Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov
FIRST BISHOP OF THE CATACOMB CHURCH
Commemorated July 6 (†1930)
“Even if all the world shall enter into communion
with the (heretical) Patriarch, I will not.”
St Maximus the Confessor
BISHOP MAXIM OF SERPUKHOV, Diocese of Moscow, was in the world Michael Alexandrovich Zhizhilenko and was born on March 2, 1885. His parents lived at that time in Kalisha (in Poland), where his father was procurator of the Circuit Court of Kalisha for 25 years and enjoyed a great respect among the people. The family was large, patriarchal, harmonious; all nine children grew up and studied in the city of Kalisha. The mother brought up all in a religious spirit, inspiring in the children love for God, Church, and fellow man.
He was the younger brother of the well-known Professor of Criminal Law at the Petersburg University, Alexander Alexandrovich Zhizhilenko, who in 1922 appeared for the defense in the famous trial of Metropolitan Veniamin. In the words of Vladika Maxim, his brother was not a religious man, and at his appearance at the trial of ‘church figures,’ he declared at the beginning of his testimony that he was appearing, being an atheist, solely as a representative of the law and a defender of justice. However, when he found out about the secret tonsure of his younger brother, Alexander Alexandrovich came to his quarters and received his blessing. In the words of the widow of A. A. Zhizhilenko (who died soon after his brother’s tonsure) this event (secret monasticism and episcopacy) produced a tremendous impression on him and, while dying, he said in delirium: “They say that there is no God, but He does exist after all.”
After finishing preparatory school, Michael Alexandrovich entered Moscow University in the Department of Medicine. This surprised his relatives because his father and three brothers were lawyers. This was approximately in 1908. about 1911, being a student, he married a fellow student, but he lived with her only half a year. Having gone to her parents in the city of Eysk, she died there, being unable to bear her first pregnancy. The couple desired in no way to terminate this pregnancy artificially, even though both knew that the girl was in danger of death. Vladika called his deceased wife a ‘righteous one.’ At that same time, he too was very ill and underwent an operation for appendicitis and was so bad that people were afraid to tell him of the death of his wife. When he began to recover, great was his grief and despair over this loss.
As his sister related, it was just at this time that her brother had a dream that very much affected his later life. He saw his deceased mother, who told him to pray to Saint Panteleimon the Healer, whom she had greatly venerated while alive. On the very next day Michael went to the chapel of Saint Panteleimon in Moscow, bought there a small icon of the Saint and never parted with it, and prayers to Saint Panteleimon the Healer helped him in his later life. He became religious, extraordinarily kind, responsive to the grief of others, and helped the poor.
It should also be noted that the Lord gave him great musical talents. He played the piano superbly, himself composed music, and, as a psychiatrist, used music in the treatment of his patients.
After completing the university, Michael was a psychiatrist in the Sokolniki district of Moscow. When war broke out in 1914 he became a physician in the Kuban Plastan Battalion and was on the Austrian front. Here he almost died of typhus, having become infected by sick Austrian prisoners.
For a short time, he was a professor of psychiatry at a provincial university and then became a practicing physician-therapist. For the next several years he was the chief physician of the ‘Taganka’ prison in Moscow.
In 1921 his sister in Belgrade received the only and last letter from her brother. In this letter, which began with the sign of the cross, he wrote that we are all sinful in the misfortunes that have come upon us, that we must pray to the Lord and beg His forgiveness and help. Only a year or two later did another letter come from friends, in which in a disguised manner it was said that Michael had received the priesthood without leaving his first position, i.e., of the prison doctor. Thus he became both a spiritual and bodily physician; for the time being the enemies had not found this out. Later she was likewise informed that he had been sent for three years “to one of the Northern resorts” (i.e., prison camps).
The physician of the prison hospital was known by all those confined in this fearsome prison, which was overfilled beyond all measure primarily with criminals, but to a significant degree also with political prisoners; they well knew and remembered him who had long been known as the guardian angel of this prison.
In his difficult post, he was not only a physician but also a great master of the heart, a comforter, and father. Before him, a physician, not infrequently as before a priest the most inveterate and incorrigible criminals confessed, finding for themselves not only comfort but often also a return to honest life. Many in Moscow knew that he slept on bare boards, that he ate prison food, that he unfailingly distributed all his salary to the prisoners. He acted in this way not only now, under the Bolsheviks, but earlier as well, under the Imperial government.
BEING A DEEPLY religious man, Vladika, while still a layman, made the acquaintance of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, whom he deeply revered. The Patriarch greatly loved Dr. Zhizhilenko and often made use of his advice. Their relationship in time took on the character of the most intimate friendship. In the words of Vladika Maxim, the Patriarch confided in him the most secret thoughts and feelings. Thus, for example, in one of their conversations, His Holiness expressed to Vladika Maxim (then still simply a doctor) his painful doubts as to the benefit of further concessions to the Soviet power. In making these concessions, he became more and
more convinced, with horror, that the boundary of the ‘political’ demands of the Soviet power lay beyond the bounds of faithfulness to Christ and the Church. And not long before his death, the Patriarch expressed the thought that apparently the only way out for the Russian Orthodox Church to preserve her faithfulness to Christ would be, in the near future, to go into the catacombs. Therefore Patriarch Tikhon blessed Dr. Zhizhilenko to accept secret monasticism and then, in case in the near future the higher church hierarchy were to betray Christ and concede to the Soviet power the spiritual freedom of the Church, to become a secret bishop.
While telling us, physicians imprisoned at Solovki and true ‘Tikhonites,’ of Patriarch Tikhon’s refusal once to bless one of the participants in the White Movement, Vladika related in detail concerning the extreme caution of Patriarch Tikhon, who did not show to those around him his authentic deepest relationship to questions of politics, but who revealed this in strict confidence to his no less cautious friend, and concerning the immense joy he had in connection with the activity of Metropolitan Anthony abroad. “How they there well understand everything and do not, apparently, judge me,” the Patriarch once expressed himself with tears, having in mind the activity of the so-called ‘Karlovchany.’*
Vladika Maxim told us in detail of the many attempts to kill Patriarch Tikhon. Once a supposed madman threw himself with a knife upon the Patriarch as he was coming out of the altar. Unexpectedly, however, instead of Patriarch Tikhon someone else came out, and the ‘madman,’ being ‘sanely surprised,’ delivered no wound to the one who came out. Another time, when the cell-attendant of the Patriarch was killed, the murderer ran about the Patriarch’s apartments without noticing Patriarch Tikhon sitting in an armchair. Several attempts to poison His Holiness were made with the aid of medicines sent to him.
Vladika Maxim also told us of some disagreements with Patriarch Tikhon. The chief of these lay in the fact that His Holiness was optimistically inclined, believing that all the terrors of Soviet life could yet pass and that Russia could still be reborn through repentance. Vladika Maxim, however, was inclined to a pessimistic view of the events that were occurring and believed that we had already entered into the final days of the apocalyptic period. “Apparently,” Vladika Maxim concluded, smiling (which happened rarely), “we infected each other a little with our attitudes: I infected him with pessimism and he me with optimism.”
His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon died on March 25, 1925, being, in the words of Vladika Maxim, unquestionably poisoned. The Patriarch’s ‘Testament,’ according to Vladika Maxim’s categorical assertion, was counterfeit. At the same time, he cited the authoritative opinion on this question of his brother, a professor of Criminal Law.
Michael Alexandrovich fulfilled the will of the late Patriarch Tikhon and in 1927, when Metropolitan Sergius published his well-known Declaration, he received a secret tonsure with the name Maxim and became the first secret Catacomb bishop.
When the new illegal bishop appeared secretly in Serpukhov, having been consecrated in Petrograd by the ‘rebellious’ and ‘suspended’ Bishop Dimitry (of Gdov), who then, in succession from Metropolitan Joseph, headed the whole of the opposition to Metr. Sergius, and when the faithful of Moscow recognized in the person of the new bishop the doctor of ‘Taganka,’ this event produced a great impression. In Serpukhov in a very short time, all 18 parishes went over to the new bishop, i.e., to the opposition. In neighboring Kolomna, the same thing happened. In Zvenigorod, Volokolamsk, Pereyaslav Zadessky, and other cities a significant number of the parishes followed the example of Serpukhov.
Of great interest is the following document—a declaration sent to Metropolitan Sergius by the clergy and laity of Serpukhov on December 30, 1927, which one must presume to have been written not without the influence, editing, or even authorship of Bishop Maxim.
“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Finding it no longer possible to remain on that slippery and ambiguous path on which You, by Your Declaration and decrees, have placed the entire Orthodox Church, and submitting to the voice of conscience and duty before God and the faithful, we the undersigned break off canonical and prayerful communion with You and the so-called ‘Patriarchal Synod’ and refuse to acknowledge You as Deputy of the Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal See, for the following reasons:
“1. Your Declaration of July 16, Your Ukase of October 20, and everything that is known of Your direction of the Church, manifestly speaks of the fact that You have placed the Church in dependence on the civil authority and have deprived her of inner freedom and independence, thereby also violating church canons and going against the decrees of the civil authority.
“2. Thus, You are nothing other than a continuation of the so-called “Renovationist’ (Living Church) movement, only in a more refined and very dangerous form, for, while declaring Your firmness of Orthodoxy and preservation of canonicity, You fog over the minds of the faithful and consciously conceal from their eyes that abyss toward which all Your decrees are irrepressibly leading the Church.
“3. the result of Your politics is before us. The faithful of the city of Serpukhov, disturbed by Your decrees, are seized by a most powerful alarm and perplexity over the destiny of the Holy Orthodox Church. We, their pastors, placed by You upon an ambiguous path, not only cannot set their hearts and minds at rest, but rather evoke on their side suspicion of betraying the work of Orthodoxy and going over to the camp of ‘Renovationism.’
“All this imperatively compels us boldly to raise our voice and cease our now already criminal silence over Your mistakes and incorrect actions and, with the blessing of Dimitry, Bishop of Gdov, to disassociate ourselves from You an those who surround You. Leaving You, we do not depart from the lawful Locum Tenens Metropolitan Peter, and we shall give ourselves over to the judgment of a future council. May this desired council, our sole competent judge, not place to our guilt our boldness. May it judge us not as disdainers of the sacred canons of the Holy Fathers, but only as fearful to violate them.”
The influence of Bishop Maxim constantly grew, and increased especially when there was introduced into the Liturgy in Petrograd the famous “Prayer for the Holy Church,” which however received among the faithful the title of “Prayer concerning the Bolsheviks.” Rumor ascribed the authorship of this prayer to no one else than Bishop Maxim. His fate was sealed. The Soviet authorities knew him as a physician, as a Soviet employee. His appearance in a black ryassa at the head of a confessing Church seemed to them the highest brazenness.
In his new post, Vladika did not last long. He was arrested in the middle of 1929, and therefore he spent two whole years in prison before winning his martyr’s crown.
The secret bishop conducted himself so cautiously, and when arrested on the report of an informer he answered the interrogations so wisely, that the investigating authority of the Secret Police could not incriminate him in anything except for the very fact of his secret tonsure while at the same time working as Chief Physician of the Taganka prison, and they limited themselves to a punishment of “three years in the Solovki Camp” (in accordance with Art. 58, Pt. 10, i.e., for counter-revolutionary propaganda).
AT THE END of October 1929, a new physician came to the fourth section of the Solovki Camp of Special Assignment, on the island of Solovki in the White Sea, together with one of the groups of new prisoners. The Commandant of the Camp brought him to the 10th Company, where the workers of the Sanitarium Division were located, led him into the physicians’ cell and introduced him: “Here is a new physician for you, Professor, Doctor of Medicine, Michael Alexandrovich Zhizhilenko.” We, the imprisoned physicians of the Sanitarium Division of the Camp, went up to our new comrade in confinement and introduced ourselves. Our new-arrived colleague was tall in stature, with a Herculean frame, a thick gray beard, and gray brows that hung severely over kindly blue eyes.
A week before the arrival of Dr. Zhizhilenko, we were informed by our friends in the office of the Sanitarium Division that the newly-expected physician was not an ordinary man, but was imprisoned with a special “secret” dossier and was in a special position, under special surveillance, and that he might not even be allowed to work as a physician but would be transferred to the special 14th Company, the so-called Company of “the interdicted,” who are prohibited from working in their specialty and must spend the entire duration of their confinement in the so-called “general” heavy physical labor. The reason for such a “special” position was this: Dr. Zhizhilenko, while being Chief Physician of the Taganka prison in Moscow, was at the same time a secret bishop, having the monastic name of Maxim, Bishop of Serpukhov.
After an exchange of opinions on general questions, all three of us physicians told the newly-arrived one that we knew his past, the reason for his arrest and confinement in Solovki, and we went up to him for his blessing. The face of the physician-bishop became concentrated, his gray brows became yet more knit, and he slowly and solemnly blessed us. His blue eyes became yet kindlier, more gentle, and lighted up with a joyful light.
A whole week passed for all of us in oppressive waiting, until finally the position of the new physician was clarified. He was not transferred to the Company of “the interdicted.” The head of the whole Sanitarium Division of the Solovki Camps, Dr. V. I. Yakhonotov (a former criminal prisoner, who after the expiration of his term remained to serve as physician to the Political Police), even wished to assign Dr. Zhizhilenko, as an experienced physician, as the Chief of the Sanitarium Division of the 4th section (i.e., for the whole island of Solovki), but this was opposed by the Chief of the Information-Interrogation Section, the most terrible Section in the camps, on which the fate and life of all prisoners entirely depended. The position of the physician of the Central Infirmary was likewise forbidden Dr. Zhizhilenko. And so this experienced, mature physician was assigned to be in charge of one of the typhoid barracks and subordinated to a younger physician who had administrative authority. Soon, however, the exceptional talents and experience of Dr. Zhizhilenko as a healing physician were discovered, and they began to call him for consultations in all complicated cases. Even the great heads of the camp, important Communist-GPU agents, began to appeal to him for medical help, for themselves and their families. Almost all the doctors, both young and old, began to learn from their new colleague, taking advantage of his advice and studying his method of diagnosis.
At the end of 1929, there was an outbreak on Solovki of typhoid fever which quickly assumed tremendous proportions: out of 18.000 prisoners on the island, at the end of January 1930, there were 5000 sick. The mortality rate was extremely high, 20 to 30 per cent. And only in the section where Dr. Zhizhilenko was in charge did the mortality rate not exceed 8 to 10 per cent. The physician-bishop examined each new sick person in great detail, and the first entry in the history of his disease was always enormous. Besides the basic diagnosis of the main disease, the doctor always wrote diagnoses of all accompanying diseases and gave a detailed conclusion on the condition of every organ. His diagnoses were always precise and flawless, as was confirmed in autopsies of the dead: there was never observed the slightest discrepancy between his clinical diagnosis and the pathologico-anatomical report.
His medical prescriptions, for the most part, were few, but often to the basic medication would be joined some additional ones, the role of which was not always clear even to the physicians. In serious and, from the medical point of view, hopeless cases, he sometimes prescribed a very complicated treatment, which he strictly required to be undeviatingly carried out, despite the fact that various medicines had to be given every hour for days at a time. Having once carefully examined a sick man and made a medical prescription for him, on his next round Dr. Zhizhilenko, it seemed, paid little attention to him and stopped at his bed no more than a minute, feeling his pulse and looking him intensely in the eyes. Most of the sick people did not like this, and there were many complaints of the doctor’s “negligence.” Once Dr. Zhizhilenko was even called on this account to explain himself to the head of the Sanitarium Division In his justification the physician-bishop indicated the statistics on the mortality rate of the section entrusted to him (extremely low compared to the other section and all the other physicians) and the exactness of his diagnoses. While “negligently” making the rounds of the sick, he would sometimes stop before some bed and carefully, as at his first round, examine the patient anew, changing his prescription. This always meant that there had occurred a serious worsening of the patient’s condition, about which the patient himself had not yet complained.
The sick died always in his arms. It seemed that the moment of death’s approach was always known exactly to him. Even at night, he would come suddenly into his section to a dying many some few minutes before death. He closed the eyes of every dead man, folded his arms on his chest in the form of a cross, and stood in silence, without moving, for several minutes. Apparently, he would pray. In less than a year we, all his colleagues, came to understand that he was not only a remarkable physician but also a great man of prayer.
In personal contacts the physician-bishop, whom we all, in our doctors’ cell called “Vladika,” was very reserved, rather dry, at times even severe, closed within himself, taciturn, untalkative to an extreme. Concerning himself, he preferred to say nothing. The topics of his conversation always concerned either the sick or (in the circle of those persons who were very near to him spiritually) the situation of the Church.
THE ARRIVAL of Vladika Maxim at Solovki produced a great change in the attitude of the clergy who were imprisoned. At this time in the 4th Section of the Solovki camps (i.e., on the very island of Solovki), among the imprisoned bishops and priest there was observed the same schism that occurred “in freedom” after the well-known Declaration of Metr. Sergius. One part of the episcopate and the secular clergy completely broke off all communion with Metr. Sergius, remaining faithful to the unwavering position of Metropolitans Peter, Cyril, Agafangel, and Joseph, Archbishops Seraphim of Uglich and many others who witnessed their faithfulness to Christ and the Church by confession and martyrdom. Another part, however, became “Sergianists,” who accepted the so-called “new church politics” of Metr. Sergius, who founded the Soviet Church and produced a neo-renovationist schism. If among the prisoners who arrived at Solovki before the publication of the Declaration of Metr. Sergius, first the majority were “Sergianists,” among the new prisoners, those who came after the Declaration, on the contrary there prevailed the so-called “Josephites,” named after Metr. Joseph, around whom for the most part the unwavering and faithful children of the Church grouped themselves. With the arrival of new prisoners, the number of the latter increased more and more.
Just before the arrival of Vladika Maxim, on Solovki there were the following “Josephite” bishops: Bp. Victor Glazovsky (the first to come forward with an accusatory epistle against the Declaration of Metr. Sergius), Bp. Ilarion Vicar of Smolensk, and Bp. Nektary Trezvinsky. To the “Sergianists” belonged: Archbp. Anthony of Mariupol and Bp. Joseph (Prince Zhevakov). Less violent, but nonetheless a “Sergianist,” was Archbp. Ilarion Troitsky, who had condemned the Declaration of Metr. Sergius but had not broken off communion with him, as the “canonically correct” first hierarch of the Russian Church.
The arrival of Vladika Maxim tremendously increased the influence (which already prevailed before that) of the “Josephites.”
When, after the harshest interdictions imposed by Metr. Sergius upon the “disobedient,” these latter began to be arrested and shot, then the true Orthodox Russian Church began to go into the catacombs. Metropolitan Sergius and all the “Sergianists” categorically denied the existence of a Catacomb Church. The “Sergianists” at Solovki, of course, likewise did not believe in its existence. And suddenly—a living witness: the first catacomb bishop, Maxim of Serpukhov, arrived in Solovki.
Archbishop Ilarion Troitsky was soon taken away somewhere from Solovki, and together with him the “Sergianist” attitude also vanished in many. Only Archbishop Anthony and, especially, Bishop Iosaph (Zhevakov) remained persistent “Sergianists.” They did not wish even to meet and converse with Bp. Maxim. On the other hand Bps. Victor, Ilarion (of Smolensk) and Nektary rather quickly found the possibility not only to meet but also to concelebrate with Vladika Maxim in secret catacomb services in the depths of the forests of Solovki. As for the “Sergianists,” they conducted themselves with extreme caution and never organized any kind of secret services. In return, the camp authority likewise treated them more condescendingly than the bishops, priests, and laity of whom it was known that they “did not recognize” either Metropolitan Sergius or the “Soviet Church.”
All those arrested for ecclesiastical matters (and such, according to official secret statistics, in 1928-29 on Solovki were as many as 20 per cent) at interrogations were invariably asked what their attitude was to “our” Metropolitan Sergius, who headed the “Soviet Church.” At the same time, the exultant GPU-interrogators with malignant joy and sarcasm would demonstrate the “strict canonicity” of Metropolitan Sergius and his Declaration, which “violated neither canons nor dogmas.”
In denying the Catacomb Church, the “Sergianists” of Solovki denied also the “rumors” that accusatory epistles had been written and protesting delegations from the dioceses had gone to Metropolitan Sergius. Discovering that I, a layman, had personally participated in one such delegation, Archbishop Anthony of Mariupol, once, being sick in the infirmary, expressed the desire to hear my account of my trip to Metropolitan Sergius together with representatives of the episcopate and the secular clergy. Vladikas Victor and Maxim blessed me to go to the infirmary where Archbishop Anthony was, and tell him about this trip. In case he, after my account, should display solidarity with those who protested against the “new church politics,” I was permitted to receive his blessing. But if he persisted in “Sergianism,” I should not receive his blessing.
My conversation with Archbishop Anthony lasted more than two hours. I related to him in detail of the historic Delegation of the Petrograd diocese in 1927, after which the church schism occurred. At the end of my account, Archbishop Anthony asked me to tell him of the person and activity of Vladika Maxim. I replied very reservedly and briefly, and he noticed that I did not fully trust him. He asked me about this. I frankly replied that we of the catacombs feared not only the agents of the GPU, but also the “Sergianists,” who many times had given us over to the GPU. Archbishop Anthony was very upset at this and paced for a long time in the physicians’ room to which I had called him as if for an examination, being physician-consultant. Then suddenly he said decisively: “But all the same I will remain with Metropolitan Sergius.” I got up, bowed, and was about to leave. He raised his hand for a blessing, but I, remembering the direction of Vladikas Victor and Maxim, avoided receiving the blessing and left.
When I related what had happened to Vladika Maxim, he affirmed again that I should never take a blessing from persistent “Sergianists.” “The Soviet and Catacomb Churches are incompatible,” said Vladika Maxim with emphasis, firmly, with conviction, and after a silence added quietly: “The secret Catacomb Church of the wilderness has anathematized the ‘Sergianists’ and those with them.”
DESPITE THE EXTREME strictness of the discipline of the Solovki camp, which meant that they risked being tortured and shot, Vladikas Victor, Ilarion, Nektary, and Maxim not only often concelebrated in secret catacomb services in the forests of the island, but also performed secret consecrations of several new bishops. These were performed in strictest secrecy even from those closest to the candidates, so that in case of arrest and torture they could not give away to the GPU truly secret bishops. Only on the eve of my departure from Solovki I found out from my close friend, a celibate priest, that he was no longer a priest, but a secret bishop.
The common spiritual father of the entire Catacomb episcopate and secular clergy on the island of Solovki was the remarkable confessor, and later also martyr, Archpriest Nicholas Piskanovsky (from the city of Voronezh). Vladika Maxim deeply revered him and called him an “adamant of Orthodoxy.” Once Vladika Maxim, with great agitation of soul and heartfelt tears (he was rarely in such a state) showed me a postcard which Fr. Nicholas had received from his wife and young son. On this postcard was written: “We always rejoice, thinking of your sufferings in the camp for Christ and His Church. May you too rejoice that we also have become worthy again and again to be persecuted for the Lord.”
At Solovki we had several secret Catacomb “churches,” but our “favorites” were two: The “Cathedral Church” of the Holy Trinity, and the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. The first was a small clearing in the midst of a dense forest in the direction of the “Savvaty” Assignment Area. The dome of this church was the sky. The walls were the birch forest. The church of St. Nicholas was located in the deep forest towards the “Muksolm” Assignment Area. It was a thicket naturally formed by seven large spruces. Most frequently the secret services were conducted here, in the church of St. Nicholas. In the “Holy Trinity Cathedral” services were conducted only in the summer, on great feasts and, with special solemnity, on the Day of Pentecost. But sometimes, depending on circumstances, doubly secret services were celebrated also in other places. Thus, for example, on Great Thursday of 1929, the service of the reading of the Twelve Gospels was celebrated in our physicians’ cell in the 10th Company. Vladika Victor and Fr. Nicholas came to us, as if for disinfection. Then, catacomb-style, they served the church service with the door bolted. On Great Friday an order was read in all Companies informing that for the next three days no one would be allowed to leave the Companies after 8 p.m., save in exceptional circumstances and by special written permit of the Camp Commandant.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, when we physicians had just returned to our cells after a 12-hour workday, Fr. Nicholas came to us and told us that a Plashchanitsa (burial shroud with the image of Christ) the size of one’s palm had been painted by the artist R. The service—the rite of burial—was to be held and would begin in an hour. “Where?” Vladika Maxim asked. “In the great box for drying fish which is close to the forest, next to Camp N. The password: three knocks and then two. It’s better to come one at a time.”
In half an hour Vladika Maxim and I left our Company and started out for the indicated “address.” Twice the patrols asked for our permits. We, as physicians, had them. But what about the others?—Vladika Victor, Vladika Ilarion, Vladika Nektary, and Fr. Nicholas? Vladika Victor worked as a bookkeeper in the rope factory. Vladika Nektary was a fisherman, and the others weaved nets… Here was the edge of the forest. Here was the box, about nine yards long, without windows, the door scarcely noticeable. Light twilight, the sky covered with dark clouds. We knock three times and then twice. Fr. Nicholas opens. Vladika Victor and Vladika Ilarion are already here… In a few minutes, Vladika Nektary also comes. The interior of the box has been converted into a church. On the floor, on the walls, spruce branches. Several candles flickering. Small paper icons. The small Plashchanitsa is buried in green branches. Then people have come to pray. Later another four or five come, of whom two are monks. The service begins, in a whisper. It seemed that we had no bodies, but were only souls. Nothing distracted or interfered with prayer… I don’t remember how we went “home,” i.e., to our Companies. The Lord covered us!
The bright service of Pascha was assigned to our physicians’ cell. Towards midnight, under various urgent pretexts arranged by the medical section, without any kind of written permit, all who intended to come gathered, about fifteen people in all. After the Matins and Liturgy, we sat down and broke the fat. On the table were Paschal cake and cheese, colored eggs, cold dishes, wine (liquid yeast with cranberry extract and sugar). About three o’clock we parted.
Control rounds of our Company were made by the Camp Commandant before and after the services, at 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Finding us, four physicians headed by Vladika Maxim, on his last round, the Commandant said: “What, doctors, you’re not sleeping?” And immediately he added: “Such a night… and one doesn’t want to sleep!” And he left.
“Lord Jesus Christ! We thank Thee for the miracle of Thy mercy and power,” pronounced Vladika Maxim movingly, expressing our common feelings.
The white night of Solovki was nearing its end. The delicate, rose-colored Paschal morning of Solovki, the sun playing for joy, greeted the monastery-concentration camp, converting it into the invisible city of Kitezh and filling our free souls with a quiet, unearthly joy. Many years have passed since that time, but the fragrant remembrance of this delicate Paschal morning is unforgettably alive; it was literally only yesterday. And the heart believes that among us then was a saint.
Vladika Maxim was especially friendly with Vladika Victor, who was the complete opposite of the bishop-physician. Vladika Victor was short of stature, stout, full of joy, open, accessible, friendly to all, talkative. “One must comfort every man with something,” he said, and everyone he met he knew how to “comfort,” to make happy, to evoke a smile from him. He came often and conversed long with Vladika Maxim on the destiny of the Russian Orthodox Church. Being an optimist, he constantly tried to “infect” Vladika Maxim with his faith in Russia’s bright future; but the latter remained a pessimist, or as he defined himself in the words of K. Leontiev, an “optimistic pessimist.” The tragic end of world history draws near, and therefore, according to the word of the Lord, one must “bow one’s head” in expectation of the certain triumph of Christ’s truth!
On January 21 (February 3), 1930, on the feast of St. Maximus the Confessor (Vladika Maxim’s name’s day), we physicians got together and bought in our camp store an immense “pontifical” porcelain teacup, of exceedingly fine workmanship, and solemnly presented it as a gift to our dear Vladika. Vladika ate little, but he loved to drink tea. The gift was a great success. This whole day we again spent, as on Pascha, together, in our cell, and Vladika Victor told us much concerning interesting details in the trial of St. Maximus the Confessor. “You are fortunate, Vladika, that you bear the name of such a great heavenly protector and confessor in our day,” Vladika Victor concluded his account with heartfelt joy.
On July 5 (18), 1930, on the feat of St. Sergius of Radonezh, our friends in the office of the Sanitarium Division informed me that I would be arrested at night and sent with a “special convoy” to Leningrad, “on new business.” Forewarned, I prepared myself, bade farewell to my friends, and, without lying down to sleep, began to await my arrest. Hearing at two in the morning a noise and footsteps downstairs (our cell was on the second floor), I bowed to the ground before Vladika Maxim (who also was not sleeping) and asked him to bless me and pray that the Lord would send me strength to bear the coming sorrows, sufferings, and perhaps torture and death. Vladika stood up, drew himself up in all his Herculean stature (it seemed to me that he had grown and become enormous), slowly blessed me, kissed me three times, and said with emotion: “You will have many sorrows and heavy trials, but your life will be preserved, and in the end you will go out into freedom. But as for me, in a few months, they will arrest me also and… shoot me! And you too pray for me, while I am alive, and especially after my death.”
Vladika Maxim’s prediction was fulfilled precisely. In December of 1930, he was arrested and taken to Moscow. The Russian press abroad in 1931 printed the following notice: “Vatican, Nov. 30. Only today the Vatican Commission ‘Pro-Russia’ received news of the death of Maxim, Orthodox Bishop of Serpukhov. Bishop Maxim was shot on July 6 by the Bolsheviks for refusing to recognize Metropolitan Sergius, who as is known has been reconciled to the Soviet authority.”
Grant rest, O Lord, with the saints, to the soul of Thy slave Maxim, first Catacomb bishop of the long-suffering Russian Orthodox Church.
Editor’s note: The sanctity of Bishop-martyr Maxim—not only in martyrdom, but in his life as well—shines forth clearly in this first-hand account (text from ORTHODOX PATH, Jordanville, 1951). A recent proof of this is attested by his niece, who lives in New York. Only this year she was saved from a seemingly impossible situation by undoubted heavenly help, and she writes: “I firmly believe that this was because my uncle prayed for me before the Lord.”
And thus we may believe that the Orthodox Christian of today has a special heavenly intercession in misfortunes and in the approaching trials of faith, both through Bishop-martyr Maxim and through the whole choir of millions of new martyrs of the atheist communist yoke.
Holy New Martyr Maxim, pray to God for us! Amen.
* i.e., the Russian Church Outside of Russia, led until his death in 1936 by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky.
- Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov
- Metropolitan Anthony Hrapovitcky
- Patriarch Tikhon, 1923
- Solovki Concentration Camp
- Archbishop Seraphim (Samoilovich) of Uglich
- Archbishop Ilarion Troitsky
- Archpriest Nicholas Piskanovsky
- Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov
- Header: ‘Russia’s Catacomb Saints’, book cover, published 1982
Source: ‘Russia’s Catacomb Saints’, Lives of the New Martyrs by Professor I. M. Andreyevsky.