PASCHA IN PRISON – Vladyka Theodore (Pozdeyevsky) – 1921

 Vladyka Theodore (Pozdeyevsky) was arrested for the first time in June 15, 1920, and on July 12 was sentenced to the camps “until the end of the Civil War” for anti-Soviet agitation. He served his term in the Butyrki and Taganka prisons. On October 25, 1920 his term was shortened in accordance with the amnesty to five years.


     V.F. Martsinovsky describes a meeting with Vladyka and other imprisoned hierarchs in Taganka prison in the spring of 1921: “In the prison while I was there were Metropolitans Cyril [of Kazan] and Seraphim [of Warsaw], Archbishop Philaret of Samara, Bishops Peter, Theodore of Volokolamsk, Gurias [of Kazan], Igumens John Zvenigorodsky and George Meshchevsky, some priests, the Procurator of the Holy Synod A.D. Samarin, Professor Kuznetsov…


     “In accordance with the will of the prisoners, Divine services were permitted, and a schoolroom in the prison was set aside for them. It was a small, well-lit hall with school benches and some portraits on the side walls: on the left – Karl Marx, on the right – Trotsky. There was no iconostasis in this improvised church… But there was a table covered with a white cloth, and on it stood a chalice for the celebration of the Mystical Supper, a cross and a Gospel… A seven-branched candlestick had been made of wood by some prisoners. Everything was simple, as it was, perhaps, in the catacombs of the first Christian centuries.


     “The usual celebrant was Metropolitan Cyril, tall, with his majestic figure, regular features and wide grey beard. Bishops Theodore and Gurias concelebrated with him. Also standing there were Igumen Jonah with his concentrated, somewhat severe face, and the simple and serious Fr. George. The choir was directed by the former Over-Procurator of the Holy Synod, A.D. Samarin. And how they chanted! Only suffering could give such life to the hymn-singing… Many of those present also chanted. How much feeling and profound experience is in the words of the Gospel: ‘Blessed are they that weep, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’ As for those who suffer, not for the Faith, but only for their sins and crimes, their brokenness of heart is poured out in the prayer: ‘Lord, have mercy’, or in the penitential sigh of Great Lent: ‘Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me’.


     “Behind the small table, Professor Kuznetsov was selling candles. The prisoners loved to light them. In their quiet flicker they felt a warm, prayerful atmosphere which was reminiscent of the sketes of ancient piety, of the monastic life.


     “Pascha was approaching. It was the first year that I had not fasted in preparation for Communion in the Orthodox Church. The thought occurred to me that I should receive Communion. But dogmatically speaking I was not quite convinced about something… So I put a trial question, as it were, to Metropolitan Cyril when I met him on the way to church. He invited me to come to him… The room looked inviting and clean. In the window bouquets of flowers stood out beautifully in the sun. They were offerings of admirers (the people did not forget their beloved pastors). From them they also received parcels of food, which many of the prisoners shared in, of course. Metropolitan Cyril was sitting on his cot at the back of the room, under the window. On his left was Bishop Theodore, and on his right – Bishop Gurias. The metropolitan spoke to me in a kind, fatherly tone; the two other bishops, who were a little younger, evaluated my views in a more theological manner. ‘All this is sectarian pride,’ Bishop Theodore said to me dryly and severely. Bishop Gurias had a tendency for polemical argument, but he spoke more gently: ‘It is a great sin that you should despise the sacrament of Baptism which was performed on you in your childhood. You must repent – and only after that can we allow you to come to Communion.’ I expounded my views to the bishops. They shrugged their shoulders, but did not change their demand. ‘As far as I know the canons, you could allow me to receive Communion. There is a rule which permits the giving of Communion to people of other faiths if they ask for it in extreme need, danger of death, etc. And we are all in just such a situation here…’ ‘No, this rule cannot be applied to the present situation,’ said Metropolitan Cyril. ‘God has punished you for your heresy by imprisoning you,’ one of the bishops suddenly said hotly. ‘And mark my word: you will not get out of prison until you repent.’


     “In the following days this bishop would often start talking to me during exercise periods. ‘Vladyka,’ I asked him once, ‘have you looked through the passages from the Holy Scriptures which I referred to in my report?’ ‘Yes, I have looked through them… If you want, we can now discuss each of them.’ And he began to go through them in order. ‘Mark 16.16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Well, yes: first faith and then baptism. And in Matthew faith comes first, too… Yes, you’re right. But this is your mistake: you have forgotten that the Church has the fullness of grace, and in consequence she has changed the order in accordance with the demands of the time – and has begun to demand, first baptism, and then faith…’ A loud voice announced the end of the exercise period. As he walked in the crowd towards the door of the prison, the bishop whispered to me the reproach: ‘It is Satan who has deceived you into going against Church tradition.’


     “The next day he met me again on the staircase and gave me a big bouquet of lilac. It was obvious that he wanted to soothe the pain which his words of the day before had caused me.


     “Pascha in prison. March-April, 1921. Pascha night… The whole of Moscow, the heart of Russia, was trembling from joy… The dense waves of the copper church bells’ booming poured through the prison (which was on a hill). Paschal Mattins should have started at 12 midnight, but it was postponed for fear of escape-attempts. Only at six in the morning, when it had begun to dawn, did they begin to lead us out of our cells. Moscow was booming no longer, only our bodyguards’ bunches of keys tinkled in the corridors. As always happens at Pascha, there were many people in the church. Those in freedom had sent hierarchical paschal vestments flashing with silver and gold. Metropolitan Cyril, all shining in heavy brocade, was doing the censing, sending in all directions not only incense, but also puffs of flame that burst out of the censer. In his hand he held red paschal candles… ‘Christ is risen!’ ‘He is risen indeed!’ voices boomed under the vaults of the prison corridors. Many had tears in their eyes, although most of them were severe men who were used to much. The celebrated paschal sermon of St. John Chrysostom was read, greetings were sent to all, both those who had fasted and those who had not fasted, both those who came at the first hour and those who came at the last, eleventh hour… There were cakes and eggs, which had been brought from there, from freedom… I am moved to tears when I remember the great love which burned especially on that day in the prison and which embraced its cold, dark walls in a brotherly, tender caress. They were bringing things all through Holy Saturday – eggs, cakes, pascha made of cheese, flowers, candles – and all at a time when Moscow was starving… Perhaps they brought the last that they had, so as to cast some paschal joy even there, within the dank, dark casemates…”