Victor Vladimirovich Sokolov

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The Very Reverend Archpriest Victor Vladimirovich Sokolov, Russian: Виктор Владимирович Соколов, was a Soviet journalist and dissident of the post World War II era who after emigrating to the United States of America became a priest of the Orthodox Church in America.


Victor Vladimirovich Sokolov was born in the city of Kalinin (now Tver) on February 21, 1947 to a family of an electrician and a sales clerk. In 1964, he left school to become an actor. He studied for several years at the Yaroslavl Theater School before he was expelled for publicly supporting an actor who had been his mentor. After working for two years as an actor at the Tula Theater for Youth, Victor Vladimirovich was drafted into the Soviet army where he worked in various non-combatant style jobs. On December 17, 1968, he was discharged from the army and joined the Kalinin Theater for Youth that was directed by Roman Vityuk. After the Party Committee fired Vityuk, Victor Vladimirovich, with twelve other young actors, resigned in protest.

Having found that being an actor involved taking on roles that were contrary to his beliefs and ethics, Victor began looking for a job that even in the totalitarian Soviet regime would entail less ethical and moral compromise. Responding to a notice by the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute for young writers, Victor was accepted based on a few literary critiques he had written in his application, and was only one of two people accepted as student literary critics. In his third year at the Institute he was offered a position at the literary journal Molodaya Gvardia (Young Guard). Beginning as an editor in the department of critics, he soon was promoted to senior editor of prose.

While on the surface, Victor was a successful member of the Soviet establishment, after hours he actively kept relations with political dissidents, writers, scholars, and clergy who were not satisfied with the status of human rights in the Soviet Union. Among his friends were such writers as Vladimir Maximov, Bulat Okudzhava, Valerii Leviatov, Evgeny Ternovsky, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Having hoped that the field of literature would provide more freedom of conscience than that as an actor, in 1974, Victor was presented with the manuscript of a book Voina (The War) in which Stalin was rehabilitated and glorified and of which his boss stated that its editing is limited only to the level of "commas". Victor resigned from his position with the "Young Guard" that day.

Now unemployed, a crime in the Soviet Union, he was able to find minimal employment through old friends at other publications on work that sheltered him from police harassment and being labeled a "parasite". At the same time he became almost completely involved in dissident political activities. At a party in September 1974, given by his friend Alec Goldfarb, Victor met an American women, Barbara Wrahtz, who was working with Hedrick Smith, the New York Times Chief correspondent in Moscow. They began to visit churches, museums, and other sights, and a romance soon developed.

Barbara became an indispensable helper and assistant in Victor's dissident activities as through her privileged access to the U. S. diplomatic pouch, Victor was able to mail out of the Soviet Union his accounts of the political show trials and persecutions of Soviet citizens and minorities. In turn, through Barbara, censored books by authors such as Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak and Bibles and theological works published in the West reached Russian readers. Risk became a factor in their romance, as his apartment was routinely searched, forcing him to frequently change his residence.

It was through this period of dissident activity against the Soviet system that Victor began his spiritual quest. He read his small Russian Bible, Vestnik, and other journals and books that were smuggled into the country. Soon he met Father Dmitri Dudko who was attracting many young intellectuals to Christ. In May 1975, Victor was baptizedwith Igor Khoklushkin as his godfather in Fr. Dmitri's apartment, because Fr. Dmitri was unable to perform the baptism in church as both his legs had been broken from an assassination attempt.

On June 10, 1975, Victor and Barbara were married in an official civil ceremony after having surmounted all the roadblocks imposed by the regime on marriages between Soviets and foreigners. On June 15, their Orthodox wedding was celebrated in the Church of the Resurrection in the center of Moscow, among their Russian and American friends. But, as Barbara's visa expired in September 1975 and the Soviets refused to re-new it, their time together was short. Barbara returned to the United States without Victor and without knowing if they would see each other again.

It was because of the signing of the "The Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe," on August 1, 1975, that Victor was able to obtain an exit visa as the treaty included in its human rights provisions the right to be united with a spouse living abroad. Victor departed Sheremetyevo airport on November 1, 1975. After stops to visit friends and fellow dissidents in Paris, London, and New York, Victor was reunited with his wife Barbara in San Francisco on November 8.

In the United States, Victor and Barbara settled down in Santa Cruz, California and entered the educational world around the University of California at Santa Cruz. Victor taught Russian language and literature, a career that would continue for the next twenty years while continuing to write about the cruelty of the Soviet regime. On November 17, 1976, Victor learned that the Supreme Soviet had stripped him of his Soviet citizenship, the fifth person to have earned the distinction, an event of which he wrote, "The rash decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, stripping me of Soviet citizenship, I accept as a high honor, in that this act of the Soviet government places me on one plane with such people as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Maximov, Valery Chalidze, and Zhores Medvedev. I call this action rash because it is evident that I do not merit such a high honor. But I will strive to."

His interest in Orthodoxy continued to grow and under the guidance of Father George Benigsen he read and studied and with his wife became parishioners at St. Nicholas Church in Saratoga. In January 1978, Victor and Barbara had their first son, Christopher Kirill. In November their second son, Philip Michael, arrived while Victor was teaching at the Defense Language School in Monterey. In May 1981, the family moved to New Jersey where Victor became the assistant editor-in-chief of the Russian paper Novoye Ruskoye Slovo in New York City.

In the autumn of 1982, Victor answered the call to serve the Church full time when he enrolled in St Vladimir's Seminary in Crestwood, New York. Then, in the spring of 1983, the Sokolov family welcome their first daughter, Tamara. On the recommendation of the seminary dean Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann Victor was ordained early a deacon on November 21, 1983. His ordination as a priest came on April 18, 1984. Then, he and his family began his ministry at the Cosmos and Damian adult home on Staten Island, New York while completing his seminary education.

Following his graduation Father Victor was the priest at Holy Resurrection Church in Vancouver, Canada for a short time before serving at Mar Elias Orthodox Church while teaching Russian language and literature at the University of British Columbia. It was during his service in Canada that the Sokolov family grew again as two daughters, Anna and Maria, were added to the family.

As 1989 ended, Fr. Victor was transferred to Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Buffalo, New York. Then, in September 1991, Fr. Victor was appointed dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco. His assignment to Holy Trinity was very fruitful for him as he was fascinated with the rich and colorful history associated with the oldest Orthodox parish in the lower United States. From his research he produced monthly articles, and he became a popular lecturer in the city. His pastorate, which was the longest in the history of the cathedral, was one with an atmosphere of mutual love and friendship. In June 2000 Fr. Victor was elevated to the rank of archpriest by Bishop Tikhon of San Francisco

On December 28, 2004, Fr. Victor was diagnosed with lung cancer. He continued to celebrate the divine services for another year as his strength waned. On March 5, 2006, he gathered his strength to attend Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, embracing each person in church, assuring each one of his love and asked forgiveness. On March 12, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Fr. Victor fell asleep in the Lord at his home in Healdsburg, California. He was buried at the Oak Mound Cemetery in Healdsburg. His wife, Barbara, reposed two years later on October 12, 2008.