Arcadius (Afonin) of South Sakhalin
His Grace Arcadius (Afonin) (Russian: Аркадий Афонин; 15 July 1943 – 3 July 2021) was Bishop of South Sakhalin and Kuril Islands in Far Eastern Russia from 1993 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2001. His Grace was the founding bishop of two eparchies in the Far East, serving also as first bishop of the restored Eparchy of Tomsk and vicar in Nizhny Novgorod. Victim of the Great Pandemic, Bishop Arcadius reposed in the Lord in 2021.
Alexander Petrovich Afonin was born in July 15, 1943 into a peasant family in the small village of Chekalino near Syzran in Samara (then Kuybyshev) during the Eastern Front of World War II. He was brought up by the nuns of a monastery for orphans in the region, receiving also his basic education. Until his 21st birthday, Alexander worked in Kuybyshev, when he departed to Moscow to join the Theological Academy from 1964 onward.
On October 5, 1966, Alexander was accepted as a novice at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. On December 29, Alexander was tonsured a monk with the name Arcadius by Bishop Platon (Lobankov) of Voronezh (1972–1975), then Archimandrite of the Lavra. On February 15, 1967, Arcadius was ordained Hierodeacon, and, on March 9, 1969, Hieromonk.
Hieromonk Arcadius finished his studies in 1972, when he joined the Eparchy of Kaluga (southwest of Moscow) under Archbishop Donatus (Shchegolev) (1965–1975). He was entrusted as rector to the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos (see photos) in the small village of Baryatino in Kaluga. In 1974, Hieromonk Arcadius was elevated to the rank of hegumen. In 1988, Bishop Ilian (Vostryakov) of Kaluga (1982–1990) elevated Hegumen Arcadius to the rank of archimandrite.
On January 31, 1991, the Holy Synod of the Russian Church presided by Patriarch Alexei II (1990–2008) elected Archimandrite Arcadius as Bishop of the newly-formed Eparchy of Magadan and Kamchatka in Far Eastern Russia. Prior to the synod, as result of the atheist era and the persecution of Orthodoxy, the Far East was reduced to only one bishop, located in Khabarovsk, while Magadan, the Kamchatka Peninsula and northern Far East were under jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia, over three thousand kilometers away. On April 21, Archimandrite Arcadius left the Church of the Nativity after 19 years serving the parish in order to be consecrated Bishop of Magadan and Kamchatka at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Theophany in Moscow (see photos) at 47 years of age.
Thanks to the efforts of Bishop Arcadius and the bishops of Khabarovsk, on February 23, 1993, the Holy Synod elevated the number of eparchies in the Far East from three (Khabarovsk, Vladivostok and Magadan) to six (South Sakhalin, Petropavlovsk and Blagoveshchensk). The synod also decided it was meet for Bishop Arcadius to become the founding bishop of the new eparchy in Sakhalin Island. Therefore, His Grace was elected Bishop of South Sakhalin and Kuril Islands.
Heavily damaged by the animosity and wars between Russia and Japan, Sakhalin never surpassed the status of a missionary land. The first contact was made during the 18th century between natives and Russian missionaries from Irkutsk. Between 1855 and 1875 Japan and Russia established shared sovereignty on the island, which at the time was being used by the Russian Empire as a penal colony. From 1875, Japan ceded its claims on the island. After the Russian-Japanese War (1904–1905), the island was equally divided between Russia (northern Sakhalin) and Japan (southern Sakhalin). While the churches in the north remained under the Eparchy of Vladvostok, the southern mission was entrusted to the Japanese Mission under Saint Nicholas. During the Russian Civil War (1918–1925) Japan, helped by the White Army, secured the island from the atheists until 1925, when the Soviets reached the island and started seizing and demolishing its churches. Its last church was seized in 1930.
Protected by the Japanese authorities, the mission in southern Sakhalin enjoyed freedom until 1945, when the Soviet Union invaded the Kuril Islands and southern Sakhalin, deporting all the Japanese population and thus ending the Japanese Mission in the archipelagos. Every church from Eastern Siberia eastwards was put under repression by the authorities. After the end of World War II, the Stalinist regime allowed Father Benedict (Plyaskin) to be ordained Bishop of Khabarovsk, the only bishop in the Russian Far East. By the time, church life in Sakhalin was already considered dead.
Now that the Soviet Union had collapsed, Bishop Arcadius became the first hierarch to preside in the island. Its cathedral, located in South Sakhalin, was built after the visit of Metropolitan Pitirim (Nechayev) of Volokolamsk in 1990. Bishop Arcadius applied his skills and diligence in establishing church life on Sakhalin, where until 1989 there was not a single functioning church. In many places missions were created, the Cathedral of the Resurrection (see photos) was built in the regional center, which became the islands' first church building, since before that the missions were located in ordinary buildings.
In 1997, due to health issues, the Holy Synod accepted Bishop Arcadius' resignation, as well as a two-month-long hiatus so His Grace could undergo treatment. Hegumen Jonathan Tsvetkov, rector of the cathedral, took over as Bishop of South Sakhalin. On October 3, 1997, the Holy Synod elected him as bishop of the newly-restored Eparchy of Tomsk in Western Siberia. Like the other eparchies, Tomsk experienced severe persecution and martyrdom during the atheist era. By 1940, all the churches of the region were closed, many were destroyed and desecrated — the eparchy ceased to exist. But faith in the hearts of people did not die out, and in 1945, after the end of the persecution, its cathedral some of its churches were reopened. Tomsk became part of the Eparchy of Novosibirsk and later became a vicariate. The eparchy was finally restored in 1995, receiving Arcadius as its first bishop in 1997.
His Grace undertook the restoration works for the Cathedral of the Theophany, (see photos) which was nationalized and turned into a factory during the Soviet regime. He also desired to get rid of those who were too influential in the church life from among the clergy. Because of this, many turned against him, eventually urging the Holy Synod to send Bishop Arcadius to Nizhny Novgorod and secure him in European Russia. On October 6, 1998, the Holy Synod elected him titular bishop of Vetluzhsk, vicar to the Eparchy of Nizhny Novgorod together with Bishop Hierotheos (Sobolev) of Balakhna (1991–2001) under Metropolitan Nicholas (Kutepov) of Nizhny Novgorod (1977–2001). Bishop Arcadius was the first bishop elected to the restored Vicariate of Vetluzhsk, the last being Saint Neophytos of Vetluzhsk, sentenced to death by the atheists in 1937.
On December 29, 1999, Bishop Jonathan of South Sakhalin was elected Bishop of Abakan by the Holy Synod. Therefore, Bishop Arcadius was reelected Bishop of South Sakhalin. Due to his poor health, many problems which faced the island could not be solved. Bishop Arcadius spent much of his time in Moscow, until his resignation on July 17, 2001. His successor, Bishop Daniel (Dorovskikh), later explained:
- After arriving at Sakhalin, Bishop Daniel faced significant problems that hindered the development of church life in the region: the lack of deep church traditions on Sakhalin, where for most of the Soviet period there were no functioning churches: “Upon arrival, I was surrounded by completely different people who are also kind, believing, sincere, but that know nothing about Orthodoxy”. On poverty and depression of the region: “I have never seen such terrible entrances as on Sakhalin”. Difficult climate, an acute shortage of priests and insufficient training of those already available, remoteness from Moscow and financial difficulties did not allow the clergy to receive religious education, and graduates of seminaries practically did not come to serve on Sakhalin. An acute shortage of active laity: “A significant Orthodox community has not been formed”, including due to the constant outflow of the economically active population from the island. Almost complete absence of church buildings — missions were located in normal buildings. Underdeveloped transport infrastructure: “Only one hundred kilometers of roads have been paved. Not only can you not physically reach distant parishes, some of them don't even have phone lines.” It was especially difficult to get to the Kuril Islands. High cost of delivery of building materials to the island (they were not produced on Sakhalin) and the need to make buildings earthquake resistant, which increased the cost of their construction several times compared to the mainland. Acute lack of financial resources and lack of external subsidies.
- A particular threat was posed by the sects, which were extremely active on Sakhalin and were well financed from abroad. According to Bishop Daniel's estimates, in the second half of the 2000s, Sakhalin was visited by about 200 foreign missionaries, mainly from South Korea and the United States. Often these sects had an anti-Russian orientation: “There are plenty of prayer houses for Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, where Sakhalin residents go for a piece of bread. After the malicious services, people were fed, and gifts were given: the sectarians have considerable financial resources, tens of thousands of dollars annually come from abroad to support 150 missionaries. For comparison, I will say that in 2002 only three Orthodox missionaries came to Sakhalin. Their houses of worship were built thoroughly, on a grand scale, while we got the worst buildings for our missions.”
In 2003, Bishop Arcadius was made rector of the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Moscow. (see photos) In 2009, he was transferred as rector of the Church of Saint Pimen, also in Moscow. (see photos) On July 15, 2013, on His Grace's 70th birthday, His Holiness the Patriarch Kirill delivered him an eulogy, conferring upon Bishop Arcadius the second degree of the Order of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, which is granted to hierarchs, clergy, monastics and laity for a special contributions to the revival of monasteries, churches, pastoral and church-social activities.
Bishop Arcadius reposed in the Lord at the age of 78 on June 3, 2021, after a battle against coronavirus. His Grace was buried three days later in the altar of the Monastery of Saints Boris and Gleb in rural Moscow. (see photos) His funeral liturgy was presided by Metropolitan Dionysios (Porubay) of Voskresensk and the patriarchal clergy. On the 15th day of his repose, Patriarch Kirill commemorated him together with the reposed hierarchs Eleutherius (Kozorez) of Shymkent and Alexander (Ishchein) of Baku at the Monastery of Saint Daniel in Moscow.
Arcadius (Afonin) of South Sakhalin
|Bishop of Magadan
|Bishop of South Sakhalin
|Bishop of Tomsk
St. Neophytos (Korobov)
|Bishop of Vetluzhsk
|Bishop of South Sakhalin