[St. Pachomius Library]

CHERNOBYL: Glimpses of the Miraculous

St. Seraphim of Sarov and the annual April 26th liturgy in Chernobyl.

The following event happened in 2001 and shook me deeply. I have seen many things in the course of my life, but this story was important and unlike anything else. It helped me understand the place of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the history of the Church and the life of the universe as a whole.

The fishermen who were in their boats on the Pripyat River at night on April 26th, 1986, saw a bright explosion of light above the church of St. Elijah the Prophet, followed by another explosion above the nuclear power plant. This was the sign described in the book of Revelation as "a great star, blazing like a torch," [Rev. 8:10-11]. There is a deep spiritual interconnectedness between this explosion, the history of the Church, and the history of the world at large.

The Church of St. Elijah.

When I came to serve in St. Elijah's temple after the tragedy, the building and grounds required extensive restoration. We worked hard to rebuild the church, and I conducted regular liturgies, even though there were very few parishioners.

On April 26th, my first time at this church on the anniversary of the tragedy, I prayed and went to bed. There were people keeping vigil in town and remembering the victims through secular rituals: concerts, vodka ... I fell asleep.

My window overlooks a cliff above the Pripyat River. I remember suddenly waking up at night and looking out of the window. I saw an old man in white robes with a white beard and a staff walking towards my house. I recognized the Venerable Seraphim of Sarov, his face, gait, and bearing exactly as depicted in the icons. St. Seraphim approached my house, stopped in front of my window, and looked at me closely. He hit the ground three times with his staff, then turned towards the river and walked off through the church gates towards the power plant.

Then I remember finding myself in bed again. I turned on the lights and saw it was 1:30 a.m.: the precise time the nuclear disaster struck. Indeed! The Lord had sent St. Seraphim to wake me up and call me to prayer and vigil that night.

I immediately had an insight: the nuclear catastrophe was one of the watershed events of the human history, described in the book of Revelation: And the third angel sounded (his trumpet), and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. Wormwood is a wide-spread plant in this area, also known as chernobylnik, hence the name of the town.

There is also a direct link with the apparition of the All-Pure Theotokos above Chernobyl ten years before the tragedy. This land was meant to be a place where the Holy Scriptures culminated, where the Lord's word split human history into "before" and "after" the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

I kept trying to understand why the Lord had chosen St. Seraphim to reveal the spiritual meaning of the tragedy. I wrote a letter to Patriarch Alexiy II, and we corresponded for two years. As a result, our church officially received part of St. Seraphim's holy relics, which I personally brought from Diveyevo.

St. Seraphim was a devout monk, but also an active participant in all important events of his time. He began his spiritual journey in Kiev, where he venerated the sacred sites and the saints of the Pechersk monastery. He wanted to join the brothers at a monastery, and received a blessing to go to Sarov. He always stayed involved in the affairs of his homeland.

Ever since St. Serpahim's apparition on the anniversary of the tragedy we have conducted all-night vigils and the Holy Liturgy on the night of April 26th in Chernobyl. Numerous archbishops, bishops and members of the clergy have joined us over the years to remember the victims, among them Pavel, the Metropolitan of Chernobyl and the vicar of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, who ordained me to priesthood. I believe the Lord purposefully made him the first church leader in Chernobyl. Numerous pilgrims are also drawn to Chernobyl on this day. We usually go to the cemetery to have a funeral service for the firefighters who were the first to face the blazing nuclear reactor. Thus, through St. Seraphim, the Lord has blessed us to stay awake and pray during the hour that our planet suffered a nuclear explosion. In 2016 this tradition turns 30 years old.

It is unlikely we will ever be able to grasp the fullness and the importance of signs and events surrounding the history of the nuclear tragedy in Chernobyl. Yet, there is clearly a direct spiritual link between all of them. The Lord reveals all that is necessary in His own time. We must remain patient and steadfast in our prayer, as we wait to receive His knowledge.

Easter in Chernobyl. Photo © 2016 Arkadiusz Podniesiński.

Russian text © Valentina Serikova, 2016. English translation by Alesya Volchyk, edited for the St. Pachomius Library.


The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, Holy Monday, 2016.

Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the Archpriest Nikolay, Valentina, Alesya, and Roman!