Leonid Ivanovich Feodorov was born at Saint Petersburg on 4 November 1879, in an Orthodox family. He lost his father when he was very young, after a serious reverse of fortune. He was brought up by his mother, Liubova Dimitrievna,who spared nothing to give Leonid a good education.
In the autumn of 1890 Leonid entered the second imperial gymna-sium at Saint Petersburg, and when he finished his classical studies he enrolled in the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Academy in 1901. He only stayed two years at the Academy; his lively intelligence led him to sift every question to the roots. The study of church history and of certain writings of the Fathers inclined him more and more toward monasticism, towards the priesthood, and also towards Catholicism.
His professors and his colleagues were perfectly well aware of his Catholic leanings. From time to time they saw him attending the sermons given at the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Catherine, which was an international parish. The parish priest at the time (1901-1905) Father Jan Szyslawski, was very friendly and had a good library that he gladly opened to everyone interested. Leonid had chosen a question involving Catholic dogma for his thesis; he went to Szyslawski and became one of Szyslawski's devoted disciples.
These contacts gave Leonid the desire to go abroad to finish his education, and at the same time his doubts about Orthodoxy were growing stronger. When he asked the permission of the Rector of the Academy, Archimandrite Theophan, the venerable old man answered: "I know where you wish to go, and why. Go, and may God go with you!" Theophan was quite convinced of the truth of Catholicism, but like a number of others he could not bring himself to take the definite step.
At the beginning of the summer of 1902, Leonid left for Rome. He stayed eight days in L'viv, as the guest of the Servant of God, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky (1865 - 1944), and opened his heart to him. The Metropolitan could appreciate the elevated sentiments of this youth and the rectitude of his intentions; he arranged to meet him in Rome and gave him letters of recommendation. Leonid was already more than half Catholic; his conversations with the Metropolitan convinced him.
A Russian rite Catholic priest, monk and Confessor.
On 31 July, 1902, the feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola, he was united to the Catholic Church at the Gesu in Rome. Metropolitan Sheptytsky presented him to Pope Leo XIII and he was admitted to the Pontifical College at Anagni. Leo XIII had the free disposition of several scholarships; he gave Leonid one and he was registered under the name of Leonid Pierre, so as not to arouse too much suspicion.
He did not know a word of Italian and was not accustomed to express himself in Latin, but after four years he had so mastered the language that he could write it with the greatest facility and even elegance. On 9 August 1903 he assisted at the coronation of Saint Pius X in Saint Peter's. In 1905 he became Doctor of Philosophy and in 1907 Bachelor of Theology.
On 12 February 1908 he was one of the acolytes at the solemn Pontifical Divine Liturgy concelebrated in the presence and with the participation of Pope Saint Pius X: the chief celebrants were the Melkite Patriarch Cyril VIII of Antioch and the Servant of God, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky; the ceremony marked the fifteenth centenary of the death of Saint John Chrysostom.
In view of Leonid's future apostolate, Kyr Andrew thought it better that he should not be ordained by any Ukrainian bishop, and so he was ordained by Bishop Michael Mirov, the Bulgarian Greek-Catholic Bishop at Constantinople who also represented Bulgaria at the Ottoman court. Kyr Michael ordained Leonid deacon on 22 March 1911 and priest on 25 March of the same year.
Since Leonid was fourteen he had felt called to the monastic life. Metroplitan Sheptytsky sent him to Bosnia to begin his novitiate on 20 May 1912 under the direction of the starets or Elder Josaphat. On 12 February 1913 Father Josaphat gave Leonid the monastic tonsure and admitted him to the first degree of Eastern monasticism, the degree of archairos rassophor, which is a preparatory state for the "Little Habit" or lesser schema. Leonid took the monastic name of Father Leontios.
The Serbs disliked the presence of a Catholic monastery, even as humble as this one, and in December 1913 they caused so much trouble that it had to be given up. Leonid went back to the Studion in L'viv. The assassination at Sarajevo happened on 28 June 1914. In July peace was so fragile that he thought it best to go back to Russia, both for his own security and in view of his future apostolate. To avoid arousing suspicions, he went by way of Constantinople. He had no sooner arrived in Saint Petersburg than he was arrested as the "secretary of Metropolitan Sheptytsky" and sent into exile in Tobolsk, beyond the Ural Mountains. He remained there for three years, until March 1917.
The first Russian Catholic Exarch.
The Russian Revolution happened on 12 March 1917. On 29 March, the Provisional Government of Prince George Evgenievich Lvov proclaimed a total amnesty for all those imprisoned on political or religious charges. Without losing a moment, the six priests in Petrograd who constituted all the Russian Greek-Catholic clergy reopened their little church on Barmaleieva Street. A few days later Metropolitan Andrew arrived from Yaroslavl. The Metropolitan had already told his priests that Father Leonid would be named Exarch.
The three-day Russian rite Greek-Catholic Synod presided over by the Met-ropolitan opened on Monday, 29 May. Besides the Russian clergy, the principal Roman Catholic dignitaries of the capital were there. The Metropolitan showed everyone the authenticated copy of the pontifical document written by Pope Saint Pius X which authorised him to exercise his jurisdiction in Russia. He announced the nomination of the Exarch with episcopal jurisdiction. The nomination was at once recognized by the Provisional Government. Presumably the episcopal consecration of the Exarch was done in private for reasons which can easily be guessed and a public announcement that Exarch Leonid was a bishop could easily have condemned him to death.
Up until then the existence of the Russian rite Catholic Church was strictly prohib-ited by the Tsarist government. It seemed that a new religious era was beginning for Russia. But they were to see the truth of the words that Exarch Leonid had said one day to one day to a companion at Anagni: "Russia will not repent without travelling the Red Sea of the blood of her martyrs and numerous sufferings of her apostles." The coup d'etat of 25 October 1917 was the prelude.
Duly confirmed, the Exarch was only able to exercise his apostolate for five years, with difficulties. The Bolsheviks had seized exclusive power in October 1917; the decree of separation of church and state was proclaimed on 23 January 1918, and Lenin's first Soviet constitution was proclaimed on 5 February 1918. Violent persecution began in 1922.
The Bolsheviks had scarcely taken power when they began their measures against religion. The two Russian Greek-Catholic communities at Petrograd and Moscow could not escape from all these measures. The Bolsheviks understood very well that the strongest force of resistance was in the Catholic Church. The Catholic priests remained united in their opposition to the maxims of Bolshevism and continued to teach Christian doctrine, even though it was forbidden to do so to anyone under eighteen years of age. On 5 December 1922 all the Catholic churches in Petrograd were closed down and in January 1923 Msgr. Jan Cieplak, the Auxiliary Bishop of Mohiliov, was arrested along with fourteen priests including the Exarch Leonid. In the night of 2-3 March, they were told that they were being transferred to Moscow for trial.
The public sessions went from 21 to 25 March in the grand hall of what had been the club for the nobility. It was filled to the rafters because of the quality of the accused. To the great surprise of the spectators, amongst the Roman cassocks and the characteristic appearance of the Polish bishops and priests they saw the Exarch Leonid, wearing his Russian riasa. This was itself a statement: many people asked why this bearded priest, evidently a Catholic, was not dressed like the others; thus they learned of the existence of Russian rite Catholicism. The indict-ment was very long. They were all accused of opposing the Revolution and resisting Soviet laws. In his address to the court the public prosecutor, Nicholas Vasilievich Krylenko, depicted the Exarch as a fanatic organizer of a common front against Communism. The verdict was death for Bishop Jan Cieplak and Msgr Constantine Budkiewicz, parish priest of Saint Catherine's in Petrograd. The Exarch was sentenced to ten years in prison; the other priests were each sentenced to ten years or three years.
No sooner was the sentence given than the diplomats tried to obtain a commutation for those sentenced to death, because the execution was set for 29 March. The interventions succeeded only for Bishop Cieplak; a year later he was exchanged for three noted Bolsheviks and expelled from Russia. Afraid that these interventions would also succeed in favour of Msgr Budkiewicz, who had already obtained a stay of execution, the most bloodthirsty Bolsheviks took him to the sub-basement of the prison during the night of 31 March and shot him dead with their revolvers as he blessed his assassins- it was the night of Easter.
In 1926 the Polish priests were exchanged for an equal number of Communists detained in Poland and elsewhere. The occasion was taken to ask that the Exarch also be released. After two months the response was that instead of complete liberty he was given the category of "minus six," which meant that he might not reside in the six principal cities: Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, Kazan, Nizhni-Novgorod, (also Warsaw before the Revolution), or any maritime town. The Exarch decided to live in Kaluga, where the Roman rite parish priest, Father Jan Pawlowicz, welcomed him like a brother. Here the Exarch could offer the Russian rite Mass without persecutions.
A return to Mohiliov was closest to the Exarch's heart. He had been very well received there in 1922; the Russian-Catholic population there had no priest and they appealed to him insistently. These good people of Belarus had originally been Greek-Catholic. The Semashko apostasy of 1839 had forced them into schism, but they would easily return to their old faith. Finally, Exarch Leonid made up his mind, but he committed the same crime for which he had been sentenced: spreading the idea of church union among the Orthodox. The Exarch was arrested and deported to the central prison at Solovetsky to finish his ten-year sentence.
Solovki's Prisoners for the Love of Christ and the Conversion of Russia.
Solovetsky was a great monastery, very famous in Russian history, where there were still a certain number of monks. The buildings are noteworthy. It had become a huge penitentiary, but the Bolsheviks had not occupied the whole complex. Near the Kremlin or citadel, in the cemetery, there was a church where the monks could hold their services; about a hundred detained Orthodox ecclesiastics attended this church. The Catholics used a small chapel three kilometres from the monastery Kremlin.
Wine was scarce, even though the relatives of the prisoners who were themselves still at liberty took care to send wine from time to time; the guards often drank it. Then the Catholics remembered that altar wine can be made from dry raisins, so they had raisins sent. Mass was celebrated almost every day at a very early hour of the morning because of the forced labour from which no one was exempt. Exarch Leonid strongly supported this early morning Mass, saying that this could be the only sacrifice offered that day in Russia for Russia.
Little by little, with the poor resources they had, they repaired the chapel and adorned it as best they could. Eventually, they had four complete sets of vestments. They obtained permission to have the Vigil (Vespers, Matins, Lauds, and Prime) on Saturday evenings. They preached, of course, and the former directress of a women's institution who had been deported because of her religious fervour became a zealous Catholic. They went to confession on the road, or elsewhere, appearing just to hold a private conversation without giving any exterior sign of a religious ritual.
During the summer of 1926 the first Roman rite priest arrived, Father Leon Baranowski, the dean of Vitebsk, who eventually died in exile at Narym in Siberia. After much hesitation he agreed to say Mass, and in a short time they were able to concoct everything necessary for the Roman rite, even to make proper hosts. After that there was also a Roman rite Mass, and even several when the number of deported priests grew. Little by little twenty Roman rite priests came; they began to say Mass secretly in their rooms, at a very early hour. On alternate Sundays they sang either the Russian rite or the Roman rite Mass, and there was a sermon either in Russian or in Polish.
In July 1928 Bishop Boleslas Sloskans arrived at Solovetsky. Since he was a bishop, he ordained a Russian seminarian to the diaconate and the priesthood in September. So there was one more Russian Greek-Catholic priest.
Eventually all this reached the ears of the GPU of Solovetsky. They were angry that the Catholics remained dignified, calm, and in full possession of their intellectual faculties instead of letting themselves be broken and brutalized like so many other detainees. The September ordination served as a pretext; in November 1928 the use of the chapel was stopped. Now there were only secret services in various rooms, and to bring Holy Communion to the women, kept in separate quarters, they resorted to stratagems used in the primitive Church during violent persecution. The evening of 19 January 1929 (the Feast of the Epiphany) there was a general search: many utensils for worship were confiscated by the prison authorities, but they were able to save the most necessary vessels. The Catholics were then scattered amongst different rooms, mingled with other political detainees and even with common criminals. Nevertheless the priests continued to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice as best they could: one in the museum where he was the watchman, after obtaining the night duty; another in the work-shops where he could go at night since he was an electrician; another in the carpentry shop, or in the disinfection room, in a mill, in a cave, in the forest using a flat stone for an altar. The Exarch continued to say that they had to do even the impossible so that there would be at least one Holy Mass each day.
On the Russian rite Easter Sunday of 1929, since the GPU allowed the Orthodox and the Jews to celebrate their feast days, they did not dare refuse the Russian Catholics, although they did forbid the Roman Catholics since their Easter was already passed. It was the last time that they were able to have a public Divine Liturgy.
One after the other the priests who had been held in the central penitentiary were sent to the island of Anzer. Yet, for two more years they were not deprived of their secret Holy Masses. They used only seven or eight drops of wine and a drop of water for the Holy Sacrifice. They were permitted to celebrate without vestments. The detainees had become very clever at hiding everything from the Soviet commissars, who never completely succeeded in the one supreme aim of stopping the Mass.
This long detention of Russian and Roman rite Catholic priests, and the mutual help which they gave each other had the result that in the Catholic community of Solovetsky, every-thing was held in common. The other detainees looked to the Catholics as a model of organization, which greatly irritated the Soviet authorities who could not overcome it; they were all united in the same bond of love.
Here we quote some reflections of the Polish priest Father Donat Novitski, which was written in 1934 after he was freed:
"Here is how one could consider the mentality of the Russian rite Catholics before their incarceration in 1923 and during the nine years of suffering that followed, from 1923 to 1932. They accepted the perse-cution of their missionary work as well as their personal sufferings in a strictly objective way and in the purest spirit of faith. It is evident, they say, that the Soviet power is striving to prevent any direct influence of the Catholic Church on the Russian people, but God, on the contrary, is making it no less clear that He desires the repentance of Russia. So it follows, despite the enslavement of Russia by the enemies of the Church, that it is our duty to work for her spiritual rebirth. The means of working for God in Russia are very reduced; for the moment it is impossible to think of a direct work of propaganda and still less of struggle, and it is difficult to foresee when the moment will come that this direct propaganda can be-gin. However the Russian rite Catholics are per-suaded that even in the present circumstances it is their duty to remain firmly at their post, to suffer and pray, even, say some, if God wishes to make use of all this suffering and all these sacrifices for other peoples of the world in-stead of for the Russians... The Roman rite priests who have had occasion to come in touch with those of the Russian rite during these years of suffering are unanimous in recognizing their profound Christian con-victions, their courage, their inexhaustible energy and their readiness to suffer in the spirit of sacrifice to the very last extremity. ..."
The Exarch had no possibility of going very far from the Solovetsky islands, under the arctic circle. At the penitentiary, the mortality rate at one time reached 60% of the detainees. To escape required a special endurance and an experience of evasion. Although he was still young, the Exarch could not have succeeded; he had no intention of trying.
Brutally despoiled of his clerical garb, clothed in rags, with coarse, insufficient food, locked at night in a barracks which could normally have held 400 or 500 men but which sometimes held 2,000, in continual contact with people from every class, including the lowest and most vulgar, he had to spend his days working at very tiring forced labour: chopping down and carrying big trees, sawing them into pieces, pushing them to the shore and making them into rafts so they could be sent by water; or working with heavy beams, even in snow and intense cold. All the great accomplishments which the well-named agents of Intourist invited naive people who came on tours to the USSR to admire were done thanks to the unpaid hand labour of mostly political and innocent prisoners. When they celebrated Holy Mass during the night in the attic everyone had to kneel throughout, even the priest.
Last Exile and Death for the Love of Christ and the Conversion of Russia.
On 6 August 1929, Exarch Leonid was transferred from the central penitentiary of Solovetsky to a small village near the market-town of Pinega, in the same province of Arkhangelsk. He was lodged in an izba, a log hut where there was already a detained Orthodox priest, Father Parthenios Kiuglikov. He was not completely exempt from labour; he had to work making charcoal from wood, but he had a little more freedom to write letters. After contacting the Orthodox priest of Pinega, he was able to use that priest's small library, to have a little class for young boys and catechism for the older ones. All this zeal did not please Father Parthenios; he said that such occupations were dangerous not only for the Bolsheviks but also for the Church. He added that the Exarch himself had shaken his convictions - but still he admired the Exarch. When the Bolsheviks noticed this activity they transferred the Exarch, first to Arkhangelsk, then to Kotlas (a small town in the province of Vologda), and finally to a village called Poltava, fifteen kilometres from Kotlas.
Fedorov's death in Viatka.
The last hour was drawing near. Worn out from so much suffering, the Exarch's robust health was ruined. He already felt sick at Pinega; he had cardiac asthma, gastritis, a cough, and difficulty in speaking. The GPU declared him an invalid and exempted him from forced labour not long before his sentence ended in August 1932. He asked for a GPU certificate that he had served his sentence, and received it in November 1933, but his exile was prolonged for three years in the form of "minus twelve," the prohibition of residing in the twelve principal cities of the USSR. He chose to live in Viatka where exiles often went to live in Tsarist times. He hoped to find help and to meet some released companions there. He felt so feeble that he was unable to do anything. He died on 7 March 1935, in utter destitution, alone, without even a priest to assist him in his last moments. He was only fifty-five years old! Some good peasants buried him. Sophia Likilariova, his biographer to whom we owe many of the details given above, says that the location of his grave is known.
Such was the "falling-asleep" of the first Russian rite Greek-Catholic Exarch. He has certainly earned a place among the ispoviedniki or "confessors" of the Catholic Church. He was declared a Servant of God in November 1997 and his cause for Beatification is opended, with Bishop Charnetsky, as one of the "Companions" of Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytski.