The Catacomb Church (1991)

The text below is excerpted from the 2011 book "In the Catacombs" by S.V. Shumilo:

"Remaining in a position without rights, the Catacomb Church – as in the past, continued their Church Services at night, under the threat of militia dragnet and oppression. Thus, in the beginning of the 1990s i.e. before the complete collapse of the USSR in September of 1991, I had the opportunity to attend catacomb Church Services, conducted under strict conspiratorial conditions.

These secret Services were performed in one of the distant villages, which even the buses did not service. The faithful would gather at the bus depot in small groups of 2 or 3 and give the appearance of not knowing one another. Sitting alone and dressed in civic attire was the catacomb priest. His long grey hair was hidden under a village cap, while his long beard was tucked under his high-collared shirt, giving the appearance of being short. Consequently, he looked like any other old villager.

Aboard the bus (half of the passengers were faithful catacombniks), we travelled from the regional depot to the end of the route at village A. Here, everybody would disembark in similar groups and disperse in various directions, each toward a pre-nominated spot, where they were met by guides. In the evening, they would be guided along forest trails around various villages until they arrived at the designated one. Each group travelled at different times so as not to give the impression that there was a large gathering.

One of the houses on the fringes of that village was the church. The faithful arrived at the church in various ways – some along the road, while others - through the surrounding vegetable gardens, so as not to attract the attention of the villagers.

The house was situated in an isolated position and had no neighbours, making access to it through the forest quite unnoticeable. The village itself had many catacomb faithful, which made the situation much easier. Once everybody had arrived, the Service would commence at midnight.

The Catacomb priest Fr. Nestor Lozhkin

The Service was conducted by the catacomb priest Fr. Nestor (Lozhkin) and was performed in half-voices with all of the electric lights switched off and with the interior lit by only a few candles. All of the windows were also blacked out with curtains so that even if a passer-by came up to the house, he would not be alerted to something suspicious. The interior of the church was quite plain: a small portable altar, home-made utensils in reduced size, a small home-made Antimins, and a number of candles and icons.

The church was overflowing with the faithful. Inasmuch as the Service was conducted in a half-whisper, it was necessary to hear every word with bated [restrained] breath. The danger of a militia appearance gave a sharp edge to the present anxiety.

One remembers how the grey-haired and good-natured Batushka – full of love and openness, would sternly ask during Confession whether you were a member of the Octoberites, Pioneers or Komsomols? While I refused to join the Komsomols through conviction, due to my youth, I did join the Pioneers and Octoberites, for which he applied an epithema (penance) for committing such sins. Repentance of “Soviet” sins was the main condition in order to remain in the TOC [this is another name for the Catacomb Church].

The Liturgy ended at dawn and was followed with a common Christian meal, during which the old folk shared their spiritual experience with the younger generation, recounting the sufferings and persecutions which the faithful suffered at the hands of the godless. By mid-morning everyone broke up into the same groups as when they arrived and departed along the same route by which they had come. Thus, during all of these godless years, these old folk preserved true Orthodoxy in the catacombs."