What was happening the day of the attack against the Church of the Archangel Michael in Grozny? There was just another service going on, but there was a lot planned due to inner events that the enemy could not tolerate.
Fr. Sergei Abasov, the rector of the church, who was serving a polyeleos1 when the terrorists tried to rush into the church, speaks about that day…
It was the day of the Baptism of one of the police officers
I baptized one of the wounded police officers on Saturday, when the attack against the church occurred, although it was later, in the hospital—the servant of God Vladimir. Of course, immediately after Holy Baptism, he communed of the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
Remarkably, the day before, the servant of God Vladimir didn’t eat anything. The fact is that the police officers were preparing to receive the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and it was those who were preparing for Baptism who survived. We had agreed that the Baptism would take place after the evening service.
I celebrated the small rite of Baptism over Vladimir in the hospital. The newly-baptized said that he would definitely return to the church so the rite could be completed in full. He noted that he was born again twice that day: He survived the shooting, and he received the long-awaited Baptism.
The second wounded man was taken in for a difficult operation—I think we’ll baptize him in the next two or three days. His life is no longer in danger. I couldn’t speak with you right away, because right when you called, their commander came to tell me how they were feeling.
Of the law enforcement officers who were killed, Vladimir Gorskov was baptized, but Kairat Rakhmetov was a Muslim, as far as I know.
All of the police officers are wonderful people. I spoke warmly with all of them; we would drink tea and talk. They’re all very kindhearted. They always helped everyone with everything. When they send us a group of police to be on duty, usually one of them immediately comes up and asks, “When can I confess and commune?”
And they explain, “We have such busy jobs, we can never get away to church, but here the Lord Himself has granted me to serve right here at a church! Batushka, how I want to finally confess and commune!”
And the others, as a rule, looking at their colleague, start listening to the words of the services and watching the parishioners, who, like all people, might come to church gloomy and aggravated by various difficulties and troubles in life, but they come out after the service peaceful, and simply happy!
So, the police officers watch, they listen, and then they start asking me things as they come to or from the services. I give them Church books. Sometimes we read and discuss them together over tea in the trapeza. Then they stop you again and ask you about something they’ve read.
And I saw that Vladimir Gorskov, who was killed, would come to church. As a rule, they were on duty on the territory around the church during the services, but I would see him in church when he was off work.
Two of his colleagues had just decided to get baptized. They’d already gotten their crosses. They asked me, “What’s the best time?”
“Let’s do it Saturday after the evening service. We’ll close the gates so you won’t have to be on patrol, and we’ll celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.”
They were glad, and awaited the event with trembling.
The service came, the polyeleos started … and the shots rang out. Two of the police officers were immediately shot and killed.
“I understand everything,” one of the officers who survived said to me after the incident, “except, why were our guys, serving at this God-protected place, on the territory of the church, killed?!”
“The Lord called them to Himself on this holy place, while they were fulfilling their duties: Protecting others, they laid down their lives for their friends, according to the commandment (Jn. 15:13). There is no greater love than this…
But the enemy fights where he is opposed: He physically attacks where he is spiritually struck, and deprives people of strength in order to kill their souls.
Arthur-Artemy died prayer rope in hand
The terrorists were geared up to massacre everyone in the church. That’s why they were trying to get inside. The killers mortally wounded one of our parishioners in the heart before we managed to shut the church doors.
In the world he was named Arthur, and in Baptism—Artemy. He was from Uzbekistan. He said he came to Grozny to look for his children. He didn’t tell us anything else about himself.
He would sit in church all day, reading Sacred Scripture and praying on his prayer rope. His prayer rope was in his hand when he was killed. He departed to the Lord with the name of Christ on his lips. He had confessed. As far as I remember, he last communed on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord.
Of course, the parishioners are sorrowful about what happened. Someone is itching to destroy the peace established in our land.
“We survived the first and second military campaigns—and we won’t be intimidated,” they say.
The terrorists are only trying to sow fear and panic, but the Lord—it’s just obvious—does not leave us, but strengthens us. He takes to Himself those who will be rewarded with eternal mercy for a martyr’s death.
We are all collectively praying for those killed. Archbishop Varlaam of Makhachkala and Grozny came to the church here on Sunday and celebrated the Liturgy. Many people gathered in the church, all intimidation from the enemy notwithstanding! He read special litanies for the repose of those killed and also for the health of the wounded. We are all praying for the families of those who suffered. We would be grateful for the prayerful support of all who are reading these lines.
Тomorrow, on their third day,2 Vladyka is coming here to the Church of the Archangel Michael again and will serve a panikhida, and in the evening we’ll serve the All-Night Vigil.
The murdered police officers, Vladimir Gorskov and Kairat Rakhmetov, who were assigned here, have already been sent home, to the Saratov Province. They’ll be buried there. We’ll bury the murdered parishioner Artemy in Grozny. He came here to look for his children. Perhaps, by the prayers of the faithful, his children will find him here. And, having learned how he died—may God grant that they all meet together someday in eternity.
Fedor Napolnikov finally communed at this service
This day was marked by other signs. I am certain: It’s not that terrorists choose their victims, but that the Lord chooses His martyrs!
Dr. Fedor Napolnikov was also injured during the attack. He heads the department of pediatric surgery and urology of the Gudermes Regional Hospital. This is a man who has devoted his entire life to helping others.
A week before the incident, we began to talk a lot; he was clearly reaching out for the grace of the Sacraments of the Church. He asked me about confession and Communion. He wanted to prepare himself as best he could. I remember, he came to church on the eve of the tragedy and specifically found me. I looked at him, and he had some inexplicable joy on his face; he was all aglow. We read in the ancient martyrologies that that’s how people remembered the martyrs who went to suffer for Christ. The martyrs already knew what they were headed for, but the servant of God Fedor simply told me then that he wanted to confess and commune as soon as possible!
“When can we do it?” he asked.
On Ascension, it turned out that he hadn’t kept the fasting days, and although I told him, “Nevertheless, it’s a feast… You can commune,” he nevertheless wanted to prepare before Communion. Then we decided that he would fast Friday and Saturday in order to commune at Liturgy on Sunday.
“If, of course, you want, we’ll have Vigil again on Monday, and then Liturgy for St. Nicholas…” I mentioned, hinting.
“No, no, I’ll be at the service this Saturday so I don’t put off communing anymore,” he replied, and, catching himself, he asked to clarify: “May I?”
“God blesses,” I answered.
He came to church before anyone else on Saturday. He was already going from icon to icon praying a half-hour before the service. When I came out for the polyeleos and was getting ready for the anointing after reading the Gospel, I remember he was standing in the center of the church… I had only managed to anoint myself when I heard the gunshots in the yard.
My matushka immediately ran out of the church, because just minutes before our children had begged to run home… Our house is next to the church. The terrorists could already be seen through the open doors of the church. They were headed straight for the church. I shouted for the doors to be closed. Those nearby rushed to close them, although we had to hold them all together since the lock is not very strong. The bandits were already pressing on the doors outside, trying to break them down. Since there was several of them, one of them rushed towards the windows, breaking them and shooting through the glass. As I was buttressing the central doors, the servant of God Fedor came up to me and said, “Father, let me hold them. Go check the other doors.”
I went to check the side door into the altar, and I couldn’t help but look out one of the already-broken windows along the way. I saw that three of my children had come running out of the house at the sound of the shots. I shouted to them through the window to return home. They heard my voice and immediately obeyed. Perhaps the attackers simply didn’t notice them. But they shot towards my matushka who was running after the children.
She managed to run into the trapeza. Of course I was praying at that moment like never before! And I remembered that one of the passages leads to the basement, and it is for us a sacred place—we served Liturgy there during the Chechen campaigns. Then the house was destroyed, but the basement remained. We continued serving molebens there. A new trapeza was built over this basement in peaceful times. Recent events flashed before my eyes: I remembered how I myself had locked the door to the trapeza from the other side… Thank God!—because one of the terrorists, seeing a woman running through the yard looking for shelter there, tried to turn the knob several times to get in there. Several slugs were found there later. The whole wall and door were filled with bullet holes. When the bandit finally burst in, Matushka had already managed to hide under the steps leading to the basement.
Anyway, the terrorists focused their main efforts on trying to get into the church. They broke the windows to throw bottles with incendiary mixes and smoke grenades through. They shot the windows, and they shot the front doors.
Dr. Fedor suffered several gunshot wounds. Bullets pierced his lungs, arm, and leg. Right there, at the front door, which he could no longer hold (and they shot again behind it), I dropped to my knees over him, covered him with my stole, read the prayer of absolution, and communed him with the reserve Gifts. He so wanted to commune! We didn’t know then who was going to live and who was going to die…
His wound was such that had one of our younger parishioners not managed to call for police reinforcements, and had they not hurried to neutralize the terrorists in time, or if the ambulance had been delayed, then he couldn’t have been saved. It was a question of minutes. But the Lord arranged everything so that the man who yearned for His Holy Mysteries survived.
They managed to operate on the communicant Fedor. The doctors say his condition is stable now.
Miracles, manifested for the strengthening of faith
Before my eyes, a bullet penetrated the door and flew through the whole church, hitting the icon of the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae. Then another bullet hit the same icon. But no one understands how it could have happened: The bullet that hit the church depicted on the icon got lodged there, damaging the paint, but the bullet that landed on the Archangel Michael left practically no trace; it ricocheted. The archangel was unharmed!
Another one of the bullets flew into the church store and, grazing an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos (unfortunately, due to the stress, I can’t say right now if it was the Iveron or Seven Sorrows icon), broke the glass of the kiot, and, passing along the edge of the frame, didn’t damage the image itself!
Such miracles for the strengthening of faith were manifested to us all.