From Death to Rebirth. The Story of an Army Chaplain

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary since the beginning of the ministry of Hieromonk Boris (Stepanov). His path in the Church as a priest has been full of trials, and one of them became a turning point in life. In a terrible accident ten years ago Fr. Boris lost his wife, and himself miraculously survived his serious injuries. After the tragedy the priest took monastic vows and was able to return to his priestly ministry in a military unit. Fr. Boris admits that trust in God and the Jesus Prayer helped him not to lose heart.

Fr. Boris hailed from the city of Smolensk. He was raised in a secular family. His parents never rejected God, yet they were never interested in the Christian life. There were no conversations about the Lord in their home, but the boy never doubted the existence of God, although he did not go to church and still did not know anything about it. The future priest decided to start attending church and to get baptized in adulthood, while serving in the army. After a year of service in the Moscow special forces in 1988, he came to his native city on vacation with the desire to get baptized at the Holy Dormition Cathedral. To this day Fr. Boris recalls the feeling of lightness and flight, as if wings had grown from behind his back, which filled his soul and heart after the sacrament. And then his Christian life began with its ups and downs, death and rebirth in a new capacity. The Apostle Paul writes: Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die (1 Cor. 15:36). This is exactly how a priest’s path to the Lord develops.

After his ordination in December 1993, Fr. Boris was sent to serve at the Churches of the Archangel Michael and St. Andrew Stratelates in the village of Alexino of the Smolensk region’s Dorogobuzh district. Here the twenty-four-year-old priest had to undertake a thorough restoration of the summer and the winter churches, which were situated in the Baryshnikov Estate and were in a deplorable state. Everything was in a state of desolation, a boiler room was attached to the altar of the Church of St. Andrew Stratilates for heating the collective farm houses, and stokers went to the altar to relieve themselves... Experience in construction helped Fr. Boris restore the churches and organize parish life. He also served at the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in the village of Ozerny. His family supported him in all matters—his beloved wife Lyudmila, their son Artem and daughter Ulyana. Soon he had to give up the unhurried parish life and to start serving as a chaplain, pastoring conscripts and military officers. Batiushka enthusiastically accepted the appointment to the post of assistant commander for work with religious military personnel in the Russian unit on the territory of Belarus.

The order to appoint Fr. Boris was signed in October 2012. At that time, army chaplains were just beginning to appear in Russia. For batiushka and his family it was the beginning of a new phase in life, and everything changed overnight. The atmosphere in the military unit was somewhat reminiscent of a monastery—there was a forest around, silence, and a closed territory. At first it was hard for him to find the proper approach and understand what to talk about with officers and young soldiers. It turned out that many of them had never read the Holy Scriptures, and then batiushka simply began to tell them about this Book, adapting its stories to the present. Without exalting himself or trying to teach, being sincerely sympathetic, and genuinely interested, he did not try to convince them, and was not surprised at their most basic (at first glance) questions. When death is at hand, people's souls and hearts open, and the Gospel truths can be instilled in them.

There were talks, lessons in classes, and even cases of conversions, when soldiers were baptized in the church, and prayer services were performed for the military oath. The ministry of an army chaplain is in no way inferior to that of a parish priest. The composition of the military unit constantly changed, the soldiers were transferred to other places, and each time the family had to get used to and get to know new people. Sometimes on alarm everyone went into battle. Batiushka would come out from the altar, only to find that there was no one in the church. But he always knew that their guardian angels were with them, protecting them. And on that tragic day on May 26, 2013, Fr. Boris’s guardian angel did not allow him to die in a terrible accident, but his wife Lyudmila departed to the Lord...

They met in Smolensk, while still very young. The twenty-year-old Boris had just returned from the army, and Lyudmila was barely eighteen years old: beautiful, with an amazing voice, a choir director. From the first minutes of their acquaintance, he realized that he could not live without her and she would become his wife. And so it happened. And for many years Fr. Boris walked towards God hand in hand with his spouse. It was a very strong love, real feeling. They were a model family for many friends and acquaintances. On the day of the car accident Fr. Boris and Lyudmila were in Smolensk, at a meeting of graduates of the College of Culture. The day was wonderful, full of pleasant memories, smiles and music. And at night, a terrible accident occurred on the highway: their taxi at full speed crashed into a large truck. Lyudmila died on the spot, and Fr. Boris was taken to the ICU with a fracture of the spine and a head injury. He remained permanently disabled, and since then his whole life has been a continuous struggle for survival...


By that time, Fr. Boris had walked a path of priestly ministry spanning almost two decades. But after the accident, he began to feel emptiness in his soul, and there was nothing to hold on to. He had never had any doubts about the existence of the Lord, but his trust in God was shaken, especially when his plans didn’t coincide with God’s. Thoughts and questions began to creep into his mind: “Why?”, “For what reason?” His treatment and recovery were painful and long, and he kept thinking about the near end of physical life. Death seemed to be a blessing, a sign that the Lord would have mercy on him in this way. Without movement the body atrophies very quickly, and in two months Fr. Boris turned from a healthy man into a weak one.

The words of his friend, the reposed Igumen Patapy from Optina Monastery, helped batiushka perk up. He said the following: “Fr. Boris, no matter how the Lord may answer your question, ‘Why?’, even if He reveals the truth to you, you are now in such a state that you will not accept it. The time will come when everything will become crystal clear to you. Now don’t ask questions, try to recover the use of your legs and just live.” These rather simple words became for batiushka a straw to clutch. He firmly decided to recover the use of his legs and continue serving the Lord, which was achieved with God's help and with the support of his loved ones. His body was almost dead, but his soul was reborn. Batiushka began to walk with supports and even drive a car, although the doctors had initially told his relatives, “Pray that he will at least be able to sit up.”

On January 4, 2014, Fr. Boris was tonsured at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery of St. Avraamy in Smolensk. After that, by Christmas he had returned to the military unit and begun to celebrate the Liturgy in a wheelchair. And two years later, with batiushka’s direct participation, a church was opened in honor of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. Fr. Boris himself calls it his “swan song”. There is a reason why this lovely wooden church was dedicated to St. Andrew. Firstly, it is situated at the junction of the borders between Poland and Ukraine, and the military unit is located on the territory of Belarus. All this is the Slavic world, and the Apostle Andrew is the enlightener of the Slavs. The idea was that there should be peace in the hearts of the Slavs in this church. Secondly, Fr. Boris was born on the feast of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called, and he wanted to honor the memory of his heavenly patron in this way. It was decided to build a wooden church in order to use only Russian building materials (a Smolensk pine log cabin), and so that it would be easier to transport it if the unit is liquidated or moved. They built the church all together—with the help of Metropolitan Isidor of Smolensk, the commander of the unit Vasily Ivanovich Semin, and local residents who donated money for the church utensils and the bells. With common effort work went very smoothly. A Sunday school was opened at the church, and classes for soldiers began.


Now already an unpaid priest, Fr. Boris admits that ten years ago, when he was on a hospital bed, he would never have believed that he would do all this. This time was given to him in order to gain trust in God and learn to pray. This does not happen when everything goes like clockwork, but only when your plans do not completely coincide with the Lord’s. You just hold God’s hand and know that He will not let you fall into the abyss. For Fr. Boris there are two fundamental things—trust in God and the Jesus Prayer. These are the two pillars where you can hold and cling to in life.

Prepared by Anna Eremina
Hieromonk Boris (Stepanov)
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Sretensky Monastery


Peter Dutko5/20/2023 7:27 pm
Fr. Boris is simply a "golden person," a good example for all of us.
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