Finding The Bark

Fr. Pietro Alagiani spent ten years in Russian prisons. seven of them in solitary confinement. In his memoirs he tells of the conversion of a Russian Orthodox priest to Catholicism.

The 11th January 1954 in my prison cell an elderly man came towards me and said, “Father, I also am a priest a Russian Orthodox priest, (….).” Like many other prisoners, he told me about his pastoral life, a life worthy of the apostolic men of the first centuries of Christianity.

He had been a schoolteacher. Like all good Christians, he suffered terribly to see the religious persecutions inflicted by the Communists. He was also saddened to see how many of the clergy succumbed and conformed to the Communist regime.

At the age of 58 he received instruction and was ordained a priest by an anti-Communist bishop. For over 17 years this priest went around in hiding from village to village, from house to house, administering the sacraments, encouraged the persecuted families, exhorting them to defend the Christian faith and the freedom of the Church of God, and, as he said, “against the atheistic Communists and those who, without any scruples conformed to the regime,”

Despite threatening him many times with canonical censures the Patriarch was not able to intimidate him or hold him back from his pastoral work. He began crying as he told me that “finally my superiors betrayed me, the Patriarch denounced me”.

Conclusion: arrested, two years of interrogation at Lubianka prison, a declaration to sign which forced him to stop all priestly activity except that which would be given to him by the Patriarch and in accordance with the Patriarch’s orders. This venerable 75 year old man refused to sign — a true confessor of Christ. He received 25 years hard labour.

He then continued and said to me, “Father. I am not a priest of great erudition, but when I read the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ to St. Peter. “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church”. I ask myself how can one believe in Jesus Christ and profess the Christian faith without accepting Peter as head of the universal Church and continue to live separated from his successors, the Bishops of Dome.”

For two days we spoke together. He listened avidly to my brief dogmatic explanations on the principal points of the Catholic teaching and on the doctrinal differences of the Greek and Russian theologians.

I saw that his priestly soul was already Catholic. All that was lacking was to fulfil the canonical formalities which he wanted done then and there, “Father,” he said to me, “you are the first and most probably the last Catholic priest that almighty will make me meet during my life.”

In virtue of the special jurisdiction that pope Pius XII had given me on the 13th August 1942 I received his abjuration, his Profession of Faith. I took away all ecclesiastical censures, and I admitted him into the Catholic Church authorizing him to continue his priestly ministry. In thanksgiving he said to me. “My dear Father, now I shall to the hard labour camps of Siberia to be a Catholic missionary amongst my beloved Russian compatriots.”