1 November is the feast day of the Hieromartyr Arkady Ostalsky, Bishop of Bezhetsa, one of the synaxis of the saints of Archangel.
Of this and other saints, Archimandrite Damascene (Orlovsky) wrote: “A life of a saint — and their departure — is a living ideal of true life in the spirit. It is a life of purity and piety, and thus not easily comprehended or understood by many others. The souls of some Christian ascetics are so pure and so free from sinful or evil motives that others cannot even imagine. Therefore, the state of a saint’s spirit can hardly be described in human terms, as it is so vastly different from ours. Setting this goal aside, let us be content with deriving a spiritual benefit from reading about the lives of the Christian ascetics, so that we may pray afterwards from all our hearts: “Holy new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church, pray to God for us!”
No words can do justice to the life and spiritual accomplishments of Arkady Ostalsky, a 20th-century Hieromartyr saint than these writings of Archimandrite Damascene. The Church does not think of its martyrs as victims of their tormentors in the years of Godlessness and brutal persecutions. Rather, it glorifies them as victors. In its eyes, their fates do not call for pity or sympathy. Instead, the Church admires their feats as expressions of courage and loyalty to Christ. From the harsh trials that befell him throughout his 49 years of life, he emerged as a true servant of God, who lived up fully to his rank as archbishop and entered the Kingdom of Heaven wearing a martyr’s crown.”
Castle Hill, Zhytomir, 1900
He was born on 25 April 1888 to the family of an Orthodox priest, in a village named Yakovitsy (now Ivankovtsy), in the Zhytomir Governorship. Eventually, his family moved to Zhytomir, his father’s new duty station.
The Ostalskys were of modest means. They lived in a house with three rooms and a straw roof. The young Arkady wished to follow in his father’s footsteps by dedicating his life to the service of God. He completed the religious seminary of Volyn and went on to study at the Religious Academy in Kiev. Inside, he had two competing desires — to become a monastic or a family priest, as his parents wanted. Finally opting for the latter, he received his ordination in 1911 and was posted to the Old Constantinovsky Metropolitan Church.
Arkady Ostalsky, graduate from the Volyn religious seminary, 1910
He also performed the duties of a diocesan missionary, and he served in this position with great dedication right until the start of World War I. Sharing the hardships of the war with the people and his flock, Father Arkady enlisted himself as an army chaplain with the 408th Kuznetsky Infantry Regiment.
Recipients of the Order of the Georgian Cross from the 408th Kuznetsky Infantry Regiment
He returned from the front line in 1917 and continued his service of the Church in Zhytomir with great enthusiasm — First at the Church of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, then at the Church of Saint Nicholas. For his fiery sermons he was nicknamed Chrysostom, and often he would preach several sermons in a day. With the blessing of Saint Thaddeus, then the diocesan bishop, Father Arkady started an Orthodox brotherhood in his parish in honour of Saint Nicholas. During the harsh times of the civil war, the brotherhood cared for the sick and needy and gave burials to the deceased with no friends or relatives. He was the brotherhood's hands-on leader, who kept track of all the details of its work, knew every care recipient by name, and kept track of the visitation schedule.
He inspired in every brother an attitude of piety and zeal. Together with the other brothers, they went on long-distance religious processions and pilgrimages to many sacred places, including in Kiev. They sang Akathists and church hymns as they travelled hundreds of kilometres on foot, a feat that strengthened the church people in their faith and service of Christ which they especially needed in times of war, chaos and destruction. The Brotherhood of Saint Nicholas gained widespread fame, and people started coming to Zhytomir from other cities to participate in its work.
Father Arkady’s words always matched his deeds. He taught his flock charity and self-sacrifice, and he gave an example of complete selflessness. Knowing about his neediness and lack of means, his relatives had a fur coat made for him. He only wore it two times before giving it to a poor widow with two children with tuberculosis. His mother Sofia Pavlovna asked him about the coat. He replied that he was keeping it on the altar. Later at church, she asked him about the coat again, and Father Arkady answered with embarrassment, “It is.., where it should be.” On one of his hikes from Zhytomir to Kiev, he left in boots and arrived in a pair of straw shoes. It turned out that he had met a poor man on his way, and they traded their footwear. Another time Father Arkady donated his trousers to a poor man and was left only with a pair of underpants. He stitched up his undercassock to keep others from noticing.
Zhytomir’s main church square, early 20th century
He served liturgy often, and when he did, he always heard confessions. He never interrupted a penitent, letting them confess their sins and lay the burden off their hearts without duress, even when confessions lasted well into the night.
His proactive and dedicated work did not go unnoticed by the Godless authorities. Volyn, where he was active, was living through a bitter civil war. Control over the territory shifted from the Bolsheviks to the Germans or Petlura's nationalists. He refused to acknowledge the canonicity of the schismatic Ukrainian Autocephalous Church created with the nationalists' support. He maintained steadfast loyalty to the true church and resisted the nationalists' pressure.
Two years after coming to power in 1920 the Bolsheviks started the campaign to rob the Church of its relics and treasures. Father Arkady read out the message from Patriarch Tikhon at a church service, which the diocesan archbishop had relayed to him. It asked the churches to hand over only objects that were not directly used during services. Father Arkady refused to surrender the church vessels and was arrested shortly after as he was finishing the Divine Liturgy. The authorities carried out the arrest in front of the people, apprehending him outside the church gate together with his father, Priest Joseph Ostalsky. Father Joseph died shortly while in custody.
Some of the faithful who had gathered around their beloved shepherd to stop his arrest by the secret police were also taken into custody in Zhytomir prison. News about Father Arkady’s arrest travelled around the city, and people brought so much aid to him in prison that there was enough for the other prisoners and their guards.
Two days later, the arrested parishioners were offered freedom if they signed a paper stating that Father Arkady had agitated against the Soviet authorities and instigated a popular revolt against Soviet rule. All the people refused to put their signatures. They insisted that the defence of Father Arkady was their own decision. All were released despite the refusal.
Soon, an open trial began. Father Arkady was accused of reading out the message from Patriarch Tikhon, which judges declared to be a counter-revolutionary act. Multiple witnesses spoke of Father Arkady as an exceptional priest and wonderful person, an unmercenary and a dedicated and loving shepherd for his flock. They also gave many examples of his kindness and remarkable generosity. But the procurator turned these statements against Father Arkady, saying that they characterised him as a determined and convinced opponent of the authorities. He said that his religious ideas subverted the ideas and messages of the Soviet rule. “The likes of Arkady Ostalsky are not only irrelevant in the new age, but are deeply inimical to it.”
The court handed him a death sentence. As the sentence was being read, Father Arkady fell asleep, and his guards had to wake him up to tell him to prepare to die. Father Arkady reacted: “I thank God for all things. For me, death is a blessing.”
The prison in Zhytomir, where the Holy Martyr Arkady Ostalsky spent two years of his life
After the trial, his flock lobbied extensively for clemency. Finally, the sentence was commuted to a five-year prison term, to be served in Zhytomir. In 1924, the authorities pardoned everyone sentenced by revolutionary tribunals for resisting the confiscation of church property, and Father Arkady went free after serving two years out of five.
While he was in jail, his wife married a Red Army officer and came to ask him for a divorce. They had no children. Again, Father Arkady thanked God for this trial. He had been dedicating so much of his time to prayer and the Church and was grateful to God for relieving him from the bonds of marriage.
The blessed Maria of Diveevo
After his release, Father Arkady travelled to Diveevo Monastery in Sarov. At Diveevo, the Blessed Maria who came out to welcome him, predicted: “You will become a bishop, but will spend your days in jail.” In the Dormition Hermitage of Sarov, he was tonsured to the mantle with his worldly name.
After returning from Sarov as a hieromonk, he forsook the world and engaged in prayer and ascetic deeds with renewed energy. He was now dedicating nearly all of his time to the brotherhood. On a postcard he gave to one of his spiritual daughters, he wrote a wish that he equally addressed to her and himself: “The truly blessed ones are not those who begin their ascetic deed well, but those who bring it to completion. The feat of repentance and constant struggle against one’s passions is a lifelong cause.” On another occasion, he wrote: “No prospect of suffering should frighten us. We must be steadfast in our willingness to suffer for Christ where needed.”
Hieromonk Arkady with the Hermitage of Sarov in the background
To be continued…
Written by the obitel-minsk.ru team
Photos from Internet sources
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.