How the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste Saved Metropolitan Joseph

We would like to present to our readers a story of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Joseph (Chernov; 1893–1975) about how he one day nearly died from hunger in a Nazi prison.

The suffering of the forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The suffering of the forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

In Taganrog, in the archbishop’s chambers hung an icon of the Forty Martyrs, suffering in the lake of Sebaste. When I was still a young hierdeacon and cell attendant to Vladyka Arseny I passed by this icon often, but didn’t give the proper veneration to these forty sufferers; I even doubted a little in their existence—maybe there were such martyrs, maybe not…

Metropolitan Joseph (Chernov) of Alma-Ata and Kazakhstan. Metropolitan Joseph (Chernov) of Alma-Ata and Kazakhstan.
Well, in the winter of 1943, I was incarcerated in a Gestapo prison in [the central Ukrainian city of] Uman, where there was no glass in the windows, and it was bitter cold outside. I was practically without clothes, wearing only a cassock. Then, in that stone box, I asked for death: “O Lord, let me die!” It was hopeless, and I hadn’t the strength to endure the freezing cold. Then I remembered the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and started praying to them, asking their forgiveness for not rendering them the proper honor, for not understanding their martyric feat. I prayed fervently, ardently, and soon the despair left my soul, heat filled my body, and I felt entirely warmed. After the cold and despair left me, the prison cell door opened and I was given a package—the Holy Gifts, bread, and warm clothing.

The Soviet forces were advancing on the city and the Germans began shooting the prisoners. I took the Holy Gifts in the palm of my hand and prayed before them all night. The faithful of Uman collected their gold and bought off the prison warden’s assistant. He gave his word to keep me alive; and truly, while the Germans were either carrying off the prisoners with them or shooting them, I remained alive.

When the Soviet forces arrived, Vladyka Joseph was again put in prison, this time by the Soviet authorities. It seemed very suspicious to them that he should survive a Gestapo prison. But this is another story altogether.

From The Light of Joy in a World of Sorrow: Metropolitan Joseph of Alma-Ata and Kazakhstan by V. Koroleva (Moscow: Palomnik, 2004).

Translation by


Julia Cole3/23/2017 4:07 am
Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, pray for us!
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