Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) of Geneva and Western Europe — THE GLORIFICATION OF THE RUSSIAN NEW MARTYRS.
ICON OF NEW MARTYRS OF RUSSIA,
as painted by Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov) of Jordanville
A report read at the 15th Diocesan Conference of the Western-European Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia on June 6, 1981, in Luxemburg.
THE CHURCH IN THE FIRST CENTURIES
THE APOSTLES, the pillars of, the Church who proclaimed the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world, all except for the Apostle John the Theologian, received a martyr's death before the end of the first century. In them were fulfilled the words of Christ: "Ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake" (Matt. 10:22). The blood of the Apostles, and with them of a multitude of martyrs, moistened the Church abundantly from the middle of the first to the beginning of the fourth century. The first martyrs became the glory, the power, and the symbol of victory for the whole Christian world. Many prepared themselves to become martyrs, for there seemed to be no other path for one who believes in Christ, in this world which lies in evil! The ideal of the most powerful and strong was to shed their blood for Him Who was crucified for our sake.
The devil fought with the Church, "the pillar and ground of the Truth" (1Tim. 3:15), not only by the physical annihilation of Christians, but also by means of lying. Already in the century of the Apostles there appeared many false teachers and heretics who disturbed the Christians; the Apostles decisively exposed them in their epistles to their flock.
From the beginning of the second century the Apostolic Fathers, filled with grace and truth, fearlessly continued the preaching of the Gospel. A whole legion of God-bearing hierarchs, theologians, apologists, and shepherds of the Church arose. The sheep of the rational flock followed them with full confidence and love through the nets of lies, sorrows, and sufferings which were thrown out by the devil. Many of them also received a martyr's crown.
The fourth century shines with the glory of the greatest hierarchs and teachers of the Church: Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, and others. Believers even to our day follow after the voice of these fearless confessors of the Truth. It is sufficient to say that one of them taught a certain doctrine, and those who are wavering are confirmed in the Truth.
The same fourth century opened a new page in the history of the Church, revealing to the world the beauty of monastic struggle. The deserts were filled with heavenly men and earthly angels, desert-dwellers, hermits who abandoned everything and followed after Christ. T he Christian world listened to the authority of the desert, and temptations and heresies revealed their powerlessness before the spiritual height of the fathers of the desert.
The Church made its way triumphantly, preceded by Apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, and fathers of the desert, through the sorrows, persecutions, temptations, and lies which were foretold by the Divine Teacher. And the Church, with Christ, conquered the world, showing it the beauty and height of its teaching, its life, its struggle, its self-renunciation, and triumph of heaven over earth.
THE CHURCH IN OUR DAYS
Christ, who told his followers "ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake," spoke also other bitter words: "when the Son of Man cometh (in His Second Coming), shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). These sorrowful words begin already to be fulfilled in our times, for the contemporary Christian world presents a sad picture.
Where are the great ecumenical teachers after whose voice the children of the Church might follow with full confidence? Alas, their fiery and golden lips have been silenced! It is not after the shepherds that the world now goes, but the shepherds adapt themselves to the world, seeking its glory and trembling before its powerful ones. So rarely do we hear the fearless, courageous, righteous voice of those whom Christ commanded to shepherd His sheep.
Ecumenism, which has risen up against the dogma of the Church; modernism which corrupts the life of the Church; the pleasing of and submission to the powerful of this world; lack of sincerity-this is the air contemporary pastors breathe, and they think to conduct the flock of Christ after themselves.
And the monasticism of our days? Where are the great luminaries of the angel-like life? Where are the spiritual blossoms of the desert? Where is the height of the struggle of renouncing the world? The ancient monasteries became empty for the most part; with few exceptions they barely contain within their sacred walls a small remnant of those who once dedicated themselves to God. And even the sincere, monks who seek salvation are far from the spiritual heights of the ancients. Our world does not seek the higher struggle.
And one could fall into despondency and decide that the spirit of Christian zeal has dried up, that no longer is there that faith that conquered the world and everything that is in the world!
THE MARTYRS OF OUR TIME
But one could think this only if there had not shone forth in the Church's heaven, as bright stars, the contemporary Martyrs. After all, we live in an age of new Martyrs for Christ, and they are not at all to be distinguished from the ancient ones. They are the light of the Church, they are our hope, our expectation; the Church even now lives and is strengthened and grows by their blood.
It is the Russian Church which first of all has given these martyrs of the twentieth century. When the militant atheists made their challenge to Christ, the Russian church answered by the martyr's blood of its best sons and daughters! Thousands of martyrs have given their life for Him Who loved them. The persecutors are not merely fiercely uprooting Christianity on the territory of the U. S . S. R.; by their words and acts they are testifying that they fear the martyrs even after their death. "There are no martyrs for faith and never have been any," they falsely testify to the world. " The Soviet authority has only fought against people who did not wish to accept the new order of life, against evil-minded politicians": these words are repeated after the atheists by the unfree representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate. A bishop of the Church of Christ would not pronounce such a lie – a lie against which the very stones cry out!
There is more and more information on those martyred and killed for Christ. The atheists are unable to hide the truth; no one any longer believes in their lies. And the children of the Church more and more often ask the question: Is it not time to see the contemporary martyrs in the glory of the Heavenly Father, as inheritors of His eternal Kingdom? Is it not time to pray to them and not for them?
WHOM CAN WE CALL MARTYRS?
I s it not time, in spite of the atheist propaganda, to speak the truth about the true Christians in our luke-warm century?
But before answering clearly and simply: "It is time and more than time!" we must prepare ourselves for this, so as to avoid an incorrect interpretation, a misunderstanding, or objections which are made out of ignorance.
First of all, we must understand clearly and explain to others the fact that the martyrs of whom we speak are not simply victims of the Revolution, as some people think. Even though it is true that the Russian Revolution was an open challenge to God, the Creator of man and the world, by no means all those who were killed can be called martyrs for Christ.
We can give this name only to those whose life as pious Christians is well known to the Church, and whose death for faith in Christ is beyond doubt.
In the first rank of martyrs there are the clergy, the shepherds of the Church who were killed only because they were servants of God; they were killed sacrilegiously, with mockery against the One Whom they served. Let us name at least those whom the whole Christian world should know: the first martyr, Metropolitan Vladimir; Metropolitans Benjamin, Cyril, Joseph, Agathangelus, Peter, and others. Patriarch Tikhon, even though he was not killed was still tortured "by refined moral tortures which the crude age of Nero and Diocletian did not yet know," wrote Metropolitan Anastassy.
They killed bishops, monastics, laymen, and even children, by hunger, by cold, by labor beyond one's strength in prisons and camps of death; they shot them, they mocked them; they cut off their tongues and ears, beat them to death, buried them alive in the ground, drowned them in rivers, hung them on the royal gates in churches , killed them together with their wives and children. They killed them, declaring their only accusation: This was a servant of God!
But there was a way for them to avoid tortures and death, to preserve their life and that of their close ones-this was to renounce Christ and go over into the camp of the persecutors; but only a few people took advantage of this.
The pastors of the church and after them their flocks, went like sheep to slaughter, voiceless and obedient to the will of God. Metropolitan Anastassy has written: "When at the end of 1917 the fiery trials began for the Church, the hieromartyrs and simple martyrs, both men and women, understanding the will of God, offered themselves as an immaculate sacrifice (Heb. 10:6-9). Following in the steps of the Eternal High Priest and Mediator of the New Testament, they entered into the sanctuary with their blood, that they might cleanse the sins of the people (Heb. 9:12-15); for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22)".
Concerning the number of those who received martyrs' crowns we have much information: the two volumes of Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, Russia's New Martyrs, as well as other testimonies. For example, there is a list of the New Martyrs, compiled with love, and carefully verified, which was received from Russia in 1976. In it are given the numbers of those martyred for Christ in various regions. Thus, in the region of Kharkov there were 98 martyrs; in Odessa and Kherson, 191; in Petrograd, 36; in Novgorod, 68; in Arkhangelsk, 99; in Stavropol, 139; in Vladikavkaz, 72; in Ekaterinoslav, 92; and so forth. In all, according to this list, there were 8000 killed for Christ; but of course there were many more than this.
"They resurrected before us the images of Saints Ignatius, Polycarp, Chrysostom, and many other confessors and hieromartyrs. Their valor has illumined with new glory the Orthodox Church" (from the Eulogy of the New Martyrs by Metropolitan Anastassy).
They have glorified the Church in the days of frightful persecutions; they stand unwavering now, at the head of the Orthodox world; they are our glory, our victory, and our joy.
THE REJECTION OF THE MARTYRS IS A REJECTION OF CHRIST
The official representatives of the Churches of God, however, are renouncing this glory and this Christian victory. They are preparing something they call a "great, holy pan- Orthodox council," at which , before the whole world, they will solemnly renounce the contemporary martyrs, they will pass them over in complete silence – a silence of shame by which their lips will be closed by the militant atheists, with the help of the Moscow Patriarchate – something they are doing not for just the first time.
In what form will this council appear before the world, having renounced the martyrs? What will remain to it? We can have an idea of this from the pitiful, empty program which has been compiled with difficulty for it. The pastors of the Church, it turns out, will gather together and decide questions which, so they think, "demand immediate action": how to shorten the fasts and weaken church discipline, concerning the primacy and privileges of the Church of Constantinople, concerning the further development of ecumenical contacts – and that is all! What a frightful and hopeless emptiness at a time when all the powers of hell have armed themselves against the Church!
The questions of militant atheism and the contemporary heresies which have torn away from the Church millions of believers by force and deception evidently do not interest the pastors. These questions, it would seem, should be the first on the agenda of a council. Its participants, having renounced the martyrs and their struggle, cannot call the faithful to imitate their example! And how will they give rebirth to the spirit of Christian zeal, of monastic struggle, things which insistently demand renewal? How will they console the confessors who even now are languishing in prisons and exile? By going deeper into ecumenism, they will be unable firmly and uncompromisingly to confess faith in the One and Only Church.
Such a council will cover Orthodoxy with ineffaceable shame; for at the foundation of our faith lie martyrdom, struggle, and the glorification of sanctity.
This is why there has come an urgent time of testifying to the struggle of the New Martyrs, of giving them what is their due, so as to give rebirth to Christian life. " The glorification of the martyrs is ripe, and we must not put it off! By not glorifying them we deprive ourselves of the greatest help of God by their prayers," a contemporary confessor of the Church has written.
CAN OUR CHURCH CANONIZE SAINTS?
Every Orthodox Autocephalous Local Church has the right to canonize its own saints by a decision of its Council of Bishops. Other Orthodox sister Churches take note of such a decision concerning a canonization made by one of them.
The martyrs of whom we speak could be glorified with the Saints by the (whole) Russian Orthodox Church. But it is now without a head, dispersed, and it has no bishops who act and teach freely. It is suppressed in utter silence. There is no suitable church organ which could perform the official act of canonization.
Do we have to wait, in order to do this , for the time when the Russian Church will be delivered from persecutions? Can not the Russian Church Outside of Russia do what the Russian Church as a whole is not now able to do, just as St. John of Kronstadt, St. Herman of Alaska, and Holy Blessed Xenia were glorified by a Council of our Bishops?
Our Church sees its right to do this in the fact that it has always considered itself the free part of the Russian Church, striving in no way and nowhere to tear itself away from her, not betraying her, not seeking more advantageous positions among the hierarchs of other Churches. I s it not our duty before the Mother Church to perform the act of glorification of the holy martyrs?
In answering this question, let us remember that the glorification of many saints began with so-called local glorification – that is, at the place where the righteous one lived, where many people knew his pious life, where people turned to him for help during his lifetime and prayed to him after his death and received what they asked for. Gradually the renown of the saint spread farther and farther, information about miracles from prayer to him became the inheritance of an ever greater number of believers, and finally there arose before the Church as a whole the question of the canonization of the new saint, which was then brought into reality at a Council of Bishops.
It is evident that the glorification of the New Martyrs by our Church, just like the glorification of St. John of Kronstadt, St. Herman of Alaska, and Blessed Xenia, because of circumstances will be at first local, not final, inasmuch as the official act of canonization by the whole Russian Church will follow after her deliverance from persecution.
SPECIAL CONDITIONS IN THE GLORIFICATION OF MARTYRS
In the case of martyrs, however, even this is not needed; that is, the recognition of a martyr as a saint does not demand the official sanction of the church authority. Someone killed for confessing Christ, immediately after his martyr's death, has been considered by the Church as a holy martyr even without a clarification of how he lived and what he did, and without waiting for miracles. It was enough for wild beasts to tear to pieces the confessor of Christ in the arena of the Roman coliseum to make his remains revered by believers as holy relics, preserved as something holy. There were cases when Roman pagan soldiers who were present at the torture of Christians were astounded by their patience and confessed themselves Christians and were killed for this. And despite the fact they had lived as pagans , from the moment of their baptism in their own blood the Church has considered them as holy martyrs. We may take as an example the Martyr Boniface (Dec. 19) and others.
THE ATTITUDE OF BELIEVERS IN RUSSIA TO THE GLORIFICATION
Great was our joy when contemporary Russia responded to our bold desire to glorify the martyrs with sympathy, understanding and an expression of joy with regard to it. Here are the words of a confessor from there, who is now condemned to six years of privation of freedom: "We were thunderstruck by the news that your Council of Bishops will canonize the holy Russian New Martyrs. This is an unhoped for, unexpected joy for us. We are deeply convinced that this event will have a profound influence on the further course of historical events and will play a key role in the further fate of Russia and the whole world."
Another bold confessor from there writes: "Concerning the glorification of the martyrs a small part of the Orthodox Church has spoken out – the Church Outside of Russia – and this does it honor. I think that all the other parts of the Orthodox Church will also support this." And further: "To be martyred by the atheists, and all the more by the frightful tortures which they have used, means to become a holy martyr. One must only know that they did not renounce Christ in the torments, that they remained faithful to him unto death. Sufferings, like water in a fiery font, not only wash away everything, but even burn away everything imperfect, and a man comes out clean and is purified like gold."
A SPECIAL KIND OF MARTYR: PASSION-BEARERS
Nov/ one must indicate a special kind of martyr, those who have suffered innocently. Among the number of these in Russia are the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb, the Tsarevich of Moscow Dimitry, Prince Michael of Tver, Andrew Bogoliubsk, and others. They were not killed for faith in Christ, but nevertheless they were numbered by the Church among the saints. The reason for their murder was political, but for their pious life and their submission to the will of God, even unto death, the Church has glorified them in the ranks of the holy martyrs.
Such ones in our time are the Royal Martyrs: Emperor Nicholas, Empress Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexis, Grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Grand-duchess Elisabeth, and the Grand-dukes John, Igor, and Constantine.
Certainly, t he greatest doubt about them is evoked by the glorification with the saints of Emperor Nicholas II.
First of all let us say that, by the decree of the church authorities, in our church now for many years at memorial services we have been commemorating the murdered Sovereign as Tsar-martyr, and every one has become accustomed to this. Secondly, one must know what the relationship of the Orthodox Church has been to the Emperor. The Church looked on him not only as the secular head of the government, but also as a sacred person, the bearer of a special divine charisma! During the coronation the Sacrament of chrismation is performed on the Tsar for the second time (the first time was at his baptism) – something which not a single Christian has a right to. And just as in the Sacrament of Chrismation at baptism, by the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit there is given grace to the baptized one, and the power of God for the struggle of Christian life, as also for the anointed one of God-the Tsar-there is given grace for the governing of the people of God.
This special divine charisma makes the Orthodox Tsar a servant of Cod, responsible for the people before God.
"By God's Providence he was vouchsafed to suffer at a moment when he had no more political authority and had rejected all attempts to restore this authority. Tsar Nicholas suffered as a symbol of the Orthodox kingdom, as a bearer of the age old church idea – the authority of God over the earth, and in the fact he was vouchsafed to suffer precisely in this wav we see yet one more of the divine testimonies of his sanctity."
And again. "The historically universal meaning of the martyr's death of the Emperor and his family consists in the fact that here the constantinopolitan period of the existence of the church of Christ comes to an end and there begins a new martyric, apocalyptic age. It begins with the sacrifice of the Orthodox anointed Tsar and his family."
And our brothers from there conclude their fervent confession of the righteousness of the murdered Tsar with these words: "washed by the Blood of Christ and his own blood , which cleansed his most serious sins, he in our opinion is worthy of canonization with the saints."
Here is yet another testimony of a contemporary confessor:"One must glorify all the martyrs for faith, without making a selection and all the more without standing on a political point of view as is done with relation to the Tsar. People try to make him guilty of something without even imagining that in accusing the Tsar-martyr they stand in the ranks of his torturers! He died without betraying his faith."
But apart from this, we know the elevated piety of the Emperor and his purely Christian attitude to life. "The meekness and humble acceptance of the frightful lot prepared for him raises the Royal Pair to the highest degree of Christian struggle" – this is another opinion from people in Russia.
Many letters of the Empress and Grand-duchesses have comedown to us and have been published in a separate book, "Letters from the Royal Family in Exile," They testify, as official documents, to the piety of the victims , to their patience, meekness, humility, fervent prayers , submission to the will of God in abasement and sufferings. This book should be read by everyone so that all might be convinced of the righteousness of the Tsar and his family.
But if anyone, even with a sincere desire , is not convinced of this; if, behind the image of the ruler does not see the image of the Tsar-martyr – he does not need to pray to him for now, since the fact of the canonization cannot compel anyone to do this. One cannot force anyone against his will to pray, to love, and to believe. But let such a one not disturb by his criticism and doubts those who reverently bow down before the memory of the Tsar-martyr.
THE GLORIFICATION OF THE NEW MARTYRS
– A PAN ORTHODOX SOLEMNITY
Some ask in perplexity how the glorification of the Russian Martyrs can be a pan-Orthodox solemnity. Let us reply with the words of Apostle Paul that in the Church "There is neither Jew nor Greek, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). 7 hat they may all be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also (the disciples , the children of the church) may be one in Us" (John 17:21) – thus our Savior prayed to the Father, and such He wishes to see us in His Church.
We should praise the martyrs with one mouth and one heart, no matter what people or what Church they might belong to: Their prayers are a pledge of our rebirth, their struggle is an example for imitation, their blood is the justification of the history of the Church in our times.
We are all one flock of Christ in the Western European Diocese: French, Serbs, Swiss, Russians, Spaniards, Romanians, Italians, Greeks – let us all with trembling and joy prepare ourselves for the glorification of the contemporary martyrs. Let us prepare for this rare solemnity by increased prayers, by a strict fulfillment of the church rules, by fasting, by reading of the lives of the martyrs and their struggle.
The existence of the contemporary martyrs testifies to the fact that Christians have not yet become a salt that has lost its savor, that faith has not yet been quenched on earth, that there is someone for us who are infirm and weak to follow.
Our brothers from Russia say; "The canonization of the new martyrs and confessors is not only a formal acknowledgement of the clearly manifested sanctity of the righteous ones; it is a creative act which stands before the Church, something one may in truth call an ascetic deed (podvig), for it is impossible to perform it according to the will of God without spiritually communing with the struggle of the martyrs and confessors. For it has been said: "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward" (Matt. 10:41).
Holy New Martyrs and Confessors, pray to God for us ! May the will of God and His power be performed in our weakness !
The glorification, if it is pleasing to God, will occur in the Synodal Cathedral in New Y or к City on Sunday, November 1, of this year (October 19 by the old calendar), and on the eve at the all-night vigil. It will be performed by the Council of all the Bishops of our Church.
☦ Archbishop Anthony or Geneva and Western Europe
«The Orthodox Word». 1981. Vol. 17. № 2(97). March-April, pp. 56-69.
Originally Russian text in: «Pravoslavnaja Rus'», 1981, № 13. p. 1-5 (here).