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The Life of Saint Arkady (Ostalsky) of Bezhetsa | Part 2

Saint Arkady (Ostalsky) of Bezhetsa: the Ascent to Martyrdom (Part 2)

Saint Arkady (Ostalsky) of Bezhetsa

He often went on church missions to Moscow and Kiev. In Kiev, he served at Saint Nicholas Monastery, and in Moscow, at the St. Pimen Church in Novoslobodskaya St., while staying at the Balamo Metachion. He always heard confessions when he served. Many churchgoers came to his services to confess, take communion and listen to his inspirational sermons. Early in 1926, he was ordained an Archimandrite, and then, in mid-September, he received his ordination as Bishop of Lubny, vicar of Poltava Diocese From Metropolitan Sergiy (Statrogorodsky).

Shortly after his ordination as bishop in October 1926, Arkady was arrested and exiled to Kharkov, as many other known hierarchs and priests of the Church had been before him. Although he was under a strict prohibition from entering Lubny, the seat of his diocese, he still travelled there to celebrate the Paschal liturgy.

He arrived secretly. He arrived just before the start, at half past eleven, and went straight to the Altar. In his winter coat and dark glasses, he looked anything but the bishop. The deacon asked him to leave. He explained that they were expecting the newly posted bishop and that strangers were not allowed in this part of the church, especially as the bishop could come at any moment. The stranger asked to call the rector, and Bishop Arkady disclosed his identity to him. He was the new bishop of Lubny.

Arkady, Bishop of Lubny and vicar of the Diocese of Poltava

Arkady, Bishop of Lubny and vicar of the Diocese of Poltava

After this brief introduction, he changed into his vestments and began the Paschal liturgy. As the service was drawing to a close, members of the authorities began to gather. As it was too dangerous for him to remain in the church any longer, he left immediately after the service in the same low-key manner as he had arrived. That was the only service in his diocese that he celebrated after his appointment.

He left for the New Athos Monastery in the Caucasus to live in the mountains and converse with the other ascetics scattered across the caves and crevices of the Caucasus mountains. But even these remote hideouts were far from safe, as the authorities continued to chase down, arrest and execute monastics, often with the help of local hunters. Expecting to be killed at any moment, he always carried his photograph by which others could establish his identity and know his fate.

New Athos Monastery, Abhasia

New Athos Monastery, Abhasia

Separated from his diocese by circumstances he could not control, Bishop Arkady stayed in frequent correspondence with its clergy. When the declaration of Metropolitan Sergiy (Starogorodsky) was published at the end of 1927, one of the diocesan clergy wrote him a letter declaring his refusal to remain in obedience to him or the Metropolitan because he disagreed with the declaration, which, as he was convinced, amounted to the betrayal of Orthodoxy. In his return letter, Bishop Arkady greeted the clergyman on his guardian angel’s day and presented the arguments against his position, which he called extreme. The recipient modified the text by dropping the personal address and publicising it as Father Arkady's proclamation for all the faithful of Poltava Diocese and elsewhere. The text was read by many in Ukraine, where Bishop Arkady had great authority among the faithful as a missionary, priest and leader of a brotherhood. The letter also travelled widely across Russia.

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The prosecution of the Church resumed with double force in the late 1920s, touching off a wave of mass arrests of the clergy and the laity. In 1927, Bishop Arkady spent his great lent in Saint Petersburg, where he kept a low key. But he resolved to return to active service from the Pascha of 1928. Some friends had secured for him the permission to serve, enabling him to co-celebrate the liturgy in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, where he addressed the faithful with a moving and inspiring sermon about the Resurrection of Christ. Metropolitan Seraphim offered him the seat of vicarian bishop but asked him to request a permit from the authorities.

Like for many other servants of the Church, taking the seat of the archbishop was tantamount to accepting the fate of a martyr for Father Arkady. He was fully aware that he could not continue his service of the Church without a conversation with the God-fighting authorities. So he travelled to Moscow of his own accord for a meeting with the secret police officer Tuchkov, disregarding the consequences of this move.

at the secret police

On 9 May 1928 he walked through the door of the Moscow headquarters of the secret police. He was held until 15 March before being formally arrested. Deputy Chairman of the secret police Yagoda reviewed his case and signed the warrant for his arrest. The basis for his accusation was his letter to the faithful in his diocese. During questioning, Father Arkady took full responsibility for the text and refused to implicate the clergyman who circulated it without asking him.

“What was Priest Alexander’s surname?” — the interrogators asked.

“I cannot reveal it.”

“Why?”

“Because I do not wish to implicate him. I take full responsibility for the letter.”

“So you refuse to name the individual who circulated it (and did it without your permission). Are you protecting this anti-Soviet activist?

“I am not implicating, and I am not protecting anyone. I leave it to time to reveal his identity.”

When the interrogation was over, he went to Butyrka prison.

The investigation was completed on 14 July, and the indictment was finalised. On 23 July, the trial panel of the secret police sentenced Bishop Arkady to five years in a prison camp. He was dispatched on 27 July to the Solovki camp, together with multiple other prisoners. They travelled in freight wagons. It was a hot summer, and the wagons were so full of prisoners that there was barely any room to sit down, most were travelling standing. Some had difficulty breathing and died on the way. The guards pulled off new corpses through the doors during stopovers. Father Arkady arrived in the Solovki camp on 12 August and was assigned to team 11, tasked with the most physically enduring jobs. On 10 September, he was reassigned to Team 12 to serve as a gatekeeper. He stayed in this position until 9 May 1929, when he was sent back to do “general service jobs”, like digging ditches. In June of the same year, he was sent to Anzer Island.

Anzer Skete of Solovki Monastery

Anzer Skete of Solovki Monastery

While at the camp, he encountered some of his former opponents, advocates of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, and the renewallists. Their hostility added to the trials of his imprisonment. Out of hostility towards him, these individuals denounced him to the administration and reported on his every step.

Bishop Arkady's works among the faithful challenged the camp's routines. He had gathered around him the Orthodox clergy and did his best to keep discipline in their ranks and preserve the spirit of piety and prayer among them. He organised a mutual aid fund for the clergy who lacked the support of their families. Sometimes, he even conducted archbishop’s services for the remaining monks.

He contributed to the work of the Solovki Museum of the Society of Local History, by copying written documents. He copied 28 documents altogether, dated between 1625 and 1797, most of which can be found in the State Historical Museum.

The wide respect that he enjoyed was the main reason for his frequent transfers. They were attempts to limit his authority and influence and placed him alternately in the company of churchmen criminal offenders. He was offered multiple times the job of a cashier with the camp and an end to his criminal prosecution if he renounced his service to the Church. Invariably, Father Arkady rejected all these offers.

His sentence ended on 8 May 1933, but on 18 May 1931, a new criminal case was opened against him based on a report from an inmate. This time, he was accused of performing rituals that “could be construed as anti-Soviet subversion: and making calls for material support of believers in custody with money, food and clothing.” According to a witness in his case, Father Arkady had exceptional popularity among the prisoners, and his every word was received almost as Divine Guidance.

As a case with multiple defendants, it was adjudicated by an ad-hoc process. Fifteen defendants were condemned, and Bishop Arkady was first among them. The three-judge panel extended his term by another five years. Soon after the passing of the sentence, Bishop Arkady was dispatched to Mount Sekirnaya.

The Skete of the Golgotha and the Crucifixion, Mount Sekirnaya on Anzer Island

The Skete of the Golgotha and the Crucifixion, Mount Sekirnaya on Anzer Island

According to contemporaries, Mount Sekirnaya was then an inner jail with the harshest rules. Prisoners were housed on the lower and upper levels. They were made to sit motionless on narrow boards throughout the day without touching the floor. At night, they slept on the concrete floor without any pillows or blankets. There was so little space that they could only lie on one side. The windows were broken, and the cold was unbearable, particularly during the long winter months. After some time, prisoners were transferred to the ground level, where they could work. However, only the most difficult work was offered.

His new sentence for helping the clergy did not stop him from resuming his activity when he had the chance to do so. For two years, he offered spiritual guidance and practical help to Pravdolubov brothers, both clergymen. One night, he entered the barrack and asked: “Who are the Pravdolubov brothers?” They identified themselves, and Bishop Arkady handed them a cucumber with the words: “Do not worry. I will not abandon you.” He continued to help them until his release in 1937. By the time of his release from the camp, his hair had gone grey.

Holy Martyr Sergiy, Martyr Vladimir and Holy Martyr Nicholas (Pravdolubov)

Holy Martyr Sergiy, Martyr Vladimir and Holy Martyr Nicholas (Pravdolubov) at the Solovki Prison Camp in the 1930s

Having spent a decade behind bars, Bishop Arkady was released and arrived in Moscow in February 1937. He was expecting a new appointment, to the episcopal seat in Bezhetsk. However, because he had been ordered to reside in Kaluga, Bezhetsk was out of bounds for him, and he could not serve there. Bishop Arkady went to live with the relatives of the Pravdolubovs. For several months, he resided in Selischi Village of Ryazan Oblast, in the house of Archbishop Mikhail (Dmitrov). He had hardly any means to support himself. In the words of Bishop Arkady, he was selling fiction books by Russian classics and buying the essentials with that money. Sometimes, he travelled to Moscow, Kiev and Zhytomir to visit his family and spiritual children. Merciless persecution of the Church continued. Perhaps in anticipation of his final arrest and martyrdom, he was visiting everyone he knew to say goodbye. He went to Zhytomir to visit the graves of his father and mother who died while he was at the Solovki prison camp. As before, he had hardly any time for himself. While residing in Kaluga, he often visited the Archbishop of Kaluga Avgustin (Belyaev), with whom he found a kindred spirit of an ascetic and a good friend.

Six months after his release, repressions intensified, and mass arrests of the clergy and the laity resumed In September 1937. The secret police arrested Archbishop Avgustin on 21 September. Immediately after receiving the news, Bishop Arkady went to the station to take the midnight train. He managed to board the train, but the police were already looking. The train was delayed, and the secret police officers found him with the aid of a man who knew him in the face. Father Arkady was rearrested.

They took him to the Kaluga jail but later sent him to Moscow's Butyrskaya Prison.

Butyrskaya Prison

Butyrskaya Prison, the final waypoint in Father Arkady’s ascent to martyrdom

The interrogations began on 17 October. He told his captors that his brief contacts were concerned mostly with different aspects of the Church’s spiritual life, but nothing seemed to matter. He stated his position in his answers. “I am a member of the Orthodox Church by virtue of my religious convictions. As regards my political stance and attitude to Soviet Rule, those are grounded in the final message from Patriarch Tikhon of 1925, the 1925 declaration of Metropolitan Tikhon and his interview in 1930,” explained Father Arkady.

He also said to his interrogators: “The church has come under attack as a result of our moral degradation. Improvement of our morals is thus essential for strengthening the Church. Enhancement of the morals is a weapon against unbelief and its attack on the Church. It is the only means to strengthen the Church, and there is not a more potent means at our disposal.”

His words fell on deaf ears. The verdict had already been made.

On 15 November, he was called into the interrogation cell for the last time.

“What attitude do you take towards Soviet rule?”

“After fifteen years of exile and imprisonment, I still differ with the Soviet authorities over religion and the closure of churches,” replied the bishop.

“According to our information, you returned to Moscow after your release and resumed your counter-revolutionary activity. Do you admit to that?”

“No, I do not. I have not engaged in any counter-revolutionary activity.”

“You are giving false testimony. We demand the truth.”

“I categorically deny any role in any counter-revolutionary activity.”

The icon of Saint Arkady Ostalsky

By the first week of December, it was all over. He was sentenced to death by a secret police trial panel on 7 December. He was executed on 29 December 1937 at the Butovo shooting range South of Moscow and buried in a mass grave.

But a righteous man is destined for eternal life in heaven. In August 2000 the Archbishop's Council of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified the Holy Martyr Arkady (Ostalsky) as a New Martyr of the Russian Church. The unfair trial in Zhytomyr, the barracks of the Solovki prison camp, the interrogations at Butyrskaya Prison, and his final hours in a cold wooden shed awaiting his death with hundreds of other prisoners are now jewels in his martyr's crown of glory. Sadly, most of his original religious writings were lost in his frequent travels, only some of his sermons and essays on the cross and the mystery of repentance have survived to our time. However, his most powerful sermon has been the way of the Cross that he took and his martyr’s end.

Written by the obitel-minsk.ru team

Photos from Internet sources

Hieromonk Arkady (Ostalsky), Bishop of Bezhetsa (Part 1).

Material for this article was drawn from the following sources:
1. Damascene (Orlovsky), Abbot: New Martyrs of Solovki - Solovki Monastery. P 405–423.
2. Solovki — Hieromartyr Arkady (Ostalsky) (solovki-monastyr.ru)
3. Hieromaryr Arkady (Ostalsky) «Of the mystery of repentance» | Confession and Communion (ispowed-prichastie.ru)
4. “I thank God to all things”: Hieromartyr Arkady (Ostalsky). Personal site of Priest Anthony (Rusakevich) “The Church Mission Today” (missioner-tver.ru)
5. Hieromartyr Arkady (Ostalsky). Personal site of Priest Anthony (Rusakevich) “The Church Mission Today” (missioner-tver.ru)
6. Hieromartyr Arkady, Bishop of Bezhetsa: diomedes2 — LiveJournal

December 27, 2023
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