Markus’ wife described her husband’s trial as “a trial of an Orthodox believer who has dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel and witnessing to the Christian faith.”
An article in the "Philadelphia Inquirer" this month reported statements of an official delegation of four Orthodox women visiting the United States from the Soviet Union affirming their country's freedom of religion. According to one of them, a staff member of the External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, "The American image of the Soviet Union as a nation that suppresses religion is false .... The Russian Orthodox Church 'absolutely' is able to function freely in the Soviet Union..." In its constitution "freedom of conscience is guaranteed to all the religious people." The article ended without editorial comment. ' Perhaps the interviewer was not well enough informed to question the women concerning the many prisoners of conscience in their country.
There is the case of Sergei Markus, for example. Arrested a year ago, he was tried and sentenced in July, and in December began the journey from prison to the labor camp where he is to complete the course of his 3 year sentence. His crime? Officially it is recorded as "slandering the Soviet system and social order." This was translated by his wife in an appeal to Christians of the world to come to the aid of her husband:
!'Sergei considered his Christian duty to be to bring people to the Church of Christ, to teach the Scriptures, to demonstrate the' power of the spiritual to them, showing them the true meaning of life the search for God ...His case is a case of religious persecution under the guise of a political charge."
Like so many young believers in the Soviet Union, Sergei Markus grew up in a non-religious family and came to Christianity through his search for the meaning of life. A history graduate from the Moscow Pedagogical Institute, Sergei was working at the time of his arrest as a researcher at the 15th-17th Centuries Museum in the village of Kolomenskoe near M o s c o w (see photo). His spiritual father, Archpriest Alexander Men, has long been popular with students, dissidents and "searching" non-believers, and is himself in danger now of being transferred out of Moscow for having inspired so many people to take up the Cross of Christ.
Sergei’s trial began with a house search conducted on January 9 of last year. The local investigator arrived in the company of 10 men. Sergei was taken away and for the next nine hours, in the presence of Sergei’s wife and four young children, the house was searched. Among the materials confiscated were 10 copies of the Bible, a New Testament issued by the Moscow Patriarchate, articles entitled "The baptism of children in our time ," various icons and family crosses. Meanwhile, Sergei was taken to a "cell of preliminary detention" and then to a prison for criminal offender s--without being given the reason for his arrest. During interrogations Sergei was pressured by the investigator Monteva, who went so far as to threaten him with execution by a firing squad in her attempt to obtain evidence against Sergei and also to get Sergei to make false accusations against his spiritual father.
His trial exhibited similar legal irregularities. It was closed to relatives and friends not called as witnesses; they were allowed in only on the second day at the point when the sentence was announced. A denunciation was brought forth by a certain actor, Sosnovsky, motivated, according to Sergei's wife, by his ambition to become a member of the Party. He claimed that Sergei had accosted him on a number of occasions and spoken about Christian beliefs. He also said that Sergei had made a number of anti-Soviet statements and that his most "heinous" crime was to express sorrow that the Soviet people were victorious in the Second World War because this had led to the "spiritual impoverishment of the Russian people ." No proof of anti-Soviet activity was provided. Sergei refused to admit his "guilt." In spite of his good work references and his being the father of four young children, Sergei was given the maximum 3-year sentence.
In the months of imprisonment, Serge’s wife was twice able to visit him and reported that he was in good spirits. His greatest disappointment was that the prison authorities did not allow him to have the Bible his wife gave him as a parting gift. Whether or not his wife has heard from him since his arrival at camp is not known. Both Alla and Sergei believe that everything that has befallen them in the past year is for "the best and is God's will, for He is with us in everything." (Information from "Keston News Service," Nos. 206,207,210,217)
The interviewer for the "Philadelphia Inquirer" may still be sadly unenlightened as to the harsh fate of Sergei Markus and so many like him. But you, dear reader, know Sergei's story. May it burn into your heart the daily remembrance of the persecuted Church. And may your conscience prevent you from going to sleep without having prayed for all those enduring the trial of Golgotha, among them--Sergei, Alla, and children: Daniel, 7; Michael, 4; and twins aged 1½.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]