June 4

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This Day in the Life of the Church

June 4, 2024

Saint Bishop and Doctor


Maxim Bishop and Hieromartyr of Serpukhov

The Holy New Martyr Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov was martyred on this day in 1931.

Mikhail Was born into the family of a nobleman, the prosecutor of the district court of the city of Kalisz in Central Poland. At the age of nine, Mikhail entered the Kalisz Gymnasium, where he studied for 7 years.

After the deaths of his father (1905) and mother (1906), Mikhail first remained alone in Kalisz and then moved to his older brother Alexander in St. Petersburg. There, he graduated from the eighth grade of the gymnasium (1908). The same year, Mikhail entered the medical department of Moscow University.

While a university student, he married a student with whom he lived for only six months since she died in 1910 due to the inability to endure pregnancy. At the same time, both spouses, trusting in the will of God, under no circumstances wanted to artificially terminate the pregnancy, although they knew that it threatened almost inevitable death.

In 1912, he graduated from Moscow University's medical faculty. Afterwards, he worked as a psychiatrist in the city’s district of Sokolniki and as a travel doctor for the Ministry of Railways.

From the beginning of the First World War until January 1918, he fought in Galicia as a doctor in the Kuban Plastun (sentry and scouting) battalion. Then, he held various medical positions, including one of the chief physicians of the Red Army. From 1921, Dr. Zhizhelenko continued to serve in the Ministry of Railways (now called the Commissariat of Railways). From January 1, 1922, to December 1928, he worked in Moscow as the head physician in the hospital of the Tagansk prison.

He was the spiritual son of the famous priest Valentin Sventsitsky. Mikhail Zhizhilenko became known as the “guardian angel” of this prison. In his difficult post, he was not only a physical but also a spiritual doctor, a master of the heart, a comforter, and a father.

He met Patriarch Tikhon during that period, who blessed him with secret monasticism. According to the memoirs of Prof. Ivan Andreevsky:

“Vladyka Maxim also spoke about some disagreements with Patriarch Tikhon. The main one was that His Holiness was optimistic, believing that all the horrors of Soviet life could still pass and that Russia could still be reborn through repentance. Vladyka Maxim was inclined to a pessimistic view of current events and believed that we had already entered the last days of the pre-apocalyptic period.”

At the end of 1927, he broke ecclesiastical communion with the Deputy Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) and the Temporary Patriarchal Holy Synod under him. With his participation, an act of December 30, 1927 was drawn up on the departure of the Serpukhov clergy and laity from Metropolitan Sergius, which, in particular, said: “Not finding it any longer possible for yourself to remain on that slippery and ambiguous path on which you, with your declaration, issued orders to the entire Orthodox Church, and obeying the voice of conscience and duty to God and the believers, we, the undersigned, break off canonical and prayerful communication with you and the ‘Patriarchal Synod’ and refuse to recognize you as a deputy locum tenens of the patriarchal throne.”

On May 20, 1928, in the Leningrad Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (Spasa na krovi), Archbishop Dimitri (Lyubimov), the de facto leader of the “Josephite” movement in the Church (by the name of St. Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd), secretly ordained him a deacon. On May 21, 1928, he was secretly ordained a priest. In September 1928, he took monastic vows under the name Maxim.

On October 12, 1928, in the church on Piskarevka, at the request of some of the believers of the city of Serpukhov, Archbishop Dimitri (Lyubimov) and Bishop Sergius (Druzhinin) secretly consecrated him bishop of Serpukhov, the first secret “Josephite” episcopal consecration. The title was chosen because in Serpukhov almost half of the churches joined the Josephites, thanks to which the city became the center of the Josephite movement in the Moscow diocese.

In January 1929, he took over the administration of the diocese. Under Bishop Maxim's jurisdiction, there were 18 parishes in Serpukhov, Kolomna, Zvenigorod, Pereslavl-Zalessky, and a number of other cities. After the arrest of Bishop Alexy (Buy) in March-May 1929, Bishop Maxim also cared for the Voronezh and Ukrainian Josephites.

To combat “Josephlanism” in Serpukhov, Metropolitan Sergius sent Bishop Manuel (Lemeshevsky), popular among Orthodox believers, to Leningrad. On April 24, 1929, he was arrested by the OGPU. On July 5, 1929, he was sentenced to five years in prison. At the end of November of the same year, he was placed in the Solovetsky camp, where he worked as a doctor and was in charge of the typhoid barracks.

Together with bishops St. Victor (Ostrovidov), St. Nektary (Trezvinsky) and St.Hilarion (Belsky), as well as other clergy, he performed secret services in the forest. According to Professor Andreevsky, who also served time in Solovki, “less than a year later, we, all his colleagues, realized that he was not only a wonderful doctor, but also a great man of prayer.”

On October 28, 1930, the Visiting Collegium of the OGPU sentenced him to an increased sentence of 5 years on charges of “counter-revolutionary agitation in a concentration camp.” Transferred to Belbaltlag, in the city of Kem’, in December 1930, he was arrested in a camp and sent to Butyrka prison in Moscow, where he was charged as part of the case of the “illegal Black Hundred-clerical and church-monarchist organization ‘True Orthodoxy’.” On February 18, 1931, he was sentenced to capital punishment. He was shot on June 4, 1931. He was buried at the Vagankovskoye cemetery; the burial place is unknown.

In 1981, Bishop Maxim was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. On March 11, 2020, by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was included in the Synaxis of New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church along with Bishop Sergii (Druzhinin) and a number of other ascetics revered in the ROCOR, with the establishment of the day of remembrance on May 22 according to the Julian calendar, which corresponds to June 4 on the Gregorian calendar.


This project has been supported by the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Church Abroad


Copyright 2023 Andrei Psarev.

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