Archbishop Seraphim, in the world Semyon Nikolayevich Samoilovich, was born on July 19, 1881 (according to another source, 1885) in Poltava province. After graduating from Poltava theological seminary in 1902 he taught in the seminary for three years. He was tonsured into the mantia in 1905 with the name Seraphim and ordained to the priesthood. He was then sent to be a teacher in the Unalaska school in Alaska. In 1905 he was appointed to the same post in Sitka. In 1906 he was appointed superior of the Nugeka spiritual mission. In 1907-08 he was a teacher in the Sitka theological seminary. During this period he was a fellow-labourer of Bishop Tikhon, the future patriarch, who highly valued him. He united personal asceticism and an intelligent approach both to the half-wild Aleut flock and to the American government in Alaska.
According to one source, in 1908 he was then appointed an assistant to the Vladikavkaz diocesan missionary, in 1909 - spiritual father of the Alexandrovsky Ardonsky theological seminary, in 1910 - prior of the Mogilev Bratsk and Tolga Yaroslav monasteries, in 1912 - abbot, and from 1915 - deputy of the Uglich Alexandrovsky monastery with promotion to the rank of archimandrite.
However, according to another source, after Bishop Tikhon was assigned to Yaroslavl in 1907, he called Hieromonk Seraphim and appointed him abbot of the Tolga monastery, four miles north of Yaroslavl, which was the summer residence of the bishop of Yaroslavl. Fr. Seraphim wrote a serious historical work, A History of the Tolga Monastery, 1314-1915, in preparation for the celebration of the six-hundredth anniversary of the monastery in August, 1914. For the benefit of the monastery and the surrounding flock, he built and opened in 1913, a mile from the monastery at the edge of a splendid forest, a school of bee-keeping for the orphan children the monastery looked after. Three weeks before the six-hundredth anniversary of the monastery, however, the First World War broke out. The abbot, in the very first days of the war, built hospital wards and actively helped Archbishop Agathangelus in the governing of the during the years of war and revolution. His courage and presence of mind saved the monastery from destruction in the summer of 1918, when the communist chekists ran about in the days of the "Yaroslavl Uprising" into the cells, basements and grave vaults of the monastery cemetery in search of "rebels". 350 innocent citizens of Yaroslavl were executed by firing squad in revenge for the assassination of the military governor, Commissar Nahimson, and the Economic Commissar Zakheim.
Soon Fr. Seraphim was transferred to Uglich, where he was made abbot of the Protection monastery and raised to the rank of archimandrite. On February 2/15, 1920 he was consecrated as bishop of Uglich, a vicariate of the Yaroslav diocese, by Patriarch Tikhon. According to one source, from July, 1922 to June, 1925 he was in Yaroslavl prison. In 1924 was raised to the rank of archbishop by the Patriarch, and in 1925 he was appointed temporary adminstrator of the Yaroslav diocese and raised to the rank of archbishop. From November 30, 1926 to March 27, 1927 he was deputy of the patriarchal locum tenens, when the first deputy, Metropolitan Sergius, was in prison.
Archbishop Seraphim categorically refused to obey the Soviet authorities in issuing a declaration of collaboration with them, considering himself to be "unauthorized to decide basic questions of principle without the hierarchs who are in prison".
On December 16/29, 1926, he addressed the episcopate of the Russian Church with this message: "I implore my colleagues, the bishops, to help me to bear the heavy and responsible cross of the administration of the Russian Church. I beg you to cut your correspondence and relations with me to the minimum, leaving all except matters of principle and those affecting the whole Church (as, for example, the selection and consecration of bishops) to be decided locally."
The authorities offered Archbishop Seraphim the possibility of forming a Synod, and indicated who should be its members. Seraphim refused, and put forward his own list of names, which included Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan.
"But he's in prison," they said.
"Then free him," said the archbishop.
Later, when Metropolitan Sergius came to form his Synod, it was composed of the same bishops as the GPU had suggested to Archbishop Seraphim.
Archbishop Seraphim did not appoint any deputies in case of his arrest. Therefore when the GPU interrogated him they asked him:
"Who will be the head of the Church if we do not free you?"
"The Lord Jesus Christ Himself," he replied.
The GPU looked at him in amazement and said:
"All of you bishops have left behind deputies, as did Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Peter."
"Well, I have left the Church in the hands of the Lord God."
For this intransigeance, Archbishop Seraphim was removed from his post three days later and sent back to Uglich. According to one source, in March, 1927 he was for three days in the inner prison of the GPU in Moscow. It was in the same month that the authorities released Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) from the same prison to take his place.
In July, 1927, Metropolitan Sergius issued his notorious "declaration", which placed the Church in more or less complete submission to the militant atheists. On January 24 / February 6, 1928, Archbishop Seraphim, together with Metropolitan Agathangel of Yaroslavl, Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, Archbishop Barlaam of Perm and Bishop Eugene of Rostov, wrote an epistle rejecting the declaration. On the same day Archbishop Seraphim personally wrote to Sergius: "Previously we suffered and endured in silence, knowing we were suffering for the truth, and that the power of God was with us and could not be conquered by any sufferings. This power is what strengthened us and inspired us with hope that at a time known to God alone the truth of Orthodoxy would be triumphant, for to it alone is promised unfailingly that whenever needful the almighty help of God will given to it.
"By your Declaration the church policy founded upon it, you are trying to lead us into a sphere where we will now be deprived of this hope, for you are leading us away from the service of truth; and God does not help lies...
"Dear Vladyka: I can imagine how you must suffer! But why do you, experiencing these sufferings yourself, not desire to lighten them for those who at one time trusted you? With what joy I gave over to you my own rights as deputy of the Locum Tenens, believing that your wisdom and experience would cooperate with you in the administration of the Church.
"But what happened? Can this fatal act really not be corrected? Will you really not find the courage to acknowledge your error, your fatal mistake, the issuance by you of the Declaration of July 16/29, 1927? You wrote to me and sincerely believed that the path you have chosen will bring peace to the Church. And what do you hear and see now? A frightful groan is carried up from all the ends of Russia. You promised to pull out two or three sufferers here and there and return them to the society of the faithful; but look how many new sufferers have appeared, whose sufferings are made yet deeper by the awareness that they are the result of your new church policy. Does this groan of the sufferers from the shores of the Oba and Yenisei rivers, from the far-off islands of the White Sea, from the deserts beyond the Caspian Sea, from the mountain ridges of Turkestan - does this groan not reach to your heart?
"How could you, by your Declaration, place upon them and upon many the stigma of opponents of the present civil order, when they and we in our spiritual nature have always been foreign to politics, guarding strictly, with self-sacrifice, the purity of Orthodoxy?
"Is it for me, who am younger, to write these lines to you? Is it for me to teach an experienced and learned Hierarch of the Russian Church? Still, the voice of my conscience compels me again and again to disturb your spacious and good heart. Show courage; acknowledge your fatal mistake, and if it is impossible for you to issue a new declaration, then for the good of the Church, give over the authority and the rights of the deputy of the Locum Tenens to someone else.
"I have the right to write you these lines and make this offer, for many now reproach me, saying that I handed over these rights of the deputy to you hastily and without reservation..."
Archbishop Seraphim was arrested on February 17, 1928 and exiled to Mogilev (according to other sources - to Ustyuzhna or Uglich). In May, according to one source, he was reconciled with Metropolitan Sergius. According to another source, however, he was arrested and exiled first to Yaroslavl, and then to the Vuinichevsky monastery in Mogilev. From there he wrote a letter to Metropolitan Sergius accusing him of "drawing our fainthearted and weak brothers into neo-renovationism."
He also wrote (although these words may belong to Archbishop Seraphim (Zvezdinsky)): "Metropolitan Sergius has fallen away from the Church, that is, by his actions he has transgressed the Church canons. Metropolitan Sergius no longer remains in the bosom of the Orthodox Church. The Church which has recognized righteousness in communism is not a Churchâ€¦ An organization bought at the price of bowing down to the Antichrist is unworthy of the Church."
According to one (dubious) source, in 1928 Archbishop Seraphim, through his representative Hieromonk Alexis, expressed his agreement with the decisions of the so-called "Nomadic Council" of the Catacomb Church, but refused to sign them.
On February 17 / March 2, 1929 (according to another source, February 14/27, and according to a third - in June, 1929) Archbishop Seraphim was sentenced to five years on Solovki, where he languished at the common labours. Once when dragging bricks in the construction of a two-storey building, he fell from a ladder and broke a rib, which healed poorly and made him an invalid. But no kind of persecution could break his powerful will.
"I myself," writes S. Grotov, "saw him for the first time after his arrival with the convoy of prisoners from Solovki in the autumn of 1930 [1931, according to another source] at the assignment point called 'New Birzha', near the northern semaphore station 'Mai-Gub', on the Murmansk railroad.
"Later I was able to have a closer acquaintance with him. Having gone on invalid status, he often was in the ambulatory section, and we, the physicians' helpers, tried to help him; he was suffering from chronic pleuritis as well as a decompensated miocarditis and general arteriosclerosis.
"Once, at the end of October on a damp, inclement day, passing by the disinfection cabin, where things were disinfected behind a hermetically-sealed door, with a prisoner-invalid for a watchman outside the room to keep robbers out, I heard myself called by name. Going up, I saw Archbishop Seraphim, numb with cold, standing watch.
"'They put us invalids at this post for two hours at a time, but I have been standing here from twelve noon and they haven't sent anyone to replace me.' (It was then about 6 p.m.)
"I ran to the invalid barracks.
"'Where is the chief?'
"'He went to the cinema,' replied the clerk.
"'Tell him that I am going to make a report to the Head of the Sanitary Division, that he is keeping prisoner Samoilovich at an outdoor post for six hours instead of two.'
"The clerk roused himself and ran to the cinema. Ten minutes later he ran back.
"'The chief has ordered him to be replaced, and asks you not to make a report.'
"'Good, but in ten minutes I will check.'
"And in fact, he woke up a decrepit colonel who was dozing on a board-bed and sent him running to replace Vladyka. The old man ran to the disinfection room. Half an hour later I again went into the barracks. The numb archbishop with satisfaction was drinking some hot tea from a cup, and I wished him a good rest.
"He was considered a 'prohibited one' - that is, he had no right to go out of the camp into the administrative buildings outside the barbed-wire fence.
"Once he asked me to call Archimandrite Gurias Yegorov, who worked in the Financial Division and was a fierce supporter of Metropolitan Sergius; later he was freed from exile, having finished his five-year term in concentration camp in 1934, and in 1946 was ordained Bishop. From that time on he was head of the 'patriarchal' church in Central Asia, with the title of Bishop of Tashkent and Central Asia.
"Archimandrite Gurias frowned.
"'After all, the archbishop is not 'ours', and it's not fitting for me even to talk with him. I have no right to receive a blessing from him.'
"'No one is asking this of you, Father Gurias. But after all, he is a prohibited one, and you and I have passes. If, knowing who you are, he has asked you to come to him in camp,' I protested, 'can we, ourselves prisoners, refuse to visit a prisoner in the camp, even if he is a heretic? A physicians' helper shouldn't have to teach an archimandrite.'
"He was upset and came with me. I accompanied him to the ambulatory section and left him together with the archbishop, whom I had summoned there.
"The handsome forty-year-old archimandrite-bookkeeper, bending his head, spoke with the bent-over, decrepit archbishop. What they talked about, I don't know.
"In March, 1932, Vladyka was freed before the end of his term, counting (in accordance with the decree of 1931) five days of labour equal to six. This was arranged for him by the pious prisoners of the bookkeeping division, who counted the working days in such a way as to reduce the term. In 1934 this 'liberal' decree was revoked.
"[In May, 1932] Archbishop Seraphim was sent by convoy into exile into the region of Komi, where the Zyryani people live, to the north of Vyatka. He grew weaker in body, but was firm in spirit. He considered that in an epoch of persecutions there should not be any centralized Church government. A bishop should govern his diocese independently. In exile he should be the head of the secret Church wherever he is staying; he should ordain secret priests and perform secret monastic tonsures."
More information about Archbishop Seraphim is provided by the responses of Archbishop Macarius (Karmazin) during his interrogation by the NKVD in the autumn of 1934 - although, as with all NKVD records, these cannot be assumed to be completely accurate. Archbishop Macarius is reported as saying that Archbishop Seraphim still considered himself to be the patriarchal locum tenens although he was in exile in Arkhangelsk, and that through his secretary, Fr. Nicholas Piskanovsky, he offered Archbishop Macarius the administration of his former diocese of Dnepropetrovsk and gave him other duties. "... In the summer of 1934 Archbishop Seraphim.. sent a special epistle which confirmed the practice of implanting illegal churches and poured an enlivening stream into our activity...."
There is some evidence from the protocols of the trial of Archbishop Theodore of Volokolamsk in 1937 that Archbishop Seraphim issued a letter in 1934 declaring Metropolitan Sergius to be under ban for his actions since 1927. In 1935 Archbishop Theodore and some other Catacomb bishops convened a "Little Council" in Archangelsk, which supported Archbishop Seraphim's epistle.
In 1934 Archbishop Seraphim was condemned to five years in the camps, and carried out this sentence in the Kemerovo camps in Siberia. He was shot in camp on November 9 (or perhaps 4), 1937.
(Sources: Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky), Die Russischen Orthodoxen Bischofe von 1893-1965, Erlangen, 1989, vol. 6, pp. 74-76; S. Grotov, "Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich", The Orthodox Word, vol. 15, no. 3 (86), May-June, 1979; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshego Tikhona, Patriarkha Moskovskogo i Vseya Rossii, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, pp. 617-618, 675, 892; N.A., "Nye bo vragom Tvoim tajnu povyem..." Vyestnik Germanskoj Eparkhii Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi za Granitsej, 1992, no. 1, p. 18; Arfed Gustavson, The Catacomb Church, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, 1960; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Istoki i svyazi Katakombnoj Tserkvi v Leningrade i obl. (1922-1992)", report read at the conference "The Historical Path of Orthodoxy in Russia after 1917", Saint Petersburg, 1-3 June, 1993; "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Kochuyushchij Soboer 1928 g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 3 (7), p. 7; Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 7 (1532), April 1/14, 1995, pp. 8-9; "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Katakombnoj Tserkvi 11922-1997gg.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4(8), p. 5; Lev Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-1945, Moscow: Krutitskoye patriarsheye podvorye, 1996, pp. 584-585; Ikh Stradaniyami Ochistitsa Rus', Moscow, 1996, p. 75; Michael Khlebnikov, "O tserkovnoj situatsii v Kostrome v 20-20-ye gody", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 49, N 5 (569), May, 1997, pp. 18-28; personal archive of V.K.; Victor Antonov, "Yeshcho raz o svyashchennomuchenike Sergii (Druzhinine), Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 48, N 2 (578), February, 1998, p. 19; "Noviye danniya k zhizneopisaniyu svyashchennomuchenika Fyodora, arkhiepiskopa Volokolamskogo, osnovanniya na protokolakh doprosov 1937 g.", Pravoslavnaya Zhizn', 48, N 8 (584), August, 1998, pp. 6-7; Archimandrite Nectarius (Chernobyl), "Vospominaniya", Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 17 (1614), September 1/14, 1998, p. 10; I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyozâ€¦", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, pp. 275, 320)
We confidently recommend our web service provider, Orthodox Internet Services: excellent personal customer service, a fast and reliable server, excellent spam filtering, and an easy to use comprehensive control panel.