I learned about the commemoration day of Hieromonk Pavel (Troitsky: 1894- November 6, 1991) purely by accident. It appears that every year early in November the people who for many years received instruction and support from the elder gather at the Moscow Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Kuznetsy. Archpriests Vladimir Vorobiev, Alexander Saltykov, and Dimitry Smirnov spoke warmly and cordially of a man whom they never saw but who played an important role in the life of each of them.
I have asked Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov to share his unique experience of communication with Elder Pavel (Troitsky). So, I arrived at the Church of St. Mitrofan of Voronezh, where Fr. Dimitry is the rector.
There are many icons and pictures in the room where we are conversing. It is very quiet here. It seems as if the time has stopped, as it always seems at any important meeting. Fr. Dimitry is speaking slowly. The conversation on Fr. Pavel, like any other spiritual talk, requires special concentration. Fr. Dimitry recalls the events of past times. Besides with other priests, he corresponded with Hieromonk Pavel (Troitsky). It amazed me that Fr. Pavel used to send his answers before receiving any questions! This is an extraordinary case.
Hieromonk Pavel (Troitsky). A photo from an investigation case.
—Father Dimitry, all the spiritual children remember Hieromonk Pavel (Troitsky), a holy elder, with great love. Very few people saw Fr. Pavel, but much has been written about his spiritual support.
—Nobody has seen our Lord Jesus Christ for past 2000 years. Only some people in rare and extraordinary cases have. Elder Silouan the Athonite saw Him, for one second. And it is not necessary for spiritual guidance to see, to know each other personally.
—Once you said that, “the memories of those who communicated with Father Pavel as well as investigation cases from the Committee for State Security archives are indicative of his genuine holiness.” In what did the holiness of this remarkable man consist?
—For example, the grace of the Holy Spirit would tell him about the impending actions of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. And Fr. Pavel could avoid these encounters. Knowing something beforehand is an evidence of one’s holiness. This is what I meant.
—Once Fr. Pavel dissuaded you from buying a house in Nemchinovka (a village near Moscow in the Odintsovo district). Can you tell us about it?
—At that time I wanted to buy a country house so that our family could spend summer in the open air. I came to Otradnoye (a village in the Moscow region) by train and saw a notice on a telegraph post: (House for sale”. I went to the address indicated in the notice. It turned out it was just right for our family: half of a house near a train station, and the price was equal to the sum that I had.
I had an opportunity to ask for Fr. Pavel’s advice. He wrote: “Fr. Dimitry should not purchase any house,” And underlined it twice. I immediately cancelled the purchase, though nearly all the documents had been prepared. And soon after that one dying old lady, our parishioner, unexpectedly bequeathed her house in the Moscow region to me. The house was at a greater distance from Moscow (in comparison with Nemchinovka) and completely rotten: crevices in the corners were so large that there was no need for windows! The old woman lived in this house only in summer, stopping up the slits with rags, and she was taken to Moscow for the winter. Of course, we had to reconstruct most of the house, but the place appeared to be very nice. It is still a thriving village, and I am so grateful to Fr. Pavel for his piece of advice. We own this house to this day.
—With regard to your experience of communication with Fr. Pavel, how would you recommend building a relationship with a father-confessor?
—There cannot be any specific methods or rules. Fr. Pavel had different relationships with different people. He wrote letters individually, addressing every individual person. And his words always reached people’s hearts. Nobody had even a slightest thought of disobeying him. I believe that Fr. Pavel did not write anything or did not answer the questions of those who, as he felt, were unable to fulfil God’s will in a concrete situation. He sensed the inner world of everyone very well.
My relationship with him as a spiritual father was unique. It is impossible to repeat or imitate it.
Hieromonk Pavel (Troitsky). Biography
—How do spiritual children of this elder honor his memory?—We all gather on the day of his supposed death and together celebrate a Liturgy, then a memorial service (Pannikhida). We also gather in the evening. If some new information concerning Fr. Pavel emerges, we disclose it. A whole book on Fr. Pavel has already been written. It is a very good book, which I would recommend everyone to read. It was compiled by Fr. Vladimir Vorobiev, who keeps many letters of Fr. Pavel. By the way, it was Fr. Vladimir who introduced us to the elder. Fr. Vladimir first asked Fr. Pavel whether we might write him, and, if the elder agreed, we could contact him.
—And this communication with the elder united you in friendship with the famous Moscow Archpriests Vladimir Vorobiev, and Alexander Saltykov, Vsevolod Shpiller (1902-1984; Rector of the Church of St. Nicholas in Kuznetsi and one of the leading Moscow confessors and preachers for over thirty years during the Soviet era).
—I feel certain that Fr. Pavel united us. And we have preserved our friendship. There are always some differences in opinion in life, but what unites all of us is far more important than any differences. That is a very strong factor. It can be said that it is Fr. Pavel who chose us, and not we who chose him. He gave us his blessing to correspond with him. None of us ever saw Fr. Pavel. Even Fr. Vsevolod. It was a very rare kind of communication.
—And a very deep one.
—Yes, very deep. It determined our lives for many decades ahead. This includes our unity, and the activity of each of us in his chosen field. I believe our activity has brought forth so much good fruit thanks to the prayers of Fr. Pavel. He saw and blessed all this.
—The elder has not been canonized yet. But there is his popular veneration…
—Fr. Vladimir has personally put much effort into the elder’s veneration. But once Fr. Pavel said that he did not want to reveal himself to the world. He used to say that he wished to share the fate of all the unknown ones. According to tradition, he was a monk at the Moscow St. Daniel’s Monastery at the time of Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeevsky; 1876-1937).
Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov
—And when will he be canonized?
—As for canonization, there are various temptations. He did not want such a glory. I profoundly share his opinion. It does not matter to me whether one or another person is canonized or not. For example, we placed an image of the Holy Tsarevich Alexis inside our church before his canonization. And we started organizing our Church in honor of Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna before her canonization and completed it after she had formally become a saint. This is because I firmly believed that with such a life her glorification was inevitable.
The question of dates of commemoration is a conventional one. There are some people whose holiness is evident to me. For example, Evgeny Rodionov1 (. Give me an example of any other Russian saint in whose memory: films are shot (more than one), pictures are painted (more than one), poems are composed (more than one), icons are painted (more than one), churches are dedicated (more than one). This is all despite the fact that he has not been canonized yet. Isn’t it a popular glorification? If it is not, then what is popular glorification? His grave is surrounded by flowers and candles all the time. People flock to him from all corners, and not only on the anniversary of his martyrdom or on his name day. And what about the countless miracles through his intercession for people!
We do not have the act of canonization of Venerable Sergius of Radonezh. And what about the family of the royal passion-bearer, Tsar Nicholas II? I remember that every house I visited had his icon! Before we canonized him this icon had been produced by ROCOR, and it was brought here from America. I personally had this icon too. And earlier I had a photocopy of his portrait painted by Valentin Serov. A fine portrait. It hung in place of an icon.
Undoubtedly, all in the Church should be done reverently and according to the canons. But, whether our Church Hierarchy decides to canonize Hieromonk Pavel (Troitsky) or not, it will not change my attitude towards Elder Pavel and will not diminish my veneration of him. Now we perform memorial services to Fr. Pavel and, should he be canonized, we will perform supplicatory prayer services. However, from the point of view of liturgical work, I consider a memorial service (Pannikhida) as more beautiful singing. And the Lord is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Beyond a doubt, many of the great ascetics and righteous ones are canonized. But a larger number of them are not canonized. That is the will of God. He is thus doing His will through people.
For me it is also a great relief that the Grand Prince Dimitry Ioannovich (Donskoy) of Moscow was glorified 600 years after his repose. But the people remembered him all these 600 years.