Saint of the Day – 7 March – Blessed Leonid Feodorov (1879-1935) Priest, Martyr, Monk, Exarch of the Russian Greek Catholic Church of the See of Peter, Philosopher. Born as Leonid Ivanovich Feodorov on 4 November 1879 at Saint Petersburg, Russia and died on 7 March 1935 of “natural causes”. His body is buried at Kirov, Russia.
Feodorov was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on 4 November 1879, into a Russian Orthodox family. His father, Ivan, was a moderately successful restaurant owner and the son of a serf. His mother, Lyuba Feodorov, a woman of Greek descent, raised him as a single mother after his father’s early death. Although she attempted to raise her son as a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church, she simultaneously encouraged him to read the popular novelists of the day.
He later recalled, “So I began to devour the best known French novelists of the day, Zola, Hugo, Maupassant and Dumas. I became acquainted with the Italian Renaissance and its corrupt literature, Boccaccio and Ariosto. My head came to be like a sewer into which the foulest muck was emptied.”
After his graduation from the Second Imperial Gymnasium in 1901, he enrolled in the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Academy in order to study for the priesthood in the Russian Orthodox Church. After much soul-searching, he left the academy in the summer of 1902 and travelled to Rome by way of Austrian-ruled Lviv, where Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church blessed his mission.
On 31 July 1902, Feodorov was formally received into the Catholic Church at the Church of the Gesù in Rome. In the aftermath, he began studying at the Jesuit seminary at Anagni under the pseudonym of “Leonidas Pierre,” which was meant to keep the Tsar’s secret police, or Okhrana, off his trail.
Although Leonid had originally promised to adopt the Latin Rite, while studying in the Jesuit seminary at Anagni, he came to believe that it was his duty to remain faithful to the liturgy and customs of the Christian East. With the full permission and encouragement of Pope Pius X, Leonid transferred to the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church. As a result of his decision, Leonid was disowned by his former Jesuit mentor and afterwards depended for his finances on Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky of Lviv.
On 25 March 1911, he received ordination in Bosnia as a Byzantine rite priest. He spent the following years as a monk in Bosnia and Ukraine and was tonsured with monastic name ‘Leontiy’ on 12 March 1913.
On the eve of the First World War, he returned to Saint Petersburg whereupon he was immediately exiled to Tobolsk in Siberia as a potential threat to the Tsar’s government which held Russian Orthodoxy as its state religion.
After the February Revolution, the Provisional Government ordered the release of all political prisoners. Pope Benedict XV named him Exarch of Russian Catholics of Byzantine rite. A three-day Synod of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church opened in Saint Petersburg under the leadership of Metropolitan Andrey.
Open persecution of religion began in 1922. The clergy were forbidden to preach religion to anyone under eighteen years of age. Then, all sacred objects were ordered to be seized for “famine relief” and lay councils were installed in each parish with the intention of making the priest a mere employee. When both the Exarch Leonid and the Latin Rite Archbishop Jan Cieplak refused to permit this, all Catholic parishes were forcibly closed by the State.
In the spring of 1923, Exarch Leonid, Archbishop Cieplak, Monsignor Konstanty Budkiewicz and fourteen other Catholic priests and one layman were summoned to Moscow trial before the revolutionary tribunal for counter-revolutionary activities. The international uproar which followed the trial gave the Soviet government pause, however. Leonid was sentenced to prison but serving the first three years of his sentence in Moscow’s Butyrka prison, he was transported to enforced labour in Siberia – the Gulag in the White Sea.
There, in a former monastery, now a prison, Blessed Leonid was a pioneer of ecumenism together with the Orthodox with whom he shared the harsh captivity. In Solovki, Roman Catholic Mass was offered in a chapel which had been restored for the purpose with the permission of the guards. Exarch Leonid would offer the Divine Liturgy of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church every other Sunday. When the camp authorities cracked down on this in 1929, the Masses continued in secret.
On 6 August 1929, Exarch Leonid was released to the town of Pinega and put to work making charcoal. After continuing, against all odds, to teach the Catechism to young boys, he was transferred to the village of Poltava, 15 km from Kotlas, where he completed his sentence in 1932. He chose to reside in Kirov, Kirov Oblast, where, worn out by the rigours of his imprisonment, he died on 7 March 1935.
On 27 June 2001, Exarch Leonid Feodorov was Beatified by Pope John Paul II. He remains deeply venerated among Russian Greek Catholics and by the Eastern Catholic Church. He is regarded as a Martyr Killed Under Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe and is included in an additional memorial commemorating all of them on 29 June.