Saint Luke the Surgeon, Archbishop of the Crimea (1877-1961) – Part IIΙ

23 October 2012

In 1932, a tumor appeared and he went to Leningrad to be operated on by an oncologist. Fortunately, it turned out to be benign. In Leningrad, he was called to meet Kirov, a high-ranking member of the Party.  The latter offered the bishop the largest surgical research facility in the country, provided he would remove his monastic habit and renounce Christ. He refused and returned to his place of exile. In 1933 his famous book was published: “Essays on the Surgery of Pyogenic Infections”, signed “Bishop Luke”. The book was very well received and ran into a number of editions. Professor Polianov declared that: “Our country does not have any other such book with so much knowledge of surgery and so much love for people”.

He lived in Tashkent from 1933 to 1937. He experienced peaceful family times with his children, something he had missed greatly. He worked mainly on scientific research, which consumed him. He wanted to understand the pus mechanism in the greatest detail, and wrote to his son: “I’m making astounding discoveries. I work all the time. I want to write a lot. I’m afraid I won’t have time. I’m at the height of my powers. I must make time…”.

He was one step away from the discovery of penicillin. But he did not make it…

The 1930s were the era when Stalin was all-powerful. The gulag archipelago was at its height. Millions of people were in the camps and worked at forced labour. More than 300,000 people worked on the White Sea Canal, digging their way thorough granite rock with primitive implements to create a stretch of waterway 280 kilometres long. At least 100,000 died and others had their health ruined. In 1936, the terror reached its peak. In Moscow, the famous trials took place, at which the leading figures from the revolution were eliminated. Arrests  of innocent citizens assumed epidemic proportions. And naturally Bishop Luke was under suspicion.

One evening in 1937, commissars entered his house and arrested him. Outside waited the Black Raven which took him to Tashkent Prison. The charges were that as a doctor he had killed people, that he was organizing a counter-revolution and a plot to kill Stalin. Many of his colleagues were also arrested and they gave way under duress and testified against him. They tried to make him sign a confession and subjected him to a chain of terrible, cruel cross-examination. Fixed on a chair under the glare of a powerful lamp,  various interrogators cross-examined him ceaselessly, day in, day out, for thirteen days.

They would not let him eat nor sleep. He often passed out and suffered from hallucinations and then they threw buckets of ice-cold water over him to bring him round. Because he refused to sign the charges, he was again subjected to a chain of cross-examinations, for another 13 days and nights. His body was covered in sores from the blows. They kept him in Tashkent Prison for two years, under constant threat and torture.

In 1939 they sentenced him again to exile in Siberia, this time for three years. Another grievous train journey to Krasnoyarsk and then by river boat to the town of Bolshaya Murta. Here he presented himself at the hospital and asked to be allowed to operate. They engaged him, but since there was no other position available they gave him the job of washerwoman for the hospital. They gave him a small room in the hospital building and he lived in great poverty. Here, too, he was very active in the operating theatre, even though working conditions were very bad.

There was no church in the village. Every morning Bishop  Luke would go into a nearby forest to pray. He would set up a little icon on a log, kneel in the mud or the snow and pray. But even there the young members of Komsomol would desecrate his prayer. God had been exiled from everywhere.

There are still people living in Murta to this day who  remember him with great affection. There still is no church there, but one is being built by the residents and it  will be dedicated to Saint Luke. Indeed, on the day that the foundation stone was laid, a  sick woman was miraculously healed by the saint. The cross was erected there to commemorate the miraculous intervention of the saint and in front they have set the stone on which the lady had been sitting.

At that time the world scene was dominated by war. The German hordes invaded Russia, causing enormous damage and leaving countless victims. The whole country underwent a dreadful trial.

In Krasnoyarsk, trains would arrive full of wounded soldiers with infected wounds. Many died without care, because there were hardly any doctors. Bishop Luke was moved by this state of affairs and sent a telegram to Kalinin, President of the Supreme Soviet, asking to be allowed  to return and operate on the soldiers. The answer came immediately. He was returned to Krasnoyarsk, appointed head physician of Military Hospital 1515 and advisor to all the military hospitals in the region.

Here, too, he was met with mistrust by his colleagues and was constantly under the surveillance of the KGB. His living quarters were a narrow, damp room at the hospital. He was also subjected to the scorn of those in higher positions. They considered him a second-class citizen and forbade him to  eat in the canteen at the military hospital. Often he went without food. Some nurses felt sorry for him and would take him a little food on the quiet. He was never heard to complain, and persisted in his great faith in God. In one of his letters to his son, he writes: “I have come to love the trial, which, strangely, purifies the soul”.

Every now and again he would go to the train station to pick out the worst of the wounded in order to operate on them. All of these soldiers loved him greatly, because they felt that he had saved their lives. But the intensive work schedule affected his health. He was overcome with exhaustion. Nevertheless, he continued, as ever, to think of those who were suffering and served them with incredible self-denial.

There was no church anywhere. All of them were closed. But now Stalin needed the Church and in 1943, he gave it a modicum of freedom. He freed many of the imprisoned clergy and allowed some churches to re-open. Bishop Luke was appointed Archbishop of Krasnoyarsk. In the city, permission was given for the opening of a small church, Saint Nicholas’, in a suburb 7 kilometres from the centre. On 28 February, the Archbishop celebrated the first Divine Liturgy. Ecclesiastical life in Siberia began again from this humble church. But to get there, he had to trudge 7 kilometres through mud or snow. Often he was snowbound and unable to go on.

Today in Krasnoyarsk, a church dedicated to Saint Luke is being built in the grounds of the General Hospital. The doctors there now are grateful to him and feel blessed by the tradition he left them. At a central point in the city there is a large statue of the saint and there are always passers-by who will stop, say a few words of prayer or leave a few flowers.

In 1944 he was transferred to Tambov as head physician and Archbishop. Here, too, everything had fallen apart. With great effort, he managed to repair the ruined church of the Holy Protecting Veil and he began to celebrate the Liturgy and to preach with great joy, because, as he said in his first sermon: “for fifteen years, my lips have been sealed”. At the same time he worked at two hospitals in the town, the General and the Military, whilst also giving lessons at the Medical School and speaking at medical conferences.

In the ecclesiastical sphere, he made tremendous efforts to reorganize his province. In churches he preached the word of God. People flocked to hear him and were profoundly influenced.

The authorities were in a cleft stick. They recognized his enormous scientific, social and patriotic contribution, but could not tolerate his sermons and pastoral work. They often invited him to scientific conferences or the university, but asked that he come without his cassock and pectoral icon. He would not give way and indicated that he was not afraid of anything. In two years, the people of Tambov came to love him very much and the traces of his residence here, too, have proved indelible.

Today, the General Hospital in the city bears his name. In the courtyard there is a bust of him and nearby, in the Museum of Medical History, a large section is dedicated to Saint Luke.

Despite his work load, he took part in the synods of the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1946, recognition came at last. Some members of the party slandered Archbishop Luke to Stalin and demanded he be executed. Stalin became furious and cursed them roundly and ended by saying: “We cannot execute those people any more; we have to honour them”. And, indeed, Archbishop Luke would be honoured by the greatest State medal, the 1st Stalin prize among 15 scientists. The ceremony took place in Moscow. Everyone was present. The only one missing was Archbishop Luke, who did not have the money for a train ticket. The prize was accompanied by 200,000 roubles. He sent a telegram to Stalin asking that the money be distributed to war orphans.

In the same year, on Stalin’s orders, a bust was made of him, which is now in the Klenisovsky Museum in Moscow, among the busts of great scientists. Many foreign journalists came to him for interviews and special broadcasts were made. His health worsened, however, and in 1946 he would lose the sight in one eye. The Church transferred him as Archbishop to the see of Simferopol and Crimea.

The Crimea is a beautiful region, with shades of Greece, but has suffered much. The destruction left by the war was very great here, too. The Church had been completely broken up and the Archbishop had to make Herculean efforts in order to restore it. In his efforts, he came up against the resistance of the authorities, who continually opposed him and undermined his work. There were very many poor people, and he organized a soup kitchen at his home. He often went without food himself, so as not to deprive some poor person of it. Here, too, he was invited to conferences or to give lessons at the School of Medicine. Sometimes the authorities would demand that he should not appear in his cassock, but he would not agree and so some conferences were cancelled.

His everyday life was full. He woke early and performed a service for two to three hours, after which he read a portion of the Old and New Testaments. He would then go to his office and deal with the affairs of his see. In the afternoon, he would receive patients, always without a fee.

A variety of people would come to his surgery: atheists, heathens, foreign nationals. He offered his services without discrimination. 

In 1956, he lost the sight in his other eye, too. Although he was now blind, he continued to work tirelessly,  to preach and to celebrate the Liturgy. In 1957, he celebrated his 80th birthday in Simferopol.

After Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev attempted to introduce de-Stalinization. Most prisoners were released and the camps were closed.  This positive development, however, was overshadowed by renewed attacks on the Church, with Khrushchev re-opening the anti-Church front. Churches were seized, closed and blown up, while priests were persecuted. Archbishop Luke faced a lot of problems and struggled to keep his churches open. In an anxious letter he wrote to his children: “It is increasingly difficult to direct the affairs of the Church. It’s a great trial. I can’t bear this in my eightieth year. Yet, with the Lord’s help, I’m continuing my difficult task”.

The authorities sought to make an example of him, because he resisted the closure of churches, but they did not dare imprison or exile him.

In another letter to his son, he wrote: “I have more worries than you and they’re hastening my end… In general, the situation in the sphere of the Church is becoming unbearable”.

Archbishop Luke’s life on earth was drawing to a close. At Christmas, 1960, he celebrated the liturgy for the last time, and on Cheese-Fare Sunday he gave  his last sermon. Thereafter he remained at home. He prepared for the great journey by praying. Just before his repose, he baptized his great-grand-daughter, Tatiana, now a doctor in Odessa.

One day he turned to his niece and said: “Do you suppose they’ll let you sing Holy God for me at my funeral?”. The niece did not understand what he meant at the time, but she did on the day of the funeral.

It was 11 June 1961, the day of All  the Saints of Russia. At four minutes to seven in the morning, Archbishop Luke breathed his last and his soul winged its way up to the heavens. He left to be in time to celebrate the liturgy on that great day at the altar in the sky. The sad tidings spread like wildfire. For three days, people came from all over and by any possible means to venerate his body. Before the coffin, they burst into hot tears and cried aloud: “Our father has left us, our saint”, and they recounted to each other his blessings and miracles.

All that crowd of people turned out to make a magnificent funeral and to bear his body through the main street of Simferopol. On the day of the funeral, however, there came an urgent telegram from Moscow, forbidding the cortège from passing along the central streets.

Anyone wanting to take part would be bussed, free, via side-streets as far as the cemetery. There was to be no singing. Everything was to be over in three minutes, with the body in the grave.

The funeral was attended by a large force of police to implement the order. But after the funeral service, the people revolted. There were scuffles and fights with the police. At some point, the road became open and the hearse started to leave. Some women broke through the police cordon and attached themselves to the hearse, while three heroic women threw themselves in font of the wheels of the vehicle and stopped it, shouting: “You’ll go the way you want only over our dead bodies”.

At that moment a large flock of pigeons appeared in the sky, circled, and followed the procession. Finally, the police gave way. The procession passed along the main boulevard which was packed with people and strewn with roses for a distance of some two kilometres. All those people, with one voice, for three and a half hours, sang “Holy God”.

He was buried in the cemetery of All Saints and since then his grave has become another pool of Siloam. His miracles are countless. And so, in 1966, the Russian Church announced his official canonization. In March, 1966, his relics were translated by Archbishop Lazar of the Crimea and his priests. At the time of the lifting of the relics a sweet perfume pervaded the area. Among his relics, his heart, brain, eyes and lungs were found intact.

On 20 March, 1996, his relics were taken to the church of the Holy Trinity in Simferopol in the presence of thousands of people. In 2001, they were placed in a beautiful silver casket, a present from Greece.

In 1997, a statue was unveiled by Archbishop Lazar in front of the Simferopol hospital, while in 2005 a bust was erected at the Medical School, where the church of Saint Luke is being built.

His memory is kept on June 11. Every year, thousands of people come for the feast from all over the Ukraine, Russia and abroad.

On the eve of the feast, the Medical School, headed by the Dean, sing the Salutations to the Saint and lay their doctor’s coats before his casket to be blessed by him.

On the day of the feast itself, there is a festal Divine Liturgy and a procession with the relics.

His miracles are countless, not only in the Crimea but also in Greece, with many appearances and interventions. He has appeared to many people in their sleep, in either his prelate’s vestments or physician’s clothes. He holds surgical implements, gauzes, syringes and so on. After introducing himself to the patients, he says he has come to operate on them. Many of them, when they wake next morning, find they have an incision or blood on their bodies.

In truth, what was it that glorified and endowed Saint Luke with grace? His virtues were many. But I believe that what distinguished him most was love, the crown of the virtues. Love for God and for people. Genuine love, comprising service, sacrifice and self-denial.

In the land of Palestine, there are two rivers and a lake. The first lake, Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), is small. Despite this, it is alive with fish, and it was there that Christ’s disciples cast their nets. The second lake is to the south, the Dead Sea, and it is four times as large as the former. But it is dead. There is no trace of life. The two lakes are linked by the River Jordan, which starts from Lake Tiberias and ends in the Dead Sea. And here is the strange thing. For centuries now, the small Sea of Galilee has been giving its waters, letting them flow all the time, and it remains alive. It never empties. The Dead Sea can never get enough of gulping in these waters, but never comes to life. It takes the waters and stays dead. This is the nature of love. We do not ask for love or demand it from others. We simply receive it, without conditions, without calculations and it is only then that we are alive. People who have learned from childhood to take all the time, without giving anything back are crippled, dead, unhappy. People who have learned to love, to sacrifice themselves and to offer themselves are alive and happy.

Such was Saint Luke. A man of love, service, sacrifice, self-denial. This is why he was blessed with grace from God and continues to live, to work wonders, to be so close to us and to comfort us.

May we be inspired by his life and have his blessing…