Orthodox America

   Archpriest Lev Lebedev

For twenty-two years Archpriest Lev Lebedev served as a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate.  A respected theologian, his articles appeared regularly in the pages of the Moscow Patriarchate Journal.  But his devotion to truth eventually compelled him to break ties with this jurisdiction and join the Free Russian Church.

Born in 1936, Fr. Lev received a typical Soviet education.  Like most of his peers he dismissed the compulsory atheism as a formality.  "From childhood I was convinced there was another world besides the material world in which we live. Although it was a romantic idea, it gave me hope that someday I would encounter this other world." In the eighth grade he discovered philosophy and proceeded to devour all the classical texts, from Aristotle and Plato to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  He became a devotee of Hegel, then Berkeley; he practiced yoga. He also read the Bible, but it was for him a closed book; it had no effect on his soul-until he laid hands on a copy of the Philokalia. "When I read this book I saw a precise explanation of the human soul, of those powers which influence it, from beneath and from above.  I saw my own soul as in a mirror and I understood that these writers possessed the truth. Asceticism is an extraordinary science, a revelation of the human soul based on experience. It is objective.  These writers lived in different centuries, in different locales; their experiences were unrelated and yet they yielded the same results.  This convinced me, and opened the door to my understanding the Scriptures, and to faith."

He graduated from Moscow State University in 1962 with a degree in history, and was unexpectedly sent to work at the derelict monastery of New Jerusalem.  "One fine autumn morning I was gazing through my window at the dilapidated cathedral when suddenly, inexplicably I felt with all my soul that I wanted, I needed to be baptized.  I needed to wear a cross. Returning to Moscow I went to the Novodevichy Monastery and spoke to a priest.  He spent an hour and a half trying to dissuade me from being baptized: for a person with an advanced education this could bring trouble. That was Soviet reality.  But finally he agreed. When I arrived the following Sunday at the appointed time, the bells were ringing, as though welcoming me. It was, I learned, the feast of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God."

In 1968 he was ordained to the priesthood and eventually found himself with a parish in the city of Kursk.  Involuntarily. largely out of ignorance, he fell prey to various errors propagated by the Moscow Patriarchate: he defended the Patriarchate's passive position in face of the government persecution of the Church; he repeated the Patriarchate's insistence that the path of submission taken by Patriarch Sergius was the only way of "saving" the Church; "I approved the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the ecumenical movement, believing that this really was a means of bringing the witness of Orthodoxy to the heterodox world.  I closed my eyes to the disgraceful attitude of many hierarchs towards the Church and the believers, trying to attribute it to 'human weakness'." Gradually, Father Lev's life-long commitment to truth opened his eyes to the falsehood rampant within the Moscow Patriarchate, both in terms of its ecclesiology and the personal conduct of so many of its hierarchs. He found his position in its ranks unconscionable, and, in 1990, he joined the Free Russian Church.

Fr. Lev has two sons.  He lives in Kursk, where he holds services in his home while making efforts to secure a church.  His book, Aspects of Pastoral Theology, is currently being serialized in Russkiy Pastyr (San Francisco).