Hieromartyr Basil Sokolov. "To all who love and remember me!"

Soon after his wife's death, Fr. Basil was transferred to Moscow, to the church of St. Nicholas on Silver Lane, near the Arbat. Three children died, and he was left with two daughters and his son Boris. Boris finished the Moscow Theological Academy, but he did not become a priest, for the First World War began and he went to the front.

The Church of St. Nicholas "The Appeared", on Silver Lane, near the Arbat, Moscow. 19th Century photo. This church was destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The Church of St. Nicholas "The Appeared", on Silver Lane, near the Arbat, Moscow. 19th Century photo. This church was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.
    

In 1922, the soviet government, utilizing the famine along the Volga, launched a persecution of the Orthodox Church. GPU agents were sent here and there to summon chance people, passersby, or train passengers for conversation about the confiscation of church valuables, and often arrested people upon hearing an answer that did not agree with the agent's point of view. Increasing their activities in the churches, the GPU agents strove to hear all the sermons. What they did not understand they asked the parishioners, and made reports based on their answers. These reports often bore no relation to the truth, but by the time they had reached the sixth, secret department of the GPU, they no were longer subject to doubt or scrutiny.

On the fourth of March, Priest Christopher Nadezhdin of the Church of St. John the Soldier, in explaining the meaning of the coming Sunday—the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy—said that "Disobedience in the Church leads to disaster and God's wrath, as we can see from contemporary life … the people have so sullied themselves with sins that God's Judgment justly threatens in the form of this proposed confiscation of Church items, and in the fact that these items may not fall into the hands of the hungry…" The agent wrote the report in his own way.

When the commission for the confiscation of Church valuables came to the Church of the Appearance of St. Nicholas, Fr. Basil Sokolov asked them not to confiscate those items necessary for Divine services, for without them it is difficult to serve Communion. The commission categorically refused his request. The priest's heart was engulfed in bitterness and sorrow. We "must not grieve … over material loss," he said in a sermon, "especially since these things are designated to help the hungry. But parishioners cannot help but grieve over the fact that the confiscated church vessels may be turned into articles of domestic use… The situation of the faithful is now similar to that of the Babylonian captivity. Then the Jews turned to God in the hope that He would punish their captors for the evil they had wrought, and the parishioners may hope that God will also so punish those who have allowed these ecclesiastical valuables confiscated from the churches to be used for evil purposes."

The agent poorly heard this sermon and so turned to the archdeacon for specifics. The archdeacon did not ascribe any great significance to this, and related the sermon to him freely. The agent took it down as though he needed to do so in order to fulfill its instructions. Fr. Basil was arrested. Altogether fifty people were arrested and consigned to trial, including priests Christopher Nadezhdin, Alexander Zaorzersky, Hieromonk Macarius Telegin and layman Sergius Tikhomirov.

Fr. Basil was accused of giving a sermon in church on the 7th of April "on the confiscation of Church property... He called ... the confiscation theft, and the commission--bandits. At the end of his sermon, comparing the believers' situation with that of the Jews in Babylonian captivity ... he called upon the population to turn to God in prayer and to ask Him to wipe from the face of the earth those who conducted the confiscation, just as God once did to Babylon ... and this was expressed in the words he pronounced from the psalm `by the waters of Babylon' ... O daughter of Babylon thou wretched one, blessed is he who shall dash thy little ones against a rock."

Fr. Basil Sokolov conducted himself fearlessly and openly at trial. From prison he wrote to his natural and spiritual children:

"My dear children and all who love me! Your participation in providing me with various varieties deeply worries me. I see and feel your ardent heartfelt love. But restrain yourselves a little and do not spend money on packages of such expensive things as oranges. Do oranges matter to us prisoners? I prostrate myself before your love and pray to God that He grant you heavenly mercy for this!

Your deeply, deeply loving Archpriest V. Sokolov

To all who love me and my spiritual children!

I thank you with all my heart for your sympathy, which you have expressed toward me in the midst of my disastrous situation. By your prayers and your love may the Lord lighten the lot that is being prepared for me! May God also grant you all patience to endure the sorrows sent to you! Of course, it is a great sorrow for you to see both of your pastors on the block of the condemned. Do not lose hope. According to the sorrows of the day, the Lord shall grant you joy, which no one can take away from you.

Peace be to you all! May God bless you! Archpriest V. Sokolov

On May 8, 1922, the Tribunal pronounced its sentence: for their stance on the confiscation of sacred Church vessels, priests Christopher Nadezhdin, Alexander Zaorzersky, Hieromonk Macarius Telegin and layman Sergius Tikhomirov were condemned to the highest measure of punishment: execution.

*   *   *

The sentence was appealed, but in the end the Politburo confirmed Trotsky's proposal--to execute them. It was not immediately revealed to the convicts that the death sentence was confirmed, but Fr. Basil's heart already sensed his passing. He fell asleep only at morning. One day after another dragged on in death row--from the sentence to martyric end. From prison he wrote to his natural and spiritual children. These letters were written over the course of the two weeks preceding the executions of the priests sentenced to be shot, and are a priceless monument of Christian epistemology of latter times, proceeding from the pen of a great pastor and holy martyr. When the hieromartyr writes of his unworthiness, of his unworthy fulfillment of his pastoral duties, he writes as a man near to the Sun of Righteousness, Christ, in Whose light he sees by grace all the unworthiness of his inner life.

*   *   *

April 19. Fell asleep for a little while after a sleepless night, and I feel significantly better. True, my heart does not cease to ache, as if with the presentiment of disaster hanging over me, but the state of my organism is calm, even. Furthermore rumors are being spread (I think that they deliberately spread them to create a mood), good ones, suggesting that they may have already decided to commute our death sentences entirely, and exchange them for some other punishments. Whatever punishments they may be, one would undoubtedly prefer them to being shot, but it is hard to believe in such good intentions on the part of the judges. Why did they not have them before? Soon all will be known. The matter is probably already being reviewed, and a final sentence will not be slow in being enforced. Lord! What then? Could it really be time to part with this wide world? When the body becomes strong, the thirst for life increases. That is why, I think, the ascetics wore out their bodies and did not spare them, to weaken this vitality in them, to arouse a different thirst, a thirst for heavenly, spiritual life. These two thirsts cannot co-exist in a man's state of mind. Therefore a wise man does not allow an animal-physical sensual thirst within his body, but strives for the domination of the spiritual.

As for myself, I should say that spiritual thirst had not been my constant and resolute state also during my time prior to this. So it remains during these days so unique in nature, when the question of life here and life there stands it the very forefront, when hope for this physical life is all but spent, and before me looms the inevitable meeting with life in another world beyond the grave. Even now my state remains wavering, and surges of sensual, earthly life do not weaken in the least, but rather only wane temporarily, so that having stalled a bit they could make themselves known even more forcefully.

Nevertheless, I think that not without a leaving a trace can there be such an exertion in the struggle over what the soul ought to prefer--the earthly or the heavenly, the body or the soul, the present or the future. In any case, the scales of decision incline towards the latter choice. And this result is the most important fruit of this experience. Whatever happens later, the question is decidedly answered: stay with eternal life, with heaven, with the soul. All the rest will pass and do not merit serious attention. For me, as one who has already passed over into the second half of life, it would have been appropriate long ago to rest with such a choice and direct all my forces to its providence in life. It was not present by my free will. Now it is time to acknowledge it and begin to realize it by necessity.

Moscow, early 20th century. Moscow, early 20th century.
Yes, prison is a great teacher and a strict instructor. It does not care for jokes and half-heartedness. Here one must decide finally and irreversibly. In freedom you never force yourself to do this, you never reach this awareness. This prison has now decidedly convinced me that giving one’s strength fully and exclusively to worldly, day-to-day vanity is pure madness; that man's true occupation should consist in service to God and neighbor, and least of all in cares for himself. What gave me ultimately this much-caring over earthly acquisition, love of honor, occupational or other advantages, ease and pleasure in physical life? I admit that this wrong-minded life situation lead me to prison. True, I recently (and only recently) have become a little kinder, more concerned with the poor and my neighbor altogether, but this is precisely the point--I am only a little kinder. No, one must remake oneself at the root and live as a Christian and not as a pagan, as I have so far. But Lord! Will I be able to try to live in a way pleasing to God? And would I even be able to live that way in freedom?! In prison, in the looming fear of death, decisiveness does not fail but gains strength, while in freedom, amidst the buzz of life and various temptations--there one may not preserve such a good intention. Yes, yes, in every evil there is some good, even a great good. Thus in prison many beneficial turnarounds occur in people's souls. And they leave here much cleansed of old chaff, of former dirt. Will I live like that? Will I leave at all?

Archpriest B. Sokolov

May 20. How endlessly long and torturous is a day in prison! You don't know when you will wake, or when you do anything. You can't depend on clocks, and everything is reckoned according to the meals. There are three of them: morning, lunchtime and evening. There is no way to know if the next meal is sooner or later; and night--it's pure eternity, especially for me, for I wake up frequently or never fall asleep at all. No wonder there are marks of various shadows on the wall--the shadow of lunch, the shadow of dinner, etc. But this is of little accuracy, and therefore you hear people calling out the window: what time is it? Will such and such be soon? In summer of course is it possible to call out, but what is it like in winter to sit in such conditions? There is also no light at night, and so you look with special joy at the heavenly lamps. "O star, forgive me, it's time to sleep..." Every evening these words sound in my soul, dear Tonichka (father Basil's daughter). Did you ever think when you sang this, or did I think when I heard it that these thoughts, these feelings that are within these words would actually be experienced by me. "You can't escape the prison or the beggar's pouch" [an old Russian saying]. This saying has come true with a most unforgiving justice.

I woke up today, I think it was about five o'clock. There was some kind of movement beyond the door, some hurried steps, some calls; but here you're locked up as in a trunk, and you can't find out what is going on around you. That is what makes you so tense and nervous--this not knowing what goes on around you. But now I seem to relate to everything more calmly, not because the fear of death has disappeared, but because according to some information I have, our affair is still at a standstill. When it moves toward an end, then I will have to begin worrying accordingly. Until then I live by hours--easier ones and harder ones. Sometimes a sort of dark wave rushes over my awareness, that makes me dissatisfied with everything and ready to climb the walls. Only because all means of throwing something have been taken away am I saved from excesses.

They offer us books to read, and there are even people who order them from home and study some kind of science. Everyone has his own nerves and character. But it is not mine to think about scientific interests in the face of death. I try to concentrate, to read. But every five minutes I interrupt myself to think about one and the same thing--about my present and future lot. When I again turn to my book, I forget what I read. O what use is such interrupted reading? If there were only some kind of physical work, some kind of handiwork it would be a true happiness. That would make the time pass more quickly, and would save me from these tiresome thoughts. It is a pity that I do not know how to do any such thing, and few of us do. Again, there are no materials or instruments with which to do it. You can't do anything with your bare hands. The only thing, but the most consoling thing that remains in our situation is prayer. No matter where you are, according to the Apostle you should pray without ceasing, but here you can and must. In the words of prayer, when I plumb their meaning and significance, little-by-little ever newer sources of encouragement and joy open up: when I give myself over to self-judgment, to an awareness of the depths of my sinfulness, to an awareness of my former weakness. But then this mood is squeezed out by more commanding words of hope and consolation. For a grieving, suffering heart, prayer not only gives rest and peace--it also pours a stream of life into it, strength to make peace with a disconsolate reality, strength to endure the misfortunes that befall us. Without prayer I could have simply perished, fallen into an inescapable depression, a mortal agony.

So far I hold to my rule--I read all the daily services according to the prayerbook. I did not think that this book would be so useful to me in life, just as I never thought I would fall into this present pitiful situation. Oh, if only these prayers would be well pleasing before our God and Savior! If only these sorrowful sighs would reach up to our heavenly intercessors and move them to plead for us! However I not only have little hope in my prayers--I have none at all. Every drowning man moans and cries out<193> I put all my hope in your prayers, my natural and spiritual children, near to my heart. Your prayers are voluntary and determined; they may mean more to the merciful Master Christ. There was a time when the prayers of the faithful led the Apostle Peter out of prison. Could something of the sort happen to us sinners by your holy prayers?

Archpriest Basil Sokolov

Moscow in the 1920s. Moscow in the 1920s.
May 21. Day after day the Lord gives us more life. The Lord is slow to call us to Himself, awaiting our repentance, our soul's preparation. And judging how we show ourselves during this critical time, what good or bad inclinations we reveal in ourselves, that is what we will also receive. For with the Righteous Giver of Rewards nothing happens that is not deserved.

Unfortunately, our mood slackens. It is for various reasons. It is because the threat of death is not yet near, and because anxieties and sharp, burning questions of our present life invade our thoughts. For example, questions about the current dissent in the Church. For these are questions so dear to our hearts, questions you don't forget even at the moment of death. What is going to happen to you, our own dear Orthodox Church! It is as if this very fatal question were intentionally posed by this trial against us. Such questions have not been posed for thousands of years. Where, which direction will you take, our dear mother? We believe in the Divine Protection of Your Heavenly Master, we believe in Christ the Lord, who hath loved His Church and given Himself for us, and cannot abandon her to the whim of fate; we believe that He will lead her on the true and bright path. This will be the final outcome; but what awaits her in the meantime? What is being prepared for the children of the Church until all this is developed and set aright? The Lord alone knows; but judging by our own selves, many sorrows and sufferings must fall to the lot of Orthodox Christians before they reach a calm harbor. And what a pity it is that at such an important time we are banned from any participation in the current situation. Of course, perhaps we would not have brought anything personally into this situation, but we could have helped those around us to make sense of it, to digest it. There is fear in my soul for my flock which is left without any leadership, without any spiritual guidance, a condition which could allow a wavering in their faith, moral decline and estrangement from the Church. And this is a sure step toward spiritual destruction. Lord! Do not place in our, the pastors' account these potentially heavy consequences for our flock, do not make us answer for them; and as Thou art good, forgive us for the sake of our own helplessness, our inability not only to help others, but even ourselves in the present catastrophic situation!

How will you exist and govern yourself under the present circumstances, our St. Nicholas church? Who will guide you while we are away, and how will they guide you? These thoughts come into our head involuntarily on the eve of the May 9 feast. What will our church caretakers do in the wake of this pastoral crisis? Will they be satisfied with temporary priests, or will they go about finding a new, permanent priest? It could be either way, and I think that outsiders of both types will be readily available. This interests me, for someone who will be my replacement will be in my place. It will be injurious and sad if it turns our to be an indolent or untalented person, who not only will not continue what we have started, but neither will support it in its present stage of development. Then why have we labored, why did we risk everything? Of course, there are still people there of the old stock, with zeal for the benefit and glory of the church and parish. But what does not happen during these present times, what transformations and surprises do not occur? That is just how it is here. It is said: Smite the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.

Dear St. Nicholas flock! How I would like to see you in these responsible days so fraught with various occurrences at the height of my quest, in full awareness of the seriousness of the present moment. How I wish that you would hold to you former role as guardians of pure Orthodoxy, of the traditions handed down to us, the old order of services, the good order and conduct of divine services! How I would like that religious enlightenment would continue amongst you, that prayerful inspiration would continue to burn, that works of charity would continue to spread. I want to believe and hope that the heavenly master of the church and leader of the flock--Holy Hierarch of Christ, St. Nicholas--would not allow these seeds we have sown to fall barren, would not allow the already sprouted shoots to perish, and would send the required workers to his field, so that what has begun might be brought to completion. May it be so, may it be so!

Archpriest B. Sokolov

May 22. St. Nicholas day! Our bright church feast! I heard already long ago how they are ringing for the early Liturgy. My heart is content with that ringing. They are ringing near us also, of course. But for you it is impossible not to hear the bells, or to look into the services. Look what we have lived to see! It means that our sins are great, for we have been deprived of absolutely everything, even the most innocent things, things possible for everyone. This undoubtedly is the retribution for my own sins as a pastor, for my ineptitude, for my lack of desire to shepherd the flock of Christ as I should. We are supposed to shepherd--not lord it over our Godly inheritance, but lay down our lives for the flock. But we have, to the contrary, supposed our shepherding to be an outward mastery over the flock, receiving vile profit from it, achieving respect and glory for ourselves, and so on. In a word, we have distorted the very meaning of spiritual pastorship and turned it into a worldly authority. This is why we have to be punished. One wants to think, after all, I am not the only one like that; but is that really a justification for it? A thief cannot justify himself with the fact that there are many thieves, even worse than himself; but now he's caught, so he must endure what he deserves. That is how it is for me--I have been caught on a trifle, you could say, caught for just one sermon, and now I have to bear this terrible punishment. And the punishment is truly horrible, for me at any rate. I have to die every day, for here you expect any day to be called for execution. I don't know at what stage the judicial process is--perhaps the sentence is signed and its term has run out. Maybe now they will come and bring it to fulfillment. So you flounder in this expectation of the punishment hanging over your head, and you don't even know what to ask of the Lord--to extend your life, or that these torments, these daily deaths would sooner cease. You imagine how they will put you against the wall, how they will announce the sentence, how they will aim their rifles at you, how you will feel the mortal blow--you experience this all many times over in your imagination, and your heart just trembles and moans, without a moment's peace. Is this any way to live?

As is my custom, I awoke early. I have already prayed and received Holy Communion. I recall how I would have served in my church, how I would now teach my parishioners, tell them about Holy Hierarch Nicholas, and this would have consoled me as well as it would have consoled and encouraged others. Then I would begin to go around to my parishioners and share my thoughts and feelings. I would bring to my family festal joy and consolation. Now, without me, the feast is not a feast. Although their papa has not died, he is not with them; and perhaps he has even died, they might think, and thus become even more sullen and upset. Yes, what suffering and deprivation I have brought to my people near and far by my doings! Could I not have figured it all out earlier? But no, it was all as if intentionally ignored and done in precisely the way it should not have been done. A tardy repentance! How many such repentances have there been, and what good have they been? If these repentances at times have even restored the former good fortune and circumstance, did they really serve much in the matter of moral correction and renewal? Very little; therefore God's long-suffering has been exhausted, and this terrible and fatal blow has been raised above my head. Thus, now the question stands--could I be a true pastor, am I able to bring to pass, however comparatively, the pastoral ideal, or is it already hopeless? My fate depends upon this. The Lord will preserve and continue my life, if in His omniscience He knows that I could yet correct myself, that I could be a good pastor. If not, then He will cut off this life, so that I would bring neither upon myself nor upon others more evil or injury. Do Thy will, O Lord, Seer of hearts! I have only one thing on my soul: pray for me, the unworthy one, O God-pleaser Nicholas, to the Lord God, that I might end my life in the service of your holy church, that I might not perish in an evil, violent death, but would be vouchsafed a painless, peaceful Christian end. Hoping in thy prayers and with faith in thine intercession, I will wait patiently for the end of this torturous tragedy, this daily dying.

Archpriest B. Sokolov

May 23. I was able to visit with you, my dear children. Glory be to God! I feel as though a light has shone upon my soul. But now sad thoughts have arisen again--could this be the last time I will see you? My life is hanging by a thread. It is hard, unbearably hard to live in this condition.

So you, Borya [Boris], will finally marry; you've had a civil wedding, and now only the church wedding is left. Well, may God grant you to receive this divine blessing on your family life. May it confirm your marital union and grant you peace and success in all your beginnings and affairs. May the Lord multiply the fruits of your labors and bring good order to your progeny. May your union not be a physical but most of all a spiritual one, a bonding of souls, a oneness of mind, feelings and desires. Strive to experience everything together, to be sincere before each other. In a word, live soul to soul, heart to heart, live not in yourselves alone, not for yourselves alone, but never forget your lesser brothers around you, who require your attention and participation. Then you will always have as helpers in your life the Lord God and His Most Pure Mother, and Holy Hierarch Nicholas the Wonderworker, to whose protection I entrust you by giving you this special icon.

Moscow in the 1920s. Moscow in the 1920s.
You fate will not be a cheerful one. It is as if I am guilty of this. Of course I am guilty to a certain degree. But what can I do? Forgive me for this, just as a I ask you to forgive me for everything I have caused you by this disaster which has befallen me. Nevertheless, try somehow to adorn this unique day of your life to whatever extent your resources allow. They are not much, but it is enough for a few guests. Do not go into debt. It is better to be modest, as long as it is your own money. There is nothing worse than getting enmeshed in debts, which bind a man like chains. I myself have never been in debt, and have always preferred to live in frugality and want, rather than be rich in someone else's goods. By the way, I have no reason to make these warnings, for your past, Borya, is blameless in this respect.

I wish, O how I wish that I could take a look at how you are living, what you are doing; I would like to walk through your garden, review it with my domestic eye. But I can't even think about this; I can only wonder whether I will ever see my house or my dear little children again. I have never fallen in spirit as I have during these days. I don't know whether it is because my nerves are shattered, because this life of tension in my thoughts and feelings has killed all vitality in my soul, or because I really do sense great danger regarding my life. I would say that it is both. The news of the sentencing to death of the Shui priests who participated in the uprising there has had a depressing effect upon my state of mind. Such a precedent does not auger anything good. Then the development of a new church government without the Patriarch is also an unpleasant point. We are also the collaborators with the old government, and it is clear that no defenders of us will be found amidst the new one. We will sooner meet antagonists, and this of course may reflect upon the decision of our judges.

There are people amongst us who are not depressed and are living as though they were under no threat. Of course the majority of us indeed has nothing to fear other than imprisonment, because the accusations are not at all serious. But I think that even if I were to belong to their number I would still feel very sick. But no matter what, I am a death-rower, as they call us here, and that stigma is heavy and indelible.

The morning nevertheless brings a certain vigor of spirit and gives birth to optimistic points of view. I want to look at the future through rose-colored glasses, I want to believe that I will get through it without making the supreme sacrifice. O, if only the Lord would make it so! I would glorify His great mercy all the rest of my life! All my life I would praise His condescension before His throne! I would forever glorify your intercession, Holy Hierarch Nicholas, for it is your special quality to give help to those in prison, and to deliver the innocent from death.

Archpriest B. Sokolov

May 24. The night before Sts. Cyril and Methodius, apodosis of Pascha. The sound of the church bells carries from all around. Everywhere people are feasting, praying, rejoicing. But I sit and think one thought only--will they come soon for my soul? Lord, what a joyless lot! It is hard to refrain from asking, from begging: bring my soul out of prison, attend to the voice of my supplication. My heart is weary and sickened by this torturous anticipation. And I do not know whether I will even be good for anything should this cup actually pass me by. I am turning into a sickly invalid. Now I desire only one thing--that they would exile me somewhere. An involuntary journey might revive me, lift my spirits, fortify my powers. But without it I will hardly be able to endure this heavy blow.

I am also afraid for you, my dear children; I am afraid but that you might exhaust yourselves with sorrow and tears. Sadness is a dangerous thing for a thoughtful man. It is good for you that you have many cares and labors of all different kinds. They will distract you and occupy your mind. Besides, there are people around you who also divert your attention from the sore spot, and give you relief. In that respect our situation here is the very worst. You just sit day and night all by yourself. One terrible thought strikes your head like a hammer and wedge, the thought of your impending death, and of the hopelessness of your situation. How happy it makes you when someone asks or says something through the "little wolf" (a small opening in the door for the authorities' control). Even this you are ready to consider a great and happy occasion. But how slowly the time crawls here! The day, which begins at six o'clock, seems to be just endless. And night is even longer for me, as I sleep little. I am even afraid of these nights, because it is by night that they come and take people away and send them to their forefathers.

I served the final Paschal service. Will I still sing Pascha on this earth? Thou alone knowest, Lord! But if not, vouchsafe me to partake of Thy eternal Pascha in the never-ending day of Thy Kingdom.

Archpriest B. Sokolov

May 25. Now it is the Ascension of the Lord, a wondrous end to a most wondrous beginning (the Resurrection). These miracles are worth all our faith, and our faith is founded upon them as upon a granite foundation. No matter what faithlessness has contrived against Christianity, it will remain strong and steadfast on this unwavering foundation which has been given in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. For me now this feast of the Ascension of the Lord is particularly consoling and full of hope. Why did He ascend? I go, He said, in order to prepare a place for you. That would mean that even for me, a sinner, dost Thou, Lord, prepare a little place, even though it be the very least little spot in Thy Kingdom. It means that our lot at this transferral to life beyond the grave is not without hope; it means that death is not destruction, not the beginning of a new torturous existence--it is the beginning of a new, better life, a change from sadness to sweetness, as the church prayers express it. If that is so, then it is not right to grieve over the cessation of this earthly life, to grieve over impending death: for a believing Christian it is a passage into a better life, it is the beginning of his blessedness with Christ. This thoughts give me great comfort, and I passed this night much more easily than I did all previous nights. But the morning again brought a slackening of spirit. A joyful ringing carries from Moscow. In my thoughts I see our church, the ribbon of festively dressed people coming to prayer there. I see the full church, many of my spiritual children standing in there favorite spots. And I begin to feel bitter that I am not there, that not only can I not serve or speak, but I cannot even be present with the faithful. It is a heavy anxiety, but when you remember how when living in freedom and taking advantage of all of its benefits, you do not treasure them at all, do not consider them to be anything, and accept it all as something necessary, something ordinary, and you begin to understand that this anxiety is absolutely deserved and very instructive for the future. In all, this imprisonment forces one involuntarily to view much in a completely different way than one did before. With your eyes you reevaluate old treasures, raising the value of much, while lowering the value of other things; raising the value of everything spiritual and ideal, and lowering the value of everything material and sensual. For the former always lives and moves, while the latter lives only to a known limit.

Archpriest B. Sokolov

Moscow in the 1920s. Moscow in the 1920s.
May 26. The Ascension of the Lord has passed. What marvelous weather we have! What warmth, what air, what a wondrous azure sky, with sparse, feathery little clouds! And how wonderful it must be now be in the fields, in the forest, or in our garden! Probably the lilacs have blossomed. My God, how my soul yearns to go there, to my native places! But amidst all this grace I cannot even dream of anything but death, the approaching end and separation from this beautiful world... But on the other hand, if it is good here, if this world can be so beautiful and attractive, then doubtless the invisible, heavenly world is even more beautiful and attractive, where The Lord and all the holy dwellers of heaven live in glory! What joy there must be there, what exultation, what blessedness! The Apostle Paul says from his own experience that the beauty of the heavenly world cannot be described, that it is not possible to express the ecstasy that envelopes the soul of those who enter that world. If that is so, and doubtless it is so, then why regret parting from this present world, which is beautiful only rarely--even in its temporary beauty there always hides a multitude of various sufferings, physical and moral ugliness. That is why Christ says in His Holy Gospels: fear not those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. It means that it is only our faintheartedness that makes our hearts tremble in view of this bodily death. It is only that moment, that instant of the soul's departure from the body--only this is difficult and frightening. But then there is peace, eternal peace, eternal joy, eternal light, a visitation with those dear to your heart, seeing face to face those whom you already loved here, to whom you prayed, with whom you lived in communion. And there will be no more anxiety, nor betrayal, no searches, no evil or various kinds of dirt, no petty or grandiose self-love, there will be nothing that poisons us here even in minutes of the most pure joy. Everything that is now strange and mysterious will be revealed for the freeing of the spirit, all we be immediately understood--what our minds sought, what our hearts desired!... All of this is so alluring, so engaging, that it is truly worth it to endure this inevitable end of life that will come sooner or later. And the question is: which is better in terms of difficulty--a violent death, or a slow, natural death? In the first case there are even some advantages--this violence, this spilled blood may serve to cleanse us from many sins, to justify much evil committed before Him Who Himself endured violence and spilled His blood for the cleansing of our sins. My conscience tells me that I, of course, deserve my evil lot; but it is also a witness that I honestly fulfilled my duty, not wishing to deceive people or lead them astray; that I did not want to darken the truth of Christ, but to clarify it in people's minds, that I strove to bring all benefit, but never any harm to the Church of God, that I never even thought of injuring the cause of aid to the hungry, for whom I always eagerly gave various gifts and alms. In a word, before the judge of my conscience I consider myself innocent of those political crimes they have ascribed to me and for which I am being punished. Therefore do Thou, O Lord, accept this my blood for the cleansing of sins, of which I have many, personally and as a pastor. And I if I would know and be firmly assured that Thou, Lord, wouldst ascribe this temporary suffering to me even partially as an eternal justification, then I would not even ask, would not even desire to change my pending lot. But I do not yet have this firm assuredness. My turbulent mind causes me to waiver--isn't it better to live longer, to toil longer, to pray longer and prepare for eternal life? Grant me, O God, this firm thought, this unwavering belief that Thou wilt look upon me with Thy merciful eye, that Thou wilt forgive me my multitudinous voluntary and involuntary sins, that Thou wilt consider me not as a criminal, not as a punished evil-doer, but as a sinner who suffered in hopes of purifying himself by Thy Honorable Blood, and is made worthy of eternal life in Thy Kingdom! Grant me to endure and meet without trembling my hour of death, and to breathe my last breath with peace and a blessing. I have no anger in my soul toward anyone, I have forgiven everyone and everything from my heart. I wish peace to all, and I also prostrate myself to all, asking forgiveness, especially of you, my spiritual children, my natural children, before whom I am might have been the most guilty. Give also peace to my soul, so that I might peacefully say: now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.

The blessing of the Lord be with you all unto the ages. Amen.

Archpriest B. Sokolov

June 1, 1922. To all who love and remember me! By force I lived through this endless night. Truly it was a night like that of Job the Much-suffering. My nerves are so tense that I could not fall asleep for a minute. Every footstep outside the door seemed to be for me, to take me to Golgotha. And now it is already morning, but there is no sleep, not even a call to it. I received Communion during in the middle of the night. This of course spiritually consoled me, but physically nothing has changed. How many times I asked the Lord and the holy saints to send me a natural death. I envy Rozanov, who fell seriously ill in prison and died at home. That is not such a great happiness, but even it is impossible. Apparently only one thing remains--to repeat the same thing: may Thy will be done, on heaven and on earth!

I remembered Tonya's note of yesterday, passed along with the food package. She writes: many participate in the packages and ask your blessing. I send you my pastoral blessing, not my own, but God's through me, the unworthy one. How happy I would be to bless you all personally, to talk to you face to face. Anna Vasilievna and Vladimir Andreevich have probably been tormented over me, a sinner; and you, Anna Giorgievna, have probably cried remembering me! Yes, and all of you: Eudocia Ivanovna, Olya, Katya, Panya, Manya, Tanya, Matriosha and others have grieved much over your batiushka, with whom you have become attached--wouldn't you know--in such warm, friendly relationships. I deeply grieve over you in my separation from you. I wish I could glimpse you with even one eye, to see you even through some crack in the wall! But I can see nothing from my cell, only the sky and the prison walls. We console ourselves with the thought that all suffering is beneficial to man, for the benefit of his immortal soul, which is the only thing that has meaning. For me suffering is even more necessary, as my life was lived amidst a constant forgetfulness of the souls entrusted to my pastoral care. Time was wasted on various matters, and the least time of all was spent on matters that truly required it--on my pastoral labors. It is a pity that I must see it only after disaster has struck, when it is too late to correct it. And to all of you that want to remember me and will remember me, here is a lesson from my tragic fate: reflect while life is still happening, and do not wait for such irreparable blows as I have lived to see. Have the courage to admit the folly of the path you are walking, and find a way to turn around to where you should go. The right path is first something that everyone's conscience tells them to do, and then what Christ says in His Holy Gospels. Walk after your conscience and after Christ, and you will never suffer a slip. Perhaps you will lose in the estimation of society, in material sufficiency, in occupational success--all of this is, after all, not such a great loss. "Grasp for eternal life," writes the Apostle Paul to Timothy. You also, take a care first of all for eternal life, for heaven, for the soul; to serve Christ, to help you younger brothers, to love your neighbor, etc., and then you will live your lives without any shipwrecks, without catastrophes.

I now often pose this question to myself: Why did such an irreparable disaster strike me? First of all for me, and then for you, my dear spiritual children, my dear Samaritans, and parishioners; for you, brothers and sisters! After all, we shall all enter the grave at different times; and it has been thus determined that your pastor be instructive in his death precisely because he was not able to be instructive during his life. If this fate of mine makes a sufficiently enlightening impression, if my sorrows teach you to make peace with those many sorrows without which it is impossible to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, then my heavy lot will be justified. It will be easy to look from the other world at the beneficial changes that will take place in your lives. However, I will feel no sweetness if I see that you are not gaining anything spiritually beneficial from the trials that befall you.

My God! How many thoughts burrow through my mind, feelings and heart that I would like to convey to you, my dear brothers and sisters, my spiritual children! I know that you pray hard to God for me, and I remember you in my prayers. Do not grow slack in your prayers if the Lord does not arrange things according to your wishes but rather according to His holy will. That is how it should be. Our will is too shortsighted and infirm to be dependable. God's will alone can bring us true happiness. Adjust yourselves as is pleasing to God, and do not murmur that things are not happening as you would like them to. Then the Lord's peace will be with you always. I bless you, embrace you, and kiss you with a holy kiss!

Sinful Archpriest Basil

Priest Basil Sokolov. Priest Basil Sokolov.
This was Fr. Basil's last letter before his execution. The priests were shot together with a group of other prisoners. So that no one would recognize them as men of spiritual vocation, they were shaved and their hair cut. The gravediggers related that their bodies were taken to the Kalitnikov cemetery and buried there.

In the family of Fr. Basil's son, Boris, a large portrait of the hieromartyr was preserved. When new persecutions began against the Orthodox Church, they turned the portrait to face the wall, and pasted a picture on the other side that was called "Grandfather's Joy." During the Second World War, Boris Vasilievich went to the front. His wife and two children remained at home--the grandchildren of Fr. Basil Sokolov. During an air raid they all took cover in a trench not far from home. On November 13, 1941 they returned home from the trench after one of the air raids and sat down to drink tea. By the prayers of the hieromartyr the Lord put the idea in their mind to stay at home when the next air raid would hit. During the night they heard the air raid siren, and then the crash of nearby bomb explosion. The bomb fell in that very trench where they usually took cover. Their two-story wooden house shook, and an air shock wave hit the front wall and destroyed the brick oven. However, no one was injured. During the moment of the explosion Fr. Basil's portrait turned around, and the hieromartyr looked at the children.

Comments
Gerasimos Kambites 8/7/2013 3:05 am
Glory be to God for all things. How many Christians are yet murdered even in this day and I suppose that more will die at the hands of Christ Haters and Muslims. May the Holy Martyr pray for our souls that we and our children and our grandchildren may not abandon Christ in our Holy Orthodox Faith. Gethsemane Gethsemane Maranatha.
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