Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – When Angels Sing

“We cannot just quietly practice our religious rituals. We cannot stop there, we must go further. We need the world…. Vladimir Poresh

     The same series of reminiscences which gave the exhortation on the preceding page contain the following description of Pascha spent in captivity· The author is a hieromonk who was tonsured after the Revolution by one of Optina's last elders. From the rest of the text the excerpt below may be roughly ascribed to the late 20’s. 

Great and Holy Saturday Long ago we began to prepare our souls for the joy of Pasoha. We began to ready ourselves from afar, and now we have come so close. Tomorrow is Pascha. The heart begins to pound at the very thought· Tomorrow-the universal joy, and no heart should feel any grief, any sorrow.

      · ..I well remember how, in the days of my childhood, my whole soul would be in a state of taut anticipation. On that day I loved to go up to the shroud many times and kiss it. Oh, how quickly those blessed days ebbed away from us.

      Years passed, and by God's will Great Saturday found me in prison. Our cell windows held no glass, and on Great Saturday, as every day, from morning till evening the sinful, fetid din of the prison courtyard drifted our way. But when evening fell and the bright spring stars kindled their light in the dark sky, the prison noise ,began to abate, and the sighs of the big city became audible. I stood at the prison window and listened greedily to these sounds. In them I could make out the hustle of the feast day preparations. I recognized the exuberant faith and cherished joy of the paschal night. With my mental eyes I saw people all over the city going about with their white bundles, their hearts pulsating with paschal expectations. My thoughts ran to that church where I had served, where I had given myself over entirely to the Paschal service and to slaking my thirst for rejoicing in the Resurrected Lord. What is going on there now? Who is announcing to the poor people Christ's Resurrection ? Do they still remember me there?

    The night grew dark. The prison stilled. From the distant countryside the light breeze brought the fragrance of spring with its call to freedom. The stars dilated and sparkled the more, That evening I had received from outside a humble parcel containing a small cheese pascha, three red eggs and two holiday candles of red wax. Some of my friends had also received such parcels. There were in the prison at that time many believers·

    In an attempt to make us forget our Pascha, the prison authorities had hooked up a speaker in each cell for broadcasting radio programs· Already there had begun a flow of platitudes concerning the anti-scientific origin of Pascha and other such drivel calculated upon ignorance and naivete· But we stuffed the wretched apparatus with rags, and again silence settled in with us. Again one could look out at the sky, at the stars, and pray.

     We lit our thin paschal tapers, a wave of nostalgia pressed upon our hearts, and in voices trembling with excitement we began to sing: "The angels in heaven, O Christ our Saviour, sing of Thy Resurrection..." Then we sang the canon to the universal Feast, a Feast which contains all the joy both of earth and heaven. We sang it all by memory, quietly, with trepidation.

       As we were singing, the guard on duty approached the spy-hole in the door of our cell and said gently: "Don't be inhibited, citizens, sing louder. After all, I'm also baptized; it's just that life has twisted me about, Sing, perhaps they won't catch you; or if they do, then He will defend you. ' With such encouragement we sang louder and were consoled to hear our strains taken up by voices in the neighboring ceils. We calmed our souls with the paschal singing, greeted one another with a paschal kiss, and celebrated in breaking the fast. I went to the window and stood for a long time greeting all those from whom I was separated. There was a student in our cell who claimed to be an atheist· Furtively wiping away a tear, he told us something wondrously strange: "I am not a believer, but on this day I always, always experience a tremendous inner jubilation ·"

     The stars scintillated still more brightly and drew ever closer to our barred window; it seemed as though they were persuading us not to fear, not to grow despondent, not to doubt, but to firmly rejoice..·

    By God's unfathomable and good will I came to spend several more Great Saturdays in captivity--in the camps and in exile·

    It was long after the end of my term that I was released, and because of this I found myself celebrating a fourth Pascha there in the far north. Evidently it was not pleasing to God to send us any close friends that day. There in the north, in the boundless taiga, the earth is still covered at this time of year by the diamond flashes of a cold snow. It crunches under foot as though it were December. The Siberian landscape stretches lifeless, silent and ineffably sad. It does not speak to the soul of Paschal mysteries. Again, like the previous year, in perfect solitude we stood in the dark corner of the cabin and sang, "Christ is risen." And the Risen Christ came to us. This was just as sure as our faith was sure. Did not our hearts then burn within us? Was He not with us then by the way?

    ·. · Now the soul feels how on that day the Lord rewards the wounds suffered by those who battle for His Church. Make me worthy, O Lord, to receive on the last day of my life on earth a presentiment of that Blessed Sabbath.


Today few Christian prisoners are so fortunate as to spend Pascha in the company of fellow believers. Many are isolated in cells or behind the wires of some camp in the vast Gulag complex, weakened by malnutrition and hard labor. And their families cannot but suffer with them. Fr. Gleb Yakunin, Leonid Borodin, Igor Ogurtsov, Felix Svetov, Zoya Krakhmalnikova, Natalya Lazareva, Michael Bombin, Alexander Ogorodnikov, Victor Burdyug, Valeri Sonderoy, and countless others unnamed and even unknown to us--have tasted the cup of suffering. May God grant them in this Paschal season to experience His presence burning in their hearts, and to know beyond all doubt that He is with them in their way.