Bishop Macarius, in the world Michael Gnevushev, was born in 1858. In
1882 he graduated from Kiev Theological Academy, and became a teacher. Later
he became the Kiev diocesan missionary. In 1908, after the death of his wife,
he became a hieromonk and superior of the Moscow Vysokopetrovsky monastery
with the rank of archimandrite. In 1909 he became superior of the Novospassky
monastery. In 1914 he was consecrated Bishop of Balakhinsk. On January 28,
1917, he was made bishop of Orel and Sevsk. On May 26, 1917, he was retired,
and went to live in the Spaso-Avraamiev monastery in Smolensk.
At the beginning of 1918, Vladyka Macarius arrived in the city of Vyazma, Smolensk province, and took up residence in the ancient and well-organized monastery of the Holy Spirit, which was located in the city itself.
The church began to fill up with masses of people who came to listen to his inspired sermons which they later spoke of as being incomparable with anything they had heard before.
Of course, the local Bolsheviks could not fail to notice such an "enemy". They began to spy on him, and tried to do away with him with the help of some appointed murderers. One day, while the bishop was officiating in church, the murderers gathered in the parvis, waiting for him to come out in order to fall upon him. But they started a quarrel which turned into a fight, as a result of which one of them was killed. Having been informed of the event, the bishop delivered one of his most striking sermons, which made a shattering and ineradicable impression on the worshippers.
The Bolsheviks, having become convinced of the influence that the bishop exerted on the people of the city and its vicinity, decided to strike there and then. One evening, in the summer of 1918, a detachment of Reds appeared in the monastery and searched the quarters of the bishop and all the monks. All the bells of the twenty-four churches of Vyazma tolled the alarm, but in vain. The bishop was arrested and brought to the local revolutionary committee, where he was subjected to various indignities and beatings. He was officially charged with having organized a White Guard rebellion.
The next day, Hieromonk D., Vladyka's cell-attendant, was summoned to the bishop for confession and communion. He reported that the bishop had bravely endured insults and tortures, the traces of which were still visible on his face and body. He wore a soldier's uniform, his hair had been cut off and his beard shaven.
However, the Bolsheviks did not dare to murder Bishop Macarius in Vyazma, where he was too popular and highly respected. It was only later, in the autumn of 1918, that he was taken in great secrecy to Smolensk and shot.
According to some statements, the bishop's daughter, dressed as a beggar woman, at great risk to her life followed her father's way of the Cross from a distance. His last minutes on earth were reported as follows. The doomed men, fourteen in number, with Vladyka Macarius among them, were taken to a deserted place on the edge of Smolensk. They were ordered to line up with their backs towards a freshly dug pit. One of the executioners approached each of the prisoners in turn and shot him through the forehead - not in the nape of the neck, as was customary. The victims fell one after the other to the bottom of the grave.
The bishop was standing at the end of the line, praying fervently with a prayer-rope in his hand. If he noticed a weakening in spirit of one of those whom the executioner was approaching, he would leave the line, come nearer to the man, bless him and say with great compassion:
"Go in peace."
And so, strong and powerful in spirit, he comforted his weaker brethren until the last of them fell into the grave.
Then he stood alone at the edge of the grave. The stars had paled with the coming of dawn. Vladyka's fingers quickly moved across his prayer-rope. His gaze, full of faith, was directed to the heavens, and the joy and light of the Kingdom of God were probably opened to the spiritual eyes of the martyr. His lips whispered a last prayer. The executioner slowly went up to Vladyka. Suddenly he was perplexed, and his arm holding his revolver was lowered. Perhaps some inner battle was still being fought within his darkened soul. But then his hand made a gesture of denial. His face lost all expression, he clenched his teeth. His hand took aim, a shot rang out, and the hierarch of God fell into his grave.
According to one source, Bishop Macarius sang psalms on his way to execution and gave an inspiring speech during which he anathematized the Bolsheviks.
A peasant of Smolensk province, who was suffering from tuberculosis, told the following to a nurse. Several months before, while carrying out his military service in Smolensk, he had received the order to go to a certain place somewhere outside the city together with certain of his comrades in order to shoot a criminal, an enemy of the people. Of course, they carried out the order. Soon they brought the "criminal": a priest or monk came out of the car, grey-haired, small in stature and frail. When the peasant saw that the "criminal" was a cleric, his heart contracted.
The "criminal" signed himself with the sign of the cross and asked them not to cover his eyes, but only show him the place where he had to stand. They showed it him. He briskly set off there and, passing by the Red Army soldiers, suddenly stopped near the peasant, blessed him and said:
"My son, let not your heart be troubled - do the will of him who sent you."
Then, going up to the indicated place, he stopped and loudly declared:
"My Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Receive my soul in peace."
A shot rang out, and the tragedy came to an end...
Afterwards, the peasant saw the holy martyr-bishop in his sleep: he blessed him, but said nothing. Since then the peasant had seen him frequently, and the bishop always blessed him, without saying anything.
"I just understood," said the peasant, "that we had killed a holy man. How otherwise could he have known that my heart contracted out of pity when he came in? And, you know, he knew it and blessed me out of pity, and now out of pity he is appearing to me and blessing me, as if to say that he is not angry. But I know that there is no forgiveness for my sin, and I will not see the light of God. I did everything they ordered me, but I am unworthy to live and I don't want to."
The holy bishop was clearly calling the peasant to repentance. But instead he despaired of his salvation. A few months later, the peasant died.
(Sources: M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyateishego Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, pp. 871, 979; Russkiye Pravoslavnye Ierarkhi, Paris: YMCA Press, 1986, p. 46; Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Noviye Mucheniki Rossijskiye, Jordanville, 1949-57, part 1, pp. 73-76; Ikh Stradaniyami Ochistitsa Rus', Moscow, 1996, p. 56)