“My body is getting lighter and lighter”
“Warm sunny days have finally come. Sasha [Petrov] and I went to the holy well to bathe (it was even earlier, when it snowed), to the honey bee farm, and to church. Sasha is sometimes on duty here. When I arrived, I spent the night in the skete, and in the morning I met Sasha on duty—such a miracle. Then they gave me a good room—here they are called cells... Lent is almost over, so maybe we will meet soon. My body is becoming lighter and lighter, and it is very, very easy to breathe. They sing so beautifully in the church, probably nowhere—not probably, but definitely nowhere else—do they sing so beautifully and soulfully as in Optina. My friends are very kind, well-mannered and wise people. We read spiritual books and talk. My friends are engaged in woodcarving, doing fine and beautiful work. I help them with outlining, cutting, staining… Services are extraordinarily beautiful and majestic here. There are wonder-working icons and St. Ambrose’s relics here. I have venerated them many times. The medicines you sent me, mom, aren’t needed—I feel fine. I miss you and send you a big hello, my dear family... Your son Yury.”
Lenten weeks flowed one after another like a string of pearls: Clean Week…, the Veneration of the Cross, the fifth week marked by the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete and “the Standing of St. Mary of Egypt”, and Palm Sunday. Holy Week approached—the Great Week of the Passion of our Savior. On Holy Thursday the brethren took Communion. On Holy Friday, during Vespers, when, after the Gospel about the Passion and death of the Savior was read and the holy shroud was placed in the middle of the church, and when the weapon of inexpressible sorrow pierced the heart of the Most Pure Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ—at that very time a crime was committed in the monastery: Yura—George Yefimchuk—was killed by Satanists who pierced him in the heart with a needle.
From a letter by Nina Alexandrovna Pavlova1 to George Yefimchuk’s parents: “My dearest friends!… Forgive me for not daring to write to you for a long time. It so happened that I met your son Yurochka half an hour before his death. I was instructed by the monastery to conduct... an internal investigation of the circumstances of the murder... I sat down to write a letter to you many times but each time I stopped, unable to cross the threshold of pain, albeit one day it... must be crossed. We are talking about... the heritage of our Fatherland’s history—a New Martyr of Russia... who, at the open royal doors, along with Emperor Nicholas II and other New Martyrs, is commemorated daily not only in Optina, but in all monasteries throughout Russia: ‘Remember, O Lord, the murdered servant of God George and through his holy prayers have mercy on us!..’
“He was an amazing young man—and the more I learn about him through my inquiries, the more I am amazed at the purity of this bright soul!.. You have a happy son—the Lord fulfilled all his prayers and petitions: He wanted to be an Optina monk, to stay here forever; he wanted to be with the Lord! And this was fulfilled… He remained here in spirit… How, through what sorrows one becomes a saint—this is the main spiritual meaning of this tragedy… Here [in the vicinity of Optina] there is an active group of satanists. They act with ritual strictness at a fixed time—that is, at three in the afternoon on Friday, when Christ was crucified...
“When my son and I were testifying to the investigators (since we were present during the last minutes of Yura’s life), everything that disagreed with their version implicating suicide was immediately removed...
“My son came up to me in the church and said that a man was lying in the forest in a very poor state and shouting, ‘Mama! Mama!..’ Then we ran with him... Yura was still alive. An effective [monastic] medical team was with him... Everything that could be done was done... Yura was dying, so I rushed to the monastery to call an ambulance to take Yura to the ICU. It was done instantly, but no ambulances were available at that moment.
St. Ambrose’s well near the Skete of St. John the Baptist “In a matter of seconds, a vehicle drove up to take Yura to the ICU. There everything was ready to recieve Yura, and the Orthodox doctors were waiting for us. At the same time, the monastery ‘Volga’ car drove into the forest. It was standing with a running engine near Yura. But they did not dare to interrupt artificial respiration and carry Yura there, realizing that he was not breathing himself—the monastery doctors and novice paramedics were breathing for him. Everything possible was done. There was a whole monastery ‘regiment’—paramedics with experience in Afghanistan. Then they decided to resort to an Intracardiac injection. When for the first time they pulled his shirt up (it was neatly buttoned and tucked underneath the belt of the trousers), they found a needle...
“I spoke to all the father confessors to whom Yura had confessed his sins in great detail, asking one and the same question: ‘Was Yura capable of committing suicide?’ They answered categorically with one voice: ‘No!’ Most importantly, this is what our Elder Iliy (Nozdrin) said: ‘It is impossible!’ And he is clairvoyant; he talked with Yura in detail because Yura wanted to become a monk and stay in Optina forever. Life in the world was a burden to him and he was connected with the world only by the love for his parents and the fear of upsetting his mama, as he always affectionately called her…
“Yura shared a cell with the Optina choir-director, Hierodeacon Seraphim, and this is what Fr. Seraphim says about Yura: ‘He was an ideal young man—well-bred, well-educated, and meek. We read the Gospel and Patristic literature together, and Yura amazed me by the depth and subtlety of his interpretation. He had a fiery love for the Lord! He revered monastic life and would have been an ideal monk... By the way, when there were appearances of our three murdered brethren, everyone saw them in a rank different from the one that they had on earth.’”
“In a different rank”
George never became an Optina monk; he was not vouchsafed the monastic tonsure on earth, but the Lord, Who “commends the intention”2, accepted the soul that had renounced this world that lieth in wickedness (1 Jn. 5:19).
During Yura’s last earthly trial, his mother was at home. Her soul was filled with grief—she suddenly remembered her first grandson, “who passed away on the sixth day after birth… [He was] like an angel,” and she burst out crying. “Later I learned that my son was being killed at that time,” Anna Illarionovna related. He was standing on his knees near the path that runs by St. Ambrose’s well, uttering only these words: “Mama, how it hurts...” The autopsy revealed thirteen punctures in his heart, and the killers’ needle had been left in it.
A short while later Viktor Konstantinovich (George’s father) saw his son in a dream: “Standing high on the church steps and holding a scroll in his hands, he said: ‘Friday is a significant day.’ It was such a bright dream—everything around was clear.”
On Holy Friday—when “the Master of creation stands before Pilate… the Creator of all is condemned to die on the Cross”3—on this day, so significant for all Christians, the martyr George passed into incorruptible life, accepting suffering.
When Viktor Konstantinovich was informed from Optina about what had happened, he decided not to tell Anna Illarionovna about their son’s death until the next day. It was decided to bury George in Tolyatti, and on April 30 Viktor Konstantinovich together with George’s godmother Tatiana Ivanovna went to his son. “In a snowstorm, in the rain and on an unknown road at night,” Viktor Konstantinovich recalls how he was carrying his son’s body home. “When we reached Ryazan, I checked the oil in the engine and was horrified—it was at the bottom—We had been driving by a miracle.” They left the monastery on May 2 at ten in the morning and at six in the evening of May 3 they were by the entrance to their apartment block in Tolyatti. Without bringing George’s body inside they carried the coffin into a car which had been driven up by George’s classmate Alexander and went to the cemetery. Before they left Optina, Fr. Trifon, who helped Viktor Konstantinovich, had given him a letter to Fr. German, who served in the Church of the Kazan Icon in Tolyatti, with a request to serve Yury’s funeral. Fr. German arrived at the cemetery, and the martyr was buried at about six in the evening. George was buried on the fifth day after his murder, but there were no signs of decay: he looked as if he had just fallen asleep. It also seemed to his parents as if he had noticeably matured.
“Shortly after my son had been killed, I dreamed about his tormentors. I was on the stove,4 while the ‘strangers’ were on either side. I would recognize them now. One of them was thin and short, another one was of a medium height, and the third one was robust, tall and red-faced. The third one asked me: ‘Are you going to take revenge on us now?’
“I replied that I had never taken revenge on anyone and was not going to do that with them. Then I woke up.”
A pilgrim who was in Optina in late April wrote to Yury’s parents that a priest had seen three people in gray sweatsuits shortly before the tragedy. He thought that some training was underway. There were eyewitnesses from among the locals who met several strangers in Optina on Holy Friday, with the smallest and thinnest of them barely dragging his legs and his companions grabbing his arm and literally pushing him into the car. “The little boy could barely walk,” Anna Illarionovna says of one of her son’s murderers. This affectionate description of “little boy” regarding one of her son’s tormentors astonishes anyone by the gentleness and loftiness of the Christian soul. There is sympathy for those who know not what they do (Lk. 23:34), along with the highest truth: A murder is a loss for the victim only from a legal point of view, but spiritually it is the moral death of the murderer himself, who shed innocent blood and became by his violation of the commandment a child of the devil, a murderer from the beginning (Jn. 8:44).
George appeared to his family “in a different rank”. His mother saw in a dream a small cell and her son in a monastic habit in it: “His cloak was so noble. He was standing by a stove, surrounded by kittens.” On the ninth day after his martyrdom Yura appeared to Anna Illarionovna again in a dream for a moment: bright, cheerful and with two young men at a table laden with food. Yura also appeared to his friend “in black garments, but his face was somehow bright and even shining, calm and ‘observing’. He was silent. Struck by his gaze, I said the first thing that came to my mind: ‘I was told that you were sick.’ He replied, ‘As you see, I feel good.’ Yes, he looked good—I can’t find another word—but I still see this face,” Sergei P-ov recounts.
The ordeal of the grief-stricken parents was doubled by by the prosecutor’s office’s attempt to pass off the incident as a suicide. When Yury’s father was giving testimony in the prosecutor’s office of Kozelsk, he, being far from forensic science, reasonably suggested that one of the killers must have been a medic because it is impossible for a person who is not well versed in anatomy to get straight into the heart. He was later answered in a written form: “The doctors are not to blame. You are accusing them unjustly.” The interrogation of George’s mother was notorious for its cynicism—the case was transferred to Tolyatti, and Anna Illarionovna had to answer pre-prepared questions, which boiled down to one thing: to make her admit that her son was a suicide. Aware that this is exactly what they wanted to hear from her, Anna Illarionovna could not understand the conscious cruelty of the woman prosecutor. Was it a banal, indifferent attitude in the performance of her official duties, or a sophisticated trick aimed at covering up the murderers? “God is their Judge,” Anna Illarionovna says both about her son’s killers and the hard-hearted investigators.
When the investigation was going on in Optina, the crew of the Russky Mir (Russian World) TV program arrived at the monastery. The hosts Alexei Denisov and Boris Kostenko said that “in 1993, when we arrived in Optina, we wanted to make a film about the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. But we became witnesses of a terrible tragedy: Ryassaphore Monks Trofim and Ferapont and Hieromonk Vasily were murdered on the Paschal night… But we could not have imagined what awaited us this time. Arriving at Pascha a year after the Optina tragedy, we had to make a report on another crime: on Holy Friday, under very mysterious circumstances, a murder took place here again. A young pilgrim, George Yefimchuk, was stabbed in the heart with a needle. The version of suicide that appeared in the first days after the incident was subsequently officially rejected. The conclusion is unequivocal: a deliberate murder was committed. Several people even heard George asking for help. It all happened around four in the afternoon. The autopsy showed that he had died from multiple injections with a long needle, which was removed from his heart.
Optina cross on Martyr George’s grave “The monks characterize this murder as a ritual one. Most of our newspapers and television, as usual, were silent, and only a few supported the version of suicide in their reports.”
“One day in 1994, after our son’s death, for some reason I wanted to turn on the TV, though we no longer watched any programs by that time,” Anna Illarionovna recalls. “I turned it on, then turned it off, and turned it on again. Suddenly I heard a report about our tragedy. I listened even though it hurt me a lot. They reported the fact of the incident—without comments. I still don’t know why I turned on the TV at that moment.”
On the eve of the eighth anniversary of George’s martyrdom, Anna Illarionovna dreamed about an unknown woman who was telling her about her son. Seeing an image of the blessed Schemanun Maria (Matukasova; 1908–2000) soon after that, Anna Illarionovna recognized in her the stranger from the dream, and since that time she has prayed to Mother Maria.
“Now I think that our son converted us, great sinners, to the faith,” Viktor Konstantinovich says. “He still guides and instructs us.” Once, after the funeral, when Viktor Konstantinovich was driving to Samara, he played a cassette with a recording where Yura sings a song based on Boris Pasternak’s poetry. “While listening to his voice, I stopped on the side of the road, got out to check something in the car, and suddenly—as if I had been hit with an axe... I realized that I shouldn’t listen to it anymore, that Yura had given up everything and wasn’t encouraging us on this path.”
One autumn, Yury’s parents came to fix the cross on his grave. At that time his father’s lower back ached, and Anna Illarionovna worried that they would not be able to fix the cross. Suddenly, out of nowhere, three young men—dressed unseasonably in only light shirts and without hats on—approached us easily. “I told them, ‘Sonnies, help us,’” Anna Illarionovna recalls. “All three of them came up, took out the cross, installed it again, and disappeared like a light breeze. We didn’t even notice where they went—fair, young, and of the same height and age.”
The last greeting to his parents His parents received the last greeting from their son after his funeral: A Paschal card fell out of the mailbox, sent by George on one of his final earthly days. The good news about the Risen Lord, Who trampled down death by death, was his last message to his parents, as if the confirmation of the words from a sermon of Elder Naum, carefully preserved by George: “The body is short-lived and subject to decay, while the soul is divine, immortal and... united with the body as a place of testing to grow in the divine likeness”, for Eternal Life and unspeakable Love.
The text was kindly provided by the compilers of the booklet on Yury Yefimchuk, Nun Angelina and Lyudmila Terskaya