03 August 2019

The Life of Scoutmaster and Saint, Basil of Kineshma, Hieroconfessor & New Martyr of the Communist Yoke

Bishop Basil, in the world Benjamin Sergeyevich Preobrazhensky, was born in 1876 in Kineshma, Kostroma province into the family of Protopriest Sergius and Matushka Paula.

In those years many of the clergy did not distance themselves from the worldly environment, and borrowed worldly tendencies and a worldly cast of mind from it. But Fr. Sergius Preobrazhensky and his wife Paula were not like those. There was nothing worldly in their home, and no objects of secular culture. After all, how could anything secular compare with the Sacred Scriptures!

Fr. Sergius did not accept in his home guests whose aim was vain talk. The whole sense and aim of earthly life for the couple was the cleansing of the mind and heart by prayer and the sacraments. And a purified heart was better able to detect the insidious traps of this world and the craftiness and evil thoughts coming from the devil. And for that reason the parents tried in every way possible to protect their children from the influence of the world, knowing how difficult it is to uproot the thorns of sin and passion once they have already grown.

Benjamin Sergeyevich was brought up from infancy in an atmosphere of prayer and spiritual exploits. Only prayer, only church services, only spiritual exploits, only true joy filled his life from early childhood. The whole structure of the life that surrounded him was similar to the monastic. Neither news, nor gossip, nor vain conversations - nothing of all this penetrated the high fence of their house, which the children were forbidden to leave. And it was a joy for the child when their house was visited by poor brothers and wanderers. On the very day of his baptism, when Benjamin was brought home from the church, an old wanderer woman arrived in their house, looked at the boy and said,

"He will be a great man."

And there were other prefigurings of his exceptional future. His parents did not even consider the study of letters to be important, and did not make haste about it. And this absence of worldly vanity taught the boy mental concentration, so that when the time came to study, he finished Kostroma theological seminary with distinction.

Then he entered the Kiev Theological Academy. When he was studying in the academy, Benjamin Sergeyevich began to preach in the town churches. His sermons soon became so well-known and popular that he was also invited to the villages on the patronal feasts of the village churches. In 1901 he graduated with the degree of Candidate (Masters) of Theology.

On June 28, 1901 he was appointed a teacher of polemical theology, history and polemics against the Old Ritualist schism and local sects in the Voronezh theological seminary. Having been interested since youth in the ascetic side of the Christian struggle, he wrote a dissertation "On the Skete Paterikon", for which he was awarded the degree of master of theology.

In 1910, having acquired a good knowledge of both the ancient and the modern European languages, he went to London in order to continue his education and become more closely acquainted with European culture. He got to know the Scout movement in England, and listened to lectures by Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the World Scouting Movement. This led him to taking the position of Scoutmaster in the Russian Scout Organization.

In 1911 he was appointed teacher of foreign languages and general history in the Mirgorod men’s gymnasium in Poltava province, and in 1914 – teacher of Latin language in the Petrovskaya gymnasium in Moscow.

In the same year he went on a special trip to England and spent some time at a summer Scout Camp. On his return, he published a book on the Boy Scouts, and in 1917 – a second book on the subject together with V.A. Popov. In his book, “The Russian Scout Movement”, Yu.V. Kudryschov considers these two books the best of their kind. Benjamin took part in the Second All-Russian Congress of Instructors and Those Interested in Scouting from December 28, 1916 to 1 January, 1917.

In 1917 he graduated from a pedagogical institute. Also, towards the end of October, 1917, Benjamin was a witness of the battle for the Moscow Kremlin between the junkers and the Bolsheviks.

Benjamin Sergeyevich decided to leave Moscow and devote his life to God. He became a Reader in the Ascension church in Kineshma, helping his elderly father. He founded Orthodox circles for the study of the Holy Scriptures attached to the churches of the Kineshma diocese. In 1918, the authorities issued a decree forbidding the preaching of The Law of God in schools; so the light of Christ was forcibly removed from the hearts of the children. However, Benjamin Sergeyevich began to gather the children in the Ascension church and preach the Law of God to them there. And then he became a missionary-preacher in his native land of Kineshma, going round the parishes on foot and founding circles of zealots of piety wherever he could, drawing them in by the reading and interpretation of the Word of God. He carefully examined the parishioners of the churches in which he had to preach during church services, and chose from amongst them a strongly believing woman who had a good knowledge of the Word of God, round whom he began to collect a church circle. In this circle the Gospel was read and then interpreted. Benjamin Sergeyevich himself did some of the interpreting. Besides this, the appointed church services were read, and church chants and spiritual verses beloved by the people were sung. It was difficult to organize these circles, but once created they gave fruit a hundredfold, educating many souls in such faithfulness and love for Christ that none of the misfortunes that came after could shake them. During the renovationist heresy these circles became unshakeable fortresses of Orthodoxy.

From September 30 to October 1, 1919, Benjamin Sergeyevich took part in the Congress of Scoutmasters of the South of Russia in Novorossiysk. Being strict with himself and a strict fulfiller of the canons and regulations of the Church, Benjamin's father did not consider him ready for ordination to the priesthood and monasticism before he was forty. So only on July 16, 1920 was Benjamin ordained to the priesthood as a celibate; he was then 45. The ordination took place in the town of Kostroma and was performed by Archbishop Seraphim (Mescheryakov) of Kostroma. Soon after this, his father died, and Benjamin received the tonsure (to become a Hieromonk) with the name of Basil, in honour of Saint Basil the Great.

In 1921 he was arrested by the Ivanovo Cheka as having been “politically unreliable as a hostage in the days of the Kronstadt uprising”. On September 19, 1921 Fr. Basil was consecrated as Bishop of Kineshma, a vicariate of the diocese of Kostroma. Archbishop Seraphim of Kostroma and Bishops Hierotheus (Pomerantsev) and Sebastian (Vesti) carried out the consecration. After his consecration, he redoubled his ascetic efforts. Having renounced all personal property, he settled on the edge of the town in a small bath-house which was in the kitchen-garden of a soldier's widow, Anna Alexandrovna Rodina. The hierarch had no possessions or furniture, and he slept on the bare floor, putting a log under his head and covering himself up with some clothes. He hid his exploit from outsiders, receiving no-one in this place. Those who came met him in the chancellery, which was attached to the Ascension church.

The bath-house was a long way from the church, one had to go through the whole town, but the hierarch did not want to find a nearer place for himself, although at that time he served daily. Every morning while it was not yet light he would walk across the whole town to the church, returning home late at night. Not once was he apprehended by robbers on the street, but he meekly and lovingly gave them everything he had, and soon they began to recognize him from a distance and did not come up to him anymore. Besides the daily church services, in which he always preached without fail, the hierarch confessed his numerous spiritual children, going round the homes of all who needed his help and word of consolation, visiting monasteries and the circles he had founded scattered throughout the uyezd. On major feast-days the hierarch served in the cathedral, and from Thursday to Friday there were all-night vigils in the church of the Ascension. The people loved these all-night vigils which were dedicated to the memorial of the Lord's Passion, and were present at them in great numbers. They were especially beloved of the workers, many of whom lived not in the very centre of the town, but in the environs, two hours' walk from the church. They stood through the all-night vigil and it was only late at night that they got home - in the morning they were again at work. But such was the grace of these services that people did not feel tired. During the Divine service the hierarch himself read the akathist to the Passion and there was such quietness in the church at that time, as if there were not a single person there, and every word was heard in the furthest corner.

The grace-filled words of Bishop Basil's sermon pierced the hearts and drew more and more people into the churches. After his sermons many completely changed their lives. Some, following the example of the hierarch, gave their property to the poor, dedicating their lives to the service of the Lord and their neighbours.

The light of faith and grace began to reach even the unbelievers and Jews who began to come to the church so as to hear the hierarch's words about Christ the Saviour.

Whatever people might think of the Christian faith and the Orthodox Church, almost everyone felt that the hierarch's words responded to the inner demands of the soul, clearly returning life to the soul and a feeling of meaning to life. And the authorities began to be more and more disturbed. But they found no excuse for arresting the hierarch, while his popularity amidst the people was so great that the authorities could not bring themselves to arrest him. And then they began to infiltrate people into the church whose task was to tempt the hierarch with questions during the sermon so as to confuse him. Vladyka Basil knew that there were such people in the church, and he replied to many of their questions beforehand. Convicted in their conscience, and understanding the pointlessness of their situation, the atheists left the church without asking any questions.

When famine had broken out in the region of the lower Volga river, and many orphans were beginning to be evacuated to orphanages, he gave sermons calling upon his parishioners to adopt these children as their own, and he himself, in order to establish an example, rented a house for five little girls and arranged for a pious Christian woman to look after them. By his prayers, many were miraculously healed from spiritual as well as from bodily ailments.

In 1923, Saint Basil was arrested and sent into exile to the Ziryansky region, were he remained until 1925. After Vladika's return from exile, the Church in Kineshma started to grow quickly and become stronger. The municipal authorities became alarmed, and demanded that the bishop leave the city.

After two years of wandering from place to place, in 1928, he was again arrested, sat in jail for half a year, and was sentenced to three years of exile. After returning from exile, Vladika spent two years in the city of Orel. The authorities there returned him to Kineshma. As soon as he arrived, he and his cell attendant, who had faithfully followed him throughout all of these persecutions on the part of the godless authorities, were placed in jail. They wanted to pass the death sentence upon him, but could find no charge for justifying it. The authorities held them for five years in a camp — Saint Basil was sent to a camp not far from Rybinsk, and his cell attendant was sent to a camp near Murmansk.

After this sentence was served, the aging bishop spent only two years in freedom. Again he was arrested. At first he was sent to the Yaroslav prison, and then to the Butyrsky prison in Moscow. After eight months of incarceration, he spent five years in exile in the Krasnoyarsk region in the village of Birilyussy.

On July 31, 1945, the Saint reposed. In his will, he had stipulated that he wished for his remains to be returned to his native city, but in those years, such a thing was impossible. However, on October 5/18, 1985, his relics were found and translated to Moscow. In June of 1993, they were translated to the Convent of the Holy Entrance into the Temple in the city of Ivanovsk.

August 20/September 2 of 1982, Saint Basil was added to the list of the Saints of the Russian Orthodox Church. The "Conversations on the Gospel of St. Mark" of Saint Basil, published recently for the first time, were entered into the golden collection of Russian Christian literature. The relics of the Saint serve as a source of spiritual comfort and of healing for the bodily ailments of many of the faithful.

More about the Saint
Saint Basil of Kineshma is the patron saint of this blog. He was not only an Orthodox Christian Scoutmaster, but also was a Deacon, Presbyter, then Bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church in a time of great persecution. For many years I attended, and was the Deacon for an Orthodox Christian Church named for Saint Basil of Kineshma, so I have a special fondness for him. You can learn even more about this great saint in the spectacular book, "Saint Basil, Bishop of Kineshma, A Guiding Light" by the wonderful Nikodemos Orthodox Publishing Society.

Troparion to the Saint, Tone 5
O new confessor of the Church of Russia, imitator of the labors of the apostles, fervent preacher of the Orthodox Faith, inspired interpreter of the Scriptures, who didst endure banishment, prison and tribulation at the hands of the ungodly, O Basil our father, thou royal adornment: as thou standest now before the Holy Trinity, pray for thy homeland and for those who honor thy holy memory as is meet.

Kontakion to the Saint, Tone 3
We praise thy courage, O Basil, holy hierarch of Christ; we exalt the purity of thy faith, and marvel at thy gift of eloquence: for thou didst receive from heaven the divine grace to instruct and defend the flock of Christ.

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