The New Martyr of Russia Alexander Hotovitzky was born on February 11, 1872 in the city of Kremenetz, into the pious family of Archpriest Alexander, who was Rector of the Volhynia Theological Seminary and would later be long remembered in the hearts of the Orthodox inhabitants of Volhynia as a good shepherd. Young Alexander received a good Christian upbringing from his parents, who instilled in him love for the Orthodox Church and for the people of God.
The future pastor was educated at the Volhynia Seminary and the St Petersburg Theological Academy, from which he graduated with a Master’s degree in 1895.
After graduation from the Academy, he was sent for missionary service to the Diocese of the Aleutians and North America, where he was assigned to the position of reader at the newly-established St Nicholas Orthodox Church in New York City. Following his marriage to Maria Scherbuhina, a graduate of the Pavlovsk Institute in St Petersburg, the Hieromartyr Alexander was ordained to the diaconate, and soon after, on February 25, 1896, to the priesthood by Bishop Nicholas (Ziorov) of the Aleutians, whom Father Alexander would always later remember with gratitude and love.
The ordination took place at the diocesan cathedral in San Francisco. In his address to the newly-ordained Father Alexander, Bishop Nicholas explained his selection of the new priest for ordained ministry in these words:
“Your special sense of decency, your good upbringing, your noble idealism, and your sincere piety immediately caused me to look favorably upon you and compelled me to single you out among the young people, with whom you used to visit me in St Petersburg...I could see that you had that special spark from God, which makes any service an action truly done for God’s sake, and without which a vocation becomes soul-less and dead work...Your first experience in preaching has shown you the power of this kind of inspiration: you saw how the people gathered around you and how attentively they stood and listened at length to your discourses... Why did these people listen to you rather than going to hear other preachers? Clearly the spark which burns within you attracts the hearts of these people like a magnet.”
A week after his ordination, the young priest returned to New York to assume the pastorate of the parish where he had previously served as reader. From 1898 to 1907, the New Martyr Alexander served as a pastor under the omophorion of Bishop Tikhon. Saint Tikhon, who, in the tragic year of 1917, was to be elevated by Divine Providence to the primatial see as Patriarch of Moscow, valued highly Father Alexander’s sincere piety, his gift of pastoral love, and his multifaceted theological erudition. The spectrum of his activity in the United States was quite broad and very fruitful. He was successful in missionary service, primarily among Uniates newly-emigrated from Galicia and Carpathian Rus. He was also one of the closest collaborators of the Orthodox archpastors in America and represented the Orthodox Church before American religious institutions and meetings.
Father Alexander’s missionary work was not without many temptations and sorrows. Archbishop, later Metropolitan, Platon (Rozhdestvensky) expressed gratitude for the Passion-bearer Alexander’s labors in America in an address delivered at the Divine Liturgy on February 26, 1914. Bidding farewell to Father Alexander, the Archbishop said, “One morning, during the years we worked together, you came to my room and, without saying much, unbuttoned your shirt, revealing a very large, bluish, bloody abrasion on your chest. That wound from a fanatic, who in a fit of rage attacked you wildly with a stick, followed the meeting of Russian people at which you had encouraged your own ethnic brother to renounce the pernicious Unia with Rome... My entire being was shaken to the core and I was profoundly moved, for before me at that moment was a genuine example of witness for Christ.”
Through Father Alexander’s efforts, Orthodox parishes were established in Philadelphia, Yonkers, and Passaic as well as other large and small towns throughout North America. The parishioners of these churches were cradle Orthodox whom fate had brought to the New World, as well as Carpatho-Russians converted from the Unia and former Protestant converts to the Orthodox Church.
An important contribution to the witness of the truth of Orthodoxy before heterodox American society was made by the American Orthodox Messenger, which was published in English and Russian under Father Alexander’s editorship. Articles by the editor regularly appeared in this journal.
The New Martyr Alexander actively participated in the establishment of an Orthodox diocesan mutual aid society and at various times, he served as treasurer, first secretary, and president of this organization. The society provided material aid to Austrian Carpatho-Russians, Macedonian Slavs, Russian troops in Manchuria, and to Russian prisoners of war in Japanese camps.
Father Alexander also took upon himself the ascetical burden of constructing the architecturally remarkable and majestic St Nicholas Cathedral in New York to replace the small parish church. The cathedral was to become an adornment of the city. He visited Orthodox communities throughout America soliciting funds for the construction of the Cathedral. In 1901, he also traveled to his homeland, Russia, for this purpose. In the annals of St Nicholas Church, which in 1903 became the diocesan Cathedral, it is recorded that, “This Cathedral was established and constructed in the City of New York in North America, under the supervision and through the efforts and labors of the most honorable Archpriest Father Alexander Hotovitzky in the year of Our Lord 1902.”
On February 26, 1906, Orthodox America celebrated the tenth anniversary of priestly service of Archpriest Alexander, one of its most remarkable pastors. Bishop Tikhon greeted the jubilarian with these words:
“As you remember your ordination as a priest of God at this anniversary, you are doubtless unwillingly contemplating how you have used your God-given talents, and asking yourself if the Grace of God was bestowed on you in vain and how far you have advanced on the path of moral perfection. As you judge yourself in this way, you are at the same time the judge and the accused. In order for a judgment to be fair, the testimony of onlookers, the witnesses, must be heard. Now they are speaking before you—listen to them. Thanks be to the Lord! We just heard their eloquent and heartfelt testimony praising you. For myself as your superior, I can testify that you have proven to be trustworthy, and have justified the expectations which were hoped for at your ordination.”
The sacrificial and dedicated pastoral service of the New Martyr Alexander in America was concluded on February 26, 1914, exactly eighteen years after his ordination to the priesthood. In his farewell address, Father Alexander said, “Farewell, American Orthodox Rus—my dear Mother, the Holy American Church. I, your ever-grateful son, bow fully to the ground before you. You gave birth to me spiritually, you nurtured me, from your depths you inspired me by your strength. Through the shining witness of your founders, through the enlightened apostolic teachings of your preachers, through the fervor of your faithful flock, you have given me the greatest possible joy—to be your son.”
From 1914 to 1917, Father Alexander served as a priest in Helsinki, Finland, where the majority of the population was Protestant. Although Finland was then part of the Russian Empire, the Orthodox clergy there had to exert great efforts to protect the Orthodox Karelians from the proselytic expansionism of the Finnish Lutherans. In Finland, the New Martyr Alexander was a loyal, active, and dedicated assistant to his archpastor—Sergius (Stragorodsky), the future Patriarch.
In August 1917, Archpriest Alexander was transferred to Moscow and assigned as assistant pastor of Christ the Savior Cathedral. Here he was again under the direct guidance of Saint Tikhon, with whom he had already been closely associated in America.
Alexander participated in the deliberations of the Church Council of 1917-18. When the Council discussed the drafting of a message to the Orthodox flock concerning elections to the State Council, he stated that, as the fate of Russia was at stake, the Church and the Council in particular should not shy away from the struggle to save the nation. Speaking about the efforts of the Council to upbuild the Church, he outlined his preliminary plans for order and healing in the internal life of the Church and stated with some bitterness, “It seems as if there were builders who were furiously preparing blueprints, plans and so forth for the construction of an edifice and at the same time were calmly observing the destruction brick by brick of this edifice by enemies.”
During the difficult years of the Civil War, the New Martyr Alexander collaborated closely with St. Tikhon in the administration of the Moscow diocese. In 1918, under the spiritual leadership of the rector, Father Nicholas Arseniev, and the assistant pastor, Father Alexander, a brotherhood affiliated with Christ the Savior Cathedral was established. As its first activity, the brotherhood issued an appeal to the Orthodox flock, which Father Alexander helped write.
This document stated, “People of Russia! Christ the Savior Cathedral, the adornment of Moscow, the pride of Russia, the joy of the Orthodox Church has been condemned to slow destruction. This glorious monument to the great exploits of Russian warriors, who gave their lives for their native land and the Holy Orthodox Faith, has been denied state support...People of Russia! Will you really surrender this wonderful church of the Savior to mockery? Is it really true, as is claimed by the persecutors of the Holy Church, that the people of Russia no longer need holy things—Churches, sacraments, services, because all this is outdated and superstitious? Respond, you faithful! All of you, respond as one! Rise up and protect your holy things! May the generous and well-intentioned donations of the rich be added to the precious pennies of the faithful poor. Moscow, you are the heart of Russia! Preserve your holy shrine—your golden-domed Church of the Savior!...”
In response to this appeal, Orthodox inhabitants of Moscow joined the brotherhood of Christ the Savior Cathedral, and gave their alms to support the majestic church.
Pastoral service at that time was accompanied by much grief and danger. In May 1920 and November 1921 Father Alexander was arrested for brief periods. He was accused of violating the decrees concerning the separation of the Church from the state, and the school from the Church, by holding church school for the children.
In 1922, the Church was subjected to harsh tribulations when, under the pretext of helping the starving, ecclesiastical treasures including sacred vessels, icons, and other holy things were violently confiscated by the state. Heeding the appeal of Her holy primate, the Orthodox Church made generous donations to assist the starving. However, when Saint Tikhon issued a statement to his flock throughout Russia forbidding the cooperation of the clergy in surrendering sacred vessels for non-ecclesiastical use based on canon law, a slanderous campaign against the Church was begun in the press, Her primate was arrested, and a wave of court cases took place throughout Russia, in which servants of the Lord’s altar were accused of counter-revolutionary activity. During these trials many faithful servants of the Church of Christ were sentenced to death and shed their blood as hieromartyrs and martyrs.
During this difficult time for the Church, Father Alexander was unwaveringly guided by the statements of the Holy Patriarch to his flock and also followed his directives. Funds to assist the starving were collected at Christ the Savior Cathedral. At the same time, measures were undertaken to protect the sacred objects of this church. Meetings of the clergy and parishioners of Christ the Savior Cathedral were held at Father Alexander’s apartment in order to draft a resolution of the general parish meeting concerning the state decree.
A draft of the resolution, prepared by Father Alexander, protested against the violent confiscation of church valuables. A general meeting of parishioners was convened on March 23, 1922 at Christ the Savior Cathedral, presided by Archpriest Nicholas Arseniev. Father Alexander had already been arrested. This meeting adopted the final text of the resolution, which demanded guarantees from the state that all donations be used to save the lives of the starving. The participants in the meeting protest the poisonous publications against the Church as well as insults against the hierarchy. The drafting of this document was deemed by the authorities to be criminal counter-revolutionary activity.
After two court cases against the Church, in Petrograd and Moscow, which resulted in the executions of hieromartyrs and martyrs, a new highly visible trial of clergy and laity began in Moscow on November 27, 1922, during which they were accused of supposedly “attempting to retain in their hands possession of church valuables and, through the resulting starvation, to topple the Soviet regime.”
On trial in this case were 105 clergy and laity. Among the main defendants were Archpriest Sergius Uspensky, dean of the second district of forty churches in Prechistenka, Archpriest Nicholas Arseniev, dean of Christ the Savior Cathedral, Archpriest Alexander Hotovitzky, assistant pastor of this Cathedral, Ilya Gromoglasov, priest of Christ the Savior Cathedral, Lev Evgenievich Anohin, warden of this Cathedral, and Archpriest Simeon Golubev, rector of St John the Warrior Church.
The most significant part of the indictment submitted to the Court concerned the activity of the clergy and laity of Christ the Savior Cathedral. The indictment stated, “The main organizers and leaders of this criminal activity were Priest Hotovitzky, chairman of the council of parishes in this area, Priest Arseniev, rector of the Cathedral, Priest Zotikov, Priest Gromoglasov, former lawyer Kayutov, former deputy minister Shchepkin, the merchant Golovkin, and engineer Anohin. When the decree of the Supreme Central Executive Committee concerning the confiscation of church valuables was issued, they began their preliminary activities under the leadership of the priest Hotovitzky, who repeated to secretly gather the above named people at his apartment in order to plan with them the measures which they proposed to enact to achieve their criminal intentions.”
The case was in court for two weeks. After the detailed indictment was read, questioning of the defendants began. Father Alexander remained cool and calm during the questioning as he tried to protect the other defendants. He did not admit any guilt, stating, “I consider that it is not counter-revolutionary to ask for a corresponding amount of metal in return for church valuables.”
Following the interrogation of all the defendants and witnesses, at the Court session on December 6, the later infamous, sinister prosecutor Vishinsky delivered the concluding statement for the prosecution. He asked the court for a sentence of capital punishment for thirteen defendants including Archpriests Alexander Hotovitzky, Nicholas Arseniev, Sergius Uspensky, Priest Ilya Gromoglasov, Abbess Vera (Pobedinskaya) of the Novodevichy Women’s Monastery and L.E. Anohin. Vishinsky requested that the other defendants be sentenced to prison terms of varying length.
On December 11, defendants were given an opportunity to say a final word to the court. In his comments, Father Alexander attempted, first of all, to obtain the court’s leniency and mercy for his brother clergy, “I direct your attention to those who were at the meeting in my apartment: some of them are old and the others are very young and guilty of nothing. This was a completely ordinary meeting, it was not counter-revolutionary and it cannot by any means be characterized as a shady plot.”
The lengthiest final comments were delivered by the professor and priest Ilya Gromoglasov. This defendant attempted to gain the favor of the court by expounding on his former opposition to the Holy Synod. Concerning the conclusions of the prosecution, he said that he “knew nothing of the criminal organization headed by Hotovitzky.”
On December 13, the verdict of the revolutionary tribunal was announced. It was milder than the bloodthirsty verdicts delivered at previous trials held in Petrograd and Moscow in conjunction with the confiscation of church valuables. Each of the main defendants—Abbess Vera (Pobedinskaya), Archpriest Sergius Uspensky, and Archpriest Alexander Hotovitzky were sentenced to ten years in prison, the confiscation of their personal property and the deprivation of their civil rights for five years. The others were sentenced to lesser terms of imprisonment. Appeals for pardon, made by those who were sentenced to the longest terms of imprisonment, including that of Archpriest Alexander, were rejected by the presidium of the Supreme Central Executive Committee on February 16, 1923.
After the holy Patriarch Tikhon resumed his administration of the Church and made several statements regarding loyalty to the governmental authorities, many hierarchs, clergy, church leaders and laity, who had previously received sentences from the judiciary in conjunction with the confiscation of church valuables, were granted amnesty. Father Alexander was among those freed in October 1923. Following his liberation, he was not assigned to a parish but served by invitation at various churches in Moscow.
He remained free for only a short time. Already on September 4, 1924, E. Tuchkov, head of the 6th section of the Department of State Political Management, compiled a list of thirteen clergy and church leaders of Moscow and recommended that they be subjected to administrative exile. The New Martyr Alexander, who was included in the list, was characterized as follows in this document, “A priest and preacher with a post-graduate education, very active, zealous and influential among the Tikhonites. His outlook is anti-Soviet.”
On September 9, 1924, the New Martyr Alexander was subjected to an interrogation. “In my religious convictions,” he said at that time, “I consider myself to be a Tikhonite. My relations with the Patriarch are intimate rather than just strictly administrative, but lately, I have avoided meeting with Patriarch Tikhon, as I felt that this might inconvenience him due to my conviction in conjunction with the confiscation of church valuables. I have never expressed an opinion concerning the restoration of the former government and such a thought has not even crossed my mind.”
By a decision of a special meeting of the administration of the Department of State Political Management, the New Martyr Alexander was exiled to the Turuhan region for a period of three years. His already failing health was further weakened by his sojourn in the far north.
Following his return from exile, Father Alexander was raised to the rank of protopresbyter and became one of the closest assistants of the Deputy Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, Metropolitan (later Patriarch) Sergius, who knew him well since the time of his service in Finland.
In the 1930s, Protopresbyter Alexander served as rector of the Church of the Deposition of the Robe on Donskoy Street. One of the parishioners of this church recalls, “In 1936, Father Alexander did not preach, as he was apparently forbidden to do so. In 1936-7, I was present many times when Father Alexander served. He was a tall, gray-haired priest with gentle facial features, who looked extremely intelligent. Gray, trimmed hair, a small beard, very kind gray eyes, a high-pitched, loud tenor...pronounced exclamations distinctly and with inspiration...His appearance reminded me of many priests who were exiles from the western regions...Father Alexander had many parishioners who greatly revered him...Even today, I remember Father Alexander’s eyes. It seemed as if his glance penetrated your heart and embraced it with affection. I had the same feeling when I saw the holy Patriarch Tikhon...The same light also shining in Father Alexander’s eyes was testimony of his sanctity.”
In the fall of 1937, the New Martyr Alexander was arrested again. The documentary evidence about him at our disposal ends with this; however, a majority of oral reports testify to his death as a martyr. The Orthodox Church in America, on whose territory Protopresbyter Alexander served as a priest until 1914, venerates him as a passion-bearer, whose life as a confessor ended with sufferings for Christ. The place of his burial is unknown.
The Church of Russia also commemorates St Alexander on August 7, along with the Archpriests Alexei Vorobiev, Michael Plishevsky, John Voronets, the priests Demetrius Milovidov, and Peter Tokarev, the deacon Elisha Sholder, and Igumen Athanasius Egorov.