Orthodox America

  The CRY of the New Martyrs:  The Light of Siberia

            Earlier this year news reached the West concerning the arrest of Fr. Alexander Pivovarov and his trial in the fall of 1983.  He was charged with dissemination of religious literature - Bibles, prayer books, lives of saints, and for helping in the production of such literature; in short, for fulfilling his duty as a pastor.  His sentence:  3 1/2 years’ strict regime labor camp and the confiscation of all his property.  For many, his name is altogether unknown.  And yet, he may be called a true “podvizhnik”[one who struggles in the asectic life] of the Orthodox Church.

            Fr. Alexander was born July 8, 1939, in the Altai region of eastern USSR.  Graduating at the top of his class from the Odessa seminary, he wanted at once to become a monk.  Refused entrance to a monastery - he was too young according to Soviet law, he accepted ordination to the priesthood in 1960.  He finished his studies at the theological academy with distinction but declined offers to work in the office of the Patriarchate, preferring to serve as a parish priest in Siberia.

            He came to the attention of authorities very quickly for his inspired preaching on the immortality of the soul and the Resurrection.  An investigation lasting a year was instituted, and he was accused of “inciting fanaticism in the masses by spreading delusions” and slandered in the Soviet press.  Despite the difficulties in obtaining permission for even minor maintenance work on existing churches, Fr. Alexander managed to secure the building of a new church (dedicated to the Archangel Michael) in Novokuznetsk and baptismal chapels with altars in Tomsk and Prokopyevsk.  At the same time, he was subjected to continual harrassment - house searches, interrogations, threats.  Irrespective of the disfavor with which he was viewed by the state authorities, Fr. Alexander’s deep spirituality, theological authority and honesty were so clear for all to see that in spite of all this persecution, he was appointed in 1975 as secretary to Archbishop Gideon of Novosibirsk.

            Without warning, on April 6, 1982, the KGB searched his home and confiscted his Bible, prayer books, liturgical texts, lives of saints, crosses, vigil lamps, money, and typewriters.  On the same day, the KGB in Moscow conducted more than fifty house searches of people suspected of participating in the underground production of religious literature.  Orthodox layman Victor Burdyug (see “OA” #28), the father of five children, was arrested together with three friends:  Serge and Vladimir Budarov and Nicholas Blokhin - on charges of printing and disseminating religious literature.  An article published about the trial of this group of clandestine printers in the paper, “Sovetskaya Rossiya,” stated that in two years they had produced more than 61,500 books!  Between this group in Moscow and Fr. Alexander in Siberia was a direct link, part of a miraculously existing network of religious samizdat disseminators, whose activity has spread far beyond the boundaries of the larger cities into the remote provinces of Central Russia, Siberia and the Ukraine, where even “official” religious literature has for years been non-existent.  It is not hard to imagine the joy of the faithful upon receiving this spiritual nourishment.  This God-pleasing labor has also served to unite those of like mind and to strengthen the spiritually weary.  Clearly, the work of Victor Burdyug was not a private matter; it involved a growing segment of the Church’s faithful - including some of those in authority.  And this is what particularly disturbed the authorities.

            At the trial of Burdyug and his circle in December 1982, the prosecution made a deliberate attempt to present the case as though the accused had no connection with the Church but were motivated solely by material considerations.  Therefore, Fr. Alexander was not summoned to Moscow as a witness.  However, the active participation of the secretary of the Archbishop of Novosibirsk in disseminating large amounts of religious literature to all parts of the USSR, to remote corners where such literature has been unavailable for decades, was not to go unpunished.  He was immediately dismissed from his position as secretary to the Archbishop and given no employment for six months.  Then he was sent to the northernmost parish of the diocese - to the Siberian town of Yeniseysk.

            A year after the arrest of the Moscow printers, the Church came under attack, and Fr. Alexander was arrested.  One of his interrogators openly told a witness:  “We’ll paint such a pretty picture of your Pivovarov that the believers themselves will renounce him and spit in his face.”  They were unable, however, to achieve their desired aim.  The prosecution attempted to depict Fr. Alexander as being interested only in making money out of the dissemination of religious literature, but none of the witnesses called lent any credibility to such insinuations.  Nevertheless, Fr. Alexander was found guilty of “engaging in production against which there is special prohibition, carried out on a broad scale or with the employment of hired help,” “being a willing accessory to a crime” and “large scale black marketeering.”

            The Orthodox Church in Russia today is experiencing severe trials, but she is not crushed.  In her midst there have always been - and will be - such champions of the faith ready for sacrifice, for martyrdom, as Fr. Alexander, the laymen Victor Burdyev and his friends.  The cross they are now called to bear in the Gulag is very heavy indeed.  Victor Burdyug, for example, has not seen his family in more than a year and was denied his visiting rights.  The camp administration openly admits that this was on direct order of the KGB.  No, there is no point in waiting for any humane behavior from the militant atheists.  We must increase our prayers for those who are suffering for Christ, for the Church.  Remember in your prayers the imprisoned Archpriest Alexander, Victor, Nicholas, Sergius, Vladimir, and their families.  Help them, O Lord!

 (“Religiya i Ateism,” Munich; March, 1984; Keston:  “The Right to Believe,” #1, 1984)


Yelena Sannikova, a 24 year-old Orthodox Christian, has been arrested in Moscow and put into the KGB investigation prison, Lefortovo. Yelena is facing charges for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda".  Another Orthodox young woman, Irina Ratushinskaya, was sentenced on the same charges to seven years' camp and five years' internal exile. Irina is a poet whose work strongly reflects her Christian faith.