Great Theologian, Teacher, Pastor Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
+ October 22/November 4, 1988
A gentle light of our Church has gone Fr Michael Pomazansky. Meek, benevolent, wise, full of love--he was not extinguished, he went away. He went there where there is neither sickness nor sot row, nor sighing, but life everlasting.
Each righteous person has some distinguishing virtue. Fr. Michael was characterized by a bound less humility. A protopresbyter, a well-known theologian of our Church, a gifted instructor, the author of many articles, four books and a textbook on dogmatics, the last remaining graduate of the Russian Theological Academy abroad, Fr. Michael lived oblivious to all this. Fulfilling all that was required of him in accordance with the Gospel, he always considered himself to be "an unprofitable servant."
Humility came to be a virtue natural to him, although it was doubtless acquired through no small effort. It is very difficult for many people to humble themselves, while for Fr. Michael it was painfully difficult to be in authority, to tell people what to do. The acquisition of profound humility was the fruit of Fr. Michael's whole life, whose roots went deep into the good soil in which he was born and grew up.
Fr. Michael was born November 7, 1888, on the eve of the Feast of Archangel Michael, in the jubilee year of the 900th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus', in the village of Korist, in the province of Volhynia. His parents came from a long line of clergy. His father, Archpriest Ioann Pomazansky was the son of a priest, Ioann Ambrosievich, who in turn was likewise the son of a priest; in the records of the graduates of the Kiev Theological Academy, Fr. Michael found a relative who hailed from the time of the Napoleonic War of 1812. Fr. Michael's mother, Vera Grigorievna, borb Kachin, was the daughter of a protodeacon in the city of Zhitomir who later became a parish priest. Fr. Michael's childhood was spent in the simple village milieu. A priest in those days served his parishioners both as a judge, as a doctor, as a spiritual father and as a counselor. His grandfather was respected by his parishioners, who also feared his strictness: young men wouldn't walk in a crowd down the street singing worldly songs; and older men...if he saw someone with a pipe-better hide or put the pipe in a pocket, even if it burned a hole... "Even so, grandfather already sensed the breakdown of morality and the whole way of life, and he was often heard to say, as if without any reason, 'Something's going to happen, some thing's going to happen,' i.e., something dreadful awaited us ahead."
"Village life is simple," wrote Fr. Michael, "and it gets along without fanciful amusements. In the summer a young boy rides about the yard on a stick, prodding himself along with a little self-made whip: and when he grows up a bit, it's up on the back of a work horse without a saddle or off to the field on the bare boards of a cart...
"...What is it in a priest's family that primarily occupies a child's attention? Church. In going to services, father would always take me with him. It was still dark in the yard; I would walk along the narrow dike beside the pond after my father to matins; vespers was usually served in the evening. People, would gather quietly in church; behind your back you would hear only the whisper of people praying before the service began. It was freezing, and in the first half hour my legs would grow numb, but with the breathing of the people the church gradually warmed up. A group of older men sang. The people stood in order: men to the right, women to the left, young people in front according to age. It was an old church, rather small, dedicated to Saint Dimitri of Thessalonica, and it was painted in light tones pleasing to the eyes of a child."
At harvest time there was much work to be done in the fields. From childhood Fr. Michael grew accustomed to work. "Once," he recalled, "I had to take some entrance exams. It was during haymaking and every day I was busy in the fields gathering in the hay. I was faced just then with an exam on the New Testament. When the day's work was finished my father called me; he gave me a copy of the New Testament and told me to read a certain chapter. Afterwards he talked to me about what I had read and we went to rest. At the examination the question that fell to my lot was on this very chapter."
When he was nine years old, Fr. Michael was sent to a parochial school seventy versts from home. These first independent steps of his life were difficult. He came to know a schoolboy's griefs and made his acquaintance with the world, at times foreign and cold. In recalling an episode from his first days at the school, Fr. Michael wrote:
"My coat was still that of a child; it had a cape attached to the shoulders. It was cold and I put it on. From behind the monitor came up to me with a large pair of scissors and without saying a word cut it off--I obviously looked foolish in it and just as silently walked off with it. I felt this unjust redress terribly insulting. Moreover, I sensed then that together with this cape my past had been cut off from my--my childhood and the only world which I had known until than. A new stage in my life began, still strange to me The old Volhynia stayed behind, while in front stood the as yet unknown, stormy and cruel 20th century."
Upon completing secondary school, Fr. Michael entered the Volhynia seminary where he attracted the particular attention of Bishop [later Metropolitan] Antfony Khrapovitsky, who left in his heart traces of his broad social, intellectual and moral influence. At every possible opportunity, even during school breaks, Fr. Michael and his classmates would hurry to the Zhitomir cathedral to listen to the sermons of their abba. Once I witnessed someone accusing Vladika Anthony of "heresy" in front of Fr. Michael. Meekly but firmly, he replied: "We will not have our alpha degraded." And so to the end of his days Fr. Michael preserved great respect for Vladika Anthony as his abba. When, after graduating from seminary Fr. Michael left Volhynia, he continued to maintain contact with Vladika Anthony through correspondence. It was with Vladika Anthony's help that in 1914 Fr. Michael received a position as a teacher of Church Slavonic in the Kaluga Seminary.
From 1908 to 1912 Fr. Michael taught in the Kiev Theological Academy. There in Kiev he took graduate pedagogical courses. In 1913 he married Vera Feodorovna Shumsky, the daughter of a priest, who became his faithful and inseparable companion on their long path together in life. After a brief stint on the missionary field combating sectarianism-through which he formed a life-long attachment to the study of the New Testament--Fr. Michael taught in the Kaluga Theological Academy; his time there coincided with the First World War. The Revolution and the consequent closing of ecclesiastical ins0tutiens obliged him to return to his native Volhynia.
The bloody revolutionary upheaval affected his part of the country and his family. At the time of the Revolution Fr. Michael's parents were away visiting their daughter, who during the War had moved with her children beyond the Dniepr. When they returned they found in place of their house a pile of ashes. But this was far from the final trial which visited Fr. Michael's close ones. In the fall of 1917 "...father sat home alone at the table; he was reading Metropolitan Macarius' Dogmatic Theology. Mother had not yet returned from a shopping trip to the town of Ostrog. Suddenly two men walked into the house, one with a revolver, the other with a rifle supporting a bayonet; the one shot my father in the chest while the other pierced him with his bayonet, and with the words "It's finished," they both turned around and hid themselves in the dark behind the door Covered with blood, my father was still able to run out with a shout into the yard. Just then my mother drove up, some people came and they managed to put my father into the cart. The horses were turned around and they rushed to Ostrog---a two hour drive. There he was laid in the hospital. In the middle of the night everything was done to save his life, and he pulled through. His hemp shirt (father did lot wear linen), painted red with blood, was kept by my father in memory of his ordeal."
Once I brought Fr. Michael the second volume of Fr. Michael Polsky's New Martyrs of Russia. He read it carefully, especially the parts about the married clergy of the Kievan diocese, and discovered there many classmates, teachers, friends and acquaintances. In his characteristic humility, he found even here a source for self-reproach: 'They all suffered, became martyrs, but what have I done; I merely burden others with my existence, and am of no use at all." And yet Fr. Michael suffered no less than these others, only his cross was different. In his youth he pulled a facial nerve. Only those who have experienced the pain caused by nerves can understand what this means The nerve sometimes hurt for several days in a row, with only brief periods of respite. At times the pain was so acute that Fr. Miehael, unable to bear it, banged his head against the wall in an effort to suppress it. I used to find him in such a state; he was a living martyr. 'This is a result of my sins," he would say; never did he utter a word of complaint
From 1920 until 1934 Fr. Michael taught Russian philology, literature, philosophical dialectics and Latin at the Russian lycee in Rovensk. During those years he worked closely on ecclesiastical publications. This was not easy in view of the persecution which the Catholics were raising at that time against the Orthodox. It was a time when churches were destroyed or taken over by the Catholics. Fr. Michael reacted with a strong article against Catholicism, but the entire issue of the magazine which carried his article was confiscated by the Polish gendarmes and the author himself fell under surveillance. Later Fr. Michael edited two church journals, The Word and Sunday Reading.
In 1936 Fr. Michael entered the priesthood and joined the clergy of the Warsaw cathedral as the first assistant to the rector, a position he held until June, 1944.
The circumstances of my life were arranged in such a way," wrote Fr. Michael in his testament, "that the first half of my public work took place in the worldly arena, in schools, while the second took me into the ecclesiastical arena, into the priesthood. In the worldly arena I experienced offenses, but in the priesthood I met only with kindness and at times even acts of love."
After being evacuated from Warsaw and after the war, Fr. Michael lived in Germany, in Munich, where he was editor of the Synodal publication Church Life and secretary of the missionary committee. During the German blockade of Warsaw Fr. Michael had contracted a lung disease which flared up periodically, hampering his capacity to work. By reason of his ill health Fr. Michael tried to decline the obediences laid upon him, but in response Vladika Anastassy said to him: "You must, therefore you can." The Metropolitan served a moleben before the wonderworking Kursk Icon of the Mother of God, and Fr. Michael's health rapidly improved.
Obedience gives birth to humility. Fr. Michael always regarded himself as an obedient child of the Church; wherever the Church sent him there he went, not choosing for himself his own paths. It was a principle he held to the end of his life. When he was already 98 years old he continued, at the request of Vladika Laurus, to write articles, dedicated to the millennial jubilee of our Church. His eyes protested, long intermissions were required, but the work was completed, and two new articles dedicated to the jubilee of the Baptism of Rus' are to be published posthumously.
Like St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Fr. Michael could find everywhere "spiritual treasures"--in the surrounding nature, in the details of daily life, in his meetings with people, he could find the spiritual side of everything and the means of going from an earthly to a heavenly contemplation. Clearly, it was for this reason that he was so fond of St. Gregory the Theologian, whom he never tired of reading. During our walks together he said more than once: "One can learn to love the Creator through nature, because He created it with love." Fr. Michael was a contemplative, a theologian, a doer of quiet and warm mental prayer. He likewise had a spiritual affinity with Bishop Theophan the Recluse 'I understand Theophan the Recluse, why even on Pascha he didn't quit his seclusion; for me it would also be easier to celebrate Pascha alone in my cell, in quietness to experience the joy of the Paschal night"
Upon his arrival in America in 1949, Fr. Michael was appointed by Archbishop Vitaly [Maximenko] as an instructor at Holy Trinity Seminary. Fr. Michael and his matushka arrived on the eve of the feast of St. Job of Pochaev, the heavenly patron of his native Volhynia. The monastery's early years were financially difficult; these were years of building. And it wasn't easy for Fr. Michael and his matushka. They settled in a house purchased by the monastery in Jordanville. The house came to serve as the monastery guest house, and Matushka and Fr. Michael took upon themselves the ministry of hospitality. Fr. Michael became involved in the seminary where he taught Greek, Church Slavonic and Dogmatic Theology. He dedicated 66 years of his life to the work of teaching. Not infrequently former students of his who remembered him from Rovensk would come to the monastery and with tears would greet their now aged former teacher and thank him for his unforgettable lessons of kindness, warmth and wisdom. And indeed, Fr. Michael was a brilliant teacher. Usually there were no discussions during his classes, not because he didn't allow them but because no one wanted to interrupt his lively, satisfying discourse. Fr. Michael talked about the dogmas of the Church; he spoke simply, humbly and exhaustively, so that any questions fell away of themselves, and if not, they found satisfactory answers---although Fr. Michael would frequently repeat, "There is a great deal that is concealed from us and we cannot comprehend everything." His lecture progressed as though he were reading a music score: he began with a theme, developed it, brought it to a conclusion, placed a period...and the bell rang signaling a change of classes.
After the illness of his matushka, Fr. Michael moved into the monastery where he lived as one of the brethren. He always tried to be unnoticeable, and for this reason he chose a semi-secluded life; he knew only his cell, the church, the seminary building and the refectory. And for the last seven years of his life it was only the church and his cell. He led an ascetic life. Once, during the first week of Great Lent, I asked him: "Batiushka, what shall I bring you to eat?" "Nothing is necessary; I would like just as the brothers." 'Thc brothers are eating potatoes." "No, thank you..." 'Nevertheless I brought him two baked potatoes. The next day I asked again, "Batiushka, what shall I bring you?" 'Thank you, nothing; I still have a potato left over from yesterday's dinner."
St. Nilus of Sainai said: "If you are a theologian you will pray in truth; and if you pray in truth, then you are a theologian" (Philokalia, vol. II, St. Nilus �61). It was from prayer that Fr. Michael drew the source of the enlightenment of his mind and heart; through prayer, which draws upon us the cleansing grace of the Holy Spirit, he became a theologian; having cast aside the decayed garments of the old man, he was able to bravely set out upon the sea of theology. I often came upon him in prayer and, the door being ajar, I was involuntarily arrested by the sight of his noble countenance. His gaze was open and shining, his lips whispered words of entreaty and gratitude. He knew many prayers by heart. He would usually leave vigil before the First Hour, and on the way to his cell would recite the entire First Hour by memory. The same was true when he was late for the midnight office; on the way to church he would recite morning prayers.
Prayer made Fr. Michael a theologian, but he himself always feared such a title: 'The Church knows only three thologians--St. John, St Gregory and St. Simeon the New Theologian; any others are extra." When Fr. Michael missed any daily services in the church, he would read them in his cell; in addition he daily read from the New and Old Testaments the first often in Greek or Latin, and this he continued until the last years of his life
A great deal could be written about Fr. Mi chael's meekness ant compassion. I remember how one winter day I turned from digging graves and stopped in to check on Fr. Michael. And here he found means for self-reproach. "I am good for nothing; I am of no use to the monastery whatsoever. just a burden to the brothers: they'll even have to dig my grave. If only I don't die in winter; if only not in winter! It's so difficult to dig in winter"! And for a long time he dwelt on this thought, sincerely distressed
It was difficult for him at times to accept another's service. He was bothered that someone should have to clean his cell or do his laundry. "Ah, my dear, ah, my dear, forgive me, forgive me; I'm forcing you to dig about in my dirt!"
He tried to give me money for my services, but I refused. This grieved him, something of which I was senselessly unaware. I would go into his cell and batiushka would be standing with an awkward look, his eyes cast down, and smile meekly. I already felt something; was not quite right. And then he would make a move to pull out the drawer of the table, and again he would pull it out further, and there lay a wallet with some money. Finally, overcoming his shyness, he would begin to offer me money Once he found a way out of this awkward situation, a solution characteristic of his meekness. I should add that I was at that time a mere novice with scarcely a beard. I came into my cell and found on the table an envelope on which was written in a familiar hand: "From Michael to Alexis. On the occasion of summer's end"; it held some money. I hae kept that envelope to this day as a memento of Fr. MichaePs humility and love.
It is a rare person who can live in a monastery without experiencing the bitterness of offenses. Fr. Michael was such a person. In his testament he wrote with perfect sincerity: "...on the part of the monastery brethren I cannot remember a time when I was grieved by anyone. I write about all this not for the sake of some tradition, as happens when people leave this life, but on the strength of experience, and that is there is a real difference between the outward affection of the "world" and the outward severity of the Church's way of life, between the real coldness of a world rich in earthly goods and the hidden inner warmth of the life of the Church which is scorned by the world. Within the confines of the Church--the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendth it not.'
I do not recall a single instance when Fr. Michael judged someone or reacted negatively towards someone, or even once became angry or irritated at my at times inattentive care of him. If I did not remember myself to bring him dinner or do his laundry, I could not expect a reminder from him.
At the last, from September 1988, Protopresbyter Michael was less frequently in church Until that time, on feast days he was helped from the seminary building to the church and he attended the all-night vigils and the Divine Liturgy and usually partook of the Holy Mysteries. During the last months he was unable to go to church and he communed in his cell.
In the final days of his earthly life Fr. Michael suffered especially; cancer of the prostate destroyed batiushka's strong organism and caused him acute pain. Someone was constantly at his bedside: his daughter-m-law Natalia Sergeyevna, Fr. Andrew Erastoy, Brother Theodore Korolenko, and in the final days seminarians and the servant of God Alexandra Listmenko. From October 26 Batiushka's condition worsened; he began at times to lose his mind. But even in such a state he would utter words so characteristic of him: "Beloved, dear ones"! And he would look at you with the kind, gentle eyes of a child. He imagined that he was back in his native Volhynia, among the fields and horses, in the church there, among his close ones. This alleviated his sufferings; his face would brighten and take on the look of a child, reflecting his soul--it was the soul of a pure youth, who was leaving a sorrowing life and returning to his father's home, where there is neither sickness nor sorrow nor sighing, but life everlasting!
On Friday October 22/November 4, at 6:30 in the morning the feast day of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, I came into Fr. Michael's cell and found that he had reposed; his forehead was still warm. Batiushka died alone. He had always served me as an example of meekness, humility, prayerful recollection and abstinence--those monastic activities to which I can only aspire. And he died in a monastic way with no one around, Soon came Fr. Cyprian and Fr. Luke. They immediately dressed Fr, Michael and took him in a wooden coffin into the lower church of St. Job. For five days Fr. Michael's body lay there in the church where the Gospel and the Psalter were read continually on behalf of his soul. Archbishop Laurus performed the funeral service on November 9. Present at the service were Fr.Michael's former students--Fr. George Larin, Fr. Vsevolod Drobot, Fr. Gregory Kotliarov, Fr. Ioasaph Yaroshchuk, Fr. Victor Lokhmatov and Fr. Andrei Papkov.
May the memory of this unforgettable pastor and teacher be eternal!
(Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus', 11/14/88)
FATHER MICHAEL POMAZANSKY WAS ONE OF THE LAST GENUINE THEOLOGIANS OF OUR TIMES.