Father Arseny

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Father Arseny is the central figure of two books by Vera Bouteneff concerning a spiritual father in the former Soviet Union during the period of communist rule under Joseph Stalin. According to the books, Father Arseny was born Piotr Andreyevitch Streltzof in Moscow in 1894 and graduated from the Historical Philological Faculty from the Imperial University of Moscow, and first received the blessing to become a monk at the Optina Pustyn Monastery. He was ordained a Hieromonk priest in 1919.

He was imprisoned by the Communists many times, his last period of incarceration being from 1941 to 1958. Father Arseny is believed to have performed many miracles during harsh times in the cold Siberian prisons, where there was little hope for those who were encamped.

In Stalinist Russia, priests were considered anti-communists because many of them had different political views than Stalin. As a parish priest, Father Arseny was convicted for anti-communist propaganda and became Prisoner No. 18376.

Many of the prisoners were often ordered to work outside in the below-freezing weather, while others had specific duties inside, such as keeping facilities heated. If any of the tasks were not performed properly, prisoners were beaten severely (sometimes to the point of death) by those in charge of them.

While in prison, Father Arseny encountered a former student by the name of Alexei. He was an atheist, who mocked God and all of those who followed him, but when he met Father Arseny, he began to see life in a different light.

An event that decisively persuaded Alexei to believe in God occurred when both Father Arseny and Alexei were sent outside to be punished for petty offenses. The lieutenant in charge ordered Father Arseny and Alexei to stay in a metal shack for 48 hours without food and drink. The temperature was -30° Celsius, which felt worse in the freezing metal shack.

While in the shack, Father Arseny and Alexei recited prayers to God and Alexei reported that the shack became warm. Father Arseny and Alexei survived the two-day sentence. Before them, nobody had been able to live after being in the metal shack for 48 hours. How they survived the cold weather without food and drink is still a mystery today.

Under Stalin, many innocents were imprisoned due to the dictator's quota on the number of people that needed to be arrested for anti-communist activities. Those who met Father Arseny, and lived to tell their stories, praised him as a man of God who touched many lives in the camp through prayer and faith. According to the books, he died in 1975.


  • "the servant of God Alexander", ed. Vera Bouteneff, trans., eds. (1998). Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 0-88141-180-9. 
  • Father Arseny, A Cloud of Witnesses, by Vera Bouteneff Publisher St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, first printed 2001, reprinted 2003

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