St Maxim (Sandovich), martyr of Lemkos, Czechoslovakia (1914) (August 24 OC)
St Maxim was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1888. At this time all Orthodox Churches had been captured and subjected to the “Unia,” by which, though keeping the Orthodox liturgical rites, they were united to the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the Carpatho-Russian people were ignorant of the change and what it meant; others were unhappy with it but, in their subject condition, saw no alternative. Maxim’s farmer parents, at great personal sacrifice, obtained an education for him that enabled him to study for the priesthood at the Basilian seminary in Krakow. Here he discerned the un-Orthodox nature of the “Greek Catholic” training there and traveled to Russia, where he became a novice at the Great Lavra of Pochaev and met Archbishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who encouraged him in his quest for Orthodoxy. (Archbishop Anthony, after the Russian Revolution, became the first Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad). He entered seminary in Russia in 1905 and was ordained to the Priesthood in 1911.Metropolitan Anthony, knowing the hardships and persecutions that awaited any Orthodox priest in Austro-Hungary, offered to find Maxim a parish in Russia. But Maxim was already aware of the hunger for Orthodoxy among many of the Carpatho-Russian people; several people from his village had travelled to America and while there had attended Orthodox Churches and confessed to Orthodox priests. They begged him to return to his country and establish an Orthodox parish there.
When he returned to his native village of Zhdynia, the polish authorities, seeing him in the riassa, beard and uncut hair of an Orthodox priest, mocked him, saying “Look, Saint Nicholas has come to the Carpathians!” But the people of nearby Hrab sent a delegation asking him to set up an Orthodox parish in their village. This he did, setting up a house-church in the residence that the people gave him. Almost immediately, he and his people began to be harassed and persecuted, first at the instigation of “Greek Catholic” priests, then of the government. His rectory/church was closed, and he and several of his parishioners were repeatedly jailed, sometimes on trumped-up charges of sedition. (The Carpatho-Russian people were always suspected of pro-Russian political sympathies by the Austrian and Polish authorities).
Despite these persecutions, through Fr Maxim’s labors a wave of desire for Orthodoxy spread through the region, with many Carpatho-Russians openly identifying themselves as Orthodox. The government issued orders to regional mayors to forbid those who had identified themselves as Orthodox to gather and, in 1913, appointed a special commissioner whose task was to force the people to return to Catholicism.
In 1914, war broke out between Russia and Austro-Hungary. Despite lack of any evidence that Fr Maxim had engaged in pro-Russian political activity — he once said “My only politics is the Gospel” — he was arrested and executed on September 6 by the Papal calendar, August 24 by the Church Calendar. He was denied any form of Church burial, and his father buried him with his own hands.
Following the First World War, Orthodoxy became legal in the new Polish Republic, and a monument was placed over Fr Maxim’s grave in his home town of Zhdynia. In 1994, the Orthodox Church of Poland officially glorified St Maxim.