Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Brethren, Help Us!

The following document, dated April, 1988, was written by a group of Russian Orthodox Christians in Moscow

    Brethren! You know, of course, of the terrible sufferings the Russian Church has experienced in the 20th century. In the years of mass persecution the Church became renowned for the number of martyrs who demonstrated their loyalty to Christ by giving their lives. Today, those years of mass repression are behind us. The time when it was virtually impossible to speak the truth aloud is also behind us. Major changes are taking place in the public life of our country, and we thank God for them. Many prisoners of conscience have been released from prisons and labor camps. More than once we have seen official representatives admit publicly that the State has acted illegally when interfering in the internal affairs of the Church and persecuting believers.

    However, this has not been enough to give freedom to the Church in the Soviet Union. There is much talk in our country today of democratization, but this is still not democracy. And, therefore, the legislation on religion enacted in the Soviet Union in 1929, at a time when Christians were openly persecuted, is still in force. According to this legislation the Church is forbidden to do anything besides 'perform an act of worship', and therefore, while the Church operates within the framework of this legislation, the Church of Christ cannot fulfill its mission and witness in a spirit which is entirely faithful to the Gospel·    /.../

    However, our Church, alas, is shackled not only from without but also from within. And our great misfortune and pain is that she is shackled to the greatest degree from within. Our religious leaders--the bishops of our Church--do not defend the rights of believers, do not demand greater religious freedom for their flocks, they do not seek open discussion of the problems of church life with God's people; they do not concern themselves with the establishing of solid Christian communities which would be able to stand against the enemies of the Church; they do not wish to enter into close contact or cooperation with the most active members of the Church, either clergy or lay people, and by this means, in spiritual unity with their congregations, serve the good of the Church and the cause of preaching the Gospel of Christ. /.../

     [The authors of the appeal go on to list specific areas in which the work of the Church is severely restricted or even prohibited altogether by the atheist State authority. The Church is forbidden, for example, "to engage in any kind of charitable work"--to help needy parishioners, or the sick and suffering in hospitals, old-age homes, children's homes, etc.; priests are not allowed, "openly and legally" to visit those in the army, in prisons, in hospitals, to give them the Sacraments. The appeal also mentions the grossly inadequate number of churches (only about 7,500 to serve an estimated 40-60 million believers). the need for Bibles and New Testaments as well as catechetical materials, the prohibition against holding catechism classes for adults preparing for baptism, the need for theological training relevant to the needs and problems of contemporary society (currently the three seminaries and two academies of the Russian Orthodox Church only have pre-Revolutionary textbooks), the prohibition against churches having religious libraries... ]

    · ..Neither are there any seminars or lectures which aim to help believers understand contemporary problems which concern them from a Christian viewpoint. They are forbidden by law .... Although there is room within the Orthodox liturgy for commentary on Scripture and a sermon at the Eucharist, there are many priests in our churches who do not preach at all and others only preach at the major feasts. And the content of these sermons is usually irrelevant to the realities of life of today's Christians; As a result, there is widespread superstition and religious ignorance among believers... 

Today, we members of the Russian Orthodox Church are deprived of the opportunity to preach the Gospel in its fullness, of the opportunity to study the Word of God and the teachings of the Orthodox Faith.

     We cannot teach believers' children the basics of the Christian faith. Sunday Schools singing groups, Summer camps for believers' children and all other means of bringing up children in the Faith, outside of the family, are forbidden by law. /.../

     There is no opportunity for close, regular contact between a priest and his parish such as would create a stronger sense of community within the parish. It is quite common for a priest to be transferred to another parish at the order of the Bishop without any explanation being given, particularly if the priest is a good pastor or teacher and is popular with his parishioners. These transfers take place most often in the large cities where young people attend the churches...

    Christian brothers! We appeal to you to speak out in public protest against the real situation of Christian believers in the Soviet Union and to remind the Soviet government, the broad mass of Soviet society and, especially the official church leaders, the bishops of the Russian Church and the church functionaries, those who proclaim to the whole world that there is religious freedom in the USSR, that the Church of Christ cannot exist when the Gospel cannot be preached freely and the teachings of the Church cannot be taught to Christians themselves, when Christian congregations are not internally free and united around their pastors and living a genuine common life as children of the One Heavenly Father, when church congregations cannot openly and legally organize acts of mercy, aid to the needy and suffering and other varied forms of charity. A Church cannot be said to be free when its internal life and activity are limited to holding divine services and collecting money with one end in view--so that more divine services can be held. 

(Keston #301, 5/26/88; the full text of the appeal is available from Keston College)

Comment: In reading this document one is struck by a shameful irony. Here in the freeWorld we Orthodox Christians have opportunities that our brethren in the Soviet Union are crying out for: to study God's Word, to engage in missionary work and charitable activities, to organize church camps for children, lectures, discussion groups... But alas, we are too often satisfied with limiting our Orthodoxy to attendance at divine services. Would that our hearts could be enkindled by the burning desires expressed in this appeal.

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