Confessors Of Belarus

Gregory Ivanovich Pekhterev lived in Gomel district in the village of Posyelki. He was born in a Belorussian peasant family. He had a wife and five children (two of his daughters are still alive). Those who knew him say that he was strapping, good-looking fellow, a good carpenter, and always ready to help everyone. Under Soviet power he refused to enter the collective farm and continued his one-man business.

His family and all his relatives were believers. His brothers prayed to God, but not as zealously and ardently as he. Gregory read a lot of spiritual literature and, as people recall, astonished everyone by his learned conversation. He always carried a Gospel with him, and people said that he developed a hunched back from carrying it constantly.

When the authorities decided to close the parish church in Novoyelye, seven kilometres from Posyelki, Gregory locked its door and hid the key under a thatched roof (they found the key ten years later, when they re-thatched the roof).

Gregory had no relations with the Soviet church and prayed at home. So many people came to him to join for common prayer that the farmhouse was crammed.

A warning-command of his has been preserved:

"The time will come when the authorities will give you help, but you mustn't accept that help."

He was arrested three times. And each time at night. The first time was in 1930 or 1931. He served his term in Solovki and Novaya Zemlya. A day's work there was counted as two, and since Gregory was endowed with very strong health, he worked a five year sentence in two years. The second time they took him was before the war. He returned in 1936, but did not succeed in staying for one year at home before he was arrested again in 1937.

He was denounced by the neighbours who said:

"He is continuing to pray to God as before."

"Say that you will not believe in God, and we'll let you go," they proposed to him at his arrest.

Gregory replied: "Do what you want with me, but just as I believed in God, so will I continue to believe in God. Even if you cut me up, I will not renounce God. God is and will be - how can I say that He does not exist?"

His third arrest was his last. They took him away to Mogilev or Orsha. He did not return. Gregory's orphaned family was helped by his sister, who took care of the education of the children and kept the home running.

The brothers of Gregory Pekhterev's mother were also arrested for the faith. They were exiled to the Far East for praying earnestly to God. And there they disappeared without trace.

(Source: Priest Basil Redechkin)

George Sviridenko was born in 1892. He and his wife Martha lived in the village of Selivanovka in Gomel district. They were believers. They had five children. During the Soviet period they did not go to the red church, which was run by false clergy appointed by the communists. George prayed at home, reading the Psalter and akathists. He used to visit Schema-Nun Seraphima, who lived at Saltanovka station. In 1931 he was arrested for "agitation" - because "he prayed and did not let people join the collective farm."

George Sviridenko was arrested for the faith and died in the camps sometime between 1935 and 1939. His last letters were sent home from the Hierotheus Pavlovich station on the Trans-Baikal railway. In his letter he wrote to his elder daughter Olga:

"Don't nag Mama for clothes for yourself, put on my boots and padded jacket. Don't torment your mother."

The person with whom he was arrested and with whom he served his sentence returned to his family and told them horrifying details about their camp life, how they had built railways, and how they had been laid under sleepers...

After George's arrest his family were deprived of their land. Only a vegetable bed was left to them. They were frightened to take their corn: bound into sheaves and prepared for threshing, it no longer belonged to them, but to the collective farm.

During this period George's daughter Sophia had a vision. She saw a path in the sky which was leading to some opened doors. Many people were entering them. Both old men with beards and quite small children were among them. A voice was heard:

"Fear not - the corn will be yours! Your father is here. And your dad, too," was added in Byelorussian.

The daughter ran to tell her mother what she had seen and heard. When she came out, only the path remained in the sky.

After the war, in spring of 1945, Martha, too, was arrested. When they came to search the house, one of her daughters, Manya, gathered up the spiritual books and hid with them in a hole under the floor. She lay there for the whole time of the search. They did not find her, but Martha was arrested and taken away. One of the daughters took hold of one of the guards and shouted loudly. But he paid not attention to her and continued leading away her mother. Then they put her on a cart and took her to the village soviet.

Martha was accused of working for the Germans. But this was just an excuse. Very many people in the surrounding area had worked for the Germans without being arrested for it. She was arrested for the faith. Before this the authorities had tried to bribe the local inhabitants with wheat in order that they should sign a demand for her arrest. Those who signed were later tormented in conscience, but you can't give the corn in your stomach back again...

After the mother's arrest the children remained alone and educated themselves.

Martha was thrown into Gomel prison, where she got to know some women who continued to pray even in these circumstances. At first she began to do prison work, but then she heard a voice:

"When you were free the collective farm took away your wealth and your children. When you were free you did not go to the collective farm. But here it's the same collective farm!"

After this she stopped working and only prayed.

She spent ten years in prison. In 1955 they let her out. When she returned home they suggested that she make an official complaint that she had been unjustly condemned. But she replied:

"Let God judge them. He sees everything and knows everything."

In the Catacomb Church Martha was served by the Tikhonite priest Fr. Theodore (Rafanovich).

After being released from prison, Martha lived another thirty-three years and died in 1988.

(Sources: Priest Basil Redechkin, from the daughters of George and Marfa Sviridenko.)

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