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Fr. Roman Medved: a Story of Unyielding Faith and Courage

Holy Confessor Roman Medved

Holy Confessor Roman Medved

Family and Education

Holy Confessor Roman (Medved) was born on 1 October 1874 in the town of Zamość, Holm province (then a part of the Russian empire, now in Poland) into a large family. His father, Ivan Iosifovich Medved, was a teacher at a progymnasium, and his mother, Maria Matveevna, was a midwife.

Roman followed in the footsteps of his other brothers by choosing a life of service to the Church. He studied at the Religious Seminary of Holm at the time when Archimandrite Tikhon (Belavin), the future Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, was its rector.

In 1892 Roman Ivanovich entered the Theological Academy in Saint Petersburg. As a student, he became a spiritual child of Archpriest John Sergiev, later glorified by the church and known to the faithful as the Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt.

The Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt

The Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt

Father John had a deep influence on the young man. As a priest, Father Roman put liturgical ministry at the centre of his life, as his spiritual father did. For several extended periods, he celebrated Eucharist daily.

Service of the Church

After graduating from the Academy, Roman Ivanovich was appointed assistant inspector, and subsequently, inspector of the Vilna Theological Seminary, where he served until 1900.

On 7 January 1901, Roman Ivanovich received the blessing of his spiritual father, John of Kronstadt, to marry his wife Anna Nikolaevna Nevzorova, daughter of a priest. Anna’s father lived a pious life and was blessed with an honourable ending. He died on his name day after attending liturgy and receiving the Holy Communion.

Roman Ivanovich Medved with his wife

Roman Ivanovich Medved with his wife Anna Nikolaevna, 1901[c].

On 3 March 1901, Bishop Anthony (Sokolov) of Chernigov and Nezhyn ordained Roman Medved to the rank of priest. Father Roman served in the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, before being transferred in 1902 to the Church of Mary Magdalene in St. Petersburg, where a large community of believers, a large community gathered around him and a temperance association was established.

Father Roman, St. Petersburg

Father Roman, St. Petersburg, 1905.

Father Roman dedicated himself fully to parish work, and these several years of intense effort took their toll on his and his wife’s health. They both contracted tuberculosis and had to move to an area with a more favourable climate.

orthodox music

But there was also another reason for Father Roman's relocation from St Petersburg. In 1907, the infamous Grigory Rasputin, who enjoyed unlimited trust from some members of the Royal Family, visited him in his house. Father Roman said straight to his face what he thought of him as a person. Two weeks later, a decree of the Holy Synod was issued, ordering his transfer to the city of Tomaszów, now Poland, to serve as a priest in a Russian army regiment stationed at the German border.

Before departure, Father Roman and his wife paid a visit to Father John of Kronstadt and told him what had happened. “It will not last long, it will be all right, and soon he will forget about you,” Father John responded. After several months came another decree appointing Father Roman as rector of St Vladimir's Admiralty Cathedral in Sevastopol and dean of the coastal detachment parishes on the Black Sea Fleet.

St Vladimir's Cathedral in Sevastopol

St Vladimir's Cathedral in Sevastopol

After the February Revolution of 1917, self-appointed soldier-sailor revolutionary committees sprang up in the army and navy. One such local committee in December 1917 ordered the arrest and execution of Archpriest Roman. However, because of his popularity and widespread sympathy for him among the people, the committee ordered that his execution be delayed.

A sailor had warned the priest's wife about the danger, and she booked a ticket for the train that departed on Christmas Day. After celebrating the Christmas liturgy, Father Roman went straight to the railway station without going home.

In the early hours of the morning, the members of the revolutionary committee came to arrest the priest. They searched his residence and questioned Anna Nikolaevna, who was holding her six-month-old daughter Irina in her arms throughout the search.

Irina, daughter of Archpriest Roman Medved

Irina, daughter of Archpriest Roman Medved, 1931.

Father Roman safely arrived in Moscow, presented himself to Patriarch Tikhon, and received his blessing to serve and preach in Moscow churches.

Serving in Moscow

In February 1919, the Patriarch appointed Archpriest Roman as rector of the Church of St Alexis of Moscow, in Glinischevsky Pereulok.

Archpriest Roman outside the Church of St Alexis

Archpriest Roman outside the Church of St Alexis, 1920s

The authorities arrested him multiple times. His first arrest happened in 1919. In a later arrest, he was questioned by Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the All-Russian secret police. He suggested emigrating from Soviet Russia to his homeland in the former Kholm province, which was now Poland. The priest refused. He said that he was loyal to the Soviet state, and his attitude to it was within the boundaries defined by the Apostles when they commanded the faithful to pray for the authorities (cf. Romans 13:1-6).

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, Archpriest Roman established a Brotherhood of Followers of Orthodoxy in honour of St. Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow. This opened a new chapter in his life. For the next decade, he served as a beloved shepherd and spiritual guide for his numerous flock.

Archpriest Roman Medved and his brotherhood

Archpriest Roman Medved and his brotherhood sometime in the 1920s

The surviving memoirs of some of Father Roman's contemporaries shed light on significant details from the life of the brotherhood. One of these documents reads: "The period from 1919 to 1921 was for most people a time of one bitter famine, unheated houses, unemployment, unlighted streets and other signs of chaos, but in the Church of St. Alexis in Glinischevsky Pereulok, a deep and intense spiritual life was ongoing, under the direction of Father Roman Medved.

Services were conducted in the Church of St. Alexis every morning and evening, midnight vigils were served on Thursdays and at night, with the singing of the hymn "Behold the Bridegroom is coming at midnight".

Sermons on Gospel readings were said every Sunday, in the morning and evenings. Readings from the Holy Fathers were organised, and talks were delivered to explain the details of church offices. Everyone was free to ask questions and share their thoughts, and Father Roman always spoke last. He called on his flock to rethink their lives and repent, fully and resolutely. He entreated the faithful to recall their baptismal vows and to live by them consciously, and he exhorted them to turn back to Christ as our Saviour. In this way, Father Roman brought us back into the salvific fold of our Church.

No God-seeking heart hungry for Christ could remain indifferent, and many God-believing people flocked back to the Saviour. All confessions in the Church of Saint Alexis were heard in private.

Everyone at the church was happy to volunteer their time and work. Volunteers washed the church floor, lighted the censers, rang bells in the bell tower, sold candles, read canons and the psalms, conducted the church choir and sang in it. In his church, Father Roman achieved everything he had been dreaming of for many years."

Many of his parishioners kept spiritual diaries where they wrote down their thoughts and actions. Each week, they shared them with Father Roman and received spiritual guidance.

The renowned Moscow elder Archpriest Alexis Mechev thought highly of Father Roman’s priestly service. On his every visit, he would remark of his parish, “You have a hospital here, while I only have a health post.”

Some spiritual children of the would-be holy confessor were ordained as priests or accepted monastic tonsure.

Archpriest Roman Medved

Archpriest Roman Medved, 1920.

Father Roman’s hard work and incessant effort impacted his health, and he began to suffer from frequent and severe episodes of illness. He endured most of them on his feet, without leaving his ministries for a minute.

When official persecution of Father Roman’s family intensified in the late 1920s, his spiritual mentors advised him to divorce his wife to protect her and the children. This he did, and addressed all his later letters to his family to his daughter Irina.

In 1930, he was ordered to vacate the church flat. He had no choice but to move to Olgino, a village close to Zheleznodorozhnaya station, where one of his spiritual children let him live in his small summer house. Father Roman’s family moved to Pushkino and settled with his spiritual daughter Margarita Veteleva. His parishioners from Moscow started visiting Father Roman in Olgino for confession and spiritual advice, when he was too sick to conduct a service or when there were no scheduled services.

The arrest

The secret police kept the church of Saint Alexis of Moscow under close surveillance, aiming to close it eventually. Unable to endure the torments and harassment from the secret police, some parish members gave in to the pressure and agreed to say anything that was asked of them.

Father Roman was almost sure that this time he was not going to escape arrest.

He warned his spiritual children about the coming sorrows and asked each to decide if they would all be able to endure their arrest and all the trials that came with it. The parishioners loved their shepherd so much that not one of them wished to leave him and join another parish.

On 16 February 1931, only a day after the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the secret police arrested Archpriest Roman and about thirty members of the Brotherhood of Saint Alexis. Soon after the arrests, the church was closed and demolished.

The prisoners endured with exceptional courage and steadfastness. They spoke, if at all, only about the religious life of their parish, which was far outside politics.

Archpriest Roman, Butyrskaya prison

Archpriest Roman. Moscow. Butyrskaya prison. 1931

The investigators accused Archpriest Roman of denouncing to the royal authorities several revolutionaries based on the information received in a confession.

They also insisted that Father Roman reveal the names of the individuals who had received secret ordinations or tonsures. He named only those who had themselves chosen to declare themselves as monks, but refused to name anybody else: “Concerning the other secret tonsures, I refuse to give any names because it is contrary to my religious convictions," said Father Roman.

Father Roman and his fellow prisoners from his parish were held at Butyrskaya prison. It took the police two months to complete the investigation.

In the indictment, completed on 26 April 1931, Father Roman and the parishioners of the Church of St. Alexis of Moscow were accused of being members of a counter-revolutionary organisation. The document read: “The participants of the said organisation were mostly office workers; some held positions of authority in various Soviet institutions. In addition, R. I. Medved formed a secret monastic order from the most active participants of his organisation... Its members continued to hold public sector jobs and wore secular clothing. R. I. Medved is accused of organising and leading a counter-revolutionary organisation... The other defendants... are charged with being active members of the counter-revolutionary organisation 'Brotherhood of Orthodox Believers', attendance of illegal meetings and anti-Soviet agitation".

On 30 April 1931, a secret police trial board sentenced twenty-four members of the parish of the Church of St. Alexis to various terms of imprisonment and exile. Later that year, on 10 May, Archpriest Roman was condemned to ten years imprisonment in a prison camp.

On 9 June, Father Roman was delivered to Kemi in Northern Russia, where the Soviet authorities had set up the first prison camp for political prisoners.

From his first days in the camp, he continued to stay in touch with his spiritual children through his daughter Nina. Prisoners were allowed only one letter in a month, so he did his best to cover all the most important things in his every letter.

Kemi, an early 20th-century view

Kemi, an early 20th-century view

Rehabilitation

On 26 July 1936, Archpriest Roman was released from the camp and settled in Valentinovka, outside Volokolamsk, in the Moscow region. However, many years took a toll on his health. His tuberculosis worsened and became life-threatening. To improve his condition, Father Roman had to move to Cherkassy, in Ukraine.

Archpriest Zosima Trubachev

Archpriest Zosima Trubachev

On 25 May 1937, Father Roman stumbled on a porch of his house in Cherkassy and broke his tuberculosis-stricken leg. The accident rendered him immobile. His wife Anna Nikolaevna took him to Maloyaroslavets, where he was looked after by one of his spiritual daughters. Anna Nikolaevna and his daughter Irina visited him frequently, as did many of Father Roman’s other spiritual children.

Despite the illness, Archpriest Roman began to serve liturgy soon after his move, which gave him great comfort and solace.

On 27 July his spiritual daughter recorded in her diary what Father Roman said to her: "I aim for perfect purity in prayer so that it would light up at like as bright and pure as a flame, but now I am in so much pain that I cannot pray without taking breaks. When my pain becomes unbearable, I have to stop. But by the grace of God, I have Jesus’ prayer, and I can pray without ceasing. Liturgy is my only comfort and consolation. Liturgy is my life. I cannot do without it.”

The persecution of the Church intensified in the summer of 1937, and the authorities unleashed mass arrests of the clergy.

In July, two secret police officers came to Archpriest Roman's house and showed Anna Nikolaevna a warrant for her husband's arrest. By that time Father Roman had developed pulmonary haemorrhage, and his wife said to them:

"Do not you see that he is dying? Take him, and you will make my lot easier, at least I will not have to give him a burial. The officers looked at the priest, and one of them muttered:

"We have enough men to bury without him.” The officers turned around and left.

Death and glorification

Father Roman soon became so weak that he could no longer serve the liturgy. On the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration on 18 August, he asked to send for Archpriest Zosimas to hear his confession and give him Communion.

Archpriest Zosimas arrived, and Father Roman confessed tearfully. He spoke for a long time before finally receiving Communion. He cried as he kissed Archpriest Zosimas’ hand.

Ten minutes after the priest Zosimas left, Hegumen Mitrofan came and offered to give him tonsure. After hearing his “yes”, he asked, “Which rank?” “The first,” replied Father Roman. That day, he was tonsured to the Ryasophore with the name Joseph. As they parted, Hegumen Mitrophan bowed at Father Ronman’s feet, and they embraced in tears.

Father Roman wished to keep his tonsure secret and asked his carers not to tell. From that day, Archpriest Zosimas communed with Father Roman daily.

On 6 September, Archpriest Roman said to his caregiver, a spiritual daughter "Death is two days away, and that will be the end. I am living my last days. God chose me as a redeemer, and I will be an example for others."

Later that day, he dictated to his wife Anna Nikolaevna a letter for his spiritual children: "My beloved, all who have been my spiritual children! I am badly ill, and my days are numbered. Before their imminent departure, Christians bid farewell and reconcile with one another. Please forgive me for all my sins against you, in word, thought, or deed. For my part, with the power given to me by our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive and absolve all your sins against me in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Your Unworthy Archpriest Roman Medved".

At night, Father Roman pointed upwards and said: "I see the light of God up there. The calculations show one thing: the end is near, so let us wait no longer.” By four in the morning, Father Roman was calm. “All is well, thank God!”

Moscow’s Church of the Protection of the Mother of God on Lyshchikova Hill

Moscow’s Church of the Protection of the Mother of God on Lyshchikova Hill in Moscow keeps the reliquary with the relics of the Holy Confessor Archpriest Roman.

Archpriest Zosima came at six in the morning on 8 September; Father Roman received Communion and lay calm with open eyes, barely moving. All day long he lay almost without moving, with his eyes closed. At about five in the afternoon, he opened his eyes and stretched out his hands as his face lit up with a warm and humble smile. Then he leaned back on his pillow and fell into a delirium. Soon, his hands and feet began to grow cold.

One of his spiritual daughters began to read the prayer at the parting of the soul and body. Father Roman opened his eyes and looked high up, then moved his eyes to the side and bowed his head to his shoulder and took his last breaths. The Holy Confessor Roman departed to the Lord at seven in the evening of 8 September 1937.

Archpriest Zosima came at nine. He vested the deceased and also led the funeral service for him. Archpriest Roman was laid to rest at the municipal cemetery in Maloyaroslavets.

Reliquary with the relics of Holy Confessor Roman Medved

Reliquary with the relics of Holy Confessor Roman Medved

With the blessing of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All Russia, his relics were recovered on 3 August 1999 and transferred to the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God on Lyshchikova Hill in Moscow.

At the Jubilee Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000 Archpriest Roman Medved was glorified in the rank of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

Icon of the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

Icon of the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

Letters from the prison camp

"... At times, I find my struggle for life exceedingly difficult, but my love and attachment for you help me endure. Without love, I would have simply watched the candle of my life burn out, and contented myself with the role of a confessor the Lord had allowed me."

***

"I am standing on solid rock, unafraid of any waves. I feel this way quite often when is bearing down on my conscience, which is my constant concern."

***

"It is a joy to have the sense of having no enemies, and not even to conceive of any, while recognising in every person only a less fortunate brother worthy of compassion and help, even when they do become our enemies and take up arms against us through some misunderstanding.”

***

"Genuine love is only possible where the heart is free from passions."

***

"Despite the darkness surrounding us, my soul is full of light. Amid the noise, there is silence in my heart; for my Only Sweetest Jesus is with me in every circumstance and place."

Troparion to Holy Confessor Roman Medved, tone 4

A spiritual child of the Kronstadt shepherd, / patron of the Black Sea Fleet, / pride and glory of the Moscow flock, / unwavering confessor of the Orthodox faith, / who has preserved in his martyrdom / the priceless pearl of Christ! / Come, faithful, / and let us glorify the saint confessor Roman by singing to him: // “Pray, Good Shepherd, to Christ for the salvation of our souls!”

The New Martyrs and Confessors of our Church hold a special place in our hearts as they are close to us in time, and we firmly believe in the power of their intercessions to guide us on our path of faith in God. 
Please click on the link below to send us your prayer notes as we commemorate the Holy Hiero-confessor Roman:
https://obitel-minsk.org/prayer-request

August 02, 2023
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