Orthodox America

  The Persecuted Myrrhbearers

I was 25 years old when for the first time I had the text of “Our Father” before me. I read it slowly, giving a thought to each word. When the depth of the meaning dawned upon me, it was a sudden conversion to Christianity…It took me another two years of prayer, thinking and pilgrimages to monastic elders before I accepted the idea of the Church and joined it with all my soul and heart. Ever since then life for me has been an everlasting feast. Tatiana Goricheva, member of “Maria”

Just as in the ancient lives of saints, the accounts of today's living martyrs behind the Iron Curtain focus primarily on men. This is understandable in view of the fact that it is men who form the Church leadership, both clergy and laymen, and are therefore singled out for persecution. The heroic struggle of women--wives , whose husbands languish in psychiatric hospitals and labor camps; mothers whose children are tormented at school because they wear a cross and confess Christ; young women who actively participate in secretly printing and distributing Christian literature--, their patient endurance and courageous, persevering support of their loved ones; while this may remain largely unknown and unsung, is no less deserving of the martyr’s crown and our fervent prayers.

It is no exaggeration to say that throughout the more than 60 years of active communist repression of religion, it is women who have literally formed the backbone of the persecuted Church: women fill the churches; women transmit the precious treasure of the faith to younger .generations; women travel hundreds of miles to deliver sorely-needed' packages to Christian prisoners; women support their families materially and spiritually when their husbands are arrested.

And we must not think that the Gulag is an exclusively male institution. The lot of its countless women citizens is the hardest among all prisoners of conscience. The Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group's Document No. 158, devoted to women Prisoners of Conscience, points out that not a single woman prisoner of conscience has been released. The scant information available on women prisoners lists names of 62 women ranging in age from 19 to 75. One can only imagine the hundreds of women whose earthly lives the God-hating communists have assigned to oblivion.

In her heart-moving address to the Dartmouth Christian Fellowship (Nov. 19785, Natalia Solzhenitsyn directed some of her remarks specifically to the women in the audience:

"Try to imagine that it is your husband who has been taken away and that you do not know when you will see him again. After his arrest ye, might lose your job...You must take care of your children, you must support and feed them... If a person tries to help relatives of friends who have been crushed under the wheels of Soviet "justice," he becomes unreliable from the point of view of the State and he is also in danger. But mercy is deeply rooted in our people; the regime has been unable to kill it. People have begun helping each other more and more, and more and more openly."

A living testimony to this undying Christianity is the fairly recent formation among Orthodox Christian women in the US S R, of a group called 'Maria'. When the existence of the group first became known in the West, it was misunderstood and misrepresented by the Western press, as being a Russian counterpart to the feminist women's liberation movement. Ironically, the very principles of 'Maria' are in total opposition to the Western feminist movement. The Soviet woman has for years been "liberated"--strongly encouraged, and even forced by circumstances, to shoulder men's responsibilities and equal employment "opportunities" in such jobs as heavy construction, road work, etc. The Soviet woman comes home after a 40-hour work week--tired, irritated, and no longer able to perform the more traditional role still required of her as wife and mother in a society which only promotes the disintegration of the family unit. According to the new Russian "feminists," "the liberated Soviet woman is producing a sick generation, both morally and physically." This is their main concern.

The new group was organized at the urging of a priest and took the name 'Maria' after the Virgin Mary who is "blessed among women'' and the apex of humanity. They like to call themselves the Myrrh bearing Women, and indeed ,'their example is one of selfless dedication and service to the Body of Christ, Their activities, including publication of a journal, Woman and Russia; did not long escape the ever-vigilant eyes of the atheist authorities. Several of the founding members have already-been arrested and at least 5 have been expelled to the West.

Most of the members are young intellectuals who have passed through the maze of atheism, nihilism, Western philosophies, Eastern occult religions, and have, by God's grace, entered the saving enclosure of the holy Orthodox Church. They assert that "the Church and Christian teachings are the only forces that give women the power to survive and to give a modicum of spirituality to their lives and those of their families." Those who are now in the West would like to share with their sisters in Christ the message the Orthodox Church in Russia has taught them:

"Bring back Christ into the family so that a morally healthy family with basic concepts of personal responsibility becomes the cornerstone of society; bring back prayer into the life of the individual so that his life becomes meaningful and that he can ascend the ladder of perfection towards God, for in the words of the 19th century Russian Saint, Seraphim of Sarov, “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.”

Herein lies their hope--and ours! 

Sources: "The Orthodox Monitor Jan.-Feb. 1979and Jan,.-June 1981; KNS ilk, 116, 119