Hieromartyr Sergius (Mechiev) Of Moscow

Fr. Sergius Mechiev was born on September 17, 1892 to the famous Moscow elder, Fr. Alexis Mechiev, and his matushka, Anna Petrovna. He was the fourth child and arrived in a household that was already cramped for space and in trouble financially. The frequent shortage of food was the cause of the boy's weak constitution, but he had a strong-willed character inherited from his mother. Her death in 1901 was hard on him, but he had a close bond with his father.

Fr. Alexis was in close touch with the Optina elders Anatolius and Nectarius, and they would send those who came to them from Moscow to him. He died on June 9, 1923, and his funeral was celebrated by Hieromartyr Theodore, Archbishop of Volokolamsk, 30 priests and 6 deacons. The body was met at the graveside by Patriarch Tikhon, who had just been released from prison. And while he was blessing the people, which took several hours, Fr. Sergius Mechiev served the first full pannikhida to his father.

Fr. Alexis greatly loved his son and wanted to have him as his successor. However, he did not put any pressure on him to accept the priesthood and allowed him to acquire a secular education. Upon graduating, he fulfilled a dream by taking a trip abroad, to Switzerland and Italy, and then entered the medical faculty at Moscow University. Although he later transferred to the historical-philological department, he acquired sufficient knowledge to work as a nurse at the front when the war came. There he met his future wife, Euphrosyne Nikolayevna. They were married in 1918. While Fr. Sergius had still not made up his mind to enter the priesthood, he was active in the Church; he participated in a student theological circle and avidly studied patristics. As a member of a commission formed to negotiate relations with the new government, he came into frequent contact with Patriarch Tikhon, who became very fond of him and urged him to become a priest. His decision to do so was tied up with a trip to Optina in the autumn of 1918, where he met the elders Anatolius and Nectarius. In 1919, after graduating from the historico-philological department of Moscow University, Sergius was ordained to the diaconate, and on April 4 - to the priesthood. The ordination was performed by the future hieromartyr, Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeyevsky).

Fr. Sergius now took over the care of his father's parish, that of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker on Maroseika street. He served them until his martyric death. "You are my way to Christ," he wrote to his spiritual children in 1930. "How can I be without you?" And the parish began to grow, receiving people from all over Moscow.

Elder Nectarius once said: "You knew Fr. Alexis? The whole of Moscow knew him, while Fr. Sergius is known so far only by half of Moscow. But he will be greater than his father."

Fr. Sergius' family had two houses in the country: one in Vereya and one in Dubky. For the summer Fr. Sergius would send families with children there for spiritual retreats, which were very profitable. His parish loved him. He filled all with a special joy at his meetings. In hard times he would be able to gather food and provisions. In times of disharmony he would make the warring parties be reconciled and forgive one another. He would give everyone courage by his prayers. During the winter of 1924-25, Fr. Sergius gathered discussion groups before the morning Liturgy. He would lecture on Christian ethics: relations with one another and with the pastor, and the life of an Orthodox Christian in the world in general.

Fr. Sergius was arrested for the first time while his father was still alive, for his opposition to the renovationists. The parish on the Maroseika, was, with the Danilov monastery where Archbishop Theodore was abbot, one of the very few communities that remained faithful to the patriarch. He was released after one month in prison.

In 1923, Patriarch Tikhon was released from prison, and the authorities deceived him into accepting the new calendar. Fr. Sergius was upset and came to him:

"Your Holiness Vladyka!" he said. "Don't consider me a rebel, but my church conscience does not allow me to accept the new style!"

"What kind of a rebel are you, Seryozha, replied his Holiness in a fatherly way. "I know you. But they are demanding that I introduce the new style."

The people of the Church did not accept the new style and soon the Julian calendar was restored. Some, however, considered that if the new style was adopted, believers would have greater opportunities to go to festal services, since at that time the Nativity and Baptism of Christ according to the new style were still holidays.

"I assure you," said Fr. Sergius, "soon they will not keep the feast by any calendar."

And soon the five-day-week became the six-day-week, then the seven-day-week or six days with a variable day of rest.

After the death of Patriarch Tikhon in 1925, Fr. Sergius commemorated only Metropolitan Peter, the patriarchal locum tenens. When Metropolitan Peter was imprisoned, and his deputy, Metropolitan Sergius, demanded that his name be commemorated alongside Metropolitan Peter's, Fr. Sergius considered this demand uncanonical and broke communion with Metropolitan Sergius. And he said that if he were banned from serving by Sergius' Synod, he would not accept it. Fr. Sergius also refused to pray for unbelievers, and especially militant atheists, at the Divine Liturgy. He said that the conversion of the soul to God is a free choice, and it is wrong to pray for those who do not want it, and especially at the Liturgy, which is a service for believers only.

Protopresbyter Michael Polsky writes: "In essence, a huge majority of the Moscow churches belonged to the secret adherents of Fr. Sergius Mechiev. Among them,.. the proclamations of the Soviet government were not followed."

On October 29, 1929, Fr. Sergius was arrested and exiled to the northern town of Kadnikov for his refusal to accept Metropolitan Sergius' declaration. His matushka and four children suffered much from his exiles, from where he tried to encourage them by letters.

While in exile in Ust-Sisolsk in 1930, he wrote to Tatiana Kuprianov: "A hermit is first unto God, and then to the people; a pastor - first to the people and then to God. The eyes of the hermit behold God; the eyes of the pastor - the people. In them He reveals His beauty. To the pastor, the flock does not close off the Lord; on the contrary, it shows the way to Him. My dear Tanya, I am unworthy and more sinful than all, but I am a shepherd, not only a priest. My spirit yearns for every soul of my flock. If it were said, 'Choose between two possibilities - either serve the Divine services or feed the flock' - without hesitation I would feed and console the flock."

On the eve of the Annunciation, 1932, Fr. Sergius' church on Maroseika street was closed and turned into a warehouse. Together with him were arrested Hieromonk Sabbas (a monk of St. Sabbas' Storozhevsky monastery near Zvenigorod, who had been on the staff of the church on Maroseika while Elder Alexis was still alive), Fr. Constantine Rovinsky and O.A. Ostolopovaya. They were exiled and nothing more is known about them.

On March 8, 1933, Fr. Sergius was arrested again in Kadnikov and given five years in the camps. First he was sent to do woodcutting at Kubensk lake, then to the river Shelex, and then to Ust-Pinega. In 1935 he was transferred to the Svir camps, and then to Perebory station, near Rybinsk, on dam-building work.

In 1937, he was freed from the camps, but was not allowed to return home and lived near Kalinin (Tver), serving as a medic and celebrating the Liturgy in secret. During these years, Fr. Sergius did not cease to care for his spiritual children. They constantly visited him and wrote to him.

Once, being without a bishop, Fr. Sergius followed the advice of one of his spiritual sons and opened his heart to a certain hierarch, Bishop Manuel Lemeshevsky, and in confidence explained to him his church position, thinking that he shared his views. Bishop Manuel was soon arrested, renounced his confessing position and betrayed Fr. Sergius. During questioning at his trial, the arrested hierarch said that Fr. Sergius was the main instigator of the opposition to Metropolitan Sergius. He also said that he wished to be a loyal Soviet citizen and wanted no trouble. The prosecutor tapped him on the shoulder and said:

"Don't worry and be upset, Vladyka: you will be of some use to us later."

After this, he was released and was given a diocese of Orenburg by Metropolitan Sergius.

Fr. Sergius was advised to go into hiding in Central Asia, but he could not leave his spiritual children and lived secretly in various places, serving in secret. In the summer of 1941 he was living in towns and villages along the banks of the Volga near Rybinsk. In Rybinsk he made contact with a certain holy woman named Matushka Xenia, and asked her:

"What must a priest do who has been betrayed by a bishop?"

The woman was embarrassed and did not want to pass on the question to Matushka Xenia. But when she came to matushka, matushka met her with the words:

"Whom did you refuse?! He is a hieromartyr!"

And she added: "The schema and reclusion await him."

This was a prophecy of prison and death.

Seeking refuge in the homes of trustworthy believers, Fr. Sergius celebrated the Divine services whenever he could. He told the spiritual daughter who accompanied him that he would like to celebrate the Liturgy as much as possible. He wanted to serve forty Liturgies, as if to commemorate the forty-day period of his soul's journey through the aerial "toll houses" after his death. He knew that he would soon be caught and again sent to prison or killed.

On June 24 / July 7, 1941, Fr. Sergius and his spiritual daughter, Elizabeth Alexandrovna Bulgakova, were arrested for the last time as the result of a passport check and were taken to Yaroslavl prison. She was charged with being "an active member of the counter-revolutionary church organization led by S.A. Mechiev, which had as its aim a struggle against Metropolitan Sergius and which sought to bring the Church into an illegal existence." A long prison term threatened, but on November 12 she was released - a miracle worked through the prayers and heroic actions of Fr. Sergius, she claimed. However, on December 9/22, 1941 (November 5-6 (new style), according to another source), as the Germans approached, Fr. Sergius, together with other prisoners with sentences longer than ten years, was shot within the walls of the Yaroslavl NKVD prison.

(Sources: Otyets Alexei Mechiev, Paris: YMCA Press, 1970, pp. 51-52; Sergei Overt, "New Priest-Martyr Sergius Mechiev", The Orthodox Word, vol. 23, no. 1 (132), January-February, 1987, pp. 4-15; Nadezhda, Basel-Moscow, 1993, no. 16; "A True Spiritual Father: New Martyr Priest Sergius Mechiev", Orthodox America, vol. XIV, no. 6 (130), February, 1994, p. 5; "Novomuchenik Ierej Sergij Mechiev", Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 4 (1529), February 15/28, 1995, pp. 3, 15; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1957, vol. II, p. 23; Tsvetochki Optinoj Pustyni, Moscow: Palomnik, 1995, p. 172)

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