02 December 2017

Apostle to the Carpathians

Our Venerable and God-bearing Father Aleksei of Khust

On the second of December, the One, Holy, Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church commemorates, as well as the Holy Apostle Matthew, our Venerable and God-bearing Father Saint Aleksei (Kabalyuk) of Khust, who served as an apostle to the Carpathian Rus’ under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Together with the Saints Alexis (Tovt) of Wilkes-Barre and Maksim (Sandovich) of Gorlice, he is one of the three great Rusin saints of the modern time. The material that follows borrows and paraphrases heavily from the hagiographical work of Father Edward Pehanich of ACROD, so it is with thanks and credit to him that I post this!

Father Aleksei was born Aleksandr Ivanovich Kabalyuk in 1877 in the small Rusin village of Frasin in Bukovina to a Uniate family. He did military service as a youth, and also developed a keen interest in religion, visiting the monastery of Biskad in Romania, where he received the blessing from the starets Arkadiy to enter the novitiate, and entered the Holy Orthodox Church on a visit to Mount Athos in 1908. He was tonsured in 1910 at Yablokhino where he took the name Aleksei.

At this time, Rusins in the Austro-Hungarian areas of Carpathia were returning home to the Orthodox Church, and being persecuted severely for it. Peasants were beaten ruthlessly by the gendarmes, and one of them, Ioakim Vakarov, was beaten to death for professing Orthodoxy. The focal point of both the returns and the persecutions was the village of Iza in the Maramorosh Region. It was to this village, with all of the danger that entailed, that Aleksei arrived, in the back of a hay-cart, to serve as the village’s first Orthodox priest. He supported himself by working with the wood lathe, as he travelled around the surrounding villages in the Maramorosh, founding 28 Orthodox parishes and overseeing the return of 14,000 former Uniate Rusins to the Holy Orthodox Church.

For his pains, Father Aleksei was ruthlessly persecuted by the Austro-Hungarian gendarmes. They broke into his house, searched and seized his icons, prayer-books and devotionals. The persecutions against the villagers and the new converts worsened: Orthodox Rusins were lynched – hung up on trees and left to bleed. He left to America to serve the Rusin flock in America, but returned back to Maramorosh when he heard that 93 members of his flock had been arrested. Upon his arrival, he was arrested himself and stood in solidarity with the accused. This trial, the infamous Maramorosh-Siget Process, drew an outraged reaction from across Europe at this religious tyranny. The accused Rusins were defended by an array of Hungarian, Slovak, Serbian and Jewish lawyers, but to no avail – the Austro-Hungarian government, fevered with the pre-war rage and hatred against all things Russian, was bent on persecuting the Rusin Orthodox converts. Father Aleksei was given the most severe sentence: four and a half years in prison and a fine of one thousand crowns.

After the war, the persecutions against Orthodox Christians eased, and Father Aleksei was released to continue his missionary and church-building work. He founded an Orthodox monastery in Iza, which was consecrated to Saint Nicholas, and he headed a Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church which fell under the jurisdiction of the saintly New Hieromartyr Dositheos of Serbia, and which received the attentions and support of a number of great Orthodox churchmen and saints: including Metropolitan Antoniy (Khrapovitsky), Saint John (Maksimovich) of Shanghai and San Francisco, New Hieromartyr Gorazd (Pavlík) of Prague and Saint Justin (Popovich) of Chelije. The Mukachevo-Preshov Diocese blossomed under Saint Aleksei’s care, and at its peak had 127 churches and over 140,000 members.

However, the twin evils of Nazism and Communism overshadowed the Maramorosh, and Saint Aleksei was forced to watch as the fruits of his hard work and faithfulness eroded. He sadly would not live to see the third flowering of Orthodoxy bloom across the Carpathian mountains, in a garden he had tended with such loving care. He took on the Great Schema in November of 1947 and reposed in the Lord on the second of December in that year. His relics were exhumed in 1999 and found to be without corruption; he was therefore glorified formally in 2001 by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) as the Apostle to the Carpathian Rus’.

Holy Father Aleksei, a faithful and self-emptying man in the service of his long-suffering people, a working man unafraid to undertake manual labour to support himself, unswerving in his commitment to the faith of his fathers and unflinching in the face of unjust judgement and ruthless persecution from the Austro-Hungarian landlords, secret police and wartime tribunal, was truly a great saint of whom the Rusins may be justly proud. Holy Father Aleksei, pray unto Christ our God for us sinners!
Let the mountains sing and all the trees of the forest make glad,
O Holy Father Alexis, Apostle of Carpatho-Rus,
Beaten and banished by tyrants, O living martyr,
You shone forth like gold refined in the crucible of this world.
And as you did guide your people by your wisdom and suffering, so also guide us,
for you intercede for the salvation of your people and Orthodox everywhere.

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