Kursk, Kharkov, Poltava And Belgorod Holy Martyrs

In April, 1918, the Local Council of the Russian Church was informed of the murder of the priest Fr. Constantine Snyatinovsky of the Metropolitan Peter church in the city of Pereyaslavl.

Archimandrite Rodion, superior of the Spasov skete, Zmievsky uyezd, Kharkov province, together with the dean, Hieromonk Anastasius, the confessor, steward and treasurer of the community, were shot by a detachment led by Dybenko in 1917. The skin on the back of Archimandrite Rodion's head was cut and he was scalped. When the Whites arrived they dug the bodies out of a refuse pit and buried them

Nicholas Alexandrovich Rebinder, together with his brother Alexander, Prince Nicholas Alexandrovich Mansurov and Count Constantine Pavlovich Kutaisov, was killed on March 22, 1918 on his estate on the border of Kursk and Kharkov provinces, in Volchansk uyezd. Nicholas Alexandrovich was found after the shooting with his hand formed to make the sign of the Cross. He was a very pious man who was intending to become a priest, and he used to say that he was going to turn his courtier's gold-threaded uniform into a priest's riza.

In Poltava province, Red Army soldiers occupied the Lyubyansky Saviour-Transfiguration monastery, settled in it and began to loot and commit sacrilege. Then their commander ordered the superior, Igumen Ambrose, to collect the whole brotherhood together. Some of the monks were away, and about 25 people assembled. It was announced that they were under arrest, and keys to the cells and all the other monastery buildings were demanded. Then the monks were ordered to bring wood, and they were told that they were going to be burned. But the approach of the White Volunteer Army upset their plans. They hastily drove all the monks into the city, and from their led them to the railway station. Then, in the darkness of the night, they began to shoot them in groups. The shooting began with Fr. Ambrose, who was killed by one shot from the revolver of Commissar Bakay, who was standing at the head of the guard. Then they began to shoot the rest. 17 monks were killed, while the rest were only wounded and pretended to be killed.

In the same city of Poltava at the end of June, 1918, Hieromonk Nilus of the Poltava monastery of the Exaltation of the Cross was arrested by the Bolsheviks. He was interrogated several times. The last time he returned severely beaten up. The Red Army soldier who was accompanying him declared that the arrested monk was so stubborn in not wanting to say anything, that it would be necessary to expend 37 rubles, i.e. the cost of a bullet, on him. An inspection of the corpse of Hieromonk Nilus established that his murder had been accompanied by terrible tortures.

Hieromonk Athanasius of the monastery's Saviour skete, on being brought out to execution, fell on his knees, prayed, crossed himself and then, rising to his feet and with his arms raised high, blessed the Bolshevik who was standing opposite him with a gun in his hands. The red executioner fired two shots at the pastor who had just blessed him.

In 1919, the priest Fr. Peter Gontarevsky, the superior of the Transfiguration church in Oposhnya, Poltava diocese, was tortured to death in a cellar by the chekists. After murdering him, the chekists wandered around drunk and mocked the cross they had taken from Fr. Peter.

Exceptional in its cruelty was the murder of the priest of the village of Novo-Nikolsk, Fr. Nicholas Milyutkin. An accusation was concocted against him to the effect that, on learning that a party of imprisoned Red Army men was passing through the village, he had interrupted the service, taken the holy chalice with the Gifts into his hands, come out onto the porch of the church and expressed his joy by chanting "Christ is risen!" On appearing before the local cheka, Fr. Nicholas was interrogated and beaten with ramrods. Besides, he was given two wounds in the leg with a sabre, and half his scalp was removed. Then, at the request of the local peasants, he was handed over to them on bail. But two hours later he was again brought before the cheka, where the president shot him with a revolver and the other Red Army men wounded him several times with their sabres. Since the floor was covered with blood, the Bolsheviks brought in some dogs to lick it away, and when they refused they were thrashed with whips. Then, having undressed the corpse, they dragged it into the river Don, saying:

"Swim to Novocherkassk and tell them to expect us in a week."

The following priests were killed on the grounds that they had said bad things about the Bolsheviks and were not able to satisfy their demands for the hand over of money: Archimandrite Gennadius, in the Levengovsky factories; the priest Fr. Timothy Stadnik, of the village of Novo-Bakhmutovka; the priest Fr. Constantine Shchegolev, from the village of Andreyevka, Bakhmutovka uyezd; the priest Fr. Theodore Basilevsky, from the village of Grigoryevka; and a priest from the village of Davidovka.

In the village of Popasnaya, the priest Dragozhinsky was sentenced to death for a sermon in which he pointed out that Julian the Apostate before his death had said: "You have conquered, Galilean." In this the Bolsheviks saw an allusion to themselves.

The following were subjected to cruel tortures: in Popasnaya - Krasovsky, in Pereyezdnaya - the priest Bulakhov, in Lisichansk - Shepelev.

In 1922, 124 clergy of various ranks were killed in Poltava province in connection with the Bolsheviks' confiscation of church valuables.

In Svyatogorsk monastery, Izyum uyezd, Kharkov province, already from January, 1918 there began confiscations of property and land, the forced expulsion of most of the monastic brotherhood, searches and looting. The Bolsheviks burst into the churches in their caps, with cigarettes in their mouths and swearing. They turned over the altars, drank the church wine and took the church utensils away with them. When, during one of their visits, the steward of the skete in the village of Gorokhovka, Monk Onuphrius, declared that he had no money, they took him out beyond the fence and shot him at the gates. At the same time, Monk Israel was shot while trying to run away.

Then, in October of the same year, when they were taking the greatly venerated Svyatogorsk icon of the Mother of God from village to village and it was staying in the village of Bayrachek for the night, the Bolsheviks fell on the place where the clergy were living and killed Hieromonks Modestus and Irinarchus, Hierodeacon Theodotus and the laypeople who had given them shelter together with their daughter. The five corpses lay at the foot of the icon in a pool of blood.

On January 2 and 3, 1919 band of 60 Red Army soldiers again came to the monastery. Among other crimes, they demanded, under threat of death, that Monk Joseph denounce Christ and the Mother of God. When he refused, they forced him to smoke. At 2 o'clock at night they burst into the church during the Liturgy. The brotherhood, expecting further sufferings and even death, all partook of the Divine Mysteries, after which a soldier holding scissors in his hand declared:

"Stand, don't move, come up one by one, I'm going to cut off the hair of all of you."

He cut off the hair of one of the monks. When the others tried to flee, one soldier went into the altar, opened the royal doors and shouted:

"Don't leave, I'll shoot."

After thoroughly plundering the monastery the bandits left, but not before cutting off the hair of Hieromonks Nestor and Boniface, killing Monk Timothy in the field and cutting to pieces Novice Moses (whose fingers had already been cut off).

(Source: Ikh Stradaniyami Ochistitsa Rus', Moscow, 1996, pp. 50-54)

In October, 1918 an engineer left Petrograd and was arrested in Kursk. In prison he witnessed the death of a young, 26-year-old priest. While they were taking him to be executed along the corridor of the prison a soldier bayonetted him in the stomach. Then he was shot while in an unconscious condition.

(Source: Ikh Stradaniyami Ochistitsa Rus', Moscow, 1996, p. 55)

In Poltava and Kremenchug all the priests were impaled. In Poltava, where "Grishka the prostitute" reigned, in one day 18 monks were impaled. The inhabitants asserted that "here (on burnt posts) Grishka the prostitute burned the especially rebellious peasants, and himself sat on a chair enjoying the spectacle."

(Source: Ikh Stradaniyami Ochistitsa Rus', Moscow, 1996, p. 79)

In Kharkov province, in the six months from the end of December, 1918 to June, 1919, 70 priests were killed.

In Kharkov, an eighty-year-old priest, Fr. Ambrose, was beaten with the butt-end of the guns before being executed.

The priest Fr. Demetrius was taken out to the cemetery and stripped. When he began to sign himself with the sign of the cross, the executioner cut off his right hand. They did not allow his body to be buried and gave it to be eaten by the dogs.

When the priest Fr. Gabriel Makovsky (or Mokovsky) was hacked to pieces for rebuking the Bolsheviks for their evil deeds, and when his wife petitioned them to allow her to bury the body of her executed husband, the Bolsheviks cut off first her arms and legs, then they covered her breast with wounds, and then hacked her to death.

An old priest who had interceded for a peasant sentenced to death was flogged to death with ramrods and cut to pieces with sabres. Then the Red Army men with cynical pleasure described how they had beaten the naked old man with ramrods "on the belly" and "on the spine", and how he had "writhed" in pain.

In the Svyatogorsk monastery, the sailor Dubenko arrested the superior, the 75-year-old Archimandrite Rodion, who was taken out into a field and killed. One of the Red Army men boasted that he had killed the superior: first he had cut the skin and hair from his head, then he had bent the head and started to cut his neck. An examination of the corpse confirmed the Red Army man's confession.

In Izyum uyezd, the village priest Longin was arrested and taken to the city. On the way they cut off his nose and, having killed him, threw him into the river.

Protopriest Peter Vasilyevich Sionsky graduated from a Theological Academy and for a considerable period of time was overseer at the Oboyansk theological school in Kursk province. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Pitirim (Oknov) and sent to Belgorod as overseer of the theological school and the four years of the theological seminary courses that he had opened. He was known as a strict leader, but at the same was gentle and benevolent.

He was the most senior of the Belgorod protopriests. He fulfilled his duties as educator of the students at the theological school and seminary in a zealous and irreproachable manner. He loved to serve the Divine services, and gave an excellent example as a concentrated, dedicated celebrant.

Before the arrival of the White armies in Belgorod in the spring of 1919, he was among 28 people who were arrested and sent to the city of Kursk, where, during the seizure of the city by the Whites, he was shot by the Bolsheviks together with the other hostages. His body was covered with earth in a grave beyond the Chersonese gates in Kursk.

When the grave was opened, his body was identified and transferred to Belgorod, where it was buried in the cemetery of the Belgorod Holy Trinity men's monastery.

Protopriest Porphyrius Ivanovich Amphiteatrov was a teacher at the Belgorod theological school from 1893 to 1894. As a teacher, he was attentive to people, but strict and demanding, while always just. Then he was ordained to the priesthood and appointed to the village of Koshar, where he carried out his duties zealously. In the church of the village there was a wonderworking cross, and near the church - a spring of healing water. These holy objects drew many pilgrims to the church, and in accepting these pilgrims in a fatherly manner Fr. Porphyrius acquired the reputation of being a good pastor, a bold intercessor and pleader for the suffering before God. People began to stream to Koshar not only to venerate the holy objects, but also to meet Fr. Porphyrius, whose fame began to spread beyond the bounds of the uyezd.

Before the First World War he was appointed superior of the Dormition Nikolayevsky cathedral in Belgorod, where he also wom the love of the believers by his zeal, heart-felt service and preaching of the Word of God.

Being in poor health and having an illness of the legs, he moved with difficulty. Nevertheless, he found in himself the strength to undertake many labours, and gave himself completely to the service of the Church. The Bolsheviks counted him among the most dangerous pastors and prepared to get rid of him. Fr. Porphyrius was arrested at almost the same time as Bishop Nicodemus. He was killed in Belgorod, but his body was not found in any of the graves in which the Bolsheviks buried the victims of their terror. This was not by chance. Evidently the Bolsheviks took measures to hide his remains, so that his venerators would not be able to find them. It is assumed that Fr. Porphyrius' body was thrown into some out-of-the-way place to be eaten by wild beasts.

After finishing theological seminary, Protopriest Basil Mikhailovich Solodovnikov became a teacher in the theological school in Kursk diocese. Soon he was ordained to the priesthood. For many years he was superior of the cemetery church in Belgorod. During the last years of his life he was a teacher of the Law of God in the second Belgorod women's gymnasium. Fr. Basil was distinguished by an especially sincere religious disposition. He served beautifully and penetratingly, and was an exemplary pastor. He was always joyful and inviting, and never condemned anyone. To the servants of Satan such a priest was dangerous, and so he was arrested among the 28 hostages taken as the Bolsheviks retreated before the White Army in the spring of 1919 and was sent under convoy to Kursk.

Two of the hostages managed to escape on the way (in the village of Yakovlevka, where there was a stop), and they reported that they all, including Fr. Basil, walked obediently, 'like lambs to the slaughter', preparing to receive a martyric death.

When Kursk was freed from the Bolsheviks, Fr. Basil's body was transferred to Belgorod and buried by the church in the city cemetery, where for many years he had chanted to the Lord and preached His Word.

Fr. Basil was one of those who were buried alive in a pit, being only covered with some earth. He had the strength to crawl out of it, but then a woman working for the Bolsheviks saw him and reported it to the Bolsheviks. They quickly came and finished him off.

Hieromonk Seraphim (Kretov) was of peasant family from Kursk province. He became a brother in the Belgorod Holy Trinity men's monastery. He was well-educated, and was considered a monk with considerable spiritual experience. He was known as an exemplary priest, being known through his frequent visits to the homes of the citizens with the miracle-working icon of St. Nicholas the Warrior. As the Bolsheviks were retreating before the advance of the White Army in the spring of 1919, he was taken from his monastery as a hostage and together with the other clergy who had been arrested was transferred to Kursk and imprisoned. As the front approached Kursk the hostages were shot, on December 11. Among those killed was Hieromonk Seraphim - by an exploding bullet in the back of the head which came out through his face in such a manner that his brothers did not recognize him and had to identify him by other marks. The body of the hieromartyr was taken together with the other natives of Belgorod to Belgorod and met by the brotherhood of the monastery.

Protopriest Constantine Nichkevich was the superior of the church of the village of Myasoyedovo, Kursk diocese and a dean. He was much beloved by his parishioners. In 1918 he was killed by the local Bolshevik commissars, being accused of being a "counter-revolutionary" by the new "owners" of the village. Fr. Constantine was subjected to mockery, searches and threats of arrest and execution, but remained at his post, fulfilling the duties of a pastor. The commissars' only reason for killing him was their hatred of him. They sent to him a suspicious type who pretended to be a young priest. This priest was being prepared by the commissars as Fr. Constantine's deputy. The Bolsheviks' candidate behaved in a very familiar manner with Fr. Constantine and tried to lure him into a conflict, but the latter acted with great tact. The parishioners' unwillingness to accept the Bolsheviks' candidate was interpreted as agitation by Fr. Constantine against the young "progressive batyushka", and he was accused of agitating against Soviet power. When no proof was found for this accusation, and the sympathies of the parishioners for Fr. Constantine only increased, he was killed late at night in his home by a commissar who came to him under the pretext of having a business conversation with him. After this the enigmatic candidate disappeared from the village.

In the pre-revolutionary period, Protopriest Alexis Popov was the third priest in the Belgorod Smolensk cathedral and a teacher of the Law of God in the Belgorod teachers' institute. He was considered a "progressive" priest because of his political views. Then came the revolution. At first he sympathized with the renovationist movement in the Orthodox Church. But soon he changed.

He began firmly to defend the Church against her external enemy - Soviet power - and her internal enemies - those sowing schism and attempting to pervert the Truth of Christ. His fearless speeches at debates, his sermons and his whole activity as a pastor saving the faithful flock in the terrible days of open persecution against the Church won the hearts of the believers. At this time the Belgorod Holy Trinity monastery was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, and the cathedral in the monastery closed. The Transfiguration church, of which Fr. Alexis was the superior, became the city's cathedral. These were the days, just after the killing of Bishop Nicodemus, when many worthy priests of the city were arrested and killed. It was the period when they began to close the churches "at the demand of the people".

At this time Fr. Alexis stood out as the only fearless defender of the Christians in the city. He denounced the Bolsheviks and called on the people to stand firmly for the faith. At antireligious debates he was invited as the opponent of the main speaker, a former seminarian, and always won, which gave great joy to the faithful. Once the former Moscow renovationist protopriest Kalinovsky gave a lecture on the theme: "Does God exist?" Fr. Alexis's reply was so crushin that those who heard it remembered for years afterwards.

Of course, the Bolsheviks could not allow such a priest to continued. However, they did not deal with him for a long time. Since he was loved by the people of the city, substantial and serious accusations had to be found against him. It was only in 1928-29, when a new wave of church closures began, that the authorities arrested Fr. Alexis and sent him to a distant camp without right of correspondence. Rumours came to his orphaned flock that he had received a martyr's crown.

The priest Fr. Constantine Ephremov began to serve in the village of Zhuravlevka, Kursk province, in 1910. He was know for getting on well with the peasants while having a strong character. He served exceptionally beautifully, and in the reading of the Gospel and akathists and prayers he was without equal in the whole diocese. He was greatly loved and revered by his parishioners. After the revolution he continued to serve zealously, and fearlessly denounced the Soviet authorities. His sermons were especially moving. This priest was "unsuitable" for the Soviets, the more so since his village was prosperous and therefore not a stronghold of Soviet power.

Several times they tried to restrict him, but he fought with them in a very tactful but persistent manner. He was attacked from various sides, and in the end was forced to leave the village "voluntarily". Being transferred to Belgorod, he continued to serve in one of the city districts for some time, but soon he was again denounced and then arrested. In the next room to where Fr. Constantine lived was placed a communist railwayworker who denounced him to th OGPU for supposedly conducting political meetings in his flat and making counter-revolutionary utterances. This slander was enough to have him arrested. He was detained for several months in terrible prison conditions without the right of seeing his relatives, and then without interrogation or trial he was shot together with others who had been also arrested only because the authorities could not stand them.

After the forcible eviction of Fr. Constantine Ephremov, Fr. John Timofeyev took his place in the village of Zhuravlevka.

At the beginning of collectivization in 1929, the priests proved to be a "hindrance" in the path of this "humane" plan. The following method of removing them was usually followed. Ever-increasing taxes were imposed on them, and when all their resources had been handed over to the authorities, Fr. John was arrested for "spiteful unwillingness" to pay the next contribution. His family (a wife and six children) were evicted from the village and abandoned, while Fr. John after the normal procedures was sent to a death camp in the Far East. From there he wrote about the very difficult regime and the hopeless condition of his health. Then the letters stopped and nothing more was heard of him.

Hieromonk Boniface of the Belgorod Men's Monastery was an old man who lived until the dissolution of the monastery, where he was forced to live outside the city. While travelling on a horse in winter he was killed by some "unknown people" not far from Belgorod.

The priest Fr. Demetrius Sophronov was the superior of the church of the Three Hierarchs in Belgorod. From the very beginning of the revolution he was persecuted by the Bolsheviks. He was denounced for supposedly collecting information about the Bolsheviks during confessions and passing this on to the Whites (at that time Belgorod had been freed from the Bolsheviks by the Whites). He was arrested immediately after the Bolsheviks re-took the city. He was put in prison for several months and sentenced to death. At the intercession of certain influential parishioners, the accusations against him were found to be without foundation and he was released. However, he arrived hom to his family completely exhausted and sick. He died two or three months later, in 1920.

A very old priest from the village of Solntsevo, near Belgorod, was thrown into a well by the Bolsheviks, who then threw stones into it. Among the participants in this murder was a woman, a midwife. With revolver in hand, she remained by the well so as to prevent anyone who might want to help the sufferer, who was still groaning. When the groaning stopped, she fired some shots into the well. Later, when the Whites arrived, this woman was recognized by the daughter of the priest, was convicted of her crimes by many witnesses and received her just recompense at a trial.

In 1922, 98 clergy of various ranks were killed in Kharkov province by the Bolsheviks in connection with their campaign of requisitioning church valuables. In the neighbouring province of Kursk, 68 clergy were killed.

The priest Fr. Demetrius Rybalko was for many years a deacon in the Verkho-Kharkovsky Nikolayevsky women's monastery. He was made a priest there after the revolution. Soon the monastery was closed and the inhabitants expelled. Fr. Demetrius moved to the neighbouring village, where there was no priest. The Bolsheviks noticed this, and closed the church there, too; but they first suggested to Fr. Demetrius that he abandon serving and begin to work. He continued to serve. He was soon arrested and died in prison in Kharkov in 1932. He was a simple, humble servant of the Church, but firm even till death.

Protopriest John Ilyinsky, of the wooden church on Novoselovka in Kharkov, disappeared without trace.

When the White Army retreated in the spring of 1919, the Bolsheviks took as hostages, not only clergy, but also laymen, from among those whom they considered especially dangerous.

Vladimir Ivanovich Nikulin was a trader. He owned a grocery shop in the city of Belgorod. For many years he was the warden of the cemetery church in Belgorod. Vladimir Ivanovich was a man of an unusual, truly Christian soul. He was always kind and welcoming. Nobody ever saw him angry. He did not strive to become rich. During the First World War he gave his shop away to those who worked in it. He received a martyric death together with his superior, Fr. Basil Solodovnikov.

Mark Spiridonov, Basil Bezgin and Gabriel Boldyrev were Belgorod traders, religious people, devoted to the Church. They were taken as hostages in 1919 and tortured by the Bolsheviks in Kursk before the city was surrendered to the White Army. Their bodies were found in Kursk and buried in their native Belgorod.

(Sources: Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1949-57, part 1, pp. 203-204, 206-207, 212, 213; part 2, chapter 23, pp. 173, 175, chapter 26, pp. 268, 273; The New Martyrs of Russia, Montreal, 1972, p. 94; Vladimir Rusak, Pir Satany, London, Canada: "Zarya", 1991, pp. 21, 24, 28)

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