Anton Odaysky, « L’exploit de toute une vie ». Saint Luc de Crimée (Valentin Voïno-Iassenetski), professeur, médecin, archevêque, confesseur, [« The feat of a lifetime”. Saint Luke of Crimea (Valentin Voïno-Iassenetski), professor, doctor, archbishop, confessor], collection « Patrimoine », Cerf, 2018, 300 pages.
Archbishop Luke of Crimea, also called Luke of Simferopol (1877-1961), was canonized as a local saint of Crimea in 1995 and as a saint of the entire Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000. He is very venerated in Russia, but also in Greece and in various Orthodox countries, where many faithful are indebted to him for miraculous cures which have been accomplished since his death in 1961.
Born of a Polish Catholic father coming from an aristocratic family, Valentin Felixovich Voino-Yasenetsky, after being first attracted to painting, began studying medicine and became a surgeon. He worked for thirteen years in several field hospitals, while undertaking research on local anesthesia in Moscow, culminating in 1916 with his thesis, immediately awarded by the University of Warsaw.
In 1919, he was appointed Chief Medical Officer at the Tashkent Hospital and Professor of Topographic Anatomy and of Surgical Surgery at the Tashkent Medical School.
At the end of 1919, his wife died of pulmonary tuberculosis. He entrusted the care of his four children to a nurse in his service. Busy every Saturday and Sunday with his surgeon’s activity, the future bishop could up until then only very rarely attend liturgical services. He admitted hardly respecting the fasts. But then, he began to join a fraternity and attend evening meetings every Sunday on biblical themes, organized by a priest from the city of Tashkent where he resided.
After Valentin spoke at one of these meetings, the bishop of the diocese, then present, asked him to become a priest, which he accepted immediately. He was ordained shortly after and the bishop appointed him the fourth priest of the cathedral, charging him with preaching.
At the same time, he continued to practice his quadruple activity as chief physician, surgeon operating day and night, professor of medicine and research scientist, specializing in the field of purulent wound surgery.
In 1923, to face of the danger represented by the development of the “living Church”, created and supported by the power, he was raised to the episcopate by Bishop Innocent of Tashkent, and secretly ordained in Samarkand. His ordination was ratified by Patriarch Tikhon. After celebrating his first pontifical liturgy in the Tashkent Cathedral, he was arrested by the GPU.
This was the beginning of a period of eleven years of imprisonment and exile. He was first deported, until 1926, to a remotie village in the Arctic Circle, then from 1930 to 1933 in Arkangelsk, and finally in Siberia in 1937, when the regime deported more than two hundred thousand bishops and members of the clergy.
When the war came, he was requisitioned in 1941 to perform the duties of chief surgeon in an evacuation hospital in Krasnoyarsk, and received in 1943 an official decoration recognizing the “valiant work” he had accomplished there. In 1946, he received the Stalin Prize for his treatise on the “Surgery of Punctual Wounds” which he had developed during his eleven years of exile. In the same year, he was transferred to the archdiocese seat of Simferopol in Crimea and enjoyed the relative peace granted to the Church by the State in the period following the war. He remained the archbishop of that city for fifteen years, until his death in 1961. His relics are preserved in the cathedral of that city.
Why was Bishop Luke allowed to stay alive while so many other bishops died during this long period of persecution? Because in 1933, he formally renounced to serve as a bishop, and then repeatedly refused vacant episcopal seats, not wanting to give up surgery. At the end of his life, Bishop Luke perceived this attachment to surgery as a passion and repented of it. He was actually preserved thanks to this work of surgeon, succeeding in particularly difficult operations, healing several personalities of serious diseases, and making himself very popular and acquiring many defenders among the large number of people he had treated.
A worthy successor of the holy mercenaries, giving himself tirelessly to the task of operating and treating the needy in the most precarious conditions and with the most basic equipment, Bishop Luke was at the same time a courageous confessor of the faith: he gave his university lectures wearing his cassock and pectoral cross, ignoring the very strict administrative prohibitions issued by the communist state. He refused to remove the icon he had placed in his operating room. Before a surgery, he would pray for his patient, trace the sign of the cross on his/her body with iodine, bless his assistants, and ask for God’s help so that the surgery would be successful.
He publicly blessed everyone who approached him. One day, he was ready to offer himself on top of a pile of burning icons to prevent the destruction of a church. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy wherever he went or lived during his exile. Resisting the antireligious policy of the Soviet state, he ordained priests and tonsured monks and nuns. As a bishop, he made the necessary decisions, incurring the risk of being persecuted, imprisoned, and exiled, which is was happened.
At crucial stages in his life, Divine Providence manifested itself clearly to Bishop Luke, indicating him what to do, by means of certain words of Holy Scripture which he read or heard, and which took a particular meaning in his heart.
Two books on Saint Luke had already been published in French. The present work is more complete, offering more details on his life, up to the transfer of his relics and the story of miracles that followed his death. It also contains many details on the historical context and the personalities with whom saint Luke was in contact. The book has many photos, unfortunately often too small.
The author, Father Anton Odaysky, is rector of the Russian parish Saint-Michel-Archange in Cannes, and a computer engineer working at Sophia Antipolis. His scientific training makes him particularly sensitive to saint Luke’s scientific work and the modalities of his practice as a surgeon. However, it would have been preferable for the Appendix, devoted to a presentation of saint Luke’s surgical methods to treat local purulent diseases, to be replaced by an overview of his spiritual teachings with significant extracts from his sermons. Eleven volumes of them have been published in Russia, but they remain totally unknown to French readers. We are waiting for a book in French that would explain saint Luke’s spirituality.
The original French review of this book was written by Jean-Claude Larchet.
The Blessed Surgeon: The Life of Saint Luke Archbishop of Simferopol, by Vasiliy Marushchak, Archim Nektarios Antonopoulos, Anna Vassilyeva (Translator), Nicholas Palis (Translator). Paperback, 208 pages, published January 1st 2002 by Divine Ascent Press.