Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Give Them Bread

“The strongest prayer of all is found where the individual is the most deprived” – “Risen Indeed”


    The Soviet news agency TASS reports that the Moscow Patriarchate has "observed its humane and Christian duty" by sending "a large consignment of foodstuffs, medicines and other necessities" to Ethiopia. (Keston News, #227).

    Such action is, of course, commendable, as Fr. Alexey mentions in his editorial. However, one cannot help but contrast this well-publicized display of "Christian duty" with the gross neglect that the same hierarchy demonstrates with regard to nourishing the spiritually starving flock of its home pastures. Like the crisis in Africa, the spiritual famine in the Soviet Union has been deliberately contrived by a godless regime. Depriving its people of the bread of life, it offers instead the hard, lifeless stone of atheism. Hungry believers behind the Iron Curtain stretch forth to us their empty hands, Can we in good conscience ignore their cry for help? 

"Only your religious books give us the energy to survive." -- a believer's letter from Russia 

    Some years ago this cry reached the heart of an Orthodox woman who determined to answer. Her first-hand experience in the Soviet Union convinced her of the desperate need for spiritual literature, and in 1979 she founded "Religious Books for Russia," an organization which freely distributes Orthodox materials behind the Iron Curtain. At the same time it provides an opportunity to anyone desiring to reach out in Christian love to give that "bread of life," to "feed the hungry" as the Lord commands.

    Our readers are well acquainted with the difficulty of obtaining religious literature in the USSR, and the risk involved in printing and distributing such materials. Fr. Alexander Pivovarov, Fr. Vladimir Fedorenko, Zoya Krakhmalnikova, Felix Svetov, Victor Burdyug, Nicholas Blokhin... many have been arrested for the "crime" of spreading the Gospel through the written word. Recent events have shown that the situation for believers is growing even worse.

    We must help while we still have the opportunity. During the first 10 months of its existence, RBR was able to ship more than 6,000 books to Russia. Letters of gratitude testify to this valuable work in which each of us can take a part:

     "You don't know what an important task you and your friends have undertaken. No amount of money could replace your books. An intelligent person cannot live without spiritual food, and yet we have been deprived of it for 60 years .... Thank you, my beloved ones, for your remembrance and love of the Russian people."

     “The books we received from you were an invaluable help. They enabled us to begin a series of study groups .... The spiritual growth of the Russian people depends on the religious materials you send. If you can, please send more."

     Within the past year RBR has established contacts with several Orthodox people in Poland who had written to "Orthodox America" requesting help in obtaining religious literature and prayer books. A young hierodeacon responded: "Your help in sending books is like a gift from heaven. Clearly the Lord in His Providence has not left us orphaned, and with His right hand He guides us to Himself along the rough path among the heterodox and various obstacles." He asks for books on the subject of the Jesus Prayer: "Unfortunately, we have very few books on this subject. If you can send some, it will be of benefit for us and for the Church, as many have forgotten about this Prayer. Please, send whatever you can, for the sake of Christ !"

    Another recipient, a seminarian, wrote: "I was overjoyed at receiving your package of books--and not I alone. As I am still a student, I passed the service books--such a treasure--on to my father who is a priest. His own service books are very old and he had no Vigil book. He also sends best wishes and sincere gratitude."

    The continuation of RBR's ability to send orthodox literature behind the Iron Curtain depends on our support. Let us think hard for a moment on the realities faced by a believer in the Soviet Union, where religious instruction is outlawed by the State, where religious literature has been forcibly suppressed, where Bibles can be found only on the black market and at the cost of a month's wages, where believers are constantly harassed, threatened with salary cuts, fines, imprisonment. And in spite of all this, the hunger for spiritual materials has only intensified, especially among young people. Knowing the immeasurable joy, the life that a simple book can bring to the soul of a believer, what is the response of our Christian conscience to the following appeal of RBR?

    "All contact with the outside world is looked upon by the Soviet government as a threat to the communist system. It plays upon all manner of fears to sap the moral resolve of believers both in the Soviet Union and abroad. But the truth cannot be kept out forever, and the darkness into which the Church has fallen cannot last forever. The Church in Russia will surely enter into better times some day, long outlasting the current fashion of the State.

     "In the meantime, we in the West can throw some little points of light into the darkness: the religious books for which believers in the Soviet Union are willing to risk so much. This opportunity has been given to us not only to deepen the faith of Russian believers, but also as a test of our own faith. Our individual efforts may be small, but every time someone we reach through RBR opens a religious book--the Gospel, a prayer book, a book of spiritual instructions--it illumines a human soul. If the darkness is lifted in our time, let us all be able to rejoice then and say that when the darkness was greatest, we were of the light."