Orthodox America

  Russia's Catacomb Saints

by I. M. Andrevev; ST. Herman of Alaska Press, 1982: 650 pages, illus.

Review by Pr. Vladimir Derugin

What a dream world we live in! How cozily we have wrapped ourselves in a blanket of conscious ignorance which shields our personal micro-cosmos from the harsh reality of The world.

Now comes a book which, with an authority which only the Truth has, violently rips off this blanket of blissful ignorance, exposing before our minds and hearts "a diabolically ingenious battle being waged against God for the possession of The human soul." This book, Russia’s Catacomb Saints  is a unique anthology, a collection of lives and documents of those 20th-century spiritual heroes, Russia's New Martyrs, who have traversed The narrow path of salvation, carrying their crosses triumphantly through the gates of victory into the Kingdom of Heaven.

When the tragedy of 1917 fell upon Russia, The Church of Russia realized that persecutions were not far behind. And so, in order to survive the inevitable attempt at religious genocide, the Church prepared to go underground. Russia’s Catacomb Saints  is about Those Orthodox Christians who were the life and inspiration of this underground movement; it is about their lives, their struggle to remain faithful to Christ and, what is of utmost importance, what motivated them to take upon themselves the seemingly impossible podvig of standing up to Soviet fury by engaging in Catacomb Church activities.

There are a number of themes in the book indicative of the moral and spiritual fiber of the Catacomb Church, which have kept it alive through more than 65 years of militant persecution. Foremost is the theme of humility. The martyrs do not shift the blame for the revolution on any idea or turn of historical events. Rather, they call upon the faith ful to humbly accept the blame for their part in the tragedy. The first bishop of the Catacomb Church, St. Maxim of Serpukhov, wrote: "We are all sinful in the misfortunes which have come upon us." St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Russia, also expressed the idea that the horrors of the revolution will cease once the Russian people turn to repentance rather than to the sword or to politics. This theme of humility, together with the patristic teaching on the Cross, become for the Catacomb Church its internal defense against the natural tendency, when under pressure, to compromise the purity of the Church.

The significance of the Catacomb Church does not lie in its "correctness" it lies in its preservation of the true spirit of Orthodoxy, the spirit of freedom in Christ. Hieromonk Seraphim


Another theme is that of the need for an internal'' Christianity. The holy bishop- martyr St. Damascene wrote: "Without many words, without loud phrases, create first a small nucleus of people, who are striving toward Christ... Our chief aim must be the inward strengthening of ourselves for bitter trials.... If our inward part is composed of love of Christ, our thoughts, feelings, and will shall become cemented by the Grace of God.. let it be that the lamps of certain Churches are hidden under bushels so as not to be put out by the satanic whirlwind." And so, the martyrs of the Catacomb Church placed a great emphasis on internal spiritual freedom, if only within the hearts of men.

In reviewing this new book, one realized that the motto for the Catacomb saints is Christ's warning: "Take heed that ye be not deceived; for many shall come in My name. and shall deceive many" (St. Luke, 21:8). The New Martyr St. Victor is quoted: "Not everyone can see through the ruinousness of these latest deceits; and this is especially difficult for those whose minds and hearts are turned toward earthly things, for the sake of which people become accustomed to renouncing the Lord."

The book clearly warns that the tragedy of the Russian Orthodox Church is only the beginning of the tragedy of all Christianity. Looking at our own society, at the legalized abortions, at legalized homosexuality, the persecution of prayer in public schools, one begins to see that the prophecy of the holy and clairvoyant Elder Ignatius of Harbin, made some 30 years ago, no longer seems remote: "What began in Russia will end in America" (p. 123).

This book, Russia’s Catacomb Saints, is a must for all Eastern Orthodox Christians. It wakes our dormant consciences, makes us aware of how far removed we arc from true spiritual struggles; it instructs us to be spiritually vigilant, for the times are indeed deceitful. It moves our hearts to spiritual, especially liturgical union, with the real, tpue heroes of the 20th century-that all-but-forgotten and unknown work of Orthodox martyrs in communist countries. Like f e w other works in the world, Russia’s Catacomb Saints inspires the reader to keep steadfast on the Orthodox path to spiritual victory.

This 650 page magnum opus also contains many rare illustrations, an extensive bibliography, a glossary of terms especially helpful to the non-Orthodox reader, and a list of sources containing brief biographical data about those who contributed material, many of whom had first-hand contact with the Catacomb Church. Truly, the book is a tribute to the venerable editor and translator of this priceless book, our dearly beloved Father Seraphim (Rose).