Death of a priest foretold

Fr Pavel Adelheim

Father Pavel Adelheim, a Russian Orthodox priest loved by his parishioners in Pskov, north-west Russia, was unafraid of the hierarchy, writes Michael Bourdeaux in The Guardian.

Pavel Adelheim, priest

August 1, 1938; August 5, 2013

One of the most remarkable Russian Orthodox priests of his generation, Father Pavel Adelheim, who has been killed aged 75, was never a ‘dissident’ in the conventional sense of the word. He was a dearly loved parish priest who fell foul of his diocesan bishop because of his unrelenting criticism of the way the Russian church hierarchy comported themselves in the post-Soviet era, (considering they acted) like medieval princes surrounded by a fawning court.

Pavel acted bravely even in his childhood. He was born in the port city of Rostov-on-Don. He never knew his father, Anatoli, who perished in Stalin's terror, but learned the faith from his mother, Tatyana. After the Second World War – the Great Patriotic War, as the Russians called it – the Russian church saw better times, but this did not prevent the young Pavel from being persecuted at school for his Christian beliefs.

After many difficulties, he gained entry to Kiev theological seminary, which had recently reopened, although he was expelled for refusing to sing Soviet patriotic songs during Holy Week.  He continued his studies by correspondence course at the Moscow theological seminary.

He was ordained priest in 1959 to serve under the fearless Bishop Yermogen in Uzbekistan. The remoteness of the village to which he was sent, Kagan, helped him to conceal the fact that he was building an Orthodox church.

When it was consecrated, this was too much for the authorities. Pavel was imprisoned in 1969 and treated as slave labour in a logging camp. In what might have been a deliberate attempt on his life, a truck ran over him and one of his legs had to be amputated. He managed to study law in the prison library in order to help prisoners with their appeals.

On his release in 1973, the authorities hounded him from place to place, but in 1976 he settled in Pskov, north-west Russia. His parishioners quickly came to love him for his dedicated pastoral work, particularly among young people.

They also deeply respected the way he celebrated the liturgy, standing for the long hours demanded, making light of his disability. He took every advantage of the freedoms offered by Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika and the rapid collapse of the Soviet atheist system.

The youth work which he inaugurated in two parishes was exemplary in demonstrating the way in which the church could now become socially involved. In one parish, he established a school for 40 children; in another he set up a home for children with special needs. His wife, Vera, whom he had married in 1959, provided constant encouragement.

It was my privilege to recommend him to an Anglican parish in Tring, Hertfordshire, which began to support his cause (in the absence of financial help from his own church authorities) and at one time supplied him with a minibus to help transport the children under his care. There was frequent contact in both directions, as a result of which Pavel became well known in Britain.

None of this, however, pleased his new diocesan bishop, Metropolitan Evsevi…

Full obituary in The Guardian:

Obituary in The Times:

Funeral coverage in Ria Novosti:

Memories of Fr Pavel:

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