Monday, November 11, 2013

The New-Martyr Pavel of the Russian Far East

1886 saw a terrible cholera epidemic in the city of Kolyvan, Siberia when young Pavel (Paul) Lasareff was 6 years old. Days passed while the family watched wagons carrying many bodies to be buried. From the Orthodox Church, the sound of the mournful bells rang out day after day. On Trinity Sunday, young Pavel clung to his mother in fear, and that evening, he refused to eat.
He went to bed, but there was for him only restless sleep, as there had been for days. In his bedroom, he awakened to see his icon of the Virgin Mary illuminated by the hanging icon lamp. He could think of nothing else but the cholera epidemic and the endless bodies he had seen taken away. He jumped out of bed, knelt on the floor, and extended his hands toward the image of the Holy Mother. He prayed, imploring her help and salvation from the terrible death around him. He prostrated himself on the floor and then grew calm in silent supplication. “Save my beloved mother, father, brothers and sister; save our dear nanny and the whole city.”
Suddenly, he sensed a light, straightened up and stood on his knees. The amazed child fearfully looked at an unusual miraculous appearance. “Standing in place of the silver-clad icon, dressed in a light blue garment and bathed in beams of brilliant light, was the Holy Virgin Mary! “O Queen of Heaven. O most Holy Mother of God save us!” Pavel clearly remembers whispering this prayer with tears running down his cheeks, and he heard her say, “Child, your and others’ prayers have been heard by Almighty God. Do not be afraid and tell your mother that the epidemic of cholera will stop on Nikolaievsk Street.” “Thanks be to God,” he whispered, and the divine appearance disappeared.
This incident began the life of Pavel Lasareff. After a few days the epidemic stopped precisely at the spot that the Virgin Mary had predicted (barely two blocks from his house), and from that point on Pavel faithfully followed Christ. He sang in the church choir, became well educated, obtaining a university degree, served in the Russo-Japanese War, married Claudia Sintsoff; and in 1916 was ordained into the priesthood of the Orthodox Church. All the while he remained mindful of the compassion shown throughout his life by the Virgin Mary. Father Pavel and his wife, Matushka Claudia, raised four children: Eugene, Leon, Barbara and Militina

Fr. Pavel & Mat. Claudia
But struggle marked the life of the priest’s family. Matushka Claudia became paralyzed on the left side of her body. Six months of medical attention proved to no avail. One night Fr. Pavel had a dream in which the Bishop who ordained him appeared and told him that the Holy Virgin Mother would soon visit, and that oil from the vigil lamp in the church was to be applied to the ailing parts of Claudia’s body. The visitation of the Virgin Mother came through the wonder-working icon of the Theotokos of Abalak, which was traveling from village to village. Again, the Virgin Mother took care of the family and Matushka Claudia was completely healed.
But soon the family was to experience the most horrible trial of all. 1918 brought the wave of the Russian Revolution across the land, and Fr. Pavel revealed to his Matushka that the time for martyrdom and death for Christ’s Church was approaching. He begged her to be courageous and to support him when the frightful hour would come. When Fr. Pavel was ordained, the Bishop prophesied to him that soon dark Satanic forces would persecute the Church. Before the Holy Gospel the Bishop asked if he was ready as a warrior of Christ’s Army not to betray the Temple of God. Fr. Pavel answered, “Yes!” The newly ordained Priest Pavel served in the Siberian village of Antonovka located in the Russian Far East (the closest major city was Vladivostok).

In the summer of 1918 severe drought plagued many parts of Russia. The villagers of Antonovka asked Fr. Pavel to serve a Moleben (Te Deum) service in the fields asking God in His mercy to send rain. Thousands of farmers formed a procession carrying the church banners, icons, and the Holy Gospel onto the fields after the Sunday Liturgy. Fr. Pavel prayed deeply and zealously while the villagers prostrated themselves in the grass. Suddenly lightning flashed followed by the violent roaring of Siberian thunder; then came a calm stillness along with mounting darkness. In the distance, the growing sound of heavy falling rain could be heard in the dense mass of the virgin Siberian forest. The people jumped up and began to run to the village. Only the priest, his eldest son, some banner carriers, and the choir remained until the end of the prayer service. Eugene, Fr. Pavel's oldest son, remembered, “Happy under the soaking rain, Father and I entered the main street of the village following the group of banner carriers.” The villagers joyfully lined up along the fences and crossed themselves, venerating the church banners as they passed by.

One day in early winter, 1918, Fr. Pavel solemnly came to the breakfast table and said in a very serious tone, “The bishop who ordained me appeared to me in a dream. He blessed me and put his bishop's stole (omofor) on my shoulders, then he pulled the sleeve off my arm from the elbow to my wrist. A blue line of vein stood out; along the vein six red round spots were marked. The bishop pointed to the six points and said, 'be ready to commit yourself into the hands of God: after six months the servants of Satan will kill you!'”
From this time forward Fr. Pavel became even more focused in the work given to him by God, and he would often show spontaneous affection for his wife and children.
He was overheard to tell his wife, “Do not be distressed nor be sorrowful; when it will be particularly painful, call to mind the dreadful suffering of the Most Holy Mother of God, Who witnessed the suffering on the Cross of Her beloved Son, of whose innocence She was aware.”
Fr. Pavel was a fearless defender of his flock. When asked to flee before the Communists he refused to abandon the church and the people entrusted to him.

After midnight in the dark early hours of June 7th, 1919, the eve of Holy Trinity Sunday (Pentecost), a group of nine armed Bolsheviks came to arrest Fr. Pavel. The Communist killers appeared at the home armed and with bayonets fixed. When his hour came he was calm. He made a last sign of the cross in front of his icon corner and kissed the central icon. The holy image of the Heavenly Queen heard the last prayer of Reverend Father Pavel. Before he was taken away he blessed and kissed his wife and children telling them, 'Pray to the Queen of Heaven, and she will help, guide and save you all.'
Fr. Pavel was taken to a school building in the neighboring village of Nikitovka, which was being used as the Bolshevik headquarters. Eugene rode with a delegation of villagers the next day to obtain Fr. Pavel's release, but the mission failed. He was sentenced to death because he refused to renounce Christ and make a public announcement that he had deceived the people about the existence of God. This was the last time Eugene saw and embraced his father. Fr. Pavel asked about Matushka Claudia and the other children, then in parting he said, “Tell Mama that I will come home tonight and be with you until the end of your lives.” By this he meant that he would be martyred that evening. When his father was taken away, Eugene covered his face while hot tears ran down his cheeks. Some of the Bolsheviks then forced Eugene to a window saying, “Look, open your eyes, you snakish breed to see how we punish lackeys of capitalistic bloodsuckers.” Outside the window stood a family friend, the Roman Catholic priest, Ignatius from the village of Rakovka in front of a firing squad. When Eugene tried to look away, one of the men burned his neck with his cigarette, and he fainted. He later learned that his father, along with the Catholic priest had been shot and their bodies taken somewhere and either burned or buried. Reverend Father Pavel had become one of the New Martyr’s of the Russian Communist Revolution, standing for his faith in Christ and His Church. He was martyred on the Feast of Pentecost,  May 20th/June 2nd, 1919.

That young son of Fr. Pavel, Eugene Lasareff-Mironoff, fled later to the United States as a grown man and became one of the outstanding choir directors of St. Michael’s Orthodox Church in Pueblo, Colorado. The icon of the New Martyr Pavel hangs in St. Michael’s today, a gift from Helen, Eugene’s wife. Both are buried in Imperial Cemetery in Pueblo. 

Troparion to New-Martyr Pavel, Tone 4-

O Holy new-martyr Pavel/
Faithful priest and servant of Christ/
Willingly didst thou shed thy blood for Him/
And in the midst of godless apostasy/
Thou wast unshaken in the Orthodox Faith/
Therefore entreat Christ our God/
That we may faithfully endure to the end//
And that our souls may be saved!

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