Festival Patron Saint

Holy Hieromartyr Vasily (Martysz) (+1945)

The holy New Martyr Archpriest Vasily Martysz was born on February 20, 1874 in Tertyn, in the Hrubieszow region of southeastern Poland. His father Alexander was a judge in Molczyce near Pinsk. After retirement, his father was ordained a priest and became rector of a local parish.

Immediately after graduating from the Orthodox Seminary in Chelm, in July 1899, Vasily married Olga Nowik, and was ordained a deacon. On December 10, 1900 he was ordained a priest. That same month he left Breman for America. The young couple expected to be assigned to a parish in New York, but instead he was appointed to a parish in Alaska. Together with the newly-appointed Bishop Tikhon, he began his missionary service in the land of St Herman.

Fr Vasily’s first parish was extensive. He was headquartered on Afognak, but he was also responsible for the people on Spruce and Woody Islands near Kodiak. There were several small wooden chapels scattered on these islands. In 1901, as a result of his efforts, the church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Virgin was built at Afognak (Although the village was completely destroyed in the earthquake and tidal wave of 1964, the church building survives to this day).

Because of the long distances and severe climate, Fr Vasily’s priestly work was extremely difficult and required many sacrifices. Often he would leave home for several weeks, in order to celebrate the services, to confess, baptize, marry the living, and to bury the dead, while traveling in a specially constructed kayak.

Even when he was at home, Fr Vasily had very little time to devote to his dear family. Besides celebrating the services in church and serving the needs of his parishioners, he taught in the parish school and worked in two church homes for the poor. His family bore the arduous conditions, especially the climate, with difficulty.

Because of the severe Alaskan climate, which especially affected Matushka Olga, and out of concern for the education of their children, the Martysz family transferred to the continental United States in 1906.

The family settled in Osceola Mills in central Pennsylvania. Fr Vasily’s work took him to Waterbury, CT, to West Troy, NY, and finally to Canada. He was assigned to Edmonton and then to Vostok, where he became Dean of the provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. After serving nearly twelve years in America, Fr Martysz left the New World and returned to Europe in 1912.

Initially, Fr Vasily and his family lived with relatives in Sosnowiec, where he eventually became rector of the parish and instructor in Religious Education at the local girls’ high school. The peaceful life they enjoyed there lasted barely one year, since the outbreak of the First World War disrupted the lives of thousands. Clergy were considered civil servants who were ordered to evacuate their homes, and move to safety inside Russia.

In 1919, at the end of the war, Polish refugees were granted permission to return to their former residences. Fr Vasily and his family took this opportunity to return to Poland and was assigned to a position in the newly organized Polish Army, in charge of Orthodox Affairs in the Religious Ministry of the War Department. The whole family relocated to Warsaw. Fr Vasily started the wearisome but important work of forming an Orthodox military chaplaincy. In 1921, he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and assumed responsibility as the head of the Orthodox military chaplaincy. At this time, the church elevated him to the rank of Archpriest. Fr Vasily served as chief of Orthodox chaplains for the next twenty-five years. Within the Ministry of the Interior, he had his own cabinet, and was directly responsible to the Minister himself.

Also, Fr Vasily zealously participated in the process of obtaining autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in Poland, which was granted during the tenure of Metropolitan Dionysius (Walednski) in 1925. Fr Vasily became the Metropolitan’s closest advisor and confidant. He often accompanied the Metropolitan and acted as liaison with the Polish Head of State, Marshal Pilsudski. He was often invited to attend cabinet meetings at Belvedere, the Royal Castle, where he regularly signed the guest book on holidays.

Father Vasily retired from his government position in 1936. The couple decided to leave Warsaw and return to their home region, Hrubieszowszczna. They did not enjoy this peaceful life for very long, because in 1939 the German Army invaded Poland.

Father Martysz spent the difficult war years in Teratyn. On May 4, 1945 (Great and Holy Friday), a few days before the surrender of Nazi Germany, his house was attacked.

The bandits broke into the house by breaking a window. With callous cruelty they tortured Father Vasily though his only crime was that he was an Orthodox priest. They beat his pregnant daughter Helen, causing her to miscarry. They beat Father Vasily for four hours, reviving him by throwing water on him when he lost consciousness. Horribly tortured, he was finally murdered by a gun shot.

In October 1963, the earthly remains of Father Vasily Martysz were brought to Warsaw and solemnly reinterred in the Orthodox cemetery in the Wola district, next to his wife and mother-in-law. At the beginning of 2003, his holy relics were uncovered and placed in the church of St John Climacus in Warsaw. The Holy Synod of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Poland promulgated the official Act of Canonization on March 20, 2003, and the rites glorifying St Vasily Martysz were celebrated in Chelm on June 7-8. Source: www.oca.org