Holy Hieromartyr Yakov (Gusev)
Yakov Ivanovich Gusev was born on October 19, 1887 into the family of priest John Theophanovich Gusev, Protopresbyter of the Seraphim-Diveyevo monastery. The Gusevs were descendants of the first monastery priest, Protopresbyter Vasily. A local priest Fr. John Smirnov baptized the newborn on the third day after his birth at the Diveyevo’s Kazan church. He was named Yakov (Russian for James), after the brother of the Lord, the Holy Apostle James.
Yakov studied at the Nizhny Novgorod seminary. Shortly before graduation, he married Elena Nikolayevna Vinogradova, who was related to Fr. John Smirnov, the priest at the Seraphim-Diveyevo monastery.
On January 30, 1911, Bishop of Nizhny Novgorod and Arzamas and Holy hieromartyr Joachim (Levitsky) ordained Yakov Gusev and appointed him to serve at the village church in Khudoshin, Ardatov District. Three years later, Father Yakov was transferred to St. Nicholas Church in Yelizaryevo, Ardatov District. Here, Father taught the Law of God at a village school.
Father Yakov Gusev settled in a house adjacent to the church. It was a large house with an enclosed entry, terrace, and covered courtyard. A Diveyevo relic was kept in the house: a piece of the granite stone Venerable Seraphim prayed upon, with a depiction of the holy elder prayerfully standing on it.
The villagers took a liking to their new priest. The priestly couple and their children were known for their kindheartedness, modesty, and unconventional, warm hospitality. Father Yakov’s parishioners knew him as a personable and approachable priest. People would come to seek his advice in all spiritual and material matters.
Father Yakov conducted church services with reverence and prayer, and heard confessions with sincere attention. The locals grew fond of listening to his sermons, which were concise and reached into everyone’s heart. Speaking softly, Father described God’s commandments in simple terms and called on people to obey them. He admonished the lost and the careless to stop being lazy but instead to work hard to the benefit of their families and to give thanks to the Lord for everything.
After the Soviets came to power, Father Yakov’s civil rights were taken away. It meant his family members were subject to a host of civil penalties: they could be evicted, exiled, deprived of food rationing rights or medical assistance, while his children could be expelled from school. Children of non-voters were not admitted to secondary schools, colleges and universities and could work for the government. More often than not, they were also stripped of their voting rights.
Father Yakov’s younger brother Protopresbyter Mikhail Ivanovich Gusev was arrested during the Seraphim-Diveyevo monastery’s dissolution in 1927. He was released two weeks later and sought another place of service while his family came to reside with Father Yakov in Elizaryevo. During that year, as Father Michael’s daughter recalled, Father Yakov’s home was crowded with the refuge-seeking relatives. Father and his wife treated everyone with love. “My life in Elizaryevo has left some sunny, warm and sweet memories; it was a joy to realize there still are such warm-hearted and generous people on earth,” recollected Father Yakov’s niece, Maria Mikhailovna Guseva.
Nun Seraphima (Bulgakova) wrote that they, the nuns from Diveyevo, hounded and chastised by all, were able to settle down in Elizaryevo. “When we walked past Elizaryevo, our monastery priest Father Mikhail came out to greet us with his brother Father Yakov. They started pleading with us to stay here with them. Both brothers were born not far from the monastery walls and loved the nuns dearly; therefore they wished they had more of us residing in Elizaryevo. On our way back from Krugly Pany settlement, they came out to greet us again. It turned out they had found a small yet winter-ready hut for us where we consented to move to. The village church held regular services on Sundays and major feasts, plus it had 40-day remembrance services. To please us, Father Yakov held services more frequently. We sang in the choir and read at church on weekdays. Father Alexander Sokolov, the son of another monastery priest, served as our deacon and reader. All three priests studied at the Diveyevo vocational school and loved the monastery as their spiritual home, standing trials with us and supporting us spiritually and materially. Father Yakov, for example, would customarily go to the market and, upon his return, drop off things like potatoes or milk at our door. Or, if we visited them, he and his matushka would give us everything: bread, milk, honey and berries – so much that we could hardly carry the load. It made our life a lot easier.” With the blessing of the brothers Gusev, blessed elder Maria Ivanonva was moved from the village of Puzo to Elizaryevo.
Soviet authorities continually mistreated Father Yakov. They would accuse him of opposing a village radio antenna installation one day and anti-Soviet activism among the needy villagers the next, or of organizing the break-up of a local collective farm. In 1930, he was arrested and taken into custody at Gorky (formerly and currently, Nizhny Novgorod) jail. In 1931, he was arrested again and his family dispossessed. Yet another arrest followed in 1935. The priest was accused of instigating parishioners to collect signatures against their church’s closure for its subsequent use as a granary. During interrogations, all the elderly women would unanimously declare: “No one sent us, we did it ourselves,” so their priest was not convicted.
On November 20, 1937, Father Yakov was detained in his church. Not allowed to step inside his own house, he was taken to the Arzamas jail. Later that same day, his younger brother Protopresbyter Michail was executed in Gorky.
Protopresbyter Yakov Gusev was found guilty of anti-Soviet activities and interrogated once more. Throughout the interrogations, Father Yakov conducted himself with dignity and courage and pleaded not guilty.
On November 24, 1937, the indictment was signed and his case submitted for consideration before the NKVD troika of Gorky Province. On December 2, Protopresbyter Yakov Gusev was sentenced for execution and his property was subject to confiscation. He was executed in Gorky on December 26, 1937.
The Holy Synod ruled to add the holy hieromartyr Yakov Gusev to the community of holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia for their universal veneration.