Almost 20 years ago, Tatiana Zhedik, one of our lay sisters, went to the USA for a summer job. As a believer, she began her acquaintance with Cincinnati by finding an Orthodox church immediately on her arrival. Weekends were Tatiana’s highest paid work hours, yet she told her boss straight away that she would be singing in church on Sundays.
One day, Tatiana met an elderly man in church. They had a conversation. Tatiana said that she was from Belarus. Shortly before she started leaving, the man came up to her, handed her a folded banknote and whispered, “This is for you.” Within a short time, the man returned twice, bringing Tatiana donations from his wife and daughter. When Tanya came home, she counted the money and realized that she was holding in her hands exactly the amount that she was “losing” by spending her working Sundays in the church.
The man's name was Sergey Kaminsky. His daughter Larisa Kaminskaya sang in the church choir. It turned out that the roots of the Kaminskys were in Belarus. However, it was not until eighteen years later that Tanya learned what they were. A year ago, Larisa posted on Facebook,"My great-grandfather, Archpriest Symeon Kaminsky was especially known as a great orator whose sermons shook the rafters and brought the faithful to tears. When you come from a stock like this, you see things differently and your tolerance for nonsense is very low." "Interesting," thought Tanya and asked Larisa who her great-grandfather was.
She learned that Symeon Kaminsky was a holy martyr killed for the Orthodox faith on September 22, 1939 in the barn of his own house in Gorbachi village. His son Konstantin was also a priest. After his father was murdered, Konstantin fled with his family to Vilnius and then to Poland. Then after spending several years in a refugee camp in Germany, the Kaminskys immigrated to the United States. The church in Konstantin's native village is still in place. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Symeon's grandchildren living in the US donated money to restore it. Father Simeon is buried in the village cemetery.
Matushka Elena, Fr Simeon Kaminsky, Fr Konstantin and Matushka Vera with their son George
Tanya wrote to Larisa that one day she would visit her great-grandfather's grave. Recently she was able to keep her promise.
"Vasya, come here! He knows better than me," Zinaida Pavlovna is inviting her neighbor Vasily to join our conversation. The woman is wrapped in a scarf. She has been waiting for us for a while.
There is one street and five houses in the village of Gorbachi. The oldest resident is 89. Of course, all the eyewitnesses of those events have already died. Even the parents of those alive today were still children back then. Vasily finally comes leaning on a stick. He lives in a green wooden house nearby.
"This old man knows more than I do, so ask him," Zinaida brings us closer to Vasily. "I was born in another village, but I spent most of my life here, since I was twelve. I worked long hours teaching Russian at school. I physically had no time for this."
"What can I say?" Vasily shakes his head, "If you came at least a year and a half ago, the old women were still alive who knew something about it. They have already died. My wife knew everything, but not me. I had no time to delve into what the women said. I went to work at the collective farm in the morning and returned home in the evening, and that was it. "It is hard to say who the killers were. Some say one thing while others say another. According to one version, the soldiers killed him, but who knows if it is true or not? Another version is that the local communists did it. The old people used to say that. As for me, I was still young then. The youth did not care much then. "The women from the village of Chaplichi washed the body and buried it. They sang in the church there. They are long gone, even their children have already died. It was a long time ago..."
We are standing in front of the stone church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin, built in 1860. Around the church building, there are huge sawn trunks of rotten trees, possibly of the same age as the church. Although not destroyed, the church had been closed until 1990. A young priest, Fr Vladimir Grishkevich, has been serving here for eight years now; besides the village of Gorbachi, he has two more parishes. There are hardly any parishioners here. Yet, services are held twice a month.
The sign next to the church entrance was made in 2018, on the Feast of the Synaxis of New Martyrs and Confessors of Belarus. The inscription on it says, "This memorial was erected in memory of priest Simeon Kaminsky, innocently killed by the Red Army".
Zinaida Pavlovna is keeping her posture as she speaks loudly, even solemnly, as if she were teaching a class at the blackboard.
"In Soviet times, our local people did not allow them to use the church as a grain storage. They just did not let that happen," she says sternly. "My grandmother with several other women stood like a wall against the "innovators" until they finally turned around and left. This is the way our grandmothers were. "They took the church utensils and icons to other churches. When the church was re-opened in 1991, they were able to get some of that back and replaced the rest with new items. The church was opened thanks to Kaminsky's grandson Yaroslav. "It would not have been possible without him. I am a hundred percent sure of that, because when they went around the villages to collect money for restoration, most people would donate a few kopecks or a ruble at the most."
"At that time, one ruble was a lot of money," Vasily adds. "I worked all day for 20 kopeeks."
"Simeon’s grandson Yaroslav lived in Washington," Zinaida continues. "He knew that his grandfather was buried here, and he started this in memory of him. Twice he transferred money to Priest Gleb Pavlovich Yakunin in Moscow, who then travelled all the way from there and brought it here, despite the distance. He did not take a penny for himself and brought the money here to open the church. These were very large sums of money at that time. This is how people should be, I think. This is a real act of faith. "Some time in the early 2000s, Yaroslav came here in person. He was interested to see how the church was rebuilt. Besides, he wanted to visit the grave of his grandfather.
Yaroslav, matushka Vera holding Sergey, Fr Konstantin, Georgy. 1945
"I live alone, just me and my chickens," Zinaida Pavlovna leads us past the empty houses. "My children live in cities. When my daughter took me to Minsk, I stayed there for a week before I knew I had to go back. I could not stand it. I was literally suffocating there. I prefer to die here. "It is only old people who live here, but as long as there is a church, the village will live. I believe so. I know. It is for a reason that it was restored. It was possible thanks to these people, the Kaminskys.
"My mother used to graze their cows. She was 10 years old then, and Yaroslav was even younger. She remembered him well. He had blond hair. "Mom said that when he arrived in 2000 and saw her, he hugged her and stroked her head very gently... He was so happy that he met these people! Mom said that she would not have recognized him, from a blond boy he had turned into a red-haired old man, and still he recognized her... "Mom died ten years ago. He brought her a small icon from America. I keep it to this day as a memory.
"He gave the woman in the church shop some money and asked her to take care of his grandfather's grave.
What a good memory he had! Mom said that he remembered many things from when he was a child. He was a child when he left here, yet he remembered the river mill outside the village. "He also remembered the oak. Their family planted an oak tree. When Yaroslav came, he asked my mother to take him to this tree. She led him there. This oak is now a tall beautiful tree on the corner of the village." On the site of the Kaminskys’ house, there is a farm stay now.
After the death of Fr Simeon, his daughter Tatyana stayed in Poland. In 2003, Tatiana published the story of her father's life and death in the Polish Orthodox magazine Tserkovny Vestnik (Church Reporter).
Archpriest Simeon Kaminsky was born in 1877 in the village of Gnoino, Bialsky District. His parents were peasants, primarily involved in agriculture. He finished a teachers college in the city of Kholm and started working as a teacher in a rural school. Then he entered a theological seminary. He married and had a son and a daughter. In 1915, with the war front approaching, he was forced to leave for Rostov-on-Don. There he was assigned to a village parish and became rector of an old cathedral.
According to Tatiana Kaminsky, The Cossacks and the parishioners came to love her father. "They even accepted my father and brother into the Cossack brotherhood," she writes in her memories, "and allotted them tracks of land." "After the Bolshevik victory, the most difficult period of our lives began. There was a terrible famine in Russia in the years 1919-1920. People were dying in the streets and there was no one to bury them. "Winter was the hardest. My mother would go to farms and trade whatever clothing and other items we had for food. My father and brother would try to catch some fish through holes in the river ice. "I recall that the Communists often called Father to their meetings, after which he would come home barely alive.
"I remember, once in a very hungry time after the spring flood of the Don River, my father and brother were catching fish with nets and caught a lot of it. People were already waiting for them on the shore, and they distributed everything they had among the hungry residents."
In 1922, the Kaminsky family returned to their homeland. Simeon Kaminsky went to the Warsaw Metropolis for permission to petition the local authorities to open a parish. In 1923, the parish was opened in Fr Simeon's native village of Gnoino, where he was born. The church house, land and estate were returned.
"The house was empty, and we had nothing with us. During this difficult time, Father's friend arrived from America. Prior to the war, Father had helped him emigrate by lending him some money for the journey. "The man repaid the debt, and we bought ourselves a cow with the money. So began our small farm.
Our parish did not have a psalm-reader, so my brother and mother directed the choir themselves. "My father had great zeal for Orthodoxy and often preached at parish feasts and in district parishes. I remember his sermon in a forest spot in the Tokarski parish, where miracles had occurred. "It was the third day of the Pentecost. There was a multitude of people there. Many of them were crying while listening to my father's preaching. After the service, people came to my father in gratitude, requesting his blessing.
"In his struggle for the Holy Orthodox Faith, my father was deprived of citizenship. My parents were forced to leave the place where they were born and move to the Grodno diocese."
A few years later, a tragedy happened in the Kaminsky family...
To be continued
Photos by Sergey Mironovsky
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