“Christianity must remain eternally unchanging, in no way being dependent on or guided by the spirit of each age. Instead, Christianity is meant to govern and direct the spirit of the age for anyone who obeys its teachings.” St Theophan the Recluse
Millions upon millions of martyrs; a concrete number is hard to ascertain. Indeed, it is beyond staggering the multitude of lives that were lost to the new world of Secular-Humanistic Marxist dialectic materialism, not only in the former Soviet territories (such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, and so forth) but around the world. Within this vast number stands an incredible ocean of Christians. Martyrs. Men, women, and children. Bishops, priests, monks, nuns, laity – royalty and peasants; known and unknown. Their stories of courage and steadfastness in Christ are to this day unfolding like a splendid field flowering in the spring.
This period of Christian history should be of utmost importance to contemporary Christians, most of all Orthodox (more Christians were martyred in the 20th century alone than the first three centuries of Christianity combined; we may well wonder how the 20th century is the bloodiest century of human history). Yet, it provides current serious Christians with a model for dealing with the all too similar new world mentalities of our times. In America and the West, it may act as a guide when one is confronted with various philosophies that desire to radically reform society and all traditional models. The New Martyrs of Rus’, and the persecutions and situations which they endured are an instruction book for Christians of these last times (remember, St. John says, My little children, it is the last hour, 1 Jn. 2:18).
The specific branch of Marxist philosophy (various branches stem from Marx’s philosophy and Marxism itself is just one manifestation of the underlying goals of creating a completely “secular’ society) applied in Russia is popularly known as Communism. It is a form of Socialism. It purported to build a new world where poverty and oppression will be no more. A world where various needed services are accessible to everyone; where everyone has an equal playing field; social classes are eliminated (in the modern-day one may add, gender is obscured and confused); traditional ways, most of all religious, are questioned, redefined, and predominately done away with. Obviously, this is a simplistic rendition of its goals, and on the surface, some of them may seem appealing. A popular old Soviet song sums it up nicely, it went like this: “We will build a new world; there whoever was a nobody will become a somebody!” In short, the goal was Humanistic-Utopian in nature. Many of the early adherents fervently believed they would sow the seeds for a proletariat paradise that would eventually encompass the world, and some of the gullible subscribers were appalled once the brutalities began (many in disillusion took their own lives or themselves became victims of their new world); as Daniel Peris notes in the book Storming the Heavens, “Instead of heaven on earth, denizens of the Soviet Union were left with a wasteful and brutal example of authoritarian modernization” (p. 15).
Generally speaking, there are a few things that must be removed for such new humanistic paradises to take root. As is evident from studying the various secular revolutions (from roughly the French Revolution on) Christianity makes the top of the list for removal. It was and is purported to be a shackle of the people, keeping them content with their unjust existence by pumping them full of false hopes about an afterlife. The very idea of God, and moreover a God Who says He is Truth, was not welcome in the new world. The new prophets claimed that Christianity’s moral teachings are bigoted and archaic; they inhibit the advance of progress. The new world required that all these decrepit crutches be cast aside, humanity must learn to walk by its own power! Religion, faith, and most of all Christianity and Its claim of revelation and absolute truth, inhibit humanity from realizing its true potential. Christianity stood in the way of equality and happiness for everyone, as Karl Marx himself claims, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is a demand for their true happiness.” (See my post, Dehumanized Humanism for more along these lines.)
The specific form of Marxism embraced by Vladimir Lenin and company instructed that one of the most effective ways of accelerated advance was to wash away all blights in blood (radical social reconstruction). Thus, systematic liquidation and killing of people resistant to the emerging new system were justified for the greater good of society as a whole. Labels such as “enemy of the state,” “counter-revolutionary” “church-fascist organization” etc. soon emerged. Christians were painted as “criminals against all humanity” because they held to their 2,000-year-old faith; in holding to the Faith, a believer was an obstacle to the new world utopia. So their removal, or complete repression, became “a good” in light of the goal: a new world. In this new world, Christ is not welcome as God, He may possibly remain as a mere human teacher, one amid the pantheon of other “good men,” but not as the Lord, God, and Savior of all mankind – the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Thus, all who confess Him in such a manner must be eradicated or beaten into a position without influence (for the good and advancement of all, of course).
The Church must be destroyed; Her influence must be curbed, Her teachings must be discredited as backward, hateful, and narrow-minded. Clergy must be presented as hypocritical parasites leeching off the people. There can only be one god now – man; specifically, those who dictate and adhere to the dogma of the new order. Only they have the right to preach and proselytize. The state will be the new church, forcefully dictating proper faith, while silencing and punishing those who refuse to confess and act accordingly; those who do not must learn, and they must be instructed by any means. If they do not receive the new world system then they must be sacrificed on its altar, only then will those left be able to make the necessary evolutionary leap into humanistic utopia.
During that time of extreme totalitarian oppression in the name of freedom, the well-being of the common man, equality, and the advancement of humanity, there arose a group of “christians” that were willing to collaborate with the Soviets. They are known as “the revisionist” or “the Living Church.” the enemy of our salvation is always exploiting people both from within and outside of the Church. These revisionists were willing to redefine ancient Christian teaching in light of the “new age of reason.” Inevitably, the Soviets were more than happy to use them for a time to sow confusion in the name of the Church and Christ (a similar thing is happening in Ukraine today). They zealously proclaimed: the Church must update Her teachings, must adapt to the new order, times change and so must the faith. They are a stark example of salt becoming insipid. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. They held to the outward forms of ancient Christian Orthodox worship while the heart was leprous. They were willing to sell their soul to make peace with the fallen world. Yet they wrote out the bill of sale forgetting that Christ said, “What will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat. 16:26). It is not enough to have but the trappings, there must be true Christian Life. Devoid of interior Life, Who is Christ, there remains only echoing tombs full of dead bones.
True Christians must be ready in every age, as the New Martyrs were, to preserve this Life with all their being. St. Hilarion (Troitsky), a new-martyr himself, testifies, “However, there are no few people who have already adopted the new world-view, who have already bowed down before the new idols, yet nevertheless have not for some reason left the Church entirely. Such people are constantly passing judgment on Christianity, on the Church. They pass judgment not as ones taught by the Church, but as ones who would teach it; they wish to ‘correct’ the Church’s understanding of Christianity, replacing it with their own, in which the teaching of Christ is shown to bear a remarkable resemblance to all the most recent teachings and actions of the godless ….”
All the millions upon millions who held true, rejecting the outright godlessness of communism and the more seditious compromise of the “revisionists,” were excluded from society in general, executed or sent to the inevitably slower execution in the gulag; thus experiencing first hand the words of Christ their Lord, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but you are not of this world – but I chose you for Myself out of the world – therefore the world hates you” (Jn. 15:18-19). They understood in the core of their being this elemental reality: it is better to hold true to Christ and His Eternal Truth than to compromise with the world and its propaganda for a “new order.”
It would be nice to think that the totalitarian ideology of Socialist Soviet days is bygone. It is my opinion that it is not. The rooster has simply changed its roost. The underlying principles of its mindset are part of a greater ideological web that informs and permeates much of the current trajectory of sociological thought in the “modern” west; although cultural and historical settings may vary greatly, this continued overall mindset is still very much alive today. Indeed, all over the earth the totalitarian view of a new world is being fervently (and aggressively) preached and radically implemented by its adherents. Although, those who live in American are thankfully not faced, as of yet, with such brutality as were those in Soviet Russia, the goal of the new world without God is very much still the agenda (to the point, a God of Truth, a relative god is welcome – ecumenism – because it is no more than a projection of the mind, and thus man retains his place as god). It may not at the moment be as vividly blood-thirsty, nonetheless, many of the fundamental principles and goals that empowered the Marxist-Soviet ideology are alive and well. The seductively insidious methods which it now employs are just as destructive, and its Tolerance Inquisition is more than ready to grind any dissent. It uses the facades of sterile individualism to crush unique personhood, and mass egalitarian uniformity to obliterate the multifaceted beauty of true traditional human community. It unequivocally comprehends (as the Soviets did) that for its “new world” to emerge Traditional Christianity must be sabotaged. The goal remains the same: eradicate true faith in Christ as God, either through subversion or force. Rene Guenon, a philosopher of the past century, notes in the book The Crisis of the Modern World, “The anti-traditional outlook cannot help being anti-religious; it begins by denaturing religion and, when it can, ends by suppressing it entirely.”
Even more sadly, there are many in our times who are also more than willing to reconstruct Christianity (effectively making it not Christianity, I wish they had the intellectual honesty to fess up). Even within the Orthodox Church, there are those looking to form a type of new orthodoxy; like Esau, they are willing to sell their birthright for a bowl of slop; thereby making themselves the spiritual children of the revisionists of Russia. Their desire is to receive the approbation of the world; they would rather not suffer the new gulags of the modern age, which are intellectual ridicule and social exclusion for not bowing to the new world idol when the pipes and drums are played. Yet for the true Christian, the Cross will always be foolishness to the world.
The New Martyrs of Russia were some of the first to experience the full onslaught of this brave new secular world. They stand as examples of heroism for us in America (and throughout the world). How should we act in the face of anti-Christian ideologies and policies that seek the destruction of all we hold dear and love? Stand strong in the grace of God, hold fast to the unchangeable Truth of Jesus Christ revealed in His Church. The New Martyrs are the vanguard, the first in these days to draw up against this “new” philosophy (although there is nothing authentically 100% new about it). We must learn from them, we must study their way, we must ask them, who are now victorious with Christ and in Christ, to help us in our struggle. We must look to and learn from their examples of steadfastness if we are to endure. They truly resisted sin unto the shedding of their blood, and we, as St. Paul says, “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in [our] striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). The new martyrs did not resist with physical force, but rather they stood strong in the humility of faith; they stood fast and faithfully held the Traditions which they were taught (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). For them, Orthodoxy, Faith in Christ, was first and foremost that of the heart, and from the inner chamber of the heart, all things flow. In the long run, it is this wisdom of humility that toppled the Soviet regime.
Thus, we are called to spiritual resistance, emulating the New Martyrs as our example. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) of blessed memory said, “I do not want to frighten you, but we had better face the fact that what they’re suffering now, (those in Soviet Russia, written while the Soviet Union was still standing, my note) or something similar is probably coming here (to America), and soon … Let’s start to prepare – not by storing food or such outward things … but with the inward preparation of Orthodox Christians.” Our faith must not be something simply outward and plastic, but inward and living. Let us pray for our nation (wherever we may abide), let us love all those who would “despitefully use us;” yet let us also be valiantly bold in our words and deeds, being governed not by the “new world” mind, but the mind of Christ Jesus which is unchanging. May we truly be ready to “lose our lives” for the sake of our Lord Jesus and the Gospel. This fallen world is passing away, Christ our God will remain unto the ages of ages. Let us confess in Him now so that He will confess in us on that last and final day. Let us have the assurance, as the Martyrs of all ages did – Christ Jesus conquers! Iisus Khristos Nika!
The feast day for the New Martyrs of Rus’, and all the faithful who suffered under Marxist-Communism should be one of the greatest importance and attention for the American Church, it should span every “jurisdictional” line. Indeed, to neglect it would be of the utmost tragedy. We must be equipped to stand as they did; through remembering and honoring them, we will be instructed. Through their blood may not only the Church in Russia be made steadfast, but in America and throughout the whole world also. Their feast day is truly an All American Feast Day, let us diligently hold it dear.
Troparion to the New Martyrs, Tone 4
O ye holy hierarchs, royal passion-bearers and pastors, monks and laymen, men, women and children, ye countless new-martyrs, confessors, blossoms of the spiritual meadow of Russia, who blossomed forth wondrously in time of grievous persecutions bearing good fruit for Christ in your endurance: Entreat Him, as the One that planted you, that He deliver His people from godless and evil men, and that the Church of Russia be made steadfast through your blood and suffering, unto the salvation of our souls.
About the author
Husband, father, and Priest.
Schooling: Kharkov State University (Ukraine); Brownsville School of Ministry; St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary (M.Div.).
Author and illustrator of St. Patrick, Enlightener of the Irish Lands (Conciliar Press, out of print) and illustrator of The Life of St. Brigid (authored by Jane G. Meyer).
Proprietor and writer at the Inkless Pen Blog, at which, based on the foundation of the teachings of Orthodox Christianity, a wide variety of topics are addressed. Fr. Zechariah has translated some works by St. Dimitry of Rostov and New Hieromartyr Seraphim (Zvesdensky), these translations are also available on his blog.