Written by Vladimir Moss



     That the crisis which nearly led to MAD should have taken place in Cuba was a function both of timing – Soviet ambitions had been thwarted in Europe, so they began to look for greener pastures elsewhere – and of that country’s geographical closeness to the United States. It can also be argued, as we shall see later, that Khrushchev aim in creating a pressure-point in Cuba, was to create still more pressure on the American position in Berlin…

     Cuba had been among the last Latin American countries to abolish slavery, in the 1880s, and had then, with American help, rebelled successfully against Spanish rule. But its development as an independent republic was troubled... 

     Fr. James Thornton writes: “In 1933, a leftist revolutionary uprising overthrew the administration of President Gerardo Machado and put Ramón Grau San Martín in power as the head of what came to be called the ‘One Hundred Days Government.’ Grau himself was a moderate reformer but was surrounded by radicals in his administration. That government was overthrown in January 1934 by Army Chief of Staff Colonel Fulgencio Batista, who installed a series of provisional governments throughout the remainder of the decade.

     “In the election of 1940, which was reportedly open and fair, Batista won the presidency. He was succeeded in office by Grau, who was elected in 1944, and Carlos Prío Socarrás, elected in 1948. Prío’s period in office was marred by a substantial increase in government corruption and political violence. Consequently, in March 1952, Batista, in concert with leaders of the military and police, seized power to prevent the country from sinking into complete chaos. The outcome of free elections in 1953, which made Batista legally the president, seemed to signal the approval of most Cubans of the coup of the previous year, since the country had grown impatient with the seemingly endless disorder.

     “About Batista’s administration one can say both bad things and good. On the bad side, corruption was not eliminated and organized crime, which had gained a considerable toehold in Cuba immediately after the Second World War, continued to thrive. On the good side, the nation enjoyed tremendous prosperity in the 1950s. Wages in Cuba were the eighth highest in the world. The country was blessed by a large and growing middle class, which constituted approximately one-third of the population. Social mobility (the ability of members of one class in the social strata to rise to higher levels) became a genuine reality. Of the working class, more than 20 percent were classified as skilled. During the Batista years, Cuba enjoyed the third-highest per-capita income in Latin America and possessed an excellent network of highways and railroads, along with many modern ports. Cubans had the highest per-capita consumption in Latin America of meat, vegetables, cereals, automobiles, telephones, and radios, and was fifth highest in the number of television sets in the world.

     “Cuba’s healthcare system was outstanding, with one of the highest numbers of medical doctors per capita in the world, the third-lowest adult mortality rate in the world, and the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America. Cuba during the 1950s spent more on education than any other Latin American country and had the fourth-highest literacy rate in Latin America.

     “President Batista built part of his following through an alliance with organized labor. As a result, workers by law worked an eight-hour day, 44 hours per week. They received a month’s paid vacation, plus four additional paid holidays per year. They were also entitled to nine days of sick leave with pay per year. In short, while things were not perfect in all of the areas just noted, they were nevertheless remarkably advanced and were gradually improving. Yet, much work remained to be done in rural regions, where poverty and the lack of a complete modern infrastructure remained a problem…

     “In July 1953, a little-known revolutionary named Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl, and a small group of rebels attacked a military barracks in the southeast of the country hoping to spark a revolution, but were defeated. The Castro brothers were captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Unfortunately for Cuba and its people, President Batista declared a general amnesty in 1955, which set the Castros free. The two then travelled to Mexico where they, in conjunction with Argentinian Marxist terrorist Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, organized a revolutionary group known as the ‘26th of July Movement,’ the aim of which was to overthrow the Cuban government and seize power. In December 1956, the group of some 82 fighters boarded a yacht and sailed to Cuba, where they were confronted by elements of Batista’s armed forces. In the ensuing clash, most of the insurgents were either killed or captured. However, the Castro brothers, Guevara, and a small group of about 12 others escaped and fled into the Sierra Maestra mountains, where they launched the beginnings of the revolution that would bring Fidel Castro to power.

     “Castro portrayed himself at that time as a devotee of democratic rule, contrasting that with Batista’s non-democratic authoritarianism, and promised American-style freedoms and an end to dictatorship. Some members of his 26th of July Movement, and even a few members of the leadership corps of that organization, were actually anti-communists, misled by Castro as to the true nature of his ultimate goals. The propaganda about a return to a representative and just government was widely believed, particularly among the poorer classes, students, and some intellectuals. Consequently, Castro’s movement grew as people hoped for an end to corruption, political upheaval, and revolutionary violence. Those people were soon to be sorely disappointed.

     “During the late 1950s, after Castro had begun his revolutionary activities in the mountains of southeastern Cuba and up until Castro grabbed the reins of power, two men served as U.S. ambassadors to Cuba: Arthur Gardner, who served from 1953 to 1957, and Earl T. Smith, who served from 1957 to 1959. In testimony before the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Ambassador Gardner declared on August 27, 1960 that ‘U.S. Government agencies and the U.S. press played a major role in bringing Castro to power.’ He also testified that Castro was receiving illegal arms shipments from the United States, about which our government was aware, while, at the same time, the U.S. government halted arms sales to Batista, even halting shipments of arms for which the Cuban government had already paid. Senator Thomas J. Dodd asked if Gardner believed that the U.S. State Department ‘was anxious to replace Batista with Castro,’ to which he answered, ‘I think they were.’

     “Ambassador Earl T. Smith testified before the same committee on August 30, 1960. He declared in his testimony that, ‘Without the United States, Castro would not be in power today.’ Smith wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in September 1979 in connection with the communist revolution in Nicaragua that put the Sandinista regime in power. Smith wished to illustrate how forces within the U.S. government brought both ultra-leftist governments to power.  He wrote: ‘After a few months as chief of mission [that is, as Ambassador to Cuba], it became obvious to me that the Castro-led 26th of July movement embraced every element of radical political thought and terrorist inclination in Cuba. The State Department consistently intervened … to bring about the downfall of President Fulgencio Batista, thereby making it possible for Fidel Castro to take over the Government of Cuba. The final coup in favor of Castro came on Dec. 17, 1958. On that date, in accordance with my instructions from the State Department, I personally conveyed to President Batista that the Department of State would view with skepticism any plan on his part, or any intention on his part, to remain in Cuba indefinitely. I had dealt him a mortal blow. He said in substance: “You have intervened in behalf of the Castros, but I know it is not your doing and that you are only following out your instructions.” Fourteen days later, on Jan. 1, 1959, the Government of Cuba fell.’

     “In Ambassador Smith’s book, The Fourth Floor, he lists the many actions by the United States that led to the fall of the Batista government. Among these were suspending arms sales, halting the sale of replacement parts for military equipment, persuading other governments not to sell arms to Batista, and public statements that assisted Castro and sabotaged Batista. These actions and many others, he wrote, ‘had a devastating psychological effect upon those supporting the [pro-American, anti-Communist] government of Cuba.’

     “Left-leaning journalists were as ubiquitous in the 1950s as they are today. One of these, New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews, interviewed Castro in February 1957, reporting that Castro ‘has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, social justice, the need to restore the Constitution, to hold elections.’ Matthews went on to say that Castro was not only not a communist, but was definitely an anti-communist. That story, and other similar stories, created a myth that Fidel Castro was actually a friend of the United States and its way of life, that he was the ‘George Washington of Cuba’ (as television entertainer and columnist Ed Sullivan called him), and that what he fought for was a program of mild agrarian reform, an end to corruption, and constitutional representative government. The myth also claimed that after his victory in January 1959, he was driven into the arms of the USSR by the uncooperative and even hostile attitude of the United States. Curiously, that myth is still repeated to this day. However, the truth about Castro is as far from that myth as possible, as we shall now see.

     “Cuba officially established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1943, during the Second World War. Among the functionaries of the Soviet staff sent to Cuba was one Gumar W. Bashirov, an official of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police (later known as the KGB). Bashirov’s job was to recruit a group of Cuban youths who, over time, could be used to subvert Cuban society and thereby advance the cause of world communism. Among those almost immediately recruited was the young Fidel Castro.

     “Castro himself admitted in an interview with leftist journalist Saul Landau that he had become a Marxist when, as a student, he first read the Communist Manifesto. For that reason he willingly became a Soviet agent in 1943, when he was only 17 years of age. After the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe in 1944-45, some of Bashirov’s young recruits were sent to Czechoslovakia for training. But the Soviets forbade Castro himself from joining the Communist Party or any communist front organizations so that he would remain untainted by such associations. Instead, they placed him in reserve, saving him for future eventualities. We see, therefore, that Fidel Castro was a Communist and a Soviet agent long before he took power in 1959.”


     “Castro’s regime,” writes Michael Burleigh, “was exceptionally popular, and would remain so for many years. He seemed to be a revolutionary nationalist, a Garibaldi or Nasser, bent on freeing Cuba from colonial shackles, rather than a totalitarian tyrant intent on creating a ‘new man’ to serve the revolution, which he defined in Guevarist terms as a process with no time limit. There was a powerful sense of new beginnings, and it was favourably noted that the new masters of Cuba were personally austere with regard to money, although of course they took their pick from among the large number of young women excited by the hot rush of liberation…”[1]

     But already in the first month the arrests, tortures, exappropriations and show trials began. “In an early indication that relations with the US would be turbulent, Fidel said that if Washington did not like these trials it could send in the Marines, and there would be ‘two hundred thousand dead gringos’. In a conversation with President Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela, he volunteered that he was thinking ‘of having a game with the gringos’. The Eisenhower administration remained unsure whether Fidel was intent on confrontation or simply raising the stakes towards an eventual settlement, even though from April 1959 onwards the new regime sponsored subversive acts in Panama, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. At a conference of US ambassadors in the Caribbean, those willing to give Castro the benefit of the doubt, including Philip Bonsal, the new man in Havana, outnumbered those favouring a hardline response. The State Department hinted that a major economic crisis assistance programme was possible, but Fidel did not pursue the offer.

     “Just before his departure on a tour of the US in April 1959, Fidel explained at a reception at the US embassy that elections could not be held before necessary agrarian reforms and general improvements in popular health and education. His unstructured visit to the US distracted from that significant shift in priorities. Predictably the was fêted at various Ivy League universities, where the spoiled offspring of the Western bourgeoisie found much to like in this tropical communitarian, so removed in spirit from the dull puritanism of Moscow or Beijing. Newspaper editors were charmed by Castro’s jokes, as were the usual suspects from the American gauche caviar. UN delegates were less enchanted when he gave the longest ever speech to the General Assembly…

     “Shortly after his return to Havana, Castro presented the cabinet with a draft Agrarian Return Law, which they were not allowed to discuss. Land over a thousand acres was to be exappropriated, in return for interest-yielding government bonds, which in the event were never issued. A National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) would run the land as co-operatives or grant sixty-seven acre plots to individual families. Foreigners could no longer own shares in sugar plantations, and ownership of refining mills was separated from the plantations. Young INRA officials with degrees but no practical experience took over virtually all the livestock farms, fecklessly butchering laying hens and dairy herds, and even a prize pedigree  bull worth $20,000. Castro dismissed cabinet members who protested against the folly, and thereafter the cabinet became irrelevant as the real business of government was conducted by decree.

     “Criticism of the growing influence of Communism was not tolerated. Castro sacked Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, the head of the Revolutionary Air Force who had flown in arms and ammunition for the revolution in 1958, and deposed President Urrutia in favour of Osvaldo Dorticós, a wealthy closet Communist. He made himself prime minister to ‘popular acclaim’, for monster rallies styled as direct democracy had become his preferred means of claiming to express the popular will. By the autumn there were more people in prison than had ever been the case under Batista, and the death penalty, abolished in 1940, was restored for counter-revolutionaries. Brother Raúl, starting with military intelligence or G2, merged the guerillas with what was left of the army to create the new Revolutionary Armed Forces. One of his first acts was to make a secret request to the Soviets to send a mission of Spanish Communist exiles who had served in the Red Army. Five KGB officers arrived to train a new secret police.

     “Shortly afterwards, when Diaz Lanz flew an aircraft over Havana dropping anti-Castro leaflets, improperly fused anti-aircraft shells fired by Cuban gunners burst on return to the ground and Fidel accused the US of complicity in ‘terror bombing’. The remaining liberals in the government were forced out, and Guevara was appointed director of the National Bank, triggering financial panic and a run on the banks. Investors withdrew over US $50 million in days. In October, Huber Matos, the military commander of Camaguey Province, attempted to resign along with forty of his officers because of Communist infiltration of the army. He was tried for ‘betraying the revolution’ and sentenced to twenty years in jail. In November the regime suspended habeas corpus indefinitely and the following month all Cubans were encouraged to become informers and to report any overheard criticism of the regime. Eventually, this was institutionalized by enrolling 800,000 people in Committees for the Defence of the Revolution.

     “And on it went, an avalanche of decrees that often contradicted each other, by accident or design making the normal conduct of business impossible as managers spent all their time trying to comply. There was also a Kulturkampf against black social clubs and Santeria religious festivals – which fused folk Catholicism with Yoruba traditions from West Africa – as well as against all private clubs and associations. The labour unions, cringingly aware that their support for Batista was a sword hanging over their heads, were taken over by the Communists, who promptly requested the abolition of the right to strike. They muffled the freedom of speech that Batista had never dared to suppress by censoring all publications. All radio and TV stations were subsumed into a state corporation. Meanwhile the militarization of Cuban society proceeded apace with the creation of a 100,000-strong militia.”[2]  

     “During the repressions of the 1960s”, write Pascal Fontaine, Yves Santamaria and Sylvain Boulouque, “between 7,000 and 10,000 people were killed and 30,000 people imprisoned for political reasons.”[3] Conditions in the prisons were appalling, torture was normal. Much of the economy was run on slave labour provided by prisoners. The massive support the country received from the Soviet Union was not able to make up for the collapse of the economy created by Guevaran economic socialism, on the one hand, and by the American embargo, on the other. 


     Cuba’s close proximity to the United States meant that the Americans could never tolerate the Castro revolution. Moreover, a large part of the population of Florida was made up of fervently anti-communist exiles from Cuba. So in April, 1961 President John F. Kennedy, using Cuban exiles, Mafia mobsters (whose businesses on Cuba had been exappropriated by Castro) and American bombers, made a bungled attempt to topple Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Many died, and America’s reputation was severely damaged. Guevara got a message out to JFK: “Thanks for Playa Girón. Before the invasion, the revolution was weak. Now it’s stronger than ever.”[4] Which was, unfortunately, quite true…

     The Bay of Pigs was followed by farcical attempts to assassinate Castro. These were organized by the CIA, whose operational division was essentially run by Bobby Kennedy, the president’s brother. 

     “Thus was created the paradox of the top law officer in the country directing an organization whose activities were legal only on rare occasions…     

     “Although forbidden by law to operate in the US, the world’s largest CIA station, codenamed JMWAVE, mushroomed on the south campus of the University of Miami, with an annual budget of $50 million. This was four times the total the CIA spent on spying in twenty Latin American countries. Disguised as Zenica Technical Enterprises, it housed 300 CIA officers, who recruited thousands of Cuban exiles as agents…”[5]

     Lawlessness was unfortunately a basic characteristic of the Kennedy brothers, whose family, some opined, was under a curse. “They learned their Realpolitik at home. Growing up a Kennedy was itself an advanced-level course. Their [very rich] father was a bootlegger, a womanizer, and an appeaser [that is, he supported the Munich agreement as US ambassador to London]. John and Robert Kennedy lost their eldest sister to a lobotomy in 1941, their eldest brother to the war in 1944, and their second sister to a plane crash in 1948. Jack Kennedy was a war hero but also a consummate cheat. His compulsive infidelity to his wife was only one of many deceptions. Throughout his political career, he concealed the severity of his medical problems (he suffered from acute back pain, hypothyroidism, and Addison’s disease, a condition that causes the adrenal glands to produce insufficient steroid hormones, and for which he needed continual cortisone injections.) He deliberately missed the Senate vote censuring Joe McCarthy, who had more than once been a Kennedy houseguest. He lied to his own brother about his decision to make Lyndon Johnson his running mate in 1960. His campaign may have called on Mafia assistance to defeat Richard Nixon that year… John F. Kennedy had won the presidency of the United States by fighting dirty, state by state…”[6]

     But of course, in Khrushchev, a murderer both during and after Stalin’s reign, Kennedy had found his match in cunning and the ability to play dirty. “Khrushchev’s motivation [in sending missiles to Cuba] was not just to defend Cuba’s experiment with Marxism, though Castro was more than happy to interpret it in that way. Nor was the Soviet leader merely trying to win a psychological victory. His strategic calculation was twofold. First, by turning Cuba into Launchpad for intermediate-range missiles directed at American target, he could narrow the gap in nuclear capability between the Soviet Union and the United States, the true nature of which the Soviets knew full well. The plan was to send forty ballistic missiles to Cuba: twenty-four medium-range R-12s (with a range of 1,050 miles, long enough to hit Washington, D.C.) and sixteen intermediate-range R-14s, which had twice that range. Both types carried one-megaton warheads. This would double the number of Soviet missiles capable of reaching the United States, and it would do it far more cheaply than the construction of new intercontinental missiles.

     “To justify this action, Khrushchev had only to look out from his Georgian holiday house at Pitsunda near Turkey, where fifteen U.S. PGM-12 Jupiter missiles had been deployed in 1961 as part of the post-Sputnik response to the imaginary missile gap. ‘What do you see?’ he would ask visitors, handing them binoculars. ‘I see U.S. missiles in Turkey, aimed at my dacha.’(The Jupiters were in fact stationed at Izmir, on the Aegean coast.) Soviet missiles on Cuba would simply give the Americans ‘a little of their own medicine’. But it is clear that Khrushchev was thinking less of Turkey than of Germany. His second objective was to checkmate the Americans in Berlin. Kennedy did not initially grasp this, but then the penny dropped: ‘whatever we do in regard to Cuba, it gives them the chance to do the same with regard to Berlin.’ A U.S. blockade of Cuba would risk a Soviet blockade of West Berlin. A U.S. attack on Cuba would risk a Soviet attack on West Berlin.

     “Operation Anadyr was in one respect a triumph of Soviet strategy. In addition to the missiles, the Soviets sent four motorized regiments, two tank battalions,  MiG-21 fighter wing, some antiaircraft gun batteries, twelve SA-2 surface-to-air missile detachments with 144 missile-launchers, and forty-two Il-28 medium jet bombers equipped with nuclear bombs. They also sent nuclear warheads for the Sopka coastal defence cruise missiles that had previously been supplied to the Cubans. This was a huge operation. Yet between September 8, when the first nuclear ballistic missile reached Cuba, and October 15, when U.S. intelligence identified the missile sites, the U.S. government was oblivious to the fact that the arms being supplied to Cuba were nuclear. Indeed, the period of ignorance might have lasted even longer – perhaps until Khrushchev’s planned visit to the United States, when he intended to reveal his masterstroke – if the Soviet troops on Cuba had thought to camouflage the launch sites, or to shoot down the U-2s that spotted them…  [7]


     The crisis this caused very nearly brought the world to nuclear war and mutually assured destrucion (MAD). Kennedy was almost alone on the American side in rejecting the option of invading Cuba, and chose instead to blockade the island. As American secretary of state Dean Rusk put it, the two superpowers had been “eyeball to eyeball” and in the end it was the Soviets who “blinked”.[8] The Soviet ships heading for Cuba with military hardware turned back in exchange for the American’s removing their Jupiter missiles from Turkey. So in fact Kennedy “blinked” too. But unlike Khrushchev he did not lose face, insofar as the “swap” of Turkish missiles for Cuban ones – a sensible one, which saved the world – was kept secret…[9]

     The decisive moment came on October 27, when Castro “went ballistic” in a metaphorical sense; having driven to the Soviet embassy, he “raved about Cuban honour and his willingness to die ‘with supreme dignity’. He spewed out a torrent of words which Soviet stenographers tried to pare down to a message for Khrushchev…

     Castro’s behaviour demonstrates the mentality of the real revolutionary: suicidal, more bent on total destruction than on the salvation of anyone – including himself and his fellow-revolutionaries. This leads us to the further conclusion that MAD is truly mad, because the true revolutionary cannot be deterred. For while at least minimally rational regimes with minimally rational leaders (like Khrushchev and Kennedy) – “rational”, that is, in the sense that they want to save at any rate their own skins, - will be deterred for a time, in the long run, as soon as a true revolutionary of the type of Bakunin or Nechaiev appears, the policy of deterrence through mutually assured destruction will lead to – mutually assured destruction…

     “Castro’s letter had a sobering effect on the Soviets. After waiting a few days, Khrushchev sent a paternal rebuke, reminding Castro that ‘above all Cuba would have been the first to burn in the fire of war’. If Castro wanted to commit suicide that was his affair: ‘We struggle against imperialism not to die but to make full use of our possibilities, so that in this struggle we win more than we lose and achieve the victory of Communism.’ Castro was so annoyed by the Soviet climbdown that he smashed a mirror… Although the crisis had abated by 29 October 1962, it took months for a settlement to be agreed. On 5 November the Alexandrovsk sailed home with its nuclear warheads, followed by MRBM warheads that had already reached Cuba. In late November the Soviets agreed to remove the Ilyushin bombers [from Cuba]. Some but not all of the tactical warheads were shipped out on Christmas Day 1962 and the remainder remained strictly under Soviet control until they too were withdrawn. In turn the US ended the naval quarantine… The Jupiters in Turkey were dismantled in April. JFK refused to make a formal pledge of non-aggression towards Cuba, reserving the right to take military action should the Castro regime persist in using the island ‘as a springboard for subversion’… 

     “There were global ramifications to events in Cuba. Chinese newspapers took the opportunity to laud Castro’s heroic resistance in bold type, while comparing Khrushchev to Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938. Given that shortly after Munich the Soviets had allied with Hitler, this was very provocative. From grudgingly and belatedly supporting China in its border war with India, the Soviets started selling India MIG-21 fighters instead. Relations between the two great Communist powers got steadily worse, while Castro joined China on a global crusade against imperialism. In later 1963 in response to an appeal from [Algeria’s] Ben Bella a battalion of Cuban troops, together with tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons arrived to support the Algerian regime in a confrontation with Morocco. It was a decisive intervention, and marked the beginning of a long period of semi-independent Cuban involvement in Africa, which tended to lead rather than follow the Soviet line…”[10]

     There were consequences in the West, too: the fact that Kennedy kept secret “the Trollope Play” (as the swap of Cuban for Turkish missiles was called) undermined trust of the Americans among their West European NATO allies. Trust plummeted further during the Vietnam War, which was just beginning. But it is difficult to argue that the loss – increased mistrust – was not outweighed by the gain: the physical salvation of mankind…


     “In the final analysis,” writes Ferguson, “Kennedy triumphed because of a mixture of luck, risk aversion, and deft public relations. He was lucky [or wise?] that he did not heed those who urged an amphibious invasion, because Khrushchev’s initial instruction to the Soviet commander in Cuba, General Issa Pliyev, on the night of October 22-23 was unambiguous: ‘If there is a [U.S.] landing, [use] the tactical atomic weapons, but [not] the strategic weapons until [there is] order.’ True, under pressure from the more cautious Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan and Defense Minister Rodion Malinovsky, he later changed this to an order to use the missiles but without nuclear warheads. Even so, he might have changed his mind in the face of a U.S. invasion, or Pliyev might have changed it for him if communication had been cut.”[11]

     So Armageddon might well have taken place if individuals had not intervened at various stages…

     Two other important interventions need to be considered. The first was the principled refusal of the second-in-command of the Soviet submarine B-59, Vasili Arkhipov, to agree with his Captain's order to launch nuclear torpedoes against US warships during the crisis. The US had been dropping depth charges near the submarine in an attempt to force it to surface, unaware it was carrying nuclear arms. The Soviet officers, who had lost radio contact with Moscow, concluded that World War III had begun, and two of the officers agreed to 'blast the warships out of the water'. Arkhipov refused to agree - unanimous consent of 3 officers was required - and thanks to him, we are here to talk about it.[12]

     The second intervention will be discounted by secular historians, but was undoubtedly the decisive one. This was the intervention of Almighty God, through the prayers of one of the great confessors of the Catacomb Church, Bishop Michael (Yershov) of Kazan. Stories about him began to seep out to the West towards the end of his life and after his death in 1974. But it was not until a full (739-page) biography of him appeared recently that his full stature and importance became apparent.

     Michael Vasilyevich Yershov was born in 1911 into a poor family. His father became a Bolshevik and beat his son, but was later converted by him and repented. In 1931, Michael was imprisoned for the first time for his rejection of the Sovietized Moscow Patriarchate. Apart from a short period in the early 1940s, he remained in the camps for the rest of his life, being transported from one end of the Gulag to the other and dying, still in prison, on June 4, 1974. He presented an astounding image of patience that converted many to the Faith. He was a wonderworker and had the gifts of healing and prophecy.

     But perhaps his most astounding miracle was worked in the Mordovian camps together with his fellow inmate and secret bishop, Basil Vasilyevich Kalinin. “It was August, 1962. The Cuban crisis! The attention of the world was glued to it, and it affected even the special section hidden in the Mordovian forests. ‘It has to be…! Khrushchev has penetrated into the bosom of the Americans!’ That was how the zeks [criminal inmates] interpreted it. People living beyond the barbed wire admitted the possibility that in time of war the local authorities would annihilate them, as the most dangerous politicals, first of all.”

     “At the special section the zeks insisted that Moscow had issued an order that in time of war the politicals and recidivists would be annihilated first of all. The Cuban crisis was soon resolved, and our camp calmed down. Many years later I heard that the fears of the zeks in 1962 had not been without foundation. They had really been threatened with annihilation at that time.”

     “In 1964, soon after the fall of Khrushchev, a colonel from the Georgian KGB came to our camp. And he said, among other things: ‘Khrushchev adopted the policy of the complete physical annihilation of the politicals, and first of all the recidivists. During the Cuban crisis everything was prepared for your shooting – even a pit was dug’.”

     Bishop Basil remembered that the holy hierarch [Michael] once unexpectedly aroused him from sleep with the words: “Six minutes are remaining. Get up, Basil, and pray! The world is in danger!” And then he learned that this was the critical moment in the Cuban crisis…[13]

     Truly, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5.16). For when the two bishops Michael and Basil prayed to the Lord, the world was saved from nuclear holocaust…

     “Let the world mock us,” wrote Bishop Michael, “but we, poor people, must give all our strength and desire in prayer to God”. “We must strictly watch over ourselves, that we do not fall under the condemnation and wrath of God. We must pour out the balsam of our strength and purity of heart whatever happens, our simple, true and holy prayer to God, which is bound by nothing except simplicity and belief in our eternal inheritance. For the Lord looks on the righteous and on their holy appeals, so that the prayer offered may be the earnest of our strength and the balsam of purification, by which the world might be preserved and the catastrophe which cannot even be expressed in words – God forbid! – might be averted.”

     “You yourselves know that a city is preserved if a righteous man is praying in it. Once the righteous man has left the city, the elements rule in the city. And so, dear ones, remember this one thing, that now is not that day on which the universe was created, and everything was brought into being, but now is the day on which danger menaces the creation…”[14]

     Besides this pure prayer of a righteous man, Bishop Michael insisted on the importance of the pure confession of the truly Orthodox Faith. “Between the Church of the Tikhonite orientation [the True Orthodox Church] and the legal church [the Moscow Patriarchate] there is the following difference. The Church of the Tikhonite orientation zealously fulfils all the laws and rules that are prescribed by the Holy Fathers, while the legal church tolerates atheism, does not struggle against iniquity, but is reconciled with it. I recognize the One Apostolic Church. The legal church recognizes Lenin and Stalin, and serves Soviet power and carries out the orders of the atheist antichrists.”[15]

     This episode reminds us that, however remote the life of the True Church seems to have been from major political events in this deeply materialist period of world history, it still exerted its influence through the Grace of God, Who holds all things, both the inner-spiritual and the external-political, in His hand. For God does not cease to steer the world directly and indirectly, through His holy angels; and the lives of all men are steered by Him without violating their freedom. The processes of Divine Providence remain shrouded in mystery to us – but they exist, whether we discern them or not.


November 8/21, 2020.

Synaxis of the Holy Archangel Michael and all the Angelic Powers.

[1] Burleigh, Small Wars, Far Away Places, London: Pan, 2013,  p. 434.

[2] Burleigh, op. cit., 434, 435, 437-438.

[3] Fontaine, Santamaria and Boulouque, “Communism in Latin America”, in Stéphane Courtois and others, The Black Book of Communism, London and Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 656.

[4] Burleigh, op. cit., p. 448.

[5] Burleigh, op. cit., p. 452.

[6] Niall Ferguson, Kissinger. 1923-1964: The Idealist, New York: Penguin, 2016, pp. 514-515.

[7] Ferguson, Kissinger, pp. 547-548.

[8] Reynolds, op. cit.

[9] Andrew and Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, London: Allen Press, 1999, pp. 235-240.

[10] Burleigh, op. cit., p. 467-468, 469.

[11] Ferguson, Kissinger, p. 556.

[12] PBS documentary, “The Man Who Saved the World”, http://video.pbs.org/video/2295274962.

[13] I.V. Ilichev, Voin Khristov Vernij i Istinnij: Tajnij Episkop IPTs Mikhail (Yershov) (Faithful and True Warrior of Christ: Secret Bishop Michael (Yershov), Moscow: Bratonezh, 2011, pp. 499-500.

[14] Ilichev, op. cit., p. 506.

[15] Ilichev, op. cit., p. 410.

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