Bishop Seraphim, in the world Michael Alexandrovich Pozdeyev, was born in 1885 into an aristocratic family near Moscow. However, after the revolution he refused to emigrate with almost all of the other aristocratic families, choosing rather, like Moses, "to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Heb. 11.25). In 1919 he accepted monasticism in the city of Arzamas and was ordained to the priesthood there. His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon kept Seraphim close to himself, and in 1925, two or three months before his death, he consecrated him secretly to a vicariate of the see of Smolensk (according to another source, Novosibirsk).
However, Bishop Seraphim did not reach his see. Very shortly after his consecration he was arrested by the GPU and sent to a camp in Siberia. From this moment his life as a confessor of Christ began.
In 1935, according to one source, an angel appeared to Bishop Seraphim while he was in a fever and told him that he would be released and do much for the Church. In 1939 he was transferred to the death-cell of the prison in Gomel, where he got to know the future Metropolitan Gennadius (Sekach). Then he was sent to the Butyrki prison in Moscow, and, in 1939, to the Kemerovo camps in Siberia. In 1946 he was released from prison and was exiled to Buzuluk.
According to another source, however, he accepted the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius in 1932 and served again in Moscow region, before being imprisoned from 1937 to 1944.
In 1946-47 Vladyka was visited by the Soviet Bishop Manuel of Orenburg and Buzuluk, who had been a confessor of the Faith against renovationism before succombing to the subtler temptation of Sergianist neo-renovationism, and is well-known as the composer of a list of Russian bishops. He talked with Bishop Seraphim for about a day, and then left. Novice L. remembers that when Manuel left Bishop Seraphim was very pleased. He said that Manuel had allowed him to serve needs in the region from Orenburg to Buzuluk, which was equivalent to administrative permission from the Soviet authorities. Without this Bishop Seraphim would have been under constant threat of arrest for his independent activity.
Novice L. says that Bishop Seraphim did not go into the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, but sometimes pretended to be drunk, went up to them and accused many of the people there of secret sins. For he was clairvoyant. Bishop Seraphim never hid from them that he was a bishop.
Novice L. used to go to Orenburg and receive money in the churches for Bishop Seraphim. They would give it to him with the blessing of Bishop Manuel. Vladyka was very kind and would give away everything that the believers offered him.
By his prayers many people received healing. For example, there was a five-year-old boy called Alexander who had not been able to walk since birth. He used to sit rocking in a chair and say:
"O God, give me legs!"
Vladyka made the sign of the cross over him and gave him two sticks. The boy began to walk, first only with the two sticks. The next day Vladyka came and took away one stick. And the third day he took away the second stick, and the boy began to walk well. Now Alexander Makov lives in the town of Chernigov (he is the grandson of Protopriest Alexander Makov).
Another well-known incident concerns the healing of a hunched-up girl who had fallen ill during the war. Vladyka was serving in the flat where Maria Struchkova lived in the Village of Kirsanovka in Tomsk district. Once after the service Vladyka said:
"Maria, give me some water."
And she had been lying in bed without getting up for three years! After these words, as Maria herself witnesses, she felt as it were a current passing through her, and she began to be able to use her arms and legs, and to walk. But her arms were not completely healed. She is alive to this day and lives in Orenburg (ul. Lenintsev, dom 5, kv. 2).
The following story is well-known, but few know that Vladyka Seraphim was the bishop who worked the miracle. Sometime in the 1950s, there was a birthday party for a young girl called Zoya in her house in Kuibyshev. She had invited her friends, but a young man called Nicholas with whom she was friendly did not turn up to congratulate her. They had had an argument before this, and she was waiting for him to make a step towards reconciliation. But he did not do that. After a hilarious supper they all began to dance. But she, not having a boy to dance with, took an icon of St. Nicholas and said:
"My love is also called Nicholas, but he hasn't come, so you will be instead of him."
She took the icon and began to dance with it. But she had not danced a complete round when she froze on the spot and became as stone, so that noone could move her. Her friends were frightened and ran away. She stood in this way throughout Lent without anyone being able to do anything. The doctors said that she was alive, but she neither ate, nor drank, nor fell down. Multitudes of people came to look at her. Sometimes she cried:
"The whole world will burn with fire. Repent, soon will be the Coming of Christ..."
The authorities surrounded the house. They wanted to cut a hole in the floor, but when they began to do it, blood began to flow out of the boards. Then they tried to force-feed her and cut a hole in her windpipe, but neither scalpel nor knife could make any impression on her body. Various clergy from the patriarchate came and read prayer-services. Even Patriarch Alexis served a prayer-service to take away the icon from Zoya. But the icon would not be parted from her. And only three days before Pascha Bishop Seraphim arrived and took the icon away from her with the very simple words:
"Well, you've stood long enough. Give me the icon."
Zoya came to herself, and then said:
"O Mama, how terrible it is in that world. How people go wrong when they take the things of this life seriously and joke about the life beyond the grave without even knowing what awaits them."
She lived for three more days and on the Radiant Resurrection of Christ departed to the Lord.
In 1952, in Buzuluk, Bishop Seraphim was again arrested. He was imprisoned on a charge of spreading monarchist propaganda, this time in Central Asia. But in 1956 (according to another source, 1964) he was released after the Khrushchev amnesty. According to one source, he was then a great schema-monk with the name Anthony. According to another source, he received the schema with that name just before his death.
On being released, Bishop Seraphim was directed by the authorities to Barnaul, where Basil Konstantinovich and his wife Olga looked after him.
The KGB visited them every week. Usually Bishop Seraphim would have a premonition of their visits, and, to avoid their persistent inquisition, would pour over himself a bottle of vodka which he always had at hand for this purpose. He also began to sing songs, pretending to be drunk, so that the authorities, on looking at him, would invariably step back, wave their hands and say:
"What kind of a bishop is he - he's a drunk!"
And in the end they left him in peace. They decided that he was an alcoholic and would not declare himself to be a bishop and undertake spiritual activity.
But Bishop Seraphim did undertake spiritual activity. Although he had no opportunity to celebrate the Divine Liturgy openly, he always went around the houses of the faithful with the Holy Gifts and gave them Communion. For this purpose he had a bag with a double bottom made for him. Under the first bottom lay the Gifts, the Holy Chalice and everything that he needed for the service. Then he stuffed the bag with toys, so that people would not suspect that he was carrying anything important.
He had been told that the people of Barnaul would accept him. However, they did so only in part. Many people claimed that since he had been released from prison and there were no other bishops, that meant that he had signed an agreement with the authorities. They did not believe that he had been released because of the poor state of his health. Nor did they see the Providence of God in it.
At his first Pascha in Barnaul, Bishop Seraphim invited all his spiritual children. There was a nun there who led a very ascetic life, doing 12000 prostrations a day. The Lord revealed to the bishop that she had not long to live, and that she did not need to punish herself like that anymore. He told her this in an indirect way:
"Matushka," he said, "the application has been put in, your place is prepared, sit down and drink some tea."
But since people suspected him of having ties with the KGB, she thought that he had written a denunciation to the police, that a place had been prepared for her in prison, and that she had only to sit down and drink some tea and wait until they came for her. These words dismayed her. She got up, struck the table with her fist and said:
"That's enough. I'm fed up with your jokes."
The bishop's face changed sharply, and he said, three times and with great seriousness:
"To hell, to hell, to hell."
At that moment she had an attack of a liver disease, it was impossible for her to sit at table, and a strong smell came out of her mouth. This became stronger with every passing day. People told her:
"Matushka, humble yourself before Vladyka."
But she did not want to humble herself. And only ten days later, when her condition had worsened, did she ask people to go to Vladyka and ask his forgiveness and prayers for her. Vladyka welcomed this as indicating a disposition to repent, and said:
"I've forgiven you long ago, but whether God will forgive you - I do not know."
Two weeks passed, she humbled herself and decided to come to him herself. Falling at his feet, she said:
"Holy Vladyka, forgive me the accursed one, for becoming proud of my labours."
He said to her: "God will forgive you, and I forgive you, but you will not receive the same glory. Because you became proud you have lost that glory, but for your humility the Lord will give you back everything, but not to the same degree."
She wept bitterly, but he said:
"There's no way I can help you, matushka."
Bishop Seraphim tonsured and ordained people only after a long testing period.
"Quality before quantity," he used to say.
Thus he had a spiritual son called Amphir whom he decided to elevate to the episcopate. Before Lent he said to him:
"Do you object if we lay on you the yoke of Christ and elevate you to the episcopate after Pascha, but on the condition that you carry out a test that I will impose on you during the Great Fast?"
He was to sit in reclusion (in a bath-house) throughout Lent. Amphir very readily agreed, thinking that this was an easy test - he could read the books of the Holy Fathers and pray. So he quickly asked for a blessing and after Forgiveness Sunday entered reclusion. In the second week of Lent, the bishop, as was his wont, had to go to various places to give Communion to people. During this period some people began to knock on Fr. Amphir's door and tempt him to come out, saying:
"What a fool you are, sitting in a bath-house! He's gone around the parish and enticed all your spiritual children, saying that Amphir's no good. And now people will go to him while you wait here in a bath-house. You'll be left with nothing."
Amphir accepted these diabolic thoughts and in the fourth week of the Fast he came out of his reclusion without waiting it out until Pascha. He came out in the morning, and in the evening Bishop Seraphim arrived back from his parish. While he was still on the way the Lord had revealed to him that Amphir had left his reclusion, and he said:
"O Amphir, I was weeping for you even before I got here - why did you listen to those people?"
He replied: "Forgive me, Vladyka, and pray for me."
But Vladyka said: "A word is a sword; to speak is to wreak. You have broken your word. There will be no consecration."
At Pascha a nun arrived and told the bishop about a vision she had had. The heavens had been opened to her, and through them she saw patriarchs, metropolitans and bishops passing in groups of four towards the Lord. But in one row there were only three.
"Where is the fourth?" she asked.
Then it was revealed to her that the fourth was to have been Amphir...
In Barnaul there lived Fr. Alexander, a 45-year-old widowed priest who had been ordained by the Catacomb Archbishop Melladius. In 1965 Bishop Seraphim, who knew Archbishop Melladius either from the camps or from their common exile in the Barnaul region, proposed that he tonsure him and consecrate him to the episcopate. After taking counsel with a spiritual nun, Fr. Alexander accepted the offer. Then Bishop Seraphim together with another Catacomb bishop called Alexander (Pruzhansky) wrote to Fr. Alexander (Alpheus in monasticism), inviting him to come to Buzuluk for the consecration. Other sources give as the name of the other bishop - Gabriel of Chimkent, whom he had met in prison.
Bishop Seraphim came to meet him at the station. Although he had put on some torn clothing, he noticed that he was being followed by the KGB. So on meeting Alpheus (then still Alexander) he said:
"Sanya, how about drinking half a bottle of vodka?"
But Alexander never drank vodka, and he found it strange - two priests drinking vodka on the street? But this was a critical moment. The bishop bought a bottle of vodka, sat on some logs and drank it, shouting in the meantime at the passers-by. When the vodka had done its work, he was quite drunk, because it was late in the day and he had not eaten. Fr. Alexander had to drag him on his shoulders for two blocks, like a little boy. When they had arrived home and slept, Bishop Seraphim said:
"You know what the two of us would have got, Sanya? Five years."
Bishop Seraphim took a long time testing Fr. Alexander before raising him to the episcopate. He was afraid of outsiders penetrating the Church, and, noticing Alexander's indecisiveness, he sent him home after a month without consecrating him. But three months later he again sent him an invitation, saying:
"For lack of material, we shall have to consecrate you, Alexander Mikhailovich. If there were a choice, I would not consecrate you, but since there is no choice, you will be a kind of left luggage room of grace, so that apostolic succession should remain in someone until the right time. Then, when the Lord sends the right person, one who is energetic and necessary for the Church, this succession will not be broken, but will be preserved."
Many evil rumours circulated about Bishop Seraphim. Besides the accusations of drunkenness, people used to say that he was a magician. Nun E. knew Bishop Seraphim personally. She recalls him complaining to her:
"What a state we've reached - they think I'm a drunkard and a magician."
Bishop Seraphim received his full share of slanders.
In Barnaul during the last years of his life Bishop Seraphim was accompanied by two clerics: Bishop Alpheus and Fr. Alexander Shabelnik. (He was also in communion with the Catacomb Bishop John of Zaraisk.) A few days before his death, Bishop Seraphim with the written permission of Bishop Alpheus raised Fr. Gennadius (Sekach) to the rank of bishop. After the consecration, Vladyka Seraphim said:
"Vladyka Gennadius, I am soon departing to the Lord, but I have no vestments, since I have lived my whole life in exile."
Gennadius replied that he would bring some vestments by plane within a week. To which Vladyka Seraphim replied that he would not make it. And indeed, Vladyka Gennady had no sooner arrived home in Novy Afon that he received a telegram saying that Vladyka Seraphim had died. His prophecy had been fulfilled.
Bishop Seraphim died on May 3/16, 1971 at the age of 97. When Bishop Gennadius learned of the death of Seraphim he immediately flew from Adler to Kuibyshev, and then went by taxi the remaining 200 kilometres to the flat where the body of Bishop Seraphim lay. The wife of Fr. Alexander witnessed that a sweet fragrance came from the body of the reposed, filling everybody with joy. And Bishop Gennadius himself, who escorted Bishop Seraphim on his last journey, recalled:
"The sledge carrying the coffin was going across the snow when the horses unexpectedly stopped and did not want to move on. Then we all again began to chant prayers, after which the horses spontaneously started moving again. A wonderful fragrance was coming from the body of Bishop Seraphim as he lay in the coffin the whole length of the journey. I even placed my handkerchief on the feet of the reposed for a time."
The catacomb bishops and priests wanted to bury Bishop Seraphim in the fifth block of the cemetery, which was called the royal block. But the patriarchal clergy rebelled. They said:
"He will not be buried either in the fifth block or in any part of the cemetery."
And they called him a "heretic". But Bishop Gennadius gave the president of the regional executive committee of the Communist party 100 rubles, and he gave the order for him to be buried in the fifth block. Bishops Gennadius and Alpheus and, according to one source, five priests buried him. However, the local patriarchal clergy out of spite did not let the car into the cemetery. And after the burial they made a denunciation.
Bishop Seraphim appeared to his spiritual children after his repose.
(Sources: Bishop I., Igumen G., Priest V., Nun E., Ryasofor-nun E., Novice L., Reader Grigory Mukhortov; Novaya Svyataya Rus', Moscow, 1996; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Tainij Sobor 1948 g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 5 (9), 1997, p. 27; "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Tainiye Sobory 1961-81gg.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 1 (10), 1998, pp. 29-30)
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