"I did everything that a religiously believing person should do": the life journey of the hieromartyr John Zasedatelev

Hieromartyr John Zasedatelev

The future holy new martyr Ioann Ioannovich Zasedatelev was born on January 1, 1864 in the village of Akatnaya Maza, Khvalynsky county, Saratov province, into a peasant family. They had two horses, a cow and three sheep in their household, and the family was considered poor. The Zasedatelevs had four tithes of land for sowing. To help his father feed the family, Ivan from childhood was hired as a laborer by wealthy peasants. Ivan's parents were Orthodox and baptized him in the Orthodox Church. But in 1876 Ivan Zasedatelev Sr., "having no proper notions of the Church or the schism, began to go to the schismatics for service," only because the Old Believers, as it seemed to him, "serve exhaustively, which they boast before the Orthodox and seduce them." Following his father's example, the whole Zasedatelev family joined the "Austrian sect" - this was the name given to the Belo-Belokrinitsa Old Believers before the revolution.

When Ivan was fifteen years old, Zasedatelev Sr., wishing to teach him church literacy and singing, sent his son to an Old Believer monastery located on the Cheremshan River in Khvalynsky county. In the monastery he was given a monastic cell, where he lived during his studies. Ivan's first doubts about the truth of the Belokrinitsa concord originated in the Cheremshan monastery. One of the main signs of the true Church was apostolic succession and continuity of the episcopate, but in the history of Old Believers there was a period of 180 years when they had no Orthodox bishops.

Apparently, Ivan's parents also had doubts about their religious choice. When their son returned from Cheremshan in 1883, when he reached his eighteenth birthday, they married him to Ksenia Eliseevna, the daughter of an Orthodox peasant. Trying to resolve his doubts, Ivan Zasedatelev read much Old Believer books and the works of Orthodox missionaries. Gradually he came to the conclusion that "the Greek-Russian Church in the doctrine of the faith does not err in the slightest". He baptized his first daughter in the Orthodox Church. As the future martyr himself wrote about it: "And then my heart began to grow toward the Greek-Russian Church, and I completely abandoned the schismatic wisdom about it; I began to say to my parent: 'Father, we must abandon the Austrian false hierarchy, and should enter the true Church of God!'" But his father asked him to "wait" a little longer, and Ivan continued to go to the Old Believer prayer room only out of his son's obedience to his parent.

Ivan's conversion from schism was greatly influenced by a local missionary priest, Elpidifor Vladykin, who engaged him as a participant in theological disputations with the famous Old Believer apologist Kliment Peretrukhin: "Peretrukhin's conversations only helped me to be even more convinced that the Old Believers do not constitute the Church of Christ, and thereby pointed the way to the Orthodox Greek-Russian Church, the true Church of Christ, which is the true Church of Christ, which in nothing has not damaged the dogmas of faith, which has a lawful hierarchy, which is continuously and successively drawn from the Apostles themselves, and all the saving, God-established Sacraments." Since Ivan Zasedatelev's parents continued to keep their son in Old Believership, he explicitly stated that: "it is more fitting to listen to God, that he could no longer be in schism and joined the Holy Church". Moreover, having preserved his reverent attitude to the Old Russian liturgical tradition, the future martyr wished to return to the bosom of the Orthodox Church on the terms of Edinoverie. This took place in 1885.

But even after Ivan's conversion to Orthodoxy, the fate of his relatives never ceased to worry him: "Even before that, especially when joining the Church, I never ceased to persuade my parents to abandon the newly established Austrian hierarchy and with it the whole pernicious schism, and to come with repentance to the holy catholic Church. This took place in 1885, and soon afterward he succeeded in persuading both his father and brother to join the Church on the terms of Edinoverie, as he himself had done. From that time began his missionary work, which he never abandoned until the end of his life.

In Akatnaya Maza, the young man joined a missionary circle organized in the village by the priest Elpidifor Vladykin to counteract the Old Believer schism. To obtain systematic theological knowledge, as an adult, Ivan Zasedatelev studied at the three-year missionary anti-schismatic Cyril and Methodius school at the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross in the city of Saratov. As Ivan Zasedatelev himself later recalled, he "became close to the missionaries, traveled with them to talk to the Old Believers. Most of all I had connections with the missionary Deacon Karmanov, with whom I often had to travel to disputes with the Old Believers, our goal was to convert them to the Orthodox faith". Soon Ivan Ivanovich received personal permission from the Saratov bishop Abrahamy (Letnitsky) to conduct discussions with the Old Believers on his own.

Apparently, Ivan Zasedatelev's active and successful missionary work among the Old Believers attracted the attention of Bishop Gury (Burtasovsky) of Samara and Stavropol, who did much for the development of Edinoverie in the Samara diocese, which until 1927 included the present-day Saratov Volga region. He was one of the first Russian archpastors to come forward with the initiative to call Edinovertsy Orthodox Old Believers, recognizing the identity and equivalence of the "old" and "new" rites. Vladyka Gurii willingly served according to the old rite, strictly observing the statutes and customs of the old rite, and involved the parish priests of his diocese in counteracting the schism.

In the autumn of 1894 in the district town of Nikolaevsk, Samara province (now the town of Pugachev, Saratov region) was laid, and in May 1895 was consecrated by His Eminence Guriy Edinoverie church in honor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church was located at the corner of Kazanskaya and Moskovskaya Streets (now K. Marx and M. Gorky). Apparently, in the clergy of the Samara diocese was not found at that time a candidate for the priestly degree, which would be accepted by the parish, and with the blessing of Bishop Nicholas (Nalimov) of Saratov and Tsaritsyn, Ivan Zasedatelev moved to the Samara diocese. Apparently, the talented missionary was transferred precisely with the prospect of ordination as a monastic priest. The future priest received a recommendation for ordination from Tikhon (Obolensky), archimandrite of the Old Ritualist Transfiguration Monastery near the town of Nikolaevsk. It is likely that the future martyr was prepared for the priestly ministry in the missionary school organized at the monastery.

On October 13, 1896, Bishop Gury (Burtasovsky) ordained John Zasedatelev to the rank of a deacon, and the next day he performed the priestly ordination over him. He served 37 years in the Nativity of the Theotokos Edinoverie Church of the town of Nikolaevsk. In addition to his pastoral duties, Father John was the head of the parochial school and God's law-teacher at the third men's school in Nikolaevsk. In addition, he served as a district missionary, spending much of his time traveling through the surrounding villages and hamlets. Every Sunday he held interviews with Old Believers in his church, and, for example, only in the first half of 1903 he converted 18 people from the schism to Edinoverie. For his preaching activities among the Old Believers, priest John Zasedatelev repeatedly received encouragements and awards from the diocesan authorities. In 1912, Father John took part in the First All-Russian Congress of Orthodox Old Believers (Edinovertsy), held in St. Petersburg.

Father John received neither school nor seminary education, and he called himself a self-taught scholar. The missionary made up for his lack of systematic education by his constant hunger for new knowledge, his outstanding ability to learn, his reading skills, and his rare theological erudition. In addition to oral preaching, Father John was also engaged in ecclesiastical publicity: in 1910 St. John's booklet "Two Conversations with Baptists", devoted to the question of the Mystery of baptism, went out of print. He is known to have authored works in defense of the canonization of the Monk Seraphim of Sarov and the Orthodox veneration of holy relics.

When the time of persecution came during the Soviet era, Father John did not abandon his educational labors. In the early years of Soviet power he took part in open disputations with members of the League of Militant Atheists. However, on January 24, 1929, such disputations were banned by a secret circular of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks (b) as "a form of propaganda of religion". As St. John himself would later say under interrogation, the authorities "forbade religious teaching outside the church." Apparently, this prohibition served as an incentive for him to begin a written polemic with godlessness. He began to compose theological apologetic treatises. In this way he counteracted state atheism, to which it was no longer possible to oppose legally out loud.

From June to October 1932 St. John served in the village of Sulak, Balakovsky district (now in Krasnopartizansky district), Saratov region. He resided in this village until February, 1933. There is information that the transfer of Fr. John to Sulak was caused by the closure of the Edinoverie Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in the town of Nikolaevsk, to the service of which the priest-martyr devoted almost half of his life. In February, 1933, priest John was transferred to Korneevka, Pugachevsky district; he served in the Church of the Intercession and lived in the same village. This village was known for the fact that it was there that on May 23, 1917 the apparition of the Spanish Icon of the Mother of God and the icon of the Great Martyr Panteleimon took place, which soon became famous for numerous miracles.

On September 7, 1934, the priest-martyr was arrested by the Pugachev Regional Department of the NKVD in the case of "anti-Soviet organization among churchmen". In the ruling for the arrest of I.I. Zasedatelev it was stated that he was engaged in composing theological literature of "counter-revolutionary" content and "its illegal distribution among citizens". Father John did not deny his polemics with atheism, and for this purpose he wrote several works "Genealogy of Man", "The World Flood", "Brain, Soul and Spirit", "On the Soul" and others, the manuscripts of which were confiscated from him at his arrest: "In my manuscripts I proved that the Marxist worldview is not correct, in particular I proved the wrongness of the teachings of Engels, Lenin. These proofs I gave in most of my manuscripts, having set myself the task of actively defending religious science, fighting against materialistic science. My goal was as follows: to prove the incorrectness of the Marxist doctrine and, in particular, the incorrectness of the scientific works of Engels and Lenin, to prove the correctness of the biblical doctrine."

Ivan Ivanovich Zasedatelev (1867 - 1942)

During interrogations, he repeatedly confirmed his position and said so directly: "I set myself the goal of fighting for religion, in particular, I fought against the anti-religious propaganda carried out by the Soviets, by distributing my literature, which was directed against the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, thus I set myself the goal of not allowing religion to die. <...> I consider it my duty to confess openly that I do not approve of the policy of the Soviet government towards religion, which fights against it, carries out anti-religious propaganda, I consider religion to be a private matter...." One of the witnesses testified that Father John in conversation with him "mentioned the name of the scientist Darwin, according to whose teachings man came from an ape. Zasedatelev called this doctrine wrong and proved that man was created by God". At the same time, the priest never called on believers to fight against the state system. One of the old parishioners testified to this at one of the interrogations, saying the following: "I have known Zasedatelev for forty years as a priest of our Edinoverie church. Zasedatelev said that he believed in God and would never give up his faith. He said that God had sent such a harsh power for our sins and that it was impossible to grumble against the power, that all power was from God".

On March 17, 1935, Father Ioann was sentenced to exile to Kazakhstan for three years by the Special Council of the NKVD of the USSR. In 1937 the Church of the Intercession in the village of Korneevka was closed and then destroyed. Father John served the term of exile in full, but was not released and more than a year was in exile until February 13, 1939 and then returned to the city of Pugachev. By this time there were no more functioning churches in the town, and the priest John Zasedatelev, who had just returned from exile, performed secret baptisms of children in their homes at the invitation of the believers. Moreover, the new martyr applied to the Pugachev City Council for permission to open a prayer house, but he was refused. It is very likely that St. John was then trying to achieve the opening of the Edinoverie Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God. At home, Fr. John kept the antimins and church utensils necessary for the Liturgy. However, April 2, 1941 the executive committee of the Pugachev City Council "promptly" makes a decision, according to which the building was recognized as dilapidated and was subject to demolition. The destruction of the church itself lasted for several years, and now this place is the dormitory of the Pugachev Hydromeliorative Technical School.

For the second time Father John was arrested on September 18, 1941 at the age of 77. During the investigation he was kept in Pugachev prison No. 2. He was accused of "church propaganda and counter-revolutionary agitation aimed at discrediting the leadership of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks (b) and the Soviet Government" In the denunciation against Father Ioann as evidence of "hatred and anger toward the Soviet government" his words were quoted: "I have remained as strong as I was, I persuade many people with my teaching - the preaching of God - against the unbelieving Communists, not only the elderly listen to me, but through me the word of God is perceived by the youth, and I will not give up my cause." The denunciation noted that, in addition to oral preaching ("conducted church propaganda"), the new martyr continued to "write works in defense of religion." In the order of arrest, the charge was formulated as follows: "Being a person hostile to the Soviet power, conducts among the surrounding population, spreads anti-Soviet slander about the living conditions of the workers of the Soviet Union and expresses defeatist sentiments against the Soviet power".

The new martyr John behaved with courageous humility during interrogations: "I did everything that a religiously believing person is supposed to do." He denied accusations of anti-Soviet activity and refused to give the names of those believers in whose families he administered the Sacrament of Baptism. He called his preaching activity directed against materialistic atheism his duty as a believer: "For 20 years I have studied the teachings of Darwin, studied materialism, and I do not agree with the teachings of the latter. <...> After reading all this literature, I became even more convinced that everything was created by God, man was created by God, he has a spirit and a soul. I always and everywhere said and say: I believe in God, I will not deviate from God. I have never grumbled against authority, because it is sinful, all authority is given from God".

To all appearances, the harsh verdict against Father John and the priest Fyodor Sumin, who was on the same trial with him, was predetermined in advance. It is noteworthy that the lawyer of the Pugachev Legal Consultation was assigned to handle the case on the day of its consideration. Therefore it is not surprising that the lawyer, instead of the actions necessary in such cases to defend the accused, limited himself to uttering a single formal phrase: "I ask the defendants Zasedatelev and Sumin to pass a fair sentence". According to the verdict of the Saratov Regional Court of December 21, 1941, Priest John Zasedatelev was sentenced to capital punishment - firing squad, but after filing an appeal on March 14, 1942, the Judicial Board of Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court of the USSR changed the sentence to imprisonment for 10 years in correctional labor camps and subsequent loss of rights for five years.

In essence, it was a postponed death sentence for the elderly priest. Priest Ioann Zasedatelev was sent to the Karaganda camp, where he arrived on October 25, 1942, and three days later, on October 29, the 78-year-old martyr died of right-sided pneumonia and exhaustion at the Karabas station of the KarLAG, located eight kilometers from the town of Abay in the Karaganda region.

By resolutions of the Presidium of the Saratov Regional Court of October 10, 1988 and the Prosecutor's Office of the Saratov Region on March 24, 1994 Zasedatelev I.I. was rehabilitated. On August 20, 2000, at the conclusion of the Jubilee Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, priest John Zasedatelev was numbered among the saints for Church-wide veneration in the Synaxis of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. On December 29, 2010, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Priest-Martyr Ioann was included in the list of the Synaxis of the Saratov Saints. The saint is commemorated on October 16 (29).





Materials of the article: Priest Maxim Plyakin and Valery Teplov "I believe in God, I will not depart from God" https://map.mefodiy-kirill-hram.ru/person.php?id=2 were used.

The author would like to thank Priest Maxim Plyakin (Saratov) for his help in working on this article.


Pavel Solovyev

Balakovskie Eparchial Vedomosti" newspaper, No. 9 (9), October 2023.

Sat, 11/18/2023 - 09:16
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