Hieromartyr Theophanes, Bishop Of Solikamsk

Bishop Theophanes, in the world Sergius Petrovich Ilmensky, was born in 1867 in the family of a poor village sacristan in Saratov diocese.

Later, on February 25, 1917, when he was named as a bishop, he recalled: "I am the son of a poor village sacristan. From early childhood I was brought up by my mother, a deeply religious, meek and humble woman, who told me much about the life of St. Sergius, whose name I bore, and by my uncle, who had taken the place of my father and educated me - a meek and humble pastor who served for fifty years in one and the same remote provincial village. It was with him that I learned to share the joys and sorrows of the people, to meet the church feasts of the Nativity of Christ and Holy Pascha... I will always remember the readings of the twelve Gospels on Great Thursday, and his triumphant service on the radiant paschal night with his inimitably penetrating reading of the wonderful sermon of John Chrysostom.

"And I was still in my childhood when I conceived a desire to be a priest without fail, to serve at the Supper of the Lord at which the Lamb of God is given to us as food. I poured out this fiery desire in prayer when I was once left alone in the church in front of the local icon of the Saviour. It was only for a brief moment, but at the same time how strictly He looked at me with His eyes! In the seminary my desire to become a priest not only did not pass, but on the contrary, under the influence of a wonderful book called Letters on the Duties of the Priestly Rank, which I have with me even now, the unbending determination to become a priest - and moreover, a village priest! - matured in me.

"But it was pleasing to the Lord God to appoint me another path, the path of the higher theological school, and then to be a priest for twenty years amidst secular society, only not as a pastor, but as a teacher of the Law of God in secular schools for men and women."

In 1894 Sergius graduated from the Kazan Theological Academy, and was awarded the degree of candidate of theology for his work, "Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov as a preacher". On October 7, 1894, he was appointed a teacher of the Law of God in the Saratov Alexander Mariinsky school, and at different times he also taught in the Saratov Mariinsky Institute for daughters of the nobility and was a supervisor at the Balashovsky theological school. In 1897, having been widowed and having a daughter to bring up, he was ordained to the priesthood. At various times he was a member of the Saratov Diocesan Teaching Council, president of the council of the Saratov Ioannikievsky diocesan women's school (from September 20, 1902), dean of the house churches of the city of Saratov and editor of the Saratov Diocesan News. From September 1, 1907 he was teacher of the Law of God in the Saratov Mariinsky women's monastery. In 1909 Protopriest Sergius had his article, "Contemporary Socialism before the Judgement of the Word of God", published.

"Early widowhood, as it seems, pointed to me the path to monasticism, but there was something holding me back, calling me to the world - I had an elderly mother and a child, a daughter, to look after! And so I stayed in the world. Evidently I had to study the life around me more deeply, listen to the movement of my own soul, and work for a long, long time on it in the sphere of moral education. Moments of radiant exaltation under the influence of the heavenly, grace-filled impressions of the priesthood, good minutes of spiritual experience in the company of young people, especially in the churches of God during Divine service and conversations... alternated with minutes of depression, oblivion, idleness, pusillanimity and some kind of unaccountable longing... But the vigilant right hand of God always came to my help in time, sending me means to heal my soul from savage infirmities - physical and moral upheavals, during which I always heard the words: 'O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?' (Matthew 14.32). Now I have come to understand the sweetness of the saying: My son! Do not despise the chastening of the Lord. Him whom the Lord loves, He chastens. He beats him, but he still accepts him...'

"But then I was free! My mother was buried, my daughter was educated! Wonderful Valaam attracted my attention, and I thought to find in the holy monastery refuge for myself and peace from the stormy waves of the sea of life. Here I dreamed of nourishing my storm-tossed soul with the grace-filled impressions of monasticism in daily communion with the temple of God and reading the word of God and other soul-saving books in a quiet cell. And I hoped, through the prayers and intercession of Sergius and Herman, the wonderworkers of Valaam, to prepare myself for the Heavenly Tabor..."

By a resolution of Archbishop Sergius (Stragorodsky) of Finland and Vyborg, on August 31, 1913, Protopriest Sergius Ilmensky was numbered among the brethren of the monastery of Valaam as a novice. On August 12, 1914 (according to another source, in 1915 or 1916), he was appointed supervisor of the Balashov spiritual school. On August 14, 1914, he was tonsured as a monk in the Holy Transfiguration cathedral by the igumen of the monastery, Fr. Maurice. On September 14, 1914, he was raised to the rank of archimandrite in the Nativity cathedral by Bishop Seraphim of Serdobol.

"But I was to live only a short time, a very short time in communion with the holy monastery, with its elders and the loving igumen, Fr. Maurice, from whose hands the Lord counted me worthy to receive the tonsure. The Lord called me to serve in the education of young clergy-to-be. I was two years amidst young Levites, consoling myself with their love and childlike affection [he was supervisor of the Balashovksy theological school until September 10, 1916] and four months here in Perm, in the nursery of candidates for the priesthood."

On October 5, 1916, Archimandrite Theophanes was made rector of the Perm theological seminary, president of the diocesan temperance brotherhood and archimandrite of the Solikamsk Holy Trinity monastery. An unknown biographer has described this period in his life as follows: "The simplicity, warm-heartedness and paternal care for the needs of the young students in the Balashkovsky theological school, as well as in other academic institutions, won for father archimandrite a general love that was always warmly and vividly expressed. And the souls of our young Perm seminarians was also close, dear and well understood by father rector, Archimandrite Theophanes, in spite of the short period of his service in the seminary. The seminarians soon learned how approachable he was, and went to him with their sorrows and school worries. The new things that Archimandrite Theophanes introduced into the seminary during his service here as rector were: the most insistent introduction into the consciousness and life of the pupils of the idea of pastorhood, the introduction of unison singing during certain services in the seminary church, the improvement of preaching and the introduction of a familial element into school life by arranging Saturday readings and discussions between pupils and staff in the flat of Archimandrite Theophanes."

On February 26, 1917 Archimandrite Theophanes was consecrated Bishop of Solikamsk, a vicariate of the Perm diocese, and was handed the ancient hierarchical staff of St. Stephen of Perm by Archbishop Andronicus, the future hieromartyr, with the words: "The way of archpastoral service is the way of Christ, the way of the bearing of the Cross, the way of constant self-crucifixion."

From August, 1917 to April, 1918 Vladyka Theophanes administered the Perm diocese while Archbishop Andronicus was at the Local Council in Moscow. On February 1, 1918 he arrived in Perm, and on February 4 he headed an enormous cross procession in connection with the persecutions against the Church. On February 23 the buildings of the Theological school were almost completely occupied by the Red Army.

On March 14, replying to a question concerning the possible seizure of monastery lands, Bishop Theophanes wrote: "We shall not reply in the same manner to the spite and enmity towards us of those who have turned out to be the weapon of God's punishment of us: we shall pray for our enemies, that the Lord may forgive their fury against us, and by the power of prayer and the example of our good Christian life He may turn their unreconciled hearts to reconciliation and brotherly love."

On March 15, the Perm theological seminary was officially closed. Vladyka told the Solikamsk clergy not to show "silent submission to the robbers and thieves... Of course, it was natural in accordance with human pusillanimity that you acted as you did at the pastoral assembly on March 4, when you declared your loyalty... to the Executive Committee, when you were under threat even, perhaps, of death."

On June 9, two days after the murder of Archbishop Andronicus, the Bolsheviks summoned Vladyka Theophanes to Perm with the aim of appeasing the people of the Church. Vladyka administered the Perm diocese until his arrest in October.

On December 10/23, 1918, the president of the Cheka ordered the head of the house of arrest to transfer Bishop Theophanes and eight other prisoners into the hands of a military court marshal. The next day, December 11/24, he was drowned in the River Kama by the Bolsheviks. He was first stripped of his clothes, then his hair was braided in plaits and a stick was put through them by a giggling mob. Benches were placed on either side of a hole in the ice, and two executioners mounted upon them. Then they slowly raised the holy martyr into the air and gradually lowered him through the hole into the water. After being kept there for half a minute, he was raised from the water and then again lowered into it. After fifteen to twenty minutes, the martyr's body was covered with a sheet of ice two fingers' width in thickness, but he was still alive. This barbarous spectacle was witnessed by many spectators, including several weeping members of Vladyka's own flock.

On the next day, December 12/25, Perm was taken by the Whites.

(Sources: Victor Korolev, in Novomucheniki i Ispovedniki Russkoj Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1997; "'...Da Ukrotit Gospod' Yarost' ikh na Nas...', Grebnevsky Listok, 11, 1996, pp. 1-6; I.M. Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, p. 612; Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky), Die Russischen Orthodoxen Bischofe von 1893-1965, Erlangen, 1989, vol. VI, pp. 399-400; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshego Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 995)

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