SYNOD OF BISHOPS : January 10, 2005


In Memory of Archbishop Sergii (Petrov) of Chernomorsk and Novorossiisk (on the 70th Anniversary of His Death)

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the repose of Archbishop Sergii (Petrov) of Chernomorsk and Novorossiisk (+1935), who is commemorated every day during divine liturgy at the lower church of St Sergius of Radonezh at the Synod of Bishops along with the names of all the reposed hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Archbishop Sergii, was born Stefan Alekseevich Petrov on January 30, 1864 in Aksai stanitsa (Cossack village), of Donskoy oblast. Thanks to the example set by his parents, he revered the clerical service. It seemed to him the most desirable path, and he saw it in its ideal forms and images. It was with this attitude that he enrolled in Donskoy Seminary, which he graduated in 1886.

During his studies at the seminary, he had a spiritual crisis, and those pure, holy intentions with which his heart burned in his younger days were abandoned, and he decided once and for all to reject serving the Church. But, since his spiritual troubled continued, he decided to move to Tomsk, where his uncle, who was the Bishop of Tomsk, lived, in the hope that under his guidance he could work on perfecting himself and free himself of the spiritual depression. But his hopes were not satisfied; despair filled his soul. He suffered, it seemed, endlessly. But this tribulation of his faith did not last long. Once, in one of those joyless moments, when he felt moral solitude, when the whole universe seemed to him a bleak desert, he suddenly remembered, accidentally and vaguely, first the melody of a church prayer, then the words: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man" (Ps 145:3). These holy words lifted his thoughts from earth to Heaven, and like a ray of light broke through into his darkened soul with new, joyful meaning. His heart found a need for God. This was a watershed moment in his life, and his spiritual rebirth began.

While his soul was undergoing a renewal, which poured joy, peace and consolation into him, an external event occurred which also echoed in his inner world.

Some of the most active missionaries from Altai had come to Tomsk; they seemed to him to be unlike the mere mortals he had previously met. A sort of profound respect arose in him for these people and for their holy labors. Their stories touched within his soul the desire to spread the Word of God among the people of Altai. He then began to think of monasticism, and to dedicate his whole life to God.

He moved from Tomsk to Moscow, where he joined Moscow University's Historical-Philological Department, which he finished in 1890 with a 1st-degree diploma.

During his studies at the University, he continued to struggle with his old, inner self. He finally decided to devote himself to God. With this in mind, he audited several courses on missionary work at Kazan Theological Academy, and then joined the Altai Mission.

In 1892, he was tonsured a monk, and on November 7 of that year, he was ordained hieromonk and appointed to the Kirghiz Mission.

On February 12, 1899, he was consecrated bishop of Biisk, Vicar of the Tomsk Diocese. The consecration was performed in the stavropighial church of the Tomsk See; it was performed by Bishop Makarii of Tomsk and Barnaul, Bishop Mefodii of Zabaikal and Nerchensk and Bishop Innokentii of Priamursk and Blagoveshchensk. Then, Bishop Sergii, in January 1901, assumed the Omsk and Semipalatinsk Cathedra; from September 6 1903 he was Bishop of Kovensk, Vicar of the Lithuanian Diocese; from January 25, 1907, he became Bishop of Novomirgorodsky, Vicar of Kherson Diocese; from December 22, 1913, he was Bishop of Sukhumsk, then Bishop of Chernomorsk and Novorossiisk.

After the evacuation to Constantinople, Vladyka Sergii traveled to Serbia under the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority abroad, where he took up residence at Privina Glava Monastery. The last few years of his life were very much eased by the kind attitude towards him of the Superior of the monastery, Hieromonk Savva, whom Vladyka often remembered with profound gratitude.

Always suffering from poor health, from 1934 Vladyka began to visibly falter: from the Nativity of Christ on, he could no longer leave the monastery buildings, either to go outside or even to church; he began preparing for Holy Unction. He spent his time on an armchair reading Holy Scripture. He would often say: "So, I lived my life thinking that I knew Holy Scripture. A now, the more I read, the more I find something new, and more beautiful. Before, I did not notice everything. What lofty and inimitable poetry!"

He prepared himself for death and often said that he fears it and constantly prays to the Lord that He sent it to him "without sickness, without shame and in peace," without agony or mortal suffering.

Possessing a broad education, speaking many foreign tongues, he was interested in world events to the end, especially that which concerned our Homeland. He spoke ill of no man, and if he ever spoke critically of anyone, he would grimace painfully and stop himself; "Remember the words of the Lover of Mankind: 'judge not, lest ye be judged.'"

Two days before his death, Vladyka felt much stronger. His temperature dropped to normal. He began making plans for the future, wishing in May to visit the Nis Towers for his health. On his last evening on earth, a splendid article by Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky +1965) of Kishinev was read to him, published in Tserkovnaya zhizn' (Church Life).

He was moved to tears. He then remembered his parents with elation and sorrow, parents he had lost at an early age, he remembered his Aksai stanitsa, its gardens, the Quiet Don River, which at times flooded tens of acres under the Aksaisk hills, the blue panorama of the steppes. "Oh, my holy Homeland, what heart does not tremble that blesses you?" Then he read from memory the poems of Pushkin and several dozen of the final lines of the "The Sinner" by Count A.K. Tolstoy. He had a sparkling memory which did not abandon him to the last.

On the morning of January 11/24, 1935, at about 6:30, his loud, confident voice was heard: standing in the hallway near his cell, he conversed with the monastery boiler-man. About an hour later, a startled monastery worker found him dead.

The funeral was performed on January 12/25 by Archbishop Anastassy of Kishinev and Archbishop Feofan of Kursk along with Russian and Serbian clergymen who arrived in large numbers from Belgrade and elsewhere. With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Varnava of Serbia, the burial was performed inside the churchyard near the wall of the monastery.

On the anniversary of his death, pannikhidas will be performed in parishes of our Church, and especially where daily liturgies are performed. Let us join the many prayers of the clergymen and parishioners of those abroad as well as those in Altai for the repose of the soul of Archbishop Sergii, and may we try to delve into the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, our rich heritage, in order to worthily honor the memory of him and our other bishops, the founders of the part of the All-Russian Local Church located abroad.