Today, July 16/29, is the anniversary of the notorious declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novogord in 1927, which created the largest schism in Church history since the Roman Catholic schism of 1054 and under whose shadow the whole life of the Russian Orthodox Church continues to live. The first bishop to break with Sergius was Hieromartyr Victor of Vyatka, whose life is posted below. The diocese of Vyatka continued to contain very many catacombniks who rejected the Sovietized Moscow Patriarchate right to the present day when they have almost all joined the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. So the life of another, more recent confessor of the Vyatka diocese is posted after this.
Bishop Victor, in the world Victor Alexandrovich Ostrovidov, was born on May 20, 1875, in the village of Zolotoye, Zolotoyevksy volost, Kamyshinsky uyezd, Saratov province, in a peasant family. His father was a church reader. He finished his studies at the Kamyshinskoye theological school. In 1899 he finished his studies at the Saratov theological seminary and entered the Kazan Theological Academy. In 1903 graduated from the Academy with the degree of candidate of theology. Then he was tonsured, ordained to the priesthood, and appointed superior of the Holy Trinity podvorye in Khvalynsk. In 1904 he became a member of the Jerusalem Spiritual Mission, becoming the senior hieromonk there by 1909. On January 13, 1909, he was appointed supervisor of the Archangelsk theological school, and on October 15, 1909, he was enrolled in the brotherhood of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. On November 22, 1910, he was appointed superior of the Zelenets Holy Trinity monastery (Saint Petersburg diocese) with promotion to the rank of archimandrite, and also deputy of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
On December 15 or 26, 1919 he was consecrated the first bishop of the newly created see of Urzhuma, a vicariate of the Vyatka diocese, in Petrograd. According to one source, in 1920 he became Bishop of Sloboda, a vicariate of the Vyatka diocese. In 1920 he was arrested and imprisoned by the Vyatka revolutionary tribunal for anti-Soviet agitation – or, according to another source, for “agitation against medicine”. He was in prison for five months. From April 1921 he was temporarily administering the Tomsk diocese, and by September 14, 1921, he was Bishop of Glazov, a vicariate of the Vyatka diocese. On August 25, 1922, he was made Bishop of Orel, a vicariate of the Vyatka diocese while temporarily administering the Glazov diocese, but on the same day he was arrested in the Vyatka St. Triphon monastery for “spreading the illegal appeals of Patriarch Tikhon”.
This was a difficult time for the believers of Vyatka region, as for believers throughout Russia. 41 clergy and monastics of various ranks were killed in the province in connection with the Bolsheviks’ requisitioning of valuables from the churches in 1922. On February 23, 1923, Vladyka Victor was sentenced by the OGPU to three years in exile, which he carried out in the Narymsk region. At the beginning of 1926, he returned to Vyatka. On May 16, 1926, he was arrested for organizing an illegal diocesan chancellery together with Bishop Paul (Borisov) of Vyatka and imprisoned in the Butyrki prison in Moscow. On August 20 he was sentenced by the OGPU to three years in exile while being forbidden to live in the six largest cities of the USSR and Vyatka. He was exiled to the city of Glazov in Izhevsk province. In the autumn of 1926, he was appointed Bishop of Izhevsk and Votkinsk. From the autumn of 1926 to December 1927 he was temporarily administering the Vyatka diocese. In July 1927 he was appointed Bishop of Shadrinsk while temporarily administering the Sverdlovsk diocese, but he did not arrive at his see.
Bishop Victor stood firmly for Orthodoxy against the renovationists, and when, in July 1927, Metropolitan Sergius issued his notorious “declaration”, which placed the Russian Church in more or less unconditional submission to the militant atheists, Bishop Victor opposed it. In October he wrote to Metropolitan Sergius: “I am writing to you out of sorrow for the Holy Orthodox Church.
“Our souls are exhausted, we are horrified at the sight of what is now happening around us in the Church, it’s oppressing us like a nightmare, and everyone is overwhelmed by a terrible fear for the future of the Church. There distant Tashkent is thinking of separating, here Leningrad is seething with dissatisfaction. There Votlandia is groaning and crying out, and Izhevsk is again rebelling, while here sorrow and perplexity have penetrated the land of Vyatka, Perm, and many other cities. And over and above all these Moscow is just now preparing to utter its deciding voice.
“You know, everywhere the Church is just being destroyed, and this is “by administrative means”. What is this? Why? Has the Holy Church suffered only a little from “outsiders”? What can be the use of these destructive measures which are ruining our peace?
“Vladyko, spare the Russian Orthodox Church. She is entrusted to you, and much depends on you to see that she is not given over to destruction “by administrative means”. May your all-honorable head not be subjected to reproof, and may it not be a cause of schisms and fallings away from the Church. But if this is not done and observed, then God and His Angels are witness that a great schism will take place in the Church”
Bishop Victor broke communion with Sergius in November – the first bishop to do so officially. On December 10/23, 1927 he was removed from the Shadrinsk see and banned from serving. Then, on December 16/29 he wrote a second letter to Metropolitan Sergius: “In the month of October I with filial love was bold enough to express to your Eminence my sorrow with regard to the ruinous destruction of the Orthodox Church that was beginning ‘by administrative means’.
“Such a destruction of the Church of God is a completely natural and inevitable consequence of the path on which your ‘appeal of July 16’ has placed you and which is completely unacceptable for us humble and God-fearing people and for all those who love Christ.
“From beginning to end it is filled with terrible untruth. It is an insult to the Holy Orthodox Church, and to our confession for the truth of God, that disturbs the soul of the believer. Through betraying the Church of Christ to be mocked by ‘outsiders’ it is a most sorrowful renunciation of your own salvation or renunciation of the Lord Saviour Himself.
“This sin, as the Word of God witnesses, is not less than any heresy or schism, but is rather incomparably greater, for it plunges a man immediately into the abyss of destruction, according to the unlying word: ‘Whosoever shall deny Me before men…’ (Matthew 10.33), etc.
“Insofar as we have been able we have protected ourselves and our flock so as not to become partakers of this sin, and for this reason, we have sent the appeal itself back. Acceptance of the appeal would be a witness before God that we are indifferent in relation to the Most Holy Church of God, the Bride of Christ.
“In accordance with the fear of God I also cannot accept your order for my transfer: ‘I fear,’ as one hierarch writes to me, ‘that the expression of obedience on our part will be considered by “them” (the Synod) as an approval of what “they” have done. And for that reason, if I were given full freedom of movement, which I do not have as being in administrative exile, I would ask myself: will I not have to answer before God for this obedience, for it, in essence, unites me with people who have been alienated from God. But I have expressed my thoughts that the appeal is truly worthy of many tears and that it alienates a man from God in the form of a letter to those close to me, which is here attached.
“What of the future? In the future I would beseech God, and not only I, but the whole of the Orthodox Church, that he not harden your heart as He once hardened the heart of Pharaoh, but that He give you the grace to understand the sin you have committed and repent for the rest of your life. Then all the believers would thank God in joy and tears, and would again come to you as to a father and pastor – as to the first pastor, and the whole of the Russian Church as to her sacred head. The enemy has lured and deceived you for a second time with the idea of organization of the Church. But if this organization is bought for the price of the Church of Christ Herself no longer remaining the house of Grace-giving salvation for men, and he who received the organization ceases to be what he was – for it is written, ‘Let his habitation be made desolate, and his bishopric let another take’ (Acts 1.20) – then it were better for us never to have any kind of organization.
“What is the benefit if we, having become by God’s Grace temples of the Holy Spirit, become ourselves suddenly worthless, while at the same time receiving an organization for ourselves? No. Let the whole visible material world perish; let there be more important in our eyes the certain perdition of the soul to which he who presents such external pretexts for sin will be subjected.
“But if the hardening of your heart has gone so far, and there remains no hope of repentance, then in this case we have a word to enlighten us: ‘Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and do not touch their impurity, and I will receive you, and I will be to you and a Father and you will be to as sons and daughters’ (II Corinthians 6.17-18).”
Vladyka Victor had especially noted the phrase in the declaration: “Only ivory-tower dreamers can think that a society as tremendous as our Orthodox Church, with its whole organization, can exist throughout the country hidden from the authorities of the State.” He saw in this the same over-valuation of the Church’s external organization at the expense of her inner faithfulness to Christ, as he had detected in a book of Sergius’ some years earlier. As he wrote to his friend, Bishop Abraham of Urzhuma: “His errors with regard to the Church and the salvation of man in her were clear to me already in 1911, and I wrote about him in an Old Believer journal, that there would come a time when he would shake the Church…”
In December 1927, Bishop Victor wrote to those close to him: “The Church of Christ of its essence can never be any kind of political organization, otherwise it ceases to be the Church of Christ, the Church of God, the Church of eternal salvation.” And on January 15, 1928, he wrote to Bishop Abraham (Dernov): “In truth, these people who think evil against the Church are not from men, but from him who was a murderer from the beginning and who thirsts for our eternal destruction, whose servants these new traitors have become, subverting the very essence of the Orthodox Church of Christ. They have made it, not heavenly, but earthly, and have changed it from a grace-filled union into a political organization.”
Again, on February 28 / March 12, 1928, he wrote to his flock: “This fall of theirs is not little and not secret, but very great and evident to all those who have sense (I Corinthians 2.16). It was revealed in the well-known ‘appeal’ of July 16/29 and the bold destruction of the Orthodox Church which followed it. The ‘appeal’ is a disgusting sale of that which cannot be sold and is priceless – that is, our spiritual freedom in Christ (John 8.36); it is their attempt, contrary to the word of God, to unite that which cannot be united – the portion of the sinner with the work of God, God and Mammon (Matthew 6.24), light and darkness (II Corinthians 6.14-18). The apostates have transformed the Church of God from a Grace-filled union of the salvation of man from sin and eternal destruction into a political organization, which they have united with the organization of civil power in the service of this world which lies in evil (I John 5.19). The loyalty of individual believers to the civil power is another matter. In the first situation, the Church preserves her spiritual freedom in Christ, while the believers become confessors under persecution for the faith; in the second situation, she (the Church) is merely an obedient weapon for the realization of the political ideas of the civil power, while the confessors for the faith are here state criminals.
“We see all this in the activity of Metropolitan Sergius, who by dint of his relationship to the civil power has been forced to forget the canons of the Orthodox Church, and in spite of them he has removed all the confessor-bishops from their sees, considering them to be state criminals, and in their place, he has of his own will appointed other bishops who were and are not now recognized by the believing people. For Metropolitan Sergius now there can no longer be any exploit of confession of the Church, and for that reason, in his conversation with regard to the ‘appeal’, he declares that every cleric who dares to say anything in defense of the Truth of God against the civil power is an enemy of the Orthodox Church. Is this not madness, madness that has overtaken a man in spiritual deception? You know, if we think like that, then we shall have to consider as an enemy of God – the hierarch Philip, for example, who once rebuked Ivan the Terrible and was strangled for that. Moreover, we shall have to count among the enemies of God the great Forerunner himself, who rebuked Herod and was beheaded for that.
“… That is why, when they tried to persuade St. Maximus the Confessor by means of terrible tortures to enter into communion of prayer with a wrong-thinking patriarch, he cried out: ‘even if the whole universe begins to have communion with the patriarch, I alone will not communicate with him’. Why was that? Because he feared to destroy his soul through communion with a patriarch who had been drawn into impiety, although at that time he had not yet been condemned by a council and was, on the contrary, supported by the majority of the bishops. You know, the ecclesiastical administrative authority, even in the person of councils, did not always defend the truth in former times, to which clear witness is borne by the story of the hierarch Athanasius the Great, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Theodore the Studite and others. How, then, can I remain unreasonable and indifferent? That cannot be. That is why we have set out on the only possible way out in our present situation – the way of the confession of the truth of salvation. This way is difficult, it is the way of exploit [podvig]; but we do not trust our own strength, but look to the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12.2). And our action is not a separation for the Church, but the defense of the truth and justification of the Divine commandments, or – still better – the preservation of the whole economy of our salvation. That is why a whole pleiad of archpastors have rebuked Metropolitan Sergius: Metropolitans (Joseph, Agathangel, Arsenius), Archbishops, Bishops and a multitude of individual pastors, who have told Metropolitan Sergius that they can no longer recognize him to be the leader of the Orthodox Church, and will rule independently for the time being…”
On April 4, 1928, Bishop Victor was arrested, imprisoned in Butyrki, and (on May 18) sentenced to Solovki for five (according to another source, three) years, having entrusted his Vyatka flock to Archbishop Demetrius of Gdov.
According to one (doubtful) source, Vladyka Victor signed the decisions of the so-called “Nomadic Council” of the Catacomb Church, which took place in various places between March and August 1928, through the reader Athanasius Beregovy.
In his last known letter, of unknown date, Bishop Victor wrote: “In his destructive and treacherous actions against the Church, Metropolitan Sergius has also committed a terrible blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which according to the unlying word of Christ will never be forgiven him, neither in this life nor in the life to come.
“‘He who does not gather with Me,’ says the Lord, ‘scatters.’ ‘Either recognize the tree (the Church) as good and its fruit as good or recognize the tree as bad and its fruit as bad’ (Matthew 12.33). ‘Therefore I say unto you, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto me, but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven unto me’ (Matthew 12.31). ‘Fulfilling the measure of his sin,’ Metropolitan Sergius together with his Synod, by his ukaz of October 8/21, 1927, is introducing a new formula of commemoration.
“Mixing together into one, despite the word of God, the ‘faithful with the unfaithful’ (II Corinthians 6.14-18), the Holy Church and those fighting to the death against her, in the great and most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the metropolitan by this blasphemy of his destroys the prayerful meaning of the great sacrament and its grace-filled significance for the eternal salvation of the souls of Orthodox believers. Hence the service becomes not only graceless because of the gracelessness of the celebrant, but an abomination in the eyes of God, and for that reason, both the celebrant and he who participates in it subject themselves to severe condemnation.
“Being in all his activity an anti-church heretic, as transforming the Holy Orthodox Church from the house of the grace-filled salvation of believers into a graceless, carnal organization deprived of the spirit of life, Metropolitan Sergius has at the same time, through his conscious renunciation of the truth and in his mindless betrayal of Christ, become an open apostate from God the Truth.
“Without a formal external trial by the Church (which cannot be carried out on him), he ‘is self-condemned’ (Titus 3.10-11); he has ceased to be what he was – a ‘server of the truth’, according to the word: ‘Let his habitation be desolate, and let no one live in it, and his office let another take’ (Acts 1.20).
“A series of archpastors, God-wise fathers and Orthodox men of the Church have in the course of many years exhorted him, but to no effect – they did not bring Metropolitan Sergius to a consciousness of the sin he had committed and did not elicit repentance in his heart.
“For that reason, we, by the grace given us by our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (I Corinthians 5.4), declare the former Metropolitan Sergius deprived of prayerful communion with us and all those faithful to Christ and His Holy Orthodox Church, and give him up to the judgment of God: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord’ (Hebrews 19.30).
“This present act, in addition to our earlier declarations made in 1927 and 1928, we carry out in strict consciousness of our archpastoral duty before our flock, all the faithful children of the Orthodox Church, in obedience to the Church of Christ, in dutiful submission to the canons of the Ecumenical Councils and the Council of the Russian Church of 1917-1918, which is headed today by the patriarchal locum tenens, Metropolitan Peter of Krutitsa and his deputy, Archbishop Seraphim of Uglich.
“‘Fear not, little flock! For your Father has determined to give you the Kingdom!’ (Luke 12.32).
Academician Demetrius Sergeyevich Likhachev, who knew Vladyka Victor on Solovki, said that he was a highly educated man with several theological publications to his credit, but he looked like a village priest. He had a sparse beard, rosy cheeks, and dark blue eyes. He met everyone with a broad smile and radiated kindness and joy. He tried to help everyone and was truly able to help them because everyone thought highly of him and trusted him.
Vladyka Victor served as an accountant in the Solovki sovkhoz. He together with Fr. Nicholas Piskanovsky, the spiritual father of I.M. Andreyev and several other zealots for Orthodoxy on Solovki, persuaded Kolosov to take Likhachev to the criminological laboratory; and when, writes Likhachev, “during the winter of 1929 I returned from the typhus ‘brigade of convalescents’, he sent me some green onion and cream through Fedya Rozenberg. How tasty that onion and cream was! Once I met Vladyka (among ourselves we used to call him ‘Vladychka’) in a particularly radiant and joyful state. It was on the square in front of the Transfiguration cathedral. An order had been issued that all the prisoners should have their hair cut and were not to wear long clothes. Vladyka Victor refused to carry out this order, so they took him into the lock-up, forcibly shaved him, in the process seriously wounding his face, and cut his clothes crookedly from below. He walked towards us with a towel wrapped around his face and smiling. He said that they had dragged him into the lock-up in order to shave him, and had bound him, but that he had demanded that they first cut the long ‘chekist’ greatcoat (in the style of that in which Dzerzhinsky is depicted on the Lubyanka) of the escort who had dragged him into the lock-up. I think that Vladyka had resisted without spite and that he considered his suffering to be the mercy of God.”
Professor I.M. Andreyev remembers that “Vladyka Victor was short, stocky, kind and welcoming to everyone, with an unchangingly radiant and joyful subtle smile and radiant eyes. ‘One must comfort everybody in some way,’ he used to say, and he had the ability to comfort each and every one. He had a welcoming word for every person he met, and often even a little gift… Within a few days, Vladyka would distribute all his parcels, leaving almost nothing for himself. He ‘comforted’ very many, often prisoners whom he did not know at all, taking special pity on the ‘urkas’.., that is, the petty thieves who had been sent as ‘socially harmful’ elements into isolation, according to article 48.
“… Both Vladykas (Victor and Maximus) loved each other; unhurriedly, without ever quarreling or getting irritated, but attentively they studied a single complicated phenomenon from different points of view. Vladyka Maximus was a pessimist and was getting ready for the heavy trials of the last times, not believing in the possibility of a regeneration of Russia. But Vladyka Victor was an optimist and believed in the possibility of a short, but radiant period, as a final gift from heaven for the tormented Russian people. At the end of 1930 Vladyka Victor completed his three-year term, but instead of being released was sent to Mai-Guba.”
In 1931 (according to another source, the spring of 1930) Bishop Victor was imprisoned in Novaya Birzha (Belbaltlag). He was released and lived in the Vyatka part of the Nizhegorod region.
There he was arrested (in March 1931) and on April 10, 1931, was sentenced to three years in exile. From the summer of 1931 to 1934 he was in exile in the city of Onega, Archangel district. According to one source, in 1933 he was arrested in exile, and on May 10 was given an extra three years’ exile.
According to another source, at the end of his term on Solovki, Bishop Victor was exiled to the village of Ust-Tsilma, Komi (Zyryan) Autonomous region. In December 1932 he was arrested and conveyed under convoy to Syktyvkar. Here he was accused of participation in a mythical counter-revolutionary organization. The authorities tried to break the will of the confessor, but after gaining nothing they sent him to the village of Neritsa, Ust-Tsilma district. Here he was accommodated in the house of the president of the village soviet.
In those years exiled Old Believers were living in the village. Vladyka helped them to cut wood and spoke to them about the true faith. He, in turn, was helped in his housework by the Nun Maria.
Vladyka often went into the taiga to pray. At the end of April 1934, he caught a cold. He could not be sent to the regional center because the river had overflowed its banks. On May 2, 1934 (new style) he reposed in the Lord and was buried in the village cemetery by Nun Maria. On returning to her home in Vyatka region, she simply said: “He died on Solovki”. And it was many years before his grave discovered.
On July 1, 1997, the incorrupt relics of Archbishop Victor were revealed in Neritsa. The witnesses were so amazed by what they saw that they immediately asked to be baptized. They were baptized the next day. The fragrant relics of the saint were taken to Moscow, and then, on December 2, 1998, to the St. Alexander Nevsky church of the Holy Trinity-Macarius monastery in Vyatka. All his life St. Victor had served in churches dedicated either to the Holy Trinity or to St. Alexander Nevsky.
Many miracles of healing have already been recorded at the shrine of St. Victor.