The case of Orthodox Christian Vasili Shipilov is one of the most tragic in the recent history of the Gulag. And as long as he continues to be detained, his case should serve to qualify any Soviet claims about increased freedom of religion.
Vasili Shipilov was born in 1922, the year Stalin was made General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. The family, deported to Siberia with millions of others during the 1930s, was put to work on a collective farm. Vasili's father was shot as he tried to escape and a little later his mother died of hunger. Alone in the world, Vasili joined a group of monks who taught him to read and write. In 1938, at the age of 16, he began to train for the priesthood in an underground seminary. (The Church was not permitted to train priests at this time; between 1917 and 1939 all the 57 theological seminaries were forcibly closed by the State; there are only three open today.)
In 1939 Vasili's training was halted when he was arrested by the NKVD (the forerunner of today's KGB). During his 10-year camp sentence Vasili was ordained as a deacon and is reported to have conducted baptisms in camp. (The Moscow Patriarchate has never acknowledged his training and ordination as they were both conducted "illegally.") In 1949 Stalin declared an amnesty and some prisoners were released in honor of the 'Great Patriotic War'. Vasili spent his precious freedom wandering around Siberia looking for food and shelter, having no home to return to. Preaching lhe Word of God as he went, Vasili told the truth about the lawlessness and cruelty of the Stalinist regime. Consequently his freedom lasted only one short year.
In 1950 he was re-arrested, charged with anti-Soviet agitation and eventually referred for a psychiatric examination. He has been suffering treatment in Sovict psychiatric 'hospitals' ever since. Given harmful drugs and beaten because he fasted and prayed, Vasili became an epileptic. Doctors told him, "If you don't give up your faith you will stay here--unless they kill you."
Friends have been campaigning for Vasili since 1979. Most recently', Anglican priest Dick Rodgers spent the lenten period in a caged vigil on Vasili' s behalf in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Field, London. The end of March brought good news that Shipilov was to be transferred to a sanatorium where his critical physical state could be treated--he is reported to be suffering from circulatory problems. But in a phone conversation with Kcston College on April 11, the deputy chief doctor of the Krasnoyarsk psychiatric hospital where Shipilov is being "treated," claimed that "there is no question" of any such transfer and denied statements made earlier by the chief doctor that Shipilov's physical health is bad. She declared that he is an ordinary psychiatric patient and is being treated for mental illness.
Shipilov has told friends that he wants to spend his last days in an Orthodox monastery --there are people in the West who would look after him. Pray that God answers this desire of his heart, and that he soon be released. (Keston "Prayer & Praise," Spring 1988)
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