Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs - "The Right to Believe"

It is no news that the Soviet Union is the fiercest enemy of Christianity – it should be evident to the entire world. It is unfortunate that this matter does not have sufficient emphasis in the free world….   Fr. Vasily Romanyuk, “A Voice in the Wilderness”

For over half a century the communist regime has been forcibly trying to liquidate all aspects of religion--both public worship and privately held faith in God. Various methods and degrees of harshness have been applied , but they have never left sight of their aim, knowing that religion is basically incompatible with their atheist ideology.

While the West claims to advocate basic human right s, it has chosen--whether for reasons of financial gain or for the sake of "tolerance"--to turn a deaf ear to the cries of suffering humanity behind the Iron Curtain.

This deafness is acutely felt by those who have tried in vain to rouse the Christian conscience of the West. Writing on behalf of Fr. Vasily Romanyuk, some fellow prisoners addressed the West:

"Of course, the violence and high-handedness of the repressors are not as massive as they were in Stalin's time--they are refined, Brezhnevist, but this does not make it any easier--the murders, the ten-year prison sentences, and Siberias are no more humane. We are astounded by the fact that Christians shut their eyes to all of this, We repeat: presently, in these days and years, moral, physical and psychological murders for speech and faith are taking place in our country. Could it be that you, Christians of the world, do not hear our voice?..."

One can hope that this shameful lack of concern is due to a large extent to the "ignorance'' of the silent majority. After all, unless one's ears are attuned, it is only rarely that one hears those cries, few of which are able to penetrate the Iron Curtain. There are, however, a number of concerned groups here in the West whose aim it is to awaken people to the gross violation of human rights by the communists, and to defend those who are suffering as a result of such violations. One organization deserving particular commendation and support for its efforts on behalf of believers, is Keston College in England.

Founded in 1969 by an Anglican clergyman, Rev. Michael Bourdeaux, Keston is a non-denominational Christian research center. It operates with a staff of about 30 people, many of whom are volunteers. Salaried, full-time researchers--most with graduate university degrees--earn less than school teachers. Despite its shoe-string budget and its dependence in large part on contributions, Keston performs an invaluable service. From its first-hand research--by direct correspondence and phone communication with those behind the Iron Curtain, and also using information from both official sources and unofficial "samizdat" news sheets and manuscripts, Keston compiles and publishes a bi-weekly newsletter, "Keston News Service", and a well-respected scholarly quarterly, "Religion in Communist Lands." In addition it has published numerous books including May one believe in Russia? which briefly examines the Soviet laws concerning rights of believers and then cites cases of their violation by Soviet courts and administrative authorities.

In 1974 an American branch of Keston was formed, the "Society for the Study of Religion Under Communism". Combining scholarship with active Christian concern, SSRC channels information from Keston to the American public. It publishes the "Keston News Service'' (available by subscription) as well as a quarterly newsletter--"The Right to Believe"--on a more popular level which is sent free upon request. Recently it has also published the Soviet Christian Prisoner Liar, 1981, which provides a listing of over 350 known prisoners together with biographical notes and addresses when available.

With the publication of Fr. Vastly Romanyuk's book ..., SSRC has begun a series devoted to individual religious activists in Communist ruled countries. May these books be fruitful in generating an active response.

 "Those imprisoned for their convictions ," writes Fr. Vastly, "want to see a model of love and solidarity in the Christian world, But when believers see and remain silent, then non-believing dissidents reproach all of wor1d Christendom for its amorphousness and indifference."

 SSRC's Executive Secretary, Alan Scarfe, says:

 "Our work stands at the beginning of the process of Christian involvement in the defense of religious freedom. We ,aim to give direction and substance to others who seek to take up Fr. Romanyuk's challenge."

Those who hear the voices of Fr. Vasily and others, are encouraged to support the work of SSRC and Keston College. 'Volunteers are needed to arrange public speaking engagements for Mr. Searle, to contact libraries and book stores regarding SSRC literature, to send out press releases, etc. Here is a practical way to help the persecuted Church and to defend those who also have 'the right to believe'.