Orthodox America

Russia' Holy New Martyrs  

Excerpts from a talk given at the Dickinson College Conference in July, 1981 by James McLellan.

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony that they hale; and they cried with a loud voice saying, How long O Lord, holy and true dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Rev. 6-9-11)

In this most violent of centuries, the blood of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Holy Russia fulfilled the above-quoted prophecy of St. John. Like the martyrdom of the first century of the Holy Church, the martyrdom of the last century of the world is bringing to the human race its last chance to comprehend the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen which is the power of the true Christian faith. Our faith shines forth especially in two ways: in the word ~f truth which defines the mystical unity of the Church and in the purity of the Confession of Faith by the true priests and shepherds of God. The blood of the New Martyrs of Russia underscores .our unity in Christ's ascetic struggle-the Cross, and enhances the sweet fragrance of the prayers of the saints who keep themselves pure and unspotted from the world.

Who can ignore the history of Nicholas and Alexandra and their sweet, innocent children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexis? Who is so heartless as not to be stirred by their story? Who is so blind that he cannot grasp the love and spirit which perfected this family as a spiritual burnt of- offering. as the blood of the prophets from Abel to Zachariah,their innocent blood cries out to heaven from the walls of the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinaburg and from depth of the abandoned well into which their burnt relics were so rudely cast.... By their deaths we receive a kingdom which cannot be moved, as St. Paul tells us (Heb. 12:28-29). Wherefore, let us have grace whereby we ray serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.

Now mystically we see the Royal Family clothed in white robes and waiting for the command of God when we and ours are added to their sacred number. With them we see Eugene the physician, Anna the maid, Haritonov the cook, and Troop the footman, who shared their glorious death. Also Klimenty Nagorny, the gentle, devoted seaman, and Sergei Sednev, the family protectors who also gave their lives. Not far distant is Archimandrite Telegin, who awaited his execution with great good cheer, who signed his execution papers "with pleasure", and who told everyone: "I cannot wait to meet- my Lord Jesus Christ."

The holiness of their lives touched all those around them including their English tutor Gibbes who followed them all the way to Ekatennaburg, and who later became a priest of the Orthodox Church. They showed that grace in the simplicity of their lives and death of which the great ascetic Archbishop John (Maximovitch) of San Francisco wrote:

Holiness is not simply righteousness. . . but rather such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the grace of God to the extent that it flows from them upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness; it proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God. Being filled with love for men which proceeds from love of God, they are responsive to men's needs and . . they appear as intercessors and defender: for them before God.

And so we are personally moved and blessed by the martyred Royal Family.... The are the instruments of God the Father in fulfilling the prophecy of His Son: But the hour cometh and now is when the true worshippers-literally the ortho-dox-shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship Him (John 4:23)...

Only through the humility which Orthododoxy teaches can we meet or understand the Tsar whose yearning was toward his prototype the King of Glory Himself. As our Savior mounted the Cross in great peace and triumph to pour out His Blood, Tsar Nicholas baffled the world with his calm as he voluntarily shoveled snow and accepted menial tasks while in captivity.... With him and with of the New Martyrs we share the yearning and the wonder inspired by our Saviour image on the Cross.

Patriarch Tikhon beheld the image of the Cross in his election as the first Patriarch in 217 years. With joy he set the foundation of two life-giving springs of Russian Orthodoxy-the establishment of the Synod in Exile (the Russian Church Abroad) through Ukase 20, and the blessing of the Catacomb Church through secret instructions to Bishop Maxim of Serpukhov (formerly MA. Zhizhilenko, physician). To this day, true believers in Russia are referred to as "Tikhonites," a term of abuse like the word "Christian" as first used in ancient Antioch. In his humility, Patriarch Tikhon rejoiced that we of the Church Abroad under- stood all that he did and did not judge him.

Thus, we who seek and follow the true Church must understand both the spirit and letter of Patriarch Tikhon's life. We find that spirit in his mutilated friends in the hierarchy; for example, Metropolitan Vladimir, Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd, Archbishop Hilarion of Smolensk, and many others

Metropolitan Vladimir was found dead, lying on his back, only covered with an over- coat. He had been tortured, choked with the chain of his cross, a gunshot wound near his right eye, a cut on his head, a gash under his right ear, four gashes on his lip, two gunshot wounds at the right collarbone, his chest cavity opened by a deep wound, a gash wound in the waist, and two more gashes in the chest. Metropolitan Peter was dresses in rags to face a firing squad, while Vladika Hilarion was reduced to the status of a vermin-ridden, white-haired, emaciated shadow of his former self when he died in transit prison. A woman relative fainted at his appearance when the coffin was first opened.

We see in these offspring of Patriach Tikhon the definition given by St. Victorinus in his Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John of the true priest of Christ:

Blessed and holy is he who has part in his resurrection . . for he who shall have kept the undertaking of virginity completely….and shall have destroyed the untrained nature or impure thoughts within the retirement of the heart that they may not rule over him, this is the true priest of Christ. . . and truly in his case the devil is bound.

America, with its clergy of many persuasions who secretly and openly preach sexual perversion in opposition to the Apostolic canons, has learned from experience the sad truth of St. Basil's dictum that bad theology breeds bad morals. We find in Patriarch Tikhon's confession a way of life which over- comes modernism. But without shepherds, how will the sheep not scatter?…

We must be true to the clergy we read of 8100 clergy shot and tortured to death in 1922 alone! of Archimandrite Benjamin burned alive by the communists in his hut; we must hold fast to the true faith delivered to the saints. We read also of Archimandrite Matthew slashed with swords; of Fr. Kuturov frozen to death in winter frost with water poured over him until he turned into a stone statue; of 100 priests shot by communists in Tobolsk; of Fathers Peter, John, Alexander, Michael and Seraphim disappearing without a trace; of Father Mitrophan shot to death in front of his parents and children-and we marvel at the unsung crucifixion of Christ in our century.

Finally, the New Martyrs leave us in awe. We follow with interest and enthusiasm the writings of Professor Andreyev on the formation of the Catacomb Church in the Solovky prison camp. We commemorate with intense love Bishop Maxim, Bishop Dmitri of Gdov and Father Nicholas Zagarovsky (in tonsure Seraphim). We recall with warmth their lives in Christ before their incarceration- how they healed the sick and buried the dead and chanted the Liturgy through the chaos of war and violent revolution.

Thus, in the Russian New Martyrs, as in our true pastors, we see the same image longing for its prototype, the Orthodox way of life, the secret work of our Saviour knocking at the doors of our hearts, the Church pure and unspotted, the way of peace, the rich soil in which we and our children can gain nourishment and growth. Blessed are we who find the never failing power of the Cross.