Hieromartyr Kirill, Metropolitan of Kazan and Sviyazhsk (Konstantin Smirnov Ilarionovich in the world) was born in the family of a Church reader April 26, 1863, in the city of Kronstadt, St. Petersburg Province.
In 1887, Konstantin graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy as a candidate of theology. On November 21, 1887, he was ordained a priest and assigned to the Church of the Resurrection of the Temperance Society in St. Petersburg, while at the same time performing the duties of catechist at Elisavetpol Gymnasium and the Second Gymnasium of St. Petersburg.
In 1900, Fr. Konstantine was appointed rector of the Kronstadt-Holy Trinity Cemetery Church. He served for 15 years as a priest. The unexpected death of little Olga, who painfully died from swallowing a needle, and after that of his wife, who did not survive the grief, led 38-year-old Fr. Konstantine to become a monk in 1902. Soon he was appointed to the post of head of the Ecclesiastical Mission in Urmia in Persia and elevated to the rank of archimandrite.
On August 6, 1904, Archimandrite Kirill was consecrated Bishop of Gdov, vicar of the St. Petersburg diocese. Wanting people to more fully participate in the liturgy, Vladyka introduced congregational singing during the service at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
Before his death, St. John of Kronstadt requested that the young Bishop Kirill, whom he knew from his ministry in Kronstadt, serve his burial service. From 1908 to 1928, Vladyka governed the Tambov and Shatsk diocese. He strove to visit as often as possible the most remote places of his diocese for the sake of communication with his flock. In 1913, he was elevated to the rank of archbishop. In 1914, through the labor of Vladyka, St. Pitirim of Tambov was glorified as a saint (July 28).
The firmness Vladyka's faith was revealed in this episode: when, on the orders of the sanitary commission in connection with the cholera epidemic in 1909, there was an order to bless only boiled water at Theophany, Vladyka refused to do so and blessed river water. It is remarkable that the same conviction was said in one of his last letters of March 8, 1937: "Everything that is not of faith is sin."
During the events of February 1917, Vladyka warned from the ambon: "If we do not take regard for our past, then we will write a page in its history that those following will read with shame on their face and will be ready to tear it out, but there are no scissors with which one can cut anything from the memory of history."
During the war, on the initiative of the hierarch, fundraising for the needs of the front, hospitals in monasteries, orphanages for children whose parents had died, and various committees for assistance to soldiers was organized.
At the Local Council of the Russian Church, Vladyka was nominated in the second place among 25 candidates for the patriarch. He was also elected a member of the Holy Synod under Patriarch Tikhon.
On March 19, 1918, he was appointed to the Tiflis and Baku Metropolitanate as well as to the position of Exarch of the Caucasus, but he was not able to go to his post. In 1919, he was arrested in Moscow on charges of "counter-revolutionary propaganda by sending appeals and for relations with Kolchak and Denikin" and was imprisoned under the Cheka.
In 1920, after his release, he was appointed to the Kazan and Sviyazhsk Diocese, but was arrested again a month later in Kazan on charges that he "went from Moscow to Kazan without permission of the Cheka." Vladyka was sentenced to imprisonment in camp for 5 years. In the Moscow Taganka prison, he was in the same cell with Hieromartyr Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeevsky) and Bishop Gury (Stepanov). In 1921, he was released under an amnesty and returned to Kazan; however, he was again arrested in 1922, and, after imprisonment in Moscow, was exiled to Ust-Sysolsk (now Syktyvkar).
In the Moscow prison, he shared a cell with a Hieromartyr Thaddeus, Archbishop of Astrakhan (commemorated December 18). Together they wrote an appeal to the faithful about the "Living Church," which was sent throughout Russia. Then Vladyka was exiled to Ust-Kulom (Komi A.O.), where he was with Bishop Athanasius (Sakharov), and later he was transferred to the city Kotelnich of the Vyatka region. There is evidence that the Head of the State Political Directorate (GPU) E.A. Tuchkov from Ust-Kulom called Metropolitan Kirill to Moscow for talks, offering to "negotiate," that is, to make compromises, but this attempt ended in failure for the government.
In 1924, Vladyka returned from exile and met in Moscow with Patriarch Tikhon and successfully persuaded him to abandon the reconciliation and cooperation with the renovator V. Krasnitsky. The GPU was imposing these actions on the patriarch, promising to release hierarchs from prison. About these promises, Vladyka said: "Your Holiness, do not think about us bishops. We are now only fit for prison..." After hearing this, the patriarch crossed out the surname Krasnitsky from the signed paper.
From Moscow, Vladyka moved to near Yelsk, then Perervolok. By testamentary disposition of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon of December 25, 1924, Vladyka was appointed the first candidate for the post of Patriarchal Locum Tenens. Soon Vladyka was again sent into exile, and for this reason, after the death of Patriarch Tikhon, he could not accept the position of Locum Tenens, and the Hieromartyr Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky) became Locum Tenens.
In 1926, the idea of a secret election of the patriarch appeared among the episcopate. For the election of Metropolitan Kirill, whose exile had ended, were collected 72 signatures of bishops (there was only one for Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky)). Thus, Metropolitan Kirill was elected patriarch, but his enthronement did not take place, as the GPU found out about this action.
Tuchkov, when he learned the results of the vote, said that he would allow the enthronement of Metropolitan Kirill to the patriarchal throne only with the condition that Vladyka would follow his instructions in the future when he appointed bishops. Vladyka answered, "Evgenii Alekseevich, you are not a cannon and I am not a shell with which you hope to destroy the Russian Church."
Soon a wave of arrests followed. Metropolitan Kirill, who was in exile, was arrested and was imprisoned in Vyatka. Vladyka was additionally sentenced to 3 years in exile and was sent in April 1927 to the village of Hantayka of Turukhansk district of the Krasnoyarsk Region and then to Yeniseysk.
After the issue in 1927 of the Declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, Vladyka cut off communication with him, as he did not want to participate in what his "conscience...recognized as sinful." In the Provisional Patriarchal Holy Synod approved by Metropolitan Sergius, he saw a threat to the integrity of the patriarchal system and its replacement with collective management.
In the ecclesiastical administrative activities of Metropolitan Sergius, Vladyka (as did Locum Tenens, Hieromartyr Metropolitan Peter (Polyansky)) saw an exceeding of the powers conferred on him by the title of Deputy Locum Tenens, which resulted in a split in the Church. Vladyka considered the preservation of the central church authority at such a price to be pointless and harmful. At a time when the legal organization of the central administrative and ecclesiastical power is not possible, and when it became clear that "Metropolitan Sergius is ruling the Church without the guidance of Metropolitan Peter," he urged to be directed by the decree of Patriarch Tikhon of November 20, 1920, according to which the bishops were to create local self-governance, with the understanding that they would report on its activities to the Church Council later under more favorable conditions.
From May to November 1929, Vladyka carried out correspondence with Metropolitan Sergius, trying to convince him to leave the pernicious way of compromise. These letters of Vladyka, deeply thought-out and well-reasoned, reveal the spiritual and moral core of the problem.
Metropolitan Sergius replied with threats of canonical censure, requiring preservation of church discipline. Vladyka, on the other hand, defending those who professed their disagreement with the ecclesiastical policy of the deputy locum tenens, unwilling "to participate in what their conscience acknowledged as sinful," thus responded to this demand: "This confession is imputed to them as violation of Church discipline, but discipline is capable of retaining its validity only as long as it is an effective reflection of the hierarchical conscience of the catholic Church, and replacing this conscience with discipline is not possible. For only discipline proclaims her demands not because of the strength of those indications of the conscience but according to convictions alien to the Church or disingenuous, as the individual hierarchical conscience certainly will be on guard of the catholic-hierarchical principle of the existence of the Church, which is not the same thing as external 'union no matter what.'" In December 1929, Metropolitan Sergius brought Vladyka to a court of bishops and dismissed him from the Kazan Diocese.
From 1932, Vladyka was in exile in the Turukhansk region, where night lasts for six months, broken only by the Northern Lights, and the inhabitants are cut off from the outside world: no letters, no papers, no parcels. The temperature is sometimes -60 degrees Celsius, there is a short, polar summer with a myriad of painful mosquitos, scurvy, lack of basic necessities... Such are the conditions in exile beyond the Arctic Circle... Many exiled bishops lived here in small villages far away from each other, so they could not see one another. Vladyka was only able to briefly carry out communication with Hieromartyr Bishop Damascene (Tsedrik), and they become friends forever from that time.
After his release in August 1933, Vladyka briefly lived in the town of Gzhatsk. Like-minded clergy implored Vladyka to assert his rights and to take on the burden of directing the suffering Church. But Vladyka considered it impossible for him to do so before he fully grasped the situation. In 1934, Vladyka arrived in Moscow and came to the Patriarchate. A stern guard blocked his entrance, but the tall, once powerful metropolitan, pushed him aside and stepped into the office of Metropolitan Sergius. A few moments later Vladyka came out; apparently, it all became clear. This was their last meeting.
Soon, in the summer of 1934, he was arrested in Gzhatsk on charges of "counter-revolutionary activities" and imprisoned in inner isolation at Butyrka prison in Moscow. Vladyka was sentenced to 3 years of exile in the village of Yany-Kurgan (South Kazakhstan region). Nearby Metropolitan Joseph (Petrov) lived in exile, and the two elder-Metropolitans were comforted by at least some possibility of communication. "With Metropolitan Joseph," Vladyka wrote, "I am in brotherly communion, gratefully appreciating that it was with his blessing that the Petrograd Diocese made the first protest against the undertaking of Metropolitan Sergius, giving caution to all of the impending danger."
Vladyka, according to his loyal follower-confessor Bishop Afanasii (Sakharov, commemorated October 15), allowed non-attendance of "Sergianist" churches in protest, but, at the same time, he condemned the blasphemy of unreasonable zealots against the Divine services there. For himself, he allowed only in case of extreme need to confess before a "Sergian" priest. In a letter in 1929, Vladyka wrote: "the substitution of power by him (Metropolitan Sergius), of course, cannot be called a falling away from the Church, but it is undoubtedly the gravest sin of downfall. I will not call the performer of sin to be without grace, but I will not participate with them in communion nor bless others, since I have no other way to rebuke a brother who has sinned." He directly wrote Metropolitan Sergius: "In the fullness of my abstention, I relate only to you but not as regards ordinary clergy and, more so, laity. Among ordinary clergy, there are very few conscious ideologists of your church activities." However, "for those who are well aware of the falsehood in Sergianism," Vladyka wrote in 1934, "... my non-resistance to it is understood as criminal indifference to the desecration of the Church."
But this soft stance of Vladyka was somewhat hardened in the last years of his life, perhaps, by the association with Hieromartyr Metropolitan Joseph (Petrov), as well as the fact that the waiting time had ran out for the repentance of Metropolitan Sergius in the disastrous course of church policy.
On July 7, 1937, Vladyka was arrested in exile and imprisoned in Chimkent (Shymkent). During the interrogation, during which he was accused of "leading all the counter-revolutionary clergy," Vladyka courageously took full responsibility for the allegations. On November 6, he was convicted by a troika of the NKVD and sentenced to death.
On November 7/20, Vladyka was shot at Lisiy ravine near Chimkent with Hieromartyr Metropolitan Joseph (Petrov) and Bishop Eugene (Kobranov).
Metropolitan Kirill is one of the most outstanding hierarchs in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. This archpastor with particular spiritual strength was sent by the Lord in an era of unprecedented persecution as an example of firmness in the confession of faith. He was an irreproachable hierarch that combined prayerful podvig with archpastoral activities, the dignity of high rank with true simplicity, humility, and love. In all areas of his service, Vladyka manifested his particular gift: people were attracted by his spiritual beauty and indestructible faith.
P.S. Vladyka Kirill lived 37 years in the 19th century and 37 in the 20th century. Twenty years of his life were in the Soviet period, but only 4.5 years of those were in freedom. The martyrdom of Vladyka Kirill took place on the threshold of his 50th anniversary of his ordained ministry.