Fr. Dimitry Klepinin and Yuri
Fr. Dimitry was closely associated with Mother Maria, as he was sent to serve at her chapel in 1939, when he was thirty-five years old. He was a modest man and source of strength for Mother Maria and her son Yuri during those difficult years.
Fr. Dimitry was born in 1904 in Piatigorsk, Russia, to a devout Orthodox family. His father was an architect. After the family moved to Odessa, his mother Sophia established an Orthodox school and worked among the poor in Odessa. She was imprisoned in 1919 by a group called the Cheka, which would later become the KGB. She was, however, released after a short time.
In an article published online at
Figure 15-2: Fr. Dimitry Klepinin
Ironically, the death of his mother in 1923 brought him back to the faith. He described his experience at her grave in a letter to a friend, “For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of suffering, when I realized that everything I hoped for in life had evaporated… I recalled the words of the Lord, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,’ I went to my mother's grave with a heavy load of worldly sorrows, everything seeming so muddled up and forlorn, and suddenly ‘I found the light yoke’ of Christ.”
In 1929, Dimitry graduated from the St. Serguis Theological Institute in Paris. Later, he was involved with the Russian Student Movement. He married Tamara Feodorovna Baimakova in 1937 and was ordained later that same year. Two years later he was called to serve at the parish of the Protection of the Mother of God, the shelter established by Mother Maria.
Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, married men are allowed to be ordained as priests, although they may not marry (or remarry) after they have been ordained. Within the Roman Catholic Church, married men have been barred from ordination since the Middle Ages.
By 1942, Jews began to come to him, seeking baptism. He spent hours teaching them about the faith. Later, he was asked to issue false baptismal certificates. Although he never baptized anyone who did not show a genuine desire to be baptized, he willingly created the false baptismal certificates, saying, “In all times the Church has been a refuge for those who fall victim to barbarism.”
On February 8, 1943, Nazi security police found a letter in Yuri's pocket that contained another request for Fr. Dimitry to create a false baptismal certificate. Fr. Dimitry was required to come for questioning before the Gestapo.
The following morning, Fr. Dimitry served liturgy in a small chapel dedicated to St. Philip (a martyr-bishop who had been killed for protesting the crimes of Ivan the Terrible). He then walked to the Gestapo offices where he was interrogated. He immediately admitted everything, surprising the German officer, Hoffman, who had assumed he would have to work to get the details out of Fr. Dimitry. In a
Hoffman said curtly, “And if we release you, will you promise never again to aid Jews?”
Fr. Dimitry answered, “I can say no such thing. I am a Christian, and must act as I must.”
Hoffman stared at him in disbelief for a moment, and then struck Fr. Dimitry across his face. “Jew Lover!” he screamed. “How dare you talk of those pigs as being a Christian duty!”
The frail Fr. Dimitry recovered his balance. Staying calm, he raised the cross from his cassock and faced Hoffman with it.
“Do you know this Jew?” he said quietly.
The blow he received knocked him to the floor.
After six more hours of interrogation, the soldiers came to the house to arrest Mother Maria. They told her, “Your priest has sentenced himself.” Fr. Dimitry then said goodbye to his wife and two children, one four years old and the other six months old. He asked his wife to look after an elderly woman who lived nearby. Only later did the family come to understand why his visits to this lady were so lengthy: he used to chop wood for her, build her a fire, and bring her food and cook it for her.
Life in the Camp
Fr. Dimitry, Yuri, and their coworker Ilya Fondaminsky were transferred to a camp called Compiegne. There Fr. Dimitry helped prepare Yuri for the priesthood. Tamara was able to send Fr. Dimitry his vestments and service books, and working together with other prisoners, they created a small chapel, complete with hand-painted icons, an altar table, a hand-carved cross, and a chalice. Eucharist was celebrated daily and the Orthodox and Roman Catholics held alternate services there. Ilya Fondaminsky, a Jew, was finally baptized in their chapel. Afterward he wrote to a friend that he was “Ready for anything, whether life or death.”
In January of 1944, Fr. Dimitry and Yuri were sent to a camp at Dora where they both became ill. Yuri developed furunculosis — his skin was covered in boils. His illness caused him to be sentenced to death. Fr. Dimitry died four days later, from pneumonia.
Just before his death, an old friend brought him his monthly note card on which he could write a short message to his loved ones. He just stared at the card, and then looked up at his friend. There were no more words. He died later that evening.
After being liberated in 1945, fellow prisoner Pianov wrote of Fr. Dimitry, “I can say that that year with Fr. Dimitry was a godsend. From my experience with him, I learned to understand what enormous spiritual, psychological and moral support one man can give others as a friend, companion and confessor.”