‘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.
Yevfimiyev Monastery in Suzdal
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.