Here is an excerpt from Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, trans. by Vera Bouteneff (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999). This series of memoirs circulated as samizdat during the atheist regime, before being translated and published in English. The book may be read online at Google, or in hard copy; likewise the sequel, Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses, at Google or in hard copy.
Father Arseny: Fact or Fiction? In this podcast, Dr. Peter Bouteneff discusses a pair of books about Father Arseny —Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father and Father Arseny: Cloud of Witnesses, both of which his mother translated from Russian into English.
Father Arseny was reviewed recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
During one of the winters, a young man was assigned to Father Arseny’s barracks. Aged 23, he was a student and had been sentenced to twenty years in the camp. He had no experience of camp life because he had been sent to this special camp directly from the strict Butirki Prison in Moscow. Still young, he did not fully understand what lay ahead of him. As soon as he entered the death camp, he encountered the criminals.
His clothing was still good for he had only been in prison a few months. The criminals, led by Ivan the Brown, decided to get hold of the young man’s apparel. They proposed a card game with clothing at stake. Everybody knew that this lad would soon be naked, but no one could do anything about it; even Sazikov dared not intervene. The camp rule was that whoever interfered would be killed. Those who had been in the camp for a while knew only too well that if the criminals decided to play for your rags, to resist would be the end of you.
Ivan the Brown won all the young man’s clothes. Ivan approached him and said, “Take everything off, my friend.”
At that point things started to go sour. The young man, whose name was Alexei, thought that the game had been for fun and refused to hand over his clothing. Ivan the Brown decided to make an exhibition of it. He began with mocking kindness; then he started beating him. Alexei tried to resist, to fight back, but by now the whole barracks knew that he would be beaten until he could no longer move, or even to death. Everyone sat still and watched as Ivan bashed Alexei. He bled from the mouth and face and was swaying. Some criminals mockingly urged him to fight.
Father Arseny had not seen the beginnings of the fight; he had been piling up logs near a stove at the other end of the barracks. He suddenly saw what was happening. Ivan was going to kill Alexei. By now Alexei could only cover his face with his hands; Ivan was slamming him and smashing him repeatedly. Father Arseny silently put the logs near the stove, calmly walked over to the fight and, before the amazed eyes of the whole barracks, grabbed the arm of Ivan the Brown. Ivan looked surprised, shocked! The priest had interfered in a fight. This meant he must die. Ivan hated Father Arseny. He had never dared touch him for fear of the rest of the barracks, but now he had a true reason to kill him.
Ivan stopped beating Alexei and pronounced, “O.K. Pop, it’s the end for both of you. First the student, then you.” A knife appeared in his hands and he lunged towards Alexei.
The marker at Father Arseny’s grave in Rostov.