Who was the Spiritual Father of St. Elisabeth?

Archimandrite Sergius, in the world Metrophanes Vasilyevich Srebryansky, was born on July 31, 1870 in the village of Tresvyatskoye, Voronezh uyezd, Voronezh province into the family of a priest. There were many children in the family, and they were brought up with great strictness, so that they used the formal “you” form of address to their parents. When a child attained the age of four, the father brought him to his mother and triumphantly declared that from now on the child could carry out all the fasts.

The Srebryansky children were very respectful to their parents. “Father would come home tired and sit down, and we would all pull off his boots. Once one of my younger sisters was pulling off a boot and my father somehow impatiently shoved her with his foot. I stood up for my sister, and caught it for criticizing my father.”

In 1892 Metrophanes finished his studies at the Voronezh theological seminary. He did not immediately become a priest, but under the influence of populist ideas he entered the Warsaw veterinary institute. Here, among students who were indifferent to the faith, he began to go to the Orthodox Church fervently. Here also he got to know his future wife, Olga Vladimirovna Ispolatovskaya, the daughter of a priest. On January 20, 1893 they married. On March 2, 1893 Metrophanes was ordained to the diaconate, by Bishop Anastasius of Voronezh, and on March 20, 1894 – to the priesthood by Bishop Vladimir of Ostrog. He became priest of the 47th Tatar dragoons in the town of Rypin, Polotsk province, transferring to the 51st Chernigov dragoons in Orel on September 1, 1897. The colonel of the Chernigov dragoons regiment was Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna.

On January 15, 1904 the regiment was sent to Manchuria at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese war. Fr. Metrophanes participated with the regiment in the military actions near Lyaoyan and Mukden, and wrote down his impressions in his Diary of a Regimental Priest, published in 1906. On October 12, 1906 he was made a protopriest, and was transferred to Orel.

In 1908 Grand Duchess Elizabeth was contemplating the establishment in Moscow of a women’s monastery of the type she had encountered abroad. Among the drafts of a rule of such a community was one submitted by Fr. Metrophanes. The Grand Duchess approved his draft, but was unable to locate for the sisters a spiritual father with the qualifications required by Fr. Metrophanes’ rule - he was to be a married priest who lived with his matushka not as a wife but as a sister. When she could not find such a priest, the Grand Duchess offered Fr. Metrophanes to take the position himself. He 299 declined the offer; he loved his Orel parish and pitied his flock, who were loathe to part with their beloved spiritual father.

Fr. Metrophanes was very popular in Orel; everyone respected him and sought his advice. “At the end of the Liturgy, after people had kissed the cross, they would continue coming up to me. With some I would talk, another would ask for advice, a third wanted to share his grief - and this would go on for hours. Meanwhile, matushka would be waiting with dinner, but I seldom left the church before five o’clock,” related Batyushka.

However, as devoted as Fr. Metrophanes was to his flock, the Grand Duchess’s offer was considered almost as an order, and Batyushka did not dare refuse her. He promised to think it over, but as soon as he left Moscow, he resolved to decline. “On my return journey to Orel, I stopped off at an estate near Moscow. I went by myself for a walk in the park. My soul was churning with vacillating thoughts. I thought of my hometown, the tears of my spiritual children, and my heart was torn. I determined to turn down the Empress’s sister. And so I walked down the shaded alleys, delighting in nature’s splendour, in the flowers - when suddenly I felt that one of my arms had gone numb. I couldn’t move it. I tried to raise it but in vain: I couldn’t move my fingers, I couldn’t bend my elbow. My arm was totally useless! I was aghast. Of what use was I without an arm? I couldn’t serve! I understood that the Lord was punishing me for refusing to submit to His holy will. Right there in the park I began to pray fervently, begging the Creator to forgive me. I promised to agree to go to Moscow, if only the Lord returned the use of my arm. About two hours went by, and the paralysis gradually wore off. I returned home perfectly healthy and informed my parish that I had to leave them. Such an uproar! Tears, laments, sobbing... I myself wept together with my dear parishioners. They pleaded, they urged me to reconsider. I had promised the Grand Duchess that I would come to Moscow, but I did not have the strength to tear myself away from my beloved children, my dear parish. Months passed. Moscow was waiting for me, but I still delayed, vacillating. Finally I was persuaded that to part with my flock was beyond my powers, and I wrote to decline the position. Shortly thereafter I again lost the use of my arm, and again I was called to Moscow. Full of grief and despondency, I went to Moscow to the wonderworking Iveron icon of the Mother of God. It had been taken all over Russia, and when it returned to Moscow, people flocked to it. I stood in the crowd, my cheeks wet with tears, and asked the Queen of Heaven to heal my arm. I promised once again, firmly and resolutely, to accept the Grand Duchess’s offer and move to Moscow, if only my arm were restored and I could perform the Mysteries as before. Reverently, with fear of God and hope, I venerated the wonderworking image. I felt life return to my arm; my fingers moved! Then I joyfully informed the Grand Duchess that I had come to a decision and was moving to Moscow.

“But, oh, how difficult it was to realize this. On the day of my departure, the train was scheduled to leave the station at nine o’clock in the morning. Meanwhile, thousands of people jammed the station and the roadbed, so that the train was unable to move. The mounted police were called and it was not until three o’clock that my train finally pulled out [six hours later than scheduled], accompanied by the laments and mourning of my forsaken spiritual children.”

Metropolitan Vladimir of Moscow appointed Fr. Metrophanes as spiritual father and superior of the Martha-Maria convent on September 17, 1908, but he entered into his duties only in February, 1909, when Grand Duchess Elizabeth moved in. In April she wrote about him to the tsar: “Our lectures with the priest are most interesting – quite exceptionally so, as he not only has his deep faith, but has read immensely. He begins from the Bible and will end with Church history, and all showing how the sisters can afterwards speak and help those in moral suffering. You know Fr. Metrophanes, and had a good impression of him at Sarov. In Orel he was adored, and here many come from afar to our little church and find strength in his beautiful simple sermons and confession. He is large, nothing of the narrow-minded bigot. Everything is founded on God’s boundless love and forgiveness – a true Orthodox priest keeping strictly to our Church – God’s blessing on our work, since he has laid the foundation as it ought to be. So many has he brought back to faith, put on the right road. So many thank me for the great blessing they have received in being able to come to him. No exaltation – but you know me well enough to know that I love calm, deep religion, and would not choose a fanatic as priest… I feel one has tormented him that you might be vexed by my conduct and think he influences me to cut myself off from you all and kill myself through an ascetic life and much work whereas not one of these suppositions is true. He confesses me, spiritually nourishes me in church, is of great help to me and gives an example of a pure, simple life, so meek and lofty in his boundless love for God and the Orthodox Church. On talking with him for only a few minutes, you see that he is meek and pure and a man of God, a servant of God in our Church.”

Fr. Metrophanes and his matushka looked after three orphaned nieces and wanted to have children of their own, but the Lord did not grant it, and shortly before going to Moscow they decided to live together as brother and sister. “When God did not give us any children, we decided to maintain chastity. What a torture we took upon ourselves. It was easier for her as a woman. But for me - to have beside you the object of your fervent desire, to have every right to her - to have the blessing of the Church - and nevertheless to languish and cut off the passions of the flesh in the name of a voluntary podvig for the sake of Christ. One can bear such suffering only with God.”

In 1918, not long before her arrest, Elizabeth Fyodorovna transferred the community into the care of Fr. Metrophanes. In 1919, Patriarch Tikhon, who 301 knew him well, gave him his blessing with a gramota and an icon of the Saviour, thanking him for his many labours.

In 1922, with the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon and Elder Anatolius of Optina, Fr. Metrophanes was tonsured as the monk Sergius, while his wife became the nun Elizabeth. Soon after this he was raised to the rank of archimandrite.

On March 23, 1923 he was arrested for reading the epistle of Patriarch Tikhon and cast into prison. On August 24 he was exiled for one year to Tobolsk. On February 27, 1925 he returned to the Martha-Maria convent in Moscow, but he was forbidden to give sermons or do administrative work. In 1925 the authorities decided to close the convent and exile its inmates. On April 29, 1926 Fr. Sergius himself was arrested for “anti-Soviet activity”. He was accused of saying that Soviet power was persecuting religion and churchmen. Fr. Sergius did not deny the accusation, but said that he never said this with spite, but was always hoping that the Soviet authorities would come to trust the clergy. Matushka Elizabeth, on hearing of his arrest, began to agitate for his release, and with her help on July 2 the OGPU released him from Butyrki prison.

Fr. Sergius and Matushka Elizabeth moved to the village of Vladychnya, Tver province, which was matushka’s native village. At first Fr. Sergius did not serve, but went frequently to the church and prayed. Immediately he began to be visited by his spiritual children and soon acquired the reputation of being a holy man. In February, 1930 Fr. Sergius was arrested again. The main accusation consisted in the fact that he “is especially good at sermons, which he uttered for two hours at a stretch. In his speeches from the ambon he calls for unity and the support of the Church and the aims of religion...” On April 7 he was sentenced to five years’ exile in the north.

Once he said: “Oh, if you only knew what it sometimes means to have a cup of hot tea! I was summoned from my prison cell for interrogation. However, I was in such a state that I could neither reason nor speak... The interrogator - God bless him - took pity on me and ordered that I be brought a cup of strong, hot tea. This revived me, and I was able to answer his questions.

“I was sentenced to be shot. I sat in a cell with others who were similarly condemned. Every day several of us were called out never to be seen again. Oh, that was a stressful night, anticipating my own death the next day! But just then the patriarchal locum tenens, Vladyka Sergius, signed a paper stating that, according to the laws of the Soviet regime, the Church was not subject to persecution. This saved our lives, and executions were commuted to exile. But what an arduous journey that was! For several days and nights, we lay on platforms in our cars, forbidden to get up. Our bodies ached; we wanted desperately to move around. Meanwhile, a young soldier with a rifle walked back and forth and barked at us sternly. After all, one could not trust criminals to move about the cars, and among us were all kinds of bandits. I prayed, exhausted from lying prostrate for so long. Then I stuck my head into the passageway and addressed the soldier. ‘Dear fellow, you must be from Voronezh.’ ‘How did you know?’ asked the youth in astonishment. ‘Well, I’m from Orel. In Voronezh do you know such-and-such a place?’ We struck up a conversation, the fellow’s face lit up with a flood of memories about places dear to his heart. Circumspectly he whispered, ‘Get down, walk around.’ That saved me. It was the Lord’s mercy. I didn’t know that he was from Voronezh; it was the grace of the priesthood. That and that alone. People think I know something, that I’m clairvoyant. It’s simply the grace of the priesthood.”

He settled in one of the villages on the river Pinega, where there were many exiled clergy. Matushka Elizabeth came to him there. Once he said of his wife when he was looking after her as an invalid: “Olga, darling, my dear companion, how much she endured together with me! She travelled hundreds of kilometres down the Irtysh on a raft to visit me in exile. You cannot imagine what it is to spend a whole week on a raft, without a roof, exposed to wind, rain and sun! Without any accomodation, not to speak of food! And she still managed to visit me, she did not leave me alone in distant Siberia. What a great support that was for me!”

In 1933, because of his age, his illnesses and the work he had successfully carried out, he was released and returned to Moscow, where he remained for one day before going with Matushka Elizabeth to Vladychino. He was visited by his spiritual children and many suffering Orthodox, including several nuns of the Martha-Maria convent who were still alive. He was glorified by the gifts of clairvoyance and wonder-working. Thus once by his prayers he retrieved three lost cows of a young cowherd who had completely despaired of finding them, which threatened him and his family with a terrible retribution according to Soviet laws.

Fr. Metrophanes was an optimist by nature. He believed that science would attain such a level that it would prove the existence of another, spiritual, non-material world. Then people would become convinced of the existence of God, they would come to believe in the immortality of the soul and there would be the “first resurrection”, i.e., the resurrection of the soul from the darkness of sin. “All the nations which Thou has created will come and worship before Thee, O Lord, and shall glorify Thy name” (Psalm 85.9).

“But this paradise will not last long on earth. Spoiled over thousands of years, sinful man will soon find submission to God to be irksome and unbearable. Then people will rise up against God and openly declare war 303 against Him... And the end will come. God will not destroy the world before He has given everyone a chance to believe in Him.”

Fr. Sergius died from pneumonia in Vladychino on April 5, 1948. He was buried in the village cemetery in Vladychino. When, two years later, they lowered the grave of his matushka into the ground, the top of his coffin moved and revealed that the body of Fr. Sergius was incorrupt. Many venerators of the elder go to his grace and take earth from it for healing.

Source: http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/downloads/114_THE_HOLY_NEW_MARTYRS_OF_CENTRAL_RUSSIA.pdf