Picture: Bishop Meletiev sings Pontifical Divine Liturgy in the the Russian Byzantine rite at Fatima.
From Solovetski to Rome, the story of a Russian Pilgrim
Born on 15 November, 1880 in Archangelsk in northern Russia, Pavlos Meletiev entered the famous Russian Orthodox monastery of Solovetski, situated on islands in the White Sea, at a very early age. In 1908 he was ordained a priest, and was designated by his superiors to the active ministry at the request of the Bishop of Archangelsk. Known for his missionary zeal and devotion, the young monk was arrested by the Bolsheviks shortly after the revolution in 1917 and condemned to death. Divine Providence preserved him from the fate reserved for the 121 Russian Orthodox bishops and some 11,000 of their priests 'liquidated' over the next few years of Lenin's Reign of Terror, and the sentence of Fr Pavlos was commuted to five years of hard labour. Having survived this ordeal, Fr Pavlos emerged from the horrors of the Soviet prison system only to find his church in ruins, both physically and morally. Many of the bishops and clergy who had survived Lenin's war against religion had done so only at the price of the most degrading subservience to, and compromise with, the atheistic tyrants. His own monastery had been closed down and the Solovetski islands complex turned into a maximum security prison. For him there was only one option, the life of an underground priest. Soon he was re-arrested, and sent back to the GULAG, this time for seven years in the notorious Siberian camp of Karaganda. God's grace, however, was with him, and Fr Pavlos persevered through this living hell, and returned to his catacomb ministry on his liberation.
The German occupation of Western Russia in 1940 was the occasion of a the breathing-space allowed to the underground church at the expense of the official one, and the consequent attempt at spiritual reorganisation saw Fr Pavlos consecrated as Bishop of Briansk in 1942. When the Germans began to retreat soon after, Bishop Pavlos and his sister, a nun, Mother Igumena Serafima, saw that exile was their only choice. Many adventures were in store for the two refugees, but God's Providence accompanied them safely all the way to the end point of their journey - Rome. For some years, this sincere bishop had been led through prayer to believe in the necessity of being united with the Catholic Church under the Roman Pontiff. Indeed, the fulfilment of this desire had been the most serious reason prompting him to leave his beloved Russia. He had reached, independently, the same conclusion as had the Martyr-Bishop Varfolomey Remov, the former representative to Metropolitan Peter, the locum tenens of the late Patriarch Tikhon, who had endured eighteen months of futile torture aimed at making him renounce his conversion to the Catholic Church before being shot at Moscow's infamous Butyrky prison on 1 August, 1935. And so it came to pass on 21 September 1946 that the aged prelate humbly made his profession of the Catholic Faith into the hands of the Pope's representative Cardinal Tisserant, receiving from Pope Pius XII the titular see of Heracleopolis.
His remaining days were passed between his beloved Rome and the visitation of various centres of Russian Catholics, particularly in Germany and Belgium. His, however, was rather a hidden and humble interior life. The dominating intention of all his prayer and penance in these last years was the conversion of his people to the Catholic Church. Perhaps the highlight of his life was the leading of a pilgrimage of some 500 Russian Catholics to Rome and Fatima for the Holy Year of 1950-1951, which terminated with his singing a Pontifical High Mass in his Russian Byzantine rite before the assembled crowds at Fatima.
In Rome, where the Russian pilgrims had assisted at the joyous celebrations marking the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady, Bishop Meletiev had handed a petition to the Sovereign Pontiff on their behalf in which he, Bishop Evreinov (another convert from Russian Orthodoxy) and the Russian Catholics asked, on behalf of their beloved homeland, for the
"special consecration of our country, Russia, which has suffered so much, to Our Lady the Queen of the World, that is, to Her Motherly and Immaculate Heart pierced by the sword...the deliverance of our country, followed by that of the whole world from the terrible slavery of Bolshevism, cannot be obtained by material forces of arms and money...the struggle taken against God and Holy Church by the Bolsheviks is not led by mere human powers. These forces have at their source Satan himself and the spirits of darkness. The evil is Satan, who has assumed the appearance of Marxist-Bolshevik atheism, and the force capable of overcoming it is our Holy Queen and protectress, the Mother of our God...But who can make this consecration in the name of Russia, which has been profaned and enslaved? We see only one solution, and we express it by our humble request. We ask that this consecration be done by the Vicar of Christ on earth, successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Peter, Sovereign Pontiff of the Universal Church, the Pope of Rome..."
Tragically, to this very day this request has not been fulfilled. This man of prayer was knocked over by a car in Brussels, where he died soon after on 19 May 1962. God in His mercy did not let him see the opening of the Second Vatican Council some four months later at which the appeasement of the Moscow régime and its puppet church was to set the keynote from the very opening speech, to which the Ukrainian bishops protested publicly.