"Let us love one another, brethren, for we are cherished by God," alongside the Theologian, you proclaimed, O Honoured Father. "As Christ has offered His life on our behalf, let us not pursue solace for ourselves, but labour to alleviate the toils of our fellow beings"
(Festive Sticheron, tone 8).
He lived for the people, and among the people, it seems that he was never alone. And yet rarely has anyone as Father Alexei concealed in himself so much invisible to the eye.
According to the memoirs of Priest Sergius Durylin, who served with him, Father Alexei Mechev was, "an endless wellhead of goodness, and love and help to others in the most unexpected, infinitely diverse forms, as complex as the life of the city, in which he lived. No one knows or will never know how many people he has helped and how many people he has embraced with his love… no one but God, who knows all things. Father Alexei found friends where he expected to find enemies; he embodied the words which he himself once used to describe the Apostle of Love."
"The Apostle John had such an unparalleled, great, and compelling Christian love that tormentors and persecutors were disarmed by it and submitted to its power; it extinguished their anger and turned it into love".
(Holy Righteous Alexei Mechev)
"Father Alexei, it is impossible to serve with you... Even a tough cookie like me is choking with tears. How can one make people so upset?" The psalmist of the St. Elijah church in Vereya used to say after celebrating Liturgy with Father Alexei, who always served with tears.
Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker on Maroseyka Street in Moscow
Father Alexei's parish church in Moscow was situated in a busy area. However, crossing the threshold of St. Nicholas Church in Klenniki, the soul fell into a supremely prayerful, almost hermitage-like atmosphere, eclipsing the crowdedness, noise and urban bustle of Maroseyka. "The piano was practising a waltz behind the wall, the lamp was not lit, and the cars were howling and screaming outside. The smell of frying oil was coming from the kitchen, the telephone was constantly ringing, the newspaper boys were interfering with prayer, and the relentless Anna Ivanovna was knocking on the door, demanding an immediate prayer service ‘for the lost servant Ivan,’ and yet, despite everything, the invisible feat was uninterrupted and the prayer was offered up to God. Love enlivened every movement of the hand and word of the tongue, filling each moment with peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit," Priest Sergius Durylin recalled.
Holy Righteous Alexei Mechev
Contemporaries called the rector of Saint Nicholas Church in Klenniki "a city Elder." Father Alexei fervently loved and honoured the abbot of the Optina hermitage, Hegumen Theodosius (Pomortsev) and Father Anatoly (Zertsalov), who in their turn, always referred their Muscovite visitors to Father Alexei, saying, "Why do you come to us when you have Father Alexei?"
In times of the waning of faith and the beginning of persecutions against Christians, when churches were emptied, a parish similar to that of the early apostles was beginning to flourish in Moscow. Parishioners from all parts of the city hurried to the church on Maroseyka before and after work: for service, confession, advice, religious studies or labour. Whether it was revolution, war, persecution or other cataclysms, Father Alexei's counsel was the same: to do one's work, fulfilling the commandments of love for God and neighbour.
Fr. Alexei Mechev with his family
Once, during the revolutionary riots of 1905, a group of protesting students burst into the Church of St. Nicholas in Klenniki during Matins, which was celebrated before the Liturgy. They began to sing and dance, and one of the young men broke into the altar. Father Alexei met him with the words that surprised the young man: "How nice it is to see young people beginning their day with prayer. You must be here because you would like to commemorate your parents?"
After Matins, Father Alexei came out to talk with the rest of the students. The wise shepherd told them that while they were fighting for the happiness of abstract people, they had relatives and friends - people the students knew - who put their hopes in them, expecting these young people to be their breadwinners rather than rebels. He spoke with such kindness that some of the young men stayed for the Liturgy and later on became parishioners of the Maroseyka community. Father Alexei urged those coming to him for advice to focus on their own souls before thinking about the fate of the world or rushing off "to save Russia."
Father Alexei with the students of the Maroseyka School
A great connoisseur of the ecclesiastical rules and service orders, Father Alexei noticed all the errors in the Divine service, especially those made by the young people with whom he enjoyed serving in his later years. However, there was an impression that he did not notice anything until he found a favourable moment to correct them. In order to correct the mistakes that were too blatant or affected the course of the divine service unnoticeably both for the erroneous one and for the worshipers, he himself would sing the appropriate verse or do what needed to be done by another…
"The mind is only the working power of the heart," the Saint often repeated. He never denied either science or knowledge, encouraging people to pursue them and become scientists, writers, etc. At the same time, he desired, taught, and demanded that the mental labour force should be at the service of the supreme master of life affairs, that is, the heart.
"The world does not need our ponderings, opinions, and judgments. It is perishing because of the lack of love. To love all is easier said than done... It is a work of a lifetime and takes experience of no small amount. Share your warmth and light with those around you; try to begin with your family and work on that. Soon this work will entice you so much that your family circle will become too narrow for you. Soon the halo of your warm rays will grow, illuminating more and more people; so try to keep your lamp burning bright".
(Holy Righteous Alexei Mechev)
Remembering the beginning of his ministry in Klenniki, Father Alexei once shared: "For eight years I have been serving the liturgy every day in an empty church. One archpriest told me: ‘Every time I pass by your church, I hear the bells ringing, and then I enter only to find it empty. It won't work: you are ringing in vain.’" Yet Father Alexei continued to serve steadfastly, and the people came. When asked how to organize parish life and revive the Church, he had only one answer - to pray.
When Father Alexei, stricken with the incurable illness of his wife, was left with small children and a poor parish, living in a crumbling rotten house, he turned to Father John of Kronstadt asking him what to do. The Kronstadt Shepherd told him: "You are complaining and thinking that there is no greater grief than yours. Try living with the people, and enter into their grief. Take someone else's grief upon yourself, and you will see that your own grief is small and light in comparison with theirs; then you will be relieved."
Father Alexei did just that: he set about relieving other people's grief. St. John of Kronstadt showed Father Alexei prayer as the first and most powerful remedy against grief. Father Alexei has been following this advice all his life, taking the burden of other people's grief on his shoulders until his last breath.
Holy Righteous Alexei Mechev
His aching heart contained an almost endless stream of names that he commemorated at proskomedia, litanies, and prayer services. These names dwelt in him like living beings, filling his heart with sorrow, grief and sadness, sometimes illuminated with joy and gratitude to God for mercy and happiness.
The most strenuous, unceasing prayer was only a part of his spiritual labour.
"Where have you been, Father?"
"I did nothing all day. While you were serving here, I was drinking tea at N's house in Maryina Roshcha."
This "tea" however involved entering into some broken family, where everything had perished, and where they clung to him as the last straw. The tea he drank brought peace to another family, because he brought with him only love, only forgiveness and understanding of each and everyone: for him there was no guilty side, and because of this the guilty silently and secretly began to feel their guilt. He dispersed the storm hanging over the family, scattering the clouds of malice, that mundane, petty, and most powerful "every-day evil."
"I will pray over it," was his invariable answer to every request, whether it was in sorrow, trouble, perplexity, doubt, hope, or joy. Once Father Alexei heard the confession of a bishop, deeply impressing him with the fortitude, and boldness of his devotion. The Saint smiled apologetically, sincerely not realising what was so special about his childlike faith.
Church of the Righteous Alexei in Veshnyaki (Moscow district)
"This is too complicated for me," - he often said when confronted with something cold, or distracted in a thought, religious writing, or conversation.
Sometimes he would say, laughing, "I am only semi-literate, I do not understand." Then he would try to bring the interlocutor's attention back to something more real, true and urgent. His mind, however, was deep, bright and capable of understanding all things. One could talk with Father Alexei about anything, knowing that he would understand. Priests, scientists, writers, artists, doctors, and public figures came to this "semi-literate" priest for advice and shared their innermost feelings.
Father Alexei knew that one who forgot about love was lying, no matter what he said or how he said it. He wept as he spoke about love; his heart ached as he returned pale from the ambo after the sermon; tears streamed down his face. Clutching his heart with his hand and leaning in exhaustion with his chest on the altar, he would say guiltily to his colleagues, struggling to smile: "Oh, what a scandal this is…" He would then finish the service making exclamations in a barely audible voice. Merciful love was his greatest treasure.
Hieromartyr Sergius Mechev
Anticipating his death, Father Alexei handed over his flock to his son, Priest Sergius. The young shepherd continued his father's work - the Maroseyka community, blessed by His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, was strengthened and united during his priesthood.
On June 22, 1923 Father Alexei peacefully departed to the Lord. At the request of the deceased, the Liturgy and the funeral service were celebrated by the future martyr Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeyevsky), released from imprisonment the day before. The confessor, His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, who had also been released from prison that day, came to the Lazarevskoye Cemetery to bid farewell to Father Alexei. His Holiness was delightedly welcomed by the crowds, and so Father Alexei's prophetic words were fulfilled: "When I die - there will be joy for all."
Ark with the relics of the Holy Righteous Alexei at St. Nicholas Church in Klenniki
During the subsequent decades, according to the cemetery administration, Father Alexei's grave was the most frequently visited. From stories (and later publications) about his help, many people learned about Father Alexei and through his intercession received comfort and consolation in their sorrows and difficult life circumstances.
In 1942, Father Sergius Mechev, the son of Father Alexei, ended his priestly ministry with martyrdom. Another prophecy of Father Alexei came true. "He will be greater than me," the Confessor had often said about his son. In prison, Father Sergius prayed that the people arrested on his case remained alive, and indeed, not a single one of them died. At the Jubilee Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church on August 20, 2000, Archpriest Alexei Mechev and Archpriest Sergius Mechev were numbered among the saints: Father Alexei in the rank of the righteous, and Father Sergius as a holy martyr.
"O Righteous Father Alexei, venerable elder of Moscow, and source of joy for all Orthodox believers!
Who among those blessed by the vision of your resplendent visage and the brilliance of your gaze shall not be overcome with reverence?
Or who, upon hearing your humble and unassuming utterances, shall not be humbled, yearning to please God in their endeavours?
Or who, plunged into the abyss of despair, and consoled by your presence, shall not turn towards repentance?
Or who, consumed by wrath and malice, shall not be transformed by the tranquillity of your disposition?
Therefore, as we commemorate your sacred memory, we beseech you: fortify our faith, instil in us love for the Lord and our fellow beings, and guide us towards salvation through your intercession."
Holy Righteous Father Alexei and Holy Martyr Sergius, pray to God for us!