. Nikite", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 49, N 7 (571), July, 1997, pp. 12-18)





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