Orthodox America


  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Deacon Vladimir Rusak


As for my personal faith…I would say that it is les rational, less of the mind and more of the heart.  Deacon Vladimir Rusak

        The release of Deacon Vladimir Rusak on October 23 came in answer to the prayers of Christians the world over who had been alerted to his case by the publicity given by Keston College, CREED, Orthodox Action and others. He was a priority in a list of prisoners of conscience which President Reagan presented to Gorbachev at the Moscow Summit in May. Under pressure to improve their human rights' record, the Soviets at first tried to have Fr. Vladimir sign a statement of recantation or at least a plea of clemency, but he steadfastly refused on grounds that he was innocent. The authorities finally released him on the basis of his deteriorating health. However, the KGB official who informed Rusak's wife Galina of his impending release made it clear that he was still regarded as "a dangerous element" and "would be watched carefully"; if he steps out of line the remainder of his 12- year sentence will be reactivated and he will be sent back to the camps.

       "OA" has printed the basic facts behind Fr. Vladimir's case several times since his arrest in April 1986. A more personal description of this courageous Orthodox confessor is given by his sister in the following letter which, it is hoped, will help to keep Fr. Vladimir in our prayers.

 

      Volodya was born in 1949, when I was already nine years old, His birth in our family was a joyous event. Only mother was sorrowful; perhaps she had a presentiment of Volodya's future. After the birth of our older brother, Mother became seriously ill with arthritis of the joints, and so it was our father who had the primary responsibility for our upbringing. He was a tailor and worked at home. It was he who gave Volodya and all of us lessons in honesty, decency and integrity. Our mother was a deeply believing woman, and as soon as we came into the light of God's world she "inoculated" us with love for God and His Church. All her life she sang in a church choir; she had a magnificent voice which she retained to the end of her life. And when she went to church, she unfailingly took us along: my older brother Peter, myself and Volodya. My older brother and I learned to sing in the choir, while our parish priest, Fr. Nicholas Vintsukevich, took Volodya into the altar. Thus it was that from the age of 5 he began to participate in the services, Every Sunday and feast day he would be in church. And when Fr. Nicholas came out with the Holy Gospel or with the chalice, in front of him stood little Volodya with the candle.

      About this time something happened which later affected his health. Our mother, being a deeply believing woman, never allowed even our father to do any kind of work on Sundays or feast days. But these were hard times, 1954. Our father was lucky enough to get a horse. We had a problem with fuel, and father decided to haul from the marsh some turf which had earlier been cut and had dried. It was Sunday. Mother was terribly distressed and asked that Father do this work some other day, only not on Sunday. But Father decided to go ahead with it. He brought the turf before dinner, tethered the horse in the courtyard, and came in to eat. Just then Volodya went outside. Soon we heard a scream. Running outside, we saw Volodya lying on the ground, covered with blood. The horse had kicked him near his right eye and had broken his nose. We immediately took Volodya to the .hospital where they stitched him up---not entirely successfully. As a result, in his student years he had to have an operation to remove his tear sack. His chronic trouble with his ears and his weak eyesight, are, apparently, the result of this. To the end of her days our mother exhorted us and asked that on Sundays and feast days we try to go to church, and not to do any work, that the Lord had chastisad our father through this misfortune. Children suffer for the sins of their parents.

        ...Volodya grew to be a sweet, kind child. He was everyone's favorite in the family. When he began going to school and learned to read, he lost interest in children's games. His passion for books reached the point of being unhealthy. He could read day and night. When he went to bed and the light was turned out, he would take a flashlight and continue reading under the covers. Mama, anxious for his health, constantly scolded him and ordered him to sleep. There were times when books would be confiscated from him and not returned.

      He was a very gifted student. Usually he went to school carrying only his notebooks. Having listened to the teacher's explanation, he could immediately answer any of the questions. Mother often asked me to go to the school and take an interest in Volodya's studies; neither mother nor father were able to attend the parents' meetings. When I came, the teacher spoke about him at length, and what she had to say was interesting. He would read library books even during lessons. The teacher told me: "I'll call a pupil to the blackboard; he won't know the answer and is silent. Meanwhile, I notice that Volodya is reading a book under his desk. I call on him and ask him to answer. He asks the pupil beside him what the question is, and immediately gives the correct answer. He's a uniquely gifted student." On Sundays and feast days Volodya skipped school and went to church. This precipitated not a few incidents with his teachers.

      When Volodya finished school, he was 17 years old, and there arose the question--where should he go for his higher education? He couldn't go to seminary; they admitted students only from the age of 18. So he entered the physics mathematics department of the Minsk pedagogical institute. But his intention to go to a theological school never left him. He transferred from the third year of the institute directly into the second year at the Moscow theological seminary. His gifts were noticed even there. Concurrently with his studies in the seminary, he was enrolled as a student in the editorial department of the "Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate". To manage the one and the other was not easy; sometimes he would go hungry the whole day, since he could no longer take meals regularly at the seminary. But Volodya endured, and of the twenty students who were selected for the editorial department, Volodya alone completed the course of study. /.../

      Then came his studies at the Theological Academy, from which he graduated in the first category of the top class, and Work in the “JMP". At first he was an editor, then chief editor. Several times he accompanied Archbishop Pitirim on trips abroad.

      Volodya had a pass to the Lenin Library where, working on assignment from the editorial department, he happened upon materials of great interest to him and which later formed the basis of his book, The History of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was devoted to Church-State relations after 1917.

      On learning that he was writing such a book, we all became very anxious for his future, because we knew how it might end. We warned him of the consequences, but Volodya said that someone had to do it in order that people should know the truth. Mother said to him: "Your bones will rot for the sake of this truth," but he stood firm and said that it had to be written. And he stubbornly continued his work. In 1982 our mother died; she died in Volodya's arms. And soon thereafter we had to endure another blow. On learning of Volodya's work, Archbishop Pitirim dismissed him from his work at the JMP and from serving.

      Being a deacon and barred from serving in the Church, he was forced to find himself a job. The civil authorities also refused to give him any work, although they finally softened and he was accepted as a watchman at a produce warehouse. But he became incensed on seeing higher-ups drive out truckloads of fruit while workers were punished for taking a few apples. So he quit this job and found work as a janitor, which job he held until the day of his arrest

      Then, prison. 7-5 years--this was the term set by the judge. It is impossible to convey how shaken we were by all this, even though we had long anticipated it with fear and trembling, hoping at the same time that this dreadful cup would pass him by-- these grievous torments which he was fated to endure. The only thing that gave us some slight consolation was the knowledge that he had prepared himself for such a trial.

      Mother was not right when she said that no one would learn of this truth. Bearing witness to this is--people's gratitude and the remembrance of many who with true Christian love and help surrounded not only him who "spared not his life for the sake of his brother," but also did not forsake his close ones in this dreadful hour.

      May the Lord save and preserve all of you who took part and even now take part in his fate! Bowing low before you, Maria Rusak


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