Saturday, February 9, 2013

An All American Feast Day: The New Martyrs of Russia

“Christianity must remain eternally unchanging, in no way being dependent on or guided by the spirit of each age. Instead, Christianity is meant to govern and direct the spirit of the age for anyone who obeys its teachings.” St Theophan the Recluse

New Martyrs of Russia
Millions. Millions upon millions. A concrete number is hard to ascertain. Indeed, it is beyond staggering the multitude of lives that were lost to the new world of Marxist dialectic materialism, not simply in Russia but around the world. Within this vast number stands an incredible ocean of Christians. Martyrs. Men, women, and children. Bishops, priests, monks, nuns, royalty, and peasants; known and unknown. Their stories of courage and steadfastness are even to this day unfolding like a splendid field flowering in spring. One would think the world would be desperate to study and understand how such an atrocity could take place. We may well wonder how the 20th century is the bloodiest century in human history, with all its supposed enlightenment and advancement. Yet, it seems that the world as a whole is not too deeply concern with this. Even in my boy's high school class, most of the kids seem to have no real knowledge of what transpired in Russia and elsewhere, or what are the underlying ideas of Marxism, social reconstruction, and communism (besides that you have to fight communists in video games sometimes). Moreover, this period of Christian history should be of utmost importance to contemporary Christians, most of all Orthodox (more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than the first three centuries of Christianity combined). It provides current serious Christians with a model for dealing with the all too similar new world mentalities of today. In our own country, it may act as a guide when one is confronted with various philosophies that desire to radically reform society and any traditional models.

The specific branch of Marxist philosophy (various branches stem from Marx's philosophy) applied in Russia is known as Communism. Another name for it is Socialism. It purported to build a new world where poverty and oppression are no more. A world where various needed services are accessible to everyone; where everyone has an equal playing field; social classes are eliminated (in the modern day one may add, gender is obscured and confused); traditional ways are questioned, redefined, and if deemed necessary done away with,  most of all religion. Obviously, this is a simplistic rendition of its goals, and on the surface, some of them may seem just fine. A popular old Soviet song sums it up nicely, it went like this: “We will build a new world; there whoever was no one will become someone!” In short, the goal was Humanistic-Utopian in nature. Many of the early adherents truly believed they would sow the seeds for a proletariat paradise that would sweep the world, and some of the gullible subscribers were appalled once the brutalities began (many in disillusion took their own lives or became victims of their wonderful new world); but as Daniel Peris notes in Storming the Heavens, "Instead of heaven on earth, denizens of the Soviet Union were left with a wasteful and brutal example of authoritarian modernization" (p. 15). 

To us is open the distant world!
And, as it seems to be in history, there are a few things that must be removed for this new humanistic paradise to take root. Top of the list for removal was Christianity. It was purported to be a shackle of the people, keeping them content with their unjust existence by pumping them full of false hopes about an afterlife. The very idea of God, and moreover a God Who says He is Truth, was not welcome in the new world. The new prophets claimed that Christianity's moral teachings are bigoted and archaic; they inhibit the advance of progress. The new world required that all these decrepit crutches be cast aside, humanity must learn to walk by its own power. Religion, faith, and most of all Christianity and Its claim of absolute truth, inhibit humanity from realizing its true potential. Christianity stood in the way of equality and happiness for everyone, as Karl Marx himself claims, "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is a demand for their true happiness." The specific form of Marxism embraced by Lenin and CO. believed that one of the most effective ways of accelerated advance was to wash away all blights in blood (radical social reconstruction). Thus systematic liquidation and killing of people resistant to the emerging new system were justified for the greater good of society as a whole. Labels such as “enemy of the state,” “counter-revolutionary” “church-fascist organization” etc. soon emerged. Christians became, through holding to their 2,000-year-old faith, "criminals against all humanity;" in holding to faith, the believer was an obstacle to the new world utopia. So their removal, or complete repression,  becomes a good, a good in light of the goal: a new world. In this new world, Christ is not welcome as God, He may remain as a good human teacher, one amid the pantheon of other "good men," but not as the Lord, God, and Savior of all mankind - the Way, the Truth and the Life. And all those who confess Him in such a way must be eradicated or beaten into a position without influence (for the good and advancement of all, of course). The Church must be destroyed; Her influence must be curbed, Her teachings must be discredited as backward, hateful, and narrow-minded. Clergy must be presented as hypocritical parasites leeching off the people. There can only be one god now - man; specifically those who adhere to the dogma of the new order. Only they have the right to preach and proselytize. The state will be the new church, forcefully dictating proper faith, silencing and punishing those who refuse to confess and act accordingly; those who do not must learn, and they must be instructed by any means. If they do not receive the new world system then they must be sacrificed on its altar, only then will those left be able to make the necessary evolutionary leap.

During that time of extreme totalitarian oppression in the name of freedom, the well-being of the common man, equality, and the advancement of humanity, there arose a group of “christians” that were willing to collaborate with the Soviets. They are known as the revisionist or the Living Church. They were willing to redefine ancient Christian teaching in light of the "new age of reason." Inevitably, the Soviets were more than happy to use them for a time to sow confusion in the name of the Church and Christ. They fervently proclaimed: the Church must update Her teachings, must adapt to the new order, times change and so must the faith. They are a stark example of salt becoming insipid. Wolves in sheep's clothing. They held to the outward forms of ancient Christian Orthodox worship, but the heart was leprous. They were willing to sell their soul to make peace with the fallen world. Yet they wrote out the bill of sale forgetting that Christ said, “What will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat. 16:26). It is not enough to have the trappings, there must be true Christian Life, for without Life, Who is Christ, it becomes an echoing tomb full of dead bones. True Christians must be ready in every age, as the New Martyrs were, to preserve this Life unto their death. St. Hilarion, a new martyr himself, testifies, “However, there are no few people who have already adopted the new world-view, who have already bowed down before the new idols, yet nevertheless have not for some reason left the Church entirely. Such people are constantly passing judgment on Christianity, on the Church. They pass judgment not as ones taught by the Church, but as ones who would teach it; they wish to 'correct' the Church’s understanding of Christianity, replacing it with their own, in which the teaching of Christ is shown to bear a remarkable resemblance to all the most recent teachings and actions of the godless ….”

All the millions upon millions who held true, rejecting the outright godlessness of communism and the more seditious compromise of the "revisionists,"  were executed or sent to the almost inevitably slower execution in the gulag; thus experiencing first hand the words of Christ their Lord, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but you are not of this world – but I chose you for Myself out of the world – therefore the world hates you” (Jn. 15:18-19). They experienced and understood in the core of their being this fundamental reality: it is better to hold true to Christ and His Eternal Truth than to compromise with the world and its propaganda for a "new order."

Looting a church
It would be nice to think that the totalitarian ideology of Socialist Soviet days is bygone. It is my opinion that it is not. The underlying principles of its mindset were part of a greater ideological web that informed much of the current sociological thought in the "modern" west; although cultural and historical settings may vary greatly, this continued overall mindset is still at work to this day. Indeed, all over the earth the totalitarian view of a new world is being fervently (and aggressively) preached by its adherents. Although, those of us who live in American are thankfully not faced with such brutality as were those in Soviet Russia, the dream of the new world without God (to the point, a God of Truth, a relative god is welcome because it is no more than a projection of the mind, and thus man retains his place as god) is very much alive. It may not yet be as vividly blood-thirsty, but many of the fundamental principles and goals that empowered the Marxist-Soviet ideology are alive and well today. The seductively insidious methods it now employs are just as destructive, and its tolerance Inquisition is more than ready to grind any dissension. It uses sterile individualism to crush unique personhood, and mass egalitarian uniformity to obliterate the multifaceted beauty of true traditional human community. It still unequivocally comprehends (as the Soviets did) that for its new world to emerge Traditional Christianity must be sabotaged. The goal remains the same: eradicate true faith in Christ as God. As Rene Guenon notes in The Crisis of the Modern World, "The anti-traditional outlook cannot help being anti-religious; it begins by denaturing religion and, when it can, ends by suppressing it entirely." Sadly there are many in our times who are more than willing to reconstruct Christianity (effectively making it not Christianity, I wish they had the intellectual honesty to fess up). Even within Orthodox Christianity there are those looking to form a type of new orthodoxy; like Esau, they are willing to sell their birthright for a bowl of slop; thereby making themselves the spiritual children of the revisionists of Russia. Their desire is to not look foolish in the eyes of the world, they would rather not suffer the new gulags of the modern age, which are intellectual ridicule and social exclusion for not bowing to the new world idol when the pipes and drums are played. But for the true Christian, the Cross will always be foolishness to the world.

The New Martyrs of Russia were some of the first to experience the full onslaught of this brave new world. They stand as examples of heroism for us in America (and throughout the world). How should we act in the face of anti-Christian philosophies and policies that seek the destruction of all we hold dear and love? Stand strong in the grace of God, hold fast to the unchangeable Truth of Jesus Christ revealed in His Church. They are the vanguard, the first to draw up against this “new” philosophy (although there is nothing authentically new about it). We must learn from them, we must study their way, we must ask them, who are now victorious with Christ and in Christ, to help us in our struggle. They truly resisted sin unto the shedding of their blood, and we, as St. Paul says, “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in [our] striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4). The new martyrs did not resist with physical force, but rather they stood strong in the humility of faith; they stood fast and held the Traditions which they were taught (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). In the long run, it was this wisdom of humility that toppled the Soviet regime. Thus, we are called to spiritual resistance, emulating them as our examples. Let us pray for our nation, let us love all those who would “despitefully use us;” yet let us also be valiantly bold in our words and deeds, being governed not by the "new world" mind, but the mind of Christ Jesus. This fallen world is passing away, Christ our God will remain unto the ages of ages. Let us confess in Him now so that He will confess in us on that last and final day. Let us have the assurance, as the Martyrs of all ages did that Christ Jesus has conquered. Iisus Khristos Nika!

The feast day for the New Martyrs of Russia, and all the faithful who suffered under Marxist-Communism should be one of the greatest importance and attention for the American Church, it should span all of our “jurisdictional” lines. Indeed, to neglect it would be of the utmost tragedy. We must be equipped to stand as they did; through remembering and honoring them, we will be instructed. Through their blood may not only the Church in Russia be made steadfast, but in America and throughout the whole world also. Their feast day is truly an All American Feast Day, let us hold it dear.

Troparion to the New Martyrs, Tone 4
O ye holy hierarchs, royal passion-bearers and pastors, monks and laymen, men, women and children, ye countless new-martyrs, confessors, blossoms of the spiritual meadow of Russia, who blossomed forth wondrously in time of grievous persecutions bearing good fruit for Christ in your endurance: Entreat Him, as the One that planted you, that He deliver His people from godless and evil men, and that the Church of Russia be made steadfast through your blood and suffering, unto the salvation of our souls.