Joy of All Who Sorrow

Lives of the Saints: Short History of the Feast of All Saints of Russia together with a Life of St Luke of Simferopol

Given the current nationalist sensitivities this designation could be seen as controversial. The location of the Baptism of Rus in AD988, at the instigation of Prince Vladimir, was Kiev.  Ancient Rus was the common ancestor of three nations, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In Vespers we find the following:

Rejoice, O right-believing Prince Vladimir most rich! Rejoice, O chosen Olga! For you were our first mediators before the Master of all, the initiators of Orthodoxy, and guides to the True Faith!

 St Olga, who had been baptised in Constantinople, died in 969 and was Vladimir’s grandmother. Her life and witness antedates the conversion of Rus. Although all the glorified saints have their individual commemoration on dates throughout the year, just like last Sunday, we are remembering all the saints including the ones known only to God. However, unlike All Saints Day last Sunday, today’s commemoration does not have such a long history.

With the blessing of Archbishop Makary of Novgorod, monk Dositheus Toporkov, a nephew of St Joseph of Volokolamsk, was working on a revision of the Sinai Patericon in the years 1528 and 1529. This made him realise that the Russian saints and ascetics were not similarly codified. Under the guidance of Archbishop Makary, that great work was undertaken between 1529 and 1541 and was published as a twelve volume menaion in calendar form. Archbishop Makary become Metropolitan of All Rus in 1542 and convened a local council in Moscow 1547, and another in 1549, to consider the glorification of Russian Saints.

A feastday for All Russian Saints was established on 17 July and a full service in honour of the saints was written by monk Gregory of St Euthymius Monastery in Suzdal. At first, this service was widely used but its use had declined by the end of the 16th Century. This decline continued throughout the synodal period until, by the end of the 19th Century, the service was only used by Old Believers. Nikolai Osipovich Gazukin wrote to the Synod in 1908 asking for the restoration of the feast of All Russian Saints but this request was rejected.

The subject was raised once more, this time at the 1917-1918 Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church by two members of council, Petrograd University professor Boris Turaev and Hieromonk Athanassy (Sakharov). Professor Turaev’s report was accepted by the council and it was decided that the feast should be restored, but celebrated on the Sunday following All Saints Day. It was agreed that Gregory’s original service needed to be revised and a new text was approved by Patriarch St Tikhon in 1918. The following years of Bolshevik persecution disrupted the normal order of church life, but the text of the service was eventually published by the Patriarchate in 1946 and is currently widely used. 

This, of course, is an expanding subject. St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who died in 1966, and St Luke of Simferopol who died in 1961, are both loved and venerated way beyond the boundaries of Russia. This year, St Luke’s Day, in the Calendar of Saints, coincided with All Saints Day (last Sunday). Today, he gets a second commemoration together with all the Russian Saints.

He was born in Kerch in 1877 and his name in the world was Valentine Felixovitch Voino-Yassentsky. In his teens, Valentine studied at the Kiev Academy of Fine Arts. However, he opted to study medicine in preference to art, which he considered to be of greater service to poor people. In 1903, at the age of 26, he graduated and started work in general practice. Later, being exceptionally gifted and a quick learner, he studied ophthalmology. He was married and was the father of four children but, after his wife Anna died, he had no wish to remarry. His medical career was exceptional. Having published many scientific articles, in 1917, he became the head surgeon and professor of surgery at the hospital in Tashkent. Revolution and civil war brought many changes. Valentine treated all in need, including Bolsheviks, but he refused to operate in any circumstances without an ikon of the Mother of God in the operating theatre. This policy brought him into continuing conflict with the civil authorities, which became even more acute in 1921 when, at the age of 44, he was ordained to the priesthood.

Fr Valentine was ultimately imprisoned three times for his uncompromising attitude to the atheism of the state. He was an amazingly gifted surgeon, which earned him the respect of the authorities yet he always wore his riassa (clerical garb) in the hospital and this was not in line with Soviet attitudes. Seeing Fr Valentine’s spiritual gifts and fearless approach, Bishop Andrew of Ufa tonsured him as a monk, giving him the appropriate name Luke in honour of Holy Evangelist Luke, and thus facilitating his ordination as a bishop. In the 1930s, he continued publishing various works on surgery, whilst continuing both his medical and pastoral work. He clearly took seriously the Lord’s words, In that you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. This true servant of Christ devoted his entire life to serving the people but physically and spiritually.

Vladika Luke was appointed Archbishop of Simferopol in 1946. He never ceased preaching the Faith and some 750 of his sermons are published in twelve volumes. He reposed in the Lord in 1961, and knowing how much the people loved him, the Soviet regime wanted his funeral to be low-key and inconspicuous. Despite all their tricks and planning, the faithful turned out in huge numbers to pray for the repose of the soul of the beloved surgeon and archpastor. Although the authorities wanted a silent event, the huge crowds accompanying the coffin to the cemetery sang Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us in the traditional way. In 1996, St Luke’s remains were disinterred and enshrined in Simferopol’s Holy Trinity Church in the presence of some 40,000 people. The witness of this remarkable servant of God demonstrates how the Faith can triumph even in the face of the most godless opposition. The Life and writings of St Luke of Simferopol have been translated into Greek, English and many other languages, serving as an inspiration to thousands upon thousands of pious souls.