THE PERSECUTION AND DEATH OF
FR. MAXIM SANDOVICH
A 2Oth Century Carpatho-Russian Martyr for Orthodoxy
Orthodox sympathies were characteristic of the people of Carpatho Russia, and to a lesser extent of the Galicians. Alarmed by the growth of these sympathies and correctly concluding that this growth was being directed toward rapprochement with Russia, the Austro-Hungarian authorities began to eradicate the "Russian" sedition. Unprecedented repressions were imposed upon the Russophile clergy, both Uniate and Orthodox. The area teamed with informers. Not only the gendarmes, village clerks and sheriffs, but also teachers and some of the clergy denounced their neighbors. It reached the point where, in some areas of Carpatho-Russia, the entire educated class - priests, lawyers, judges, teachers, high school and university students, as well as peasants - were subjected to mass arrests. The prisons were quickly overflowing with those accused of treason.
In accordance with a directive issued by Vienna, the Uniate Metropolitan of Lvov, threatened with the growth of Orthodoxy, quickly shifted his ecclesiastical policy to one of isolation from all that was Orthodox and Russian. A Ukrainian Uniate ritual was concocted which differed significantly from Orthodox ritual. The names of saints especially revered in Russia were deleted from the calendar. The veneration of wonderworking icons of the All-holy Theotokos which had manifested themselves in Russia (e.g. the Iveron, Kazan and Pochaev icons) were proscribed. The word "Orthodox" was replaced in the divine services with "Catholic." Candidates suspected of harboring Russophile sympathies were refused admittance to the Uniate seminaries, acceptance being limited exclusively to those admittedly Ukrainian in outlook who were prepared to submit a written oath of hatred for Russia.
Throughout the Carpathian region a tremendous upheaval shook the parishes. Uniate priests of Russian persuasian were driven from their posts, their families were cast out into the streets, and few were the courageous souls who dared to defy the authorities by sheltering the homeless. The parishes were then turned over to newly-ordained priests who had received their education at the hands of the Jesuits of the Basilian College. The imposition of the new Ukrainian Uniate ritual was entrusted to the Jesuit-educated monks of the 'Order of St. Basil the Great." But if life had become so difficult for the Uniate Russophile clergy, it was far worse for the few Orthodox priests and their families in Carpatho-Russia and Galicia. Let us examine the case of one such priest, Fr. Maxim Sandovich, of blessed memory.
Fr. Maxim was born in Galicia in the Horlitsky District, the son of Timofei and Christina Sandovich of the village of Zdyna. His father, Timofei, was a prosperous farmer who also served as cantor (psalomschik) in the local parish church. Maxim, having completed four years of study at the gymnasium (high school) in Novy Sanch, stole across the border into Russia and entered the novitiate at the great Pochaev Lavra in Volynia. Subsequently he attended the Orthodox seminary at Zhitomir, and after marrying a young Orthodox woman named Pelagia, was ordained in 1911 to the holy priesthood and returned to his homeland. His pastoral and missionary service was not to last for long, for the militia were ever vigilant; he was denounced by a Ukrainian teacher, a certain Leos, and the Austrian gendarmes carried him off in chains to a prison in Lvov in 1912. He was to languish in prison without trial or inquest for two years, enduring indescribably horrible conditions and abuse. Finally, on the very eve of World War I he was released for lack of evidence.
Fr. Maxim returned again to his home in the village of Hrab, but was not fated to remain there long. The first shots fired in the new war were the heralds of a new repression of Russophile Carpatho-Russians. On August 4,1914, the militia arrested the young priest, his father, mother, brother and wife and after much abuse dragged them off in shackles to the district prison in Horlitsk. The road was rough and the prisoners were forced to travel on foot, prodded on by the bayonets of the gendarmes. Words cannot convey the suffering of the innocent Sandovich family.
Two days passed in prison, and Sunday, August 6th, dawned. Having rison from his bunk before the light of day Fr. Maxim read his morning prayers and three akathists. Then he stood motionless, lost in thought, gazing out the little window of his cell, trying to catch a glimpse of his wife or one of his relatives. They had all been imprisoned in different cells and were denied permission to see each other. The silence of the grave lay on the gloomy building, but beyond the walls the noise of a crowd could be heard.
What could this portend? Could they have brought in some new "spies"? Perhaps they had caught some new deserters the terrors of war for many are hard to bear. Suddenly a loud thud on the prison's black gates broke the priest's reverie. It was not yet six o'clock. A mustachioed German captain from Linz, Dietrich, a man with a reputation for cruelty and sadism, entered the prison compound with two soldiers and four gendarmes. They were followed close behind by the prison wardens, various civil servants, officers and a small group of curious ladies. This entourage was headed by Pan Mitshka, the starosta of the Horlitsky District. The order was given for the warden to bring Fr. Maxim forth from his cell.
Silence fell. Two soldiers led the twenty-eight year old Orthodox priest from the prison and suddenly he realized where it was they were taking him. "Be so good as not to hold me. I will go peacefully wherever you wish," he said humbly, and with the dignity that becomes a true shepherd of souls he walked to the sight of his final torments. The murmuring of the crowd and the venomous glances they threw the "traitor" affected his courageous bearing not in the least. He walked as befits a follower of Christ, calmly, with measured gait, to the fateful wall.
Again silence reigned. An execution was to be carried out in the name of the "apostolic" emperor - the execution of a Russian priest on Russian land! Captain Dietrich, the hero of the day, ripped the cross from Fr. Maxim's chest, cast it to the ground at the priest's feet and trampled it under foot; he then tied the prisoner's hands behind his back and bound his eyes with a black kerchief. "You do these things needlessly. I have no intention of running away." The captain laughed diabolically and with a piece of white chalk drew a line across the priest's chest on his black riassa as a target for the riflemen. Then he arranged the executioners - two gendarmes on each side. The two soldiers, heavily armed, stood only three paces from the defenseless man.
An even more profound stillness descended upon the scene. Starosta Mitshka took a blue paper from his briefcase and read the death sentence. A short command was uttered by the captain; the sabre was raised; when it was lowered the carbine rifles sounded. The echo of the shots reverberated through the back corridors of the prison, and again the silence of the cemetery ripped the prison courtyard. Across this silence the voice of Fr. Maxim was heard distinctly: "Long live the Russian people!" he cried, leaning his head against the prison wall. "Long live the Holy Orthodox Faith!" he continued, his voice becoming weaker. "Long live Slavism!" he finished, bearly audible. These were his final words. Wracked with the throws of death, his powerful frame slid down the wall to the flagstones of the courtyard. One of the gendarmes approached and ended the priest's sufferings with three shots from his revolver; the priests brains splattered against the prison wall. His aged father and mother both watched the heroic death of their son in silence, but Pelagia, his wife, wept inconsolably in her cell; and when the shots that brought an end to her young husband's life rang out, she fell senseless to the ground. Thus died Fr. Maxim Sandovich, a modern martyr for Holy Orthodoxy.
Historical Truth, Simeon Vityarevsky (Wilkes-Barre, Pa: Svit Press, 1936), pp.79-82.
Terezin and Talerof, V.R. Vavrik (pub. Archpriest R.N. Samilo, 1966), pp.20-24.