SOLOVKI, August 20 (Itar-Tass) —— Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia dedicated the Church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God Odighitria at the Savvaty of Solovki Monastery on Monday, August 20.
“My grandfather, priest Vasily, having been exiled to Solovki, was a prisoner right here in this place. They were led to a tree logging area from here and other clerics and arch-priests were languishing with him here,” the patriarch said after a service in the new church.
On one day, the jailed priests decided to hold a prayer on the tree stubs in the tree logging area. Only a few people took part in it, including the patriarch’s grandfather. The administration of the camp was informed about the prayer immediately and its participants were put in an isolation ward. A trial followed and their prison terms were extended.
“My grandfather was sentenced to the shortest possible term, but when it was announced everyone understood that it meant death. He was sentenced to thirty days in a punitive confinement cell on Sekirnaya Mountain. The prisoners who were staying there said one could not live on Sekirnaya Mountain for more than seven days, especially in cold weather,” Kirill recalled.
Father Vasily was sent to the mountain in November. He and other prisoners had to stand waist-deep in icy cold water the whole day, tying up rafts that were then sent to Western Europe for sale. After work they lived in an unheated room and slept on the cold floor.
“It’s impossible to understand how my righteous ancestor survived,” he added.
Kirill recalled his grandfather’s words that a time might come at any moment when a prayer on tree stubs would have to be held again, “and this sounded particularly true in those post-war years”.
“His words were a priceless gift for me that moulded my attitude towards faith, the Church and possible consequences of one’s belonging to the Orthodox Church,” the patriarch said.
Later Father Vasily was transferred from Solovki to Kem. After release, he was forbidden to live in towns and cities and had no permanent abode for more than ten years, living with his family in basements or empty heating caldrons, without any means of existence. In 1945, he was arrested again and sentenced to five years of exile simply because he had demanded that a church be opened in his home village of Obrochnoye in Mordovia.
Arkhangelsk Region Governor Igor Orlov and donators who had given the money for the church attended the service led by Kirill.
The patriarch thanked particularly monastery head, hierodeacon Iakov Makeyev, who has been living in Solovki for 18 years. He was rebuilding the monastery practically alone for a long time and then at some point helped, together with another monk, provide the Solovki Monastery with firewood by pulling the trees out of the water on the Island of Anzer. He also participated in firefighting operations.
After the service the patriarch walked around the monastery grounds and ate some cherries and currants that grow in the local garden.
In June 1923, the first group of prisoners arrived in Solovki. Savvatievo became the largest camp in Solovki, with about 350 members of socialist parties – anarchists, socialist revolutionaries and Menshevisk – serving their time there. They did most of the free logging. About a quarter of prisoners died in winter. In 1926, an order was issued allowing those who refused to log trees to be shot on the spot without trial.