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Life, Martyrdom and Glorification of the New Martyr Natalia Kozlova

Holy Martyr Natalia Kozlova

the Martyr Natalia Kozlova

Childhood of the Future Martyr

Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova was born in pre-revolutionary Russia on 12 September 1895 into a devout peasant family. She spent all her life in the village of Churiki, Skopinsky uyezd, Ryazan province (now Mikhailovsky district, Ryazan region).

Natalia was the youngest of five children. Her parents taught their children to work hard, instilled in them a love of God and the Church, and gave them a decent education. One of Natalia's sisters, Matrona, chose the path of monastic life.

Natalia successfully completed three years of rural schooling, read the Scriptures and spiritual literature with great interest, and tried to attend all church services.

Family Life

As a young adult, Natalia married Stepan Kozlov, a hardworking and deeply religious man. They had eight children.

The Kozlov family had a plot of land, livestock and everything needed for agricultural work. Maria Stepanovna Kozlova-Osina, Natalia Ivanovna's daughter, describes the Kozlov lifestyle:

Maria Stepanovna Kozlova-Osina

Maria Stepanovna Kozlova-Osina, daughter of the new Martyr Natalia Skopinskaya

"On their nine sotkas (0.09 hectares) my parents sowed wheat, rye and oats. They kept a horse, a cow, sheep and chickens, which was normal for a peasant household.

To support their eight children, my father, a jack-of-all-trades, worked as a glazier in Moscow during the winter. The older children studied there and helped him.

Father and his brothers built a house in Churiki with a galvanised roof and a spacious upstairs room. There was always a vigil lamp burning under the icons in the red corner..."

Murder of the Spouse

One of Natalia Ivanovna's sons, Alexander, recalls: "It is with great gratitude that we remember the love, care and affection of our mother, who brought us up with her ardent heart and kind, sincere soul.

Those distant and monstrously tragic years brought her tremendous suffering and left us, the four of her eight children who were still minors, very deeply and incurably wounded.

In January 1935 our beloved father was taken from us. He was shot by the local leaders (Communists) because he had criticised them at a general village meeting."

Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova

Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova

Maria Stepanovna remembers the events of those days well: "We were individual farmers; we did not join the collective farm because of the church, where the atheists had set up a granary.

The parishioners of our Epiphany Church (one thousand two hundred households!) gathered in front of the village council and demanded that at least the second half of the church be kept for prayer.

My mother, a true believer, was а member of the parish council, helping the bishop and baking prosphora. I can still see her in a white kerchief at the Russian stove.

My father was also a believing Christian; he did not want to join the kolkhoz (a form of collective farm in the Soviet Union) because he saw that bad things were happening there. One day, at a meeting, he said out loud what his fellow villagers were keeping to themselves: the chairman of the collective farm, the party leader and the head of the village council were all involved in stealing from the common good and deceiving the people.

Three days later, my father was summoned to the district. "Maybe the facts have been confirmed," he thought as he prepared to leave. He put on a sheepskin coat and a grey karakul hat: although it was only 12 kilometres to the district, it was freezing cold on 27 January 1935.

That same day, our neighbour took his wife to the hospital at Katino station. When he came back, he told us the terrible news: first, a trio of horses came running down the road, as if trying to escape.

Then he saw a wagon at the side of the road, which seemed to belong to his neighbour, Stepan Vasilievich Kozlov. He got off his carriage and saw our father groaning with a bullet in his throat, wearing a scribbled cap and drenched in blood...

Returning home, the neighbour came to our house and told my mother what had happened. Soon a note was planted in his house: "If you open your mouth again, your children will be orphaned". When the investigator and the district police came, the neighbour refused to testify".

After the tragic death of the head of the family, the Kozlovs had to face another disaster. In 1936, their horse was taken away from them for non-payment of "state fees''. For a peasant in those days, the loss of a horse was a catastrophe. Natalia Ivanovna began to work at the plough herself, while her young children helped her lift the shafts.

Duties of a Church Warden

During this time of suffering, the Martyr Natalia became a model of unwavering faith and hope in God's mercy. She poured out her inexhaustible love on her neighbours and tried to comfort her children and the despairing villagers.

Natalia was first elected treasurer and then warden of the Epiphany Church in Churiki.

Epiphany Church in the village of Churiki

Epiphany Church in the village of Churiki, as it looks today

For all her work for the good of the church, on 26 June 1935 she received a certificate of honour from the bishop. Natalia Ivanovna worked hard to provide the church with everything it needed to hold services. She travelled to Moscow almost every week to buy candles and Communion wine.

In December 1936 more than 200 believers came to the village council in Churiki to demand the release from prison of Father Evgeny Svetlov, the former rector of the Epiphany Church.

Father Evgeny Svetlov

Father Evgeny Svetlov

In May 1937, on the initiative of the Epiphany Council, a large meeting of the faithful was organised. In June, Natalia Ivanovna, together with Vasily Matveevich Abramkin, a member of the church council, travelled to Moscow to present the chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee* Kalinin, with more than 400 signatures of their fellow villagers, asking that the part of the church taken away by the local authorities for a granary be returned to the faithful.

Natalia Ivanovna was not afraid to maintain contact with the arrested Bishop Ignatius (Sadkovsky) and the priest of the Churiki church, Father Evgeny Svetlov. She acted in accordance with the words of the Apostle Paul: "...bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ..." (Galatians 6:2).

Bishop Ignatius (Sadkovsky)

Bishop Ignatius (Sadkovsky)

Daughter Maria Stepanovna remembers:

"She wrote to Fr. Evgeny in prison about the affairs of the parish and sent parcels and money to the imprisoned bishop.

People criticised her for such vigour:

‘If they take you away, what will happen to the little children?’

‘God's will be done,’ the mother replied.

‘What about us?’ I asked pitifully.

‘The Lord will not forsake you,’ she answered with love and faith.”

Natalia Ivanovna's active participation in the life of the Church was not in keeping with the destructive plans of the new leaders in Russia. In their opinion, the activity of the believers in Churiki was too high.

Arrest and Martyrdom

The Moscow secret police decree of 14 August 1937 stated: "Citizen Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova..., an active individual farmer and church activist, is sufficiently exposed as hostile to the Soviet authority and conducting active anti-Soviet agitation among collective farmers aimed at the collapse of the collective farm. She also conducted religious propaganda among the population, expressed defeatist sentiments and made terrorist statements against the Party leaders and members of the Soviet government.

In the autumn of 1936 she organised a counter-revolutionary procession of 150 churchmen who threatened village communists and activists with reprisals for the arrest of the priest Svetlov. ... To charge “citizen Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova as accused under article 58, paragraph 10 of the Criminal Code, with detention in Skopin prison as a measure of restraint..."

Excerpt from the investigative report of the Martyr Natalia Skopinskaya (Kozlova)

Excerpt from the investigative report of the Martyr Natalia Skopinskaya (Kozlova)

Natalia Ivanovna categorically denied the charges of anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary activity brought against her. Maria Stepanovna recalls the tragic events of the night her mother was arrested:

"It was two o'clock in the morning when the 'Black Raven' prison van arrived. My younger brother and sister were asleep and my mother told me not to wake them. My brother Gabriel, who had come from the city on holiday, was having fun with young people outside in the neighbourhood, strumming his guitar...

Two visitors turned over everything in the house - they were looking for the letters of Father Yevgeny Svetlov. They put all the religious literature into bags and loaded them into the van.

Discreetly, my mother slipped me a thick old volume: “Save the Bible, Manya!” I hid the book in the cellar, not thinking that one day it would be on display in the Butovo Museum. We said goodbye quietly; my mother had no doubt that she would soon be released. After all, there were four minor children left alone..."

Together with Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova, Vasily Matveyevich Abramkin and Vasily Danilovich Orlov, members of the parish council of the Epiphany Church in Churiki, were arrested.

On 16 August 1937 they were all taken to Taganskaya prison in Moscow. Following a decision of the "NKVD Troika" ** from 10 September 1937, they were sentenced to the death penalty - execution by firing squad. The sentence was carried out on 14 September 1937. All three condemned prisoners were shot in the USSR NKVD polygon of Butovo, near Moscow.

Photo from the court file of Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova

Photo from the court file of Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova

Posthumous Rehabilitation

Maria Stepanovna Kozlova-Osina (daughter of the new Martyr Natalia):

"... For many years we, the children, knew nothing of our mother's fate. My younger brother Alexander wrote to all the authorities, but in vain. Apparently time had to pass…

...I grew up, studied accountancy and moved to Lithuania, where the food situation after the war was better and, above all, the churches were open. There was even a monastery of the Holy Spirit with the relics of the three Vilnius Martyrs (Anthony, John and Eustatius)...

Finally, they responded to my brother's requests, and in 1992 he was invited to the KGB in Lukis Square in Vilnius.

They showed him a folder with our mother's photo and a certificate of honour from Bishop Ignatius of Skopin, which he was allowed to take with him. On the back, my mother's hand had scribbled in blue pencil: "Found in my house during the search. Kozlova, 16.8.37".

However, our questions about my mother's fate and the location of her grave were not answered until the era of glasnost, when laws were passed to restore the rights of the oppressed."

Unexpectedly, the Kozlovs received a letter from a Ryazan priest, Sergius Trubin, reporting on his research into cases in the archives of the Russian Federal Security Service relating to the persecution of Christians in the Ryazan diocese during the Soviet times. The priest discovered the case of N. I. Kozlova, a churchwarden from the village of Churiki, and asked her relatives to write to him.

Some time later, a parcel arrived in Vilnius containing a book of remembrances of the victims of political repression in the Ryazan region, compiled by Father Sergius on the basis of archive documents and photographs. From it, the relatives learned of the charges brought against Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova after her arrest.

To the investigator's provocative questions about anti-Soviet agitation and calls to overthrow Soviet power, Natalia Ivanovna bravely replied: "I never said that."

Referring to the testimony previously entered in the case as if it had been given by her, she stated: "I do not confirm this testimony, it is not correctly recorded, I did not give such a testimony... I do not plead guilty".

Procession of the Cross in the village of Churiki with the icon of the New Martyr Natalia Kozlova

Procession of the Cross in the village of Churiki with the icon of the New Martyr Natalia Kozlova

Glorification as a Saint

By the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of 17 August 2004, Natalia Ivanovna Kozlova, the administrator of the Church of the Epiphany in the village of Churiki (Mikhailovsky district, Ryazan region, Russian Federation), was included in the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia of the 20th century.

Larisa Aleksandrovna Kozlova, granddaughter of the Martyr Natalia, once went to Moscow on a business trip, hoping to find Butovo and her grandmother's grave.

It turned out that Butovo was not just a residential area in the south of Moscow, behind the Warsaw motorway. Between August 1937 and October 1938, more than 20,000 people were shot and buried here, including around 1,000 clergy and lay people from the Russian Orthodox Church and other denominations who suffered for their faith.

Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of 20th century Russia in Butovo

Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of 20th century Russia in Butovo

Icon of the Synaxis of the New Martyrs who suffered in Butovo

Icon of the Synaxis of the New Martyrs who suffered in Butovo

Larisa Alexandrovna Kozlova:

"It is impossible to convey the spiritual shock of treading on land overgrown with giant trees, grass and flowers, fertilised with human bones and ashes of executed victims. It seemed as if the heart gave a sign and recognised the native ashes in the mass grave..."

Personal belongings of the Martyr Natalia Skopinskaya in the Butovo Church Museum

Personal belongings of the Martyr Natalia Skopinskaya in the Butovo Church Museum

On the ground floor of the large Orthodox church in Butovo there is a small museum where personal belongings of the new Martyrs and their photographs are collected. In one of the display cases you can see a Gospel, a simple paper icon, a diocesan letter and a woman's shawl. The nearby icon shows a woman with a shawl - the Holy Martyr Natalia (Kozlova).

...After the glorification of her grandmother, Larisa Alexandrovna and her relatives felt both bitter and light. The prophecy of the ascetics that a great number of saints would shine in Russia had come true.

The 14th of September is a special date in the life of the Kozlovs and Osins family in Vilnius. On this day the Church honours the memory of their holy relative, the Martyr Natalia Skopinskaya.

 

* All-Russian Central Executive Committee – the supreme legislative, administrative and supervisory body of state power of the Russian Soviet Republic and the RSFSR until 1938.

** Troika" of the USSR Directorate of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs of the USSR)) – one of the main instruments of mass political repression in the USSR in the 1930s. They were organised in the republican, regional and oblast NKVD directorates of the USSR. They consisted of three people - the head of the regional NKVD, the secretary of the regional Communist Party committee and the prosecutor. The decisions of the "troikas" were made in absentia on the basis of the case files submitted by the NKVD bodies, and in some cases, in the absence of any material, on the basis of the lists of arrested persons. Typically, "troikas" sentenced prisoners to eight to ten years in camps or execution by firing squad. Their decisions could not be appealed.

September 13, 2023
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