Facing Secular Fundamentalism with the Courage of Sanctity

Brendan King, a regular contributor to the St. Austin Review, has submitted this inspirational post about Catherine Abrikosova, a Catholic convert who fearlessly faced the brutality of the communist regime in Russia:


The Servant of God, Mother Catherine Abrikosova, T.O.P.


Feast: July 23rd


Anna Ivanovna Abrikosova was born on December 23, 1882, into a fabulously wealthy family from the Moscow merchant class. Her mother died giving birth to her and her father, Ivan Alexeyevich Abrikosov, died ten days later of tuberculosis. As a result, Anna and her four brothers were taken in by their paternal uncle Nikolai, who raised them as his own children. The family firm, A.I. Abrikosov & Sons, was the official supplier of confections to the Russian Imperial Court. Despite considering themselves to be staunchly Russian Orthodox, the younger Abrikosovs rarely attended the Divine Liturgy or received the Sacraments.

After her upper class origins caused her to be hazed out of a Moscow teacher’s college, Anna was sent to study at Girton College, Cambridge University. In 1903, she left before receiving a degree and married her first cousin, Vladimir Vladimirovich Abrikosov. Following their marriage they travelled in Western Europe, mainly in France and Italy. In 1908, Anna read “The Dialogue with Divine Providence,” by St. Catherine of Siena, which led her to conclude that Catholicism was the true religion. As a result, she was received into the Catholic Church in Paris on December 20, 1908. To Anna’s surprise, she was informed that, according to Canon Law, she was expected to remain a Catholic of the Byzantine Rite. Having fallen in love with the Latin Rite, Anna was deeply disappointed by this. The following year, Vladimir Abrikosov was also received into the Catholic Church. Soon after, they petitioned Pope St. Pius X for a Canonical change of Rite. His Holiness refused outright, but granted them permission to follow the Latin Rite until a Russian Greek-Catholic priest became available. Although Vladimir and Anna were surprised, they decided to obey and ultimately fell in love with the Byzantine Liturgy.

Soon after, Vladimir and Anna returned to Moscow, where their conversion caused them to be ostracized by both friends and family. However, Vladimir and Anna built a new social network, which later grew into Moscow’s Byzantine Catholic parish. In 1913, they were received in audience by Pope St. Pius X, who questioned them closely about their work in Moscow and blessed its continuation.

Shortly after the Abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in February 1917, Vladimir was ordained a priest of the newly constituted Russian Greek-Catholic Church. Many years later, Anna told  a fellow GULAG inmate that she and Vladimir took vows of celibacy immediately following his ordination. In this they followed an Eastern Catholic custom dating back to the 2nd century AD. Such marriages are known as Josephite Marriages, after the marriage between St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin.

Anna then took vows as a Greek-Catholic Dominican nun under the name Mother Catherine of Siena, T.O.P. As a motto for her life as a religious, Mother Catherine selected the proverb, “Christ did not descend from the Cross. He was taken down from it dead.”

In addition to his duties as Greek-Catholic Pastor of Moscow, Father Vladimir also served as the chaplain to Mother Catherine’s growing Dominican community. Shortly before the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, Mother Catherine and her spiritual daughters took a vow of spiritual oblation.

It read, “To the honor and glory of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and of the ever blessed Virgin Mary and St. Dominic, we, the consecrated Sisters T. O. P. M. O (Tertiaries of the Order of Preachers of Moscow Province) of St. Dominic surrender our lives to the last drop of blood, in sacrifice to the Holy Trinity for the salvation of Russia and for priests. In which may we be aided by Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother, our Holy Fr. Dominic, and all the saints of the Order of Friars-Preachers. Amen.”

In 1922, Father Vladimir was arrested and exiled to the West aboard Lenin’s infamous, “Philosopher’s Steamer.” Although Mother Catherine could easily have accompanied him, she chose to remain behind with the Sisters of her Order. In November 1923, she and her spiritual daughters were also arrested and taken to Moscow’s Butyrka Prison. Shortly after Easter 1924, she was sentenced to ten years of “strict isolation,” within the GULAG. Before being separated from them, Mother Catherine joyfully informed the Sisters that their vow had been accepted by God.

In her isolation cell, Mother Catherine was once compared to a Tsarina at Court by an NKVD inspector from Moscow. She was also revered by the few prisoners who were permitted to come into contact with her. In 1932, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was taken to Moscow for surgery. Mother Catherine’s left breast was removed, as were enough of her muscles that she was left unable to move her left arm. After the wife of Maxim Gorky interceded with Joseph Stalin on her behalf, Mother Catherine was granted early release on grounds of her ill health. Mother Catherine immediately reached out to the surviving nuns of her community. She also began discreetly evangelizing university students. When one of her spiritual daughters warned of the dangers, Mother Catherine said, “For the good of a single soul I am willing to go to prison for another ten years…”

In 1933, she was re-arrested and accused, with many other Greek and Latin Catholics, of plotting to assassinate Stalin and restore the Romanov Dynasty. Despite having bone cancer, Mother Catherine was again sentenced to ten years of strict isolation and returned to the GULAG. On July 23, 1936, she died of bone cancer in the infirmary of Butyrka Prison. Mother Catherine’s body was cremated and her ashes were thrown into a mass grave in Moscow’s Donskoy Cemetery. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a plaque was placed there which reads, “Here lie buried the remains of the innocent, tortured, and executed victims of political repressions. May they never be forgotten.”

The last word is best left to Mother Catherine herself.“Fix your gaze upon your wounded Lord Jesus, and upon Him alone. Strive tirelessly with all your strength to attain Him, God become man, in such a way that you can arrive at the knowledge of His divinity through His wounded humanity. Christ, Christ crucified, is all our knowledge, all our life. This is true because Christ has come to earth in order to transform us to the supernatural state, to give us the ability to participate in His own beatific life and to give us the greatest happiness and joy possible, that of glorifying His holy Name: to live and to suffer selflessly, keeping in view His glory alone. But all the earthly life of the Lord leads to the cross and is concentrated in it. The glory of the Resurrection comes by way of Calvary, and it is this that characterizes the life our souls.”

Joseph Pearce
Joseph Pearce is a Catholic author and biographer who has written about subjects as various as GK Chesterton, economics, and Shakespeare. His latest book, Race with the Devil, chronicles his conversion from racial hatred to Catholicism. He is also the Director of the Center for Faith & Culture and Writer-in-Residence at Aquinas College in Nashville as well as the editor of St. Austin Review.

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  1. Excellent article! Mother Catherine is an inspiration to all to be true to our beliefs, no matter how great the risks.

  2. Thanks for sharing – very informative, motivational, inspiring to keep up faith, hope and love.

  3. May I say that you have moved me to tears today.

    Beautiful, blessed post.