St. Lavrentiy of Chernihiv (1868-1950)

17 January 2011, 18:17 | Religious-digest | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Fr. Ihor KUTASH

Ukrainian Orthodoxy

January 19 (which is January 6 on the Julian Calendar), the Feast of Theophany, marks the 61st anniversary of the repose of a Ukrainian saint of modern times, the Venerable Lavrentiy of Chernihiv. During my visit to Chernihiv in the summer of 2006 I had heard of this remarkable man who kept the Faith as a Monk in the some of the most difficult days that the people of Ukraine have ever known. He is much revered in this district of Ukraine which has given the Church many Saints.

St. Lavrentiy was born Luka Yevseviyevych Proskura, one of the youngest of seven children, in the village of Kyryls’ke in the oblast’ of Chernihiv. Coincidentally, the surname of this Man of the Church comes from the Ukrainian word “proskurka”, from the Greek “prosphora”, the Bread upon which the Eucharist is celebrated and which is given to the faithful after Divine Liturgy. Luka’s father died when he was still quite young and his mother was ill a good deal of the time. It often fell upon young Luka to do the work of both parents.

He loved to sing in Church and became the choir director at an unusually young age. After the repose of his mother he fulfilled his dream of entering a monastery, the Rykhla Monastery, at the age of 23. His skills and zeal were noted by the Archbishop of Chernihiv, Anthony, who directed that he be transferred to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Chernihiv. He was ordained a Hieromonk (a monastic Priest) in 1895. He was quite soon made the Abbot of the Monastery.

Lavrenity served faithfully and joyfully. His face radiated the quiet joy and love for people which came from his life of prayer. He had started to praying the Jesus prayer even before becoming a Monk and always recommended it to every one, sometimes quite sternly.

The rule of the Bolsheviks brought severe persecution to the Church. In 1930 the Monastery was closed “for repairs” and Fr. Lavrentiy found shelter within the home of a member of the Church faithful. He continued his life of prayer and stayed the course until during the Second World War when it again became possible to organize monastic life. He then founded two monasteries for women.

During the severe Communist persecution he had been active in the catacomb Church. In the 1940’s official Orthodox Church life in Ukraine resumed under the spiritual jurisdiction of Bishop Symon (Ivanivs’kyy) of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Poland. Fr. Lavrentiy immediately recognized his spiritual authority. When the Communists returned, they pressured the Church of Ukraine to renounce this authority and return under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow. Some, of course, chose to return to the catacombs. The communities of the former catacomb Church continue today under the leadership of a number of hierarchs, some of whom are in communion with each other while eschewing the Patriarchate whose leaders they continue to regard with great suspicion as being unrepentant of their past collaboration with the militantly atheistic state – and possible an all too subservient to the current secular rulers.

Under Stalin the Church had been formally re-instated but this certainly did not mean the end of persecution. Instead the refined persecution of the Church having to become a servant of the state was intensified. Fr. Lavrentiy saw all this and his discourse and counsels became very apocalyptic. He foretold the outward restoration of the Church in all its splendor, but warned that this would only be so it could serve “the Antichrist”.

When Fr. Lavrentiy began to be quite ill, he did not see this as a hardship for he firmly believed that it was through tests and tribulations that one could serve God and fulfill his vocation. He reposed in the Lord, as he had foretold, on the Feast of Theophany. He had prepared a wooden coffin for himself and after his repose services were served over it for many days. He had requested that his body be interred in the cemetery with the rest of the people. Instead it was interred in a specially prepared place in the Monastery.

Fr. Lavrentiy was and continues to be particularly venerated by the Orthodox of the former catacomb Church. Nonetheless he also found his place among those canonized by the official Church in 1993.
Fr. Lavrentiy’s words cited above were directed to a young man fearful of what would become of him in the battles of the Second World War. The man always recalled those words and was fearless in helping his comrades in the thick of battle. He credits the Saint’s blessing as a chief factor in his having survived the war.
The humble man of God, Fr. Lavrentiy, would often weep as he prayed and spoke of the hard times which the people would endure and sighed at the thought of so many souls in danger of perishing. We pray that his tears and prayers might continue to guide the Church to follow the path of the Saviour Who came to us and took the sins of the world upon Himself for the salvation of all.

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    • velovs@ukr.net | 21 October 2017, 11:18

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