Russia's great tragedy at the beginning of this century descended like a black cloud upon the destiny of millions of Orthodox people. In the autumn of 1917, three new boys came to the orphanage on Kovensk Lane in Saint Petersburg: the Murashov brothers -- llya, Kolya and Petya. They had been brought from the Mariinsk hospital, where their mother had died of tuberculosis. The boys' father had disappeared at the front and they had no other relatives m the city.
Most of the orphans were delinquents, children from the streets. The Murashov brothers, by contrast, were good boys who had had a pious Orthodox upbringing. The eldest, ten-year old Ilya, prayed every morning and evening, and taught his younger brothers to do the same. The caretakers noticed, for example, that the boys did not sit down to eat without having first made the sign of the cross. Ilya had a Gospel with an inscription written to him by his Sunday school teacher, which he treasured like a precious relic.
After the October Revolution, the orphanage came on hard times. The orphans were hungry, they lacked proper clothing and shoes. The rooms were cold. Some of the children went back to the streets, where they thought they could get more by stealing. The caretakers, fearing for what might happen to the boys, tried to place them in good, Christian homes.
The priest Alexander Chernigovsky, returning to the Novoladozhsky region, took with him five children from the orphanage. They were settled at first in the Old Ladozhsky - St Nicholas Monastery, where they were treated kindly and affectionately by the monks. Among these five were the Murashov brothers. The principal sacred object in the monastery was a wonderworking icon of Saint Nicholas. Fr. Alexander recalled seeing the boys' faces suffused with joy when, standing on their knees, they prayed before this icon. It seemed that al these moments they forgot their orphan-hood and the many sorrows they had endured. Their childish souls fled from the world's evil towards the unearthly warmth of divine blessing.
Seven year old Kolya had an angelic voice, and he loved to sing this spiritual song:
When a person loves Saint
When a person serves Saint Nicholas,
Saint Nicholas helps this person
Every day, every hour...
The country was in the throes of civil war, and the monastic community was itself under threat of being destroyed by the Bolsheviks. Fr. Alexander, preparing to go south to the White Army, decided to settle the orphan brothers in a safer situation.
Glory to God, the world is not without kind people. An Orthodox family of peasants, the Logunovs, from the village of Losevka, responded to the priest's request and took the boys in. Although they themselves already lived rather poorly, they treated the orphans as if they were their own. Father Alexander, assured that the boys had a good home, departed with a peaceful heart.
The civil war devastated the mighty Orthodox state, wrecking the fates of millions of ordinary folk. Fr. Alexander spent the ensuing years as a transient; he was arrested, imprisoned and exiled to Siberia. It was only in 1927 that he found an opportunity to contact the Logunovs, through his cousin Barbara, who had had occasion to go to Losevka. From there she brought the bitter news of the death of the Murashov brothers.
It happened in 1919. The Chekists were conducting mass arrests with brutal impunity. If someone so much as crossed their path, he was immediately branded a "counter-revolutionary." They threw behind bars the eighty-year-old village priest, elderly women -- his parishioners, the local school teacher, the medic, well-to-do peasants. All were confined in the schoolhouse, men and women in one room. The prisoners were tormented by hunger and thirst, which only amused the Reds. The adults of the village pitied the prisoners but were unable to help them. The children, however, bravely determined to act
At night llya and Kolya stealthily made their way to the schoolhouse with some bread for the prisoners. They managed to elude the guard and open a window, through which they passed a bottle of water and the bread. The next day, evidently during an inspection, the Chekists discovered the bottle and understood that someone was helping the sufferers. An ambush was set and the boys fell into it. Without any warning the Reds began shooting at the brothers. A bullet through the heart killed Kolya immediately, llya was likewise wounded in the chest, and he died an hour later after great suffering. Upon seeing their victims, the Reds were astonished by the boys' valor, which far exceeded their years. They questioned the peasants at length, convinced that the brothers must have been trying to get help to their parents. They figured that they would not have risked their lives to help strangers. But the Murashov brothers were complete orphans The godless could not understand the behavior of children raised in the Orthodox faith. The boys' simple and kind souls took them into the Kingdom of Heaven. For did the Saviour not say: Verily I say unto you: Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter therein.
Little Petya survived his brothers, but not for long. After their martyric death, he fell ill, and languished in bed until he faded from this life. There was no doctor in the vicinity and he was treated with home remedies, suggested by some of the old women. He died quietly in his sleep. The Lord was merciful to the young boy, said the peasants, cutting short his sufferings and calling him to Himself.
Fr. Alexander's cousin wrote to him that the persecution struck the entire Logunov family. With the exception of the old grandmother, the adults were all arrested, never to return to their village. The grandmother took care of her two small grandsons and, while her legs still carried her, went every day to visit the graves of the brother orphans in the village cemetery.
Before the war, Fr. Alexander served in a village church near Saratov. He told his parishioners about the self-sacrificing heroism of the Murashov boys. Among those who heard the story' were my relatives. My father was a boy at the time and remembered the story for the rest of his life. He related it to his children, and I in turn have related it for you.
For decades, Christian charitable activity in the USSR was illegal, and this story was spread among the believers by word of mouth. At that time Pavel Morozov, a boy who betrayed his father to the communists, was touted as a hero, while it was forbidden to speak out loud about victims of the communist regime who suffered for their faith and acts of Christian charity.
In the 30's my father's family moved to Leningrad. On the eve of the war, a visitor from my father's village reported that Fr. Alexander had again been arrested and shared the fate of millions of "enemies of the people."
Every Orthodox family in Russia preserves the memory of executed, tortured pastors and their spiritual children, Join us in praying for the repose of the soul of Priest Alexander and the slaves of God, Elijah, Nicholas and Peter.
Saint Petersburg, 1995
Translated from Pravoslavnaya Zhizn, Jordanville, June 1996.
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