The czarist government had sent him to jail in Siberia because he was a Catholic priest, not Orthodox. After the Russian Revolution, when he’d become head of the Russian Catholics, the communist state persecuted him as a Christian. Fr Leonid Feodorov died on 7 March 1935 of what were called “natural causes,” but were the result of the breaking of his health by his own over-working and his many brutal imprisonments. He was beatified on 27 June 2001 and is commemorated on 7 March.
Here historian Donald Attwater tells Fr Leonid’s story, as part of a report on Christian unity. (The last third of this except describes his attitude to the Orthodox and to Christian disunity.) The whole article can be found here. It appeared in the 16 January 1953 issue. Fr Leonid’s full story can be read on Santi Beati.
After his release from Russian internment in 1917, the great Ukrainian [Catholic] hierarch, Metropolitan Andrew Szepticky, convened in Petrograd a synod for the Russian Catholics, by whom is meant here Muscovite Catholics of Byzantine rite. And at this council Fr. Leonid Feodorov was appointed exarch, that is, ecclesiastical head, of that tiny group. He was a Studite monk, 38 years old, who since 1914 had been interned in Siberia by the imperial authorities, who impugned his loyalty because he was a Russian Catholic priest.
For five years Fr. Leonid worked tirelessly at his new post, beset with endless difficulties, perhaps caused as much by those who ought to have helped as by those who could be expected to hinder: moreover he was weak with hunger and “gnawed by rheumatism like old wood by a rat.”
Job On His Dunghill
It was in vain that Metropolitan Szepticky urged him to accept the episcopate. Feodorov wrote to him : “I am without the most essential qualifications. . . . I may he a good preacher, a good celebrant, shot through with the Eastern liturgical spirit; I may be as patient as a donkey and, as unsparing of myself — but those things don’t qualify me to be a Bishop: any priest should have those qualities.”
In the same letter he said: “I am not Israel striving with God, but Job on his dunghill. . . . My ideal world is that of books, a cell, long hours singing office in choir and above all, solitude. . . . When I am tired almost beyond bearing, I sink down into a chair and sit there for two or three hours, with only the glimmering light before an eikon. delighting in just being alone. I feel that I am right out of the world; I don’t think about anything; I just look at the Holy Face lit up by the small flame of the lamp.”
Meanwhile the Bolshevist persecution began. Feodorov was arrested and sentenced and for ten years was confined in various places, including the terrible Solovky in the White Sea.
This man who said ”I cannot join active with contemplative life,” to whom administration and “politics” were a misery, met the terrors of persecution head-on. When he could he ministered to those in the same plight as himself; he celebrated the Holy Mysteries in secret; in the intervals of forced labour he wrote, religious writings that have mostly perished; he made a deep impression on his Orthodox fellow sufferers, and always before his eyes was the tragedy of division in Christendom.
‘We are suffering,” he would declare, ”because of our separation. We are a burnt-offering without which there can be no spiritual rebirth for Russia.”
A Priest Too Well Loved
After some years Feodorov was taken from Solovky and assigned to a village near Archangel, where he lived in a cottage with an Orthodox priest. Wherever Fr. Leonid was there was always some thing going on and he was always at the bottom of it, and here for two years he wrote, taught the children and their parents, preached secretly and was loved by all. Too well loved — so that the police twice removed him to other remote spots.
All this time his health had been getting worse — he was stifled with asthma: how bad he was is shown by the fact that the CiPU actually dispensed him from forced work. In 1933 he was “released” under restriction.
Fr. Leonid chose to five in the northern town of Viatka, hoping to find there fellow exiles for religion, but he had become too weak to do much for himself, much less for anybody else. Little is known of his last days: he died on March 7, 1935, in conditions of deepest privation and abjection. The exarch wrote from prison: “I have made it quite clear to my Catholics how they must behave; and not a sour word [about their Orthodox brethren] is heard from their lips.”
That was very characteristic of him. Reconciliation can only begin with the gradual bringing about of the right atmosphere, a state of friendship and understanding between Christians of all obediences: so that in God’s own time — which may still be very far off — He may find them ready to he brought again all into one unity. This can never take place in an atmosphere of suspicion, jealousy, prejudice, emulation and general unfriendliness.
In the words of the Byzantine Mass that Leonid Feodorov uttered so often at the altar: “For the peace of the whole world, for the good estate of the holy churches of God and for the unity of all, Let us pray to the Lord.”