Hieromartyr Paul (Levashov) Of Gomel And Those With Him

Archpriest Paul Levashov was born on December 9, 1873 in Cherna Grada, Cherpovetsk uyezd, in the province of Novgorod. His father, Nicholas, was from the landowning gentry, and his mother's name was Anna. The family was poor, so little Paul was taken to be brought up in the house of Bishop Misael (Krylov) of Mogilev, his mother's brother. Fr. Paul studied in the theological seminary and then the theological school. After completing seminary he married Anna Petrovna Sokolov, whose father owned a sewing shop in Moscow. Paul once went to stay in Optina Desert, where he was moved to the depths of his soul by Elder Joseph, round whose head he saw the Divine Light.

Towards the end of the 19th century Bishop Misael ordained him a deacon and, soon after, a priest. Fr. Paul was assigned to serve in Gomel as the second priest at the cathedral, which was located in a park on the estate of Prince Paskevich. The Prince and Princess greatly venerated Fr. Paul, and after the death of the Prince the Princess often went to Fr. Paul for advice. In the beginning Fr. Paul did not have the means to buy a house, so they took an apartment near the park.

He was later elevated to the rank of archpriest and given the position of dean of all the local churches. He was very busy with his duties during this period. He rose early each day and managed all the documents concerning baptisms and marriages. These documents with his signature are still preserved in the archives in Gomel.

Once while he was walking through a park and reading his prayers, he was seized by a mysterious fear. He rushed home and found his wife in flames. She had spilled alcohol on herself, and it ignited. He saved her life by wrapping her in a blanket.

From a young age Fr. Paul had always wanted to visit Palestine, those holy places where the Saviour's feet had trod. This desire burned ever more brightly in his soul. Then once he fell asleep and suddenly saw himself flying high above the earth. He saw meadows, forest, rivers and cities flashing by beneath him, and finally he came down in the Holy Land. He travelled around Jerusalem, visited churches, saw much and then woke up. After this remarkable dream his desire to visit the holy places grew even stronger.

Then, before the outbreak of war in 1914, he was finally able to fulfil his intention. Moreover, the government encouraged his trip by giving him free passage. He took a cab from the port of Tel Aviv with another priest, and when they drew near to Jerusalem, Fr. Paul got out of the carriage and walked to the Holy City. He visited many holy places, now seeing while he was awake that which he had seen in his unusual dream.

Before 1914 he also arranged, with the approval of the government, for a special train to transport the faithful to Optina. Fr. Paul served on the train, and everyone sang as the choir. A special boat was also rented for a trip on the river Som, then along the Dnieper to Kiev to the Lavra. Everyone sang and prayed. Fr. Paul visited Sarov many times, and once travelled to Valaam with his son Nicholas.

When the revolution began, Fr. Paul was still serving the cathedral in Gomel. It was around this time that he bought a house. Fr. Paul had seven children. The oldest son, Nicholas, died in the 70s. His daughters, Ludmilla and Maria, are still alive. Another son, George, perished during the war, in 1941. A daughter, Zoya, died young, and two other daughters, Vasya and Tanya, died as infants.

At the end of the 1920s, he began to serve the cemetery church, since converted into a workshop, on Rumyantsevskaya Street. Batyushka attracted many true believers from the surrounding villages to himself. People would come from five to twenty kilometres away, and the church was always full.

Since he was spiritually connected with Optina hermitage and its last elder, Nektary, Fr. Paul sent many of his parishioners who wanted to enter monasticism to the elder first for a blessing. The women then entered Diveyevo, while the men went wherever the elder blessed, or according to their choice.

Fr. Paul was of medium height, healthy and strong. He lived simply and modestly, was not given to extraordinary struggles or especially strict fasts, but kept to the royal path, moderate and continent in everything. He possessed the gift of compunction and tears. Once in a dream he stood by the Cross and contemplated the sufferings of the Saviour. The body of the Lord below His chest was clothed in light.

He bound no one to ascetisicm, feeling that not everyone had the strength for it. He was tender with his spiritual children, merciful and condescending to the sins of others. However, in fulfilling the rules of the Church he was strict. He always said:

"God is our Father and the Church our Mother, and therefore we must submit to her."

He always served according to the rubrics, without abbreviations, as was usually the practice in town churches. He himself did nothing without the blessing of the elder.

When they began to force the clergy to join the renovationist heretics, Fr. Paul categorically refused to comply. Later he was awarded the gold cross for his steadfastness in Orthodoxy. Bishop Tikhon of Gomel gave him the duty of receiving back into the Church those priests who repented of joining the renovationists. Around 1927 he and his close friend Fr. Antipas were arrested, but were soon released. On being released, however, they did not serve openly because they did not recognize Metropolitan Sergius and his Moscow Patriarchate.

Fr. Paul was again arrested and sent to the city of Kozlov, and then to city of Ranenburg. During this exile many of his spiritual children came to help his family. Later they banished him to the city of Mezen on the White Sea, where he lived for a few years under very difficult conditions, when his family and spiritual children were not allowed to visit him. After Mezen he returned to Gomel in 1934, and moved into the house of his spiritual daughter, Elena Laishuk. She was living with her sister and her aunt. His house was occupied by unbelievers, and it was impossible to send them away.

He lived with Elena for two years before trouble began anew with the communist civil authorities, and for him to remain with her might have caused his arrest. He therefore moved in with the family of Fr. Antipas Popovich, people who were devoted to him. In 1937 his passport expired; he reported this to the police and they immediately arrested him. From that time nothing more was heard of him. According to some sources, he may have been drowned in a latrine.

He devoted his whole life to preserving the Orthodox Faith, and died for it. Even now those living in Gomel and the surrounding area, who keep to the True Orthodox Church, are called "Levashovites".

The Catacomb flock was also served by Hieromonk Philaret, Fr. Paul's co-struggler, who was in exile after the war. On coming back from exile he was closely watched, but with God's help was able to celebrate the Liturgy secretly and pass the Holy Gifts to the Catacomb Christians.

One of the women ascetics who passed the Holy Gifts to the Christians, together with written sermons, was Mother Seraphima (Kurkai), in the world Anna Naumovna Kurkai. She came from a peasant family in the village of Popovka, nor far from Gomel, and with the blessing of her mother, the parish priest and the nun Magdalina, she entered the Seraphimo-Diveyevo monastery. She was tonsured very quickly, and carried out her obedience on the kliros, since she had a very good voice. Mother Seraphima struggled in the monastery for three years until its closure by the Soviets in 1927, when she was blessed to return to her homeland. In the 1930s Mother Seraphima was a spiritual daughter of Fr. Paul. After his death, and the death of Fr. Philaret, she entered into communion with the secret priest Fr. Anthony, from the village of Prichalesye. When a community of the Russian Church Abroad appeared in the region in the early 1990s, she joined that. Until Pascha, 1997, she continued to travel a considerable distance to church. She died on May 11, 1997.

(Sources: "The Life of New Martyr Archpriest Paul Levashov of Gomel", Orthodox Life, vol. 42, no. 1, January-February, 1992, pp. 26-28; Priest Basil Redechkin; "Vsyu zhizn' on khranil v chistote Pravoslaviye", Vozvrashcheniye, N 1 (5), 1994, pp. 46-47; "Konchina poslednej Diveyevskoj monakhini", Russkij Pastyr', 28-29, II-III, 1997)

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