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The Holy Martyr Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky)
The Holy Martyr Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky)


For the Seventieth Anniversary of the Death of the Holy Martyr Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky)

This man had a very unusual disposition. It is reflected in the very name 'Hilarion', which in Greek means 'calm, tender, joyful' ('consolatory' according to one contemporary scholar). 'O Gladsome Light' speaks about this very quality.

Vladimir Troitsky was a cheerful and sociable person. When seven years old, he and his three-year-old brother set off on foot from their native village for Moscow in order to study there. When their father caught up with them on horseback when they were a long way from home, the future archbishop quipped: 'But what about Lomonosov? He went to Moscow on foot, and I decided to go there to study too.'

From Troitsky's early childhood, the Church was the main source of his joy - as a tiny child he would stand next to the choir. He received a deep understanding of the Church as an organism uniting God and man, where people are joined together in love. Most of his theological works are devoted to the Church, as the only source of genuine joy. Their central idea - 'God is not Father to him for whom the Church is not Mother' - illustrates that happiness is real only in the fullness of this Family union. To Robert Gardiner, the secretary of a commission organizing an international Christian conference, the archbishop wrote: 'I am glad to talk to you about a subject which is so dear to me, the subject of the Church.'

And this gladness was clearly reflected in his appearance. At the Moscow Theological Academy, where he lectured on the New Testament, he was infinitely loved. Tall and slender, with splendid blue eyes and sonorous voice, always filled with inspiration and the joy of life, he resembled a bogatyr, one of those Russian mythical heroes with exceptional strength and mind. His pure, noble soul shone through his outward beauty, and that was the source of his charm.

When Vladimir Troitsky took monastic vows in 1913, his spiritual joy only increased. His Easter-like appearance was reminiscent of St Seraphim of Sarov, whom he loved dearly. On one occasion Archbishop Hilarion even wrote as much: 'There are bearers of triumphant Christianity on Earth, always gleeful, with Easter hymns always on their lips, and their faces are like those of angels.'

But those were relatively safe years. Fearsome, tragic events awaited our country and Church which led to the inevitable destruction of the clear and calm spirit of any man, especially if he was at the very helm of the ship of the Church.

Archbishop Hilarion, who became comrade-in-arms to His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, found himself in that very position. He was allotted the terrible role of a living shield between the Patriarch of All Russia and the godless authorities. At that time Father Superior of Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, he was called to the Lubyanka, arrested without reason and exiled for a year to Arkhangelsk in 1923.

On his return Archbishop Hilarion had to begin the struggle against the Renovationists, who tried to seize power in the Church at that time. He banished them from churches, re-consecrated altars and brought people back to Orthodoxy. He was not afraid of public debates with People's Commissar Lunacharsky and the chief of the Renovationists, Vvedensky. On those occasions the audience felt the spirit of Truth and Life in his words; the people gave him standing ovations and warmly thanked him. With all this activity Archbishop Hilarion undoubtedly drove the Bolsheviks into a fury, and he was sent to the concentration camp on Solovki.

'One needs to be in these conditions for at least a short time, otherwise they are impossible to describe. This is plainly Satan himself,' wrote the archbishop from the camp. Another prisoner's description was that the place was 'a terrible, yawning pit full of blood, lacerated bodies, crushed hearts.' Could a place for joy be found here?

However, even in the camp Archbishop Hilarion retained his cheerfulness and courage. Together with two bishops and several priests he worked as a fisherman and net-maker. He joked about this, rearranging the words of the stichera for Trinity Sunday: 'The Holy Spirit grants everything: earlier he revealed theologians in fishermen, and now he reveals fishermen in theologians.' His good humour extended even to the Soviet authorities, whom he was able to regard through forgiving eyes. Archbishop Hilarion even saved one of the chief wardens from certain death, risking his own life in the process. In sum, he was much taken by the idea that Solovki had become a school of virtues: non-acquisition, meekness, humility, abstinence, patience, industriousness.

Archbishop Hilarion won great respect in the camp. His attentiveness to each and love for all were simply incredible. He was the most popular person on Solovki. Even ruffians and criminals - whom a highly spiritual person might be expected to find intolerable - became his friends and companions. They loved and respected him for his down-to-earth and open nature. But behind this form of merriment and worldliness there lay a child-like purity, great spiritual experience, kindness and mercy, fearlessness and deep belief, unhypocritical piety and an extraordinary intellect. The disguise of ordinary sinfulness, 'foolishness for Christ' and worldliness concealed from people the archbishop's inner life and saved him from pride and vanity.

The archbishop spent six terrible years on Solovki - the last years of his life. But that Easter joy about which Our Saviour spoke when parting with the apostles, the only joy that can be complete, never left him.

Only once while he was on Solovki was it permitted to celebrate Easter Matins - in 1926. This is how an eyewitness described it:

'Silence, pitch darkness all around, while iridescent pillars sweep the sky - the northern lights play... And then sacred songs are heard from the open doors of the church. Archbishop Hilarion's cry thunders like a harsh command invested with heavenly power:

'May God arise and His enemies scatter!'

Then, glittering with multicoloured lights, the unprecedented procession of the cross started out from the church gate. Surrounded by lamps and torches, the seventeen bishops in their ancient vestments were followed by more than two hundred priests and as many monks, and behind them walked an endless wave of those whose tormented hearts thirsted for one thing - the Light of Resurrection.

Out of the church doors sailed gleaming sacred banners fashioned by master craftsmen of Novgorod the Great, followed by lanterns donated to the northern monastery by Venetian doges. Sacred vestments embroidered by Moscow Grand Duchesses shimmered on the clergy.

'Christ is risen!' proclaimed Archbishop Hilarion.

'He is risen indeed!' was heard in reply, as an echo of a thousand voices beneath the shining dome of the sky...'

In 1929 the archbishop's sentence came to an end and he was sent to a new place of exile - Central Asia. But he never made it there...

Archbishop Hilarion died of typhus while in a Petrograd prison hospital during deportation on 28 December 1929. His last words were heard by a doctor: 'How good! Now we are far from...' He had gone to that land where joy springs eternal.