The film “Luka” is the dramatic destiny of of the world famous surgeon who would become St. Luke of Crimea, the great surgeon and priest — V. Voyno-Yasenetsky (Luka).
The year was 1917. Young doctor Valentin Voyno-Yasenetsky with his wife and four children moved to Tashkent, beset by civil war. Voyno-Yasenetsky became head physician in the city hospital. He not only saved hundreds of patients every day, operating under the bullets of the permanent street battles, but he fought for his life and the life of his beloved wife, dying of TB. In the midst of communist persecution, he was alone with four children on the outskirts of the former empire, so he decides to become a priest. And since then, he never gave up either scalpel or cross, and he went with them through all their hard exiles and arduous life, treating both body and soul.
St. Luke of Crimea was an Archbishop in the Russian Orthodox Church during Soviet times and an occasional prisoner on account of his faith, suffering extended physical torture in Soviet gulags for as long as 2 years at a time.
He is called the “Blessed Surgeon” because in addition to his work in the Church he was also a practicing doctor and professor of medicine, known internationally for his research on anesthesia and his innovative surgical techniques. St. Luke reposed in the Lord in 1961, and his prayers and relics are known to heal many people today of physical maladies.
May the Saint bless us and may we have a fraction of his courage and his endurance!
2 Corinthians 4:8-12
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.
TO MY THREE SONS, MY DAUGHTER, MY GRANDCHILDDREN AND MY GREAT GRANDCHILDREN MY SPIRITUAL WILL
I am now 79 years old. My heart is weak and my strength is failing me and it is evident that my time of departure from this world is near. St. Paul left a will to all the Christians. “Become followers of me, as I am of Christ.” I certainly do not dare to say this to all the Christians but to you, my children; I can say follow my example just as I have followed the example of the Apostle Paul. My life has been tough and difficult but never did I pray to God to make it easy. Because “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” MT.7:14.
For more than twenty five years my life was identified with the work of a rural surgeon and professor of surgery. And for eleven years I suffered persecution for the name of Christ by being jailed and exiled. From 1944 I combined the toilsome ministry of being a Bishop along with the healing the wounded at Tambor and only in 1946 did I stop being a surgeon and I continued as a Bishop.
Amongst most of the people it was inconceivable to understand how a great surgeon, who was honored with the First Prize of Stalin, could abandon a profession in surgery and become a Bishop. Yet there was nothing unusual about that because from my youthful years, the Lord destined me to the high position of service to Him and to the people.
When I finished high school I received from the dean of the school my high school diploma. I placed this in the Book of the New Testament. I had read the New Testament before but now, when I read it again, I heard the words of Christ that were directed to the Apostles say: “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (MT 9:37-38) My heart responded and I cried out in silence: “Oh Lord! Are you lacking workers?”
Many years went by. I became a doctor of medicine and I thought that I would write the book “A Treatise on surgery in treating festering wounds.” When I made that decision, the following strange thought came to mind: “When that book is finished, it will be signed by a Bishop.” I could not understand from where that thought came. But a few years later, I understood that it was a thought that was sent to me by God because after my first arrest, in the office of the head jailer, the first edition of my book was published and on the facing page I wrote: “Bishop Luke, “A Treatise on surgically treating festering wounds.”
Two more years went by. I was in my first exile to Siberia, in the city of Geniseisk. A monk suddenly came to meet me from Krasnogiarsk. In this city, all the priests had compromised the faith and the faithful of the canonical Church had sent the monk to be ordained a priest but not to me at Geniseik but to Minousinsk, to a non-canonical orthodox bishop. But there was an unexplainable force which directed him to me at Geniseisk. When this monk saw me, he was startled and froze. He could not speak. He revealed to me, that when he saw me, he knew clearly that I was the same hierarch that he saw in an unforgettable dream ten years ago. That Bishop ordained him to the priesthood. At that time I was just a country doctor in the city of Perezlavl, Zaleski.
The Lord God has blessed me with different talents. In high school, I finished my studies in the School of Fine Arts in Kiev. I was very talented in artist and I decided to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Leningrad. But in the middle of exams I abandoned this effort because I thought that I should serve God and His people, in work that is more beneficial than art. Even though at that time it was clear to me the direction my art would take if I didn’t abandon it; it would purely be a religious direction or I would follow in the footsteps of V. Vasnetsof and Nesterof.
From that time theological issues concerned me very much. The driving force in my character was a strong desire to serve God and His people, only because of that. But in spite of my opposition toward the physical sciences, I took exams for medical school at the University of Kiev and I graduated with honors.
My talent was revealed at the university in anatomy and surgery and my fellow students didn’t want to hear that I desired to become a rural doctor. They had decided unanimously that I would become a professor of anatomy or a surgeon. From what you now know, they had prophesied my future correctly.
As a rural doctor, I worked for thirteen years twelve to fourteen hours a day. I was thinking seriously of abandoning the rural hospital in order travel to distant villages where the people were poor and dying because of the lack of medical help. But the Lord had decided differently for me. He sent me to Tashkent where I was one of the organizers of the University of Middle Asia and became a professor of topographical anatomy and the chief surgeon. This was at the beginning of the decade of the 1920s.
During the years of the antireligious demonstrations during which they derided the Lord Jesus Christ, my heart was saying: “I cannot keep silent.”At that time there was a clergy-laity congress taking place in Tashkent. I was present and during the discussions on some important issues I made an impassioned speech. That speech made a great impression on Bishop Innocent of Tashkent and at the end of the congress he said to me; “Doctor, you must become a priest.” That was something that was completely unexpected by me but the words of the Hierarch brought forth a calling through his lips and I did not hesitate one second in answering him: “Of course, Your Eminence, if that is the will of God, I will become a priest.” And the following Sunday, I, the professor of medicine, with a borrowed robe, appeared before the Bishop who was standing on his throne and I was ordained a sub-deacon and then during the course of the Divine Liturgy I was then ordained a deacon. Within two weeks I became a priest and the pastor of the Cathedral Church.
One and a half years before that great event in my life, my wife and your mother died. The smallest of you, Valentine, was then six years old and the oldest was fourteen.
Two years and four months later, the Lord made me worthy of being elevated to the rank of Bishop. It was divine providence for me and for you, my children that was revealed to us at that time when the Lord called your mother to eternal life by allowing her to get sick with tuberculosis. By this happening to her the road was opened for me to enter monastic life and the hierarchical ministry. All the responsibility for you, my children, I gave over to the care of the Lord and truly, I was not made a liar by believing in Him. Your care and upbringing was provided for by sending me an unknown woman, Sofia Sergakevna Veletskagia, who during the times I was jailed and the three times I was sent into exile she provided for your care. With a great deal of self-sacrifice and love she lifted the heavy cross for your care during those years of the plague. She raised you successfully and gave you a good education.
Later on all three of you and my daughter, with the protection and the help of your guardian angels, completed your advanced studies. Michael for some time now has become a professor, while Aliosa and Valia are teachers in the medical and biological sciences and in a little while they will become professors.
The Lord accepted all the sacrifices which I have offered Him and not only did He accept them but He changed and corrected many of them. I abandoned doing any more surgeries so that I could spend more time preaching about Jesus Christ. I was not concerned with the fame of a surgeon which certainly I deserve. While this glory is important and belongs to God, the new freedom I had increased the power and content of my sermons. My well-known and famous book “The Treatise on surgery for festering wounds” was completed while I was in exile and when I was Archbishop. My determination to sacrifice everything for the glory of Him, the Lord gave me another talent, that of preaching. The nine volumes of my sermons have been recognized by the Spiritual Academy of Moscow as unique in contemporary ecclesiastical theology and a treasure of commentary on the Holy Bible. And I, a self-taught theologian was chosen to be a member of the Spiritual Academy of Moscow. For the Church, my sermons will have greater meaning than my “Treatise on the surgery for festering wounds.”
In addition to this, the miraculous events which I spoke about earlier which were directed by the Lord without my realizing it led me mystically to the Hierarchical ministry. I often physically felt the presence of God in my communion with Him, in my spiritual life and in my prayers.
But if I have not said enough for any of you to convince you of these things then I think his (Michael’s) involvement with the physical sciences have bewitched him so much that he does not want to hear those things that I have lived; the things I have undeniably felt many times.
In other words, I will tell you just the way it is, how astonishing and clearly the Lord God reveals His desire for those who fear Him and love Him. When I was in Leningrad for an operation, during the time of a memorial service, the Lord in a miraculous and shocking way caused me to tremble with fright when He gave me this command: “Shepherd my sheep, feed my lambs.” The years have since gone by and I, under the spell of a cunning diabolical spell, forgot that command of God and Satan again placed in my soul that great urge to return to surgery. And this is why the Lord punished me by allowing the retina in my eye to tear. My eye was operated on twice unsuccessfully by professor Ontintsof because God’s punishment had to remain with me.
The day after the second operation, when I was laying flat with my eyes bandaged, the strong urge to do surgery again overwhelmed me when the Lord sent me a shocking dream: I was in a Church without lights. The only lit up place was the altar. A little beyond the altar was a casket of a saint. They had placed on the altar a wooden board and on this was a naked human body. In the back and next to the altar I saw students and doctors smoking cigarettes and I was teaching them anatomy of the human body.
I was then startled by a noise and when I turned my head, I saw that the covering of the saint’s casket fell off. The saint sat up in the casket, he turned and looked at me with a look of pain and shock. I finally realized the great burden of my sin, of my disobedience to the command of the Lord Jesus Christ to “shepherd my sheep and feed my lambs.” For the last fourteen years I begged the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive me remembering clearly my dramatic dream with the body and the dead person lying on the Holy Altar. Lately I have been informed by God that my sin has been forgiven. Day after day, I see the body less and less on the Holy Altar where it finally disappeared completely.
And now, my children let me offer to you my last will and testament. I believe deeply in God and I have built my whole life upon His commandments. And I bequeath to you that you offer your lives to God and build all things upon the commandments of Christ.
For a long time and with great determination I sailed through life against the current of the world and to you my children I bequeath that you sail against the current, as difficult at that may be. Turn your attention and your heart away from the great majority of human beings who pursue not the higher goals but those which are easy to acquire. Do not accede to the great majority of people who live according to their own thinking and with the mind of their leaders. They anchor their lives not with the commandments of Christ but on the directives of people who have the power to lead them not to the Kingdom of Heaven but to the riches of the earthly kingdom.
The purpose of life is to seek after the highest truth and to never divert from that road even when they force you to serve the purposes of the lowest form of truth by trampling upon the truth of Christ.
You should be ready even to be martyred since you are sailing against the current. Keep your faith firmly in your thoughts, in your husbands and in your wives just the way I kept it.
In your scientific endeavors and in your efforts to study the mysteries of nature, you should not look for your own glory but only to lessen the pain of your sick and helpless fellow human beings.
Remember that I, your father, sacrificed all my life in doing these things. Imitate me just the way I imitated the Apostle Paul and do not work for your stomach but to help those who without your help cannot free themselves from the tortures of poverty and lies.
If you fulfill all these things that I bequeath to you, the blessing of God will come upon you in harmony with the words of David the prophet. “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember his commandments to do them.” (Psalm 103: 17-18.)
I have always prayed for that blessing and grace of God in my life for you my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren and surely I will always pray for your eternal life when I will stand before the throne of my God and your God, my Creator and your Creator. That time is most likely near because my heart and my strength have been weakened.
Your father Alousta, July 22, 1956
“I loved martyrdom, which so strangely cleanses the soul.”
The Saint’s last words
“My children, very much do I entreat you,
Arm yourselves with the armor that God gives, That you may withstand the devil’s tricks.
You can’t imagine how evil he is.
We don’t have to fight with people but with rulers and powers, in effect the evil spirits.
It’s no use to the devil for anyone to think and feel
that he is close to him.
A hidden and unknown enemy is more dangerous than a visible enemy.
O how large and terrible is the army of the demons.
How numberless is their black horde!
Unchanged, untiring, day and night, seeking to push all of us who believe
in the name of Christ, to lure us on the road of unbelief, of evil and of impiety.
These unseen enemies of God have made their sole purpose, day and night to seek our destruction.
But do not be afraid, take power from the name of Jesus.”
“Kalo Stadio!” is a traditional monastic greeting in Greek as we begin Great Lent. Literally it means “Good stadium!” The hymns of the season tell us that now we are entering “the arena of the virtues” where we will do battle. By their prayers, may we contend well.
Do not turn away thy face from your child, because I am distressed. Please answer my prayer quickly, take care of my soul, and redeem her.
Saint Luke, Bishop of Simferopol and Crimea, the Blessed Surgeon once literally experienced our Saviour’s turning away of His face from him, when he prayed with tears in front of His icon, doubting and complaining in his heart against the Lord. He had been ‘informed’ in prayer before that his (first) exile would soon been brought to an end, yet the days would pass without any news or change. Why was God’s promise delayed to him? “Suddenly, I saw Christ in the icon, turning away His face from me. Scared, despaired, I dared not look at the icon anymore. ‘With my tail between my legs’ I left the altar and entered the … chapel. …I started reading the Epistles, the first excerpt that came to my eyes. Unfortunately I cannot remember the excerpt, but it wrought an amazing result. I found in it … my impertinence to grumble against God, and my lack of understanding. I was also reassured that I will indeed be freed, impatient that I was. I returned to the altar and saw with joy that Christ was looking again at me with his kind eyes full of Joy and Light. Wasn’t this a miracle?” (Saint Luke, Autobiography, Voyages a Travers la Suffrance).
Likewise, St. Luke’s wife, experienced something similar on the eve of her wedding! “In Chita, I married a nurse who had previously worked in Kiev’s military hospital, and her nick name was ‘Saint’. Two doctors before me had asked her to het married to them, but she had refused, because she had taken an oath of chastity. In accepting to marry me, she broke her vow. The night before the Sacrament of our marriage, in the church that Decembrists [ie. Russian rebels led by Russian army officers in a protest against Nicholas I‘s assumption of the throne] had built, while she was praying in front of Christ’s icon, she suddenly had the impression that the Lord was indeed turning His face away from her, and that His Face kept disappearing from the icon! This was obviously a reminder of her vow. Since she did not keep it, the Lord intended to punish her unsparingly, harshly, by upsetting her with an unbearable, pathological jealousy. (Saint Luke, Ibid)
Arise, O my soul, O my soul, why sleepest thou? The end draweth near, and thou shall be confounded. Arise, therefore, from thy sleep, and Christ our God, who is in all places and filleth all things, shall spare thee.
Saint Romanos the Melodist or the Hymnographer (Greek: Ῥωμανὸς ὁ Μελωδός, often Latinized as Romanus or Anglicized as Roman), was one of the greatest of Greek hymnographers, called “the Pindar of rhythmic poetry”. He flourished during the sixth century, which is considered to be the “Golden Age” of Byzantine hymnography. Of his other Kontakia, one of the most well-known is the hymn, “My soul, my soul, why sleepest thou…” which is chanted as part of the service of the “Great Canon” of St. Andrew of Crete on the first and fifth Thursday of Great Lent.
Lenten Prayer Of St. Ephrem The Syrian
O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, Lord and King! Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
Have a Blessed Great Lent everyone! Kalo Stadio!! Good fight in the spiritual arena!!May the Lord bless our struggle in the ‘arena’! May our Lord never turn His face away from us!