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A Twentieth-Century Martyr Princess Kira Obolenskaya

Martyr Kira Obolenskaya - Finding Strength in the Lord

New Martyr Countess Keera Obolenskaya

"To be fearless in the face of death is the lot of the merited and the chosen. You have partaken of this lot, O Sainted Kira, by the will of God Who knows the heart of all men, so pray that He put us, shaking on our feet, firmly on the path of salvation."
(Troparion of the Canon to the Holy Martyr Kira Obolenskaya, Ode 5)

This  gentle, sensitive, sweet, and heroic woman lived under Stalin's reign of terror. Still, she remained silent during the harsh interrogations and did not crack under the inhumane circumstances of the prison camps or after terrible torture. She endured all of this by following Christ, being faithful to her beliefs, and remaining a Christian till the end. If God had not selected her to shine His light on the lives of others around her, like a beacon of faith, her life may have gone unnoticed among the turmoil of the twentieth century.

“If not for your martyrdom, your pure and righteous life, illumined by the light of the Gospel, would have been a mystery. Therefore, we praise our Lord who gave us this glorious advocate and intercessor for our salvation."
(Troparion of the Canon to the Holy Martyr Kira Obolenskaya, Ode 7)

She was born in 1889 to the noble family of Ivan and Elizabeth Obolenskys, who were descended from the first Russian Prince Rurik. Her father was the adjutant of the 13th Narva Gussar Regimen. He retired with the rank of Staff Captain of Cavalry after fourteen years of active military duty, was assigned a civil status and was appointed as chief county officer in the Siedlce Governorship, which is now Poland. The family established itself at Hrubieszow.

Saint Martyr Keera’s hometown in Eastern Poland

Saint Martyr Kira’s hometown in Eastern Poland on the border with Ukraine shown on a map

The Obolenskys had five sons and two daughters. Ivan was a strong and demanding father who wanted his boys to follow in his military footsteps. They eventually all went to cadet schools.

The Obolensky Family

The Obolensky Family: (left to right) Vadim, Pavel and Boris with their father Ivan Obolensky

"I hereby desire to enrol my daughter, Kira Ivanovna Obolenskaya, to study at the Nicholas section of the Smolny Institute at our cost, and request the Council to make a positive decision regarding her based on the documents attached hereto," wrote Kira's father Ivan Obolensky in a formal application to send his daughter to study in Saint Petersburg. The Smolny Institute was one of the most reputable women's gymnasia of the time. Kira Obolenskaya completed in 1904 with a silver medal.

Students of the Smolny Institute welcoming the Emperor of Russia Nicholas II

Students of the Smolny Institute welcoming the Emperor of Russia Nicholas II

Her strong faith in God and desire to help others influenced her job choices. Kira went on to become a teacher. She never emphasised her royal ancestry or sought special treatment, and she always bore herself modestly while treating people kindly.

She taught private classes for the first six years after graduating from the institution. She never ceased teaching until her martyr's end. Even the October Revolution could not change her ways.

Princess Keera Obolenskaya, an alumnus of the Smolny Institute

Princess Kira Obolenskaya, an alumnus of the Smolny Institute

The Obolenskys relocated to Saint Petersburg in 1906, settling in a small flat on the sixth floor of a mansion on Mozhayskaya Street. Ivan had a very low salary by the standards of his time and appreciated the news of her daughter's job as a school teacher and the revenue she contributed to the family budget. In 1910, Kira Obolenskaya moved to teach at a free school for underprivileged children and also worked part-time in many other schools in Saint Petersburg's poorer neighbourhoods, including Popovka Station, Bronnitskaya Street, and the Triangle factory. She shone the light of knowledge where it was most needed.

She was still teaching school when World War I began. Her brothers Vadim and Boris died in battle. Her father’s health deteriorated. She was now the breadwinner of her household, and the pain of losing her loved ones brought her to rethink her life fundamentally.

"You were of noble descent, and all the goods of the world were within your reach, but you did not let yourself become attached to worldly goods, and remained loyal to the Lord in poverty as in richness."
(Troparion of the Canon to the Holy Martyr Kira Obolenskaya, Ode 5)

The revolution brought new troubles to the Obolenskys. In 1918, her brother Yury joined the volunteer army and died in action in 1920. Later in 1920, her brother Pavel Obolensky was arrested. Sentenced to die before a firing squad, he escaped his execution and emigrated to France. He saved his life but destined himself from the rest of the family. Also in 1920, she lost her father. She took on the care of her elderly mother and her sick sister.

“Amid the harsh persecutions and severe oppression, you did not become embittered or angered, o fragrant soul Therefore, we plead with you: keep our hearts in God's love amid a corrupt and adulterous race."
(Troparion of the Canon to the Holy Martyr Kira Obolenskaya, Ode 6)

Countess Obolenskaya was a disciple of Archimandrite Barlaam (Satserdotsky), who was then in charge of the Alexander Nevsky Brotherhood. In 1924, Father Barlaam was arrested and imprisoned in the Solovetsky Camp for three years. He nevertheless maintained correspondence with his disciples from the Solovetsky camp and all the other places where he was imprisoned or exiled.

Archimandrite Barlaam (Satserdotsky)

Archimandrite Barlaam (Satserdotsky)

From 1918 to 1930, she continued to teach at school. Under arrest, she answered the question about employment in a questionnaire she was made to fill after her arrest: “Soviet school 32, teacher, Soviet school 84, teacher, Soviet School 73, Librarian,” Her demotion from teacher to librarian most likely reflected the larger numbers of teachers trained under the Soviet regime and prepared to serve the needs and purposes of the new Socialist school.

As the "accomplishments of October" entered the life of the new school, the demand for instructors of the old school diminished. The authorities thought they now had the green light to remove the former nobility, whom they claimed were preserving parts of the old "bourgeois" culture.

Kira was arrested for the first time on September 14th. The charge against her was: "She serves as a potential ideological foundation for the internal and external counter-revolutionary elements that have still not been uprooted, and are still present at times in our cultural and educational institutions, of whom the former countess Kira Obolenskaya is one, where they are propagating in the minds of the young generation the insidious idealistic philosophy." There were no other charges.

Keera Obolenskaya in the 1930s

Kira Obolenskaya in the 1930s

During a questioning, Kira Obolenskaya stated calmly and magnanimously, "I do not identify with those who share the platform of Soviet rule. My disagreements with the Constitution begin with the issue of church-state separation. I refuse to support the goals of Soviet statehood. I am not aware of any counter-revolutionary groups, organisations, or people harbouring a hostile attitude towards Soviet authority, but I also proclaim that I believe it is improper to mention them, given the reality of Soviet life." Her candour and intolerance for deception were exploited against her. The investigators used comments taken out of context to back up the allegations against her. The extraordinary three-person judicial panel of the secret police sentenced her to five years in a prison camp.

A large former prison camp at the White Sea Canal construction

A large former prison camp at the White Sea Canal construction

After sentencing, she was dispatched to Belbaltlag in the town of Kemi of the Archangel Oblast, and later to Svirlag outside Lodeynoye Pole of the Leningrad Oblast. At the camp, she was a teacher and nurse. She worked long and hard and was released early.

A wood felling site at Svirlag

A wood felling site at Svirlag

She was prohibited from living in Leningrad and had to live at least 101 kilometres away.

Here are some surviving fragments of the correspondence between Kira Obolenskaya’s mother with her relatives in France. In a letter dated 1935, her mother writes of her daughter: "Kournavochka (the affectionate nickname by which she referred to her daughter) is now reading for her exam to work as a nurse. We do not get to see her often, and as usual, Varechka and I are feeling orphaned. Despite her demanding workload while in exile, Kira travelled to Leningrad illegally to see her elderly mother and the sick sister Varya.

"You steadfast in your obedience to Christ's commandments, and your sufferings in the world purified your heart and established it in the faith. Now, you rejoice eternally in heaven, O Martyr named mistress, singing songs of praise to the One who lives unto ages and ages."
(Troparion of the Canon to the Holy Martyr Kira Obolenskaya, Ode 6)

In 1936, she moved to Borovichi, where she began to teach foreign languages in a basic school. Borovichi was a traditional exile location for the priests and laity from and around Leningrad. It was the place of exile for the Archbishop of Leningrad Gavriil (Voevodin), former general of the Kolchak army D. N. Kirkhman, who barely escaped alive during his brush with death and multiple others.

However, the relative quiet lasted little over a year. On October 21, 1937, Kira Obolenskaya was rearrested. She had up to 50 co-defendants in her case this time. Some church members could not endure the torture and condemned the other defendants. Three weeks in a jail cell or days of severe maltreatment, however, were in vain. Kira Obolenskaya refused to confess or testify against herself. Then the investigator brought her into a cell to confront the priest who had agreed to testify against her.

Keera Obolenskaya behind the grates

Kira Obolenskaya behind the grates

"I cannot corroborate this testimony. I fully reject the accusations," responded the defendant. On 15 November, the saint was questioned again, and again she confronted a witness against her. Her codefendant alleged her participation in a Counter-revolutionary conspiracy, but the saint denied this allegation again. "I refuse to corroborate this testimony," she replied. The authorities then tried to force her to testify against others.

"We know that you belonged to a counter-revolutionary organisation of the clergy, and you have agitated against the revolution. Confess!”

“I never belonged to any such organisation, and have not participated in its activity”.

In this battle of deception and truth, Kira Obolenskaya emerged on the side of the truth. She had endured hunger, imprisonment, the new arrest and interrogation without falling into sin, and so the Lord gave her the strength to continue to the end. She consistently refused to denounce anyone or admit any of the accusations, even under the most cruel torture. “She did not admit her guilt,” read the interrogation record of the three-officer extrajudicial trial panel that sentenced her to death. She accepted the crown of martyrdom on 17 December 1937.

"You rejected the lies and deception of your persecutors, and endured your torments with courage, so teach us, sinners, Saint Martyr Kira, to eschew the disgrace of denouncing our Christianity.
(Troparion of the Canon to the Holy Martyr Kira Obolenskaya, Ode 5)

If you would like to submit prayer requests for the health of you and your loved ones, to be commemorated during the prayer service of St. Kira and the Liturgy on the Patronal Feast of St. Nicholas (19 December), simply click on the link below:
https://obitel-minsk.org/prayer-request.

Written by the obitel-minsk.ru team

Photos from Internet sources

Material for this article was drawn from the following sources:

1. New Martyrs of the Saint Petersburg Diocese. Hieromonk Nestor (Kumysh) - Stasis, 2003
2. New Martyr Countess Kira Obolenskaya // Church herald 2003. 5. С.9.
3. Life of the Saint Martyr Kira Obolenskaya (1937) | www.newmartyros.ru
4. Martyr Kira Obolenskaya - Novgorod Diocese Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (vn-eparchia.ru)

 

December 12, 2023
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