Priest John Rusanovich was born in 1875 in the village of Gogolev, Chernigov province (now Brovara region, Kiev province) in the family of an Orthodox priest, Fr. Simeon, the rector of the Gogolev church of the Nativity of the Mother of God. Fr. Simeon’s second son, Alexander, also served as a priest in the Holy Trinity church in Brovara, and then took the place of his father in Gogolev, dying during the famine in 1933. Fr. Alexander’s son, Demetrius, who finished his studies at the Kiev theological seminary, was shot by the NKVD on May 26, 1938. His daughter, Tatyana Dmitrievna passed on what we know about her grandfather, Fr. John.
From 1902 he worked in the post and telegraph in Kiev. In 1906 he was ordained to the priesthood and served in the church of SS. Peter and Paul in Brovara, at the same time that his brother was serving in the Holy Trinity church in the same town. In the 1920s, Fr. John moved to the village of Ploskoye, where he served as rector of the local church. He did not recognize the God-hating regime, nor the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius. The church in Ploskoye was closed by the Bolsheviks, and in 1934 Fr. John illegally moved to his native village of Gogolev, and into his father’s house. Having survived the famine of the early 1930s, Fr. John organized a catacomb house church in his father’s house, where he illegally carried out services, baptized children and conducted meetings of the believers.
On August 25, 1938 Fr. John was arrested by the Brovara branch of the NKVD, having been denounced by the president of the village soviet. At the moment of his arrest he was 63 years old, while his wife, Antonina Alexandrovna, was 58.
Fr. John was tortured in order to extract from him a confession that he was a spy. But the torturers did not succeed in breaking him.
One villager said of him: “Rusanovich is by conviction an ardent monarchist and a great anti-Semite. He spread rumours about a coming war. His flat was a meeting place for all kinds of counter-revolutionary elements. He organized an illegal church in his house, where he carried out various rites. I personally told the village soviet about these facts concerning the counter-revolutionary activity of Rusanovich… He spread counter-revolutionary defeatist rumours. He said that it was written in the heavens: ‘The hour of recompense is coming.’”
Fr. John did not deny this witness, but said: “Yes, the hour of recompense is coming. I confirm that.”
He also said during interrogation: “Soviet power is not in a condition to re-educate the consciousness of people. It thinks that it will kill religion in the people, but this is incorrect, the people believed and will believe. Take the poll of 1936: 75% of the population registered themselves as believers, but since this is not useful to Soviet power, it will carry out the poll again, to distort the truth.”
“Yes, I said that we are living in poverty, in hunger and cold. Moreover, they are taking from us our spiritual food – the Church and faith, persecuting it in every way. Yes, I confirm, I said that the devil will come with this power. Take 1933. At that time the government specially created a famine so as to kill 22 million people. Soviet power is quiet about that, but the people remembers and will not forget.”
“Yes, I carried out religious rites – the baptism of children, so that they should have God’s defence, I served molebens and services in my house and said about the collective farms that it was system that could not sustain life, that it would lead to the impoverishment of the collective farmers. Yes, I stirred up the religious feelings of the peasants, and told them to believe in God, otherwise they would perish.”
The investigator said: “In 1932 you told Marta Savelenko and Olga Savelenko that Hitler would soon come to power.”
“You decline to give exhaustive statements about your counter-revolutionary activity. While under arrest, you carried out counter-revolutionary activity in your cell. Tell me about that.”
“Yes, those arrested in the cell were interested to know what it was like in freedom and what was known about the lot that awaited them. I replied to this interest: the Soviet Union can expect the same lot that Austria and Czechoslovakia received. The red army will undoubtedly not be able to withstand the technology and might of Germany. Yes, I said that in the USSR the army is undisciplined, and its technology weak. Soviet power is itself created enemies for itself, it is taking food from the peasants, and now we are even sending industrial goods to Spain and China, everything that is best in the country we are sending there, while we ourselves sit hungry and in rags.”
“Yes, I said that Germany is intending to attack the Soviet Union, while our army is incapable of repelling it. The communist ranks are so unqualified. Let me cite just one fact: the Soviet government has appealed to Manchuria for officers of the tsarist army to return to Russia and command the Red Army, and from this it follows that war will not be today or tomorrow. The arrestees who were listening to me completely trusted me, especially with respect to questions relating to the international situation.”
The investigator: “You told Alexander Voloshin, Daria Strokach and Maria Kakun that Soviet power will not exist for ever?”
Reply: “Yes, I spoke about this while we were reading the newspapers together. I confirm that I said that when cultured and literate people come to power, they will remember us and justify us. The hour of recompense is coming – that is written in the heavens.”
On October 9, 1938 the Brovara NKVD declared that the investigation had established that Fr. John was “a priest of Old Slavic monarchist orientation, who conducted counter-revolutionary propaganda. Exciting the religious feelings of the population, he drew into his group the servants of the cult Basil Kvyatkovsky of the village of Svitilnoye, Theodosius Platonov of the village of Rusanov, Pogrebovsky of the village of Lemeshi, Kozeletsk region, Gabriel Polyansky of the village of Gogolov (all of whom have been condemned).
“Each Sunday, under the guise of serving a moleben, he gathered in his house believers from the surrounding villages, such as Agathon Krkun, Ulyana Davidovna Borispolets, Euthemia Shevel, Christina Osmak, all from Gogolev, Pavlenko, Roman Lusta and others.
“In 1932 he told Alexander Voloshin, Daria Strokach and Maria Kakun that they should believe in God. He conducted conversations on the same subject with the inhabitants of the village of Gogolev, Marta and Olga Savelenko.
“While in his cell, Rusanovich conducted counter-revolutionary religious propaganda. His anti-Soviet activity is confirmed by the statements of witnesses and eyewitnesses.”
Fr. John’s last interrogations were conducted in his cell, since as a result of numerous tortures and beatings he was unable to walk. Since Fr. John categorically refused to name those who thought like him and give statements about them, the chekist executioners tortured him with refined cruelty. In the prison of the NKVD he was crippled and became an invalid. But they were not able to break him or make him give away the name of those who thought like him.
On Christmas Day, January 7, 1939, Fr. John’s last interrogation took place. He was placed opposite F.R. Logvinenko from Gogolev, who confirmed that he had baptized children. The next day, at 6 a.m., Fr. John died in the prison hospital of Kiev.
(Source: “’Chas Rasplaty nastupit –tak napisano v Nebesakh. Muchenicheskij podvig katakomgnogo pastyrya o. Ioanna Rusanovicha, prorocheski predskazavshego prikhod k vlasti Gitlera i vojnu Germanii s SSSR”, www.catacomb.org.ua/modules.php)