Tortured for Orthodoxy: concerning Mother Joanna (†1998)

Concerning the sufferings of Lydia Afanasievna Sanina (Mother Joanna in monasticism):

In 1947 (or 1948) she was arrested. It happened as follows. One day a man came to her house pretending to be a believer. He had a penetrating, heavy glance and a dark, unkind face. "Oh how terrible," muttered Lydia Afanasyevna quietly. She repeated this many times, forcing the embarrassed man to depart from her. After this she expected arrest every day. Two weeks after the visit of this "Judas" she was arrested.

"What have you arrested me for?" she asked her interrogator. "I'm not a thief, I'm not a bandit, I'm not some kind of trickster, I've never done anyone any harm."

In reply one of the chekists laughed and said: "If you were, we would not have touched you. Do you recognize the Soviet church?"

"No, I don't," replied Lydia Afanasyevna.

"Why?" asked the chekist.

"Because Soviet power does not recognize God, which means its church doesn't either. The only Church I recognize is the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

She was not beaten or tortured, as they did to many other prisoners, but they subjected her to more refined torments. Having confined her to a narrow solitary cell, they did not allow her to sleep. Every time she collapsed from exhaustion onto the floor (there was no bed), they loudly clanged the door bolts. They summoned her to interrogations in the middle of the night.

Her sister, who was arrested with her and who had a nine-year-old son in freedom, was given a tape to listen to. It was the voices of playing children; the name of her son was shouted out loud. These were the moral torments with which the executioners sought to break their faith, forcing them to recognize sergianism.

One of the investigators tried to apply hypnosis, but did not attain his aim. Another began loudly to blaspheme the Mother of God - and was immediately paralyzed. A sharp pain pierced him, and for several weeks he was taken to hospital.

At the trial, as during the interrogations, the sisters replied that they could not recognize the sergianist church insofar as it was supported by the God-fighters.

"Yes, it is our church," confirmed the judges.

The trial took place on Holy Wednesday, the very day on which Judas betrayed Christ. The judges decreed that they were guilty of "affiliation with the highly dangerous sect of the TOC" (i.e. True Orthodox Christians [this is the Catacomb Church - editor]) and were sentenced to be shot.

Don't weep," said Lydia Afanasyevna to her saddened sister. "They're only doing this to frighten us. They won't shoot us. But if they do shoot us what a light death for God." She was right. After pausing for the news of the verdict to shake the condemned women, the judges declared that the sentence of capital punishment was commuted to 25 years forced labor.

"No, God will not allow it," said Lydia Afanasyevna to her sister. "For what?"

For two "Glory"s from the 17th kathisma written on a scrap of paper, which the judges declared constituted the spreading of religious literature and betrayal of the Homeland? In fact, their term of imprisonment was later reduced to seven years.

In her Last Spiritual Will and Testament, written about a year before her death, Matushka wrote that the judge's words "execution by a firing squad" did not frighten her at all. She was actually exhilarated that her suffering would soon be coming to an end, and that she would, at last, go to the bosom of the Lord, having suffered for her faith and the true Church.

However, at the last minute her inhuman pain and unbearable suffering resumed. They were sent to the building sites on the Volga-Don canal. In the rain and the cold, under a biting wind, they had to endure the unbearable burdens of camp life.

"There, on the Don," said Matushka, "the winds are strong. We walk in the wet. It's pouring off us. And we didn't fall ill."

Only with God's help was Matushka able to bear the full measure of suffering and live. Even in the labor camps with their miserly food and hard living conditions, she tried to observe the fasts times as best she could. During Lent, prison guards would intentionally give her nothing but meat to eat. She would remove the meat from her soup and eat only the broth.

In 1955 Lydia Afanasyevna was released. Soon her sister Maria was also released. Together with their mother, who had returned from prison still earlier, they lived a quiet life, secretly praying and waiting for the regeneration of Orthodoxy.

Lydia Afanasievna would later relate: "My parents were persecuted and oppressed by the godless authorities for being true to Holy Orthodoxy. My father, Athanasius, was placed under guard and given the choice: recognize the declaration of apostasy or not. His Christian conscience and human decency did not allow him to betray the Church and Orthodoxy. He was not destined to leave prison, where he reposed in God, amidst the sufferings and horrors of incarceration. My mother Anastasia (Nun Agnia) spent 25 years in prison. She left it unbroken and without having succumbed to the violence of those who wanted to force her to betray the Holy Church and Holy Orthodoxy."

Around them a small catacomb community was formed. God sent them a faithful priest - Fr. Mark, and in 1960 Lydia Afanasievna received the first monastic tonsure. In 1974, she took the monastic vows of the small schema and the monastic name Seraphima. Shortly before her death, Mother Seraphima took the vows of the great schema and received the name Joanna.

In her final will and testament she warned: "Founded by Stalin's henchman, Metropolitan Sergius, his Moscow Patriarchate can only repress and spiritually mutilate, making lawlessness the law. Its mutilation is not immediately noticeable; its spiritual venom penetrates the minds of Orthodox people drop by drop. The psychological objective in this is to break down their spiritual immune system to make them ready to accept the Antichrist. The internal is replaced by the external. Remember: belief in lies and demonic allurements destroys your soul (said the Holy Hierarch Ignatius Brianchaninov). Recall these words of the Holy Apostle Paul as often as you can: "[they perished] because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. And for this reason God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (II Thessalonians 2:10-12). Let not these words ever come true for us!"

Mother Joanna reposed in 1998. Rest from your sufferings dear Mother. Вечная память!