The New Martyrs and Confessors
of Russia

by Vladimir Moss

Hieromartyr Bishop Claudius (Savinsky)
and those with him

     Bishop Claudius, in the world Constantine Sofronovich Savinsky, was born in 1882 in the village of Snetkova, Podolsk province, in a peasant family. At the beginning of the century he entered the Kiev Caves Lavra, and returned there after the First World War. In 1920 he was tonsured into the mantia, and in 1923 was ordained to the priesthood. In 1925 the Lavra sent him in the rank of igumen to their podvorye in Leningrad, which was subject only to him, and not to the local hierarch.

     In November, 1928 Igumen Claudius broke communion with the sergianist church because he considered that Metropolitan Sergius "had allowed a series of deviations from the church canons", and began to serve in the cathedral of the Saviour-on-the-blood or in Josephite parishes where there was no priest. In time he acquired many admirers among the laity and monastics, especially from the monastery of St. John of Kronstadt on Karpovka, which had been closed by the Bolsheviks. With the blessing of Archbishop Demetrius, Fr. Claudius, who had been raised to the rank of archimandrite in 1929, tonsured women who wanted to live a monastic life in the world. In the flat of Abbess Veronica from the Vorontsovsky podvorye, for example, he tonsured thirty people; in the village of Ratchino near Yamburg, where Fr. Nicephorus used to serve - five; and in Kuzmin, near Tsarskoye Selo - two.

     Every summer Fr. Claudius would to for several months to Kiev, bringing letters and appeals from Archbishop Demetrius. In 1930 he was secretly consecrated to the episcopate.

     Bishop Claudius was arrested for the first time in connection with the affair of the Josephites in Leningrad on December 27, 1930, and on October 8, 1931 was sentenced to five years' hard labour, four of which he served emptying sewage in Osinniki near Kuznetsk in Western Siberia.

     After his release he was forbidden to live in the major cities, so in January, 1936 he arrived in Novgorod, where he lived on odd jobs and the help given him by his nephew, Theodore Demyanovich Kika, who worked in the Donbass as a miner. He had no fixed place of residence, and was spied on by the NKVD. There were many exiled Josephite priests in the Novgorod region at that time, and they gathered in houses for joint services. It is known that Fr. Claudius served together with Fr. Peter Belavsky (+1938).

     In the autumn of 1938 batyushka arrived in Leningrad and stayed with a certain pious Christian woman. Soon he received a letter from Novgorod given him by the nuns Alexandra and Eudocia, in which he was told that the NKVD in Novgorod had taken an interest in his absence. Bishop Claudius therefore did not return, but stayed in Leningrad, living in an illegal situation and staying with nobody for more than three or four days. He stayed longest of all with Martha Fominichna Bogdanova, who lived near the St. John of Kronstadt monastery, and with Nun Eudocia (Deshkina). Sometimes he had to sleep in the open air, or spent days on the trams or trains. He served secretly in the homes of those of his spiritual children whom he could trust.

     "We must pray," he used to say, "wherever we can: in the church, in the fields, at home, standing, sitting, lying down, walking, during work. Pray as much as you can. Only prayer leads to salvation."

     When war broke out life became still more difficult for him. So in July or August, 1941 he moved to the house of Anatolius F. Chistyakov in a private house in Kolomyagi, on the northern outskirts of Leningrad. Anatolius came from the village of Khalchikh, Vologda province, where he helped his father on the farm. When his father was dekulakized in 1929, he moved to Archangelsk, and then to Saratov, where he got to know the Josephite priest Fr. Theodore (+ 1934), who gave him the address of the Johnnites N.P. Boldin, I.I Belkov and I.P. Abrosimov. Having moved with his family to Leningrad, the young carpenter began to meet the former Johnnites, who were united to the Orthodox Church after revolution and mostly remained truly Orthodox after the declaration of 1927. Anatolius began to go to the last remaining Josephite church, the Trinity church on Lesny. However, in 1937 a new priest came to this church and the services began to be conducted according to the new rules. As a consequence, a group of Josephites left and began to worship in the house church Anatolius built in his attic.

     Before Bishop Claudius there had served in this church Hieromonk Tikhon, in the world Basil Nikolayevich Zorin, a former monk of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, whom Bishop Claudius had known since 1929. It was in his flat that Bishop Claudius had been arrested for the first time. Later Fr. Tikhon went to live in Novogorod, and then, in 1938, he changed to an illegal situation in Leningrad. However, at the beginning of the war Fr. Tikhon disappeared. He had hidden in the village at Sergievskaya station when it had been overrun by the Germans. After the war he moved to the Novgorod village of Okulovka and looked after the catacomb flock there.

     About twenty people used to visit Anatolius' secret church in Kolomyagi, including: Matushka Arsenia (in the world Eudocia Efimovna Savelyeva), Mathuska Angelina (in the world Lyudmilla Dmitrievna Afanasyeva), Matushka Nina (in the world Eugenia Nikolayevna Kameneva), Schema-Nun Georgia, who died in the blockade. Nun Eudocia (Deshkina) spent ten years in the Transfiguration Volga-Verkhovskaya monastery, Tver diocese, near Ostashkovy, before its liquidation in the summer of 1929, after which she went to Leningrad and worked as a chamber maid. When the cathedral of the Saviour-on-the-blood was closed in 1930, she and other Josephites prayed in flats.

     In the savage winter of 1941-42 several of the parishioners died of hunger, others could not come to the church because of their weakened condition. Mother Eudocia would take Communion to the scattered Josephites, take orders for commemoration of the decease, burials and other needs. Bishop Claudius was in touch with Fr. Michael Rozhdestvensky, with whom he had been together in the camps. The catacomb priests met at molebens and names-days or by chance in the street. They confessed each other, and met for the last time at Christmas, 1942 in the flat of Fr. Michael, where they served a moleben together.

     Bishop Claudius, Nun Eudocia and Anatolius were arrested on June 17, 1942 after a lengthy search revealed the church in the attic. On August 12 all three were shot in the basement of the Big house on Shpalernaya. During the exhausting and tormenting interrogation, and the lengthy trial by a military tribunal, the three signed fabricated protocols to the effect that "our anti-Soviet organization had as its aim the preservation of Josephitism as a religious tendency hostile to Soviet power, opposing ourselves in every way to the supporters of the sergianist church, which goes along the path of supporting Soviet power". Bishop Claudius said: "I was personally dissatisfied with the measures of Soviet power taken in relation to the church, and praised in our utterances the life and conditions of activity of the Church and clergy under the tsarist rgime".

     Also sentenced was the fifty-eight-year-old nurse Anna Stepanovna Abramova, who was half-dead from dystrophy, and who was released from the Rybinsk camps after one year on the grounds of her health. In 1956 she and the three executed Christians were "rehabilitated" on the grounds that "belonging to the Josephite tendency and performing services is not a criminal offence. There is no proof that the indicated group of Josephites was anti-Soviet." The military procurator pointed out that according to the Stalinist constitution of 1936 "freedom of religious cults was guaranteed", and was in effect also in 1942!

     (Source: V.V. Antonov, "Tainij khram v Kolomyagakh", Vozvrashcheniye, N 2 (10), 1997, pp. 32-37; M.V. Shkarovsky, "Istinno-pravoslavniye na Ukrainye", Russkaya Zhizn', 48, N 9 (585), September, 1998, p. 6; K.V. Glazkov, "Skorbnaya data - 70 let nachala shirokomasshtabnykh gonenij na iosiflyan (1929-30gg.)", Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 20 (1641), October 14/28, 1999, p. 6)

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