Sometimes the trials and irritations of everyday life seem almost impossible to bear gracefully, and at such times we may wonder how it would be possible to endure a far more harsh and hostile environment, such as a Soviet Gulag.
Here, in excerpts from letters written from a labor camp where he was imprisoned from 1931 to 1935, Hieroconfessor Roman Medved gives us glimpses of how the Christian life can overcome even the bleakest conditions through placing itself under the protection of divine grace, while practicing the everyday asceticism that opens the heart to God.
Source: Orthodox Christian
By Hieromonk Athanasius (Deriugin)
A Brief History
Hieroconfessor Roman Medved1 was born in the year 1874. From 1907, he served as a priest in Sevastopol,2 spiritually caring for the sailors of the Black Sea Fleet. In 1918, Father Roman moved to Moscow, and was soon appointed the rector of the (now destroyed) Church of the Holy Hierarch Alexiy on Glinishchevskiy lane. Since then, for more than 10 years, the main mission of his life was the creation of a church community and the spiritual care of Muscovites.
In the church where Father Roman served, there were divine services held every day, and there were even services at night! A brotherhood3 was created named for Holy Hierarch Alexey, whose members provided for the entire life of the parish. Discussions were arranged on the Holy Scriptures. Father Roman practiced the repetition of the baptismal vows — the renunciation of satan and the joining to Christ — which for the majority of the people were given in baptism via their Godparents, and therefore not always well perceived. Members of the community often became priests and monastics. Righteous Saint Alexei Mechev, when visiting the parish of Father Roman said: “You have an in-patient hospital, whereas I have only an out-patient ambulatory!”
The attitude towards the Soviet authorities at the parish was considered loyal.4 Despite this, Father Roman was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. He was released in 1936, being seriously ill, and settled in the city of Maloyaroslavets.
In the year 1937, when Father Roman was already nearing death, they wanted to arrest him again. Father Roman’s wife, pointing to her seriously ill husband told the NKVD Officers, “Well, take him, it would be even easier for me. I wouldn’t have to bury him.”5 The NKVD officers left with the words “There are enough dead men there.”
In August, Father Roman was tonsured a riassophore monk with the name Joseph. On the eighth of September, 1937, he reposed in the Lord.
The Hieroconfessor Roman was glorified [canonized] at the Bishops Council in the year 2000. His relics were found, and are now venerated in the Moscow church of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos on Lyshchikovoy Hill.6
Quotes from Fr. Roman
- We must live in such a way, that we consider every new day to be the last day of our life (awaiting death), or rather the first (in the movement towards perfection).
- We are here in this life as wanderers,7 and therefore, we should not be upset by the temporary difficulties of the path. It is still necessary to strive, but our Fatherland is in heaven.
- Renunciation of one’s will is the first condition for the move towards perfection.
- I have no discontent with anyone here, I am pleased with everyone. If I have a complaint it is only against myself, and I constantly demand from myself the continuous striving towards perfection.
- From around the ages of twenty to twenty-four, I consciously began to respect every person, and my whole life I was afraid to make someone my servant, and outwardly and inwardly I am afraid to inflict on anyone pain or force them. It’s my job to convince and reassure; I cannot compel. I dare say I loved my freedom, and never made anyone a slave, and I think that is why I value the freedom of others. Let them live according to their own mind and conscience, and I try not to judge anyone.
- The most difficult conditions here on earth are incomparable to the terrible agony of hell.
- God cannot be taken away from me by any place, person, or conditions. And if He is with me, than what are these external burdens to me?
- More and more often, I remember the words of John Chrysostom and Basil the Great about how in prayers, we should not ask for tiny things, but instead dare to pray for the great things, as well as for unceasing prayer.
- Among people there are no enemies; enemies cannot exist among us!8 There are only unfortunate brothers, deserving of great regret and help, even when they (due to a misunderstanding), became our enemies and fight against us.
- We have one common enemy — and this is the devil and his evil spirits. A human, no matter how low he falls, never looses at least a few sparks of light and beautiful-goodness9 that can be blown and gathered into a bright flame. It’s not to our benefit to fight with people — not only if they strike us on the right cheek, but even if they constantly shower us with all kinds of attacks and reproaches.10
- A person with an impure heart is not able to correctly perceive his surrounding circumstances and tell of them, and so he involuntarily, against his will perverts reality, and against his desire is constantly both a liar and a slanderer.
- True love can only exist where the heart is freed from passions.
- The Omnipresent and All-Pervading [God] never abandons us, and cannot abandon us in any circumstances or in any experiences. If this is never forgotten, then our happiness on earth is assured even in serious illnesses and in death itself.
- If in freedom I did not have enough detailed obedience and self-denial in small things, now these conditions are abundant.
- Reproach and grounding are very welcome. All this teaches patience, humility, and obedience — and from these everything becomes ever more tranquil and serene.11
- Blessed is he who has tempered himself, having accustomed himself to a stark and severe life: little sleep, hunger, cold and all kinds of deprivations. When facing a change in external conditions for the worse, he will keep calm. Also well served is he who learns the sacred texts by memory; in the absence of books, he will resort to memory and recite what he needs.
- All around me it’s noisy, but in my heart it’s quiet, for wherever I am, and whatever the circumstances, I have with me My Only Sweetest Christ.
- The conditions of this world constantly remind us that we are wanderers in this life, who must be ready at every moment to move from our place, and get to our home, which is beyond the borders of this life.
- But to all of you living in freedom, I would like to say how important it is to accustom yourself to a harsh life and all kinds of deprivations, so that when difficult circumstances come, you will endure it all with courage and complete self-control.
- Feelings, feelings — how they ruin us if they are not in completed submission to the reasonable mind.12 When your strength burns out, you can see how much they are expended in vain…Feelings are a fire of the soul, and it’s necessary to keep them only for the Most Important One, and to learn to be calm, almost indifferent to everything else.
- From my very arrival in the [labor] camp in 1931, I kiss my bonds and know that they are to my advantage.13
- After all, the whole secret of life is in that everything should be done, not according to my petty will or my pitiful little mind. The Only Wise and Good Will must reign in everything, and our job is to not prevent it from being carried out both in us, and through us.
Prepared by Hieromonk Athanasius (Deriugin). Translation by Matfey Shaheen.
1. Father Roman Medved [Polish: Roman Miedwiedz] was born in Zamosc, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland, and as a result, his surname “Medved” (literally: bear) may sometimes be rendered in the Polish form as [Roman] Miedwiedz. One should take note many Russians lived in Poland at that time, so this does not necessarily mean Father Roman was any less Russian than a Muscovite. — Trans.
2. Sevastopol is a major city in Crimea, on the shores of the black sea; originally an ancient Greek City, Sevastopol, called Korsun by Slavs or Kherson by Greeks was in 988 A.D. the site of the Baptism of Saint Vladimir, therefore sparking the Baptism of Rus’ which occurred in Kiev. Kherson is also the name of a separate city in Ukraine, near the border with the Crimean peninsula, which is derived from the Greek word for “peninsula”. — Trans.
3. Brotherhoods do not simply imply friendship, but in an ecclesiastical sense, they were lay communities, most famously established in the Rus’ lands in Ukraine, with the goal of promoting Church tradition, often, but not necessarily during a time of persecution or in distant borderlands. Brotherhoods were instrumental in preserving the Orthodox tradition in Rus’ lands. See this article. — Trans.
4. This does not mean the people were communists, but that they followed the Christian tradition of “render unto Caesar”, and therefore did not subvert Soviet society, but lived their own Christian confessional lives. — Trans.
5. It is worth noting these words seem much harsher in their English translation than they do in Russian. Slavic speakers can have a certain tough attitude which is not the same as, but can be mistaken for harshness or coldness in the West. — rans.
7. This word wanderer does not imply someone who is going nowhere, but is still distinct from the word for pilgrim. One can compare the concept of being a “wanderer with a purpose” to the phrase “Not all those who wander are lost” from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. — Trans.
8. More literally he said “Among people there are no and can not be among us enemies” (Среди людей нет и не может быть у нас врагов), but the translation above was made to flow better in English. — Trans.
9. Here, the word Добра, or the related form добро is a very special word. This word actually means both Good and Beautiful, as this is the Slavic translation of the Greek word used in Genesis when God called the world “Good”. This Greek word for good (Kali/Kala) can be found also as meaning Beauty most famously in the example of the Philokalia meaning: Love of that which is Beautiful which in Slavic is called is called Dobrolyubie. As a result of all this, I translate this word as beautiful-goodness — Trans.
10. Biblically, the word поношение is often translated in English versions as reproach, but it can also mean scorn, slander, or ridicule depending on the context. — Trans.
11. Literally quieter and quieter.
12. Here the word разум (razum) was used, which can mean mind, or reason, and is related to the old Slavic word for understanding, but can also be understood as the Greek philosophical-theological concept of the nous. While nous has a separate theological understanding (brining the mind into the heart/soul), it also has a philosophical definition as meaning the mind or intellect, the source of reason or intuitive thought. The English word “Mind” alone does not totally grasp the meaning of this single word. In short, in this context, he is speaking about the need to submit one’s feelings to the wisdom of a tempered, Godly mind, and not to be ruled by flaming passions. — Trans.
13. Here he means his imprisonment will bring him spiritual goodness. — Trans.
About the Author
- Hieromonk Athanasius (Deriugin) is a Russian Orthodox monk and author.