The story of the New Martyrs and Confessors is one of faithfulness, steadfastness and love.
Real and eternal love, enshrined in faith. And most importantly, it is a story of inner freedom, which no circumstances could take away from them.
To save yourself in emergency circumstances and turn your defeat into victory—this is the lesson that we must learn today.
Freedom is to love God with all your heart and follow Him, and then He will not abandon your children and family.
When Priest-Martyr Pavel Svetozarov (†1922; feast: April 27/May 10) was sentenced to death and invited to make his final speech, he asked for pardon. It was a very sensible and unsentimental request of a widowed father who had previously lost his wife: “Standing before the execution, I cannot lie. I beg you not to impose the death penalty on me—not for my own sake (I am ready to die), but for the sake of my children who will lose their father, just as they already have no mother...” The request was rejected. God called Father Pavel to Heavenly Glory.
The last prayer of the martyred father was for his orphans. God answered his prayer. His children lived their entire lives under the protection of the grace of Heaven. The last meetings of our New Martyrs with their families were especially astounding. The wife and the daughter of Priest-Martyr Sergei Rokhletsov (†1938; feast: April 25) searched for him for a long time. When, finally, they found him and managed to see him through the bars in the window, the wife heard her husband’s last instructions: “Nadya [a diminutive form of the name Nadezhda.—Trans.], hold on! Don’t cry—you have children on your shoulders and you need to raise them. And you, Mashenka [a diminutive form of the name Maria.—Trans.], obey your mother and help her.”
What can you write in the last line to your loved ones on earth? What words can contain this love and torment? Here are some courageous and amazing testimonies of our New Martyrs.
Priest-Martyr Gregory Raevsky (†1937; feast: September 16) wrote to his daughter, who would become an orphan, “Dear Nina, for a long, long time I won’t be able to write to you... you will have to live alone. Try to be a good girl—watch yourself, don’t be rude, watch your words. Be diligent in your studies—it will be useful to you for the rest of your life. Be nice to everyone and everyone will treat you likewise.”
The New Martyr Nikolai Varzhansky (†1918; feast: August 23) wrote to his wife on the reverse side of an icon sent to him: “Dear Zinochka [a diminutive form of the name Zinaida.—Trans.], my darling, pray to the Mother of God. She will protect your early widowhood and the children. Forgive me, my dear, and pray for me.”
A whole hymn of love and courage was conveyed by the last letter of Priest-Martyr Vasily Nadezhdin [†1930; feast: February 6) to his wife, who was pregnant for the fifth time. You could live a lifetime with these words: “We will wait for a joyful meeting in the radiant Kingdom of love and joy, where no one can separate us anymore, and you will tell me about how you spent your life without me, how you succeeded in giving our children a Christian upbringing, how you managed to inspire them with a terror of and disgust for the gloomy atheist worldview and imprint the bright image of Christ in their hearts.”
Humanly, sometimes it was difficult to accept the will of God. The bonds of earthly love rest even on withered hearts, not to mention those who have tried their whole lives to live as befits Christians. The layman and holy New Martyr Yury Novitsky (1922; feast: July 31), who suffered together with the holy New Hieromartyr Benjamin (Kazansky) of Petrograd and Gdov and the New Martyr John Kovsharov, a native of Odessa, in his final speech declared his innocence and readiness to suffer punishment for everyone: “But if someone needs a victim in this case, I am ready to accept death without grumbling. I only beg them to content themselves with this and spare the rest of those on trial. Although after me, a fourteen-year-old girl will be left alone...” The defender also spoke about the martyr and his daughter at the trial: “For his entire life he has been fighting against the death penalty, to ease the lot of the families of convicts, and now he himself is facing the death penalty and will leave behind a fourteen-year-old daughter.” The martyr of Christ was sentenced to death. According to memories of an eyewitness, before the execution he wept: “He was oppressed by the thought that he was leaving his only daughter an orphan. He asked for a lock of his hair and a silver watch to be given to her as a keepsake.”
But everything depends on God. You will endure everything if God is with you. Priest-Martyr Vladimir Khrishchanovich (†1933; feast: January 30) asked his wife in his last letter: “Do not forget God, on Whom everything depends.”
In an instant the families of those who are now venerated as New Martyrs faced a real choice between Christ and their loved ones, between Christ and their families. But what does it mean—Christ or the family? After all, the Lord Himself gives us families, relatives, and friends; and to betray Him means to betray them.
Priest-Martyr John Bystrov (†1937; feast: September 21)—a famous teacher, who gave up teaching and became a priest. The authorities urged him to abandon the church and resume teaching, promising to make him the school principal. Hearing this, his wife rushed to persuade her husband to give up his priesthood and go and teach at the school; she reminded him about the children, with tears begging him to take pity on them. With meekness and love he said: “The Lord will not abandon the children—He will put them all on their feet.”
The powers of hell strove to destroy the Church. A storm arose against the “ship” of the families of the New Martyrs. But the Lord was with them. Article 65 of the new Constitution of 1918 declared the clergy and monastics to be “non-working elements” and deprived them not only of voting rights, but also of food cards, dooming them to starvation. Restrictions also applied to the children of clergy, who were labelled as “children of the disenfranchised (called lishentsy in Russian).” Their fathers were arrested, and the children were not given food cards during the years of famine. But the Lord did not leave them without help: in the morning they would find bags full of food, cans of milk and baskets of bread at their doorsteps. Those in authority who believed in God risked their jobs and helped the children of confessors and martyrs. And other confessors themselves helped too. Priest-Martyr Vladimir Ambartsumov (†1937; feast: October 23) organized a search for the families of repressed clergy and attached his spiritual children to them. Amounts of money and terms of assistance were set. The terms could not increase, and the amounts could not be reduced. And during his last arrest, on Pascha 1937, from prison he sent his daughter the following words, scratched on a painted egg: “Derive consolation in hope, be patient in sorrow and constant in prayer.”
The Lord did not forsake the children of those who glorified Him with their blood. And He will not abandon those who are inspired by their faith today. Christians, if you fear for your children, entrust them into the hands of God. Let Him work in your lives, and your children will be happy. Everything depends on God.