Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – A Silent Witness

The more the darkness thickens, the more for some reason hope grows…  Vladimir Poresh from prison


      Since her canonization six years ago by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. pilgrims to St. Xenia's chapel in the Smolensk cemetery have increased, in spite of the fact that for years the chapel has been closed and its condition allowed to deteriorate. The light blue stucco has crumbled, exposing large areas of brick. Both brick and stucco are inscribed with many requests for prayer and notes of gratitude for St. Xenia's quick intercession. Until recently visitors always found candies stuck to the iron grill covering the single ground level window. Fresh flowers (expensive in Leningrad), candies, eqgs at Pascha--all signified to the living' and heartfelt veneration of this God-pleasing fool-for-Christ on the part of the Russian, people. Those familiar with the custom would walk around the chapel three times in prayer. It is told that two years ago on Bright Week, a group of seminarians  even managed (unofficially) to get inside the chapel to sing part of the Pascha! service.

     None of this was pleasing to the atheist authorities. In spite of the frequency of Western visitors, there was an attempt made some years ago to turn the chapel into a sculpting studio. Mysteriously, the workers' hands became as though paralyzed and the project was abandoned, only a monstrous bust of Lenin still remains inside as an ugly reminder.

     Early this summer the authorities tried to discourage pilgrims by constructing a wooden fence around the chapel, on grounds that the edifice was structurally unsafe. Soon, however, the fence was also inscribed with prayerful entreaties, flowers were stuck in the cracks between the hoards, and even a makeshift candle-stand appeared. It was feared that the authorities might try to raze the chapel as being beyond the possibility of repair. Most recently, however, Keston reports that there are definite signs of renovation. "Scaffolding has been erected around the chapel and the blue plaster on the walls is being removed. Brickwork in danger of imminent collapse is treated as the plaster is removed .... All the faithful expressed their delight that the chapel would be restored and extensive work was expected to begin in late summer" (KNS No. 207).

    Orthodox faithful everywhere should ask Blessed Xenia that she help in this undertaking, just as she helped in the building of the Smolensk cemetery church in her lifetime. Too often, churches in the Soviet Union remain for years enclosed behind a mesh of scaffolding with no visible signs of progress. How many years has the beautiful church "Saviour on the Blood" been hidden in this way?

    Some pilgrims to St. Xenia's are so fortunate as to have other graves pointed out to them. Not far from the Blessed One'schapel is a cross marking the grave of a certain righteous Elizabeth who lived about the same time as Blessed Xenia. Next to this grave is another cross commemorating 40 New Hieromartyrs of the Communist Yoke, who gained their crowns after being immolated in a church to the left of the cemetery entrance. Some of their remains were later transferred to the spot now marked by the cross. According to another account, they were all buried alive while chanting their own funeral, (If any of our readers have more precise information concerning these New Martyrs, please let us know.) Also not far from St. Xenia's chapel is a grave adorned with a mosaic icon of Christ on which dew mysteriously gathers and is soaked up bythe faithful with handkerchiefs. Here too one often sees people praying or saying akathists from typed or handwritten manuscripts.

    The godless have tried to stifle the living past, of which Russia's cemeteries with their hundreds of Orthodox crosses--of stone, of wood, of iron--are an ever present reminder. Yes, even cemeteries are no longer sacred. Some have been razed altogether, the gravestones used for building material and paving. Many crosses are broken--not a few the result of pranks on the part of Komsomol youth. (A Komsomol youth was killed when a large stone cross fell on him as he was blasphemously imitating Christ hanging on the Cross.) The communists have tried to substitute their own symbols: their red stars and propellers appear as ugly intruders in this land of crosses. But Holy Russia is rooted in the earth and continues to live and to give life--even in death.

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