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, <we must> not allow people to forget God.’
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 <my services>. That is because they abandoned the orthodox faith and started serving ‘in a Soviet way’, while I continued to serve a purely spiritual service.’
On accusations on the fact, that one girl had left Komsomol <because of Fr. Leonty>, the father answered: ‘It means that my sermons are not lost on people; that even young people understand me.’
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.