Saint Luke of Crimea is also known as Saint Luke of Simferopol or Saint Luke the Surgeon. He lived in the years 1877-1961. He was an incredibly accomplished surgeon and scientist, who,after the death of his wife became an Eastern Orthodox priest and eventually an archbishop. Saint Luke lived through the collapse of the Russian Empire, and the rise of the communist Soviet Union. While the Soviet authorities respected Saint Luke's medical and scientific skill, they nevertheless persecuted him harshly for his faith. He had three stints in prison totaling 11 years.
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God is glorious in his Saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.
Today, we commemorate Saint Luke of Crimea, also known as St Luke of Simferopol, or St Luke the Surgeon. St Luke was born in Crimea as Valentin Felixovich Voino-Yassnetsky and later served as Archbishop there. He lived from 1877-1961 – if you know anything of the history of the region, you are aware that St Luke lived in a very turbulent time. Crimea is a large island in the Black Sea. Currently it is disputed territory, both Russia and Ukraine claim the island, one of the contested regions in the current war in Ukraine. In the beginning of St Luke’s life, Crimea was part of the Russian Empire, and at the end, it was part of the Soviet Union.
St Luke has a fascinating life story. He was a surgeon – not only that, he was an accomplished scientist, and contributed to advancing medical science. He also was a war hero, a member of the Red Army in World War 2 who defeated the Nazis, a devout Christian fighting for the atheist Soviet Union. And at the end of his life he served as Archbishop of Crimea when it was under a communist dictatorship that persecuted the Orthodox Christian faith.
Let us read an account of his remarkable life – this was written by Sister Ioanna, St. Innocent of Alaska Monastic Community, Redford, MI.
Saint Luke, the Blessed Surgeon, miracle-worker and Archbishop of Simferopol, in the Crimea, Russia, is one of the most amazing of our recently glorified twentieth-century saints. He was a world-famous pioneering surgeon, who was appointed chief surgeon overseeing the treatment of injured soldiers during World War II, and even the Soviet government could not deny his surgical skill, giving him the Stalin award for his pioneering surgical work. Communist Party leaders would appeal to him to do the most critical surgeries for themselves or family members. Yet at the same time, as a priest and a bishop, he was a much-suffering confessor (i.e. someone who suffers for his Christian faith, but is not killed), imprisoned, tortured and exiled three times by the Soviets. He refused to hide or compromise his Orthodox Faith, and was an outspoken witness to it, which was an embarrassment to the Communists.
The future confessor, surgeon and Archbishop, Valentin Felixovich Voino-Yassnetsky, was born on April 27, 1877 in the Crimea. When he was about ten years old, the family moved to Kiev. He had a natural gift for drawing, and graduated from the Kiev Academy of Fine Arts concurrently with secondary school. He was going to continue his art studies, when he decided that he should use his life to help suffering people, and gave up his dream of a career in art. The future saint studied the Bible carefully, and felt the Lord was calling him as a laborer in His vineyard. So in 1898 the young Valentin entered the Medical School of Kiev University, specializing in anatomy and surgery. He graduated in 1903, and wrote that he “studied medicine with the sole purpose of becoming a village, peasant doctor and of helping poor people.”
He worked in an eye clinic where he quickly perfected complex eye surgeries, and then was sent to a military hospital in the Far East and placed in charge of surgery during the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-05. Here he met a nurse, Anna Vassilyevna, whom he soon married; they had four children. He was then assigned to various hospitals and clinics, and everywhere he stretched himself beyond his limits, as he did for the rest of his life, in order to help the poor, suffering people, treating everyone with equal compassion, regardless of rank or status. After a number of years of intensive pioneering research on local anaesthesia, he received his doctorate in medicine, and international recognition for his innovative work. He returned to his village practice of medicine, becoming a master of the most complex surgeries. As always, he worked constantly with very little rest. He was always kind, gentle and patient with everyone; always calm and self-controlled, he never spoke a harsh word.
In March of 1917 the family of six moved to Tashkent, where Professor Valentin became chief of surgery at a large city hospital. Soon the Communist Revolution reached Tashkent, and life was forever changed. Treating the wounded was non-stop, exhausting work, and there was little food, but the future saint never complained. However, the health of his wife deteriorated rapidly, and she departed this life of suffering, her husband by her side. His nurse surgical assistant, who was widowed and childless, took over the care of the doctor’s four children.
Professor Doctor Valentin Felixovich’s deep faith was reflected in his desire to help the suffering and sick. He attended Divine Services on Sundays and Feast Days. Before surgery he would cross himself, pray, and make a cross with iodine on the patient’s body. He refused to perform surgery without an icon in the room. When the Communists removed his icon in 1920, he walked out. He resumed surgery when his icon was replaced. At the end of 1920 the good doctor gave a speech at the diocesan council, after which the ruling bishop said to him “Doctor, you must become a priest!” The future bishop believed this to be God’s call to him, and he immediately accepted. Two months later, in the midst of the Communist persecutions, on February 15th 1921, he was ordained priest. He was made fourth priest at the cathedral and assigned to preach. He combined his priesthood with his lecturing at the medical school and his surgical practice. This was an incredible act of courage, as the Bolshevik persecution of the Church and clergy was widespread. But Father Valentin lectured on medicine, was chief surgeon of Tashkent City Hospital, and served at the Cathedral on Sundays. By early 1923 the Archbishop of Tashkent had disappeared, and the diocese was left without a chief shepherd. At a local council, the people elected Father Valentin as bishop. He was secretly tonsured a monk, and given the name Luke, in honor of the Apostle who was both an artist and physician. He had to secretly go to Samarkand, where there were two bishops, in order to be consecrated bishop, which occurred on May 31st, 1923, and immediately return to Tashkent.
A few weeks later he was arrested, and his first of three imprisonments and exiles began, totaling eleven years altogether. He was forty-six. He got very sick, and the first signs of heart disease appeared, which would get progressively worse for the rest of his life. For almost three years he was sent from one frozen frigid place in Siberia to another, suffering terribly, but he relied totally on God’s help. In each place he sought to help people as a physician of both bodies and souls. The village people everywhere treated him with great respect. Finally, on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, 1926, he was released and allowed to return to Tashkent.
In May of 1930 he was arrested a second time. During the first year he was constantly sick. A year later he was sent in exile to Archangelsk, where he was able to do some limited medical work. The Communists kept trying to get him to renounce his episcopal office, and pursue only his medical work, which they highly respected. He was finally released from exile at the end of 1933. He was 56 now, and his health was deteriorating badly from his tortures, imprisonments and exiles. In late 1934 his Essays on Surgery of Pyogenic Infections was published, after ten years of research, and highly acclaimed by surgeons worldwide. For two years he lived peacefully in Tashkent. The year 1937 saw the most severe persecution of the Church and its leaders. Bishop Luke was arrested a third time.
After two years of torture and imprisonment, and serious decline in his health, he was sentenced to five years in exile in Siberia, near Krasnoyarsk, where he was when the Soviet Union entered World War II. In 1941 a huge military hospital was being set up in Krasnoyarsk to treat wounded soldiers. Without malice towards the Soviets, but only with love for suffering humanity, the bishop-doctor offered his experience, knowledge and skills. In October 1941, while still an exile, he was appointed the consultant of all the Krasnoyarsk region’s hospitals and the chief surgeon of the evacuation hospital. Yet he was forbidden to eat at the military hospital cafeteria, and usually went hungry, but some nurses secretly left food in his room. By the spring of 1942 the authorities’ attitude towards him totally changed, witnessing the incredible results he achieved with the wounded, and his living conditions improved significantly. His exile was ended and the Patriarchal locum tenens elevated him to archbishop and appointed him Archbishop of Krasnoyarsk. So once again he could combine service to the Church with his surgical work. He continued his exhausting schedule of surgery on injured soldiers and medical research till the end of the war, and published two more works on infections and surgery in late 1943 and 1944, which won him the Stalin award. But his health kept deteriorating. In 1944 the government moved the evacuation hospitals to Tambov, and the surgeon-bishop-confessor moved also. He then was appointed Bishop of the Tambov Diocese.
After the war, he was given a high award for his service during the war. In 1947, at the age of seventy, sick and going blind, he was transferred to Simferopol, in the Crimea, in order to resurrect the church life there, which was in shambles. He served there for the remaining fourteen years of his life, transforming the Crimea by his labors. As always, he fearlessly refused to compromise the Orthodox Faith and practice, nor to be cowed by Communist threats. He helped the poor and guided the people on the true Way. Until forbidden to do so, he preached daily, and wrote that during his thirty-eight years as a priest and bishop, he gave about 1,250 sermons, of which 750 were written down and preserved. The world-renown and awarded surgeon tried to participate in the medical community, but was persecuted because of his outspoken faith, and forbidden to lecture. Almost blind from glaucoma, he could no longer do surgery, but he daily treated the many patients who came to his apartment free of charge, but this decreased as his vision failed further. By 1956 he was totally blind, but he continued serving in Church from memory, preaching, and administering the diocese. Doctors sent the most difficult cases to him for diagnosis, which he would do by touch. There are countless examples of miraculous cures and precise diagnoses that had gone undetected. In 1957 he dictated his memoirs, which became available to people after the end of the Communist regime in 1991.
Just before his repose the new wave of Khrushchev’s most severe persecutions of the Church flamed up, which greatly affected Archbishop Luke’s fragile health. He departed this life on June 11, 1961, the feast of All Saints of Russia. His funeral itself was a miracle, and after his repose, he continued to heal all who came to him. St. Luke’s life was dedicated to serving God and his neighbor, Throughout his 40+ years of suffering under the Communists, he had absolute faith in God’s will, and bore his cross with courage and faith, without complaining, always aware that Christ was carrying the cross with him. On November 22, 1995, St. Luke was declared numbered among the saints, and on March 20th, 1996 (his second feastday), his relics were transferred to the cathedral in Simferopol, to be venerated by all.
I am a scientist myself – in my day job I am a professor, and I do research in mathematical physics. There aren’t that many scientist saints, so I find this aspect of St Luke’s life – as a scientist- very compelling.
Let us take this opportunity to hear from the words of St Luke himself.. Here is an article he wrote, in which he discusses the relationship between science and faith, and argues that there is no contradiction between religion and science – and indeed he is living proof of that! Let us hear his words on this topic:
When we examine contemporary science as developed by scientists such as Lamark and Darwin, we see the antithesis and I would say the complete disagreement that exists between science and religion, on topics that concern the more basic problems of existence and knowledge. For this, an enlightened mind cannot accept at the same time both one and the other and must chose between religion and science".
A well known German Zoologist, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), who was a good follower of Darwin, wrote these words some 65 years ago, in his book, "The Riddle of the Universe" that was very successful and as it seemed, had proved that faith is absurd. So says Haeckel that every enlightened man must chose between science and religion and should follow either one or the other. He considered it necessary that such men should deny religion because a logical man cannot deny science.
Truly, is this necessary? No, not at all, for we know that many and great scientists were at the same time great believers. For example, such was the Polish astronomer Copernicus who laid the foundation of all contemporary astronomy. Copernicus was not only a believer but was also a cleric. Another great scientist, Newton, whenever he mentioned the word God, he removed his hat. He was a great believer. A great bacteriologist of our time and almost a contemporary, Pasteur, who laid the basis of contemporary bacteriology, he would start every scientific work with a prayer to God. Some 10 years ago a great scientist passed away, who was our countryman, physiologist Pavlov, who was the creator of the new physiology of the brain. He too was a great believer. Would Haeckel therefore dare say that these men did not have enlightened mind because they believed in God?
So what happens now? Why even today there are some scientists, professors at Universities whom I personally know and are great believers. Why don't all the scientists deny religion but only those who think the same as Haeckel? Because these people believe only in materials and deny the spiritual world, they do not believe in the after death life, they do not accept the immortality of the soul and of course they do not accept the resurrection of the dead. They say that science is capable of everything, that there is no secret in nature that science cannot discover. What can we answer to these?
We shall respond to them this way. You are totally right. We cannot limit the human mind that searches nature. We know that today, science knows only a part of the things we have of nature. We also understand that the possibilities of science are great. In this they are right and we don't doubt it. What then do we doubt? Why don't we deny religion like them and consider it contrary to scientific knowledge?
Just because we believe wholeheartedly that there is a spiritual world. We are certain that apart from the material world there is an infinite and incomparably superior spiritual world. We believe in the existence of spiritual beings that have higher intellect than us humans. We believe wholeheartedly that above this spiritual and material world there is the Great and Almighty God.
What we doubt is the right of science to research with its methods the spiritual world. Because the spiritual world cannot be researched with the methods used to research the material world. Such methods are totally inappropriate to research the spiritual world.
How do we know that there is a spiritual world? Who told us that it exists? If we are asked by people who do not believe in the Divine revelation, we shall answer them thus: "Our heart told us". For there are two ways for one to know something, the first is that which is spoken by Haeckel, which is used by science to learn of the material world. There is however another way that is unknown to science, and does not wish to know it. It is the knowledge through the heart. Our heart is not only the central organ of the circulation system, it is an organ with which we know the other world and receive the highest knowledge. It is the organ that gives us the capability to communicate with God and the above world. Only in this we disagree with science.
Praising the great successes and achievements of science, we do not doubt at all its great importance and we do not confine the scientific knowledge. We only tell the scientists "You do not have the capability with your methods to research the spiritual world, we however can with our heart
There are many unexplainable phenomena which concern the spiritual world that are real (as are some type of material phenomena). There are therefore phenomena that science will never be able to explain because it does not use the appropriate methods.
Let science explain how the prophecies appeared on the coming of the Messiah, which were all fulfilled. Could science tell us how the great prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ, foretold the most important events in His life and for which he was named the evangelist of the Old Testament? To explain the far sighted grace possessed by the saints and to tell us with which physical methods the saints inherited this grace and how they could understand the heart and read the thoughts of a person they had just met for the first time? They would see a person for the first time and they will call him by his name. Without waiting for the visitor to ask, they would answer on what troubled him.
If they can, let them explain it to us. Let them explain with what method the saints foretold the great historical events which were accurately fulfilled as they were prophesied. Let them explain the visitation from the other world and the appearance of the dead to the living.
They shall never explain it to us because they are too far from the basis of religion- from faith. If you read the books of the scientists who try to reconstruct religion, you will see how superficially they look at things. They do not understand the essence of religion yet they criticize it. Their criticism does not touch the essence of faith, since they are unable to understand the types, the expressions of religious feeling. The essence of religion they do not understand. Why not? Because the Lord Jesus Christ says "No one can come to me unless My Father who sent Me draws him to Me.(John 6:44)
So it is necessary that we be drawn by the Heavenly Father, it is necessary that the grace of the Holy Spirit enlighten our heart and our mind. To dwell in our heart and mind through this enlightenment, the Holy Spirit and the ones who were found worthy to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, those in whose heart lives Christ and His Father, know the essence of faith. The others, outside the faith cannot understand anything.
Let us hear the criticism against Haeckel from a French philosopher Emile Boutroux (1845-1921). So says Boutroux, "The criticisms of Haeckel concern much more the ways, than the essence, which (the ways) he observes with such a materialistic and narrow view, that they cannot be accepted by religious people. Thus the criticism of religion by Haeckel is not referred to, not even in one of the principles that constitutes religion".
This is therefore our opinion regarding Haeckel's book "The Riddle of the Universe" which up to day is considered the "Bible" for all those who criticize religion, which they deny and find it contrary to science. Do you see how poor and tasteless arguments they use? Don't become scandalized when you hear what they say about religion, since they themselves cannot understand its essence. You people, who may not have much of a relationship with science and do not know much about philosophy, remember always the most basic beginning, which was well known by the early Christians. They considered poor, the person who knew all the sciences yet he knew not God. On the other hand, they considered blessed the person who knew God, even if he knew absolutely nothing about the worldly things.
Guard this truth like the best treasure of the heart, walk straight without looking right or left. Let us not bother with what we hear against religion, losing our bearings. Let us hold on to our faith which is the eternal indisputable truth. Amen.
Saint Luke of Crimea is celebrated on May 29. On March 5 there is also a celebration for the transfer of his relics to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Simferopol.
Thanks for listening to the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving us a 5-star review on Itunes or whatever podcast app you use, so more people can find the Christian saints podcast and be blessed by these stories of the saints.
Like a star shining with light, O Hierarch, you shone with virtues, / and you led a blameless life, like the Angels; / therefore, you were honored with the rank of a Bishop, / but suffered much persecution from the atheists, / yet you remained unshakable in your faith, / healing many with your medical wisdom. / Therefore, your revered relics were found in the bowels of the earth, / and the Lord has glorified you, so that all the faithful may cry out to you: / "Rejoice, Father and Hierarch Luke, / the boast and bulwark of the Crimean land."