Archbishop Leonty of Chile
Despite the apparent fading away of the power of Christianity from our civilization and the noticeable absence of Christian heroes in our midst today, God has not abandoned His persecuted Church in this century and has raised up remarkable Orthodox hierarchs whose heroic stature only increases with time into historic proportions. These heroes, unfortunately, largely escape the attention of most people in the Church.
One such hierarch, who died just ten years ago, almost in oblivion, was Archbishop Leonty of Chile, a fearless propagator of Orthodox Christianity at first in Russia and later outside of it. His historic place is that of a true confessor of theChristianity of the heart.
When he died on June 19/July 2, 1971—precisely the fifth anniversary of the repose of his beloved Archbishop John Maximovitch, another outstanding hierarch of the 20th century—Archimandrite Constantine of Jordanville stated:
“There are people whose death fills with light the spot which they have in people’s hearts. These people in all their contacts lived by their great heart. What does this mean? It means that for them every person with whom they had contact, even if only for a moment, was a personalit of a spiritual nature… One can say that although he has left us, he has come close to us, but not in an earthly way.”
Archbishop Leonty was born on August 7, 1907, in a pious Russian family (Filipovich). His distant relative was St. Athanasius of Brest, who suffered a martyr’s death at the hands of Roman Catholics in the 17th century.
From early childhood he revealed strong leanings towards the Church and longed to dedicate his life to it. His early education took place in a private school, where his immense musical talent made him a leading boy-soloist in choir. He remembered with great emotion how Emperor Nicholas II visited his town and he saw the unearthly glance of the future Tsar-martyr. When the Revolution struck Kiev he was already spiritually close to the Kiev Caves Lavra, and he was arrested: but when it was discovered that he came from a “proletariat” family, he was released, and because of his great tenor voice the Soviet government offered him a free education and training for the opera. Thus a great musical career was open before him, but he turned it down in order to serve the Holy Orthodox Church.
And what a sorrowful path he took upon himself!—a path of perpetual deprivation, suffering, and the witnessing of endless personal tragedies during the Soviet years down to the coming of the Germans in 1941. He became a novice at the Lavra at the very time when it was being ruthlessly liquidated. Its monks were tormented and given over to various deprivations, and many were killed.
Out of his sufferings he became a comforter of banished clergymen: he washed the wounds of the hierarchs who had been released and sought refuge in the Lavra. He saved the life of Bishop Parthenius by pulling him out of a gutter and away from a pack of ravenous dogs, and then brining him to an old woman who was able to nurse him back to life again.
After the final liquidation of the Kiev Caves Lavra, he went to Moscow, where under terrible conditions he was able to go through the theological course in the Academy; the academy sessions at that time were conducted in the private apartments of the professors. Here again he met many bishops and served as a source of contact between them and other clergymen.
Possessing a document declaring him a genuine member of the “proletariat,” he took advantage of this opportunity and traveled to many holy places and monasteries in Russia just prior to their liquidation, or shortly afterwards. Thus, he visited Sarov, Diveyevo, many monasteries in the Novgorod area as well as in other regions. He saw the great Rostov vandalized, its relics desecrated, and the clergy humiliated. All that he saw he recorded in his diaries, a portion of which has been preserved in manuscript form.
He witnessed the death pangs of Holy Russia. He heard the voices of holy hierarchs lamenting, holy fools prophesying, and mothers weeping; but all this did not throw him into despair, but on the contrary filled his heart with holy zeal, for he understood that he lived in a new age of martyrs.
Because of his close association with very many church figures, he was able to be a living witness to their confessing stand for Christ, which enabled him later in the free world to testify tot heir innocent sufferings, inflicted with beastly atrocity by the Soviet government. Much of the work of Father Michael Polsky in his three volumes on the New Martyrs of Russia is based on material sent him by Archbishop Leonty.
Archbishop Leonty himself did not escape severe persecution in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War. He was imprisoned three times and after recalled how, when several bishops and priests had been incarcerated with him under the close supervision of the inhuman guards, they had managed to celebrate the Divine Liturgy while pretending to play cards around a table. The prison conditions in the 1930’s were so bad that most inmates were prepared to die in the most inhuman conditions. Some performed the Eucharist on the body of a dying sufferer, recognized as a martyr, since the Divine Liturgy is always performed over the relics of martyrs.
Somehow Vladika managed to get out of prison and for some time was forced to hide in an attic, suspended in a sack-like hammock so as not to reveal his presence by footsteps; the only time he could exercise was in the dead of night when the tenants below were asleep. Such living conditions of the persecuted Christians in the USSR seem incredible to us in the free world only because of the lukewarmness of our own Orthodox faith. But if we would live by the Orthodox calendar, where every day there are Scripture readings and the commemoration of saints and martyrs, we would understand.
When the Germans arrived into Western Russia in 1941, freedom of religion was restored and a tremendous field of activity opened for the surviving clergy. At this time Archimandrite Leonty found himself in Belo-Russia, where he was soon consecrated bishop in the renowned Pochaev Lavra, which up to then had been Polish territory and so had escaped destruction at Soviet hands. Between 1941, when he was consecrated, and November of 1943, when he left for the West, he was bishop of Zhitomir and consecrated over 300 priests and several bishops, and opened hundreds of churches. His enthusiasm and deeply-felt attitude towards people made him an outstanding archpastor who, when celebrating the Divine services, was transported into another world. His high tenor voice seemed to soar above earthly tumult, but his keen mind was never detached from human reality. He continued his church activity in the same spirit in Austria and Western Germany after the war, when he was appointed bishop of Paraguay and Chile in South America (Argentina became part of his diocese just before his death).
In Chile he founded a monastic community, one of whose members was the later Bishop Savva of Edmonton, Canada. Vladika brought him into his monastic brotherhood, inspired him towards the monastic ideal, tonsured him and placed him as an independent pastor who later, as a zealous bishop, started a movement of spiritual renewal in the Russian Church and is now known as the chronicler of the miraculous life of Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch.
During his travels in the free world Archbishop Leonty made a study of the sorrowful state of his Orthodox brethren in Greece, who were languishing under the modernistic influences on Orthodox life, symbolized by the new papal calendar which had been forced upon them in the 1920’s. In his martyric zeal he went to Greece and consecrated bishops for the believers who followed the Old Calendar, thus establishing a close contact between them and the Russian Church Abroad.
Soon he was made an archbishop and founded the Dormition Convent from nuns he brought from the Holy Land; this convent now operates an orphanage and a parish school in the name of St. John of Kronstadt. These nuns, headed by the righteous Abbess Alexia, were originally blessed in their ascetic life by the Optina Elder Nektary, now a glorified saint, whose traditions they firmly adhered to in the monastic training of novices.
Archbishop Leonty was a flaming defender of truth and rose fearlessly in all his spiritual stature to put down any manifestation of unrighteousness. From his first acquaintance with Archbishop John Maximovitch in Paris, he immediately recognized in him a living saint, just like the ones he had seen and lived with in much-suffering Russia. With all his loving heart he bowed down before the spiritual authority of Blessed John and supported him whenever he was slandered by those who lacked his experience of living contact with God’s genuine saints. When these slanders took a serious form and Archbishop John was put on trial in San Francisco in the 1960’s (accused of covering up dishonesty in church finances), Archbishop Leonty immediately flew to defend him and sat with him, together with Bishops Nektary and Savva, on the bench of the accused. Archbishop John, of course, was proven innocent, and the monument of his victory today is the magnificent cathedral, “The Joy of All Who Sorrow,” in San Francisco, under which Blessed John’s own remains lie.
When Archbishop Leonty learned of the sudden death of Archbishop John, he, together with another righteous and persecuted hierarch, Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, drove all the way across the United States to be at his funeral. There he shed bitter tears over the body of Archbishop John, whom he loved so much that his wish was to be closer to his grave, perhaps as Archbishop of San Francisco. God, however, did not grant this, and exactly on the fifth anniversary of Archbishop John’s death, after having prayed for the repose of his soul in his own cathedral in Buenos Aires, he gave his soul over to God, joining his beloved Abba.
The sudden death of Archbishop Leonty, who had been recovering from a heart ailment, was a great sorrow for his flock. They buried him in the cemetery which he himself had established. The sick, dying child of a local Chilean woman was placed on his grave and was miraculously healed. There were other cases of similar heavenly intervention through the prayers of Archbishop Leonty. But the most touching account of him comes from a venerator of his memory, who was granted a series of visions of him, a portion of which we offer here:
“This vision took place exactly on the day of the decision of the Council of Bishops in 1971 concerning the beginning of preparations for the canonization of the New Martyrs of Russia. It was on a Saturday. During a light sleep my spiritual father (who is still alive in Buenos Aires) appeared to me in spirit, confessed me, and released my sins.
“At the beginning of this dream I saw myself in a huge temple not built by human hands. On the right kliros for quite a distance was a huge crowd of people dressed in white: I could not make out their faces. Around me there was a quiet, heart-rending singing, although I couldn’t see anyone there. Then both side doors of the altar swung open and from them began to come out holy hierarchs and monks, fully vested in gentle blue vestments; among them I could recognize only St. Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra in Lycia. From the door near me, among the passing bishops, Vladika Leonty passed by and stopped near me, saying: ‘You, brother Basil, were called and you did come. You know we have a great celebration here today!’ ‘What kind of celebration, Vladika?’ I asked. And he continued: ‘The heavenly glorification of the Tsar-martyr!’ And having bowed to me slightly he continued on his way to the kathedra (in the center of the church).
“Finally, the holy doors of the altar opened, and out of them came the Tsar-martyr, looking just as he appears on his official portraits during the first years of his reign—that is, very young. He was dressed in the Tsar’s royal mantle, as during his coronation, and he wore the emperor’s crown on his head. In his hands he held a large cross, and on his pale face I noticed a slight wound, either from a bullet or some blow. He passed by me at an even pace, descended the step of the ambo, and went into the center of the church. As he neared the kathedra the singing increased in volume, and when his foot touched the step of the kathedra it became so loud that it seemed that a whole world of people had gathered and were singing with one breath.
“Here I came to my senses on my bed, immediately shaken, with a little wound on my right eye. It was about four o’clock in the morning. For a long time I was under the deep impression of what I had experienced.”
The same man saw Archbishop Leonty in a dream just before the fortieth day after his repose: “On the 37th day after the repose of Archbishop Leonty I had a vision in a dream. I saw him in church vestments and a mitre heading a solemn pontifical church service. When he saw me he quickly got up and hastened to greet me. He embraced and kissed me and said, ‘How happy I am to see you, brother Basil. I am now quite well. I feel no pain, and here I am very happy. In a few days I will receive new quarters with all comforts, as they say on earth; it has already been promised me.’
“A month after this I saw another dream, which indicated to me that he had been granted a heavenly abode. I heard beautiful music and saw millions of sparkling stars, and I was already on a boat which was to bring me to the other shore where he was. This is what God prepared for his faithful servant of the catacomb hierarchy, and later of our Church Outside of Russia” (Orthodox Life, 1971, December, pp. 18-20).
Through the prayers of the righteous Archbishop Leonty, confessor of the Orthodoxy of the heart, may our Lord have mercy on all of us. Amen.