St. Michael Novitsky: a New Martyr from Belarus

In the third week after Pentecost, the Church celebrates the Synaxis of the Belarusian Saints, which includes 79 saints of God. 23 of them are the new martyrs and confessors who suffered in the 20th century, and among them – Archpriest Michael Novitsky, who remained faithful to Christ until his death.

…Uzda, a provincial Belarusian town. Hungry 1930s. It will soon be dinner time, but for now Zynovia, the priest’s wife, is finishing a bed quilt with a special hoop.

“Embroidery is almost ready and we will have dinner. Today we managed to cook at least nettle patties. Thank God and thanks to our caring parishioners who do not leave us in trouble, – thought the priest’s wife. – I’m just sorry they will pay no more than five rubles for the work, and it took a week to tuft the blanket”.

In the next room, the father of the family is praying silently. Priest Michael Novitsky have been repeatedly summoned to the police station and the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs). At first, they threatened to close his church, offered to defrock himself, promised him a lucrative job. And after his decisive refusal they began to summon him just to make him fear… Every time, while coming back home, Father Michael heard petulant street boys hurling insults. In February 1932, All-Union Communist Party of Belarus announced the implementation of the first five-year plan for four years and approved the second five-year plan: “the name of God must be forgotten throughout the USSR” by May 1, 1937. Churches were toughly taxed. It was not possible to pay those taxes for the majority of parishes. Closed churches were turned into social clubs, warehouses, vaults… Father Michael tried his best to defend his church. Parishioners helped him in any way they could. There were cases when people sold their last property for this. But despite all the efforts in 1933, Apostles Peter and Paul’s church in Uzda was captured and converted into a grain warehouse. Father Michael started getting really sick because of the worries he had suffered. However, he still continued to serve in the church gatehouse…

Archpriest Michael with his wife and children

Holy Wednesday. Father Michael hardly served the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts — he felt very bad.

Holy Thursday. The priest went to get the Shroud, traveling a distance in 15 miles through the motions. He tried to serve the Service of the Twelve Gospels standing, but sometimes he sat down for a while.

Holy Friday. In the morning he accepted the parishioners who came for confession. He did not manage to get up and to take the shroud out of the sanctuary. At night, two people broke into the gatehouse – they were looking for jewels at the priest’s house. Having found nothing, they cruelly beat up the sick priest. Subsequently, this attack became the cause of his death. Father Michael did not tell about the beating neither to his wife nor children.

Holy Saturday. He consecrated paskhas (a Russian dessert made from curd or cream and traditionally served at Easter) and Easter cakes already lying in his bed.

Father Michael served the Easter morning service with great difficulty. He performed a short mass instead of Liturgy. He gave exclamations while lying in the bed. The windows of the gatehouse were opened wide, so that everyone could hear the service. On the second day of Easter, he also served a short mass, because he could not get up. A priest from a neighboring parish came to confess and to serve the Holy Unction instead of Fr. Michael. On the third day of Easter, Fr. Michael could only pronounce single words. The priest’s wife and the visiting priest read the Akathist to the Most Holy Mother of God and the Gospel. Archpriest Michael Novitsky died on April 30, 1935 while the troparion of Easter was singing. In 2000, Archpriest Michael Novitsky was canonized as holy martyr. And now every year on the third day of Easter, believers make a Cross procession to the grave of the martyr.

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