Sunday, February 10, 2008

The New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (also known as ROCOR or the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) celebrates the memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia today, the Sunday nearest to the anniversary of the martyrdom of Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and Gallich, the first bishop killed during the Bolshevik Revolution. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia glorified (i.e., canonized) the New Martyrs and Confessors in 1981. The following is from the epistle of the Synod of Bishops, then led by Metropolitan Philaret, to announce the glorification:
Those who fought against God celebrated their victory over their innocent victims. The meek tsar, who had been forsaken by everyone, they slew, as a symbol of the Orthodox realm; they put to death the pastors of the Church who held it together, as well as monastics and members of the laity, those who loved Christ - men, women and even innocent children. With subtle moral tortures, they committed murder, they desecrated, they shot down, they battered to death, they slew with starvation, with cold, and with onerous labors in death camps. Drunk on the blood of their victims, the tormentors reached the point of total insanity: they buried people alive, drowned them in rivers, cut out their tongues, hanged them in churches from the Royal Doors, murdered their wives and children.

A single charge, was sufficient to result in execution: this is a servant of God, a believing Christian!

The faithful went like lambs to the slaughter, mute, submitting to the will of God, even unto death. Nothing was able to separate them from their love for Christ, not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword (Rom. 8:35).

This struggle illumined the Orthodox Church with new glory during those days of persecution; they became our glory, our victory, our joy. They departed from the Church Militant as conquerors and entered into the everlasting joy of the Church Victorious.

But the Church of Christ is one, and both aspects thereof, earthly and heavenly, live a single life, through love for Christ alone! Gazing upon their feat, we suffered with them, we prayed for them. Yet more and more often the faithful inquired whether it was not time to pray to them instead of for them. For it was beyond doubt that they had already entered into the joy of their Lord.
The epistle goes on to state that normally each autocephalous (self-governing) Orthodox Church glorifies its own saints. In this case, however, it was not possible for the Church in Russia to participate:
The Russian Church in the Soviet Union is not now able to do this, since it is deprived of the ability to speak its mind and to act according to its conviction. It is squeezed in the vice of the godless administration which has made the Church's subjection its task, to be followed by its total annihilation. It does not have bishops who function and participate freely, who would promulgate an official act of canonization. They are silent.
It is important to note that the epistle here calls the Moscow Patriarchate the "Russian Church in the Soviet Union," never denying this status and the reality of their hierarchy. The epistles states that this Church is not able to perform this glorification because "it is deprived of the ability to speak its mind and act according to its conviction. These words should be born in mind: the bishops were not judging or condemning the Moscow Patriarchate, only stating that it was impossible for them, due to the conditions of living under the Communist regime (bear in mind that this was still during Brezhnev's time), to act on its own convictions.

In 2000 the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate did in fact glorify the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. Nothing better symbolizes the reconciliation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russian with the Moscow Patriarchate than the joint participation in laying the foundation of a church in the Butovo Field outside Moscow, and then jointly consecrating and serving the first Divine Liturgy in the newly-built church. Fr Sergei Sveshnikov explains the significance of the Butovo Field in the following sermon:
Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the former Russian Empire suffered for faith, and by this showed their loyalty. In many cities and villages of Russia, churches are now being restored on the places of their executions, on the blood of the new-martyrs. Here is just one of the most fearful examples. On Butovo Field, the NKVD [People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs] shot tens of thousands of people from the 1930s to the 1950s. In the years 1937 and 1938 alone, in fifteen months 20,765 people were shot there. As research has shown, about a thousand of them suffered for Christ and loyalty to His Church. The place where shots and dying groans of uncountable executed people so recently sounded without ceasing is now a place of church prayer. As in the first centuries of Christianity, services were performed over the tombs of the martyrs, even today the Butovo Field has become a place of offering the Bloodless Sacrifice.

On May 15, 2004, Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia and the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Laurus, laid the foundation of a church in the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia on the Butovo Field. This year on the May 20, both hierarchs will perform the consecration of the church. There, at every service prayer will be offered to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors.
Another richly symbolic moment was the presentation of the vestments Metropolitan Philaret had worn at the glorification of the New Martyrs in 1981 to Patriarch Alexei. Protodeacon Nikita Chakiroff, Metropolitan Philaret's personal attendant, left the set of the latter's vestments with a note containing these words:
My health is poor, and the doctors say that I will not live long; that is why I leave them to you to safeguard, and when the time comes, when the Lord frees Russia, our Homeland, when blessed days arrive, foretold by St Seraphim of Sarov the Wonder-worker, then take them to our Homeland. Give them to His Holiness the Patriarch of All Russia, and one set must be given to Diveevo Lavra, and tell them whose they were. Say that we preserved them as a treasure, and say that Vladyka Metropolitan Philaret, as he performed the rite of the glorification of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, in his sensitive soul, endured the suffering of every martyr and rejoiced at their staunchness and unwavering strength and devotion to the Truth.
These vestments were in fact presented to Patriarch Alexei by a ROCOR delegation on November 29, 2006. The Act of of Canonical Communion between ROCOR and the Church in Russia was signed, and the first join Liturgy served, on the Feast of the Ascension, 2007.

A key to the above icon can be found here.

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