Archpriest Michael Polsky – The New Martyrs of Russia (1972)

'Archpriest Michael Polsky, The New Martyrs of Russia, Montreal: Monastery Press, 1972.

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"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.” (Rev. 6: 9).


We are publishing the book, “The New Russian Martyrs” on the occasion of the fiftielh anniversary of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Since we represent the free part of the Russian Church, we consider it our sacred duty to act as the voice of all those who have been, and still are being, martyred and persecuted by the Communists, for confessing their belief in God.

Moreover, we have, in the number of our faithful here in the free world, tens of thousands of living witnesses to the persecution of the faith in the USSR. These are people which did not return to the homeland after the second world war and who, to this day, thank God for that freedom which they enjoy here in the west. Many of them bear upon their own bodies, scars from wounds and tortures as sacred imprints of their suffering for Christ.

In order to conceal their apocalyptic visage, the Communists have sent throughout the world, to the heads and administrators of all Christian bodies, their own representatives. These representatives, coming from the Soviet Moscow Patriarchate, have the external appearance of Russian Orthodox metropolitans, archbishops, bishops and priests.

By means of such tactics, the Communists seek to undermine the opposition of the more conservative element of the free world, which, by its very essence would be the most natural foe of Godless Communism.

Having read this book, we believe that the blood of these martyrs, which cries out to heaven, forms an impassable barrier, over which true Christians cannot extend their hands to Communism.

☦ Archbishop Vitaly [Ustinov]


The Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev, as its namesake, defends and proclaims Christ and Holy Orthodoxy in a time of troubles and oppression.

This book was published by the Brotherhood to mark the jubilee, i.e., the 50th anniversary (Lev. 25: 8-17), of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The Brotherhood selected this book because it shows all that is best in Russian Orthodoxy in our time – the stirring witness with power of her holy martyrs before the fury of God-denying Bolshevism. This book is a calling-card in English, so to speak, from the Church Outside of Russia to the world at large, and especially to the English-speaking world. This calling-card says, “Here is the reason and the meaning for our existence.”

Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal and Canada, who is also the superior of the Brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev, commented to a group of us recently: “Fifty years ago some of us might have thought that we were a political emigration. But it is now clear that we are a religious emigration. For the dogma of Communism fights God. But those political thoughts and personalities of 1920 have died off. Church personalities of 1920 have died off too; but the church lives – while politics does not live.”

Ibis book, although there must perforce be enough political background to explain why the martyrdoms occurred, is not a political book but a spiritual book. Its purpose is not to condemn murderers or Bolshevism but to inspire – to teach us the Christian life by the examples of saints. The courage and power, the love and forgivingness, of these martyrs (as with all martyrs) defied oblivion. Eye-witnesses of these martyrdoms could not keep untold what they had seen – whether they were fellow believers or executioners. And so these stories became widely known – by word of mouth and by "samizdat" – since it was forbidden to print them, and since stenographers were forbidden to record the dialogues which took place in the courtrooms.

The author, Archpriest Michael Polsky, was a prisoner in the Solovetsk Monastery on the White Sea – the largest place of internment for church people. There, he knew many bishops and others, some of whom were later martyred, and some of whom had been with persons already martyred. Thus is readily understood the intimate familiarity with the times and events which shows on every page. Father Michael escaped from the Solovki camp and traveled all the way across Russia to the South, crossing the Persian border into freedom on Annunciation Day, 1935. Later he served as rector of a parish in Beirut, then in London, and finally m San Francisco. In 1956 he reposed in the Lord.

I, as an American convert, give thanks for the appearance of this book to help show the light of Orthodoxy to my untaught brothers in the English-speaking world. For they know nothing of these things. Their libraries contain sufficient books on the Russian Revolution – books written by secular writers who neither mention nor know about Christ and the power that he gives to his faithful – books which often present the Revolution sympathetically, sometimes even glorifying it. I pray that readers will not be content with the secular books but will seek to know the stories of the “reactionary” persons who are told of in The New Martyrs of Russia.

I entreat all Orthodox people, and especially the Russians among us, to give wide distribution to this book, to help teach my children and theirs, my brethren and theirs, and to bring light to those who sit in darkness.

“Throughout the world, as with purple and fine linen, thy church is adorned with the blood of thy martyrs. Through them she cries to thee, О Christ God: ‘Send down thy compassion upon thy people; grant peace to thy community, and to our souls, great mercy.’ ” (Troparion, Sunday of All Saints)

John Johnstone, Jr.

Webster Groves, Mo.


The communist party has always aimed at the abolition of religion. In order to accomplish this, there exists a program of violence combined with propaganda[1].

Immediately after power was usurped by revolutionary forces (November 7, 1917), the communists began their fight against the Church. They declared the Church to be an enemy of the revolution, an adversary of the communist administration, and accused the dergy of political unreliability. The party dictatorship did not confine itself to arrests, imprisonments and executions of the dergy. The communists confiscated Church treasures (1922), on the pretence of feeding the starving population; they closed the churches, monasteries, and all the ecclesiastical schools. They opened the tombs of saints (1920), staged anti-religious demonstrations in the streets, and burned icons in town squares in a deliberate attempt to offend the feelings of the people.

The party declared shamelessly that “its dictatorship is not restrained by anything, not limited by any laws or regulations, and its power depends entirely on violence[2].

Political accusations against the Church were but a screen to hide their bitter hatred of religion, which is the primary ideological enemy of Communism. Those who were willing to accept the new organization of the state, but could not give up their Faith, were considered suspect and subjected to repression. Because of this attitude of the government, representatives of the Church felt obliged to defend its followers and to fight for autonomous control.

The second period of the persecution of the Church witnessed the surrender of the Church administration to overpowering force – just as a commander-in-chief surrenders his army when outnumbered by the enemy, knowing further resistance useless, and accepting perforce all the conditions of the victor. The head of the Church at that time, Metropolitan Serge, submissively admitted its lack of loyalty to the civil communist government and promised cooperation in the future. This took place on July 29, 1927, and the Church administration came under control of the communists.

The enemies of the Church were now free to act and promptly began a cruel and unrestrained persecution of the Church, which later assumed a systematic form based on the so-called “Godless Five Year Plan”, adopted by the government after Stalin signed it on May 15, 1932. It proposed complete liquidation of the Church by May 1, 1937, the date by which the name of God (using the literal expression of the declaration) should be forgotten throughout all Russia.

But this act of submission of the Church to the rule of Godless communists provoked protests from many of the episcopate, clergy and parishioners, and roused them to action, resulting in a secret underground Church in the new catacombs. Wandering clergymen, with folding altars in a pouch behind their backs, held secret services in homes, in the woods, in abandoned sheds and cellars, and sometimes appeared in underground caves which were real catacombs. Even secret monasteries and ecclesiastical schools were opened; monkhood vows were taken secretely and clergymen and bishops were ordained. These occurrences were described in many communications of the communist press of that time and provoked a new motive for repressions and executions.

But despite them, the five year Godless plan failed! A general census of the population of the USSR in 1937, with a questionnaire on the attitude of the people toward religion, showed that an immense per cent (two thirds and one third urban) believed in God and were not afraid to admit it to the government. This of course infuriated the dictators.

The third period began with the Second World War, starting June 22, 1941. This was expressed only in the curtailing of religious freedom; but existing repressions were maintained to prevent any possibility of increased religious influence on the people. Due to the necessity of demonstrating to the Western allies a facade of religious tolerance, the communists stopped open persecution of the Church, but at the same time continued to promote anti-religious programmes.

Ever since 1941, the Church in Russia has been in the position of the condemned captive who is free to walk in the prison yard and work for the administration of the prison for some allowances and a temporary deferment of the last hour. The Church in Russia still exists, but the Godless Five Year Plan programme continues. It has not been revoked and it will march on as conditions in the USSR will allow it to be carried out with impunity – they hoped.

What are the total results of this struggle of communists against the Church? Before the revolution of 1917, according to the official data of that time, there were 51,918 churches in Russia, besides oratories and home chapels (20,287). In 1941, according to foreign information, only 4,225 churches remained. Only 20 monasteries were left out of 1025, and that number is even doubtful. No ecclesiastical academies (4), seminaries (54) or diocesan schools (150) were left at all. Only some 5,665 clergymen remained at liberty in 1941 out of 70,000 members of the clergy and 30,000 monks. It was announced in 1930 by the NKVD that 42,800 clergymen had died in prisons and in concentration camps, from hardships and executions.

In 1917 the Church included 160 bishops, diocesan and vicarial; the number of bishops increased to 272 due to continuous arrests of bishops and their replacements with newly ordained bishops by the Church administration, independent of the communist government (until 1927). However, ten years later there were only 7 bishops at liberty, and with the change in the political trend, 19 bishops were found available for the Council of bishops in 1943 for the election of a Patriarch.

The theory of the communists, that “religious prejudice will die” with the change of economic foundations, has been forever denied by Russia. For crude absolute materialism does not solve the question of the meaning of life, but destroys the individual – while religion preserves him, and lifts him above the dark reality of present-day Russia. Man’s soul with God, forever remains independent of earthly forces – and dictatorship.

There are still pious people in Russia, not only among the aged, or “ignorant” (as communists assert), but among people of all classes – waiting for the opportunity to profess their religion openly.

Archpresbyter Michael Polsky.

[1] J. Stalin – Problems of Leninism – pg. 145. “The dictatorship of the proletariat”, says Lenin, “is a persistent struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of the society”.

[2] J. Stalin – Problems of Leninism – pgs 134, 143. “The scientific concept of dictatorship”, says Lenin, “means nothing more nor less than unrestricted power absolutely unimpeded by laws or regulations and resting directly upon force..." and – “State power based directly on force”.