As a front-line soldier in World War II, he discovered the Gospel and found Christ. He put Christ and His word at the center of his life. He survived World War II — which he said was ‘worse than hell’ — and spent the rest of his life fighting a war of the spirit for the salvation of his soul and his many disciples. Unlike many other elders, Father Kirill did not perform any visible miracles. On the contrary, he stood out among all others for his exceptional humility and meekness. With these virtues, he healed the souls of many – patriarchs, metropolitans, clergymen, monks and laity. After the elder’s departure, God sent the miracle of His Paschal joy to all those who came to bid him farewell.
Two facets of war
Father Kirill, in the world Ivan Pavlov, was born on 8 October 1919 in a Russian village. His parents, devout Christians, raised their son in piety and veneration of the Lord. But when Ivan turned 12, he left his parental home to live with his brother among unbelievers and lost his spiritual assets.
When World War 2 began, he joined the army and went to the front. He sustained several wounds, fought in the battle of Stalingrad and ended the war in Austria. As an elder, he shared many memories of the war. “If you have not been there, you know nothing. Sometimes, it was worse than hell. There were not only heroes, but also traitors, collaborators with the security agencies and those looking for a chance to escape the front-line battles to the security of a rear-based unit. Often, it is like being in perimeter defence, without a base of support.’
His meeting with Christ happened during the war. “One day, I noticed a book as I was walking amid the rabble. I picked it up. Reading it made me feel warm and secure; it caressed my soul. It was the Gospel. I found a veritable treasure, a source of ample joy and reassurance. The book was worn and falling apart, so I put the pages together, and I never let go of it ever since. Before my finding, I had my moments of confusion. I would sometimes question myself why we were fighting. But reading the Gospel opened my eyes, and helped me make sense of the world and all the events in it. With the Gospel, I had no fear. Never again. With the Lord near me, I feared nothing.”
For his bravery on the front line Ivan was offered to become a candidate for membership in the Communist Party in 1943. But because he was a believer in Christ, he declined the nomination. His superiors were about to send him to his sure death as a machine gun operator in a front-line tank brigade. Howevet, when the brigade commander knew that he was being posted with his unit because of his religious beliefs, refused to take him. “We have a line of people like him,” he said. For his loyalty to God, He gave him protection from sure death.
Monk and elder
After returning from the war, he enrolled in a theology course at Novodevichiy Monastery in 1946 and then became a student of the Moscow Religious Academy. After his graduation in 1954, he joined the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and Saint Sergius and received monastic tonsure with the name Kirill. He served as a choir singer, reader, treasurer, assistant confessor and prior of the monastic community. Over forty years of his service, he heard confessions from three patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, multiple Metropolitans, bishops and prominent members of the clergy.
His Holiness Metropolitan Onuphrius of Kiev recalls that Elder Kirill spent all his time receiving visitors, taking breaks only for lunch and a few hours of sleep. The laity brought to him their multiple worldly problems and concerns, but the elder heard every visitor with sympathy and attention.
With his meekness and humility, he always kept a peaceful spirit and was a model for others. Everyone who visited him found grace and peace as if Christ Himself were near them. Beyond giving reassurance, he projected the power of the Holy Spirit to bring peace to people’s hearts and purify their minds.
He approached everyone individually. When he sensed that his visitor was not ready to take his advice, or God had yet to disclose to him the right answer, he would say to his disciple, “Let us pray together.” He was always soft and gentle in giving his guidance, and always respected individual choices.
Here is one concrete example of his meekness with his disciples. He once asked a hieromonk from his monastery to act as his confessor and confessed with a contrite heart even the smallest of his sins that the Archimandrite himself would never have named in his confession because he thought that they were too minor. In retrospect, the hieromonk understood that Father Kirill was showing him an example of the depth of introspection required for a valid confession and sincere repentance.
But Father Kirill he could be stern and uncompromising where the salvation of the soul was at issue. One seminary student came to him to share his doubts about his choice of profession. He was seriously considering a change of career and came to ask for his blessing. As soon as the elder heard his question, he banged his fist on the table and said with consternation, “Out of here! I want to see no more of you!” The frightened student ran out of the room and closed the door behind him. The next morning, he reconsidered and changed his mind about leaving the seminary. Eventually, he became a well-respected archpriest. He remembers this incident with gratitude for the elder. He says that by talking to him in that manner, he helped him overcome the temptation of the devil.
When he gave penance, he always considered the capabilities of the penitent. In most cases, he instructed them to read a chapter of the Gospel each day, do seven to twelve bows and say Jesus’s prayer or the prayer “Lord Our Father”. Laypeople found such easy penances instructive and salvific, “Have mercy on the people, and God will have mercy on you,” explained the elder. Sometimes, he also added, “Love sees no evil in the evil.”
The source of Elder Kirill’s great love of others was his boundless love of God. He has read the Gospel from a young age, and always consulted it to find answers to questions of the spirit. As the elder repeated multiple times, the Gospel moves us closer to God and everyone who obeys its commandments receives a blessing from God.
He never parted with his Gospel. He could read from memory its entire chapters and said that the only thing that stopped him from reading it all the time was his tight schedule. Metropolitan Onuphrius recalls: “He often read from the Gospel during liturgies. I saw him take out his Gospel before the Eucharistic Canon and read it until the choir finished chanting the Creed. I do not know what he was reading at that moment, but I guess it was the fragment from the Gospel of John about the Last Supper and the Holy Eucharist.”
He was reading the Gospel even when undergoing surgery under local anaesthesia in a hospital.
A monk once complained to the Elder that he could find no energy to read the evening prayer rule at night. Father Kirill advised, “Try reading a fragment from the Gospel, at least a chapter.” The monk followed the advice and found to his surprise that reading the Gospel was not only invigorating but also inspired him to pray. He could easily read the prayer rule and also catch up on the other daily prayers.
When someone asked the elder what he would advise to someone without a spiritual teacher, he replied, “Live according to the Gospel, and you will never come off the right track.”
Spiritual connection with Saint Sergius of Radonezh
Elder Kirill had a strong spiritual connection with Saint Sergius of Radonezh. Like Saint Sergius, he always took great care to conceal his Divine gifts and avoid burdening others with his problems.
In 2003, he began to have serious health problems. Soon, he became paralysed and moved to live at the Patriarch’s metochion outside Moscow. His carers often asked him how they could make him more comfortable. Anxious not to make anyone do extra work for his comfort and considering himself unworthy even of what he had, he always replied, “I am not entitled to ask.”
Once he told his carers about the following incident. He was celebrating liturgy on the feast day of Saint Sergius with Patriarch Kirill at the Holy Trinity Church of the monastery. After the Polyeleos, the clergy went, one by one, to venerate the relics of the saint. Elder Kirill was among them; but during his turn, he felt that he could not lift his dead. It was as if the venerable saint was telling him, “I am not letting you go!” He remained in his awkward position for some time, until the saint let him go.
Departure to God
Having prepared for his departure, Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov) fell asleep in the Lord on 20 February 2017. A liturgy was served in his cell within hours of his death. After the liturgy, several priests took turns reading the Gospel until morning. By that time, news about Father Kirill’s departure reached the faithful across the land. His multiple spiritual children from the clergy and the laity came to bid him farewell. Memorial services for Father Kirill were held one after another.
His body was brought to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and Saint Sergius for the burial service. As people touched with their lips the elder’s hands, many felt a warmth coming from them. The service was a celebration of love and faith. Nobody grieved, all were experiencing a paschal joy and had a sense of glowing from within. That way, the elder gave his spiritual children a preview of the abode of heaven where his blessed soul found her abode.
The burial service was on 23 February, celebrated in Russia as the day of the warrior for the homeland. Perhaps the Lord had meant it as a tribute to Father Kirill as a defender of his country and a warrior of Christ.