The Life of the Venerable and God-bearing Miracleworker, Father Leonty, Archimandrite of Mikhailovskoe
‘Remember them which have the rule over you,
who have spoken unto you the word of God:
whose faith follow, considering
the end of their conversation.’ (Heb. 13.7)
Right in the heart of Russia, in the town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, in the beginning of the 20th century the ‘first soviets’ were born. They paved the way for a destructive movement that demolished the Russian culture of old. These lands are the very soul of Russia, with orthodox roots that go deep into its history. They remember the great princes of Vladimir - Suzdal, Andrey of Bogolubovo, and the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty – Michael.
The lands surrounding the town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk form part of the very soul of Russia, with orthodox roots that go deep into its history. They remember the great princes of Vladimir - Suzdal, Andrey of Bogolubovo, and the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty – Michael.
These very lands – parts of Vladimir, Nizhegorod, Yaroslavl and Kostroma gubernias – formed the so-called Ivanovo Economic District of the Soviet era, in which almost all churches, cloisters and monasteries that guarded the image of Holy Russia were demolished. The nation was almost completely turned into a godless one. Russians became Soviets. In this spiritual vacuum it was very hard for the remaining faithful to live as Christians. However, God sent His people a much needed reinforcement and consolation in the likeness of a true beacon of Faith, a courageous confessor with strong power of prayer, a wonderful elder, archimandrite Leonty. Hundreds of people have been guarded, or even saved or turned to Faith by his prayers. To them his humble and luminous image was an example of a true disciple of Christ, one who was carrying the torch of Holy Love for the people of the miserable and much-suffering Russia.
Commencing our description of the life of the blessed elder, archimandrite Leonty Stasevich, we humbly ask for his holy prayers, and we pray to God to give us the clarity of mind and the right words to complete this task for God’s and this holy old man’s glory.
Childhood and Adolescence
Archimandrite Leonty (Stasevich) was born on March 20, 1884 in the village of Tarnograd, Belgoray uezd, Lublino voevodstvo, Holmsk gubernia of the Polish Kingdom, which was part of the Russian Empire at the time. The infant was christened and given the name Lev in honor of Sviatitel Lev, the Bishop of Katan. His parents, Foma Fiodorovich and Ekaterina Stefanovna, were peasants. One of the relatives of the future Father, all of whom were religious and pious people, uncle Adam, was an archpriest. The family was childless for a long time. When little Lev was born, Foma Fiodorovich was 44, and Ekaterina Stefanovna was 32 years old. Lev was the only child in the family. Growing up, he first entered a two-year district college, followed by a four-year gymnasium. As we had mentioned earlier, the Stasevich family was truly religious and pious. Since early childhood Lev was brought up to value prayer, labor and good deeds.
Once, his mother asked Lev to go gather some mushrooms in the local forest. Upon gathering enough, as Lev was rushing back home when he remembered some poor old women who lived nearby. Passing by their houses, the boy gave them all his mushrooms. He had to go back into the forest to gather some more for his parents. His mother was worried that he was absent for quite a long time, but when she learned the reason for it, she didn’t blame him.
The Stasevich family often had some special guests. Father Leonty remembered that from time to time, coming back home from the fair, Foma Fiodorovich took along with him a wanderer or two who had no place to stay for the night. Having no money, the wanderers usually thanked their kind hosts by singing gospels, telling stories about God’s worshipers and their abodes, which they had visited on their way. Thus, in love, piety, and labor a child was growing up, one who by God’s will became an example of true virtue.
When Lev turned 15, he started working as a copier in the court of Tarnograd. Having buried his father in 1905, he became the only provider for his aging mother. However his desire to become a priest was so strong, that Lev asked his mother to give him her blessing and entered the Holmsk spiritual seminary. Lev Fomich never married, wishing to dedicate his life entirely to serving God.
It is possible that there in the seminary he got acquainted with the future Patriarch Tikhon, then a bishop, who was one of the first chancellors of the place. Upon graduation from the seminary, 26-year old Lev’s biggest wish came true: on December 31, 1910 he entered the Monastery of St. Onufry, which was located 2 miles from the village of Yablochna, Belsk uezd, Sedletsk gubernia. This monastery was founded in the beginning of the XVI century on a small river island. It had a church and a Sunday school.
In the beginning of the XX century, the monastery presented an exemplary and prosperous abode, which had about 35 monks under its roof.
In 1912, on a Great Monday, Archimandrite Seraphim Ostroumov (later Archbishop of Smolensk, who was slain in 1937) administered Lev Fomich’s taking of the monastic vows and gave him the name Leonty, after Leonty Sviatitel’ of Rostov. That same year Leonty buried his mother, whose death cut the last thread that connected him to the outer world.
On October 29, 1912 Fr. Leonty was elevated to the rank of hierodeacon by bishop Evlogy of Holmsk and on May 20, 1913 he was elevated to the rank of hieromonk by bishop Anastasy. From 1913 to 1915 he was the treasurer of the monastery.
In the Yablochinsky Monastery Fr. Leonty developed a love for strict and regular prayer, which he continued throughout his life. Although Fr. Leonty lived in the monastery for less than five years, his staying there had a great influence on his spiritual image. The Father considered Saint Onufry, in whose honor the main chapel of the monastery was consecrated, to be his special protector. After Liturgy, during the dismissal, Fr. Leonty always sang a tropar to St. Onufry and he used to say that he ‘was taught by St. Onufry’.
In 1914 World War I began, and soon, due to its proximity to the line of fire, the brotherhood of the Yablochinsky monastery was evacuated to an area deep inside Russia. Fr. Leonty was transported to one of the most respected Russian abodes – the Bogoyavlensky Monastery in Moscow, near the Kremlin. This monastery was founded in the 13th century by St. Daniil, the faithful Prince of Moscow. One of its first Father Superiors was St. Sergius of Radonezh’s brother, Stephan. The Metropolitan of Moscow, Sviatitel Alexy, had taken his monastic vows there. In 1916 Fr. Leonty was taken on the monastery’s staff, and in 1917, by recommendation from the right reverend Iosaf, he was awarded a pectoral cross by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1919, with the blessing of his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon and the Holy Synod, Fr. Leonty was elevated (by the Right reverend Evsevy) to the rank of Abbot. From 1917 the father studied in the Theological Academy of Moscow, however, he didn’t graduate from it due to its closure in the Lent of 1919.
In those years of uncertainty, when the persecution of church had already begun, many monasteries, in order to somehow survive and weather the storm, registered themselves as ‘labor communes’ and monks had to do ‘social work’ as well. As his monastic obedience Fr. Leonty was the chair of a ‘local committee of labor’ (kvartalkomistrud # 2) in Kitai-Gorod and the chair of a house committee (‘domkom’) on Nikolskaya st., 6.
On November 26, 1922, by petitioning of Right reverend Vasily, Bishop of Suzdal, Fr. Leonty was invited by the Diocese of Vladimir’s Administration to the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery in Suzdal, and that same year he was appointed its Father Superior.
Suzdal. First Arrest. Camp
The Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery in Suzdal was founded in 1352. In the beginning of the XX c. it was an excellent abode featuring 5 churches and a rich sacristy, where many valuable donations, church plates and vestments were kept. The community numbered about a hundred people. When Father Leonty came to the Monastery, he found it in a sad condition: the Divine Service wasn’t conducted properly, household problems required immediate attention. Some of the monks even sympathized with the Renewal Schism, which was tormenting the Church in those days. As the new Father Superior he committed himself to introducing proper order, in doing so he clashed with hostile attitude of some members of the community.
Father Leonty was not only defamed and ridiculed in every possible way, but was even beaten up by some who viciously hoped that this would prompt him to leave the monastery. But common folk – pilgrims and those, who lived in Suzdal – came to love father Leonty for his gentleness, kindness and sincere faith.
In 1923 the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery was shut down by the government. Some preserved documents tell us about this event:
‘…Further we see an icon of the Transfiguration; on the Savior and two prophets – the crowns and tzatas (special icon necklaces) are gold-plated silver, on the apostles we see three crowns without tzatas, but also made of chased gold-plated silver; on the tzata of the Savior there are three gems in silver sockets: a ruby, a piece of turquoise and (unrecognizable name in the original). The whole liturgical vestment on the icon is chased gold-plated silver weighing 1 p. Below there’s an inscription, that tells us that the liturgical vestment was made possible by the zeal of Archimandrite Leonty and other benefactors close to the Father Superior Archimandrite Docifey. The icon under the mirror-glass (…)’
In the hearing: ‘…Com. I. Korovin made a report on the condition in which the commission had found the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery: the walls are cracked in places, with partially peeled off plaster. Negligence of the staff towards all church property was also uncovered and it’d be really hard to restore order in the Monastery. A lot of money would be needed…’
Resolved: ‘After having heard the report, the Commission resolved to shut down the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery and all its four churches (Church of the Transfiguration, Church of the Assumption, Church of St. Nicholas and Church of the Annunciation). All buildings and possessions ought to be reassigned to Suzdal’s Community Department, offering the latter the keys and property guards.’
In the hearing (Com. Korovin made the report): due to the shutting down of the monastery, it’s necessary that all the monks be evicted from the monastery.
Resolved: The commission resolved to immediately ask the Community Department for a building, and to evict everybody within three days following the eviction’s notice.
‘ To the Management Dept., Commission for Suzdal Uyezd’s Monasteries’ Liquidation from the Father Superior and Abbot of the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery - Leonty, also known as Lev Fomich Stasevich.
I am asking the Management Dept. to give an order: 1) to give me back the icon of reverend father Onufri the Great from the Church of the Assumption in the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery, that was brought by me in March of 1922 and, lacking the needed room for it in my cell, was placed in the church temporarily. The fact that this icon indeed belongs to me and that there was no such icon prior to my arrival can be confirmed by members of the Monastery community; 2) a monk’s robe and a small icon of rev. father Onufri, that got into the church by accident. The latter is located in the winter (cold) Church of the Transfiguration; and also 3) to give me a certificate of the fact that the Spaso-Yevfimiyev Monastery is shut down, and thus there are no objections to me leaving Suzdal from the Management Department and the Commission for Monasteries’ Liquidation. April 18, 1923.’
Record of proceedings # 5 of the session of Commission for Church Property Transfer and Monasteries’ Liquidation, April 24, 1923.
In hearing: Case # 538 on transforming the Church of The Meeting of the Lord of the Rizopolozhensky Monastery into a theatre.
Resolved: To submit a petition to IUK for allowing the transfer of the above-mentioned church to Upolitprosvyet in order to open a theatre.
In hearing: cit. Stasevich’s claim regarding the return to him of the icon and the cross, that were left in the Spassky monastery.
Verdict: Claim denied
The Father stayed in Suzdal and was appointed by His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon Father to serve as Superior of two parishes – the Smolensky and the parish of St. John Chrysostom. The Parishes where Fr. Leonty served held with ‘the tradition of Tikhon’, they strictly adhered to the pureness of Orthodoxy and the canons of the Church. On May 20, 1924, by His Holiness the Patriarch, Fr. Leonty was appointed to the rank of archimandrite. While serving in Suzdal, in spite of the difficult conditions, Fr. Leonty drew many people to the Church. His named became well known to the believers. People came from remote places like Ivanovo and Teykovo to attend Fr. Leonty’s service. Later some of them were subjected to repression together with the father.
In 1930 Fr. Leonty was arrested by Suzdal’s local division of OGPU and was sentenced to three years in camps by the article of law 58 - 10 of the Criminal Code of RSFSR, i.e. the standard charge of anti-Soviet and contra-revolutionary activities. People who were long acquainted with the father say that Fr. Leonty displeased Suzdal’s local government by his efforts to counter the anti-Church propaganda with his sermons and daily services. The excuse for arrest was found partly due to Fr. Leonty’s love of church bell ringing. Later he reminisced on that: “… The ringing of church bells was forbidden then. And I (…) so wanted to praise the Lord with it. I climbed the bell-tower and started ringing. I did it for quite a long time. I went down, and was greeted with cuffs at the ready.’ Fr. Leonty served his prison time in Komi ARUSSR.
He worked as doctor’s assistant of a road-construction division. Spiritual children of Fr. Leonty from Suzdal and Teykovo sent him grocery parcels and other necessities. But people say that everything the father ever received he gave away to the other convicts, keeping absolutely nothing for himself.
Borodino. Second Arrest
In 1933 Fr. Leonty came back from the prison camp. In 1934, by the blessing of the Right-reverend Chrisanf, Bishop of Yuriev Polsky, he began serving in the village of Borodino, Gavrilov-Posad area of the Ivanovo Trade District, which at the time included the territory of modern Ivanovo, Vladimir, Kostroma, Yaroslavl and partially Nizhegorod regions. Because Borodino is located almost on the border between the Suzdal and Gavrilov Posad districts, Fr. Leonty could still have connection with his spiritual children from Suzdal. Yet the father’s stay in the new place was short – on November 11, 1935 he was arrested again.
Fr. Leonty once said: ‘When I was walking down the street of town N., there was a blessed sitting there who predicted: “Time will come when you’ll be dragged down the street, beaten by butt-stocks.’ It came true in Gavrilov Posad. The modest belongings of the father were confiscated and loaded up on a wagon. Leonty himself was first handcuffed and then tied to the wagon at the neck, so he was led down the whole town as an animal on a leash. With people’s mockery and humiliation Fr. Leonty was sent looking like that to the local chapter of NKVD. In the case # 237470, dated November 11, 1935, (l.134) it states: The inspirers behind the Ivanovo church-and-monarchy group are the Elder of Ardatovo, Schema-monk John (Ioann) and archimandrite Leonty Stasevich. While living among individual peasants Archimandrite Stasevich was leading anti-kolkhoz agitation and protested against the tax policy of the Soviet government. Moreover, Stasevich tried to involve children of school and pre-school age in religious activities. With that as a goal, he gave away small presents to children, such as fountain pens, note books and money to buy textbooks. As a result, children under Stasevich’s influence asked their parents to baptize them and perform other religious ceremonies on them. Members of the group D. and K. aiming to provoke religious fanaticism and general anti-Soviet mood among female factory workers, peasants (individual as well as kolkhoz members) widely advertised the Elder of Ardatovo, Schema-monk John (Ioann), and Archm. Stasevich as prophets and saints, and organized mass pilgrimages of the believers to them. Based on the aforementioned facts Lev Fomich Stasevich is accused of:
1) being the inspirer of a contra-revolutionary church-monarchic group;
2) engaging in anti-Soviet and anti-kolkhoz activities;
3) involving children of school and pre-school age in religious activities by giving them small gifts, i.e crimes stated in the art. 58 p.10 and 11 of RSFSR’s CC.’
Fr. Leonty flatly denied the first two accusations, and regarding his communication with children he said: “ …I was giving children presents, which consisted of pens, pencils and money to buy textbooks, and the sole goal of that was to take their mind off engaging in hooliganism.’
Since the USSR was in the process of collectivization, Fr. Leonty was accused of ‘anti-kolkhoz activities’. It may seem absurd, but this accusation was based solely on the fact, that Fr. Leonty sometimes used to say: ‘Yes, life is tough for an individual peasant right now. Possibilities are meager– there are taxes for everything. And the only way out is to join a kolkhoz. But you can respect and practice orthodoxy in the kolkhoz too.’
By the findings of a Special Meeting at NKVD of USSR on February 15, 1936 he was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment in a reformatory camp.
Protocols of the questioning of other defendants in this case contain evidence that people considered Fr. Leonty a righteous man: ‘a lot was said about Fr. Leonty being a fervent minister’ and ‘Fr. Leonty conducts monastic services’. “Archimandrite Leonty was and still is an active member of a church-monarchic group and is widely known among the believers of various areas of the Ivanovo Trade District as a true pastor of the Orthodox Church’.
By that time it was found that Fr. Leonty had a heart condition, but the committee declared him capable of physical labor. Fr. Leonty served his time in the camps of Karaganda, working as a medical assistant.
In the winter of 1935, on the platform of the central train station in the city of Ivanovo there was a gathering of convicts, many of whom were priests; all of them were shaved and had their hair cut short. In spite of that, they all recognized each other and right there on the platform they started singing from the top their lungs the prayer ‘O Heavenly King…’ People around them were crying. The guard roughly stopped the singing, and as a punishment all train cars with convicts were driven off to a dead-end siding. The weather was very cold, and because of that many convicts perished from the frost. Only in one train car, the one where Fr. Leonty was being held captive, everyone survived. The Father asked all fellow convicts to make full body prostrations while reciting the Lord ’s Prayer and that was the reason why none of them died from the frost.
While at camp people tried to ‘reeducate’ Fr. Leonty, due to his being a priest. Once on Easter night the guards ordered Fr. Leonty to renounce God. He declined. Then they tied him to a rope and head first dipped him into a toilet bowl. After a while they took him back out again and yelled ‘Do you renounce Him now?’ and his answer was ‘Christ is Arisen!’. They dipped him into the bowl again, took him back out, but he repeated– ‘Christ is arisen, people!’ They tortured him, yet they couldn’t make the father renounce God.
Fr. Leonty used to recall: ‘…often they wouldn’t let us sleep for nights on end. Once we lay down, they would start yelling ‘All rise and out to the street to stand in line!’, and it’s cold and rainy outside. They started the torture: ‘Down, up, down, up!’ and you fell right into the mud, into a puddle. They would stop, but once you started getting a little warm, they started yelling again “All rise, line up!” The same procedure would be repeated till morning, and then you have to go to do hard physical labor’. When people lamented about their troubles to Fr. Leonty, he used to say: ‘That’s not so bad: sometimes, after a meal, they would make us go outside, form a line and they would say “Now we are going to shoot you!”. They would start aiming, make us scared, and then force us back into the casern’.
Yet Fr. Leonty endured all the suffering of imprisonment with great patience and he often used to say: “…I was in heaven, not prison.’
At the end of 1938, Fr. Leonty was released and went back to Suzdal, where he lived in a small house (139, Lenin St.). As far as it is known, at this time he didn’t serve in any church, but he often traveled through the villages of Suzdal and Gavrilov Posad areas, fulfilling the spiritual needs. He sometimes visited Nerl Village of the Teykovo area, where he worshiped in the houses of his spiritual children.
Why didn’t Fr. Leonty try to find a position in a church? This question is answered for us by the following words of a former priest, who became a simple kolkhoz member in one of the villages of the Suzdal area: ‘In February 1944, at Stasevich’s home, we discussed with him the problem of our autobiographies that had to be presented to the ECDSPD.
Stasevich said: ‘Most probably they would make us serve in a church again’, (and on those conditions he (Stasevich) would never agree to that). And, continuing the speech, he (Stasevich) declared: ‘If they give us freedom, if they don’t bother us with taxes, then we’ll be able to say yes to them.’
All the while Fr. Leonty had a highly critical opinion of the government and the priests who collaborated with it. In March 1944 one of the priests of the town of Gavrilov Posad reported: ‘In March 1944 one former priest, residing in the village of Ves (Suzdal area), told me that, in his conversations with him, Stasevich blames the current government and myself that we, allegedly, work not for the strengthening of the Orthodox faith and the Church, but for the benefit of Bolsheviks, and that he, as a true pastor, will do nothing of the sort, no matter what danger may threaten him’. In 1943, on the religious holiday of Trinity Sunday, Stasevich commented regarding the problem of church reopening: ‘Before they can talk about reopening of churches, “our” comrades the communists must remove horse manure from them’ and that only because of the communists, was there such a desecration of orthodox temples. ‘Now, under the influence of allies, they want to correct and smooth away their mistake, but it’s still temporary. Bolsheviks will allow minor improvements while it’s beneficial to them, but later they will repress (the church) again.’
Fr. Leonty was treated with great respect by believers and had ‘many followers in Suzdal, Gavrilov Posad and other areas of the Ivanovo district’.
Vorontsovo. Third Arrest
After the end of the World War II, the situation in the Russian Orthodox Church changed for the better. Fr. Leonty was offered to return to service, and he agreed. But, in order to cut him off his old parish, the father was sent to the village of Vorontsovo (Puchezh area), which is situated at the other end of Ivanovo district, a few kilometers from the river Volga. On July 11, 1947, Michael, the Bishop of Ivanovo and Kineshma appointed Fr. Leonty the overseer of the church of the Life Giving Trinity in the village of Vorontsovo. Vorontsovo had two churches: a wooden (summer) church of St. Dimitry and a stone (winter) church of the Trinity. The Church of St. Dimitry was built in 1754 and was practically completely ruined in the Soviet times. When Fr. Leonty came to Vorontsovo, all that was left of the temple was its west wing, where a fire station was located. But the Church of the Trinity had never closed its doors, and although it hadn’t been renovated in a long time, it still preserved its holiness and beauty. In Vorontsovo Fr. Leonty served together with Deacon Vasily Vasinsky (future Archimandrite Nikodim) and psalomshchik Sharov. The Father was appointed overseer of all the churches of the Puchezh area, and there were only four of them. All the churches and clergy in general were heavily taxed. Thus, for example, in 1948 there was a signed statement from churches and clergy of the Ivanovo diocese for The Third Government Loan for reconstruction and development of USSR’s national economy. The church had to give 1000 rubles and the clergy of the village of Vorontsovo – 1250 rubles. In 1949 Fr. Leonty had to pay an advance payment of 24,184 rubles in taxes from his annual income of 27,232 rubles. This state of affairs prompted Fr. Leonty to write a special letter to the right reverend Venedict, the bishop of Ivanovo and Kineshma. In this letter it is read that, as a result of two trips to the finance department of the area, it was possible to learn how the ‘abnormal tax’ had been counted. To the mandatory 65% tax, the finance department added (most likely, at their own initiative) taxes for an apartment (house) belonging to the church and separately for the use of this apartment. But, in spite of the government pressure, the life of Fr. Leonty in Vorontsovo was getting better. The temple was renovated, many of the everyday problems were solved, but most importantly, the quantity of church-goers grew significantly. In 1948 Fr. Leonty was appointed overseer for the whole Puchezh area by bishop Paisy of Ivanovo.
On May 2, 1950 at 11 a.m., after the liturgy, Fr. Leonty was arrested for the third time. Three days before the arrest, he suddenly started giving away all his belongings to his spiritual children and the members of his parish, including monastic cell icons. He was giving away cash and sent out money orders. When he was arrested, during a personal search conducted by the agents of the MGB, there was found 606 rubles, a pectoral cross, 8 steel personal crosses, one Cannonik (Book of Canons), one Chasoslov (Book of the Hours), a passport, a colored belt and an enameled mug. On May 4 he was taken to the inside prison of the Ivanovo chapter of the MGB.
Records of the investigation give us a lot of information regarding Fr. Leonty’s life in Vorontsovo and the attitude of the believers toward him.
‘The materials we have, show that Stasevich is against the existing political structure of the USSR, and taking refuge in service to the Church service, was actually grouping around himself anti-Soviet people from the clergy and engaging in organized hostile activities.’
‘…having as his goal the enkindling of religious fanaticism in believers he passed himself off as a ‘clairvoyant’, i.e. a ‘saint’…’
‘…Throughout several years, in his sermons and conversations with select people he urged the believers to not work in the kolkhoz on religious holidays, he spread provocative thoughts of the alleged end of the universe, thus influencing the local population, which had a negative influence on the carrying out of political activities in kolkhozes.’
From the testimonies of other witnesses:
‘…Fr. Leonty is one of the truly orthodox clergymen, who no matter the situation would not abstain from their faith, nor would they distort it – they serve only God… Communists do not acknowledge religion, which is a sin. Some priests fell under the influence of modern ideas and started distorting religion. I find only Fr. Leonty’s service a truly orthodox one…’
‘Stasevich is not a simple person, but a true believer; ask him for help, and he will always help, when our Soviet officials won’t, they just live for themselves.’
from the testimony of a former priest R.: ‘All I know of Stasevich’s behavior is that he belongs to the reactionary clergy: for example, he leads a monastic life, he serves in compliance with the monastic code. During his stay in Vorontsovo, he performed religious services daily, making them long. One might say, that the service in his church continues, with almost no interruption, all throughout the day…While living in the city of Puchezh, I heard that Stasevich was considered a ‘saint’ by the common folk. Fr. Leonty also taught people that these days one has to pray more, firmly believe in God and prepare oneself for the Judgment Day.’
In his conclusion of the case the assistant to the prosecutor for the Ivanovo district writes:
‘Aiming to enkindle religious fanaticism in the population, and leading a monastic way of life, he (i.e. Fr. Leonty) passed himself off as a ‘psychic’ and a ‘saint’.
The wording in the above-cited quotations are, of course, on the conscience of the investigator, who could not possibly admit to the existence of God and His saints, nor reflect that in the reports. Interestingly, the question of Fr. Leonty’s sanctity had never been raised during his questionings. Nevertheless, based on the cited testimonies, one can come to a conclusion that in the 1940s, as well as in the 1930s, many people considered Fr. Leonty’s life holy and righteous. It is noteworthy, that the veneration of Fr. Leonty formed in the Puchezh area in a very short period of time, and that being a place where he was formerly completely unknown.
In 1950 Fr. Leonty was accused of basically the very same ‘crimes’, that he had been accused of before: ‘… being hostile to the Soviet regime, organizing and inspiring of an anti-Soviet group of followers of the ‘Truly Orthodox Church’, spreading anti-Soviet propaganda, aimed at discrediting the C.P.S.U. (B.) and the Soviet government, isolating the youth inside a religious ideology; performance of religious services in his followers’ apartments, where he shared his provocative anti-Soviet insights, i.e. in crimes, provided by the articles 58-10 p.1 and 58#P of the CC of the RSFSR.
From the documents of the investigation
During the investigation in 1950 the investigator paid a lot of attention to getting to know Fr. Leonty’s general outlook. The elder himself was questioned, and so were many people on trial as well as witnesses. All the answers were meticulously documented, although in a bureaucratic, clerical-atheistic language, using standard wording. Many insights of Fr. Leonty’s on the modern world and the place of an Orthodox Christian in it are clear from the words of his sermons, from his lectures and his own life.
Fr. Leonty said during the interrogation: ‘…in my sermons during the divine service I urged the church-going believers, who go to church, to believe in God unconditionally, to follow all the Commandments, to go to church on a regular basis.’ One of the witnesses on the case admitted during questioning: ‘Stasevich himself <…> serves in compliance with the monastic code, he tries to keep the faith pristine and to cultivate it in others by his services and sermons. He always demands complete execution of all the spiritual precepts.”
Let us provide here an excerpt from the interrogation report of one of the spiritual daughters of Fr. Leonty’s, who was also arrested in this case.
Question: Stasevich serves in a regular church. Specifically what is the difference between his service and that of other priests?
Answer: First of all, Stasevich tries to keep the religion pristine, he himself is an unconditional believer and he demands exact execution of religious traditions from others. He serves the divine service without abbreviations or distortions. He leads a monastic way of life and is a truly orthodox priest.
Question: What kind of precepts did you learn from Stasevich as his ‘spiritual daughter’?
Answer: ‘When I went to Voronstovo (in October 1948), I met with Fr. Leonty. Fr. Leonty taught me to not forget God, to be as religious as I already had been, to not abandon the orthodox faith and to cultivate it in others. In the very same conversation Stasevich admitted, that people nowadays everywhere allegedly distort the orthodox faith, even priests, and that the population is forgetting God. It is alleged that this can be proven by the Holy Writ. He taught, that we must keep the faith,
One of the civilians, who frequented the church in Vorontsovo, reported during questioning: ‘In the spring of 1949, after the service, Stasevich said: ‘If you are indeed believers, you must struggle for the faith, as the holy fathers had struggled for it, and you must defend the faith from the enemies…’’
During each service Fr. Leonty gave a sermon, in which he urged the congragation to struggle for the preservation of orthodoxy. Some of his sermons, especially those concerning the Judgment Day and the end of the universe, were reported to the Ivanovo Department of the Ministry of Defense, and served as the formal reasons for the arrest.
Fr. Leonty shared his critical view of the regime even with people he knew very slightly. Talking to the son of one of his spiritual daughters, he said: ‘…we live in a country of non-believers. ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do, so to speak, but you have to keep the faith in God in your soul. And that will be your deliverance in the eyes of the Almighty.’
Cellmates of Fr. Leonty’s were also questioned during the investigation, and they reported the following words of the father to the investigator: ‘Before the revolution Mother Russia was supplied with everything. And now with all those ‘Stakhanovites’ there’s nothing. Kolkhoz workers are lacking bread, let alone other groceries. Kolkhoz workers starve, and the government treats them badly’. Around that time Fr. Leonty told his cellmates about the way he had helped the families in need and how he taught parents ‘to accustom their children to religion and to make them wear the cross, which they did’. He also said the following words: ‘I am being accused of carrying out anti-Soviet activity, but I simply prayed and served God, I was arrested for the cross, for my pure Christian faith.’ ‘Many priests envied me, because a lot of people frequented
On accusations on the fact, that one girl had left Komsomol
F. Leonty on faith and priesthood
Question: During previous questioning you testified, that you are an advocate of the so-called truly orthodox faith. What is the essence of this faith?
Answer: I find a person to be a truly orthodox believer if he doesn’t deviate from the Holy Writ, is unconditionally devoted to religion and does not distort the rites.
I myself belong to this kind. Personally I try as hard as I can to carry out the rites in their entirety, as they were carried out in the pre-Revolution monasteries, for example. Church service must occur daily and I tried to strictly hold on to that. I think that a priest has (…) to devote himself to religion completely and therefore I lead a monastic way of life. The priests, who do not serve on a daily basis, who shorten the rites, who indulge themselves in secular temptations, I regard as apostates to the orthodox faith.
Question: How did you preach this branch of religion?
Answer: I did not aim to preach this particular branch. I just tried to adhere to truly orthodox faith myself, by carrying out the rites daily and accurately, without abbreviations, and I urged the parish to believe in God unconditionally.
Question: What is your attitude toward the priests of the functioning churches, who, as you testified, are ‘abandoning the faith’?
Answer: Personally I don’t have a grudge against such priests, because I think they have to guard the preservation of faith in its purity by themselves.
Question: You had testified earlier that you are an advocate of the so-called ‘Truly Orthodox Church’. (The investigator is cunning here. F. Leonty only talked about his truly orthodox faith and never mentioned his participation in the TOC.). Tell us in more detail, what exactly is this religious orientation and how does it differ from the viewpoint of the existing modern church?
Answer: As a truly orthodox priest, I have no principal differences from the functioning churches of today. As I had testified earlier, I do not agree only with the fact, that the majority of modern priests abandon the orthodox faith by distorting religion. Modern priests behave indecently in public, they indulge themselves in secular temptations, they sin, and sometimes (in public) they conceal that they are priests by not wearing the robe outside of the church. Those priests serve the divine service not on a daily basis, but once or twice a week, or on holidays. They shorten the rites. All this I regard as abandonment of faith and a big sin for any priest. I myself <…> lead a monastic way of life, I serve only God, and try to keep the faith pristine. Services in my church are performed daily (three times a day). I serve in compliance with the monastic code, and I don’t shorten the rites. I consider it my foremost duty to urge my parish to preserve faith in purity and to avoid sin. I do this by means of sermon and personal preaching.
Question: Are you opposed to the existing church just because it is not against the existing Soviet regime?
Answer: My conflict with the modern priests has come to be not due to this reason, but is based solely on spiritual questions. I had testified earlier, that they distort religion. It is true, though, that some of the priests distort religion by falling under the influence of communist ideas and the influence of the modern way of life in general. I think that a priest must be independent, serving only God.
Question: What do you consider ‘being independent’?
Answer: A priest mustn’t fall under the influence of the non-believers or blasphemy. At the same time a priest mustn’t be hostile to the government, no matter what it is.
Question: What do you call ‘the influence of communist ideas’, as you have just said?
Answer: It is known, that communists do not acknowledge religion, and base their actions on the materialistic viewpoint. The priests’ beliefs must be opposite in this matter. This is why I think that if a communist falls under the influence of religion he will no longer be <…> a communist. And even more so, if a priest falls under the influence of communists, under the influence of materialistic beliefs, he will no longer be a priest. Regardless of that, I do not treat communists with hostility, I just realize, that we have different paths, different beliefs and nothing in common.
Not everybody liked f. Leonty’s strict demands to the clergy. He told his cellmates, that after renovation of the temple in Vorontsovo, and thanks to daily services, believers from other parishes started coming to his church, which was why some priests started to dislike him.
F. Leonty and Children
As it has been already mentioned above, Fr. Leonty loved children very much and spent time with them eagerly. During questionings in 1950 the investigator brought up the topic of children as well.
When answering questions about his sermons, Fr. Leonty said: ‘…I preached to them (i.e. the schoolboys) to be polite with adults, to study well, to obey their parents.’ Children sometimes visited Fr. Leonty’s cell, and he baptized those of them, who were not yet twelve. While staying in Ivanovo in the fall of 1949, Fr. Leonty secretly baptized 7 preschoolers in the house of his spiritual daughter.
One of the witnesses on the case said during questioning: ‘I have heard numerous times from Fr. Leonty that you must accustom your children to worship, that it would help them in their studies, in their future life…I used to hear in his sermons, that every believer must inspire his children to worship, that one must baptize one’s children, if they had not been baptized. That it would be a good deed if every believer would see that no child of his is walking around without a cross… and I’ve heard from some worshipers that Fr. Leonty gives money for books and notebooks to some schoolchildren which attracts them to him and which insures their respect.’
Fr. Leonty used to say to his cellmates: “When I learned, that the crosses on children’s necks were noticed at school and were being taken off, I told the children’s mothers to let them go to school without a cross, but put one back on at home after school. That is how I tried to achieve my goal.’
All these actions of Fr. Leonty’s were characterized by the investigators as ‘religious brainwashing of the youth’ and became part of the verdict.
The verdict read: ‘from 1947 to 1950 the defendant Stasevich, while conducting services in the church, propagated in his sermons anti-Soviet ideas about the allegedly nearing ‘Judgment Day’ and ‘The End of the World’ and interpreted religious texts in an anti-Soviet way.’ The investigator petitioned for Fr. Leonty and for 3 of his spiritual daughters to be sentenced to 10 years in labor camps.
By special meeting under the Ministry of State Security of the USSR, this petition was complied with regarding the then 66-year old Fr. Leonty. His spiritual children, being of worker and/or peasant descent, were sentenced to 8 years in labor camps.
Leonty was sent to Camp Ozerny in Komi ASSR, where he was listed under the number #9-CO-23726.
It was very hard in the camp for the already elderly father, but the fellow prisoners, seeing the sanctity of his life and the power of his faith, respected the elder. The father was put in a cell together with a repeat offender thief; entering the cell, he bowed low, and when the direction came for an inspection, they saw the thief standing on his knees crying while the father was consoling him. Prisoners eagerly shared food and warm clothing with the father, and when the direction came to insult him, the prisoners threatened to start a riot in the camp…
Suddenly the camp director’s daughter fell seriously ill. The families of the officers lived in the camp, in an out-of-the-way place, and the camp’s doctor could not determine what the illness was. Leonty went to see the girl and said that she had been possessed by demons. The father started praying for the girl with all his heart and the demons left her alone. As a thank you, the camp’s director made the father’s regimen a little less strict and gave him a chance to serve liturgy on Easter. The prisoners helped the father with the vestments. Epitrakhil’ and cuffs were made out of towels, and the crosses were drawn onto them with a pencil. The service was held in a forest, on a stump. Soon thereafter, Leonty was discharged: granted amnesty.
In the middle of the 1950s a mass reassessment of political cases began. On January 21, 1955 the Fr. Leonty’s case was also reassessed. In the conclusion to his case it said that there had been no ‘organized anti-Soviet activity’, only a few anti-Soviet statements had taken place. That is why it was suggested to reduce the term of the sentence from 10 to 5 years and, since Fr. Leonty had already spent 5 years behind bars, he should be released from prison. On April 30, 1955 Fr. Leonty was released.
Upon returning from the camp, Fr. Leonty tried once again to settle in Vorontsovo , but he didn’t succeed. People say that the new Father Superior didn’t welcome him at all and even threatened to arrange a new arrest for him. So the seventy-year old elder had to search for a new place to serve yet again. Fr. Leonty lived in Ivanovo for about a month and on July 20, 1955 he was appointed by Archbishop Venedict to serve as the Father Superior of the church of Archangel Michael in the village of Mikhaylovskoye in Sereda (now Furmanov) region.
The church of the Lord’s Leader of the Angels Michael was built in 1819 and in the Soviet period it serviced the worshipers of Furmanov with its 30 000 inhabitants and those of 24 more villages.
After Fr. Leonty had started his service in Mikhaylovskoye, the local representative of the Soviet on the business of the ROC reported to Moscow: ‘the formerly off-staff priest Lev Fomich Stasevich (archimandrite Leonty) resumed his service, he was appointed to Mikhaylovskoye village, Sereda region. Please take account of him in the clergy index of the Ivanovo district.’
Father came to serve in Mikhailvskoe by appointment of a superior, but the priest who lived there didn’t let him inside his home. Fr. Leonty settled in a cold izba (a log cabin) without a stove and he lived like that all winter long, he used a ‘tushilnik’ (a cauldron with a lid used to make charcoal) as a heater and he used to say ‘I lived in heaven.’
The parishioners came to love Fr. Leonty very much. He restored the relationship between the parish and the members of the church council, he reestablished strictly regulated liturgy, and, as people remember, he served daily. Since the scope of activity in the Mikhaylovskoye parish was very large (the town of Furmanov and 24 villages) Fr. Leonty worked incessantly.
The majority of deeds carried out were for the inhabitants of Furmanov, which is 8 kilometers away from Mikhaylovskoye. Fr. Leonty stayed there in an apartment, where he accepted requests for various needs and carried them out on the same day. Someone reported on this to the local representative of the ROC and to the Board of the Diocese. A critical note from the Bishop followed. Church and Soviet authorities arrived at different solutions to the problem. This state of affairs led to the fact that Fr. Leonty had to go to Furmanov and back several times a day by foot. First, in Furmanov, a request to fulfill a need was accepted, then a record was made in Mikhaylovskoye, and only then and only once again in Furmanov, could it be carried out. It goes without saying that for a seventy-year old elder, who was far from his prime, these ‘hikes’ were a torture. In spite of the high demand from parishioners for Fr. Leonty’s time, he received permission for (and oversaw) a complete reconstruction of the church, its bell tower, its annexes and its fence.
In these years the father had to endure a lot of heartache from evil-wishers, whom he irritated with his exactingness and his unwillingness to compromise. Anonymous notes kept coming to the Board of the Diocese. But father Leonty wrote: ‘There are a lot of needs to carry out. Help! Oh, how they scold me…anonymous letters keep on coming. I praise the Lord for everything! I keep being thankful for everything. And if someone wants to go to a spa, he’s welcome here. Everything’s ready – there’s enough work for everybody. Archimandrite Leonty. March 13, 1960.’
In the end of the 1950s father A. became the second priest in the village of Mikhaylovskoye. One could feel a certain animosity in the way he treated Fr. Leonty.
Perhaps he wanted to become the Father Superior of the Church of Michael the Archangel, because it is from that time on that a flood of slandering letters about Fr. Leonty began. In 1960 there arrived several complaints about Fr. Leonty practically on a monthly basis to the Board of the Diocese. One of the letters arrived complete with names and addresses. When verified, it turned out that no such people lived at the given addresses. Fr. Leonty had to answer each anonymous letter in writing. Thus, in one of the explanatory letters dated January 30, 1960, he wrote: ‘Praise the Lord! I lived and continue to live with my brothers in peace, and I am pleased with everybody and everything. Let the Lord judge them! The complaint doesn’t contain any truth to it. I am not angry at anybody.’
On May 3, 1960, the father was appointed member of the Board of the Diocese by Hilarion, the Archbishop of Ivanovo. On June 1, 1960, by a decree of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy I, Fr. Leonty was awarded the right to serve the Divine Liturgy with the Gates opened during the Cherubic Hymn. On August 13 he was appointed the Diocese confessor, but 1962 was a very hard year for the father. Even earlier, gossip about Fr. Leonty either being suspended from his service as the Father Superior due to his age or being transferred to another parish had started to circulate. Concerned worshipers of the town of Furmanov wrote a letter to Archbishop Hilarion dated October 2, 1960. It said: ‘Before Fr. Leonty our town was much like that of the times of Lot, completely corrupted. And now, thanks to the elder’s holy prayers, God turned many people back to the ways of the righteous. God help him, our dear Father Leonty, as he is a true server and we won’t let him go anywhere. The entire town lives by his prayers. And if he were to be taken from us, we would be orphaned as sheep that are left without their shepherd and that therefore wander off in various directions. We ask you, our dear father, your Eminence, to not leave us orphaned; keep Fr. Leonty with us until his death.’ Another letter said ‘His 7 years of service here have been our only consolation.’ Thanks to such universal affection he wasn’t transferred at this time.
In the summer of 1962 two priests slandered Fr. Leonty for their own selfish ends, accusing him of a careless attitude towards relics. Vladiko, who was a relative of one of those priests, banned Fr. Leonty from service for a whole month. The father was very sad about it: ‘I cry and I sob’, he said, ‘truth will get out, everything will be out in the open, everybody will fly away!’
And that’s exactly what happened. The priest who slandered Fr. Leonty didn’t stay with the parish for long and had to leave it, the reason being that there was no love between him and the parish. When people who didn’t know about what happened asked him about Fr. Leonty’s whereabouts, he used to answer: ‘He’s on vacation!’, although throughout his priesthood the father never took a vacation. And a year after that, Vladiko Hilarion was transferred to a faraway parish. He had to leave Ivanovo by plane. Indeed, ‘everybody flew away’.
After a month of being banned from service, Fr. Leonty wasn’t reinstated in his position, but was transferred to one of the farthest and out-of-the-way parishes at the time – to the village of Elkhovka, Teykovo region. Father Leonty was already 78 years old.
The Church of the Holy Presentation in the village of Elkhovka was built in 1827. There were no services there from 1938 to 1945. In 1962 the parish was one of the poorest and one of the most remote of all in the Ivanovo Diocese. Father Leonty lived in Elkhovka for just 1 year, but the memory of him is being kept alive by the inhabitants of the village to this day.
We have access to the testimony of a healing performed at the time by Fr. Leonty on a possessed woman, who is now nun E., serving in one of monasteries for women. Here is her letter: ‘ I was spiritually illiterate then I didn’t ask anybody for advice and I listened to an enemy,’ writes nun E.,‘I was on my way to work one day and I deliberately fell down, I pretended that I severely damaged my head and I pretended to become imbecile. I was lifted up and brought to the hospital – first to a general one, and then, since I was deliberately talking nonsense, to a psychiatric facility. There I stayed for a month and a half I was released and registered. The thoughts didn’t leave me: how to begin the feat of becoming a Fool for Christ. A believer lived nearby at the time, her name was Alexandra. She knew Fr. Leonty as a great perspicacious elder. She visited us often and she saw that there was something wrong with me. She asked me to go visit Fr. Leonty in the village of Elkhovka. We came to him, it was spring then, and we entered his wooden house. I took a low bow to him and asked for his blessing. He looked at me and said: ‘Look at the way she bows, just like a nun.’ And his words came true: I am a nun now. Alexandra, who brought me there, said to him: ‘Father Leonty, there’s something wrong with her.’ I was about 28 years old then He said: ‘Come to my church tomorrow. We’ll pray.’ The next morning we woke up very early and went to his church. The church was small and cozy. It was very cold though. During the Liturgy I was standing in front of the Holy Gates and I felt Fr. Leonty’s gaze on myself I’m sure he was asking The Lord to have mercy on me. And when they started to read the Gospel, I suddenly felt so ill that I could no longer stay inside the temple. I took my coat off and ran outside, I felt nauseous. I just managed to open my mouth when a yellow ball came out of me. After that I felt so great that I didn’t feel the ground underneath my feet, it felt like I was standing on air. I calmly reentered the church and stood there till the end of the service, and I took Holy Communion. And the thoughts of becoming a Fool for Christ never came to me since, and I still don’t know what might have happened to me if not for Fr. Leonty.’
The previous parish didn’t forget Fr. Leonty. Starting from the summer of 1962, a real flood of letters started to arrive at the Board of the Diocese, all asking to bring the father back to the village of Mikhaylovskoye. People even wrote to his Holiness Patriarch Alexy I. After reading those letters, one can feel how deeply the father was loved by the parish. Here’s an abstract from one of the letters addressed to Archbishop Hilarion: ‘The Orthodox people of Mikhaylovskoye are writing to you with a humble request. We ask of you, whether the Lord might help you bring back to us our dearly beloved beacon of faith, Fr. Leonty.’ The letter also contained a poem about the elder.
In 1963 Archbishop Hilarion was transferred to a different department and the right reverend Leonid (Lobachev) became the new Vladiko of the Ivanovo Diocese. When he had familiarized himself with the situation in the Diocese, he brought Fr. Leonty back to his former place of service, the village of Mikhaylovskoye.
Father Leonty came back to Mikhaylovskoye an eighty-year old man. His physical feebleness didn’t let him serve daily, and during the last two or three years of his life he couldn’t even move about without someone’s help. But the father came to church every day. When he was en route from his little house to the church, he was leaning on people on both sides of him, and one of the helpers carried a small chair, so that the father could rest after every few dozen steps. And during service, he was supported in the same way when going to the entrance with a Censer or the Gospel. He sat down in front of the Holy Gates, rested for a few seconds, gave his blessing to the entrance and only then entered the altar and approached the Holy Table.
Despite being physically weak, the elder constantly received people, heard their confessions, had conversations with them and prayed for their healing. And that is the way he lived until his very last days.
There were so many people who visited him that half of the passengers on the train got off on the station of Belino, a kilometer away from Mikhaylovskoye. In order to prevent people from seeing the elder, the government forbade the trains to stop on this station.
Father Leonty heard a lot of confessions. ‘His confession sessions were very productive, very spiritual and very humble’, remembers Vladiko Ambrosy, now Archbishop of Ivanovo and Kineshma. ‘He never denounced people for their imperfections, and he tried to speak so that a person would not be offended.’ Fr. Leonty heard confessions in the choir loft, in a quiet corner. ‘He gives you a list of the possible sins, and when you read them out loud, he shows you one specific sin and says: ‘Read this one once again’. And it means that it’s your sin,’ remembers one of the father’s spiritual daughters. And if a person were very nervous during the confession, Fr. Leonty would say ‘It happened to me too, it happened to me too’.
People who confessed to him remember: ‘His admonitions were short, but directed precisely at the penitent. It wasn’t he who spoke, it wasn’t a man’s reasoning, but that of the Holy Spirit.’ A woman, who is a former inhabitant of Mikhaylovskoye, wrote about her confessions to Fr. Leonty: ‘If I quarreled with my husband at home and then came to the father, he would say it just like I did at home – word by word, as if he had been in my house at the time. If you come to confess to him, you won’t be able to hide anything from him, he’ll reveal your sin to you himself’ Fr. Leonty always mentioned the people who came to confess to him during a special supplication of the Liturgy. The father preached simply and said essential things. He used to repeat: ‘You’ll reap what you had sown’, ‘The eye sees not, the ear hears not what the Lord has prepared for those who love him’. Sometimes during a sermon Fr. Leonty would give practical advice on village life. ‘We have to thank God for giving us a lot of mushrooms this year’, said Fr. Leonty during sermons one summer, and summoned people to gather mushrooms. Many people laughed at the elder and even complained to the Diocese, that he speaks of such mundane things in the temple, but it turned out later that he had been right, because that year was an off year, and the mushroom supplies helped people feed themselves during winter months.
One can see from the letters and memoirs of his spiritual children what a kind and gentle person the father was. Once a boy, who was very sad that he was late for a train, where he planned to sell the berries he had gathered, went by his house. Father Leonty asked him: ‘And what did you want to get for the money you would have earned by selling these berries?’ The boy answered: ‘I need a shirt.’ Then father Leonty bought all the berries from him and gave him enough money to buy a shirt.
After one service a small boy approached him in order to get a blessing and get a piece of the Holy Bread, but all the prosphora were gone, and then the father gave him the only thing he had with him – his comb.
One spring Fr. Leonty picked up a rook chick that had fallen from a tree and broke his leg. The father took it home with him, and when the bird grew up, he attached a piece of rope to him and called him Monk. After a service Fr. Leonty would say: ‘Well, I have to go. It’s time to feed Monk.’
Even non-believers loved Fr. Leonty for his kindness. When the river Shatcha flooded in spring, one could get across it only with the help of a ferryman. When ferrymen saw Fr. Leonty coming down a hill, they vied to offer their services to him and waited for his return from town to take him back. The father helped everybody who asked him for help, and he made no distinction between believers and non-believers.
As many gracious elders, Fr. Leonty loved to speak humorously and figuratively, hiding deep and serious thoughts behind a joke. A spiritual daughter once visited him and when he saw her, the father asked ‘What grade are you in?’ She thought in bewilderment: ‘He knows that I have already graduated from college.’ What the father meant was spiritual age, because this woman came to believe only recently and had just started to read spiritual literature.
Later another woman, an acquaintance of the first one, came to visit Fr. Leonty. He asked her: ‘And which college have you graduated from?’, and though she had never attended any college, she had studied the Holy Scriptures very well by then. Once a ‘joke’ of that sort helped the father to get rid of uninvited guests from the Executive Committee of the District Soviet of People’s Deputies (ECDSPD). One summer some people cooked a lot of shchi (traditional cabbage soup) for some guests. They couldn’t eat all of it, so the soup turned sour. Eudokia, who was the housekeeper, wanted to throw it away, but Fr. Leonty didn’t let her do it and the pot with the shchi kept standing in the corridor for a whole week. It was very hot outside, so the shchi went sour and began to ferment, but Fr. Leonty made sure that nobody would throw the soup away. And then some kind of committee from the ECDSPD suddenly arrived in Mikhaylovskoye in order to check up on the temple and to take a look at the priest everybody was talking about. When he saw this committee, Father Leonty put the pot with the shchi on the stove. The odor coming from it was so strong, that those who had arrived had to quickly leave the church territory. And remembering this story, father Leonty always laughed merrily, saying ‘Oh, what fun I made, what fun…’
At the end of his life Fr. Leonty achieved such grace, that he possessed a freedom of spirit one only reads about in biographies of the great elders, such as the elders of Optina Pustyn’ or St Seraphim of Sarov. In memoirs of the father’s spiritual children we can read about cases that give us a chance to see this freedom in God. One of the elder’s spiritual daughters remembers an incident. She and a few other people came to Mikhaylovskoye for confession and communion. The father always ordered to feed his guests first. There were only bread and eggs on the table and nothing suitable for those who had been fasting. The visitors said: ‘Father, we have been fasting, because we wanted to take communion on Sunday, which is tomorrow.’ Father Leonty said to them: ‘Eat regular food, eat what is offered to you and still take communion tomorrow.’ The next day we took communion and received such grace thanks to his prayers that we were literally flying as if on wings when going back from him. This is the way he taught us obedience, which is higher than fasting or prayer.’
Once, in 1965, Vladiko Metropolitan Anthony visited the parish. After the service, during conversation with the parish’s clergy, he asked Lidia, the church warden: ‘What’s your opinion of father Leonty?’ Lidia answered ‘We respect him as our real father!’ ‘You do that, says Vladiko, ‘I have served in many a diocese, but I’ve never met such a priest!’
One believer was invited to an acquaintance’s birthday party. It was a day of fasting, and since she was blessed not to eat meat that day, when she was offered some chicken, she refused and moved the dish aside. Soon after that she went to see father Leonty, but she didn’t tell him anything about the chicken incident. He looked at her and said: ‘When you visit somebody, eat everything you are being offered.’
Nun A. remembers the time she visited Fr. Leonty in Mikhaylovskoye. ‘I was young then, about 26-27, and now I am 55. And now I feel such remorse that I visited such a great elder so rarely. My sister and I entered his house with a feeling of fright, but he greeted us with a happy smile and kissed us right on the lips. We got confused, feeling that we weren’t worthy. He was always sitting on a bunk bed of his, legs down, he made us sit to both his sides, asked us about our life, our activities, and then asked the housekeeper to prepare dinner and shared it with us. He didn’t eat any bread. He would feed us milk, and since we would come for communion, we wouldn’t know what to do, and he would say: ‘You go ahead and eat it, everything will be fine or you won’t have any strength to pray.’ This is the way only people who pray ardently and great elders, who were granted Lord’s great mercy for their humility, would act. The father prayed constantly and he clearly saw and felt the way others prayed. Sometimes when the temple during service was filled to capacity he would become sad and say: ‘There’s just a person and a half in the church.’ But at other times, when a service was attended by just a few singers, he would be elated and say: ‘Our church is full today.’
Due to his humbleness, he wouldn’t tell anything about himself and ‘That’s why’, wrote his spiritual children, ‘we didn’t know anything about him, he would keep back all his feats, all his spiritual deeds and he didn’t like to talk about them. He was great at prayer. He would sometimes lie on his bunk bed and say ‘I wasn’t here, I just returned here.’ He would pray for everybody. Every day the elder would read the entire Psalter by heart. Nobody ever saw him sleep. When you visited him, he would always be dressed and ready to go fulfill the needs of the people.’
The father didn’t like praise, and he even made one woman leave because of it. If a person was commended in front of him, he would criticize him, but if a person were scolded, he would always commend him, so that people would not judge each other.
He knew everything about those who lived with him or worked in his church, he protected their unity and didn’t let just anybody into their ‘family’. Father liked to eat his meals with the people. If he were given food separately, he wouldn’t touch it and he would take his dishes to other people, and they would all eat out of the same dish. He would feed others as well, and add ‘We have a spiritual commune.’
Father Leonty lived in extreme poverty. In his room there was an old iron bunk bed, in which the elder slept, an old table and a few stools. And, behind a partition, there was a minuscule kitchen with a Russian oven. A certain Eudokia took care of all the household matters in Fr. Leonty’s house. She even received a salary from Fr. Leonty. But the father himself was glad to admit: ‘I don’t even touch money (i.e. his salary)’. And if any money ever reached his hands, he would put it in the church cup, happily admitting ‘I’m Fr.ee again.’
Around Easter 1969 Fr. Leonty was awarded a second decorated pectoral cross by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy I, but rumors about letting him off staff already started circulating. Although the father himself was filled with love for everybody, there were some people who would, in a spirit of evil, mock the physical feebleness of the elder. People would trip him during censing of the temple, and a few times people would drop, as though inadvertently, heavy holy banners on him. And approaching the cross during dismissal, some would ask threateningly: ‘When will you leave this place?’ Once some women who had just finished praying in the church went outside and started waiting for Fr. Leonty in order to beat him up. But the father’s helpers, who guessed the women’s plans, managed to escort Fr. Leonty out through the side entrance. And father Leonty said during a sermon: ‘People, why are you turning me out? You sleep every night, but I don’t - I pray for you, so that everybody would go where I’m going to go’. In a private conversation he said to the choir singers and parishioners: ‘Heaven has long been open wide for me, but I live for your sake, so that all of you would attain salvation.’
Believers asked Archbishop Theodosy, who was then in charge of the Ivanovo Diocese, to let Fr. Leonty stay in Mikhaylovskoye. They wrote: ‘Although father Leonty is old and weak, his prayer to God is strong. Our believers went to visit the elder in Lavra, and he said to them: ‘Why visit elders, when you have Athos and Zion, Kiev and Potchaev. You have your own Lavra.’
On seeing how much the parishioners loved their priest, Vladiko Theodosy made the following decision: ‘Archimandrite Leonty is to stay as the Father Superior of the church (…), but he shouldn’t stay beside the Altar table alone, he should serve together with a second priest.’
At that time Fr. Leonty was 87 years old and the day of his blessed passing was approaching.
The Blessed Passing of F. Leonty
There are some miracles related to the blessed repose of the elder, which were told by people close to him. It is most likely that in December 1971 he saw some sort of apparition, because on December 26, after finishing a Water Blessing Prayer Service, father Leonty said that on this day a big miracle happened and ‘if people would find out who he was, the line to see him would stretch from Mikhaylovskoye to Moscow and he would have no rest neither during the day, nor at night.’ He also said to save the water from this Moleben and use it very sparingly. Not long before Fr. Leonty’s passing, one of his spiritual daughters had a dream, where she saw the father entering Heaven, where he was greeted by angels with lit candles in their hands.
According to testimonies from people close to him, the father said numerous times, that he would like to die during a service. The last Liturgy Fr. Leonty served was held on February 7, 1972, on the day of commemoration of Saint Gregory the Theologian. On February 8 he got very weak, but exclaimed happily, raising his hands up to the sky: ‘Going to the Lord, going to the Lord!’ On February 8, on St. John Chrysostom Day, during the reading of the Hours, Fr. Leonty took Holy Communion at his house. After liturgy, all the choir members went to the father to sing the church chants to the dying elder. Nobody dared to leave. At 15:30 his condition worsened, he lost consciousness, and at 16:00 his soul passed away to the Lord.
Not long before passing, Fr. Leonty was visited by the overseer – archimandrite Ambrosy. While they were drinking tea Fr. Leonty said, as if to himself: ‘When I die, I’ll be clothed in a Liturgical vestment, then I’ll be undressed and re-clothed in a monastic vestment, a cross will be put on me, then they’ll take it away and put a different one on me.’ Father Ambrosy didn’t attach any special importance to this, but remembered it. When father Leonty passed away, archbishop Theodosy blessed archimandrite Ambrosy to perform the burial service for the reposed elder. Upon his arrival in Mikhaylovskoye archimandrite Ambrosy saw that Fr. Leonty’s body was clothed in a priest’s vestment, not in a monastic one (riasa, mantle and klobuk). Since it wasn’t long till the start of the burial service, Fr. Leonty started to change the elder’s vestment. When he glanced at the cross, he saw that it was very lavishly and expensively decorated. Fr. Ambrosy asked to change the cross and at that moment he remembered the prophetic words of the late elder. The body of Fr. Leonty remained soft, and it wasn’t hard to change his vestment. When the parishioners were saying their final good-byes to their favorite priest and kissed his hand, they noticed that it was as warm as that of a living person.
People, who had been close to Fr. Leonty during the last years of his life, remember how the father was choosing the place for his burial in preparation for his death. He wanted to be buried near the wall of the small altar (the church in Mikhaylovskoye has a second altar in honor of Tikhon of Amaphuntovo), but he added that this entire space would be paved with asphalt, so he shouldn’t be buried there. Indeed, after Fr. Leonty’s death, this place had to be asphalted due to a technical necessity. He didn’t want to be buried on the small cemetery belonging to the temple, saying that he doesn’t want people to drive upon him. He said of this cemetery that all of it would be ‘ploughed up again and driven upon’. Having foreseen all of this, he asked to be buried on a common village cemetery not far from Mikhaylovskoye. Not long before his passing, Fr. Leonty met the kolkhoz chairman and made a following remark during their conversation: ‘And you’ll give me a horse soon!’
And indeed, on the day of the funeral, the coffin with the elder’s body had to be taken to the cemetery on a horse, because there was too much snow and a car hadn’t been able to get through.
On the 40th day after Fr. Leonty’s passing all the clocks went off at 15:30 and 16:00 in the house were he had lived. A year after the elder’s passing, the electric bell rang in the morning, although nobody came. It happened approximately three times.
On the same day, one of his spiritual daughters had a dream. She dreamt that she was passing through some vegetable garden, where vegetables were ripe for the picking – beets, carrots etc. When she passed it, she entered a wonderful orchard, where father Leonty was sitting, and he was wearing a beaming white liturgical vestment. She made an attempt to approach him. Then, ‘You are not allowed in here!’, not a human voice but Fr. Leonty’s thought, stopped her from it. At this moment her dream ended.
A few years after that nun Elizabeth saw the father in her dream – he was sitting in a golden vestment and everything on him was as if it were shining, beaming: both the cross and the mitre. He blessed her.
Archbishop of Ivanovo and Kineshma Theodosii reported in his message addressed to father superiors of all the churches in the Ivanovo Diocese: ‘On February 9, 1972, at the age of 87, in Boza, the highly respected Father Superior of the Church Of Michael the Archangel in the village of Mikhaylovskoye, Archimandrite Leonty (Stasevich) passed away. He served in the rank of a monk and in the rank of a priest for 60 years. His name must be written into all the parish synodiks of all the churches in the diocese.’
The grief of the parishioners of the Church of Michael the Archangel was deeply felt. The believers of the town of Furmanov wrote a letter to Vladiko Theodosy, which said: ‘We, the inhabitants of Furmanov, in these days of Lent are all deeply saddened by the loss of our spiritual father Leonty, who for many years served and prayed in our temple of St. Michael the Archangel and who urged all us believers to pray and to repent... Now our beacon has gone out… he was our bright guiding star and his way was long and tough.’