“The person of the late Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis lit up in a very peculiar light in the life of Lithuania, which spread not only over the lands of Lithuania, Latvia, and Russia but also beyond the Atlantic Ocean, especially in North America, where quite a large number of the Lithuanian emigration has long settled. That light was not scientific, not political, not state, but personal, moral, shining with Christian values. It crystallized in long-suffering and revealed a man quietly, resolutely following the paths of thorns, but seeing a broad vision of life, with an irresistible victory of the Good radiating at the ultimate horizon,” Pranas Gaida, a prelate, theologian and writer wrote in his book “Immortal Mortal. Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis” as early as 1981.
In 2017, an unwearied and adamant fighter for the rights of the faithful, Teofilius Matulionis, was beatified – proclaimed a martyr and the blessed one by the Pope’s Decree.
Not only his virtues but especially the works of God through that person are recognized in the process of beatification a person. Every blessed or saintly person is guided by the will of God in their lives, making their lives examples of the Gospel embodiment. The martyr is the one who follows the Lord freely to consent to die for the salvation of the world and gives the greatest witness of love and faith.
Until 2017, the Catholic Church of Lithuania honoured only one saint of our country – Casimir and one blessed Jurgis Matulaitis, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Rome. The beatification of Teofilius Matulionis is historically important because this has not been a case in Lithuania yet.
Teofilius was persecuted by the Soviets for his pastoral activities and was eventually tortured by their structures. Imprisoned in eleven prisons, where he spent sixteen years, was four times convicted, interrogated, beaten, poisoned, starved, hard-working, imprisoned in a cell, lived four years in exile, withstood searches and aspersions, recruitment, having lost his health … died after a search of his apartment by Soviet security and an injection of unidentified drugs.
Vincentas Brizgys, Lithuanian Bishop of Chicago, said: “It was intended to remove him from the memory of the people, but the opposite happened; the names of his torturers were removed even from the history of the Communist Party, and the name of Archbishop Matulionis has remained alive in Lithuania, Russia and elsewhere in the world. ”
The USA journalist George Weller wrote: “Although Matulionis was respected by free Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians for his spirited bravery, he was more than a Baltic patriot who fought against the Soviet giant. He (…) fought for religious freedom, tolerance of Catholics in Russia, and the survival of the community of believers in the Baltic countries. Matulionis lived out four generations of the Soviet secret police, missing only one week until the fifth generation.” Teofilius embodies the suffering, defilement, and unshakable spirit of both a man and the nation. All who have been forced to renounce their values, the very essence of what is dear to the heart are honoured in the person of this Archbishop.
The international recognition of the Archbishop is a sign that the experience of Lithuania’s occupation period hides the spiritual treasures that are valuable to all humanity.
The phenomenon of Teofilius Matulionis testifies to the fact that a modest person emaciated by the challenges of life, who experiences only defeats, can, outwardly, radiate an unshakable inner strength.
Teofilius Matulionis was born in Alanta parish (Molėtai district) on 22 June 1873. After finishing five classes in 1891, he entered the Petrapilio Priest Seminary. He was ordained a priest on 4 March 1900 because, having entertained doubts about his mission, he seceded from the seminary and was accepted again three years later.
He was a priest in Latvian parishes. Disobedient to a law issued by the Tsarist government prohibiting a Catholic priest from baptizing a baby if one parent is Catholic and the other is Orthodox, the priest Teofilius was removed from church duties, had to permanently stay in the monastery under St. Petersburg Catherine Church. After serving his sentence, he was a parish priest of the Heart of St. Jesus Parish in Saint Petersburg from 1910; he built a church here.
In 1923, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison by the Soviet authorities in Moscow for refusing to hand over church supplies. Amnestied in 1925, he returned to the parish in Leningrad.
Nominated and secretly consecrated bishop of Matrega in 1929; authorized to preside over the faithful in Leningrad. For alleged anti-Soviet activities, he was interrogated by Soviet security; in 1930, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison of the strict regime in Solovki camp. Returned to Lithuania in 1933, lived in Kaunas, assisted the Archbishop of Kaunas in pastoral works. Lived in the United States from 1934 to 1936.
From 1937, he was rector of Benedictine Church in Kaunas; established a permanent adoration of the Most Sacred Sacrament here. In 1940, he was appointed Chief Chaplain of the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
Was a Bishop of Kaišiadorys from 1942. He defended the rights of the Church and of the faithful, actively participated in activities against the resistance to the Soviet occupation regime, protested in writing against the arrests of priests, insisted on allowing to teach religious lessons in schools, and was strict in matters related to the discipline of priests.
He was arrested by Soviet occupation authorities in 1946, repeatedly interrogated, was sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment in a special regime prison in Vladimir in 1947. In 1953, as a seriously ill patient, he was accommodated in a Zubovo Poliana hospital for disabled (Mordovia).
1956, he returned to Lithuania but was not allowed by the Soviet
authorities to manage the diocese. In 1957, he secretly consecrated a
bishop a provost priest V. Sladkevičius in Birštonas.
1958, T. Matulionis was forced to move to Šeduva by the Soviet
authorities, from where he took care of the affairs of his diocese
secretly from the Soviet authorities.
In 1962, the Apostolic See granted the title of Archbishop to Teofilius Matulionis, “for his praiseworthy tenacity holding a position of a good shepherd.”
In 1962, T. Matulionis died after a search by the Soviet security in his apartment and an injection of unidentified drugs.
Life Saving Cross (2003),
Order of the Cross of Vytis – Commander’s Grand Cross (2006).
The Bishop coat of arms and
motto of Teofilius Matilionis
“Per crucem ad Astra” (Lat.) – Through the cross to the stars.
Read more about the personality and life of Blessed Teofilius Matulionis at www.teofilius.lt