Theodore Rafanovich

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Theodore Andreyevich Rafanovich (Russian: Феодор Андреевич Рафанович) was a priest of the Church of Russia who lived during the Soviet period, within the "Catacomb" Church. He served a community of some one thousand believers in the vicinity of Khymy while constantly evading Soviet authorities.


Theodore Andreyevich Rafanovich was born in the village of Khanichi in the Mogilev region of Belarus in 1883. He was left an orphan at an early age and was raised by his sister, Anna Andreyevna. Raised in a Orthodox family, the young Theodore was sent to study at the Mogilev Seminary.

After completing his seminary education, Theodore married. He and his wife Sophia raised five children: George, Nicholas, Andrew, Natalia, and Zinaiad. After his ordination as a priest, Fr. Theodore was assigned to a parish in the village of Sherstin about thirty miles from Gomel, Belarus. Fr. Theodore was a zealous and popular priest who soon attracted many people from the surrounding area.

After the Bolshevik takeover of the government of Russia in 1917, Fr. Theordore found himself among the few priests in the area who did not join the Living Church movement and remained loyal to Patr. Tikhon for which he was awarded a pectoral cross by the patriarch on April 14, 1924. After the arrest of a bishop sent by the patriarch to the area to receive back penitent renovationist clergy, Fr. Theodore came under constant surveillance by the Bolshevik authorities.

During the following decades after being forced to leave his parish in Sherstin, Fr. Theodore led a nomadic life as he could not maintain a normal household. He spent time in Cherigov where he was arrested and placed in the Kotlas camp. Later, he was in prison in Gomel where he had been sentenced to be shot. When praying before the scheduled execution day he saw a vision of reposed souls chanting and beseeching God to deliver Fr. Theodore from death. The next morning he learned that his sentence had been repealed.

Returning from prison he found that his wife had died. Now alone and a protopriest without a parish, Fr. Theodore began to gather his "children" in informal settings. Fr. Theodore refused to recognize the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius and had to serve in house churches. Under constant watch, Fr. Theodore was well hidden by reliable believers. Yet more people continued to come to him for spiritual support. During the winter of 1939, Fr. Theodore was again arrested, but while being transported he was able to slip away from the railroad guards near Saltanovka and then miraculously was able to reach his friends and relatives who hid him.

After the Germans had overrun Belarus in 1941, Fr. Theodore was able to come out of the catacombs and served at a church in Obidovichi in Rogachev district. In his sermons he denounced the Soviets and their atheistic power, raising the ire of many of the nonbelievers. He also spoke against the Church supported by the Soviet government. When the Germans retreated, Fr. Theodore's church was burned and again he could not serve openly. Serving at homes, he was warned by the soviets to go to a parish to serve.

Fr. Theodore again began to live secretly with his spiritual children. At night the people would come secretly to his house for services. In 1946, he again avoided agents of the KGB after they harassed him and his people. During the Khrushchev era it became more difficult for his people to assemble. Then, during the last four years of his life his age came upon him and Fr. Theodore slowly declined in health.

Father Theodore died in the village of Khymy on Palm Sunday, April 14, 1975 - the day of the Vilnius Martyrs.


Further Reading

  • Pravoslavnaya Rus', no. 21 (1474), November 1/14, 1992, pp. 8-9; Priest B., from the reminiscences of Metropolitan E., Abbess M., Deaconess A., Schema-nun M., Nun T., servant of God M., servant of God T., servant of God A., V. Leonichev; M.E. Gubonin, Akty Svyatejshago Patriarkha Tikhona, Moscow: St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, 1994, p. 315)