Hieromartyr Avvakum was born in 1621 in the village of Grigorovo in Nizhny Novgorod. His father, a priest, passed away early and Avvakum was brought up by his mother “who strictly fasted and was a devout worshiper”. He married a fellow villager, Anastasia Markovna, who became his “faithful helper to salvation.”
At the age of 21, he was ordained a deacon, at the age of 23 he entered priesthood and eight years later, he “achieved the rank of archpriest” in the town of Yuryevets-Povolsky. Having the gift of preaching, the gift of healing the sick and demoniacs, and the readiness to “lay down his life for his flock,” Hieromartyr Avvakum attracted many spiritual children from all walks of life. However, from severe denunciations and arbitrariness from the local authorities and the lack of morality of the people, this caused discontent and bitterness. As a result of these denunciations, this lead to Hieromartyr Avvakum being persecuted and repeatedly beaten almost to death.
Seeking protection in Moscow, he became close to the group “Bogolyubtsev”, who were advocates of righteousness. The group was headed by the tsar’s spiritual priest, father Stefan Vnifantiev and to the group joined the future patriarch Nikon. The purpose of the “Bogolyubtsev” group was the regulation of church services, the publication of accurate liturgical books and spiritual literature, as well as the improvement of the morals of the then Russian society. Becoming patriarch, Nikon began to act in the opposite direction. Instead of correcting, he began to change the books and the rite of the Divine Service according to the new Greek models, published in the heretical Latin printing houses of Venice.
Nikon’s reforms caught up with Avvakum in Moscow, where he served in the church of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God on Red Square. The struggle for keeping the church traditions of the holy fathers was led by the “fire bearing archpriest Avvakum”. Supporters of Nikon used the most brutal means – torture, starvation, burning at the stake – to carry out the scheme of the self-willed and cruel patriarch. Avvakum was put “in chains” and, together with his family, was exiled to Tobolsk, then further to the East, to the wild Dauria (to the Transbaikalian region), under the authority of the “ferocious military governor” Pashkov. After ten years wandering in the incredibly difficult conditions of Siberia, where two of his young children died, the archpriest was summoned to Moscow where they tried to persuade him to accept “Nikon’s new rules”. However, Avvakum remained unyielding. Again he was exiled, this time to the north.
Before the council in 1666, Avvakum was brought back to Moscow, to the Borovsk monastery, and for ten weeks they tried to influence him to give up the fight, but it was futile. “This is what I believe, this is what I confess, with this I live and die!” the holy warrior of Christ answered the tormentors. Illegally defrocked and consigned to anathema, along with his like-minded people – father Lazarus, deacon Feodor and monk Epiphanius – he was sent to far-off Pustozersk, located near the North Sea, to the edge of permafrost, where he languished for 15 years in a pit.
Deprived of the possibility of verbal preaching, Avvakum instead wrote messages, commentaries and consolations and, through loyal people, sent these out throughout all of Russia to the people of the Church of Christ. Now, more than 90 works of the saint are known and almost all of them were created during the years of the Pustozersky imprisonment. It was during this incarceration that he wrote the famous piece, “Life”. Aware of archpriest Avvakum’s calls to action, an increasing number of Russian people rose to defend the old faith. A zealous advocate of the new changes, the new patriarch Joachim began to demand the execution of the holy confessors. After the death of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, his young son Feodor ascended on the Russian throne. Archpriest Avvakum sent a humble petition to the new tsar with an appeal to return to his grandfather’s piety. In response, an order was given to burn the Pustozersky prisoners “for the great insult to the royal house”. On April 14, 1682 (according to other sources – April 1, 1681), on the Friday of Passion Week, the verdict was carried out …