Among other very important issues related to the New Martyrs and Confessors, I’d like to draw attention to two of them, constantly discussed by the Orthodox community.
First, we’re talking about the glorification of those martyrs who have been revealed in our own days. Everyone knows the words of the Holy Fathers that whoever doesn’t venerate the martyrs of his own times doesn’t venerate all the martyrs and all the saints, and Christ God Himself, Who is wondrous in His saints. We understand that in other cases, thorough research is needed. But what additional research is needed when, we might say, the entire Church is witness to the sufferings of many martyrs and confessors today?
Evgeny Rodionov What prevents the glorification of the warrior-martyr Evgeny, who, according to the testimony of his killers in the presence of OSCE representatives, was subjected to the cruelest tortures in Chechnya for three months, forcing him to take off his cross, and then cutting off his head? Is his standing for faith in Christ really any different from the standing of the ancient great Christian martyrs—those who constitute the glory of the Church of all ages? Or does this feat not mean anything for the Orthodox in our times, when at basically the same time as him, one learned hieromonk converts to Catholicism, another well-known Church figure, an archpriest, adopts Islam, and another archpriest, the author of a children’s Sunday school textbook, renounces his holy orders and openly declares himself a homosexual? Could the Church really not show a true hero of our time to our youth, who believe in nothing, who worship whatever idol they want?
Or take the ritual murder of Hieromonk Gregory in Altai, when a satanist carried the head of the priest around the altar and then laid it on the altar table. Don’t we hear how the Church sings when one who has been ordained to the priestly ministry is led around the altar: “Ye holy martyrs, who fought the good fight and hath received thy crowns: entreat ye the Lord, that He will may mercy on our souls!” Perhaps some may see in this event the triumph of evil. But as on the Cross, when the devil wanted to humiliate the Lord to the utmost but God revealed His supreme glory through it, so it is here. The Holy Synod came out with a special address about this event. But it seems to us that wasn’t enough.
And how can we forget the three Optina martyrs: Hieromonk Vasily and Monks Trophim and Therapont, who were ritually murdered on Pascha in 1993, at the very moment when, through them, the Church was announcing God’s victory over the devil to the world by the ringing of the Paschal bells? They were murdered with a knife, formed in the shape of a Roman sword used to kill the ancient martyrs, with “666” engraved upon it.
The whole Church knows about the murder of the boy Alexei after the midnight Paschal service in Moscow in 1997, when the murderers also forced him to remove his cross. We also know about the beastly murders of the guardian of the myrrh-bearing Iveron Icon of the Mother of God Brother José, Hieromonk Nestor, and many other Orthodox Christians, including many priests, virgins, and children.
They should have been glorified immediately after their deaths, in full agreement with what the Church has known about holiness from the first days of its existence. If we strive for holiness, we naturally have to perceive it. Or are we really succumbing to the general tendency to reduce the living perception of the true depths of life? If these martyrs were glorified, there’s no doubt that the media scum, pouring out the vilest slander upon the Church, would have had to hush up, at least for a time. Satan himself would have trembled in the face of the manifest holiness of the Cross of the Lord.
What is happening in the world today would be marked at a different depth in the popular consciousness. We all need the utmost clarity about the path we’re taking. The sooner the Church glorifies them, the greater the impact it will have on all Orthodox Christians, especially the youth: Their struggle was the same as ours. What a feast, what a triumph of Orthodoxy there would be in the glorification of these saints, where their parents (for example, the mother of Evgeny Rodionov), their friends, and all of us would be present. It’s real, it’s happening among us. Our whole life immediately acquires a genuine dimension—we’re all called to the same holiness.
And second, amid the revelry of satanism and false teachings today, I would like to recall the Holy Synod’s resolution from 1903, adopted on the eve of great upheavals for our Church, about the need to celebrate the Rite of the Triumph of Orthodoxy with the anathematization of the main heresies not only during a hierarchical service, but in all Orthodox churches. Read this list of anathemas with your own eyes—do we really not need to be reminded again and again of the dangers these heresies pose to us?
The confession of the truth of Orthodoxy and the opposition to the evil attacking it should be inextricably linked with our entire life. How often we find ourselves deaf and dumb to what’s happening around us!
To close our eyes to the obvious presence of the “father of lies” in today’s life means playing along with his strategies. It means belittling the victory of the Victor over hell and the devil and treacherously disarming the Church. The saints never let go of this weapon. With one hand they built, as the word of God tells us, and with the other they held a spear—such should be the builders of the city of God in times of danger; thus are built the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 4:17). Why should we build the city if the enemy never stops breaching its walls?
We’re called to take the path where the greatest exertion, the utmost effort is required of us, to serve the Lord with a flaming spirit. How will we be able to withstand the new challenges ahead if we don’t have this? Whoever wants to serve God, says St. Basil the Great, let him prepare his heart for trials. Now is the time for preparation again. Our main care should be for our inner man. What will save us in the end is inner peace, that spiritual strength that we can acquire as a gift of the Lord. St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) said: “He who hasn’t accepted the Kingdom of God within himself won’t be able to discern the antichrist.”
We must use each coming day as a time of preparation for the coming trials. One of the holy New Martyrs said before his sufferings for Christ that we acquire a crown of martyrdom every day if we dedicate all our troubles and sorrows throughout the day to God. It’s time to gather around Christ. It’s time to stand for Christ even in the smallest things: at work, at school, in the family, among friends and acquaintances. Many people are talking about a “Christianity of small deeds” now. Yes, but we also have to see the whole picture—this is crucial, because it gives a completely different attitude, a different prayer.
It's time to build the foundation of unshakable trust in the Living God. The victors of the Church Triumphant go before us, calling us not to shy away from battle. We must, in the end, make a choice: Where is our true joy: in this world or in another? It can’t be in both at the same time. God gives us the strength to walk the path of the Cross, the way of crucifixion; and there is no other way to be a Christian.
Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) wrote in his journal:
Let not us, who would be Christians, expect anything else from it than to be crucified. For, to be Christian is to be crucified, in this time and in any time since Christ came for the first time. Christ’s life is an example—and warning—to us all. We must be crucified personally, mystically; for through crucifixion is the only path to resurrection.
The world calls us to relax, not to take anything too seriously. But as Christians, we must always remember that not so long ago, the gulags appeared in this world, and they didn’t appear out of nowhere.
We must understand well that communism is certainly not the last word of the “father of lies,” as many try to imagine today. Elder Ignatius of Harbin, who lived in Russia at a time when millions of people were being martyred, prophesied: “What started in Russia will end in America.” There was no communism there. But in this “freest” country, where Christian churches are sold one after another to become nightclubs, where the power of the “new world order” rules the country under the guise of so-called political correctness, the persecution will be of a completely different form. Because of the rapid Americanization of the entire world, because the devil hates Orthodoxy most of all, this can’t but affect us.
Cross-fighting and God-fighting take on different forms in the world today. They don’t knock crosses off of churches anymore; churches aren’t blown up. Everything is done to turn the Cross into a meaningless decoration. Not to mention that more and more we face the desecration of the Cross, when they try to mix this sacred symbol with filth. The same should be said about the mystery of the evangelical word of the Cross. The Lord says that the Last Judgment will be connected precisely with this mystery. The main thing that’s happening in the world today can be characterized as rendering the word meaningless and transforming man into an irrational beast. But the most terrible thing is when the word of the Church ceases to be the Cross; when holy words become idle.
However, no matter what happens, there must be no place for despondency, which seems to envelop nearly everyone today, and quite often, even the Orthodox.
St. Seraphim of Sarov, the prophet of today’s apocalyptic events, said: “There’s no reason for us to lose heart!” In the end, there is one weapon which God has given us to strike the enemy. It’s a spiritual weapon, and it can only be truly appreciated by those who have experienced its power in times of trials and persecution. When there is darkness and confusion all around, when everything seems to be destroyed, the Lord calls us to bless God and rejoice. We hear this every day in the Divine Liturgy: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in Heaven. And the Lord adds: For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Mt. 5:11-12).
We don’t know what will happen to the world, whether it will get out of today’s troubles or slip slowly into the abyss, which has swallowed up so many great civilizations and poisoned so many noble ideals. But we know, as the holy righteous Job and the holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas knew, that my Redeemer liveth… the breath of God is in my nostrils (Job 19:25, 27:3).
He says that He will be with us to the end of the ages, that He will never leave us. If we’re faithful to His holy Church, if we’re ready to give our lives for Him, He will deliver us from the coming troubles.
The word of God clearly tells us that we are given warnings about the end of time so we would see that God grants His Church great mercy and honor—to participate in those trials through which He came. This is the edge of the abyss, the last frontier, and God Himself, the Victor over hell and death, allowing evil to fully unfold in order to fully crush it, stands with His own. Therefore, console each other with these words, the Church tells us. We must do what we can in obedience to the word of Truth, and God will do the rest. He can still save our people, and we believe that it can happen by participating in resisting the present trials, and also by participating in what the Royal Martyrs and all the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church have done. But even if the whole world is seized with the spirit of deceit and destruction, all those loyal to the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ shouldn’t lose their joy in the Lord, Who says: Lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Lk. 21:28).