Archpriest Victorin Mikhailovich Dobronravov was born on January 29 / February 10, 1889 in the Moldavian city of Kishinev. His father, Michael Dobronravov, was a priest, and he had a brother, Leonid. In 1910 Victorin finished his studies at the Kishinev theological seminary and the technical institute.
The two boys' father died when they were still young, and their mother married a second time. She had other children from her second marriage, including an albino girl. She could not see very well, which severely inhibited her studies. When the fame of St. John of Kronstadt first began to spread, Victorin's mother decided to go to Kronstadt with her handicapped daughter in the hope that Fr. John would cure the girl. As they approached the cathedral of St. Andrew, they saw the entire square in front of the cathedral filled with people. The Divine Liturgy had just finished, the doors of the cathedral swung open, and Fr. John stepped outside. Then, searching the crowd, Fr. John signalled the young albino girl to come closer. As she approached, he said,
"Well, little white girl, step closer to me."
When she came up to him, he laid his hand on her head, blessed her, and said,
"You will be able to see, little girl."
On the journey home she was able to see more and more clearly. Eventually she received enough sight to be able to finish secondary school. This incident with Fr. John profoundly affected Victorin, strengthening his faith. Having finished the seminary in Kishinev, he wanted to enter a monastery, but his mother did not allow this either. Finally, she convinced him to become an engineer, and he joined the economic department of the Petersburg Polytechnic Institute.
He successfully finished his studies, but his desire for the spiritual life was overpowering. Not asking the blessing of his mother, he left school before finishing his final exams and went to see the Metropolitan of Moscow in order to get a blessing to become a monk. The metropolitan greeted him hospitably, but did not bless him to carry the cross of monasticism. The metropolitan said he would give his blessing for the priesthood, and convinced him to get married. The Metropolitan said,
"You are too handsome for the monastic life, you may be a stumbling block for many."
The question arose of whom to marry. After much prayer and reflection he married a twenty-two-year-old Old Believer, Anna Constantinovna, thinking that she would be strong in her faith, and on October 4/17, 1914 he was ordained to the diaconate in the Transfiguration Koltovsky church on the Petersburg side. In 1915 he was ordained to the priesthood.
Fr. Victorin led a strict life. At home his word was law. His matushka used to say,
"My batiushka is heavenly, but I am earthly."
They had four children, but all died during Fr. Victorin's lifetime except for one daughter, Zoya. The eldest daughter, Irene (born 1915), died after Fr. Victorin was arrested. Thus all the cares of the family fell on Zoya. She went to work, but her frail health finally gave way. Nicholas (born 1927) died while Fr. Victorin was still alive, and his other son, Seraphim, was killed at the front in 1942 at the age of twenty. Unfortunately, all traces of Zoya disappeared after the war.
Fr. Victorin was an exceptionally spiritual man, though not a very good speaker. His fame as a spiritual director was such that even the future Hieromartyr Bishop Demetrius of Gdov spoke well of him.
Fr. Victorin always spoke with authority. He always insisted that his spiritual children adhere strictly to the fasts, and commune every Sunday. He advocated abstention from meat and attending church services as often as possible.
From 1917 to 1930, Fr. Victorin served in the church in a refuge for elderly artists on Petrovsky island in St. Petersburg. He especially honoured the Derzhavnaya icon of the Mother of God. Every Friday evening in the house-chapel where he served, he used to serve a moleben and an akathist to the icon.
On September 25, 1918 the Cheka arrested Fr. Victorin and detained him for a month in the Peter and Paul fortress. On being released, he took on extra work to feed his family. In 1918-19 he served on an audit commission, and in 1921-22 - in a repair workshop.
On February 25, 1919 Fr. Victorin was appointed priest of the Nikolsky church attached to the home for elderly stage workers on Petrovsky island. One of the worshippers there was A.E. Molchanov, the husband of the famous Russian actress M.G. Savinaya, who founded the home and did much for the church, being buried under the altar. Molchanov was buried next to her in 1922.
Soon a community consisting of about 20 people formed round the young and zealous priest. Most of them were from the intelligentsia: the laypeople Tatyana Tarasova, Anna Pavlova, Maria Bok, Nadezhda Vasilyeva, Olga Mitskevich, Olga Grigoryevna, Ivan Meyer, Basil Lvov, Victor Barabanov and Alexis Morozov, and the nuns Vera Roshkina, Olga Grum-Grzhimailo, Seraphima Sinichkina and Martha Bogdanova. The chekists were alarmed because they "arranged pilgrimages to the churches in the suburbs and villages, where they spread counter-revolutionary brochures and leaflets in defence of True Orthodoxy." The investigator remarked that "a large quantity of anti-semitic literature of a pogrom character has been discovered.. together with various pre-revolutionary publications with a counter-revolutionary content."
Fr. Victorin's parish "was small, but his spiritual children were scattered throughout the city. He was very attentive to each soul. He saved many of his children from perishing."
The Nikolsky church was visited by the members of the Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Seraphim, which gathered in the nearby flat of its founder, Ivan Mikhailovich Andreyev. When the Brotherhood was founded in January, 1927, Deacon Cyril Ivanov, Fr. Victorin's assistant, took part in the moleben, while a year later the moleben on the feast of St. Seraphim was served by Fr. Victorin himself. One of the members of the Brotherhood, Edward Rozenberg, had converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy. Most of the brothers were opponents of Metropolitan Sergius and received various terms in the camps in the autumn of 1928.
When Metropolitan Sergius issued his notorious declaration in July, 1927, Fr. Victorin immediately joined his opponents, for he was "unhappy not only with the political position of the declaration, but also with Metropolitan Sergius' canonical transgressions in his formation of the Synod". Fr. Victorin said that "Metropolitan Sergius issued the declaration at the demand of Soviet power, under Tuchkov's dictation, and in this way sinned against the Church... Being in communion with Metropolitan Sergius meant selling out to Soviet power." And again: "Before writing his declaration calling for a loyal attitude to Soviet power, Metropolitan Sergius should have demanded rights for the Church from this power."
Bishop Demetrius of Gdov greatly valued Fr. Victorin as a good worker and propagandist and parish organizer. And in November, 1927, Fr. Victorin was part of the Petrograd delegation headed by Bishop Demetrius that went to Moscow to try and persuade Metropolitan Sergius to renounce his declaration. During the interview with Sergius, Fr. Victorin said:
"Truth is not always where the majority is; otherwise the Saviour would not have spoken of the 'little flock'. And the head of a Church has not always turned out to be on the side of Truth. It is sufficient to recall the time of St. Maximus the Confessor."
"By my new Church policy I am saving the Church," Metropolitan Sergius replied.
"What are you saying, Vladyka!" all the members of the delegation exclaimed with one voice.
"The Church does not need salvation," added Fr. Victorin; "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. You yourself, Vladyka, need salvation through the Church."
"I meant that in a different sense," replied Metropolitan Sergius, somewhat disconcerted.
Attacks on the faithful increased, and Fr. Victorin's parishioners feared for his life. Every parishioner used to read Psalm 90 at the same time, at eleven o'clock every evening. On February 8, 1930 the Nikolsky church was closed, and batyushka with most of his flock moved to the Panteleimon church on Piskarevka.
Fr. Victorin was against the registration of parishes, considering it "criminal and sinful". He went to see Metropolitan Joseph about this question together with the superior of the Panteleimon church, Fr. Nicholas Ushakov and Protopriest Alexis Voznesensky from Posolodino.
However, Metropolitan Joseph did not take such a radical position, and the parish was registered without the qualifications demanded by the priests. So from April, 1930 Fr. Victorin stopped going to the church on Piskarevka and served only in flats. Together with the above-mentioned priests, and supported to some extent by Fr. Michael Rozhdestvensky from Strelna, he formed a group which desired "the speedy destruction of the Bolsheviks", which rejected Soviet registration and even reproached Bishop Sergius of Narva for compromising too much with the Bolsheviks. Under the influence of this group Metropolitan Joseph sent Bishop Sergius some "commandments" which to some extent limited his rights.
During the last summer that Fr. Victorin was free, in 1930, he went by himself to Sarov and Diveyevo. When he left he was sick with gangrene in his foot, but was healed at the spring of St. Seraphim, and he came back from Sarov in good health. He used to tell his spiritual children:
"Visit the monasteries while we still have them. Fill yourselves with the prayerful spirit of the monastery."
Thus his spiritual children used to spend their summer vacation in monasteries.
Fr. Victorin felt that his days were numbered and he could not go one serving from house to house. His premonitions were realized on the day of the Archangel Michael, September 6/19, 1930. The secret police came for him and twenty other parishioners, all of whom had been betrayed, according to one source (but denied by another), by Marfusha Bogdanova. They were all arrested in connection with the so-called "counter-revolutionary monarchist organization of the True Orthodox". Just before his arrest, Fr. Victorin gave his antimins and the holy vessels to trusted friends. Besides his parishioners who were summoned for interrogation, Deacon Cyril Ivanov spent several months in prison.
Fr. Victorin was held in the "Crosses" prison (according to another source, in the Arsenal prison), and was interrogated three times in all. He conducted himself with great firmness and refused to recognize his guilt. After a very long investigation lasting over a year, Fr. Victorin was sentenced on October 8, 1931 to ten years in the camps.
At this time he was allowed to see his matushka. A year later, his daughter Irene died from tuberculosis. Thus his prediction that Irene would be a bride of Christ was fulfilled.
Fr. Victorin was sent to the White Sea canal, where he worked as a medical assistant. On December 7, 1936 he was released and returned to his family, who were living in the Valdai, in the settlement of Oksochi in Novgorod region. There, in a pine forest, was the regional home for mentally ill children, where I.M. Andreyev, who had completed his term on Solovki, was the chief doctor, and Fr. Victorin's wife, Anna Constantinovna, was a medical sister. Matushka would not let even those who were close to him see him, she was afraid they would betray him. He was arrested a second time. A Gospel was found in his pocket which made his sentence doubly harsh.
Fr. Victorin was arrested in Novgorod on August 6, 1937, and according to one source was sentenced to hard labour tree-felling in the Komi SSR, where he died by being torn apart by wolves. However, according to another source, he was shot after a purely formal investigation on December 28 in the prison of the town of Borovichi. His relatives were given the standard message for those condemned to death: "10 years in the camps without right of correspondence".
After his arrest Fr. Victorin's family moved to Novgorod, where I.M. Andreyevsky had also been transferred. There Anna Constantinovna lived with her daughter Zoya until the retreat of the Germans. Then, under the protection of Andreyevsky, and together with the famous philosopher S.A. Askoldov, they were evacuated to Germany, and from there to the U.S.A. In America Andreyevsky became a teacher in the Holy Trinity Monastery seminary in Jordanville, and eventually married Anna Constantinovna and adopted Zoya.
(Sources: "Life of New Martyr Archpriest Victorin", Orthodox Life, vol. 41, no. 1, January-February, 1991; Victor Antonov, "Dva Petrogradskikh Ispovyednikov", Russkij Pastyr, 25, II, 1996, pp. 21-27; Za Khrista Postradavshiye, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1997, pp. 383-84)
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.