The Young Father Vladimir

A priceless fragment from the life of much-suffering Russia, this account sheds a ray of light on the hidden treasures of Holy Russia today. From the memoirs of Natalia Vladimirovna Urusova, a member of the Catacomb Church in Russia before the Second World War, and herself the mother of three martyr sons.

From my childhood I had a friend who was two years older than I. She was married two years before me. In the first year of their marriage a son was born to them, and he was baptized with the name of Vladimir. From his very birth the child struck everyone by his large and beautiful dark brown eyes which had, as it were, a sorrowful expression. The child was extraordinarily quiet. In the second year of their marriage a second boy was born to them who was called Boris. This child was the complete opposite of his older brother. From the first day of his appearance in the world he struck everyone by his extraordinarily noisy and lively character. I loved both of these boys and often would come to baby-sit and spend time with them. Vladimir grew up and remained exactly the same as he was born. He never wanted to play with other children. He would sit down and remain alone quietly in a corner. This disturbed his parents. “What is this little head thinking about all the time?” the parents asked me.

The father and mother were very religious and raised their children in this spirit. Little Volodya was eager to go to church and often went with his nurse when his parents for some reason could not go to the Divine service. The second boy, Boris, on the contrary, was lazy about going to church. When it came time for Vladimir to go to school, his mother said to me: I do not know how Vovochka will he able to study, it seems that he is not only incapable, but there's also some kind of abnormality about him. He is not interested in anything except church; he is always quiet and deep in thought about something not in accordance to his age.” The parents were mistaken; they did not understand their own child, he went through all the classes to the finish as first in his class, astonishing his teachers by his mind and talents.

And when after finishing high school he declared that he desired to enter the theological academy for further education, his parents here also did not under stand the path which he had chosen and which was clearly indicated to him by God Himself. They insisted that first he should complete the four-year course of the university in whatever department he himself would choose; and if after this his intention should remain unchanging, then they would give their blessing or him to enter the academy. “You are still very young, they said to him; “obey your parents.” And he submissively obeyed them. The four-year course of the law department he finished in three years, as was allowed at that time, and then he entered the academy.

After finishing the academy he was very quickly ordained deacon, and in 1916 he was ordained priest. He did not wish to become married, but since according to Church rules he did not have the right to remain unmarried as a priest — then behold what a great sign of God saved him and was fulfilled in him.

His family was friendly with another very pious family. They had one young daughter who was dying of advanced tuberculosis. The physicians indicated that she would live no longer than a month. She knew of Vladimir’s unvanquishable desire to become a priest and of his sorrow in connection with the necessity of entering into marriage. And so she offered herself as a holy sacrifice, knowing that she was dying. She agreed to enter into marriage with Vladimir, even though she could hardly stand on her feet, so that he, being left a widower, would have the right to be a priest. The parents did not hinder this holy deed which she undertook before her death. After the wedding they led her home from church; she no longer got up from bed, and in two weeks she peacefully died.

Father Vladimir, marked from his birth by God, went on his chosen path. In 1924 he and his parents were sent from Moscow to the city of Tver in so-called voluntary exile. Despite his youth, Father Vladimir was given great veneration and love by the parishioners of the church where he celebrated Divine services. Neither he nor his parents had the right to leave the city, and they were considered as being under the observation of the GPU.

The sermons of Father Vladimir were distinguished by their complete fearlessness. He called on everyone to submit to no kind of church interference by the Bolsheviks. He would not listen to any kind of warnings to be careful. After one extraordinary sermon he went to bid farewell to his parents, having been secretly warned by someone that he would be arrested at night. Insistently, before his final farewell on earth, he begged his father and mother under no conditions, even at the moment of death, to call a priest who had entered into contact With the Soviet regime [i.e. had remained under Metropolitan Sergius after his Declaration” of 1927], even though one would have to die without confession and communion of the Holy Mysteries. In the same night he was led away and executed in the Lyubanka prison in Moscow.

After this until 1932, not living in Moscow, I did not know anything about this family with which we had been such friends. In 1951 I went to visit my mother, who was quite old and lived in Moscow. Walking along the street alone I saw Boris coming to meet me. We immediately recognized each other even though we had not seen each other for a long time. With burning eyes he began to tell me about himself, on the first boulevard and sat down on a bench. And this is what he told me about the evident miracle of God's great many which had been performed upon him:

“When the unsettled times before the Revolution began, I immediately gave in to the propaganda. I joined the Young Communists immediately after it was organized, and soon, to the great sorrow and terror of my parents, I be came also a member of the Atheist League. My brother Vladimir tried to return me to God, entreating me to come to my senses, and probably both during his life and after his murder he prayed much for the salvation of my soul, but this did not cause me to waver. On the contrary, after he was shot I soon be came the head of the Atheist League in one remote city where I went voluntary after marrying a girl who was also in the Young Communists and who ridiculed faith in God. Her parents, just like mine, were very religious. Both hers and mine declared to us that if we did not go through the Church rite of matrimony they would renounce us.

Despite the extreme difference in our views, I very much loved my father and mother. Seeing their inexpressible sorrow, I persuaded my bride to fulfill the demand of our parents and, while in our souls we mocked the sacrament of marriage, nonetheless we were secretly married — secretly, because otherwise we both would have been shot. Before the wedding the mother of my wife blessed her with a large icon of the Saviour Not-made-with-hands and said: ‘Give me your word that you will not throw it out; even if you do not need it now, still do not destroy it.’

Not made with hands Truly, we did not need this icon, and it lay in a trunk in our shed together with useless things. “A year later a son was born to us. We both wished to have a child and were very happy at his birth, but the child was born sick and weak, with a tubercular spine. We had managed to preserve something from the previous pre-revolutionary wealth, and my own salary was sufficient so that without sparing money we could ask the best physicians to come. They all said that in the best possible case, if the boy would be always lying down on his back in a plaster cast, he could live to be six years old, but no more.

And so we went away to a remote place, trusting in a better climate. There I became the head of the Atheist League and in every way possible persecuted the Church. “The child was five years old and his health was getting worse all the time. Then we were not living in the city itself but in a healthful place in the country. The rumor came to us that a famous professor of children’s diseases had been sent to this city for resettlement. One had to go 20 miles from our village to the nearest station, and the train went only once in a day.

The boy was very sick, and I decided to go and bring the professor to us. When I came to the station, the train left before my very eyes. What should I do? Should I wait a whole day while my wife was at home and the child might die suddenly without me? I thought and thought — but what could be done? I turned back. I came home and found the following: The mother, weeping, was on her knees, embracing the child’s legs, which were already growing cold. The local medic had just gone out and said that the child's last minutes had come. I sat down at the table by the window, opposite the shed, took my head in my hands, and gave myself over to despair. Suddenly I saw quite clearly that the doors of the shed were opening, and out of the shed my deceased brother Vladimir came, in priest’s vestments. In his arms, facing towards me, was the icon of the Saviour Not-made-with-hands. I was stunned! I clearly saw how he walked, how his long dark hair was blowing in the wind; I heard his steps approaching. I grew cold and was petrified. He entered the room, came up to me, and in silence gave the icon into my hands and then vanished.

Icon not made with Hands and Fr. Vladimir

I cannot communicate in words,” Boris said to me with tears streaming down his cheeks, “what I experienced. I experienced God! I rushed to the shed, searched out the icon in the trunk and laid it on the child. In the morning of the following day our boy was completely well. The physicians who were treating him finally shrugged their shoulders. They took off the cast.

There was no trace of tuberculosis! Here I understood everything! I understood that there is a God Who is merciful to sinners, and that by the prayers of Father Vladimir he had performed the marvelous wonder of the healing of the child and also the healing of my wife and myself, the salvation of our souls. Without hesitating, I resigned not only as the head of the Atheist League, but also from the Communist Party, of which I was already a member.

My wife did likewise. I spoke openly and did not hide the miracle that had occurred to us. From that hour I told everyone everywhere about the miracle that had happened, and I called them to faith in God. By His holy will I was not arrested right away and, without putting it off another day, we came to my parents near Moscow, where they had settled after the end of the exile. We baptized the child, giving him the name of George.”

I parted with Boris, of course, under the inexpressible impression of the miracle which had been performed upon him by the prayers of the righteous Father Vladimir, and 1 never saw him again. When in 1937 I came back to Moscow from the far south, I found out from his parents that a month after the baptism of the child they had gone to the Caucasus. Boris continued to tell everyone of his former spiritual error. And behold, while he was in perfect health, and was of course being secretly watched and followed, suddenly, in a single instant, he died, but not from a heart attack. It was not allowed for physicians to determine the cause of death. He had, of course, been killed by the Bolsheviks.

This is a small excerpt taking from the Orthodox Word published 1973 Jul-Aug