Martyr For The Faith Of The Fathers:

Father Maksym Sandovych

The martyr, Father Maksym Sandovych, is for thousands of Lemko Rusyns who are mostly scattered throughout the world, a symbol of their tragic destiny and an example of their unshakable devotion to the Faith of the Fathers. Father Maksym appears also as their guide in their desire for spiritual unity. Notwithstanding the fact that many years have passed since that ever-memorable day of September 6, 1914, when Father Maksym was cruelly murdered in Gorlice, his veneration has grown and has united many Orthodox believers in Poland and abroad, regardless of the national background of the people.

For many Greek Catholics, Father Maksym was and is spiritually dear to them because in reality their religious ties were always closer to Holy Orthodoxy than to Roman Catholicism. This came about because although formally they were under the Church of Rome, the roots of their Faith and the early tradition of their fathers was foremost in their hearts. The attacks throughout all ages and from all directions which caused spiritual heaviness on the hearts, souls, and minds of the Lemkos, was the Latinization of their tradition, and the process of converting them to become Ukrainians, while ignoring the fact that they were of a different nation, having their own tradition.

Father Maksym Sandovych was a great son of the mountain lands known as Lemkovyna, which is situated on both sides of the Carpathian Mountains. This area extends like a narrow chain from the Poprad River on the west to the San and Uzh Rivers. The mountains, which are thickly covered with many forests and many clear lakes and rivers, make this land especially beautiful.

At the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century when Father Maksym Sandovych lived and labored, Lemkovyna was a part of Galicia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungary monarchy. More than six hundred thousand Rusyns lived there and their spoken language was very close to Old Slavonic. The Christian Faith was accepted by the Lemkos from the great Enlighteners of the Slavs, Saints Cyril and Methodius of Moravia, in the latter half of the ninth century. The Byzantine Rite, which was also known as the Russian Faith, was preserved by them unchanged for a period of one thousand years. It was the political aspect of the Union of Brest and not the religious desire of the people that removed the Church in the lands of the Lemkos from the Orthodox See of Constantinople and placed it under the domination of Roman Catholicism. This was the beginning of the spiritual unrest within the souls and minds of the Rusyn Lemkos. An especially difficult period began in Galicia in the eighteenth century when the Latinization of the Eastern Rite began. This act of Latinization brought about the rebirth of the consciousness of Holy Orthodoxy, and of their desire to return to the source of their Orthodox Faith. The martyr, Father Maksym Sandovych, appeared as a symbol of their aspiration.

Father Maksym Sandovych was born on January 31/19, 1886, in Zhdynja, near the county seat of Gorlice. The father of Father Maksym (Timothy) had a large prosperous farm and also was a church cantor. His mother Christina, was a humble village woman. After completing a four-year course in Gorlice, Father Maksym was sent by his father to high school in Jaslo, and later to Novy Sacz, where he lived in a Russian dormitory called Bursa that was supported by the Lemkos. After completing a four-year high school course, he entered into a monastery of the Basilian Fathers in Hrekove. During his youth Maksym enjoyed fasting and contemplation, and because of this he quickly came to the conclusion that this particular monastery was not for him. He then entered the Orthodox Monastery in Pochaev in 1904, which was widely known for the ascetical life of the monks. The rigor and atmosphere of the monastic lifeat the monastery was very suitable for him. He distinguished himself from the others because of his great love for God, and became an example to others and gained the admiration of the Elders of the monastery. On one of his visits to the monastery, Bishop Anthony Khrapovitsky of Volyn selected Maksym, because of his outstanding conduct to enter the theological seminary in Zhitomir, where he studied for six years. Upon completing his seminary studies and getting married to Pelagija Ivanovna Hryhorjuk, Maksym accepted ordination to holy priesthood on November 17, 1911, by the laying on of hands of Bishop Anthony of Volyn.

The priestly labors of Father Maksym began in the village of Hrab, where on December 2, 1911, he served the first Orthodox divine liturgy. From that moment was the beginning of his persecution and suppression. For the first divine liturgy that he celebrated he was disciplined by the Starosta (warden) of the Jaslo region and was fined four hundred Koruny and placed under arrest for eight days. This action did not discourage him. He continued his pastoral mission, visiting the cities of Hrab, Vyshovatka and Dovhe. Even though each time he was arrested and also fined. The same form of terror and discrimination was used against the faithful that participated in the divine services or made their homes available for prayer services. The acts of terror of the Austrian authorities against Father Maksym increased with each passing day. At the end, when they saw that Father Maksym continued to remain unshakable in his mission, they arrested him in March, 1912, and imprisoned him in the city of Lvov. During this time. they also arrested three others: Priest Ihnatij Hudyma, student Basil Koldra and journalist Symeon Bendasjuk. All of them were condemned as spies for Russia.

Following his arrest, Father Maksym was treated very badly and the prison officials refused to respect his priesthood. His priestly cross was tom from his neck, his priestly service book confiscated, and his priestly cassock removed. In such a manner they deprived him of the possibility of celebrating divine services. In addition, they placed him in a prison cell with regular prisoners, making a mockery of his Orthodox priesthood. In accordance with prison rules, he was unable to receive mail, was deprived of having any contact with other Orthodox prisoners, and was denied writing paper to prevent him from corresponding with people outside the prison. In the end, as a final act of humiliation, Father Maksym was tried before the judge and jury in the presence of a crowd of sensational spectators in an auditorium.

It appeared that perhaps the simplicity, humility, and the soft pleasing voice of Father Maksym would create a problem for him as he attempted to defend himself and the other Orthodox people of Galicia, instead, all of these personal characteristics made a great impression on the people that met him, including the judge, drawing them to the conclusion that a person of such good character must be innocent. During an intense and emotional trial in Lvov which lasted from March 9 to June 6, 1914, and in the presence of many foreign correspondents, the jury unanimously decided that all charges were false, thus proving the defendant innocent. On June 7, 1914, Father Maksym, already in failing health, left the prison and returned to his native village of Zhydnia where he was greeted by his family and relatives. Here, he lived only six weeks continuing his pastoral mission.

Shortly thereafter, World War I began, and the Austrian officials arrested Father Maksym, his pregnant wife, Pelagia, and his father, Timothy. They were taken on August 28, 1914, to the prison in Gorlice. The morning of September 6, Father Maksym was taken before the court martial judge of the armed forces, where he was sentenced to death before a firing squad. He was taken to the courtyard by the police officer Dietrich. Father Maksym was placed at the wall with his hands lied in back of him before five members of the firing squad. They marked the area of his heart with chalk. As this was taking place, from the windows of the prison were heard cries, weeping, and screams of the Lemko Rusyn prisoners. At the command of officer Dietrich, the soldiers positioned their rifles. Father Maksym loudly exclaimed MAY ORTHODOXY LIVE! The soldiers fired but the shots failed to bring about the instant death of Father Maksym. Officer Dietrich them came to the already fallen Father Maksym and with his revolver fired the final death shots to his head. After the death of Father Maksym, the Lemko Rusyn inmates stopped their crying and screaming and began to pray and sing LORD HAVE MERCY!

The body of Father Maksym was buried originally in the cemetery in Gorlice. At the request of his father, Timothy, in 1922 his body was exhumed and placed in a new metal coffin and buried in the cemetery in his native Zhdynia.

The fate of the family of the martyred Father Maksym is the thorny path of all the Lemko Rusyns. Following the execution of Father Maksym, his pregnant wife, Pelagia Sandovych, together with his father, Timothy, were taken to the concentration camp in Talerhof (Austria). The son of Father Maksym , four year old Sergius, was taken by the departing Russian army deep into Russia. While in the concentration camp, Matrushka Pelagia gave birth to her second son, and named him Maksym after his father.

In 1937, the young Maksym Sandovych, following his marriage to Tatiana from the home of Galle, accepted ordination to the Holy Priesthood by the laying on of hands of Metropolitan Dionysius in Warsaw. He continued to his death on July 8, 1991, the pastoral mission of his father, the martyred Priest Maksym Sandovych, serving the Faith of the Fathers - Holy Orthodoxy.

Alive In Christ - Volume X, No. 1 Spring, 1994

View photos of the canonization of Father Sandovych

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