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November 14, 2020

Holy New Hieromartyr Dimitri (Benevolensky) of Tver (+ 1937)

St. Dimitri Benevolensky (Feast Day - November 14)
Dimitri Mikhailovich Benevolensky was born on October 10, 1883 in Vishny Volochyok, Tver province to a family of a clergyman. He studied first at Tver, and then at the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1909, after which he took the position of a teacher at the Nikolo-Stolpensky Monastery in the Tver province.

In 1911, a priest died in the village of Ostrovno and the parish was left without a pastor. Dimitri Mikhailovich was asked to be ordained a priest. In the same year, he married the daughter of Ivan Alekseevich Tikhomandritsky, Anna, who was sixteen years old. Her father was a railway engineer and was involved in the construction of the Volga railway. The family was pious, one of the sons, Michael, became a priest, and the other two daughters did not marry and devoted their lives to raising adopted children and children of relatives.

On November 21, 1911, Dimitri Mikhailovich was ordained a priest at the Church of the Holy Great Martyr Demetrios in the village of Ostrovno, Vyshnevolotsk district, Tver province. Becoming a priest, Father Dimitri devoted all his energy and time to the cause of church service. Realizing the importance of the choir participating in most of the worship, having, among other things, missionary significance, he carefully selected the choir and organized beautiful church singing. Despite the fact that the parish was not rich, Father Dimitri ordered to cast a new bell for the church, having given away his silverware for this.

In 1919 he was transferred to the Trinity Church in the village of Panoshin, Udomel district. His father, priest Mikhail Benevolensky, went to him and died there and was buried in Udomel.

Priest Dimitri with his wife and children, July 1929
On January 16, 1929 Father Dimitri and the president of the church, Alexander Shchegolev, were arrested. Father Dimitri was accused of having performed a solemn divine service on October 28, 1928 "with the aim," as it was said in the accusation, "of inciting superstition among the masses of the population in order to obtain material benefits in this way." The president was accused of helping the priest arrange a solemn service.

From time immemorial, a tradition had developed in these places: at the end of October they would walk through the villages with the icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, which was brought by monks from the Saint Nicholas-Terebensky Monastery. The procession with the icon arrived in the village of Panoshin on October 28. On this day, a prayer service was solemnly served in front of the icon, and then with the icon and prayer services they went home. At the end of the twenties, the authorities began to close the last monasteries, and although in October 1928 the monks were still serving in the Nikolo-Terebensky Monastery, it became known around the district that they would not go with the icon that year, waiting for the closure of the monastery.

It was regrettable for the believers to break the ancient tradition and abandon the procession. The revered icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker was kept in the Trinity Church, which was transferred back in 1925 from the Kazan Monastery, which was then closed in Vyshny Volochyok.

In October 1928, a meeting of the parish church council took place, at which the head of the church proposed to preserve the tradition of the procession and prayer service before the icon of Saint Nicholas. Father Dimitri gave his blessing for this and on his part donated an icon case for the icon. For greater convenience, a stretcher was built.

On October 28, a procession with the icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker took place, and everything was done with such solemnity and reverence, with such religious enthusiasm that there were no traces of that difficult experience that gripped the souls of the pious peasants when they learned that the procession with the icon from the monastery will not take place.

If this had happened at a different time, everything would have remained without consequences, but the authorities had just made a decision to intensify the persecution, and in mid-January 1929 an article appeared in the local newspaper stating that the priest in the village of Panoshin decided to arrange a procession and did not receive permission from the local authorities, although instead of the icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker from the Saint Nicholas-Terebensky Monastery, the Panoshin believers brought their own icon, with which they processed.

“Everyone knew about this trick,” the newspaper wrote, “and the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks knew. Everyone knew, but they did not take any measures against such an outrage ... But the Panoshin priest said in his speech to the believers: 'Don't get caught, O sheep, in the teeth of wolves' ... Wolves he called Udomel culture workers, Vikovtsy and party members. Now, when the village chooses councils, you need to keep a close eye on the priest's tricks."

After the article, Dimitri and the president were arrested and imprisoned in Tver prison. After nine years of parish service in Panoshin, the parishioners fell in love with Father Dimitri and now began to petition for his release. A village gathering was assembled, which decided:

"We, citizens of the village of Panoshin ... in the number of thirty-two people who were at the village gathering ... had a judgment about the arrest of the priest of the church in the village of Panoshin, priest Dimitri Benevolensky, and the church head of the village of Panoshin, Alexander Schegolev, who followed as a result of the priest's procession around the village of Panoshin in October last year with the icon of Nicholas the Wonderworker, taken from the local church, in memory of the day of the arrival of the miraculous icon of the same saint from the Monastery of Nikolai-Terebeni, which did not go around the villages last year.

The people discussed the aforementioned issue and took into account that the initiative for this procession with the icon belonged to the church council of the village of Panoshin and was carried out exclusively at the request of the believers, but not at the initiative of the church elder, citizen A.V. Shchegolev and priest Benevolensky, and that priest Benevolensky did the aforementioned procession only at the request of the believers, which is confirmed by the fact that before the procession, the priest Benevolensky at first completely refused to process and only after intensified requests from the parishioners announced to the latter his refusal to be paid ... any reward for these prayers. Indeed, they did not take anything from anyone for these services.

On the basis of the foregoing, the gathering decided to initiate a petition before the authorities to release the priest Benevolensky and citizen Shchegolev from arrest, as based on incorrect data. If a surety is necessary, all the undersigned citizens give their surety both for the priest Benevolensky and for the citizen Shchegolev."
In January 23, 1929, the investigator questioned the priest. Father Dimitri replied that the procession was arranged to maintain a religious feeling, as well as to financially support the temple, but he himself refused to get paid for the fulfillment of the requirements, and "the service was held throughout the village free of charge."

The investigator, quoting a newspaper article, asked Father Dimitri what he meant by "wolves". The priest replied: "In my sermon, delivered on November 26, 1928 in the church of the village of Vereskunova, I really said: 'Don't get caught, O sheep, in the teeth of wolves', and explained that wolves are sectarians who walk around the villages day and night, recruiting peasants to their community."

During the interrogation, the president Alexander Vasilyevich Shchegolev was also asked what the priest was preaching about in the church. He replied: "In his sermons Benevolensky spoke about the fight against drunkenness, hooliganism and sectarianism; he did not say anything else in his sermons".

On January 29, the case was transferred to the Vyshnevolotsk district court, and a hearing was held on April 16. The court clerk wrote:

"Accused Benevolensky Dimitri Mikhailovich did not plead guilty to the charge and explained in essence: 'When it became known that there would be no procession from Terebeni with the icon, the faithful parishioners began to ask me to perform such a service with their local icon on October 28, 1928. Following the request of the parishioners, I took from the church the icon of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, which was renewed, and according to the decision of the church council on October 28. It was forbidden to carry the icon, and a stretcher was made. The population was quite happy with the walking, and there were no objections from the believers. The walking of the Terebenskaya icon lasted for years. I did not take payment for walking with the people. The walk was for the purpose of maintaining the faith ....'

Defendant Shchegolev Alexander Vasilyevich pleaded not guilty, confirmed that the icon from Nikolai-Terebeni had been processed around the village of Panoshin for 60 years in a row from year to year. 'This year, a rumor began to circulate that they would not go with the icon from Terebeni. About two weeks before the Terebenskaya icon went to me, believers began to visit me, I cannot name their names, because I forgot, and they asked me to ask the priest to walk with their icon ... The icon was renewed, and they walked with it through the village of Panoshin following the example of walking in the past years of the Terebenskaya icon.'"

At the end of the trial, the lawyer said:

"In this case, the court does not judge for the fact that they are believers, for the fact that they pray, but the main point is that they are accused of counterfeiting an icon in order to extract material benefits and incite superstition among the masses. According to the testimony of witnesses, we clearly see that there was absolutely no similarity between the icon equipped by the defendants and the monastery icon. Now we turn to deception, there was no such thing either, since all believers knew perfectly well that this icon was from the local church, and no one convinced them that this icon was from a monastery, and therefore the question completely disappears, that they wanted to incite superstition among the masses. The gifts collected, which the believers voluntarily donated, are absolutely insignificant, and there is no material benefit from this. Considering their misconduct, that is, what they did, we see that there is absolutely no criminality in the actions of the defendants. True, religion is intoxicating and harms the public, but our law allows them to freely believe. In view of the absence of corpus delicti in the actions of the defendants, I ask you to pass an acquittal."

The court, however, found the accused guilty and sentenced the priest to a fine of one hundred rubles, and the president to six months in prison. In early May 1929, Father Dimitri and Aleksandr Shchegolev filed a cassation appeal, where they substantiated their innocence in detail, but the verdict was upheld.

The sons of the priest at this time were expelled from school as children of the disenfranchised. Father Dimitri and Anna Ivanovna, worried that they would be left without an education, sent them to the sisters of Anna Ivanovna, Olga and Klavdia, who at that time lived in Saratov and raised four children of their brother-priest, Father Mikhail Tikhomandritsky, and two orphans, whose parents moved to Saratov and died there.

On January 4, 1930, the board of the collective farm in the village of Panoshin decided to start a campaign to close the churches in the villages of Panoshin and Nikolo-Stan. The next day, the board member Vikhrov, presiding at this meeting, passing through the village, mockingly told the women that on January 9 he would remove the bells from the Trinity Church. On the same day Father Dimitri decided he will prevent the removal of the bells and the closure of the church.

“How can you lose authority among believers,” answered the priest. "This issue should be discussed at the church council."

On Christmas Eve, January 6, the collective farm leadership arranged an extended meeting of the collective farm members, which was attended, however, not by all collective farmers, but whom the authorities considered it necessary to call in order to carry out the desired decision. The meeting discussed the need to purchase a tractor for the collective farm and find funds for this, which could be obtained, according to the collective farm board, if the bells were removed from the church.

On January 7, on the very day of Christmas, board member Semyon Vikhrov and collective farm activists Ivan and Tatiana Golubev came to the church during the Christmas service and, standing in the middle of the church, began to shout:

"We don't need a church! I don't need to be called to it either! Let's take off the bells! We won't let you all serve early!"

The parishioners answered them:

“This is our church, so don't interfere here,” and, turning to the priest, they said to him, “and you, Father, serve."

Then those who entered approached the priest and began to shout:

"We will not let you serve, we are now closing your church!"

"Do you have permission from the RIK to close the church?" asked Father Dimitri.

There was no permission, and this time the atheists had to leave.

However, the news that the atheists intended to close the temple had already come on the day of the feast of the Nativity of Christ, spread around all the villages of the parish, and since Semyon Vikhrov said that they were going to close the temple on January 9, a crowd came to the village of Panoshin by five o'clock that day of about two hundred people, mostly women, who began to demand that a general meeting be held on the closure of the temple. A delegation was sent to Vikhrov's house, which demanded that he come to the meeting. Seeing that the audience would not back down from their demands, he went with them to the village of Udomel, where the club was located and where representatives of local authorities came.

The authorities made an attempt to start a discussion, but in order to be sure to persuade believers to agree to remove the bells and close the temple. But as soon as this question was raised, the audience declared resolutely and irreconcilably: "We do not want to discuss the closure of the church and we will not allow it to be closed."

The next day, a board member of the Vikhrov collective farm and a local communist, wrote a statement to the Udomel GPU. They wrote that the priest's house is the center for all believers in the area, that every night one of the believers sleeps with him, every day he receives someone and treats him to a meal. The owner of the house stated in a letter that he had once asked the priest about his future plans, whether he intends to continue to remain a priest or accept a new order and remove his dignity. To this Father Dimitri replied: "I am convinced of the correctness of my faith and will never take off my priesthood!" - "So you are in favor of the old tsarist system?" He said yes. 

Soon after these events, on February 5, Father Dimitri was arrested. On the same day, the president of the church, Ivan Ilyich Kolokoltsev, and the priest of the village of Novy Stan, Father Pavel Bogoyavlensky, were also arrested. He was accused of daring to publicly announce at a meeting of the church council that the village council had given him the task of handing over the surplus grain. However, he had no surplus, and Father Pavel asked for help, for if he does not surrender the bread, he will be brought to justice. Also, Father Pavel was accused of having learned about the intention of the authorities to close the church, and announced this to the believers during the service. Meanwhile, the atheists held a meeting in the school building to decide on the removal of the bells and the closure of the temple. More than three hundred believers came to this meeting. Seeing the crowd, the secretary of the local party fled from the school by the back door.

Ivan Kolokoltsev was accused of opposing the closure of the church and engaging in anti-Soviet agitation, which consisted in the fact that he said: "The Russian people are alive, there is still faith, let them look."

In March, the defendants were questioned. None of them pleaded guilty. On April 25, 1930, the OGPU Troika sentenced the priest Pavel Bogoyavlensky to three years of exile in the Northern Territory. The punishment was conditional and he was released. Priest Dimitri Benevolensky and Ivan Kolokoltsev were exiled to the Northern Territory for three years.

In May 1933, the term of exile ended, Father Dimitri returned home and was assigned by the holy archbishop Thaddeus to the church in the village of Sinevo-Dubrovo, Sonkovsky district. But he did not have to serve there for long. In the summer of 1937, a wave of persecution broke out again, and on November 12, the priest was arrested.

On November 20, Father Dimitri was summoned to the investigator to fill out a questionnaire, and the next day - for interrogation. He was interrogated by the head of the Sonkovsky district department of the NKVD. The entire investigation lasted only one day. Called were "witnesses on duty" - the chairman and accountant of the collective farm named after Maxim Gorky, who, falsely testifying, said that the priest, "being hostile, anti-Soviet, grouped around him class-alien and also anti-Soviet elements and together with them was engaged in active counter-revolutionary activities, spread provocative rumors about the war and the fall of Soviet power, called on collective farmers to refuse to participate in the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, distributed counter-revolutionary church leaflets and systematically discredited the collective farm system."

The investigator read out the questions:

"You are being charged with systematic counter-revolutionary activities aimed at disrupting collective farm development. Do you confirm this?"

"No, I don't plead guilty. I did not conduct anti-Soviet agitation."

"For what and when and where did you serve your sentence?"

"In 1929 I was sentenced one hundred and fifty rubles in a fine; in the same year to a fine of one hundred rubles; in 1930 to three years of exile in the Northern Territory."

"In July, you conducted anti-collective farm agitation among the collective farmers. Do you confirm this?"

"No, I don't."

"In October, you conducted counterrevolutionary agitation aimed at disrupting the pre-election work for the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR."

"No, I did not conduct anti-Soviet agitation aimed at disrupting the pre-election work for the elections to the Supreme Soviet."

"In August, you spread provocative rumors about the war. Do you confirm this?"

"I don’t confirm. I did not spread rumors about the war."

On the same day, the assistant detective drew up an indictment and sent it to the Troika, which on November 25 issued a resolution to shoot the priest.

Archpriest Dimitri Benevolensky was shot on November 14/27, 1937 and buried in a mass grave. The place of his burial was hidden by the authorities and remains unknown to this day. To this day, the memory of the ascetic service of the holy martyr is preserved among the parishioners.

On September 19, 1999, he was numbered among the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. 

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.