Bishop Macarius, in the world Cosmas Vasilyevich Vasiliev, was born in
1871 in Guba village, Tikhvin district, Novgorod province, the oldest son of
many children in his family. From childhood he was drawn to church services
and their otherworldly chanting. As a teenager he went to Petersburg, where
he often visited the Alexander Nevsky Lavra and listened attentively to the
inspiring sermons of Hieromonk Arsenius, who was a professional missionary
primarily against sectarians and schismatics.
At the age of 23, Cosmas went to the St. Macarius the Roman - Resurrection monastery at Lyuban station, Novgorod region. By the turn of the century, this monastery was already well established with 200 monks; it had a stone church and four major stone buildings, a metochion in a nearby town and a guest house. When the young Cosmas first arrived at the monastery, he found himself in the midst of a group of other young aspirants for monastic and missionary life. As a novice he chopped fire wood and did other manual labour as his obedience, as remembered by one of his friends, Fr. Conon, who came there together with him. In 1897 he was tonsured by Abbot Arsenius and given the name of Cyril. By 1900 he was already a hieromonk and head of the monastery metochion in Lyuban, where he stayed for the next five years. In 1906 Fr. Arsenius went to Mount Athos as a missionary to combat the new heresy of the "name-worshippers", and Fr. Cyril was made his successor as the abbot. However, Fr. Arsenius succumbed to the heresy he went off to fight, so Fr. Cyril was made his successor (in 1906). The monastery continued to flourish, and even after the revolution the Bolsheviks did not touch it because of its remoteness.
In 1923 he was consecrated bishop of Lyuban by the hierarchs Seraphim of Kolpinsk and Micah (Alexeyev) of Archangelsk, according to a decree of Patriarch Tikhon. According to another source, however, he was secretly consecrated bishop of Malovishery by Archbishop Andrew of Ufa, Bishop Michah (Alexeyev) and Bishop Stefan (Bekh). Bishop Stefan tonsured him into the schema with the name Macarius in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in 1924. In 1924 (according to another source: 1923) he was arrested for the supposed concealment of church valuables in his monastery and condemned to five years' imprisonment. He was sent to "the Crosses", an infamous prison in Leningrad, then to Solovki and other prisons. Then he was sent into exile, where he looked after cattle and performed other menial labour. After three and a half years' exile he was amnestied and returned to his monastery. According to another source, however, he fled from exile.
He lived upstairs in a cell; his cell-attendant was Hierodeacon Bucolus, a former peasant boy from a neighbouring village. Daily he celebrated early Liturgy in the side altar, not pontifically, but as a simple priest, only with the small omophorion over his phelon. He attended all other services standing on the cliros, always wearing the embroidered schema cape. He was always deeply engrossed in prayer and seemed to live in the world of the saints. But, as was to be expected, he did not manage for long to avoid contact with the God-hating authority of the communists.
In 1928, according to one (dubious) source, Vladyka Macarius signed the decisions of the so-called "Nomadic Council" of the Catacomb Church.
In 1931 he said to the Nun Veronica, sobbing uncontrollably:
"If you only knew what heavy trials lie ahead for us, how much suffering and torment! Our monastery will be devastated, our sacred things defiled!"
Within a year the prophecy was fulfilled. On February 18, 1932, when thousands of the clergy and faithful of Petrograd were arrested in one night, Bishop Macarius and the whole of his brotherhood were also arrested. Within a short time most of the monks perished. Vladyka was sent again to "the Crosses", where he spent a preliminary confinement before being given a relatively short sentence, on March 22, of three years' "voluntary" exile to Alma-Ata in Central Asia, which he spent in the prison of that city. Then he was sent to the village of George near the town of Frunze. Because of his ill health he was relieved from work, but during the nights he was compelled to guard hay. One night he went to church to receive confession, returning safely. For that he was again arrested and locked up in prison where he spent eight months in very wretched conditions.
In 1935 (according to another source: 1937), having completed his sentence, Bishop Macarius returned home, to the site of his monastery which now lay in ruins. What could he do? His cell-attendant, having had a similar prison experience, was still around. Together they settled in Chudovo, a town not too far from Lyuban. But now the question arose of how they were to live. Where could they obtain a livelihood? In the Soviet Union those who had completed their time of sentence were allowed, according to Article 58, to receive their residence permit only if they could also show their work cared. The bishop, however, had no such card, and so for several years he had to exist without a residence permit. But God helped him and he lived illegally with a believing family.
During this period he served secretly as a catacomb hierarch, disseminating the Mysteries, ordaining priests and consecrating bishops. According to one source, he also conducted underground courses in theology. In 1937 the mass arrests of the clergy began again, and to avoid arrest he went to Central Asia, where he spent a year. Then he returned to Chudovo, where he finally managed to obtain a residence permit. There he stayed until the war and the coming of the Germans.
Fr. Bucolus was with him all this time. The war was raging. With the increase of Soviet guerilla troops it was highly dangerous. They managed to escape to a neighbouring village and sought shelter in a small cabin at the mercy of some people. Their stay was prolonged; the famine was fierce. The area even during peaceful times did not abound in food, for the soil of the Novgorod region is poor. One night the old lady of the house where they were staying saw a strange dream: a golden carriage drove up to her poor dwelling and in it was a majestic Queen who said: "I have an elder here; he is very tired. He must be given rest." Thus did the Queen of Heaven herself intercede for the suffering schema-elder. The next day a Catholic priest came to the old lady and said, "I have heard that an Orthodox bishop and his cell-attendant live here." Hearing this, the bishop came out, and the priest told him how they could escape west to the Pskov Caves monastery. They immediately put their knapsacks on their backs, took walking staves and left for the monastery.
This monastery, after the revolution, found itself on the territory of free Estonia and thus escaped the common fate of the thousands of other monasteries of the suffering Russian land. It was in a thriving state, peaceful and with a sufficiency of everything. The bishop again began to liturgize daily at dawn as he was accustomed to do, and even began to dream of returning home to his beloved St. Macarius to re-establish his monastery for the third time. But the Lord saw that this true confessor of His was ready for his eternal home. In the terrible years of life in Soviet Russia, he was revered by thousands of Orthodox people for his holy prayers, help and kindness in serving his fellow men. Many people risked their lives and freedom in order to lighten the sufferings of this bishop during his numerous exiles and persecution. To these he was a zealot of Orthodoxy, who guarded the testaments of the Holy Church at the cost of his personal suffering. The Bolsheviks could not break this righteous one. His sufferings earned him his crown. It was time now for him to go to his heavenly home.
At the end of 1941 Bishop Macarius settled in the Pskov-Caves monastery, which was occupied by the Germans. He foretold the eventual defeat of Germany. During the war, a "Pskov Orthodox Mission" operated on the German-occupied territories. However, Bishop Macarius did not enter into communion with it because it was in canonical submission to the Moscow Patriarchate and tried to winkle out the secret communities. Together with the secret Bishop of Pskov John (Lozhkov), he tried to enter into relations with Metropolitan Seraphim (Lyade) of Berlin and Germany, of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. However, the hieromonk whom he sent, Nicephorus (Richter-Mellin) was detained in Konigsberg on a train and sent back.
In the night before April 1/14, 1944, which was the radiant feast of Pascha, the town of Pechory was severely bombed by the Soviets. They bombed the town for the whole night, in four strikes separated by intervals of forty to fifty minutes. Fortunately for the monastery, the huge two-ton bombs fell outside the monastery. Within the monastery there fell some ten bombs of smaller calibre. One of these fell across the refectory and tore out an old oak tree by the roots. A piece of the bomb penetrated the window frame into the cell of Schema-Bishop Macarius and killed him instantly. On the analogion in front of him there was an opened Gospel and a prayer book; they were covered with the bishop's blood. The clock had stopped at 9.47 p.m. All the monks were hiding in the bomb shelters, but Bishop Macarius had refused to go to the cellar and had remained in his cell praying. According to one source, he was in fact killed by Soviet agents dressed as monks.
The body of Bishop Macarius was buried in the caves from which the Pskov Caves Monastery takes its name.
(Sources: I.M. Andreyev, Russia's Catacomb Saints, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1982, chapter 24; Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), "Istoki i svyazi Katakombnoj Tserkvi v Leningrade i obl. (1922-1992)", report read at the conference "The Historical Path of Orthodoxy in Russia after 1917", Saint Petersburg, 1-3 June, 1993; "Katakombnaya Tserkov': Kochuyushchij Sobor 1928 g.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 3 (7), 1997; "Episkopat Istinno-Pravoslavnoj Tserkvi 1922-1997gg.", Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4 (8), 1997, pp. 12-13; I.I. Osipova, "Svoz' Ogn' Muchenij I Vody Slyoz", Moscow: Serebryanniye Niti, 1998, p. 255; M.V. Shkvarovsky, Iosiflyanstvo, St. Petersburg: Memorial, 1999, pp. 187-188)