The New Martyrs and Confessors
of Russia

by Vladimir Moss

Hieroconfessor Basil, Bishop of Kineshma
1875? - 1945?

     Bishop Basil of Kineshma was born Benjamin Sergeyevich Preobrazhensky, in 1875 (according to other sources, 1873 or 1876) in the family of Protopriest Sergius and Matushka Paula of Kineshma.

     In those years many of the clergy did not distance themselves from the worldly environment, and borrowed worldly tendencies and a worldly cast of mind from it. But Fr. Sergius Preobrazhensky and his wife Paula were not like those. There was nothing worldly in their home, and no objects of secular culture. After all, how could anything secular compare with the Sacred Scriptures!

     Fr. Sergius did not accept in his home guests whose aim was vain talk. The whole sense and aim of earthly life for the couple was the cleansing of the mind and heart by prayer and the sacraments. And a purified heart was better able to detect the insidious traps of this world and the craftiness and evil thoughts coming from the devil. And for that reason the parents tried in every way possible to protect their children from the influence of the world, knowing how difficult it is to uproot the thorns of sin and passion once they have already grown through.

     Benjamin was brought up from infancy in an atmosphere of prayer and spiritual exploits. Only prayer, only church services, only spiritual exploits, only true joy filled his life from early childhood. The whole structure of the life that surrounded him was similar to the monastic. Neither news, nor gossip, nor vain conversations - nothing of all this penetrated the high fence of their house, which the children were forbidden to leave. And it was a joy for the child when their house was visited by poor brothers and wanderers. On the very day of his baptism, when Benjamin was brought home from the church, an old wanderer woman arrived in their house, looked at the boy and said:

     "He will be a great man."

     And there were other prefigurings of his exceptional future.

     His parents did not even consider the study of letters to be important, and did not make haste about it. And this absence of worldly vanity taught the boy mental concentration, so that when the time came to study, he finished Kostroma theological seminary with a distinction (one of this fellow-pupils was the future hieromartyr, Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeyevsky)) and entered the law faculty of St. Petersburg university.

     But however lofty the rules of piety in which a person has been brought up, and however accustomed he may be from childhood to the life of the Church, his human will remains free and the hour of free choice will without fail come in his life.

     After graduating from university Benjamin decided to prepare himself for the profession of a secular writer. Knowing to perfection both the ancient and the modern European languages, he went to England (according to one source, in 1910) and entered one of the English universities in order to continue his education and become more closely acquainted with European culture.

     Every summer he returned home. The waters of the Volga flow quietly, and at its higher points, where the villages stand, its banks are adorned and as it were spiritually strengthened by snow-white churches, amongst which the bell-tower of the Kineshma cathedral rose up invitingly.

     Once Benjamin arranged with some friends to go on a restful trip in a boat. But for some unknown reason the boat capsized, and all those who had been sitting in it began to drown. And then Benjamin turned in prayer to the Lord, beseeching him to preserve his life and vowing to abandon secular education and enter a theological academy, so as to learn how to defend Orthodoxy. He had hardly had time to utter this prayer in his mind when he saw a long, thick plank. Taking hold of it, he swam to safety. All the others who had been sailing with him drowned.

     The young man did not put off the fulfilment of the promise he had made to God and that very year he entered the Moscow Theological Academy, from which he graduated in 1901 with the degree of candidate of theology. On June 28, 1901 he was appointed a teacher of polemical theology, history and polemics against the Old Believer schism and local sects in the Voronezh theological seminary. Having been interested since youth in the ascetic side of the Christian struggle, he wrote a dissertation "On the Skete Paterikon", for which he was awarded the degree of master of theology.

     When he was studying in the academy, Benjamin began to preach in the town churches. His sermons soon became so well-known and popular that he was also invited to the villages on the patronal feasts of the village churches. It was at this time that he understood that his listeners were not sufficiently enlightened, and he became a missionary-preacher in his native land of Kineshma. He carefully examined the parishioners of the churches in which he had to preach during church services, and chose from amongst them a strongly believing woman who had a good knowledge of the Word of God, round whom he began to collect a church circle.

     In this circle the Gospel was read and then interpreted. Benjamin himself did some of the interpreting. Besides this, the appointed church services were read, and church chants and spiritual verses beloved by the people were sung.

     It was difficult to organize these circles, but once created they gave fruit a hundredfold, educating many souls in such faithfulness and love for Christ that none of the misfortunes that came after could shake them.

     During the renovationist heresy these circles became unshakeable fortresses of Orthodoxy.

     As a missionary-preacher, Benjamin went round the parishes of the Kineshma uyezd on foot, founding circles of zealots of piety wherever he could, drawing them in by the reading and interpretation of the Word of God.

     But what especially attracted them was perhaps the example and Christian exploits of the preacher himself.

     In 1911 he was appointed teacher of foreign languages and general history in the Mirgorod men's gymnasium, and in 1914 - teacher of Latin language in the Moscow gymnasium. In 1917 he graduated from a pedagogical institute.

     At a moment of mortal danger, Benjamin Sergeyevich gave a vow to devote himself to the service of the Orthodox Church, and in October, 1917 he became a reader in the Ascension church in Kineshma. He founded Orthodox circles for the study of the Holy Scriptures attached to the churches of the Kineshma diocese.

     In 1918, when in the country as a whole and in the confines of the Kostroma eparchy militant and all-destroying atheism was raging and priests and monks were being tortured in their thousands, Benjamin became psalm-reader in the church of the Ascension, where his elderly father still served.

     The authorities issued a decree forbidding the preaching of the Law of God in schools; so the light of Christ was forcibly removed from the hearts of the children. And Benjamin began to gather the children in the Ascension church and preach the Law of God to them there.

     Being strict with himself and a strict fulfiller of the canons and regulations of the Church, Benjamin's father did not consider him ready for ordination to the priesthood and monasticism before he was forty.

     And only on July 16, 1920 was Benjamin ordained to the priesthood as a celibate; he was then 45. The ordination took place in the town of Kostroma and was performed by Archbishop Seraphim (Mehscheryakov) of Kostroma. Soon after this his father died. After the death of his father Benjamin received the tonsure with the name of Basil, in honour of St. Basil the Great, and on September 19, 1921 (according to another source, September 14), he was consecrated as bishop of Kineshma, a vicariate of the diocese of Kostroma. Archbishop Seraphim of Kostroma and Bishops Hierotheus (Pomerantsev) and Sebastian (Vesti) carried out the consecration.

     After his consecration to the episcopate, he redoubled his ascetic efforts. Having renounced all personal property, he settled on the edge of the town in a small bath-house which was in the kitchen-garden of a soldier's widow. The hierarch had no possessions or furniture, and he slept on the bare floor, putting a log under his head and covering himself up with some clothes. He hid his exploit from outsiders, receiving noone in this place. Those who came met him in the chancellery, which was attached to the Ascension church.

     The bath-house was a long way from the church, one had to go through the whole town, but the hierarch did not want to find a nearer place for himself, although at that time he served daily. Every morning while it was not yet light he would walk across the whole town to the church, returning home late at night. Not once was he apprehended by robbers on the street, but he meekly and lovingly gave them everything he had, and soon they began to recognize him from a distance and did not come up to him anymore.

     Besides the daily church services, in which he always preached without fail, the hierarch confessed his numerous spiritual children, going round the homes of all who needed his help and word of consolation, visiting monasteries and the circles he had founded scattered throughout the uyezd.

     On major feast-days the hierarch served in the cathedral, and from Thursday to Friday there were all-night vigils in the church of the Ascension. The people loved these all-night vigils which were dedicated to the memorial of the Lord's Passion, and were present at them in great numbers. They were especially beloved of the workers, many of whom lived not in the very centre of the town, but in the environs, two hours' walk from the church. They stood through the all-night vigil and it was only late at night that they got home - in the morning they were again at work. But such was the grace of these services that people did not feel tired. During the Divine service the hierarch himself read the akathist to the Passion and there was such quietness in the church at that time, as if there were not a single person there, and every word was heard in the furthest corner.

     The grace-filled words of Bishop Basil's sermon pierced the hearts and drew more and more people into the churches. After his sermons many completely changed their lives. Some, following the example of the hierarch, gave their property to the poor, dedicating their lives to the service of the Lord and their neighbours.

     The light of faith and grace began to reach even the unbelievers, and Jews began to come to the church so as to hear the hierarch's words about Christ the Saviour.

     Whatever people might think of the Christian faith and the Orthodox Church, almost everyone felt that the hierarch's words responded to the inner demands of the soul, clearly returning life to the soul and a feeling of meaning to life. And the authorities began to be more and more disturbed. But they found no excuse for arresting the hierarch, while his popularity amidst the people was so great that the authorities could not bring themselves to arrest him. And then they began to infiltrate people into the church whose task was to tempt the hierarch with questions during the sermon so as to confuse him.

     Vladyka Basil knew that there were such people in the church, and he replied to many of their questions beforehand. Convicted in their conscience, and understanding the pointlessness of their situation, the atheists left the church without asking any questions.

     Like a true pastor, the hierarch Basil protected his flock from every kind of evil and error. If he learned that one of his spiritual children was thinking incorrectly, then without wasting any time he hastened to visit this person.

     Not far from the town of Vichuga there lived a sick eldress by the name of Martha Lavrentyevna Smirnova. She was a great ascetic. From childhood she had led a God-pleasing life, and the last 22 years she had passed in immobility, ceaselessly giving thanks to God. For this the Lord gave her the gift of discernment, which many of those who came to her for advice profited from.

     In exile Basil of Kineshma learned that the eldress had begun to receive people who were in heresy and were going round everywhere glorifying her as a saint.

     On returning from exile, Vladyka did not change his rule and set off on foot for Vichuga, visiting the homes of his spiritual children on the way.

     He arrived at the cell of the eldress only by evening. It was full of people and the hierarch asked everyone to leave so that he could remain alone with Martha Lavrentyevna and her cell-attendant.

     "I want to test you," said the hierarch, "to see whether you are in spiritual deception or not. I have learned that you are visited by some people from Ivanovo who have even given you their photographs and glorify you throughout the town as a saint. And yet they are not Orthodox. If you continue to mix with them, I will exclude you from my circle."

     Without hesitation the eldress agreed to stop seeing the heretics.

     In the home of one of the hierarch's spiritual children, Eudocia, the oil-lamp in front of the icon began to light of itself at midnight.

     "It seems that the Lord is calling me to get up and pray," she thought, not sure whether to accept this phenomenon as from God or a deception. But she had already felt the spirit of deception in her heart - you pray so much, she said to herself, that the Lord Himself lights the oil-lamp.

     In order to test this phenomenon, she invited an acquaintance of hers to stay the following night. But the oil-lamp lit up in her presence, too. Then she invited another witness to stay the night with her. The same thing happened with her. At midnight the oil-lamp lit up of itself.

     This finally persuaded Eudocia to accept this phenomenon as from God.

     When he had heard her out, the hierarch said to her severely:

     "No, this phenomenon is not from God, but from the enemy, and because you have accepted it as coming from God I am laying a penance on you - you are not to have Communion for a year. And the oil-lamp will not light up again."

     And truly, from that day the oil-lamp did not light up.

     In 1931, in a brochure called Ryasniki and published by the local section of the militant atheists in Ivanovo, the following was written about Bishop Basil's followers: "Among the Old Tikhonites of our region there is a branch of the so-called Basilites. They received this name after the name of the founder of this group, Bishop Basil (Preobrazhensky). We already know that this ryasnik was in the group of Ryashintsev. The Basilite programme differs in no way from the programme of the Old Tikhonites, but this group is distinguished by its activism. In those places where the priests belong to the sergianists, the Basilites leave the membership of the religious communities, cease to go to the church and organize house prayer-centres, giving as the reason for their departure the fact that the priests have changed their stripes and forgotten the true God. 'Once I went into the church,' says the profiteer Mazina, leader of the group, 'and I felt a pang in my heart, my head went dim and a voice told me to leave and pray at home' (village of Semenovskoye, Kineshma district)."

     By order of the authorities, the hierarch settled in a small taiga hamlet twenty-five kilometres from the district town of Taborovo, Sverdlovsk province.

     Here, too, Alexander Pavlovich shared all the difficulties of exile with the hierarch. The two of them set up an altar in the little house, the hierarch consecrated it, and they celebrated Divine services there every day.

     Prayer, Divine services and heavy work in the woods - all this was like the strictest form of skete life. Life was poor, and Alexander Pavlovich earned some extra by making wooden wash-tubs and catching fish.

     They conversed little with each other. Sometimes they had a kind of break for an hour, and they sat amidst the woods in the fading twilight. Fish splashed in the dark waters of a little river. A bonfire burned, lighting up the concentrated face of the hierarch, whose soul was totally immersed in prayer. The gloom of the woods wrapped them round every more closely, and it was then that Alexander Pavlovich wanted to strike up a conversation with the hierarch, to ask him something, but on looking at Vladyka, he decided not to trouble him.

     Three years passed in isolation, prayer and work, and the fourth was already coming to an end. The hierarch's thoughts began to incline towards the idea of staying forever there, where they had acquired a desert.

     But it turned out that it was impossible to choose exile voluntarily. He only decided to ask the local authorities for permission to stay when they themselves had begun to demand his departure.

     "Give us permission to stay," he asked.

     "No, you can't stay here. Leave. You can go to any town except the forbidden ones."

     "I must think about it," said the hierarch and went out into the street where his cell-attendant was waiting for him:

     "Well, Alexander Pavlovich, where shall we go?"

     "I'm not the one who gives the orders, holy Vladyka, you choose."

     The hierarch pondered. But where, where were they to go? What place of exile should he choose? Desolate Sarov... Diveyevo... Optina desert. Alexander Pavlovich often used to tell the hierarch about his stay in Optina, and he loved listening to stories about the monastery so beloved by the Russian people. He loved to hear about the obediences Alexander Pavlovich had to labour in.

     "Tell me, where was the baker Photius from - the one you helped in Optina?"

     "From Orel."

     "Well that's fine then - let's go to Photius' homeland.

     They lived for in Orel from September, 1932 to March 31, 1933, when they were summoned by the NKVD, who demanded that they leave the town.

     "Where shall we go?" asked the hierarch.

     "Go to Kineshma."

     For the last time the hierarch entered his native diocese, where he had sown so many good seeds. Although physically separated from his flock, he had never been separated from it spiritually, and by prior agreement they even prayed at the same time.

     It was the last time that Vladyka Basil beheld his native town, because immediately after his arrival he and his cell-attendant were thrown into prison.

     This time it was the atheists' intention to kill them. But the Lord judged otherwise. The schoolchildren who had been called to the trial to witness against Vladyka Basil and his cell-mate refused to give evidence, saying that they did not know the men in the dock and were seeing them for the first time. After the failure of the prosecution, the judged sentenced the hierarch Basil and his cell-attendant to five years in a hard labour camp for belonging to a branch of the True Orthodox Church. This was in July, 1933. He served his term not far from the town of Rybinsk, in a camp whose inmates worked on the construction of a canal. Alexander Pavlovich was exiled to the vicinity of Murmansk.

     The third and cruellest persecution against the Church had begun. The atheists planned that it would end by crushing and annihilating Orthodoxy. Bishops, priests and lay confessors of Holy Orthodoxy were shot.

     Vladyka Basil was also called to suffer torments.

     The hierarch refused to sign the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and recognize it as Orthodox. At that the enraged torturers set about beating him with the buckles of their soldier's belts.

     But they could not shake his resolute, pure and Orthodox confession of Christ, which could not be deflected by any worldly enticement.

     Some priests who were summoned for interrogation after him were told by the torturers: "That Preobrazhensky is not like you, he's straight, he's not for turning, while you are for us to our face and against us behind our backs."

     In January, 1938, Vladyka Basil settled in Rybinsk, and then, after a short period, he moved to the village of Kotovo, near Uglich, where he had the intention of ending his days. He served in the church in Kotovo and in a secretly constructed house church.

     In 1943 the metropolitan of Yaroslavl offered him a see.

     "I don't recognize Sergius as Orthodox," wrote Basil to him in reply. "And I ask you not to offer me any other sees, because I am old and too worn out by exiles."

     The metropolitan promised.

     But the very thought that a hierarch who was faithful to God and His Holy Church was still at liberty terrified the torturers, and on November 5, 1943, three months after this correspondence, Vladyka Basil was again arrested, in Kotovo on November 5, 1943. From November 7, 1943 to January, 1944 he was in the inner prison of the NKVD in Yaroslavl, and then from January 26 to July, 1944 - in the inner prison of the NKVD in Moscow. From July 13, 1944 he was in the Butyrki prison, and in the same month, because of his unbending confession of Orthodoxy, he was sentenced to five years' exile in the village of Birilyussi in Krasnoyarsk region.

     The little Siberian village was in a remote area surrounded by boundless wood and a network of rivers. The young people had already been deeply corrupted by atheism and made cruel by the war. Even young children became savage in the surrounding cruelty. For a long time the bishop was not able to find a suitable flat for himself, and finally he settled in the house of a widow who had three young children. When he was praying, they used to gather little balls of horse manure and throw them at him, saying:

     "There you are, granddad, eat."

     Soon the Lord gave him some alleviation from his sufferings: some believing women found another flat for him. The landlady was single, and an exiled nun was living with her at the time.

     The hierarch's ascetic labours and years of imprisonment and exile had undermined his health, and he began to fall seriously ill. In Birilyussi he had a minor paralytic fit which made it difficult for him to walk and necessitated nursing.

     The war was coming to an end, and the authorities were establishing a concordat with the Church based on a compromise whereby from the Church was demanded everything while the authorities promised in exchange not to kill bishops and priests or subject them to imprisonment, and to open a certain number of churches and seminaries. Once again the authorities tried to compel Vladyka Basil to recognize Sergius' Synod.

     "You know why you're in exile. Recognize the Synod and we will immediately free you and take you by air to Moscow, where you will be treated and will be able to live."

     The hierarch refused.

     "Then stay where you are, we have no right to let you go."

     Seeing that the bishop was seriously ill, the believing women asked the local bishop to send a priest with the Holy Gifts. This was done. But Vladyka refused to receive Communion from the sergianist priest.

     At Pascha, 1945, he wrote to one of his spiritual daughters, congratulating her on the feast and saying:

     "My child! Once more I congratulate you on the feast. Christ is risen indeed!.. I met Pascha very well. The Lord has blessed me with all good things - all you wishes were fulfilled. Glory to the Creator for His mercies and kindnesses.

     "... My child! Do not be upset, everything is in the will of God, I have already reached the term of human life, 70 years, and from now on life has little of interest to offer me. Of one thing I am certain, that I will not last five years in Birilyussi. I am not frightened of death. I would like to die surrounded by children and relatives, so that I can talk with and bless them all. Or at least have one person who is close to me by my side, someone to whom I can entrust my will and instructions with regard to my burial.

     "Alas! There is not one such person. Complete isolation is a heavy burden. I am being treated, I am taking iodine, but I received the most precious medicine on Great Thursday. I thank the Maker for all these joys and consolation. I am choking with a cough, it's difficult to breathe, I lie down most of the time. But I shouldn't lie down too much. Still, complete immobility helps my breathing, I can inhale with my whole chest.

     "... Farewell, my child! Don't be downcast that I'm too tired to go on writing. Be healthy. Entrust yourself entirely to the will of God. Bow your head and say: Thy will be done. Pray. I believe in the prayers of children, they often help me. You will find consolation in prayer. I wish you good health and a long and happy life.

     "Bishop Basil of Kineshma, who sincerely loves you.

     "Send my greetings and best wishes to the children. I ask forgiveness of all and bow to the earth."

     At the same time, in spring, 1945, he wrote to Alexander Pavlovich, inviting him to come. Alexander Pavlovich replied that he would come when the haymaking was over.

     But the hierarch knew that he would not live to the autumn.

     However, Alexander Pavlovich did not hasten to come, and when he did arrive the hierarch was already dead.

     On July 29 or 31, 1945 (old style) Basil of Kineshma asked the nun who was living with his landlady to read the canon for the departing of the soul. Having read the canon, she began to read the final prayer. The hierarch listened attentively, and when the prayer was over said "Amen" in a firm voice and quietly passed away. According to other sources, he died on July 27 or 28, or August 1 or 11 or 18, 1947.

     When the news of his death came to his spiritual children, by common agreement of those close to him the funeral service was performed in another place by the hierarch's spiritual son, Hieromonk Benedict of Lukhsky monastery, who was living in hiding at that time near Kineshma.

     Some sermons have been preserved from Basil of Kineshma's writings, as well as most of his "Conversations on the Gospel according to Mark", in which one can clearly hear the voice of the great preacher converting the hearts of thousands of people to Christ.

     In July, 1993 the holy relics of St. Basil of Kineshma were translated to the women's monastery of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple in Ivanovo.

     (Sources: Samizdat MS; Russkie Pravoslavnye Ierarkhi, Paris: YMCA Press, 1986, p. 22; Nicholas Balashov, "Yeshcho raz o 'deklaratsii' i o 'solidarnosti' Solovchan", Vestnik Russkogo Khristianskogo Dvizheniya, 157, 1989-III, p. 201; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyateishago Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 968; Lev Regelson, Tragediya Russkoj Tserkvi, 1917-1945, Moscow: Krutitskoye patriarsheye podvorye, 1996, pp. 535, 606; Hieromonk Damascene (Orlovsky), Blagovest, N 1, 17, 1992; Michael Khlebnikov, "Pravda o Svyatitelye Vasilii Kineshemskom", Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 1 (1574), January 1/14, 1997, pp. 13-14; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Kochuyushchij Sobor 1928 g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 3 (7), 1997, p. 39; "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997gg.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4 (8), 1997, pp. 12-13; Za Khrista Postradavshiye, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1997, pp. 224-225; I.I. Osipova, "Skvoz' Ogn' Muchenij i Vody Slyoz", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, pp. 272-273)

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