№27 (190) November, 2004


In everlasting remembrance shall the righteous be...

Father Michael Pomazansky, a quiet light of our Church, has departed. Modest, good, wise, and full of love, he has not been extinguished, but has merely departed. He has gone to a place "where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting."
Every righteous man has one exceptional virtue. In Fr. Michael's case it was boundless humility. He was one of the outstanding theologians of our time, an excellent pedagogue, the author of many articles, books, a text on dogmatic theology, and the last living graduate of a pre-revolutionary Russian Theological Academy. Fr. Michael lived as if he were unaware of all this. Having fulfilled all that was commanded in the Gospel, he continued to think of himself as an "unprofitable servant."
Humility became for him second nature, although it was acquired by great labors. For many it is difficult to be humble, but for Fr. Michael it was painfully difficult for him to command others and tell them what to do. The acquisition of deep humility was the fruit of Fr. Michael's whole life, and its roots go back to the fertile soil in which he was born and raised.
Fr. Michael was born on the seventh of November, 1888, on the eve of the feast of the Archangel Michael during the 900th anniversary year of the baptism of Russia, in the village of Korist, Rovin Province, in Volhynia. His parents came from generations of priestly families. His father was Archpriest John, who likewise was the son of the priest John Amvrosievich, who was also the son of a priest. In the list of graduates of the Kiev Theological Academy, Fr. Michael found a number of people of the same last name at the time of the war of 1812. Fr. Michael's mother, Vera Grigorievna, was the daughter of a protodeacon in Zitomir, who later became a parish priest.
Fr. Michael's childhood was spent in simple village surroundings. A priest in those days served as judge, doctor, spiritual father and advisor for his parishioners. His grandfather, Fr. John, was strict, respected, and feared. Groups of rowdy boys would walk down the streets, and if he noticed one of them with a pipe, it would be necessary to either hide it or put it lit into a pocket. "Nevertheless, grandfather already felt a rift in the morality of the whole Orthodox Christian culture. Frequently from his lips were heard the words, 'something will happen, something will happen,'" in other words, "difficult times await us."
"Country life was simple," wrote Fr. Michael, "and one got along without any special forms of entertainment. In the summer a young boy rode horsey on a stick, galloping in the yard around the house, chasing himself with a homemade whip. When he grew up he would go out to the fields on a workhorse without a saddle or in a simple wagon.
"In a priest's family the church services were given the most attention. My father always used to take me with him to church. Outside it was still dark, and we walked along a narrow dam on our way to Matins. People gathered quietly in the church and one could hear only the whispering of prayers from many lips before the beginning of the service. There was frost and one's legs quickly numbed for the first half hour, but the church was gradually warmed by the breath of the congregation. Only a group of men sang. The people stood in an orderly fashion, the men on the right, the women on the left, with the young children in front, according to height. The little church was dedicated to the Great-martyr Demetrius of Thessalonica. It was well lit and painted in bright colors, which were appealing to the eyes of the children."
At the age of nine Fr. Michael entered the Theological School in Volhynia, where Bishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) was especially attentive to him. The bishop left in his heart traces of his own wide social, intellectual, and moral influence. At every convenient moment, even during breaks, Fr. Michael hurried With like-minded friends to the Cathedral in Zitomir in order to hear the bishop's sermons. Once someone accused Bishop Anthony of heresy in front of Fr. Michael. Fr. Michael meekly but firmly responded, "We will not allow our Abba to be offended." Thus, till the end of his life he maintained a reverent attitude toward Vladyka Anthony as toward an Abba. Having left the diocese of Volhynia after finishing seminary, Fr. Michael continued to maintain contact with Bishop Anthony through letters. From 1908 until 1912 Fr. Michael studied at the Theological Academy in Kiev and also completed a one year pedagogical course offered by the Kiev Educational District. In 1913 he married Vera Feodorovna Shumsky, the daughter of a priest. She became his faithful and inseparable companion on the long path of life. After a brief experience in the anti-sectarian mission field in the town of Tiraspul near Odessa, Fr. Michael became zealously attached for the rest of his life to the study of the New Testament. In 1914, with the help of Vladyka Anthony, he was given a position in the Theological Seminary in Kaluga as instructor in Church Slavonic where he taught throughout the First World War (1914-17). The Revolution and the consequent closure of the theological schools forced him to return to his homeland - Volhynia. The bloody revolutionary whirlpool touched both his native land and his family. During the Revolution Fr. Michael's parents were away visiting their daughter and children, who had moved during the war to the area of the Dnieper. When they returned, instead of their home they found only a heap of ashes. But this was far from the last trial which was to visit Fr. Michael's relatives. In the fall of 1917 "my father was sitting at home alone at the table reading Dogmatic Theology by Metropolitan Macarius. Mama had not yet returned from her shopping trip to the town of Ostrog. Suddenly two men entered the house, one with a revolver and the other with a rifle and bayonet. One shot my father in the chest while the other speared him with the bayonet and said, 'It is finished.' Both of them turned and hid behind the door in the darkness. My father, covered with blood, was still able to flee outside shouting. Just as my mother arrived people were gathering, and right there, having covered and placed my father in the cart, they turned the horses around and rushed off into the night back to Ostrog, a two hour journey. There they placed him in the hospital. During the night all was done that was possible to save his life, and he survived. The coarse shirt (father never wore linen clothes) covered with blood was preserved by my father in remembrance of the incident."
Once I brought Fr. Michael the second volume of The New Martyrs of Russia by Fr. Michael Polsky. He read it through attentively, especially the part about the murder of the clergy in the Kiev diocese. He discovered many classmates, instructors, friends, and acquaintances among the new martyrs. At this point because of the humility that was a part of his nature he found a reason for self-disparagement, "They all suffered, became martyrs, and what have I done?" he asked. "I only live and burden others, and am of no use to anyone." Fr. Michael suffered no less than others, only his cross was different. In his youth a nerve in his face was injured. The meaning of pain from injured nerves can be understood only by those who have experienced it. The nerve pained him sometimes for days, letting up for only short periods. The pain frequently became intolerable and I sometimes found him in such a state. He was a living martyr. "This is for my sins," he would say, and not once did a word of complaint come from his lips.
From 1920 to 1924 Fr. Michael taught Russian Literature, Philosophy, and Latin at the Russian High School at Ravenna (Poland). During the same years he was closely involved in Church publications. This was difficult work in view of the persecution that had been begun by the Roman Catholics against the Orthodox. This was a period when Orthodox churches (in Poland) were either destroyed or converted into Catholic churches. During these events Fr. Michael published a bold article against Roman Catholicism but the issue in which his article was published was confiscated by the Polish police and the author was placed under special surveillance. Later, Fr. Michael edited the Church journals, The Word and Sunday Reading.
In 1936 Fr. Michael was ordained a priest and assigned among the clergy of the cathedral in Warsaw as the first assistant of Protopresbyter Terrenti Feodorovitch. He occupied that position until June of 1944.
"The conditions of my life fell into such an order," he wrote in his will, "that the first part of my social activity was in the secular academic field and the second part in the Church - the priesthood. In the world I experienced disappointments, but in the priesthood I saw only good will and in some circumstances great benefit."
After the evacuation of Warsaw, and the end of the war, Fr. Michael lived in Munich and was the editor of the Synodal journal, Church Life. He was also the secretary of the Missionary Committee. A disease of the lungs which he contracted during the German occupation of Warsaw periodically flamed up and interfered with his work. Fr. Michael tried to refuse the obedience placed on him because of his illness, but was answered by Vladyka Anastassy with the words, "You must, therefore you can!" The Metropolitan served a Moleben before the miraculous Kursk icon of Our Lady of the Sign, Fr. Michael's illness took a turn for the better and he was strengthened.
From obedience grows humility. Fr. Michael always viewed himself as an obedient servant of the Church. Wherever the Church sent him, he went, never choosing his own way. Up to his very death he did not betray this principle. Already ninety years old, he continued to write articles, according to the wishes of Archbishop Laurus, dedicated to the glorious millennium of our Church. His eyes failed, he had to rest frequently, but the work was completed. After his death two new articles dedicated to the baptism of Russia were published.
Like Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, Fr. Michael was able to find "a spiritual treasury" in everything, in the surrounding nature, in daily trivia, in meetings with people, in everything he saw the spiritual side and the opportunity to pass from contemplation of the earthly to the heavenly. From this it is obvious why Saint Gregory the Theologian was so close and dear to him, and why he never grew tired of reading him. More than once during our walks together he said, "One can learn to love the Creator from nature because He created it with love." Fr. Michael was a contemplative, a theologian, a practicer of silent and fervent prayer. He was also close in spirit to Theophan the Recluse. "I understand Theophan the Recluse, why even at Pascha he did not leave his seclusion; for me also it would be easier to celebrate Pascha alone in my cell, to quietly experience the joy of the Paschal night."
When Fr. Michael arrived in America in 1949 he was assigned by Archbishop Vitaly to teach at Holy Trinity Seminary. Fr. Michael arrived with his Matushka at Holy Trinity Monastery on the eve of the feast of Saint Job of Pochaev, the heavenly protector of Volhynia. The first years in the monastery were very lean, these were the years of building. It was not easy for Fr. Michael and Matushka. They moved into a house bought by the monastery in Jordanville. This house became the monastery guest house and Fr. Michael together with Matushka began to zealously fulfill their duty of receiving guests. Fr. Michael began his seminary work, teaching Greek, Church Slavonic and Dogmatic Theology. Fr. Michael dedicated sixty-six years of his life to teaching. It was not unusual that former students of Fr. Michael's would come to the monastery, having remembered him from the school in Ravenna and with tears would greet the ancient elder, and thank him for the unforgettable lessons in wisdom, patience, and goodness. As a teacher, Fr. Michael was indeed brilliant. As a rule, there were no discussions during his lessons. Not because he forbade them, but because no one was able to interrupt his lively, satisfying speech. Fr. Michael spoke simply, humbly, and knowledgeably about the dogmas of the Church in such a way that questions seemed to answer themselves. But if they appeared, then satisfying answers were found. Fr. Michael frequently repeated, "Much is hidden from us, and it is impossible to understand everything." His lessons passed as though they were orchestrated. He chose a theme, developed it, drew a conclusion, ended, and the bell rang.
After Matushka became ill, Fr. Michael moved into the monastery and lived like one of the brothers. He always tried to be unnoticed, and therefore chose a way of life that was semi-reclusive. He knew only the cell, church, seminary, trapeza, and for the last seven years only the church and his cell. He lived like an ascetic. Once during the first week of Great Lent, I asked him, "Batiushka, what can I bring you to eat?" He answered, "Nothing is necessary, I'll do as the brothers do." I answered, "The brothers at least eat a potato." He answered, "No thank you, God bless you." All the same I brought him two potatoes. On the following day I again asked him, "Batiushka, what shall I bring you?" "Nothing thank you, God bless you. One potato is still left from yesterday's lunch."
Prayer turned Fr. Michael into a theologian, though he himself was always afraid of such a title. "The Church knows only three theologians: Saint John, Saint Gregory and Saint Symeon the New. All the rest are superfluous." When Fr. Michael missed the daily services in the church, he read them in his room and besides this, he daily read the New and Old Testament, the New Testament frequently in Greek or Latin, and thus he continued until the last years of his life.
Concerning the meekness and compassion of Fr. Michael for his neighbor one could write much. I remember once having returned from digging a grave in the winter and went to see Fr. Michael. Again he found a cause for self-abasement saying, "I am worthless. I do nothing useful for the monastery. I am only a burden for the brotherhood, and on top of it, a grave will have to be dug for me. Oh, that only it would not be in winter! Look how difficult it is to dig in the winter." And for a long time he repeated this with great compunction.
I do not remember having ever heard Fr. Michael judge anyone, or have anything bad to say. I do not recall his ever becoming angry or irritated with my occasional carelessness in looking after him. If one forgot to bring him lunch or do the laundry and later did not remember, one could not expect him to remind one.
The last period, beginning around September of 1988, Protopresbyter Michael came to church less often. Previously, they drove him from the seminary building to the church on holy days. He attended the All-night Vigils and Divine Liturgies and as was his habit, received Communion. The last months he could not come to church and therefore received Communion in his cell. The last days of his earthly life Fr. Michael suffered terribly from his illness. Someone remained at his bedside throughout his last days: his daughter-in-law Natalia Sergievna, the monk Andrei, and others. Beginning with the twenty-sixth of October, Batiushka's condition worsened. Occasionally he lost consciousness. Even in such a state he repeated the familiar words, "My dear ones, my kind ones," and the kind sweet eyes of a child gazed at you. This was the soul of Batiushka - the soul of a joyful child who had entered into the sadness of life and was returning to the bosom of the Father, where there is neither sickness, nor sighing, but life everlasting.
On Friday, the fourth of November, at 6:30 in the morning, the feast of the Kazan Mother of God, I looked in on Fr. Michael and saw that he had reposed. Batiushka died alone. He was always an example for me of meekness, humility, attentive prayer, and continence, those very monastic traits which I could only strive for. He also reposed in a monastic way - alone. Soon Archimandrite Cyprian and Fr. Luke came in. They vested Fr. Michael and the brethren carried him in a wooden monastery coffin to the lower church of Saint Job of Pochaev. Fr. Michael remained for five days in the church where the Gospel and Psalter were read over him. The funeral was served by Archbishop Lauras on Wednesday, the ninth of November. Former students of Fr. Michael took part in the services. Memory eternal to our unforgettable pastor and teacher!

(From book "Selected Essays by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky", Jordanville, 1996)


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