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The Life of Hieromartyr Sergius Rodakovsky

Martyrdom for Faith: the Life of Father Sergius

Father Sergius Rodakovsky

The majestic Memorial Church dedicated to All Saints in Minsk hosts daily prayers in honour of recently martyred saints who illuminated the land of Belarus. These saints remained steadfast in their devotion to Christ and His Church during the harrowing years of persecution against faith and continued to nourish and support their spiritual flock, fully understanding the potential consequences. Among these revered saints is Archpriest Sergius Rodakovsky, a humble rural priest.

The Hieromartyr Sergius was born in 1882 in the town of Zhitkovichi, Mozyr County, Minsk province. He was the son of Peter Rodakovsky, a church cantor. Details concerning Sergei Petrovich’s childhood and youth remain unknown. However, his academic achievements suggest he possessed a keen intellect, graduating from the Minsk Theological Seminary at the young age of 22 with top honours. After completing his seminary studies, he married Ksenia Chernyavskaya, daughter of a priest and the sister of the future Belarusian saint, Valentina Minskaya. He was subsequently ordained a priest.

Father Sergius Rodakovsky in his youth

Father Sergius Rodakovsky in his youth

From 1905, Father Sergius served at the Protection Church in the Poruchino-Yasenetsky parish of the Novogrudok district, Minsk province (recently the Baranovichi district of Brest region). In 1908, he was appointed rector of the Dormition Church in the village of Lavrishevo, Novogrudok district, Minsk province (presently the Novogrudok district of Grodno region). He served faithfully in this position for ten years.

During World War I, in 1915, he relocated to the city of Pereslavl in Vladimir province. There, he was appointed as a priest on a sanitary train and subsequently served as a regimental priest with the 4th Dragoon Regiment at the frontlines until its disbandment following the revolution in April 1918. Later that year, Bishop Georgy (Yaroshevsky) assigned Father Sergius as rector of the Trinity Church in the village of Tal, Bobruisk district, Minsk province. This appointment was accompanied by his elevation to the rank of Archpriest.

Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Tal village
Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Tal village
Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Tal village

Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Tal village

From that point onward, Father Sergius’ life became inextricably linked to serving the parishioners of the Tal Church. He faithfully dedicated himself to his pastoral duties, striving to maintain the vibrancy of the parish life for as long as possible. This mission became increasingly challenging by the late 1920s due to the imposition of exorbitant income taxes specifically targeted at clergy. Through these disproportionately high levies, the authorities aimed to pressure the closure of the church.

In 1930, Father Sergius’ family’s home was confiscated for not paying the exorbitant taxes imposed on clergy. This harsh measure extended to the seizure of all their belongings, leaving them without even basic necessities like cookware. Father Sergius himself was apprehended and sentenced to six months of forced labour in logging camps. The specific pretext for his arrest was a seemingly innocuous question he posed: “Why doesn’t the Soviet government impose the same logging quotas on rabbis as it does on priests?”

Upon completing his sentence, Father Sergius returned to his village and resumed his service at the Trinity Church. However, because their home had been confiscated, Father Sergius and his whole family were reduced to seeking temporary shelter with neighbours, mirroring the words of Christ Himself: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).

Hieromartyr Sergius Rodakovsky with his wife Xenia Feodorovna

Hieromartyr Sergius Rodakovsky with his wife Xenia Feodorovna

In turn, the authorities were hard at work to find new evidence to rearrest Father Sergius and resorted to fabricating slanderous rumours to discredit him.

Archpriest Sergius once again faced arrest in the winter of 1933. This time, fabricated charges were levelled against him, as evidenced by excerpts from the interrogation protocols:

“The defendant was actively engaged in counter-revolutionary work during the collectivization campaign in Tal Village…”

“By spreading rumours about the visit of the Roman Pope in Belarus, he gathered large crowds for the Holy Cross processions…”

“In February 1933, he complained about his life under Soviet rule while meeting the logging target by saying: “It’s time for me to carry some wood, after toiling away for so many years.” In February 1933, during a burial service for the church elder who died in prison while serving his sentence for ‘anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation,’ he said to the crying women: ‘Do not cry, he suffered for Christ.’”

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Throughout the interrogations, Father Sergius remained steadfast in his denials of guilt. As a clergyman well-versed in the Gospel, he maintained that the Scripture did not address matters related to the state system or land management, and he could not have opposed collectivization based on religious teachings. He emphasized that the Gospel focuses on people’s moral attitudes and interactions with one another.

In his testimony, he asserted:

“As a conscientious citizen and Christian, I never engaged in agitation against the Soviet power. The allegation that I spoke of the authorities’ imminent downfall while fishing is entirely false, as I never went fishing with the villager who made this claim. His testimony is false.”

“During the burial service for Afanasy Muraveyko, I may have commented on the headwear of some attendees, but I categorically deny ever making any statements criticizing the Soviet authorities. Such comments would constitute agitation, which I would never engage in.”

“During a conversation, I confirmed that a representative of the GPU and a member of the village council visited my apartment and attempted to pressure me into abandoning my priesthood and serving the Soviet government. I firmly refused, stating that my faith forbids me from hypocrisy. As long as there are believers and a church, I will continue to fulfil my priestly duties.”

“I cannot predict the future, nor have I ever mentioned anything about an upcoming war. My wife and I are known for being the first to arrive and the last to leave the church. Therefore, the accusation that I incited agitation with my companions on 30 April 1932 is false and unfounded.”

“One of the primary reasons for my reluctance to join the collective farm stems from the actions of local authorities during its establishment, which targeted the religious sentiments of believers. It was believed by many that joining the collective meant giving up their faith, especially when I was representing the community of believers. At that time, a lot of troubles were sent my way including an unbearable tax, which was one and a half times more than my income, court appearances, eviction from the house that the parishioners bought for me in 1927 with their own money, confiscation of property (even my last bed and other items were taken away), and forced labour for six months. All of these incidents made a significant impact on the believers, who saw me as a martyr for faith. When the authorities were allotting land to the collective farm and riots occurred, I was on forced labour and only came home to perform the necessary religious duties for both individual and collective farmers without any discrimination. Neither group can rightfully complain about my conduct, as I treat both with the same moral compass. In conclusion, I would like to say that the accusations against me are false.”

During his final interrogation on March 24, 1933, Father Sergei faced accusations regarding rumours about the visit of the Roman Pope circulating around the village of Tal. He responded: “Rumors about the arrival of the Roman Pope were circulating, but I do not know their source. I simply dismissed them with laughter. I maintain my innocence of the charges levied against me.”

Like many clergy of that era, Father Sergius endured suffering for his unwavering devotion to God.

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

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

On 21 April 1933, the secret police three-member judicial panel (the OGPU troika) Father Sergius Rodakovsky and the church psalmist to death. Their property was confiscated, and they were ultimately shot and buried in an unmarked grave.

Shortly after Father Sergius’ arrest, the Holy Trinity Church in the village of Tal was closed and dismantled. In the face of such hardship, it is with profound respect and admiration that we learn of Ksenia Feodorovna Rodakovskaya, Father Sergius’ widow, writing to her sister Valentina Sulkovskaya, who also became a widow in 1933. Ksenia’s letter expressed a message of profound forgiveness: “Dear sister, despite all the sorrows we have experienced, I wish you complete forgiveness.’”

The canonization of Father Sergius into the rank of holy martyr of the Church took place in August 2000 at the Hierarchical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.

April 20, 2024
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