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The Life of the Holy Confessor Archpriest Vasily Malakhov

Holy Confessor: Archpriest Vasily's Sacrifice

Holy Holy Confessor Archpriest Vasilyonfessor: Archpriest Vasily

Born in January 1873 in the village of Dubrovo in the Vitebsk province, Vasily Yakovlevich Malakhov came from the family of a Belarusian peasant.

After completing his studies at the Vitebsk Ecclesiastical School, he went on to study at the Vitebsk Theological Seminary. To fulfil the admission requirements, Vasily needed to leave his peasant status. With the approval of a peasant assembly, he received a dismissal certificate and promised in writing to enter seminary service upon graduation.

At the age of 25, Vasily Malakhov graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy with the degree of Candidate of Theology. Notably, his studies included authoring a scholarly work titled “The Transubstantiation of the Holy Gifts in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” It explored the historical and theological development of the term “transubstantiation,” alongside a deep theological analysis of the Church Fathers' teachings on the Eucharist.

Due to government funding for his education, Vasily was obligated to serve in the ecclesiastical education department for six years following his four-year academic program. Early dismissal from this service required special permission from the Holy Synod.

Future Hieromartyr Vasily Malakhov

Future Hieromartyr Vasily Malakhov

In 1899, Vasily Yakovlevich Malakhov took the position as a teacher of comparative theology and the refutation of the Russian schism at the Volyn Theological Seminary. Highly respected within the seminary community, Vasily was known for his enlightened perspective and deep faith. He even assumed the additional role of seminary inspector.

He attained the rank of state councillor, a high-level civil service rank within the Russian Empire. Additionally, in 1917-1918, he was elected as a lay delegate from the Volyn diocese to the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1919, the Volyn Theological Seminary was closed soon after the ascent of the Bolsheviks to power, and Vasily transitioned to teaching at the Zhytomyr School of Pastoral Theology. This short-lived opportunity also ended in closure by the fall of 1922.

During this time, the renewalist movement, which energetically began to seize Orthodox churches, was established with the support of the new authorities, and Father Vasily became its active opponent. As a preacher, he frequently addressed diocesan assemblies and corresponded with priests to explain the history, origins, and theological contradictions of the renewalist movement and other sectarian teachings that emerged during this period.

In one of his letters, he wrote: “You ask how a semi-literate priest can make sense of every detail of the dispute between the Renewalists and those loyal to Patriarch Tikhon. There is no need to understand — just walk the straight path and have a clear conscience. By engaging in the complexity of numerous disputes, new projects, and all the confusion that surrounds us, one can easily lose one's way. So confess your faith in the Holy Church, which has existed, exists now, and will continue to exist until the end of time. Our Russian Church is holy, as evidenced by the countless righteous men and women who have belonged to it. Therefore, faithfully adhere to the Church's Tradition, grounded in the Holy Gospel. This path leads to peace and avoids sin. Remember, earthly matters are impermanent. A shepherd cannot rely solely on the loyalty of their flock. The one unshakeable foundation is the Holy Church, to which all must adhere. Let your faith be unwavering, even if it is as tiny as a poppy seed. Stand firm through these temporary hardships, and be faithful unto death.”

In the early 1920s, amid rising tensions between the Bolshevik government and the Russian Orthodox Church, a controversial debate titled “Did Christ Exist?” was organized in Zhytomyr. Among the prominent preachers invited to participate was Vasily Yakovlevich Malakhov.

The streets of Zhytomir, Ukraine

The streets of Zhytomir, Ukraine

An eyewitness to the event described the atmosphere: “Professor Yazlovsky, a young man of about 30, opened the debate. His speech, lacking in depth and conviction, left the crowded city theatre silent. But then... Father Vasily Malakhov took the stage. His masterful presentation, replete with evidence supporting the existence of Christ, captivated the audience. A thunderous ovation erupted, interrupted only by a minority of dissenting voices from the Komsomol members. Following the rebuttals from the opposing side, the chair attempted to re-grant the floor to Professor Yazlovsky, the entire audience rose and exited the hall, leaving the professor speechless.”

Motivated by a lifelong aspiration for the priesthood and service of the Church, Vasily Malakhov finally achieved his dream in August 1924 when he was ordained a priest. He was quickly elevated to the rank of archpriest. In 1926 he returned to Belarus and began serving at the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Tiosto, a village near his birthplace, where he was elected rector.

A view of Lake Tiosto

A view of Lake Tiosto

A year later, a forester's assistant filed a false accusation against Father Vasily. The denunciation claimed he compared the Bolsheviks to the Americans who enslaved and ultimately destroyed the Native American population. The informant's written statement declared: “This priest is a counter-revolutionary who should not only be removed from the quiet corner of the Mezhen district but also from the entire USSR.”

This fabricated testimony proved sufficient for the authorities to arrest Father Vasily in December 1927. He had his home searched but met the news of his arrest with remarkable composure. Addressing an OGPU officer, he calmly stated: “I knew the risks of becoming a priest in these times. Choosing this path, I fully understood that the GPU might search and arrest me, or even send me into exile.”

During his interrogation, Father Vasily testified to the investigator:

“Several individuals approached me with a cautionary message: ‘Father, stay clear of these godless ones, or you'll face trouble.’ I responded firmly: ‘So be it! Let them bring it on!’ The authorities granted us freedom to conduct both religious and anti-religious advocacy. I spoke against ungodly behaviour, and if they choose to slander me for it, so be it. I never spoke against the government, and you yourselves are witness to that. My post-service sermons condemned hooliganism, vulgar language, loose morals, and other misconduct among the village youth.

Throughout my thirteen months serving my local community, I aimed to bring them as much good as possible. I consistently encouraged my congregation to be exemplary Christians and upright citizens, free from prevalent vices like immorality, hooliganism, and banditry. My message particularly emphasized guiding the youth down this path. Not once did I utter a word of animosity or incite rebellion against the Soviet government. I have always believed in the authorities as God's establishment, ordained and operating under His will…”

After six months of imprisonment in Vitebsk, the Special Panel at the Secret Police Collegium sentenced Archpriest Vasily Malakhov to three years of exile in Siberia. After enduring his exile, Father Vasily was prohibited from residing in major cities and settled in the village of Abramovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region, accompanied by his wife.

There he went to pray at the local church, where he served alongside the parish priest. The villagers welcomed him warmly, recognizing him as a dedicated and insightful shepherd. Many sought him out for spiritual guidance and conversation.

Even upon completing his exile and moving to Usvyaty, a town close to his birthplace, Father Vasily remained connected to the Abramovo villagers. They continued to correspond and offered him material support whenever possible.

The historic town of Usvyaty

The historic town of Usvyaty

Witnessing the longing of his congregation for spiritual guidance, Father Vasily began holding services and delivering sermons in the homes of his parishioners, often referred to as “spiritual children.” Believers would gather in these private spaces. Several secret police officials received information about the priest's presence in certain villages and attempted his arrest. But in a testament to their devotion, the villagers never betrayed him. They actively shielded him from persecution, hiding him and facilitating his escape to safer locations.

In his home village of Usvyaty, Father Vasily conducted services every Saturday and Sunday, utilizing an antimension gifted by Archimandrite German (Weinberg), a close acquaintance from their shared past at the Zhytomyr Pastoral School. His wife faithfully assisted him in these services, acting as the psalmist.

Archimandrite German (Weinberg)

Archimandrite German (Weinberg)

Father Vasily and his wife regularly travelled from Usvyaty to Moscow, where they stayed with relatives. However, their seemingly peaceful routine came to an abrupt end in February 1936. A deacon serving at the Church of the Holy Martyrs Adrian and Natalia, acting as a secret informant for the NKVD, reported them, resulting in their imprisonment in Moscow's notorious Butyrka prison.

The Church of the Holy Martyrs Adrian and Natalia in Moscow

The Church of the Holy Martyrs Adrian and Natalia in Moscow

During his interrogation, the investigator directly questioned Father Vasily's beliefs: “What is your attitude towards the Soviet government and its measures?”

Father Vasily responded: “While I acknowledge and obey the Soviet government, as a Christian, I am deeply saddened to see churches being closed and Christian shrines gradually destroyed due to the general decline of faith.”

Following the investigation, the authorities charged Father Vasily and his wife with “hostility towards the Soviet government, systematic anti-Soviet agitation, and fomenting counter-revolutionary provocative rumours about the alleged persecution of believers in the USSR.” They were sentenced to five years of exile in the harsh environment of the Arkhangelsk region in the far north.

Tragically, Archpriest Vasily Malakhov succumbed to typhus on March 24, 1937, while in exile, and was buried in an unmarked grave.

In 2005, he was canonized among the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia for universal veneration by the decree of the Holy Synod.

Holy Confessor Vasily, pray to God for us!

March 23, 2024
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