There are numerous enchanting and beautiful spots around us, which are waiting to be discovered. To find them, one may browse the web, visit a library or ask friends about their travel experiences.
Wierszalin is another fascinating site that we came across completely accidentally. In spite of its long tradition and numerous historical records describing the village, we had not heard about the place until our friend told us about it while laying tiles in the kitchen. Darek, the friend, threw the tiles away, sat and told us a vivid story sipping coffee, one cup after another.
Heading from Krynki to the southwest, one have to drive for about 15 km to get to Grzybowszczyzna Stara village. The road is really bumpy. The new capital of the world, Wierszalin, was located there. The name has not survived and the place is called Kolonia Leszczyna nowadays. Wierszalin was founded by a false prophet from the village located near Bialystok. It was Elias Klimowicz, commonly known as Ilia. The prophet became a symbol of the popular religiosity. He raised people’s hope for better future and life in harmony with God and nature. Contemporary theologians claim that he created one of the most interesting religious movements of the 20th century.
Elias Klimowicz was an eremite living outside the village. He could not write and read with serious difficulties. He started his mission by pure accident. Poltorak, the local troublemaker and bandit was looting the neighbouring villages. He would burn down the haystacks, plunder and kidnap for ransom. He terrorized the local community – peasants, officials and clergymen. Everybody was helpless, he was not afraid of the Police even. Elias was suffering from Poltorak’s crimes as well. He demonstrated great courage and embarked on a long and tough expedition to the Isle of Kotlin on the Baltic Sea to take advice from Jan from Kronsztadt, a pope and miracle-worker. He asked the holy pope for help and advice how to defeat the bandit. In return, he promised to build the Orthodox Church. The pope gave Elias the blessing and the latter went back home. After Elias reached the village, he found out that Poltorak had been killed in one of the local brawls. That’s how Elias became famous among the people. The local peasants attributed the bandit’s death to Elias’ pilgrimage and were grateful to him for protection. As a result, the local people built the thanksgiving Orthodox Church. Against all the odds, the erection was fast and energetic. Poor people could not have supported this construction financially, therefore it is very possible that it was financed by Jan from Kronsztad. The church was destroyed during the Great War.
Elias did not become discouraged by the first failure. Just like he promised, Orthodox Church in Grzybowszczyzna shall be built. People started to whisper that he is a holly man. Some would also say that he is a prophet Ilia, who descended from heaven in order to prepare people for the second coming of Christ. More and more people used to visit him. Self-appointed prophet taught, healed and washed people from evil forces.
The 30s of the 20th century. Great Depression affected not only entrepreneurs but also common people from the village. Financial problems directly influenced spiritual realm. Many people abandoned their faith and were looking for an authority able to satisfy their longing for dignified existence. Elias took advantage of this demand. Prophet Ilia started to preach about the world’s end which is quickly approaching. He ordered to built Wierszalin, the centre of the world and New Jerusalem, in Grzybowszczyzna and told people to erect an impressive temple there. The valley called Josaphat’s Valley was situated behind the temple. People would gather there to see the Apocalypse, receive the prophet’s blessing or hear his holly sermons. At the beginning, officials of the Orthodox Church wanted to take full advantage of Elias’ popularity. It was not easy at all, however. Ilia was always one step ahead of the superiors of the Orthodox Church. It was not enough for him to be a prophet only, so he decided to establish a new religion and became its leader. Thousands of people from Poland and abroad wanted to join him. He used money from sacrifices to finance and build hospitals and schools, which made him even more popular. Interestingly enough, he supported not only members of the Orthodox Church, but Catholics also. New Jerusalem was being prepared for the Christ’s second coming. Crucifixion of the Ilia prophet was supposed to be the climax. The prophet was expected to rise from the dead and visit the faithful as the Redeemer.
The prophet damaged long preparations to crucifixion by beating up the actor playing Judas and fleeing to the forest where he was hiding in the dug-out for 3 nights and 3 days. In spite of this runaway, he still enjoyed people’s confidence. His believers remained devoted and thousands of new people were coming to see him. According to the local records, up to 10 thousand people used to appear during religious holidays such as Easter, Transfiguration of Jesus or Feast of the Assumption. They came from Wolyn, Nowogrodek or Bielski Region. Such amount of newcomers allowed local people to work as a food suppliers and accommodation providers. Neighbouring villages started to develop economically. All of this stopped in 1939, prophet Ilia was arrested and sent to Russia. He died in gulag a few years later. The files of the Soviet Secret Services contain information about the person who betrayed Ilia. It was one of his closest apostles.
There are rumours that the last followers of the prophet Ilia were still alive in 90s: Piotr and Pawel from Grzybowszczyzna and beekeeper from Krynki – Michal Mysniuk. Until the end of their lives, they tried to follow instructions gave by their prophet, Ilia.
Nowadays, the prophet Ilia is an inspiration for many people. He was rediscovered by Wlodzimierz Pawluczuk who wrote the novel devoted to the events mentioned above: Wierzalin Reportaż o Końcu Świata (Wierszalin, report of the world’s end). The book was very popular in Poland. Tadeusz Slobodzianek founded the theatre Towarzystwo Wierszalin (Wierszalin Company) who performed a play called the „Prophet Ilia” referring to the local traditions. The play was awarded at festivals in Poland and abroad.
Even though the memory of the Prophet Ilia is still vivid and cultural events promote tourism to the region, Josaphat’s Valley became densely overgrown with thick grass, bushes and trees while Stara Grzybowszczyzna is already a ghost village.