Lazar Zhurbenko

Lazar Zhurbenko

Activist of the Catacomb Church, founder of the “Russian True Orthodox Church”
Date of Birth: 10.02.1931
Country: Ukraine

  1. Biography of Lazar Zhurbenko
  2. Early Life and Childhood
  3. Conversion and Imprisonment
  4. Clerical Life and Interaction with the Russian Orthodox Church
  5. Relationship with Dissident Circles and Monastic Life
  6. Recognition and Controversy

Biography of Lazar Zhurbenko

Lazar Zhurbenko, born in 1931, was a prominent figure in the Catacomb Church and the founder of the "Russian True Orthodox Church." He also served in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

Early Life and Childhood

Lazar Zhurbenko was born into a Cossack family in 1931. During the famine of the 1930s, he became orphaned as his mother died of hunger and his maternal grandparents were exiled to Siberia, where they perished. Even in his childhood, he served as an altar boy and had interactions with representatives of the Catacomb Church.

Conversion and Imprisonment

In 1947, at the age of 16 and a half, Lazar Zhurbenko secretly became a novice under the name Feodosiy, mentored by the catacomb schema-monk Feodosiy (Kashin). However, on March 24, 1950, Feodor, along with Antoniy (Golynsky), was arrested in Balashov, Saratov Oblast, and faced charges related to their involvement in an anti-Soviet church organization. He was convicted by the Special Council of the Ministry of State Security of the USSR and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. He served his sentence in the Karaganda labor camp, where he was secretly supported by Vladimir Krivolutsky, known as the "sword-bearer." In the camp, he was sent to a medical isolation unit, where he was diagnosed with "paranoid schizophrenia, progressive course, emotional and volitional defect." He was granted amnesty in 1955 and spent some time residing in the Glinskaya Desert while maintaining communication with the Catacomb Church.

Clerical Life and Interaction with the Russian Orthodox Church

In 1962, Lazar Zhurbenko established correspondence with Archbishop Leontiy (Filippovich) of the ROCOR through Archimandrite Yevgeniy (Zhukov), who lived on Mount Athos. He informed Leontiy that there were no longer any true catacomb archpastors left in the USSR and that he had no opportunity to receive the priesthood. Leontiy advised him to accept ordination from the "Sergianists."

With the blessing of Archbishop Leontiy, Lazar Zhurbenko was secretly ordained as a deacon and priest by Archbishop Veniamin (Novitskiy) of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1971. However, he was ordained as a layman named Fyodor, rather than a monk named Feodosiy. In this capacity, Zhurbenko legally served for about two years in the Chita Diocese. After being implicated in a criminal case, he went into hiding and assumed an underground position, continuing to serve in secret catacomb communities.

Relationship with Dissident Circles and Monastic Life

In the early 1970s, Lazar Zhurbenko began associating with "dissident circles" in Moscow, where he met cleric Dmitry Dudko, who became his connection to the outside world. In 1975, he received a secret monastic tonsure under the name Lazar. While remaining in an underground position, he provided support to secret catacomb communities within the USSR and performed numerous secret monastic tonsures.

Recognition and Controversy

In late 1980, Lazar Zhurbenko requested to be accepted as a cleric in the Western European Diocese of the ROCOR. Archbishop Antoniy (Bartoshevich) of Geneva granted this request, and on January 11, 1981, Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia consecrated Lazar as an archimandrite through a remote ceremony at the Holy Cross Cathedral in Geneva.

However, the Synod of the Russian True Orthodox Church rejected Lazar Zhurbenko and instead nominated another candidate, Protoierey Mikhail Rozhdestvensky, in 1981. Protoierey Rozhdestvensky had already expressed strong disapproval of Lazar among other clergy of the Russian True Orthodox Church since 1978.

Despite the controversy, Archbishop Antoniy of Geneva insisted on his candidate. In violation of canonical rules, on May 10, 1982, Bishop Varnava (Prokofyev) of Menton, representing the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, clandestinely ordained Lazar Zhurbenko as the Bishop of Tambov and Morshansk in Moscow. This ordination faced opposition from the remaining recognized catacomb confessors, Hieromonk Guriy (Pavlov), and Protoierey Mikhail Rozhdestvensky. Due to his previous service in the Moscow Patriarchate, only a small portion of the catacomb communities were willing to accept him.