Below is a letter from Russia which gives moving evidence that the Catacomb Church is alive and that there are still to be found truly believing Orthodox people and, what is more, those who are well informed about our Church Abroad.
Concerting Saint Ismael (Rozhdestvensky), who belongs to the choir of Russia's New Martyrs, there is some information both in Protopresbyter Michael Polsky’s book, New Russian Martyrs (Jordanville, 1957), and also in Prof. I. M. Andreyev's book, Russia's Catacomb Saints (Platina, 1982) In the latter, St. Ismael's brother Michael was mistakenly included as a New Martyr. In fact, it is now known that he only recently reposed.
More cautious, Fr. Michael speaks only about Fr. Ismael: "Archpriest Ismael Rozhdestvensky was rector of the Church of the Transfiguration in the town of Strelna near Petrograd. Twice he returned from exile; in 1937 he was arrested and sent to Siberia. He performed services in secret. He was greatly venerated as a member of the secret church in the Petrograd diocese. He was executed during the time of Yezhov." (p. 227)
In I. M Andreyev's book we find other facts. St. lsmael and Fr. Michael were sons of a priest and grew up in Novgorod. St. Ismael graduated from the Petersburg Theological Academy and served as a priest in the Church of the Transfiguration (this apparently later went over to his brother). Andreyen relates how he personally visited this church in 1926 and saw how Fr. Ismael expelled demons from those who were possessed. The author also tells of another miracle. (once, when Fr. lsmael was reading the Gospel during a molieben before the icon “Assuage My Sorrow", a pink cloud appeared, surrounding his head like a halo. This happened not long before his arrest in 1937.
Since he did not recognize the "Declaration" ot Metropolitan Sergius, he was subjected, to persecution even before his arrest. Thus, he was deprived of his humble dwelling (near the church) and was obliged to spend nights with acquaintances who risked taking him in.
When, after his brother's death, Fr. Michael look his place in the Transfiguration Church, he, too, became subject to persecution. In 1934 he and his wife were arrested; after their release she left him. Fr. Michael continued serving in the Catacomb Church while living in hiding, and despite all manner of difficulties, he survived to our days, remaining a faithful son of the true Church. The example of his life shows how strugglers of piety live even in our days in Russia--a pledge, no doubt, of her future resurrection.
Letter From the USSR
Our Church has suffered a heavy loss: at the age of 87, on September 26, 1988, Priest Michael Rozhdestvensky reposed. He was a great ascetic, a great luminary of the Russian land, who endured prisons, bonds, and all manner of suffering for Christ’s sake, for his devotion to the Church, and for the fact that he was a faithful follower of holy Patriarch Tikhon. Fr. Michael’s brother, Archpriest Ismael, was martyred and joined the choir of Russia’s New Martyrs and Confessors. He is depicted on this icon in the second row, to the left of the Passion-bearer and Martyr Tsar Nicholas II.
Fr. Michael was sentenced to 20 years, but after a 15 year term of imprisonment a medical commission declared him unfit for life in the camps and he was sent into exile in the North. In these very difficult conditions of his life, he regularly served Divine Liturgy at night. Batiushka spent his whole life in ceaseless prayer and strict fasting. In a period of 24 hours he rested no more than 4 hours; he subsisted on a diet of bread, potato and water.
Michael strictly observed the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. In all his
sufferings, he manifested patience and endurance, always and in everything
placing his trust in God. He was mercifully condescending to his spiritual
children, warm and kind. Sensitive and responsive to suffering, he grieved over
the poor, helped orphans and widows and was in truth a loving father to all; he
warmed everyone with his love. He rejoiced with those who rejoiced and wept
himself with those who wept, comforting and teaching all to place their trust in
God. He had the gift of being able to comfort others as a father. News of his
death shook the hearts of many. The grief of his spiritual children was
(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus’, Jordanville, NY, 1/14/89)
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