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The Era of Fr Pavel Adelgeim

Five years have gone by since Fr. Pavel Adelgeim died a martyr’s death; he was both a teacher at SFI and a trustee of the Institute. Fr. Georgy shares his reminiscences of a man who one might easily call the conscience of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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During the final years of his life, Fr Pavel thought a great deal about integral communion in the church (sobornost). He gained an understanding of the mystery of the Church as brotherhood in Christ, brotherhood in the Holy Spirit, as the mystery of the Church of God and of the new and chosen nation of God. He literally began this journey toward the depths of church life when he was a tiny child. When small he found himself in the community headed by Sevastyan Karagandinsky, who is now recognised as a new confessor of the Orthodox faith. Father Pavel knew what the fellowship of a true church community is, when people who are truly holy stand at the community’s head. 

I saw that Fr. Pavel was very close to our Transfigurtion Brotherhood in his spirit and in terms of who his teachers were. This applies to all of his “church roots”, including the communities of Fr. Alexey and Fr. Sergei Mechov, those who came out of the Alexander Nevsky Brotherhood, and Vladyka Yermogen Golubyov, who ordained Fr. Pavel. All of these people were like family to us, too – very close, and very important to us. It is no coincidence that our Institute is now studying the very times during which the Diocese of Tashkent became the spiritual nerve-centre of the Russian church – a fact about which official church historians are, it seems, unlikely to speak about… at least for the foreseeable future. Spiritual nerve-centres aren’t determined by rank or formal hierarchy. God wants for himself to draw out and reward those, who are closest to him. 

Father Pavel and I were brought together by God in the 1970’s. He was being published by Nikita Struve in the Journal (Vestnik) of the Russian Student Christian Movement, which, at that time, I was reading cover to cover. When I learned that one of the catechumens from my group in 1975 was going to be in Pskov, I asked if he could try to get as close to Father Pavel as possible. Already at that time, Father Pavel was well known as a confessor of the faith, and as a person who internally fights against any force which is against the church. He kept his dignity under any and all conditions, including under incarceration, despite all the danger, attempts on his life, and other losses. 

Father Pavel became a member of our Board of Directors just a few years before his death as a martyr. He was a well-tested man, and we wanted to be as close to him as possible. Perhaps he was unaware of some of the nuances of theology, philosophy and history, but his “golden reserve”, his spiritual weight and authority, were preserved by his holy life. God gave him a path to which he remained faithful, and this was the main criterion for us. As I said several years ago, we learned later than we might have wished, that our time was the “time of Father Pavel Adelgeim”. We knew that he was a holy man, that he was a martyr, a vessel of God’s grace. And now all that remains is for us to repeat that we live in the era of Father Pavel. 

Just as all the members of our SFI Board, he participated in conferences at every chance he had. Some people were even a bit scared of his in-some-way prophetic speeches…that he would become the cause of sharp criticism of the Institute from outside sources. Nevertheless, we always invited Fr. Pavel, and he always set the tone. His words were always vigorous, full of life, and extremely significant. He was also a wonderful teacher. His course on church law was invaluable in our time. He was always well prepared for his lectures, always updated them. I know that in the year of his death he was significantly reworking his course. 

In losing Fr. Pavel, we have lost a strong and radiant witness to the God’s truth and to reality itself. We always knew that he wasn’t simply a confessor to the faith in the formal sense – he spent time in prison, lost a leg, and suffered a great deal. And he is a confessor in the full and authentic sense of that word – as a martyr and a witness to the faith. It was already possible to speak about this while he was still alive, though we tried to avoid such lofty language, given that it is not usual to speak in such a fashion about those who are still alive. Having gone through everything, Fr. Pavel himself became like an image of the Church. In him, the gift of love, faith, hope, freedom and truth gave off its scent! 

About a year before his death, I asked Fr Pavel if he would join our Transfiguration Brotherhood. At this, he immediately asked me, “what would be required of me? What would I have to do in order to join?” It was a hard question for me. I knew of Father Pavel’s life. I saw clearly that he was walking according to his calling and giving all of his service to God. What can one ask of a holy man? You can only help him, and learn from him. Therefore I answered him by saying, “Father Pavel, nothing at all is required of you. Do what you are doing, and we will help you.” As I understood afterwards, this answer wasn’t satisfactory to Father Pavel. Half a year went by and I still had no answer from Fr Pavel. In February, I asked him if he had an answer to my question… and then we had a more detailed discussion about what our brotherhood does and how it relates from all sides to Father Pavel’s own service. It was after this discussion that he said, “Yes, I’d like to join the Transfiguration Brotherhood.” 

And thus, just has he had begun to feel real support from our brotherhood, great joy and additional strength in himself, at this point his evil fate caught up to him, in every way personified in specific people and particular powers. Insofar as it is possible to judge, Father Pavel is the most recent new martyr of our church, a holy martyr. He was murdered for his faith, for the truth of Christ, and for the Church. And it is impossible to believe that five years have already passed since his death. We – those who knew him and were close to him – probably feel that he hasn’t entirely left us, nor that we have left him. Such is the bond of love, trust and hope, which I believe will never be broken. 

Source: Stol Media Project

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