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Reverend Pavel Adelgeim

Born: August 1, 1938; Rostov-on-Don, USSR
Died: August 5, 2013; Pskov, Russia

Father Pavel Adelgeim — one of Russia’s most revered priests, widely considered a “dissident priest” for his strong criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The last free priest of the Moscow Patriarchy has been killed

“The last free priest of the Moscow Patriarchy has been killed,” prominent theologian Deacon Andrei Kurayev, wrote in a blog entry early Tuesday. “What priest, especially one with a family to feed, will now be able to say openly and publicly [to the bishop he is reporting to]: 'Your Eminence, you are wrong!'?”


Adelgeim’s friends and admirers said Tuesday that the priest’s life had been marked by a consistent struggle for the truth as he saw it, and a fearlessness of both secular and religious authority.

Born in 1937, Adelgeim spent part of his childhood in an orphanage following the arrest of his parents. He accompanied his mother when she was exiled to Kazakhstan in the 1940s, a period that he later said was when he became interested in religion. He studied at Ukraine’s Kiev Pechersk Lavra in the 1950s, and was ordained in 1964.

Adelgeim first came to the attention of ordinary Russians, and recognized internationally, when he was arrested in 1969 and spent three years in a Siberian prison camp, convicted for slandering the Soviet state. He lost a leg below the knee during an accident involving a truck. In 1976 he became a member of the Pskov Eparchy, and was closely involved in the religious revival that took place around the area's famous Pechorsky Lavra in the last decade of the Soviet Union. He worked in the Pskov Region until the end of his life.

"At this age you greet every new day with thanks, as a gift from God, and regret that so much time has been wasted," Adelgeim wrote in a blog entry last week. "It seems as if there are so many [days] to come, but they get spilt like sand and only the memories of the past remain."

An overwhelming personality

He was an overwhelming personality. Light, self-ironic humor. Disarming friendliness and joy in life. The wrath of a Biblical Patriarch. I have never felt so strongly the light of real holiness from any person. B ut behind this I sensed a vast, sleeping power and watchfulness — something hardly ever used, which would spring to life, it seemed, at any moment he chose. He gave the impression that he could choose to be whatever he wanted — that he was the master of his feelings, not their slave. This in itself was frightening. No law binds such a man, only his will. And how do you know where his will may lead him? It made him seem secretive, impersonal, an unknown quality. This was an absolutist of another caliber altogether.

He spoke to peasants as confidently as to intellectuals. Indeed, there was much of the peasant in him, slow, massive, like a locomotive — hard to get rolling, harder to stop. In discussions he would react slowly, think things through, let us have our say, then make some devastating remark which brought all objections to the ground. He listened when others spoke, but if their interests were irrelevant to him, he would continue where he left off when they finished. He seemed rooted in the soil, utterly concrete. This gave him a joy in simple tasks: his house, his church, his work. For he was also an animist, and all his work bore the improvised, pragmatic stamp of the autodidact. He sat for hours telling jokes, some (one might think) quite unfitting for a priest. Though he affirmed that he loved life, I felt somehow that he did not take his own life very seriously, that he could snap his fingers and leave it if need be, without looking back. And beneath it all — this cunning, almost evil strength. As a peasant watching the weather, asking himself "what will it do this time?", Peter [Fr. Paul] seemed to watch society and people.

Narrow wrinkles spread from the corners of his eyes, stretching out straight, then falling abruptly. They were there when he laughed, when he concentrated, squinting, and (I sensed) when in great pain. The eyes were full of pain, in spite of their gaiety. He was peasant, patriarch and martyr — an elemental force of authority and autonomy — absolutist and animist — totally opposed to all that is subjective.

Finn Sivert Nielsen
Excerpt from: The Eye of the Whirlwind. Russian Identity and Soviet Nation-Building.
Quests for Meaning in a Soviet Metropolis
Father Peter and Tolya

The Russian Orthodox church has turned to the KGB’s ideology department

Speaking about the recent drive among members of the Russian government to become fervent Orthodox worshippers, Adelgeim said that they were “all just pagans,” referring to head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin using the same term.

“They have nothing to do with Christianity. They can only hold a candle. A candlestick is just a candlestick. … They became so devout because they are all just one group of people, and the Russian Orthodox church has turned to the KGB’s ideology department,” he told Dozhd TV last October.

Ivan Nechepurenko
The Moscow Times, 06 August 2013, Issue 5185
'Dissident' Priest Stabbed to Death in Pskov

See also



  • Finn Sivert Nielsen, Excerpt from:
    The Eye of the Whirlwind. Russian Identity and Soviet Nation-Building. Quests for Meaning in a Soviet Metropolis
    Father Peter and Tolya — Published online on AnthroBase. — Oslo, Tromsø, Copenhagen ©1987-2003.

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