08 February 2009

'I Saw . . . the Souls of Them that Were Slain for the Word of God'—The Russian New Martyrs

Today, the Sunday nearest to 25 January on the Church’s calendar, the Russian Church commemorates the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, who suffered and gave up their lives at the hands of the godless communists. As a sheep in the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, I join my church in ‘venerating the blood of the martyrs’, whom our bishops, led by Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory glorified ‘with fear and trembling’ over twenty-seven years ago. They are ‘our glory, our victory, our joy’ (see the Epistle of the Synod of Bishops ‘At the Glorification of the New Martyrs of Russia’, available here).

According to Lenin, ‘Millions of sins, filthy deeds, acts of violence and physical contagions are . . . less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of a god decked out in the smartest “ideological” costumes’ (qtd. in Nathaniel Davis, A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy [Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995], p. 213). Acting on this justification, Lenin and his successors, particularly the bloodthirsty tyrant, Joseph Stalin, committed precisely such deeds in the hopes of fulfilling Marx’s call to abolish religion (see, e.g., ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction’, The Portable Karl Marx, trans. Eugene Kamenka [Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1984], pp. 115-6). The Church shed more of her blood at their hands than in all other centuries combined.

But this is not merely an historical fact to be remembered. In Revelation 6:9-11, St John the Theologian tells us:

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?’

And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

Thus, the Scriptures remind us that before the end, more martyrdom is coming. Speaking at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville at a time when Russia was still suffering under the godless regime, Fr Seraphim (Rose) said:

I don’t want to frighten you, but we’d better face the fact that what they’re suffering now, or something similar, is probably coming here, and soon. We’re living in the last times, Antichrist is close, and what happens in Russia and other countries like it is the normal experience of our times. Here in the West we’re living in a fool’s paradise which can and probably will soon be lost. Let’s start to prepare—not by storing food or such outward things that some are already doing in America, but with the inward preparation of Orthodox Christians. (Qtd. in Hieromonk Damascene, Father Seraphim [Rose]: His Life and Works [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003], p. 941)

This, to me, is one of the primary messages of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. By looking to their example, we can prepare ourselves inwardly for the day when we too, may have to suffer for Christ.

Although he jumped the gun a bit, Mr Orr included some useful links in a post on the New Martyrs. One can read the Lives of many individual holy Martyrs and Confessors here, while there is a beautiful icon here, illustrating some of the more important of the martyrdoms. I have a particular devotion to the New Martyr Benjamin, Metropolitan of Petrograd, about whom I first read in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (sorry, I don’t currently have my copy to look it up!). The account I’ve linked to says, ‘Metropolitan Benjamin went to his death calmly, whispering a prayer and crossing himself.’


Esteban Vázquez said...

С праздником!

In the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, there is a very moving picture of Metropolitan St. Benjamin serenely standing in the courtroom as he was being sentenced. I have often wished to reproduce it somehow and frame it.

aaronandbrighid said...

С праздником! Let's do that. I'll propose it to my friend, Fr Luke Hartung, although he may well be reading this right now. He loves to do that stuff! I got him to make a great copy of a photo from the Nikodemos Press book on St John (Maximovich) that shows Metropolitan Antony with Elder Ambrose and the brotherhood of Milkovo Monastery, with a very young Hieromonk John (Maximovich) lurking in the back row. It now sits in a frame on one of my bookcases.