Soviet leaders came and went, but Vasily Shipilov stayed - in prison.

Then came Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and now Shipilov, a 60-year-old Russian Orthodox deacon who spent more than half his life behind bars, is a free man.But he is also a broken man, so out of touch with his country that he never heard of "perestroika," Gorbachev's system of reforms for the Soviet Union.

After 36 years in labor camps, prisons and psychiatric hospitals, Shipilov was suddenly released on May 31 from a Siberian mental hospital, flown to Moscow, put in another psychiatric hospital and released Friday.

Many such hospitals had become notorious for being used by the government to jail political prisoners. The diagnosis used to keep Shipilov locked up was that he was schizophrenic.

Shipilov, hunched over and frail-looking, limped into a Moscow apartment Saturday to face two dozen reporters and fellow Christians. An elderly woman broke down in tears at the sight of the brown-haired man with a drawn face and tired brown eyes.

Shipilov crossed himself every time he rose to speak - something he says he did even while locked up. He had difficulty answering reporters' questions, giving rambling and confused answers.

Asked what he thinks of perestroika, Shipilov responded: "I don't know anything about it. I was in isolation."

At one point, Shipilov said he was put in a straitjacket and beaten for refusing to mop floors on a religious holiday.

"He's only seen doctors. He's not used to our world," said Alexander Ogorodnikov, a Christian activist who has also been jailed.

"We hope he is the last of the Stalin-era prisoners, but we don't know for sure," said Ogorodnikov, who introduced Shipilov to the reporters.

There were other signs that the Orthodox deacon was out of touch with the times.

Shipilov apparently had never seen a bottle of soft drink before - he asked if the Pepsi put before him was wine.

Soviet authorities gave him a passport, and he plans to leave June 17 for Britain, then settle in the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, N.Y.

The release came during the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in Russia, an event that has brought new focus on Soviet restrictions on religious freedom.

But Shipilov credits only one person for his release - the Rev. Dick Rodgers, an Anglican minister from Birmingham, England, who has waged a 10-year campaign for the Orthodox clergyman.

To draw attention to Shipilov's plight, the 41-year-old minister spent 46 days during Lent this year in a cage made of wood and chicken wire outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in London. He told Saturday's news conference he had collected 36,000 signatures on a petition demanding Shipilov's release.

Rodgers first met the man he helped to free at Moscow's Psychiatric Hospital No. 7. on Thursday. On Saturday, the minister smiled broadly and presented Shipilov with a British-made religious icon and a box of chocolates.

Shipilov said he was born in the southern Siberian region of Altai and was first arrested in 1949 under the leader he calls "the Communist bandit," Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

He had been studying at an underground Orthodox seminary in Siberia.

He then spent two years in a labor camp and was released before being arrested again in 1954 for alleged anti-Soviet behavior. He also spent time in four Soviet psychiatric hospitals.