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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Blessed Leonid Feodorov



Russia is a land of melancholy poets and writers, where the dark and wintry nights lay bear the souls loneliness and lights the flame of some of Russia's greatest writers and artisans.

In a landscape as harsh as Russia, the people have learnt over generations to be stoic of heart and long suffering by nature. For at the core of Russia lay its people and their struggle to overcome poverty, persecution and war.

The Russian people are not known for their timidity, but for their fierceness, for to live well in Russia one had to learn to survive at a very young age or perish. It is a land of contrasts, where Palaces live alongside hovels and nature alongside polluted factories, a land of revolutions and times of peace. But in the end Russia is about survivors.

Into this harsh landscape was born Leonid Feodorov in the year 1879 at Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately for the young Leonid his father died while he was young and it was left to his forceful mother, Liubova to raise him. She did so with every means available to her, in that she longed for her son to gain the education needed to get on in life and not live a life of mere existence.

Towards this end Liubova sent her son to the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Academy where he stayed for a couple of years. But it was at this school that he began to question his Orthodox Faith and as the questions mounted in his heart, so he leaned more and more towards Catholicism.

During this time Leonid began attending services at Saint Catherine’s Catholic Church, and so began a friendship with the Priest of this parish, Fr. Jan Szyslawski, who knowing of Leonid’s confusion was able to lend him books from the parish library.

So during the long wintry nights Leonid would stay up late and read these books on the Catholic faith, its teachings and its Traditions. But the more Leonid learnt the more dissatisfied he became with Orthodox teachings. These were perplexing times for the young Leonid as questions soon became resolutions as to which way God was calling him.

Upon talking to the Rector of his school, Leonid decided to visit Rome and on the way stayed at L'viv with his friend Andrew Sheptystsky, before continuing his journey, both physically and spiritually.

It was in 1902 that Leonid made his decision to convert to the Catholic Faith, where he was presented to Pope Leo III and entered the Pontifical College at Anagni. He struggled at first to master both Italian and Latin but with his usual tenacity it didn’t take Leonid long to be fluent in both languages.

Great things began to happen in Leonid’s life as he attended the coronation of Saint Pius X and when in 1905 he gained his Doctorate in Philosophy and a Bachelor of Theology. In gaining these degrees the next step would be the Priesthood but before taking this step Leonid first became a Deacon where he was ordained by Bishop Michael Mirov of Constantinople. Leonid was then ordained a Priest a few weeks later by the same Bishop.

Though Leonid had proved himself to be of vast intellect it was the monastic life which he felt compelled to follow and so Fr. Leonid entered a Monastic Order in Bosnia under the guidance of the starets, Elder Josaphat. And it was Fr. Josaphat that gave Leonid his tonsure and little habit, where upon Leonid took the name Father Leontios.

But politics was never far away and the Serbian people were very much opposed to having a Catholic monastery in their midst and so in the year 1913, the little monastery was closed.

So in 1913 as the political situation destabilised in Serbia Fr. Leonid decided to return to his homeland, Russia where he could then embark on evangelising the people. But fate was not to be kind to Fr. Leonid who's faith would soon be tempered in steel. For upon arriving in St. Petersburg he was arrested and sent to Tobolsk a very inhospitable land in the Ural Mountains, where he spent the next 3 years.

But things did not quieten down as rumours of revolution swirled around the courts of Imperial Russia. So in haste Leonid was proclaimed a Bishop of the Russian Catholic Church, this was done in secrecy as even the Royal Czar was opposed to a Catholic 'presence'.

It was during this time that Exarch Leonid remembered a prophetic statement he had made when he was at Anagni, "Russia will not repent without travelling the Red Sea of the blood of her martyrs and numerous sufferings of her apostles." How true his words would be, much to his and his people's sorrow.

And so it was that the red terror would launch itself upon the world in the form of its leader Lenin a name synonymous with evil. And under the Communist regime the persecution of the Church began, for Lenin understood that the greatest threat to his power would come from the Catholic Church.

And so the order went out to arrest Catholic Priests, Monsignors and Bishops among which was Bishop Leonid Feodorov. During the bogus trial Bishop Leonid was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Siberia.

These were hard and difficult years for Bishop Leonid, in such an unforgiving terrain as Siberia, but through it all his Faith sustained him and his prayer life strengthened him for the rigours which lay ahead of him.

Bishop Leonid would find himself released and upon practicing his Faith he would then be re-arrested but his Faith in God was tempered in steel and the communists could never break this heart forged in the love of God and the Church.

For nothing would stand in the way of this indomitable Bishop as he secretly held Mass and gave Catechism classes to the youth and those who wished to learn about the Catholic Church.

Through it all, confusion, decision, peace, war, revolution and persecution. Bishop Leonid’s Faith remained intact if not strengthened by his ordeals.

Bishop Leonid Feodorov died in 1935.

Blessed Leonid Feodorov was beatified in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

Peace of Christ to ALL
Copyright © 2005 Marie Smith. All rights reserved.