April 8, 2021

Theophany During the Cholera Epidemic of 1909 in St. Petersburg

The Holy Hieromartyr Cyril (Smirnov) of Kazan was the Metropolitan of the Eparchy of Kazan in Russia from 1918 to 1922. Designated by Patriarch Tikhon as first locum tenens of the see of the Patriarchate, Metropolitan Cyril fought against Bolshevik control of the Church of Russia during the 1920s and 1930s. On July 7, 1937, Metropolitan Cyril was arrested in Yany-Kurgan and imprisoned in Chimkent on a charge of “participating in a counter-revolutionary underground organization of churchmen” together with Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd. The two hierarchs were condemned by a troika of the South Kazakhstan region on November 19, and were shot together on November 20, 1937 in Lisiy ovrag, near Chimkent. They were buried in Lisiy ovrag. His feast day is November 20th.

During Theophany of 1909, St. Petersburg was suffering an outbreak of cholera. This brought a decree that there was to be no blessing of the waters at the river, but that all water to be blessed for the feast was to be boiled beforehand and the blessing should be performed over steaming pots. Cyril at this time was the Bishop of Gdov, of the St. Petersburg Eparchy, and he defied these warnings and blessed the water of the River Neva at St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra through a hole in the ice. He did this because he believed that "on such a day nature is sanctified", and if we pray with faith that the Grace of the Holy Spirit descends on the waters, the waters are indeed sanctified, and this view to him was incompatible with the idea that everyone will be infected with cholera from this water. In one of his last letters before his martyrdom dated 8 March 1937, he wrote: "Everything that is not of faith is sin."

One churchman of the time wrote of this incident: ""More faith was shown in the firewood necessary to boil the water and kill the germs, than in God.  Fortunately, however, not everyone stepped away from the anchor of our salvation, and in the same Petersburg the Lord preserved for his chosen ones a single bishop who did not agree to yield his faith for the sake of peace with the enemies of Christ's Church.  If these notes ever see the light of print, let them preserve the name of this loyal servant of God and archpastor, for the strengthening of faith and piety in my overburdened brethren.  Cyril of Gdov is the name of this bishop.  May his name be blessed from generation to generation."

In the same year of 1909, apparently in connection with this incident, Bishop Cyril was transferred to the Diocese of Tambov.