The Cry of the New Martyrs
I was in prison and ye came unto me. (Matt. 25:36)
"The Rev. Koturov, at the evacuation of Cherdin, was seized by the communists, who undressed him and poured water over him in the winter frost until he turned into an icy statue. The sufferer did not let out a single groan." (Polsky's New Martyrs of Russia)
We have already spoken on the importance of praying for our suffering brethren in Christ (see "Orthodox America" July 1980). But in order to pray more effectively, it is likewise important to become informed, to know something about the conditions of Christians behind the Iron Curtain, to know their names and, if possible, something about them. Not only should we try to be informed about the persecuted Church, but we should also inform others.
It is difficult here in the West to get a true picture of the life of the Church behind the Iron Curtain. The extreme oppression and persecution of Orthodox Christians has been going on for over 60 years. The descriptions of mass liquidations of Orthodox clergy and martyrdom of the faithful is equal to the exploits of the early Christian martyrs, and has surpassed the latter in number. And while the Western media is full of news of atrocities in Cambodia and Afghanistan, it remains largely silent concerning the thousands languishing in prison camps and psychiatric prisons whose only crime is their love for Christ. Just as the early Christians were inspired by the reading of the acts of the early martyrs, so too we can be inspired by the courageous example of true confession and sacrifice-the lives of today's new martyrs of the communist yoke.
A sober introduction to this subject is Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago which, while not specifically concerned with religious persecution, gives an historical view of the communist system of "corrective labor camps" where an estimated 60 million persons have "disappeared".
Closest in spirit to the Acts of the Early Christian Martyrs, is Archpriest Michael Polsky's book, The New Martyrs of Russia which contains biographies mostly of Church leaders cruelly martyred in the first two decades following the anti-theistic communist revolution. In the preface, the publisher, Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal, states: "Having read this book, we believe that the blood of these martyrs which cries out to heaven, forms an impassable barrier, over which true Christians cannot extend their hands to Communism."
For a contemporary account from an Orthodox point of view of the religious atmosphere in the Soviet Union, the book Our Hope by Fr. Dimitri Dudko is highly recommended (see "Orthodox America" July 1980, p.8). Here we see indeed, as Fr. Dimitri points out, that Russia is now on Golgotha, but after Golgotha and the Cross comes the Glorious resurrection.
Other books which deserve attention are: The Persecutor by Sergei Kourdakov (also good for teen-agers); Tortured for Christ by Rev. Richard Wurmbrand; Tortured for his Faith by Haralaan Popov; and Notes From the Red House by Gennadi Shimanov (on the psychiatric torture of prisoners).
In addition there are various publications which deal with news of the persecuted Church behind the Iron Curtain. It is sad to note that while the overwhelming majority of the persecuted are Orthodox, those groups most active vocally in bringing to the attention of the West the plight of Christians under communism are the Protestants. One exception in this country is The Orthodox Monitor whose efforts to spread the news of persecution of Orthodox believers should be commended and supported. Keston College in England publishes a bi-monthly news- bulletin with news of prisoners behind the Iron Curtain as well as a well-respected scholarly quarterly, "Religion in Communist Lands". Those interested in subscribing to these newsbulletins should write to its American associate, the Society for the Study of Religion Under Communism, Box 171, Wheaton, Il.60187. A smaller organization under the auspices of Keston College called "Aid to Russian Christians" prints monthly bulletins with current news of prisoners and their addresses as well as addresses of Soviet officials to whom one can write on behalf of these prisoners. We shall try to publish excerpts from these bulletins together with addresses in future issues of "Orthodox America".
Other publications worthy of note are: "The Voice of the Martyrs" [...], "Open Doors with Brother Andrew" [...]. Reading books and publications such as are mentioned above, can help to fight the apathy which so easily besets us here in the West. Let us not add our indifference to the already heavy cross carried by suffering Christians behind the Iron Curtain.
Pray! Be informed! Inform others!