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Nikolai Arefyev

Photo courtesy of D.O. Yunak.

Arefyev, Nikolai Mikhailovich (1903–1938)

By Dmitry O. Yunak


Dmitry O. Yunak graduated in Finance and Economics from a Soviet secular educational institution and completed a six-year course of Theology at an underground SDA Theological Institute (Moldova, USSR). In the Soviet times, he served as a pastor, administrator, and bible/history professor in the underground Theological Institute. In 1990, he was appointed as Treasurer and Publishing Ministries Director for the USSR Division. After the Euro-Asia Division was organized in 1991, Dmitry O. Yunak served as ESD auditor and under treasurer. He was the author of a dozen of SDA history books and scores of other publications. He owns a major SDA history archive.

First Published: February 15, 2023

Nikolai Mikhailovich Arefyev served the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a pastor and administrator in the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg, Russia) in the 1920s and 1930s.1

Early Years

Arefyev was born in the city of Tver in 1903. His father, Mikhail Arefyev, was a well-known Russian art connoisseur, and the family apartment’s walls were covered, from floor to ceiling, with photographs and works of popular actors. Nikolai’s father unceasingly searched for new experiences and spiritual things that were beyond the scope of the Russian Orthodox Church’s doctrines. His search brought him to a group of spiritualists, and in a short time he became a medium. Nikolai had an elder brother Arseniy. The parents did their best to get Arseniy properly educated, and he became a mining engineer. As for Nikolai, he had to start working after completing six years of education. However, Nikolai aspired after knowledge, secretly left home and went to Petrograd (the name of the city of St. Petersburg from 1914 to 1924). There he settled down in a house of a piano player Sergei Lunin. Nikolai adored music and was a good performer on the violin.

During his stay in Petrograd, Nikolai combined work with study and managed to finish another three years of school. Sometimes, he appeared on stage with Sergei Lunin and dreamed of being admitted to a music conservatory. However, seeing that his elder brother had relocated, Nikolai saw fit to return to his parents’ house in Tver. He continued to care about music. One day he visited a Lutheran church to listen to organ music. At that time, a large Adventist congregation rented the church building for its worship services. After listening to uplifting musical performances, Nikolai decided to stay and hear the sermon as well. He was impressed by the Adventist church service and continued to visit the church. First, Nikolai was attracted by the music, but then he started to become more interested in the sermons, which were clear and Bible-based. The Adventist doctrines were different from the teachings of the Orthodox Church that Nikolai knew. The interpretation of prophecies from the books of Daniel and Revelation revealed to him a new world of Biblical knowledge. He invited the preacher, Vitalyi Grigorievich Tarasovsky, to come to his home and talk to his father. Although the father agreed with the arguments of the Holy Scripture, he was unwilling to give up on his spiritualist views. However, Nikolai was strongly convinced of the rightness of the Adventist teaching, received baptism, and joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1921.


In the 1920s, the Adventist church unsuccessfully tried to officially organize a Bible training program for Bible workers and evangelists. The ministerial training was done by experienced pastors in the local churches. Thus, Nikolai Arefyev was sent to the city of Nizhny Novgorod to serve as an assistant pastor. He never parted with the violin and often played church hymns. He quickly became a leader and a general favorite among young church members.

In 1927, Nikolai Arefyev was elected as a delegate to the session of the Northern Union held in Leningrad (the new name of St. Petersburg since 1924) on June 8-12. That session was chaired by L. L. Wojtkiewicz and P. A. Sviridov. At that meeting, P. S. Kulakov was elected a union secretary. Arefyev was sent to serve as an evangelist with the first Adventist church in Leningrad. That church had 50 members, and its elder was a certain brother Volodin. Arefyev immediately organized an orchestra and a chorus and taught them new hymns. After a little while, he was transferred to another Adventist church in the city, which had fewer members, to serve as a pastor after its pastor, a Latvian named Simson, left.


In Nizhny Novgorod, Arefyev met Yulia Artyugina, a member of the church chorus and an excellent guitar player. Nikolai and Yulia decided to marry and came to Nikolai’s parents to win their approval. However, the parents refused to give them their blessing. Nevertheless, the young couple married at the Adventist church in Nizhny Novgorod in 1927. In 1929, their son Oleg was born in Leningrad. Oleg later became an Adventist pastor.


In 1930, the Soviet authorities launched the first wave of repressions against Adventist ministers. Arefyev was arrested and exiled to Kholmogory, a village in Arkhangelsk Region, for a term of three years. He soon became physically drained and severely ill due to being overworked at a timber harvesting enterprise. Taking with her their six-month son Oleg, his wife set off for Kholmogory. During their exhausting trip, the baby caught pneumonia, but they managed to arrive at their destination. Arefyev was close to death when the harvesting site supervisor finally allowed Arefyev to be admitted to a hospital. After Arefyev recovered, he was transferred with his wife and son to the city of Murmansk. In Murmansk, Nikolai managed to complete bookkeeping courses and was allowed to work, unescorted, as an accountant with Murmanrybtrest, a fishing enterprise. The Arefyevs stayed at a hotel infested with bugs and shared a room, partitioned by only a curtain, with another family. No sooner had Nikolai started to play the violin than a roommate started to work on her sewing machine. It was something like a duet – a sewing machine and a violin! However, their stay in Murmansk enabled them to survive the very difficult times in the country. People in other regions were starving, but Murmansk's citizens received bread tickets and fed on fish.

In 1934, the Arefyevs returned from exile to Moscow. Arefyev was again sent to serve at the Leningrad church and assist Pastor V. M. Teppone. In addition, Arefyev worked as an ambulance attendant. At first, Arefyevs rented a flat outside Leningrad, sharing a room with a landlady and her daughter, but later they were able to afford to rent a flat in Leningrad. It was a large apartment in which the church members could often conduct their meetings and worship services.

In 1936, Nikolai Arefyev enrolled at the medical institute. At that time a new wave of repressions started. Some leading pastors, including V. G. Tarasovsky, were arrested. Many pastors were arrested during worship services. All that was done to intimidate the church members. The families of the arrested pastors were exiled to remote places where they had to report to the NKVD (secret police) directorate every ten days. The Arefyevs decided to move to Olgino, a suburb of Leningrad, where Pastor V. M. Teppone and his family resided. In the evenings, Arefyev and one translator were translating the Patriarchs and Prophets by E. G. White into Russian.

On March 28, 1938, Arefyev and Teppone were arrested and sent to Kresty prison. The arrest was preceded by a six-hour search of Arefyev’s home and confiscation of all the religious books in his home, including the manuscripts of the translated Patriarchs and Prophets. At the close of the search, Arefyev asked permission to pray and then told his son Oleg: “My dear child! Keep safe my violin! Whatever the case, despite all obstacles, do not sell it.”2

Oleg honored his father’s will. On June 26, 1938, Oleg and his mother were exiled to the city of Rybinsk, Yaroslavl Region, where they were registered with the local NKVD directorate. Every ten days Yulia had to report to this office that she had never left the region. It was difficult to find an apartment in Rybinsk, so she had to rent a room in the adjacent village Kiselikha, three kilometers away from Rybinsk. Yulia got a job in the city hospital's infectious disease department.

His Death

For many years, Yulia and Oleg had no news of Nikolai. It was only in 1956 that they were informed, after their many requests, that Arefyev had died in 1944, apparently from a sickness. In support of this fact, they received his certificate of death. However, later they learned that it was a blatant lie. Arefyev was sentenced to death and shot together with several other Seventh-day Adventists in the Levashovo wasteland on April 9, 1938.3


It was exclusively total commitment to and confidence in God that helped Pastor Nikolai Arefyev go through many hardships and remain faithful to God until death. His life is a model of selfless service to the Church.


Due to decades of persecution, historical sources were very often not preserved in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and as a result, Adventist history in Russia and other successor states of the USSR is dependent on collective memory and oral traditions, on which this article draws.

Arefyev, O.N. Vospominaniya ob otse. Unpublished manuscript, 1988, in the author's private collection.

Arefyev, O.N. Letopis’ nashei sem’i. Unpublished manuscript in the author's private collection.

Heinz, D., A. A. Oparin, D. O. Yunak, and A. Pešelis. Dushi pod zhertvennikom. Kniga Pamyati Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia, posviashchennaya zhertvam religioznykh repressiy vo vremya Tsarskoi Rossii i Sovetskogo Soyuza (1886-1986). Khar’kov: Fakt, 2010.

Leningradskiy Martirolog, Glossary, Vol. 9, 1938.

Yunak, D. O. Istoriya Tserkvi Adventistov Sed’mogo Dnia v Rossii (1886-2000) (v dvukh tomakh). Zaokskiy: Istochnik Zhizni, 2002.


  1. This article was translated from Russian by Vladimir Ievenko.

  2. O. N. Arefyev, Vospominaniya ob otse (unpublished manuscript, 1988).

  3. Leningradskiy Martirolog, Glossary, vol. 9, 1938.


Yunak, Dmitry O. "Arefyev, Nikolai Mikhailovich (1903–1938)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2023. Accessed April 17, 2024.

Yunak, Dmitry O. "Arefyev, Nikolai Mikhailovich (1903–1938)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 15, 2023. Date of access April 17, 2024,

Yunak, Dmitry O. (2023, February 15). Arefyev, Nikolai Mikhailovich (1903–1938). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 17, 2024,