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.