A Holy Disciple of St John the Wonderworker:
Schema-Archimandrite Vasily of Carpatho-Russia
Monastic life and eldership did not come to an end in Carpatho-Russia during the Soviet period of 1944-1991, not even under the persecutions of Khrushchev. After the repose of Archimandrite (now St) Alexis (Kabaliuk) in 1947, the names of Archimandrites Job (Kundria) (+ 1985) and Vasily (Pronin) (+ 1997) came to the fore. Surely, one day, their names will be listed in calendars together with the other saints of Carpatho-Russia.
Archimandrite Vasily, in the world Vladimir Pronin, was born in Kiev on 8 September 1914 to an ancient noble Russian family. From childhood he showed humility, piety and love of the church, thanks to the upbringing of his devout parents Vasily and Iroida. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir's family emigrated to Orthodox Serbia. There, Vladimir studied at seminary in Bitol and met many bishops of the Serbian and Russian Churches. Above all, he frequented Hieromonk (now St) John (Maximovich), his spiritual mentor. The latter greatly influenced Vladimir and considered him to be one of his closest spiritual children. Although Fr John was consecrated Bishop in 1934 and went to Shanghai, he never lost contact with Vladimir.
Between 1934 and 1937, Vladimir studied at the Theological Faculty of the University of Belgrade, graduating with distinction. It was on completing these studies that Vladimir visited Kishinev and the crypt where his parents were buried. While inside this crypt, the metal door slammed shut on him and he found himself trapped inside. Vladimir prayed with tears and made a vow that if he could get out, he would devote his whole life to God. At that moment the door opened. From now on Vladimir's destiny came to be linked with Bishop Vladimir (Raich).
Born in 1882, Bishop Vladimir was a Serb who had studied in Russia, including at the Moscow Academy. On returning to Serbia, he had spent thirty years teaching catechism in schools, until in 1937 he was tonsured and consecrated bishop by the Serbian Patriarch Gabriel, Metropolitan Anastasius, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the Serbian Bishops Irineius and Simeon and Bishop (now Hieromartyr) Dositheus.
On 10 March 1939, Bishop Vladimir tonsured Vladimir Pronin, aged 25, monk and then ordained him to the priesthood. Vladimir was given the name of Vasily (Basil), in honour of St Basil the Fool-for-Christ. Bishop Vladimir had been appointed Bishop of Mukachevo in Carpatho-Russia, for the autonomous Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church was then in the spiritual care of the Serbian Church. Bishop Vladimir loved Carpatho-Russia, which during the 1930s was fighting to keep its Orthodoxy and national identity, and he was to take Fr Vasily there.
On hearing this news, Bishop John sent Hieromonk Vasily a congratulatory telegram: 'I sincerely congratulate you on receiving the monastic tonsure and the priesthood. I rejoiced with all my heart when I read your letter. Entering monasticism and taking up the service of the Church in the much-suffering Carpatho-Russian land, you have made the right choice, useful to you and to many...The Carpathian land is very close to me as an ancient Russian land...For centuries it has kept the faith and its national identity, despite all the attempts to supplant them. That land will always remain close to me and I send my greetings to the disciples who have been prepared to serve the Church'. Bishop John constantly corresponded with Fr Vasily and took a keen interest in the situation in Carpatho-Russia.
Hieromonk Vasily served in various parishes in Carpatho-Russia and was ever a zealous pastor and missionary. However, on 19 November 1945, at the end of the Second World War and under Soviet occupation, the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church passed into the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1946 Fr Vasily became the spiritual father of the Convent of St Nicholas on Monastery Hill in Mukachevo. For over fifty years he was to give spiritual nourishment to the nuns there. Many of them had suffered greatly for Orthodoxy, among them the Abbess, Mother Nina (in the world Juliana Prokop). Others, from laypeople to hierarchs, and from all over the Soviet Union, beat a path to Fr Vasily’s door, seeking his unceasing prayer, counsel and clairvoyance.
Archimandrite Vasily was a highly cultivated man. He had a command of fourteen languages, knew Latin and Greek thoroughly and spoke Russian, English, French, German, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian and Serb fluently. He was also a mineralologist and a famous expert on the minerals of Carpatho-Russia. In 1958, at the Moscow Theological Academy, Fr Vasily defended a doctorate on the History of the Mukachevo Diocese from the Beginnings until 1914. Using many sources, this highly serious and still unsurpassed work on the history of Orthodoxy in Carpatho-Russia showed that Carpatho-Russia had always defended Orthodox and its identity, whatever the attempts to uproot it. It is a great misfortune that it has not yet been published. As one Rusin who has read it has remarked that it shows that his Christian homeland in the Carpathians is part of the great Holy Russia.
This ‘History’ is not the only learned work of Fr Vasily. He also wrote ’A Rule for Monks, ‘The Rites of the Convent of Mukachevo’, ‘The Bible and Mathematics’, ‘Rebirth and Resurrection’, ‘Gravity and the Renaissance’, 'Subcarpathian Linguistics’, and ‘The Paleolithic on Monastery Hill’. Fr Vasily was the only person to the present time to attempt archaeological excavations in Carpatho-Russia. He composed an Akathist to St Moses the Hungarian and several prayers. He was also an artist and painted one of the few pictures dealing with Orthodox history in Carpatho-Russia. This is a picture called ‘The Appearance of the Angel to Prince Theodore Koriatovich on the River Latoritsa’. The latter led the uprising of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox against their Hungarian persecutors in the Middle Ages.
Fr Vasily was a wonderful pastor, who, ‘loved everyone, forgave everyone and warmed the hearts of all with his spiritual father’s love’, as his spiritual children write of him. Forced to lie down for the last year of his life, he foreknew the time of his repose. In 1997, a week before he passed over, he told his doctor of his coming parting. A few days before his repose he made his farewells to the nuns. He reposed on the night of 4 and 5 January and his burial took place on the Feast of the Nativity. Fr Vasily’s memory is honoured in the Convent and his cell is kept as it was. His body lies next to that of the Confessor, Abbess Nina, in the Convent cemetery. Many go there and the faithful maintain that healings take place. Details of the life of Archimandrite Vasily have been handed to the Canonization Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church.
From Fr Vasily’s Diary:
O Virginity - inexhaustible riches!
O Virginity - unfading crown!
O Virginity - the house of God and the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit!
O Virginity - the pearl of great price, unseen by many and acquired by few!
O Abstinence, unseen by many and known by those worthy of Thee!
O Abstinence, escaping death and judgement and crowned with glorious immortality!
O Abstinence, joy of the Prophets and boast of the Apostles!
O Abstinence, life of the Angels and crown of the Saints!
Blessed is he who holds on to Thee, blessed is he who has zeal with patience for Thee, for he will rejoice in Thee!
Blessed is he who fasts for a brief time, for he will dwell in the Jerusalem on high, sing in choir with the angels and repose with the holy Prophets and Apostles.
Today I am going to read the Holy Scriptures from the beginning. First of all I will turn to the Saviour in prayer, so that He may open my mind to understand the Scriptures, as he opened the minds of His Apostles on the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection.
People follow their own ways, they have forgotten the ways of God.
There are within the human heart two equal possibilities: to become a saint or to become a thief. And from the thief to the saint, there is only one path - that of repentance, reconciliation. Having created man, who broke the commandment of God, free, and not wishing to destroy human freedom, God reconciled man to Him through sacrificing His Son.
To fall in thought is a great fall. He who does not take sin seriously is far from the Truth.
Monastic life strengthened within me my physical health, which was shattered by chronic hunger and finally malaria and colds. In the same way my emotional and spiritual health were also strengthened. I gave myself up to His holy will with deep faith in the mercy of God and unceasing humility.
The struggle for the Church! How many disappointments, how much pain! How much pain from our own weakness and from circumstances. People are against, history is against, circumstances are against! But Christ is with us! He will help us to step out onto a new road, a new way. O Lord, if the time comes to suffer for Thy Holy Name, then strengthen me with Thy grace, that my sinful tongue may not grow weak and my weary knees may not fail. O Lord, keep me in Thy strength. The Church of God is desecrated and defiled. She is humiliated and blasphemous cries and words compass Her round about. But, O Lord, preserve the faith in the hearts of those that love Thee. I surrender my heart in complete service to Thee, O Lord my God. If I ask for help, then it is because I am without strength. Thou hast said: Without me ye can do nothing. Keep me, O Lord, my heart and my soul. Let there be sufferings in this life and sorrows, but strengthen my faith.
The case of a miraculous healing through the prayers of Fr Vasily:
I, Yuri Andreyevich Openchuk, was born on 9 June 1945, in the town of Lebedinoe in the province of Suma. My father was a soldier, my mother a deeply religious woman. From childhood I believed in God and in the strength of prayer, as my mother taught me. From then on, wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I thanked our Lord for everything and never forgot about prayer, I prayed always and everywhere.
I first visited the Convent in Mukachevo in 1992. From then on, whenever I went to Mukachevo, I always went to the Convent. My soul headed there. In church I always felt light, at home, bright. I met the nuns and took great pleasure in speaking to them. In 1994 I went to the Convent and Mother Leonida asked Fr Theodore to take me to Fr Vasily to ask for his blessing, which he gave.
When three years later I returned, I discovered that Fr Vasily had passed over. No-one told me where his grave was or how to find it. But as I was walking though the cemetery, I noticed a mound of earth and a cross. There was no indication as to who it was, it was as though my soul had led me to the grave of Archimandrite Vasily. I knelt down, put my hands on the mound of earth and, weeping, began to pray. I asked his soul to pray for my sinful self, my family and my child.
On the evening of that same day I was about to say evening prayers. Having picked up my prayer-book, I could not find the magnifying glass which I use to read with. Suddenly I realized that I could read without it. Since childhood I had had bad eyesight. I had always needed glasses to read. With age, reading had become harder and I had begun to use a magnifying glass. But now I could read without it and without glasses. For the first time I could read my prayer-book without the impression of being blind. Archimandrite Vasily had helped me.
We had been living in Donetsk, but after this I and my family decided to come and live in Mukachevo. We often go to the Convent and I always go to Elder's grave and thank him for healing me.
(This article has been translated from material by Archpriest Dimitri Sidor and Kirill Frolov. Fr Andrew)