Biography of Father Aleksey Zerchaninov

Born March 9, 1848, into the family of an Orthodox priest in Borisovo, Nizhegorod province. In June 1871 he graduated from the Nizhegorod [Orthodox] Seminary with the right to enroll in the Theological Academy [in St. Petersburg]. He intentionally set aside this right in order to more quickly become a priest and take up pastoral work, to which he felt he was called. September 10, 1871 – he married; October 1871 – he was ordained an Orthodox priest. From 1871 he was pastor of the parish in Borisovo and blagochinnyi for the churches of Arzamas district; he was also a religion teacher in the schools, one of which had been established out of his own funds; he also taught religion in the parochial schools. He energetically spoke out against religious dissenters [raskol’niki] and this missionary activity impelled him to follow carefully the teachings of the Orthodox Church. The writings of the Church Fathers, the history of the ecumenical councils, and other works – primarily those of historians and theologians of the Orthodox Church – caused him to have some doubts about the truth of official Orthodoxy. Soon he – without anyone’s influence – came by his own personal efforts to a firm conviction of the truth of the Catholic Church. On January 9, 1896, he was secretly accepted as a priest of the Catholic Church by Fr. Marian Fulman; a document to this effect was sent to Metropolitan Archbishop Szymon Kozlowski in St. Petersburg, but the archbishop could not accept Fr. Aleksey into his jurisdiction, and thus Fr. Aleksey remained with his Catholic convictions as the blagochinnyi of the parish in Borisovo. He was, however, unable to conceal his convictions. July 3, 1898, his house was searched, in the course of which his library was destroyed and all his Catholic journals and books were confiscated. From 1898 he was held in Suzdal Prison attached to Spasso-Evfimiyev Monastery for religious apostates. In early 1900, Natalia Ushakova, a Catholic, asked Empress Maria Feodorovna to intercede for Fr. Aleksey. February 21, 1901 – thanks to the Empress’s petition, he was released, but on the condition that he live, without leaving, on the farm that he had acquired not long before his arrest. His wife had to remain in Borisovo as the widow of a priest. He was to work the farm himself and thus sustain himself. He built a chapel for worship. His older son, Julius (also a priest), joined him; Fr. Aleksey united Julius to the Catholic Church. The rest of the family remained Orthodox. Julius died soon thereafter of tuberculosis. On his farm, Fr. Aleksey began to write. He had written his first work – Tsarstvo Bozhie v mire [The Kingdom of God in the World] – while in prison, using a goose feather pen, homemade ink and whatever paper fell into his hands. A second large composition – Nepokladnye liudi – was published in Krakow in 1904 under the pseudonym A.N. Zvezdin. In the author’s words, this work almost photographically described the life of the Orthodox Russian clergy and to what the secular power had reduced it. The manuscript was carried out of Russia by the Polish Jesuit, Fr. Henryk Podynkowski, SJ. In 1905, after another petition by Natalia Ushakova, he was able to leave for the village of Beloostrov, and then after [the Manifesto of] October 17, 1905, he settled in St. Petersburg. In 1907 Fr. Aleksey visited Rome […] where he met Pope Pius X; he traveled to Lourdes and to Lviv, where he met Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky; and he also visited the Jesuits in Zakopane. June 29, 1907 – Metropolitan Sheptytsky, on the basis of authority given him by Pope Pius X, appointed Fr. Aleksey his deputy in the nominally existing Kamianets Diocese, as the head of Russian Catholics in the Russian Empire. In October 1907 Fr. Aleksey returned to St. Petersburg, where he said Mass in his apartment and formed a parish community of Russian Catholics. May 21, 1908 – during a second trip to Rome, he was appointed by the Pope as head of the mission for Russian Cahtolics. From March 1909, after his return to St. Petersburg, he continued his ministry in his apartment; he later organized a small house church on Polozovaya Street; from 1912 (after the house church was closed by authorities), he served as vicar at St. Catherine Church. May 1, 1919 – arrested as a hostage along with Archbishop Ropp, but released a month later. After the establishment of the Exarchate of the Russian Greek-Catholic Church in Russia, he became the secretary of Exarch Leonid Feodorov. April 12, 1920 – arrested and drawn into the investigation in the “Polish Affair.” Released April 18. In February 1923 he became a monsignor [prelat]; from March 1923 he was head of the northern part of the Exarchate of the Russian Greek-Catholic Church in Russia. November 19, 1923 – arrested in Petrograd on charges of “disseminating counter-revolutionary articles and letters,” but released on his own recognizance in December. May 19, 1924 – sentenced under Articles 61 and 66 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR to ten years in prison [OGPU Collegium]. In view of his advanced age [he was 76 years old], the prison sentence was commuted to three years’ exile. From 1924 to 1926 he was in Yekaterinburg; later transferred to Tobolsk, where he was arrested May 28, 1926, on charges of “religious activity.” Transferred to Obdorsk (on the Arctic Circle). May 9, 1927 – released from exile, but restricted from residing in the six major cities and border zones. From 1927 he resided in Smolensk; in 1929 he moved to Nizhni Novgorod, where he died September 23, 1933, at 85 years of age. Fr. Aleksey was a man of many virtues. Once having decided on a course of action, he did not back down, he did not waver. He did not allow himself to be tempted by position or money. He was persistent in his affairs, patient, accepting the blows of fate with equanimity. He was gifted with natural restraint; always faithful to the Church, during its persecution by the tsars and then by the Soviets. He was also extremely circumspect and careful. He was handsome; with his kindness, friendliness and constant aid to the poor, he instilled respect in his parishioners. His soul was pure; he attracted people’s hearts even though he himself was of a stern nature – which he himself recognized. The huge task laid upon him was too much for him. The times of the persecutions left their imprint on him, and he developed certain eccentricities. Yet in all this, one could not but notice his practical wisdom, because carrying out the ministry of an Eastern Rite priest in such an unfavorable milieu did not bring him any friends. In his own unique way, he understood his mission. He mixed elements of Eastern and Western rites. He sought the patronage of Latin-Rite priests. Sources: Assumptionist Archives, Rome, 2ER.66, p. 1; Archive of the Directorate, FSB, St. Petersburg and Leningrad oblast; GARF, f. 8409, op. 1, d. 228, l. 132; von Burman, pp. 62-65; Osipova (1996), p. 170; Abrikosova et al. (1924); Sokolovskyi, pp. 224-225; Dzwonkowski (1998), pp. 530-532; Shkarovskii, pp. 224-225
Variant Names:
Zerchaninov, Aleksey; Zerchaninov, Alekseĭ Evgrafovich
Nizhegorodskai︠a︡ gubernii︠a︡ (R.S.F.S.R.); Suzdalʹ (Russia); Saint Petersburg (Russia); Kami︠a︡nets (Brėstskai︠a︡ voblastsʹ, Belarus); Ekaterinburg (Russia); Tobolʹsk (Russia); Salekhard (Russia); Smolensk (Russia)
male; clergy and religious; survived