How the Orthodox Church survived Bolsahevism – by Father Tikhon  Shevkunov, now a Bishop and Confessor (Spiritual Advisor) of Vladimir Putin

Since the Ukraine war broke out earlier this year, the media has asked
how the Russian Orthodox Church can support the war.
But, from the Russian point of view, the war did NOT break out in 2022.
It goes back at least to the Maidan coup of 2014, and, in fact, years
before that.
The Westerners who pose the question overlook the West’s own wars – the
invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. Plus 9/11 as an inside
job to motivate those wars of invasion.
The reason Russia took action is that, without Sevastopol naval base in
the Crimea, Russia has no access to the Meditteranean and loses Great
Power status. Brzezinsky, Biden, Victoria Nuland et al plotted that by
seizing Ukraine, via the Maidan coup, they would be able to consign
Russia to being a mere vassal of their Empire.
Alexander Dugin pointed out that Byzantium had been destroyed not by
Muslims but by Crusaders from the West. And rightly warned that the
West’s agenda was “Carthago Delenda Est”, echoing that call in Rome, to
destroy Carthage, meaning Russia.
Everyday Saints explains how the Orthodox Church survived Bolshevism. It
attests to a toughness in the Russian character, beside which Westerners
reared by satanic Hollywood seem decadent and weak.
Having survived Stalinist Communism, then the ravages of Capitalism
under Yeltsin, then Western backing for the Chechen war, Russians then
faced a new onslaught from the West – a culture war mounted by Pussy
Riot, backed by Western musicians, politicians and institutions. EU
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton nominated Pussy Riot for the
Sakharov Prize for Human Rights.
Many Russians note a resemblance between Green Left movements in the
West – Antifa, Black Lives Matters, Gay/Trans, and Feminist – and early
Bolshevism of the Trotskyist camp, that which Stalin overthrew. And it’s
mixed with the overt Satanism promoted at Hollywood.
Putin rightly depicted it as a spiritual and metaphysical war.
Everyday Saints and Other Stories, by Archimandrite Tikhon
BUY it from Amazon:
or direct from the publisher:
The pages included here (87-91, 141-161) explain how this Monastery was
only one never destroyed by the Bolsheviks, despite many attempts.
{p. 87} The Caves
One of the most surprising curiosities about the Pskov Caves Mastery is
its holy caves, in which, over six hundred years ago, our monastery
first began. A virtual underground labyrinth of caves extends for many
kilometers beneath the monastery’s churches, cells, gardens, buildings,
and fields. It is here in the caves where the monks first settled. Here
they built their first churches. Here too, they buried their departed
brethren in the ancient biblical manner: right in these clefts of caves.
It was only later when the number of monks and hermits began to grow and
grow that the monastery started to expand to the surface.
Since that time, the caves were, known as the “God-built” portion of our
monastery – in other words, that portion of the monastery that is truly
“made by God.” This name came not so much from the natural properties of
these caves-the monks later expanded and enlarged various caves and
cavities, also constructing an intricate system of tunnels and corridors
interconnecting them. It came from the fact that that human bodies and
remains brought down to the caves immediately cease to smell the way
dead bodies normally do.
By the time I got to the monastery, over 14,000 former inhabitants of
Pechory at some point in its storied history were buried in its cavesand
not just monks, but also civilian lay-workers and parishioners from the
surrounding area, as well as warriors who heroically defended the
monastery from attacks by foreign invaders in the Middle Ages. In the
caves the coffins are not buried, but instead are simply stacked one on
top of another in niches and grottoes, caves within the caves. In spite
of this, however, visitors walking along the long labyrinthine corridors
with candles are always astonished by how fresh and clean the air in the
caves is.
There is an old Slavonic hymn that translates rougly: “If God wills it,
Nature’s laws are overcome.” Yet skeptical tourists always leave the
caves still surprised, refusing to believe their own eyes-or, to be
exact, their own noses. Sometimes those skeptics who come and experience
this marvel for themselves, if they are etter educated, are left with no
real recourse other than to quote:
{p. 88} There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Quite a few stories are told about these caves. One of the recent
stories took place in 1995 when Russia’s then-President Boris
Nikolayevich Yeltsin visited Pechory. Our monastery Treasurer
Archimandrite Nathaniel showed him around the monastery, and naturally
enough showed him the caves as well. Thin, white-haired, and shambling
along in tattered shoes and robes that were long since dilapidated and
full of holes, Father Nathaniel held a candle aloft as he led our head
of state and all his accompanying suite of bodyguards and others through
the caves.
Finally President Yeltsin realized that there was something inexplicable
going on, and expressed his surprise: why was there no smell of rotting
or decomposition, even though coffins with their corpses there had been
simply placed in niches in the cave grottoes instead of being buried?
Why was there no smell, even though the coffins were at times close
enough to touch?
Father Nathaniel explained to the president: It is a miracle performed
by God.”
The excursion continued. However, after a little while the president
once again skeptically repeated his question.
“As I said, it was all done by God.” Father Nathaniel was quite curt in
his reply.
For several minutes there was nothing but silence. Finally as the
president was leaving the caves he asked the elder: “Tell me,
Father-what’s the real secret? What substance do you put on the coffins?”
Archimandrite Nathaniel replied: “Boris Nikolayevich, are there any
persons in your entourage who smell bad?”
“Of course not!”
“So what makes you think that anyone would dare to smell bad having
joined the entourage of the King of Heaven?”
It is said that President Yeltsin was perfectly satisfied with this answer.
In the days when we were officially an atheist state, and even nowadays
when it is not clear what we are, many people have tried and continue to
keep trying to somehow scientifically explain this mysterious quality of
the caves of Pechory. What crazy theories have not been put forward?
Starting with the fantastic idea that came into President Yeltsin’ s
head, that somehow 14,000 corpses in our caves are wiped daily with certain
{p. 89} secret pleasant-smelling substances … There have also been
hypotheses that there are unique properties or a microclimate particular
to these caves, capable of getting rid of bad smells. The latter version
has always been the most popular. During Soviet times this was the usual
explanation officially given to tourists.
Certain old monks relate how the great archimandrite and Father Superior
of the Pskov Caves Monastery, Father Alipius, who was head of our
monastery during the years of severe persecution in Khrushchev’s time,
always used to grab a handkerchief daubed thoroughly in some strong
Soviet eau de cologne whenever he was taking a delegation of
high-ranking Soviet officials through the caves. Whenever the visitors
pompously began to discuss microclimates and their ability to remove
smells, Father Alipius would simply give them a whiff of his
handkerchief, thoroughly dunked in the most acrid achievements of Soviet
perfumery. Other times, he would ask them to pay attention to the
flowers and how pleasant they smelled in their vases by the graves of
the revered elders. Then he would ask:
“Well, are you not willing to accept the fact that there are things in
this life which you do not understand? And if you had occasion to be present
{p. 90} in the caves when a new corpse was brought in and to experience
how each time the smell of decomposition completely disappears, what
would you say then? Would you also try to think of some kind of other
The labyrinths of the cave extend for many kilometers in all directions.
Nobody ever knew how big they were, not even the abbot of the monastery
himself. We all suspected that the only people who might know could be
Father Nathaniel and Archimandrite Seraphim, who had lived longer than
anybody else in the monastery.
At one point, my still very young friends the hieromonks Father Raphael
and Father Nikita got ahold of the key of a very old communal grave. No
one in this portion of the labyrinth had been buried after the year
1700, and the way inside was blocked by a heavy iron door. But
proceeding by candlelight these doughty monks made their way inside
through the low vaults, looking around with curiosity to their right and
left: on either side all around troughs were stacked, crumbling with age
(in the old days of Muscovite Russia that is how monks used be buried).
In these troughs, the bones of the forebears of Fathers Raphael and
Nikita in the monastic brotherhood were whitening and yellowing. After a
while the intrepid pathfinders found a completely closed trough that was
perfectly preserved. Curiosity got the better of them, and kneeling
down, the young monks with great care and reverence opened up the heavy lid.
An abbot lay inside; his body was perfectly preserved and entirely
whole; his fingers, still covered by waxy yellowish flesh, still
clutched to his chest a large woodcut cross. Only his face was somewhat
green for some reason. When they recovered from their initial surprise,
the monks figured out that the reason for this rather strange sight was
the decay of the green cloth with which it is customary to cover the
face of a deceased priest, according to ancient tradition. Over the
course of three centuries, the cloth had decayed into dust.
One of the monks blew softly on the face of the corpse:, a green cloud
curled up into the air, leaving the two friends to look at the face of
this elder that had been completely unwithered by time. It appeared that
he was merely asleep and that in just a minute he would open his eyes
and look sharply on these curious young monks who had dared disturb his
sacred rest. As these young monks realized that they were looking at the
untarnished relics of a saint yet unknown to the world, the crew was
startled by their own boldness, and rushed to put the lid back on the
trough, and then hastened back to their twentieth century.
{p. 91} We novices often used to go to the caves. If ever there were any
kind of serious problems, we would ask for the help of these great
spiritual heroes. We’d get down on our knees and, touching their coffins
with our hands, would beg these elders for support and inspiration,
which was never slow to come. We particularly troubled with these
requests the elder Simeon who had died in 1960 and had only recently
been canonized. We also used to request help from the Great Abbot
Archimandrite Alipius, as well as other elders who one by one after a
life full of earthly labors went in their souls to God, and in their
bodies to the caves.
Another particularly outstanding feature of the Pskov Caves Monastery
would only be revealed in the twentieth century. The Holy Trinity
Monastery in Sergiev Posad, Optina Monastery in Kaluga Province, and the
Kiev Caves Monastery in Kiev, as well as the monasteries of Solovki,
Valaam, and Sarov, were all famous not just in Russia, but throughout
Christendom. By contrast, the Monastery of the Pskov Caves for many
centuries was nothing more than a simpIt provincial monastic community.
However, in the years after the war, when the Russian Orthodox Church
began to recover from the devastation wrought upon it after the
Revolution, it unexpectedly came to pass that this backwater of a
monastery had been chosen by God to carry out its own particular and
magnificent mission.
Suddenly, it turned out that the Pskov Caves Monastery was the only
monastery in the entire territory of Russia that had never closed even
during Soviet times, and had therefore managed to keep its invaluable
unbroken tradition of ongoing monastic life. Until 1940 the monastery
had been part of the territory of Estonia. After the annexation of this
territory into the USSR, the Bolsheviks simply had not had enough time
to destroy the place, because the war began. Afterwards, even during
Khrushchev’s persecutions of the Church, the Great Abbot, Archimandrite
Alipius, had managed to find ways of resisting the giant governmental
machine, and had not permitted the closure of our monastery.
The fact that our monastery had never ceased to be a preeminently
spiritual dwelling had an incomparable value. It is no accident that it
was precisely here in Pechory, during the Soviet 1950s, that the
tradition of the eldership was reborn-a tradition that is one of the
most precious treasures of the Russian Orthodox Church.
{p. 141} The Great Abbot Archimandrite Alipius
THE GREAT ABBOT of the Pskov Caves Monastery Father Alipius used to
describe himself as follows: “I am a Soviet archimandrite.” And he would
eagerly confirm this statement in word and deed.
At the beginning of the 1960s various members of a provincial Party
commission visited the monastery with one goal-to figure out some way to
close down our monastery. As they inspected the monastery, they saw
pilgrims fixing the hedges and the flower beds, and immediately
complained to Father Alipius: “How is it that these people are working
here illegally?”
The Soviet archimandrite answered calmly: “They’re not working
illegally. These are the people laboring to improve their own Fatherland!”
No further questions were asked. But then another commission was sent
from Pskov, this time a financial commission called “the Commission of
Popular Oversight”-also with just one goal: to find something wrong and
close down the monastery. The abbot asked the delegation to present its
letters of authority.
“We represent a financial organ which-“
But Father Aliplus interrupted them. “I have only one overseer, the
Bishop of Pskov, Bishop John. Go see him and get his authorization.
Without his signature I have no right to show you any financial documents.”
The inspectors left, but naturally several hours later the Bishop of
Pskov was calling Father Aliplus, all in a tizzy, and asking that he
allow the inspectors to review his documents.
“Your Grace, as a bishop you know that I cannot enter a telephone call
into a file. I need that authorization in writing. Please send me a
Soon enough the telegram arrived. When the Commission of Popular
Oversight inspectors came back, the abbot was waiting for them with the
telegram in his hand.
“Tell me, please, are you fellows real Communists?”
“Yes. We are almost all members of the Communist Party.”
{p. 142} “And yet you sought out the blessing of the Bishop of Pskov?
Just a moment. I think I’d better send a copy of this telegram to the
Provincial Communist Party Committee.”
That was the end of the financial inspection of the monastery.
Before Archimandrite Alipius had taken his monastic vows, his name was
Ivan Mikhailovich Voronov. He fought for four years as a soldier on the
front lines in World War II, and endured and marched together with the
Red Army all the way from the Battle of Moscow to the Battle of Berlin.
After that he defended the Pskov Caves Monastery for thirteen years-this
time struggling against the very same state for which he had previously
spilled his blood.
In both wars Father Alipius truly was involved in a life and death
struggle. The then-head of the Central Committee of the Communist Party,
Nikita Khrushchev, very much needed a great victory against the
Church-no less a victory than the one his predecessor whose glory he
greatly envied had presided over in World War II. In order to celebrate
his planned-for triumph, Khrushchev aimed for the extinction of the
Russian Orthodox Church, which had been in existence for 1,000 years,
and therefore he declared war on it, solemnly declaring to the entire
world that soon he would show the very last Russian Orthodox priest on
Soon thousands of cathedrals and churches were blown up, closed, and
converted into warehouses, taxi garages, and tractor factories. The
majority of the seminaries and higher ecclesiastical academies were
closed. Virtually all the monasteries were dissolved. Quite a few
priests were arrested and put in jail. In the entire territory of Russia
only two monasteries were allowed to exist: the Holy Trinity Monastery
(needed for window dressing in order to show foreign tourists that the
Russian Church was still fine, as a sort of Russian Orthodox
“reservation”), and one provincial monastery-the Pskov Caves Monastery.
It was here that the Great Abbot struggled against the entire machinery
of the mighty atheist state. And- most wonderfully of all-he triumphed!
In those days the entire sorely persecuted Russian Church watched with
bated breath, waiting to see how the unequal struggle would turn out.
News from Pechory was passed by word of mouth, and it was only many
years later that the participants in and witnesses of those events wrote
down their memories. Here are just a few recollections of those now
long-gone struggles.
One winter evening several men in plain clothes marched into the office
of Father Alipius and handed him an official command: the
{p. 143} Pechory Monastery near Pskov was officially closed. The abbot
was hereby commanded to so inform the personnel of the monastery. Having
read the document, Father Alipius tossed the paper into a blazing fire
right before the very eyes of these officers.
To the astonishment of his visitors he calmly declared: “I am willing to
undergo martyrdom and death by torture if it comes to that, but I will
never close the monastery.”
The paper that he had just cast into the fire was an official decree of
the government of the USSR, and had been signed by Nikita Khrushchev
himself. This incident has been recorded by a witness, that most loyal
disciple of the Great Abbot, Archimandrite Nathaniel.
I personally never met Father Alipius, as he was no longer alive when I
first came to the monastery. However, it is impossible to speak about
the Pechory Monastery without saying a few words about him. ***
I was very lucky: there were still many monks who had lived under the
Great Abbot when I first came to the monastery. I have also met many
famous artists, writers, scholars, and art restorers from Moscow,
Leningrad, and Riga who used to come and partake of his abundant
hospitality during those years. For them he was always the very model of
a fearless spiritual warrior, and the ideal of a demanding and yet
loving father.
In spite of his considerable pragmatism and even quite obvious
earthiness (for Father Alipius was always quick to size up any
situation, and indeed, despite his brilliant and often biting wit,
invariably found amazingly practical solutions to just about any
predicament), many of his contemporaries, including those who had made
the ultimate sacrifices on the path of ascetic monastic discipline,
considered him to be a saint. Archimandrite Seraphim, an unquestioned
moral authority in our monastery, always used to be surprised whenever
any monks informed him of plans for distant pilgrimages to the various
sites of ascetic spiritual struggles of our great saints:
“Why bother traveling far away?” He couldn’t understand. “Just go to the
caves-there are the relics of Father Alipius.”
The Lord does not like cowardice. This spiritual law was once revealed
to me by Father Raphael, but in turn that law had been passed to him by
Father Alipius. In one of his sermons Father Alipius had preached:
{p. 144} “During the war I was a witness to how certain soldiers were so
worried they might die of hunger that they would carry little bags of
crumbs on their back. So worried were some about their little bags of
bread crumbs, so eager were they to prolong their life rather than fight
the enemy, that these people were invariably the first to be cut down by
enemy fire. They perished along with their bread crumbs. But those who
were willing to strip their backs if need be, and to die to fight the
enemy-those were the ones who survived.”
When the order came to close the monastery caves, Father Alipius ordered
the keeper of the keys: “Father Cornelius! Hand me an axe! Today I will
be chopping off heads!”
The officers who had brought the command fled in terror-after all, who
knew what crazy ideas might have come into the head of these ignorant
In fact, the abbot knew all too well that he wasn’t just uttering these
commands into thin air. Once, during yet another visitation bearing yet
another demand that the monastery be closed, he declared, “More than
half of our brotherhood served as hardened front-line soldiers. We are
heavily armed and very well trained. We will fight to our very last
bullet. Take a look around you. See what discipline we keep here in this
monastery, what distribution of troops there is here. Look at these
walls. You won’t
{p. 145} get tanks through here. In fact, the only way you’ll take us is
by use of air power: dropping bombs. But if you start dropping bombs on
us, I can promise you this: once the first airplane flies over our
monastery, within minutes everything that is going on here will be
related to the world directly by the Voice of America. Well, it’s up to
1 cannot judge what kind of arsenals they had at the time in the
monastery. Very possibly, this speech was just another “military
maneuver” in which our Great Abbot yet again out-bluffed his opponent.
But if he was joking–as we say, there is always quite an element of
truth in every good joke. For it certainly was true that in those days
more than half of the monks were highly decorated veterans of World War
II-indeed, many of them still had their medals for valor and bravery on
the front lines. There were other monks, also a fairly large contingent,
who had been hardened by their brutal ordeals in Stalin’s camps. There
was even a third group of monks who had gone through both the war and
Stalin’s camps. You can imagine how tough they were.
“The winner is the one who attacks,” Father Alipius used to say. And he
followed his own strategy precisely. Every day, he would battle to save
the monastery. Every day the Great Abbot would restore the ruins of our
still-mighty fortress walls, would restore the dilapidated churches and
cathedrals, would scrupulously and professionally clean and restore the
ancient frescoes, and restore the abbot’s and brothers’ quarters to
their former stateliness. He himself had been an artist, and therefore
by his work he diligently saved several masterpieces by Russian and
foreign artists from being looted and sold overseas. In his own personal
collection there were works by such celebrated artists as Levitan and
Polenov. Upon his death, Father Alipius willed the collection of
masterpieces freely and in its entirety to the Russian Museum in Leningrad.
Lastly, he was a master gardener, and covered the entire monastery
{p. 146} with such beautiful orchards, flowers, flower beds, hedges,
lawns, and groves that the monastery was converted into one of the most
beautiful places in all of Russia. And so, anyone arriving in Pechory
for the very first time, regardless of whether he was a pilgrim or just
a tourist, beheld the monastery as the representative of a divine and
utterly miraculous world, by comparison with which the mundane and
meretricious Soviet reality around them paled.
But Father Alipius’s main achievement was his restoration of the
tradition of eldership in the Pskov Caves Monastery.
The tradition of eldership is something entirely unique, especially
because it does not belong to one particular place or to one particular
monastery. Sometimes the Church elders’ wandering leads them to make
pilgrimages or build monasteries all across the earth: sometimes,
through them, you will find retreats unexpectedly flourishing on the far
side of the Volga River sketes, in the small monastic communities of the
Northern Thebaid, or in White Shores Hermitage in the Bryansk forest
wilderness, in Sarov, in Nizhny Novgorod Province, or in Optina
Monastery in Kaluga Province. But in the mid-twentieth century, the
tradition of the elders found refuge in the Pskov Caves Monastery. It
was Father Alipius who tenderly grasped this mysterious path. He cared
for our elders, treated them as the most precious jewel in the
monastery, and multiplied their numbers.
Somehow the abbot was able to get permission for the great elders of
Valaam to come to the Pskov Caves Monastery from Finland. It was Father
Alipius who gave refuge to Father John (Wrestiankin) after his years in
the Gulag and exile, when he was secretly brought here by Bishop Pitirim
(Nechayev). He gave sanctuary to Father Adrian, who had been forced to
flee the Holy Trinity Monastery. Indeed, under Father Alipius, an entire
generation of elders and spiritual fathers grew, that same generation
which to such a large degree figures in this book. To have been able to
create and nurture such leaders during such a time and under such
pressure was truly an amazing achievement. ***
{p. 147} In those days of hysterical anti-religious propaganda, most
people’s conceptions of monasteries were little less than savage. Father
Alipius was therefore never surprised even when he was asked the most
ridiculous questions. He would always answer with good-natured humor and
wit that always left a positive comparison of his simplicity, honor, and
true faith with the malicious persecution, dirty lies, and ridiculous
distortions he was faced with.
Once a group of tourists-faithful Soviet believers in Communism-stopped
Father Alipitis by the threshold of one of the churches. In indignant
tones they demanded that he tell them the whole truth about the
exploitation by high-level clerics of the simple monks and novices,
about their physical humiliations, and in general tell them everything
about all the horrors of monastic life about which they had already read
plenty of newspaper articles. In response to their question, Father
Alipius only answered mildly: “Can you hear?”
“Can we hear what?”
“Can you hear anything at all?”
“Yeah. A bunch of monks singing …”
“Exactly! Now do you really think that, if they were actually so
miserable in their lives, they would sing with such obvious joy?”
One Communist, a visitor from Finland, in the company of his Soviet
comrades asked Father Alipius the typical question that was always asked
by atheists at that time: “How do you explain the fact that the
astronauts flew up into cosmos and didn’t see any sign of God there?”
“The same thing could happen to you. You’ve been in Helsinki, yet you
never saw the president of Finland, perhaps.”
People who had the luck to be in Pechory then recall with particular
delight how the Great Abbot used to appear sometimes on the balcony of
the abbot’s quarters. He would emerge for all kinds of reasons.
Sometimes, particularly in the spring, the daws and ravens would so
trouble Father Alipius with their ceaseless cawing that he would come
out onto the balcony with a pistol and shoot at the birds until they
scattered. It wasn’t actually a real military pistol; it was just a
glorified noisemaker. But imagine the effect: a sunny morning in the
monastery, the Great Abbot standing on the balcony and aiming a pistol
with a very well-practiced hand at a flock of birds! It must have made
an unforgettable impression!
But of course these were not the only memorable emergences onto the
balcony of the Great Abbot. Far more powerful and deeply lasting
{p. 148} impressions were made on visitors to the monastery when they
became witnesses to the conversations that Father Alipius sometimes
conducted from the railing of his balcony with the visitors who had
gathered below it.
The abbot’s balcony looks out on the monastery square. From it, our
abbot could see the entire monastery (when the weather was good enough),
in this way both keeping his eyes out for any violations of order and
discipline and at the same time communicating with his flock.
Below him on the square there was always a crowd of pilgrims and
tourists, as well as townsfolk from the small town of Pechory.
Discussions of faith or simply questions and answers with Father Alipius
could sometimes last for hours. Father Alipius would never let an
opportunity slip by for helping anyone who had turned to him with their
everyday life problems.
And although at that time there was an absolute ban on any form of what
was then called ecclesiastical charity, Father Alipius was always
governed by his conscience alone, and acted in all such cases as he felt
was J ust. Here is one memory of Archimandrite Nathaniel’s: “Father
Alipius always helped the needy, always had them fed and clothed, always
distributed charity, and many were the people who begged him for help in
times of crisis in their lives and received it. For his goodness he was
threatened with persecution many times. But Father Alipius was guided by
the words of the Scripture, which dictate that compassion and mercy are
our highest calling, and therefore compassion could not be forgotten,
since it is an inalienable part of the life of the Holy Orthodox Church.”
And here are the memories of Deacon Georgiy Malkov, who at the time was
just a young student of languages who used to travel to Pechory
frequently: “The words of the Scripture teach us: “Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than this.’
This was something Father Alipius always tried to carry out each day in
his daily life. And so the sick, the needy, the hungry, and those in
need of consolation were ever in his mind, and often received material
help from him-sometimes considerable help.”
You would often see cripples and beggars and persons, whom for various
reasons fate had been unkind to in this life, gathered beneath his
balcony. And the abbot-in spite of constant commands from the
authorities that he was forbidden to give them any charity-would always
help as best he could: with food, medicine, clothing, with money …
When he had no money, he would sometimes joke, “The money is still
{p. 149} drying, so come tomorrow, my dear servant of God, tomorrow!”
In some cases the help that he gave to others was really significant: he
helped one person who lost his home in a fire completely build his house
anew. Another person who had lost his cow was given enough money to buy
a new cow. Once Father Alipius learned that not far away in the village
of lzborsk a well-known local artist named Peter Melnikov had lost his
home to fire, and reacted by wiring him what was then quite a
considerable sum of money with a note: “May this tide you over just for
a start.”
Father Nathaniel used to recall: “Father Alipius was a wonderful
preacher, and truly had the gift of gab, so much so that we would often
hear from the pilgrims that they plan to stay an extra week until they
could hear another sermon of Father Alipius. His teachings were always
about lifting up the downcast and comforting the depressed.”
Here are some examples:
“Brothers and sisters, you have heard the calls for an intensification
of the anti-religious propaganda against us, but do not hang your heads.
Do not lose hope, for all these calls really mean just one thing … it
is they who are running out of steam.
{p. 150} “What a frightful thing it is to be part of the crowd. Today
the crowd is screaming ‘hooray, hooray, hosanna in the highest!’ And
tomorrow the same crowd will scream ‘take him, take him, and crucify
him!’ You cannot be left out perhaps, and maybe you will be forced into
the crowd along with everyone else, but at least when you hear those
lies, do not shout ‘hooray!’ And do not clap. And if they ask you why,
just answer ‘because it isn’t true.’ And if they ask you how dare you
say it isn’t true, just reply ‘because my conscience tells me so.’
“How do you recognize a Judas in real life? Our Savior said at the Last
Supper, ‘He that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall
betray Me’ (Matthew 26:23). And so it is in our own lives. Watch out for
the arrogant student who wants to be equal to his teacher, for the proud
upstart who argues with his boss and wants to take away his place and
become boss himself. Look out for the guy who reaches for the teapot
first. The elders have not yet breakfasted, yet this upstart is already
licking his lips, having stuffed his face . . . ‘A young Judas is
growing up. There were twelve disciples, and one of them was Judas.’
“So remember, if your elders have not yet sat down to eat, remain
standing and wait. After your elders have sat down then you, after your
prayer, may sit too. If your elders have not taken their spoons into
their hands, do not touch the spoons yourself. Once the elders take the
spoons, then you may touch them. Once the elders begin to eat, only then
allow yourself to eat.”
But not all his lectures from the balcony were so peaceful and
delightful. One scary moment came when an extremely powerful and
unpleasant woman came to visit Pskov Province. She was the minister of
culture Yekaterina Furtseva, and she arrived with a big delegation of
bureaucrats both from Moscow and from the provincial capital, Pskov.
In those days everyone was quite afraid of her-and I mean everyone, not
just cultural figures. Naturally, she was given a tour of the Pskov
Caves Monastery. But Father Alipius knew from his artist friends about
her pathological hatred of the Church, and did not even bother to come
and meet her. Her excursion was guided by Father Nathaniel.
This powerful delegation was already making its way towards the exit of
the monastery, when all of a sudden Furtseva noticed the abbot, who was
standing on the balcony and chatting with the people
{p. 151} gathered below. She decided that she would teach a lesson to
this upstart monk who had dared to not even come out to meet her. What’s
more, she thought, she’d kill two birds with one stone-teaching the
local Party bosses how severely the policies of the Party and the
government must be executed, regardless of whatever opposition some
ridiculous cleric might put up. She approached the balcony and
interrupted his conversation with the pilgrims, yelling, and calling our
abbot by his civilian name:
“Ivan Mikhailovich. May I ask you a question?”
Father Alipius looked at this woman who had just interrupted him with
disdain, then calmly replied: “Ask away.”
“How can an educated man like you end up here in the company of this
crowd of ignorant obscurantists?”
Father Alipius was generally a patient man. However, when the monks whom
he served were publicly insulted, he did not let it slip.
“You want to know why I’m here?”
With this he stared at her in the same way in which former private Ivan
Voronov, serving in the artillery forces of the Red Army, had once
squinted through the sights of a cannon at the enemy. “All right. I’ll
tell you. Did you ever hear that I was a front-line soldier in the war?”
“Let’s say I did.”
“And did you hear that I made it all the way to Berlin?”
“Well, yes, I heard something about it, but I don’t see what that has to
do with my question. In fact, it makes it all the more surprising. How
.could you-such a model Soviet man, go through the whole war and-“
“Well, here’s the thing…” the abbot drawled. “It so happens that in
the Battle of Berlin I received a wound in the . …” (And here Ivan
Mikhailovich Voronov let out a soldier’s word for a piece of the male
“Anyway, after that, there was nothing left for me to do, except go to
the monastery.”
For a moment there was a terrible silence, followed by a female shriek,
followed by indignant yells and shouts and threats, as the members of
the delegation commanded by this extremely important woman streamed off
in a fit towards the monastery gates.
Within an hour the abbot had already been summoned to Moscow. This time
it looked like they weren’t joking. But Father Alipius calmly answered
any and all of the questions he was asked by his KGB interrogators: “She
{p. 152} asked me a direct question, and I gave her a direct answer. I
put it to her in exactly the kind of language that she understands.”
Somehow or other even this time everything worked out all right. It was
the one and only time that Father Alipius ever indulged in the use of
such a weapon, so to speak.
But this famous and somewhat defiant answer later turned into the cause
of all kinds of gossip and rumors. Savva Yamshchikov, the celebrated art
historian and restorer, who had been a friend of Father Alipius, set us
straight on the real story of how Father Alipius joined the Church,
straight from the abbot’s lips:
“All the time I used to be asked just how it happened that such a
handsome man had retired to the monastery. They always used to say: Aha!
You must have been severely injured in a certain place, and now can’t
carry on your lineage, so to speak. In fact, Savva, all that is utter
nonsense. The truth is simply this. The war was so horrible, so full of
monstrosity and suffering, that I gave my word to God: if somehow I
manage to survive these terrible battles and survive the war, then I
will give my life to God and will retire to the monastery. Imagine the
German tanks charging our front lines, their machine guns firing, cannon
shells blazing, just cutting us down, sweeping away almost everyone in
their path, and suddenly in the midst of this utter hell I saw how our
battlefield commissar tore off his helmet, even as the bullets were
flying around him, and fell to his knees, and began to pray… yes,
indeed, somehow this ‘Communist’ was able to mutter the half-forgotten
words of the prayers he used to know as a child, begging the Almighty to
spare us. And He did. That’s when I realized: God lives inside of all of
us, and one day He will make his appearance to us, some way or other …”
The powers that be were always trying any way they could to destroy our
monastery. At one point, the local Soviet of Pechory region confiscated
the agricultural property and pasture of the monastery. They did this
just at the beginning of summer. The cows had only just been let free to
roam in the pasture, but now the poor animals were forcibly driven back
into their stalls.
Also just at that time, on orders from Moscow, the Provincial Party
Committee had brought a large delegation of fraternal Communist Party
{p. 153} members from other countries to treat them to a bit of
old-style ancient Russian tradition. At first, all was calm. But just
when the “children of fraternal Socialist peoples,” quite enchanted by
the silence and beauty of our monastery, began wandering among the
flower beds and blooming rose gardens, the doors of the cattle sheds
opened with a loud creaking noise, and all thirty of the monastery’s
cows and its one enormous bull, lowing and mooing for joy at being
suddenly let free, careered headlong right at the delegation. It was
Father Alipius who had given the command for this well-prepared action
in advance.
As these great beasts with flaring nostrils and tattered tails charged
in their madness of sudden freedom straight for the flower beds,
devouring grass or flowers or anything else in their path, the
representatives and leading lights of the international Communist
movement, cursing the monastery with yells and epithets in a great
variety of languages, ran for their lives. The Provincial Party
Committee workers complained to Father Alipius.
  “Well, don’t blame me,” the abbot replied. “Actually I feel sorry for
the cows. Now they have no other place to go, since their pasture has
been taken away from them. That’s why there’s no other choice-we have to
graze them inside the monastery”
That very day the monastery received all its pastureland back.
Father Nathaniel remembered as one of the most difficult days of his
life a day in which the monastery received a decree forbidding that
funeral services be held in the caves. This effectively meant closing
off all access to the caves, and eventually the closing of the
monastery. The decree had been signed by the Bishop of Pskov. In spite
of this, Father Alipius gave the order that the funerals continue as before.
When the authorities in town found out about this, they hastened to the
monastery and demanded to know whether Father Alipius had received the
decree from the bishop, who was his direct superior. Father Alipius
answered that he had.
At this the bureaucrats were indignant. “Then why don’t you carry out
these orders?”
To this Father Alipius replied that he would not carry out the order
because it had been given out of weakness of spirit. “I pay no heed to
those who are weak in spirit. I only obey those who are strong spirit.”
And so the tradition of holding funerals in the caves was never halted.
The war against the monastery did not cease for a single day. Valentin
Kurbatov, a writer from Pskov, remembered another incident:
{p. 154} Yet another state commission that had been commanded to close
down the monastery arrived to do its job. But Father Alipius did not let
them in, and instead posted a notice on the Holy Gates, that the plague
had broken out in the monastery, and therefore he would not permit the
commission to enter. The head of
{p. 155} the commission was the chairman of the Provincial Cultural
Committee, Anna Ivanovna Medvedeva. Father Alipius addressed himself
directly to her.
“I’m not worried about my own monks, idiots though you think they all
may be. After all, they’ll all end up in the Kingdom of Heaven. But I’m
worried about you, Anna Ivanovna, and your bosses, and that’s why I cadt
let them in. I have no idea what defense there would be for you when you
all are called to the Day of Judgment. So for your sake, forgive me, I
simply will not open the gates.”
That very day he hopped into a plane and flew to Moscow.
And again he lobbied and besieged the doorsteps of the powers that be
and pleaded and argued and cajoled and eventually won the argument.
Just as a real warrior always has an unerring instinct for guessing the
plans of the enemy, so Father Alipius was always an implacable foe of
deliberate enemies of the Church. But he was quite a different man in
his dealings with common folk, even if it seemed that they sometimes had
no idea what they were doing.
Strange as it might sound to anyone who has just heard all the previous
stories, the main thing in the life of Father Alipius-in his own
words-was always love. It was love that made him so invincible and so
incomprehensible to the rest of the world.
.”Love,” said the Great Abbot, “is the very highest form of prayer. If
prayer is the queen of the virtues, then Christian love is God, for God
is love. If you just look at the world only through the prism of love,
all your problems will disappear, and within yourself you will see the
Kingdom of Heaven, within the human being you will find the Icon, and
within the earthly beauty you will see the shade of Paradise. You may
object to me that it is impossible to love your enemies. But remember
what Jesus Christ told us: ‘Whatever you have done unto the least of
these my brethren, you have done it unto me …’ Inscribe these words in
golden letters upon the tablets of your heart, and inscribe them and
hang them together with an icon, and read them to yourself every day.
One evening, long after the monastery had closed its gates for the
night, the frightened night watchman ran up to the abbot and told him
that drunken soldiers were breaking into the monastery. (It later turned
{p. 156} out that these were graduates of the Pskov Paratroop Cadet
Training Institute, who were celebrating graduation in a particularly
rowdy way.) Despite the lateness of the hour, the young lieutenant
paratroopers were banging on the gates, loudly demanding to be let in at
once, asking that all the churches be open to them, that they be given a
tour, and that they be allowed to find out where the priests were
keeping their nuns hidden.
The night watchman related in terror that these drunken officers had
already gotten ahold of a huge log and were this very minute using it as
a battering ram to bash down the gates.
Father Alipius dashed into his cell. When he returned he had put on his
military parade dress jacket onto which were pinned all his many medals
for bravery and heroism and distinguished conduct in the field of
battle. Keeping his military regalia and medals hidden beneath his
priestly black robes, he sped off with the night watchman to the Holy Gates.
Even from a distance it was clear to the abbot that these youngsters
were serious about taking the monastery by storm. As he approached, he
commanded the night watchman to open the gates. Instantly a crowd of
about a dozen furious lieutenants flew into the monastery. With threats
they surrounded the old monk in his black mantle, yelling at him that he
had no right to insist on his Church laws on their Soviet land, and
demanding that he immediately display the People’s Museum, which was the
people’s legacy right now to its future heroes.
Father Alipius bowed his head and listened to them. Then he looked up
and dramatically cast off his black mantle. The young lieutenants looked
at Father Alipius and hushed, stunned. Father Alipius in turn stared at
them all threateningly and demanded that the officer closest to him hand
over his cap, which he did meekly. Turning over the cap and finding the
officer’s name written on the inside rim as required, he turned and
marched off to his own lodgings.
The young lieutenants followed him, sobered up at once. Muttering their
excuses, they begged for the cap to be returned. It had begun to dawn on
them that they could be in for a lot of trouble. But Father Alipius did
not reply. The young officers followed Father Alipius to the very
threshold of his lodgings and hesitated. The abbot of the monastery
opened the door and gestured for them to enter.
That night they sat up with him until the wee hours. He treated them as
generously as only a Great Abbot could have done. Then he himself guided
them on a personal tour of the monastery, showing them all the
{p. 157} ancient holy shrines and telling them in detail about the
glorious history of the monastery. In parting he gave each of the
youngsters a fatherly embrace and generous gifts. They in turn were
embarrassed and refused. But Father Alipius insisted that these funds,
which had been collected by donations from their grandmothers,
grandfathers, and mothers, would prove truly useful to them.
Of course this was an exceptional case, but by far not the only such
case. Father Alipius never lost faith in the power of God to transform
humanity and to change people, no matter who they were. He knew from his
own experience how many former persecutors of the Church had become
secret and then later open believers, perhaps precisely due to the
powerful words of truth and confrontation that they had first heard from
{p. 158} the abbot. Months and sometimes even years later, former
enemies would return to Father Alipius, not to persecute the monastery
anymore, but instead to find in the Great Abbot a witness to another
world, and a wise pastor and spiritual father. Perhaps the fearless
truth that he had spoken to them, no matter how incomprehensible and
bitter it had seemed at first hearing, had taken seed and remained in
their memories. And that seed would remain until such time as the person
either accepted it or rejected it forever. Either choice was completely
up to each person.
In his letters to Bishop John of Pskov, Father Alipius reported that
“newspaper articles brim with undeserved attacks and slander against
grieving mothers and widows of fallen soldiers. Here is the true face of
their ideological struggle-the humiliation of hundreds and thousands of
priests and clerics-many of them the best people in society. Many of
them come to us with tears in their eyes, complaining that they cannot
find even civilian work. They have wives and children with nothing to
live on.”
Here are some headlines from the central and local newspapers of the
time: “The Pskov Caves Monastery Is the Home of Religious Obscurantism,”
“Squat-Dance Alleluia,” “Black-Robed Spongers,” “Black-Robed
Hypocrites.” And here is yet another letter to Bishop John of Pskov. In
it Father Alipius related yet another incident:
“This Tuesday, May 14, 1963, our steward, Father Ireneus, organized, in
keeping with the traditions of all the former years of monastic life in
this monastery, the watering of the gardens of the monastery with
rainwater and snow melt water that we are able to capture thanks to the
little reservoir that we have constructed by the fortress wall. When our
people were working, six men approached them followed soon after by two
others. They were carrying surveying instruments that they were using to
mark off land that had formerly belonged to the monastery. They started
screaming at our workers and telling them they were forbidden to draw
water from our own reservoir, telling us that this water was not ours
and demanding that we stop pumping. A worker strove to continue, but one
of the men ran up to them, grabbed the hose, and started to rip it away.
Another who carried a camera started photographing our people. Our
steward told these unknown visitors that the abbot had come and that
they should explain
{p. 159} everything to him. One of them came up to me while the other
stood by photographing us. Three of them were left.
“Who are you and what is it that you want?” I asked them.
The man in the hat refused to give me either his name or his rank, but
instead told me we had no right to this water and this land on which we
were standing. I added, “And we probably shoulddt dare to breathe or to
warm ourselves in the sun here because the sun and the air and the
waterthey’re all yours, right? So what’s ours?” Then I asked him again:
“Who are you and why are you here?” He refused to tell me his name. Then
I told him:
“My name is Ivan Mikhailovich Voronov. I am a citizen of the Soviet
Union, and decorated veteran of World War II. I and my comrades who live
beyond these walls are war veterans, some of whom were wounded in the
war. Some lost their legs and arms, or received severe wounds or
concussions. Some of them literally watered this land with their blood,
cleansing the fascist evil from this air you now so begrudge us. What’s
more, my comrades who live here are hard workers in the factories and
workshops and fields. Many were crippled in battle; some are receiving
their war pensions; others are fathers who lost all their children in
the battles for the liberation of this land and of this water.
“Are you saying that all of us who have us spilled our blood and given
our lives for this place do not even have the right to use this land and
water and air, this sacred land that we literally tore from the grip of
the fascists for the use of ourselves and of our people? Who on earth
are you to.dare say such a thing? And in whose name do you claim to be
They started to mumble, naming the Regional Party Committee, and the
Provincial Party Committee, and so on. Creeping away from us sideways,
the man in the hat said:
“Sorry, Father.”
I answered that I am a Father for those people on that side of the wall.
But for you, sir, I am a Russian named Ivan, and am still strong enough
to fight with vermin and fascists and other evils. ***
In the beginning of 1975, Father Alipius had his third heart attack,
Archimandrite Nathaniel told us during the sermon commemorating the
memory of our Great Abbot. He had already prepared his grave. He
{p. 160} ordered that his coffin be placed right next to him in the
corridor. And when people would ask him where his monastic cell is, he
would point to the coffin and say, “There is my cell.” In his final days
he was accompanied by Hieromonk Theodoretus, who daily gave him
Communion while nursing him and giving him medical assistance. On March
12, 1975, at two in the morning, Father Alipius said.”The Virgin Mary
has come! How beautiful she is! Give me paint and paintbrushes and let
us draw her!” They brought him the paints and brushes, but those hands,
which had carried so many heavy shells to cannons in the front lines
during World War II, could no longer move. At four that morning
Archimandrite Alipius died peacefully.
{p. 161} By this time our Soviet archimandrite Father Alipius had many
faithful and dedicated helpers among the military, and even had some
fairly highranking supporters in the government. Many were the artists,
scientists, politicians, and writers who came to visit him. He had a
marked influence on the lives of quite a few of them-and not only a
material influence, but most of all a moral influence as a priest and
spiritual pastor. But these people too in their way, whether playing
large or small roles in our society, also strengthened him spiritually.
In the archives of Archimandrite Alipius at Pechory Monastery there is a
fragment of a manuscript by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It is a short prayer
in verse, which epitomizes the principle in life always followed by our
Great Abbot:
How easy it is to live with You, 0 Lord!
How easy it is to believe in You.
When my spirit sinks
or scatters in confusion,
and the very smartest people
cannot see further than this evening, a
nd do not know what to do tomorrow,
You send down clear certainty to me
that You exist and that You care,
and will ensure that not all the paths of goodness will be blocked.
On the peak of earthly glory
I look back in surprise on the path I have taken
which I would never have been able to invent for myself,
an incredible path
through hopelessness
from which I was yet able
to send humanity a reflection of Your rays of light.
And for as long as it is necessary that I keep reflecting them,
You will let me do so.
And what I do not finish-well then,
You have assigned others the task.
Everyday Saints and Other Stories, by Archimandrite Tikhon
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