Written by Vladimir Moss



     The Apostle Paul writes: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things..." (Philippians 4.8). In the terrible twentieth century, there was nothing more true, more pure and more lovely than the feats of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia. Their faith, their virtue, their love of God and man warms hearts grown cold from the icy breath of the prince of this world and protects them from the power of satan. Truly, with their heart they believed unto righteousness, and with their mouth they confessed unto salvation (Romans 10.10). And so they are with the Lord, Who said: "Whosoever shall confess in Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 10.32).

     When we look down the roll-call of Christian martyrdom, we are struck by the great variety of reasons for which the martyrs suffered. Some were killed for what were clearly reasons of faith - because they confessed the One God against the pagans, or Christ against the Jews, or one or another dogma of the faith against the heretics. But others suffered to defend their chastity (e.g. the Martyr Thomais), or because they rebuked injustice (e.g. St. John the Forerunner), or because they refused to return evil for evil (e.g. Saints Boris and Gleb), or simply because they were there, unwitting obstacles to the impious designs of evil men (e.g. the 14,000 innocents of Bethlehem, St. Edward the Martyr). The Holy Church accepts all of them as martyrs because, even if they were not killed specifically for their confession of the faith, nevertheless they died for Christ, being true Christians who suffered an unjust death at the hands of the evil one.They witnessed for Christ in the sense that they imitated Him in life and death, and thereby witnessed to the power of His Resurrection.

     The holy new martyrs of Russia present a similar apparent variety in the reasons for their martyrdom. This has led to some to wonder whether they are all really martyrs for Christ. In particular, some have cast doubt on the sanctity of at least some of the Russian new martyrs and confessors on the grounds that they suffered for "political" reasons, for their pronouncements against the crimes of Soviet power or in favour of monarchism.

Martyrs or Political Criminals?

     Now we are familiar with this argument in relation to the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, an argument that was well refuted by Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles: "We will speak to the point, in a way that befits an honest, believing Christian. The Tsar-Martyr, and his family as well, suffered for Christian piety. He was opposed to the amorality and godlessness of the communists, both on principle and by virtue of his position - on principle, because he was a deeply believing Orthodox Christian; by virtue of his position, because he was a staunch Orthodox Monarch. For this he was killed. To ask him anything concerning the faith was unnecessary, because he gave witness before the tormentors to his steadfastness in Christian principles by his entire previous life and works, and especially by his profoundly Christian endurance of the moral torments of his imprisonment. He was a staunch defender and protector of the Christian faith, preventing the God-haters from beginning a vicious persecution against believers in Christ and against the whole Orthodox Church. For this reason he was removed and slain...

     "It is also known from witnesses still alive that prior to the Revolution it was proposed that the Tsar repeal the strictures against anti-Christian secret societies, and it was threatened that if he refused he would lose his throne and his life. The sovereign firmly refused this proposal. Therefore, they deprived him of his throne and killed him. Thus, he suffered precisely for the faith."[1]

     However, it is not only the Tsar's canonization that has been labelled as a "political" act, an attempt to rehabilitate a "political criminal" or political programme. Since so many of the non-royal martyrs were also condemned as “political criminals”, it is necessary to defend them, too, from this charge.

     Thus A. Zhuravsky writes in his book on the martyrs of the Kazan diocese in 1918: "To the present day many of our contemporaries have preserved the conviction that the majority of those clergy who suffered in 1918 suffered torments not so much for the faith as for their 'political' pronouncements, which were expressed in Church sermons against the violence of atheism, of the Bolshevik terror, of the trampling on the norms of Christian morality and even against Soviet power. Therefore there exists the opinion that it is not worth canonizing this or that group of martyrs only because they suffered for 'political crimes', or, on the contrary, suffered as it were by chance, only because they happened to be servants of the cult. In the latter case, it is said, the very fact of 'witnessing' for the truth of Christ is absent."[2]

     Zhuravsky goes on to give an effective refutation of these charges: "As regards those who 'suffered by chance', let us point out only that everything happens in accordance with the Providence of God and the 'witness' is priesthood itself, clerical rank, belonging to Orthodoxy, for which these righteous ones were doomed to torments by the Godless. Let us also remember that since the times of the persecutions against the first Christians the Eastern Church has maintained the position that the single fact of martyrdom communicates holiness. Moreover, if we turn to the Lives of the Saints, we shall find tens of short descriptions of 'facts' of martyrdom, when both the names of the saints and the circumstances of their martyric deaths remained unknown. For the first Christians it was clear - if the Christian died in the faith and from the pagans, then he died for the faith and for Christ, and consequently, was worthy of veneration, as having already acquired for himself the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. For that reason the Orthodox Church chants in the troparion to the martyrs: 'In your sufferings you acquired unfading crowns...'

     "As regards politics, things are not quite so unambiguous. If we turn to the history of the persecutions against the first Christians, we discover to our amazement the wonderful similarity of the position (and reasons for persecution) of the Christians in the conditions of the Roman empire and of the Soviet state. According to Roman legislation, the Christians were persecuted, not for their convictions (for Roman law did not punish convictions, but actions), but for their refusal to bow down to the cult of the emperors. And the Christians were judged as hostes Caesari and hostes rei publicae, that is, as political prisoners, opponents of the authority of Caesar, and as 'enemies of the people'! In the trials of the Christians three main accusations were brought forward: that they were opponents of the state religion (sacrilegium - godless ones), as non-venerators of the cult of Caesar (crimen laesae majestatis) and as secret plotters (they formed secret societies). But that is exactly what we see in the 20th century! The Orthodox Christians and the clergy were also judged, not for their religious convictions (after all, freedom of confession was guaranteed by the Constitution), but for 'political' anti-Soviet activity, for refusing to bow down to the idol of the Bolsheviks' dreams. And so is it the case that the first Christians, who refused to bow down to the statue of Caesar and rebuked the pagan abomination of idol-worship, differ so much from those pastors of 1918, who rebuked another idol (but also pagan), and other disorders (but of the same kind and nature), witnessing their zeal for their faith with every sermon? As Prudentius, the Christian poet and hymnographer, justly remarked: 'Despising the temple (the pagan temple - A.Zh.) means rejecting the emperors.' But we can make almost the same remark with regard to the 20th century: Despising (that is, rejecting) state atheism (Godlessness, materialism) means rejecting the revolution (from the point of view of the authorities such a person was a 'counter-revolutionary'). Already from the end of the 1920s Christians began to be accused of, amongst other things, secret plots aimed at the overthrow of the existing system. Let us note that the latter had much in common with the Roman empire. In the Roman empire there was no pagan church: 'That which, among the Christians, related to the sphere of Church activity, in Rome related to the sphere of activity of the state. The priests, pontifexes and flamens were state functionaries; therefore by dint of historical necessity that challenge which the Christian Church hurled at the pagan faith and to which the pagan church had to reply was accepted by the state.’[3]

     "But, you know, the Soviet state did not have its own 'institution of the Church'. The role of that institution was played by the communist ideology, whose 'ideological clergy' (commissars, party secretaries, popularisers of 'Marxist-Leninist' philosophy, etc.) were also employed by the state. The Soviet state, like the Roman empire (its much more likeable forerunner), took the challenge of the Church of Christ to the bearers of Godless (antichristian) ideology as a challenge to itself, a challenge to Bolshevism, a challenge to the initiators of the mindless plan to erect a new tower of Babylon of the future. And insofar as the state authorities had religious functions, it descended with all its strength upon its 'rival' and rebuker - the Orthodox Church. All this completely explains why we cannot reject the fact of martyrdom solely because at its base their lies the authorities' declaration of the passion-bearer's 'political guilt'. Every case must be examined individually."[4]

Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union

     Zhuravsky's point is well taken. And yet, in order to understand what precisely it was that the Russian New Martyrs died for, and the great difficulties they had in defining their relationship to the State, it is necessary to consider the differences between the situation of the confessing Christians in Old Rome and in the Soviet Union. For since Christ had been born in the Roman Empire and had explicitly commanded the giving to Caesar of what was Caesar's, and the Apostle Paul had had no hesitation in using his Roman citizenship to defend himself against the Jews, the Roman Empire was natural and lawful for Roman Christians in a way that the Soviet state, for many powerful reasons, could never be for Russian Christians.

     Thus Tertullian once said to the Roman pagans: "Caesar is more truly ours (than yours) because he was put into power by our God".[5] Emperor-worship was not part of the original constitution of the Roman Empire; such famous emperors as Tiberius, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius explicitly rejected it; and in the case of those who tried to enforce it, such as Nero and Domitian, it was in essence an import from the eastern pagan theocracies, an heretical aberration from the fundamental Roman conception, which was that the emperor is subject both to his own laws, of which he is the main custodian, and to the laws of God, being emperor "by the will of God" and not "as a god". "In fact," as Professor Sordi writes, "the imperial cult had never been imposed formally, or even encouraged, by any of the emperors to whom the Christian apologists from Aristides to Quadratus, from Melito to Athenagoras, were addressing their works."[6]

     Thus the early Christians could quite clearly and sincerely distinguish the honour in which they held the institution of the empire and the emperor himself from the disgust they felt for the cult of emperor-worship during the few reigns in which it was imposed; which is why they refused to offer incense to the emperor's statue, while continuing to pay taxes and carry out military service.

     Soviet power, however, was established by the overthrow of the Christian Roman Empire and in direct opposition to everything which that Empire stood for. Unlike the pagan Romans, the Bolsheviks did not acknowledge that their power had been established "by the will of God"; nor did they consider themselves subject to any laws, human or Divine. Of course, no society can exist without laws, and the Bolsheviks did create a code of laws; but since the essence of their state was "the mystery of lawlessness" (II Thessalonians 2.7), they had no compunction in breaking their own laws whenever it suited them - which, in the case of relations with the Church and Christians, meant most of the time.

     This placed the Christians before a most acute dilemma. Their first instinct - an instinct which found expression above all in the decrees of the Local Council of the Russian Church - was to refuse any kind of recognition for the Soviet state. Thus on November 11, 1917 the Council addressed a letter to the faithful, parts of which hinted at a complete rejection of the Bolshevik regime: "To our grief, as yet no government has arisen which is sufficiently one with the people to deserve the blessing of the Orthodox Church." Again, on January 19, 1918 Patriarch Tikhon issued his famous anathema against the Bolsheviks and their co-workers, adjuring all Christians "not to commune with such outcasts of the human race in any matter whatsoever". A few days later, the Council endorsed the Patriarch's anathema in even stronger language.

     This first instinct of the Russian Church in the face of Soviet power has never been extinguished among Russian Christians. It continued to manifest itself both at home and abroad (for example, in the First All-Emigration Council of the Russian Church Abroad in 1921), both in the early and the later decades of Soviet power (for example, among the "passportless" Christians of the Catacomb Church). However, it was very soon tempered by the realisation that publicly and on a large scale such outright rejection of Soviet power could be sustained only by war - and after the defeat of the White Armies in the Civil War there were no armies left to carry on the fight against the Bolsheviks.

     Therefore from the early 1920s a new attitude towards Soviet power began to evolve among the Tikhonite Christians: loyalty towards it as a political institution ("for all power is from God"), and acceptance of such of its laws as could be interpreted in favour of the Church (for example, the law on the separation of Church and State), combined with rejection of its atheistic world-view (large parts of which the renovationists, by contrast, accepted).

     In essence, this new attitude involved accepting, contrary to the decrees of the Local Council of 1917-18, that the Soviet State was not Antichrist, but Caesar - no worse in principle than the Caesars of Ancient Rome. Therefore some things were due to it - “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. This presupposed that it was possible, in the Soviet Union as in Ancient Rome, to draw a clear line between politics and religion.

     But in practice, even more than in theory, this line proved very hard to draw. For to the Bolsheviks there was no such dividing line; to them, everything had to be in accordance with their ideology, there could be no room for disagreement, no private spheres into which the state and its ideology did not pry. Unlike most of the Roman emperors, who allowed the Christians to order their own lives in their own way so long as they showed loyalty to the state (which, as we have seen, the Christians were very eager to do), the Bolsheviks insisted in imposing their own ways upon the Christians in every sphere: in family life (civil marriage only, divorce on demand, children spying on parents), in education (compulsory Marxism), in economics (dekulakization, collectivization), in military service (the oath of allegiance to Lenin), in science (Lysenkoism), in art (socialist realism), and in religion (the requisitioning of valuables, registration, commemoration of the authorities at the Liturgy, reporting of confessions by the priests). Resistance to any one of these demands was counted as "anti-Soviet behaviour", i.e. political disloyalty. Therefore it was no use protesting one's political loyalty to the regime if one refused to accept just one of these demands. According to the Soviets, such a person was an enemy of the people.

     In view of this, it is not surprising that many Christians came to the conclusion that, as the English saying goes, "hung for a penny, hung for a pound" - it was less morally debilitating to reject the whole regime that made such impossible demands, since the penalty would be the same whether one asserted one's loyalty to it or not. And if this meant living as an outlaw, so be it. Such a rejection of, or flight from the state had precedents in Russian history; and from as early as 1918 we find priests, such as Hieromartyr Timothy Strelkov of Mikhailovka (+1930) and bishops, such as Hieroconfessor Amphilochius of Yeniseisk (+1946), adopting this course.[7]

     Nevertheless, this path required enormous courage, strength and self-sacrifice, not only for oneself but also (which was more difficult) for one's family or flock. It is therefore not surprising that, already during the Civil War, the Church began to soften her anti-Soviet rhetoric and try once more to draw the line between politics and religion. This is what Patriarch Tikhon tried to do in the later years of his patriarchate - with, it must be said, only mixed results.

     Thus his decision to allow some, but not all of the Church's valuables to be requisitioned by the Bolsheviks in 1922 not only did not bring help to the starving of the Volga, as was the intention, but led to many clashes between believers and the authorities and many deaths of believers. For, as the holy Elder Nectary of Optina said: "You see now, the patriarch gave the order to give up all valuables from the churches. But they belonged to the Church!"[8]

     The decision to negotiate and compromise with the Bolsheviks - in transgression of the decrees of the 1917-18 Council - only brought confusion and division to the Church. Thus on the right wing of the Church there were those, like Archbishop Theodore of Volokolamsk, who thought that the patriarch had already gone too far; while on the left wing there were those, like Archbishop Hilarion of Verey, who wanted to go further. The basic problem was that the compromises were always one-sided; the Bolsheviks always took and never gave; their aim was not peaceful co-existence, but the complete conquest of the Church.

     However, the Patriarchal Church remained Orthodox under Patriarch Tikhon and his successor, Metropolitan Peter, for two major reasons: first, because the leaders of the Church did not sacrifice the lives of their fellow Christians for the sake of their own security or the security of the Church organization; and secondly, because, while the Soviet regime was recognised to be, in effect, Caesar rather than Pharoah, no further concessions were made with regard to the communist ideology.

     But everything changed in 1927 with the notorious declaration of the deputy head of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod. By declaring that the Soviet regime's joys were the Church's joys, and its sorrows the Church's sorrows, Sergius in effect declared an identity of aims between the Church and the State. And this was not just a lie, but a lie against the faith, a concession to the communist ideology. In fact, it implied that communism as such was good, and its victory to be welcomed.

     Moreover, Sergius followed this up by committing the sin of Judas; he placed all those who disagreed with him under ban and in effect handed them over to the GPU as "counter-revolutionaries". Far from "saving the Church", as he claimed, he condemned its finest members to torture and death.And then his successors in the present-day Moscow Patriarchate (MP) followed this up with the sin of Pilate - the criminal indifference to the truth manifest in their participation - under pressure from the communists as Pilate had been from the Jews - in the "heresy of heresies", ecumenism.

     In order to protect the flock of Christ from Sergius' apostasy, the leaders of the True Church had to draw once more the line between politics and religion. One approach was to distinguish between physical opposition to the regime and spiritual opposition to it. Thus Archbishop Barlaam of Perm wrote that physical opposition was not permitted, but spiritual opposition was obligatory.[9] This criterion allowed Christians quite sincerely to reject the charge of "counter-revolution" - if "counter-revolution" were understood to mean physical rebellion. The problem was, as we have seen, that the Bolsheviks understood "counter-revolution" in a much wider sense...

     Another, still more basic problem was that it still left the question whether Soviet power was from God or not unresolved. If Soviet power was from God, it should be counted as Caesar and should be given what was Caesar's. But bitter experience had shown that this "Caesar" wanted to seat himself in the temple as if he were God (II Thessalonians 2.4). So was he not in fact Antichrist, whose power is not from God, but from Satan (Revelation 13.2), whose power allowed, but by no means established by God for the punishment of sinners? If so, then there was no alternative but to flee into the catacombs, rejecting totally the government of Satan on earth.

     In the early years after Metropolitan Sergius' declaration, many Catacomb Christians, while in practice not surrendering what was God's to the Soviets, in theory could not make up their minds whether the Soviet regime was Caesar or Antichrist.

     Thus Hieromartyr Joseph (Gavrilov), superior of Raithu Desert (+1930), confessed at his interrogation: "I have never, and do not now, belong to any political parties. I consider Soviet power to be given from God, but a power that is from God must fulfil the will of God, and Soviet power does not fulfil the will of God. Therefore it is not from God, but from Satan. It closes churches, mocks the holy icons, teaches children atheism, etc. That is, it fulfills the will of Satan... It is better to die with faith than without faith. I am a real believer, faith has saved me in battles, and I hope that in the future faith will save me from death. I firmly believe in the Resurrection of Christ and His Second Coming. I have not gone against the taxes, since it says in Scripture: 'To Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.'"[10]

     From this confession, impressive though it is, it is not clear whether Hieromartyr Joseph recognised the Soviet regime as Caesar, and therefore from God, or as Antichrist, and therefore from Satan. In the end the Bolsheviks resolved his dilemma for him. They shot him, and therefore showed that they were - Antichrist.

     In the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR), meanwhile, a consensus had emerged that the Soviet regime was not Caesar, but Antichrist. This was the position of, for example, Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava, Metropolitan Innocent of Peking and Archbishop Averky of Jordanville. As Archbishop Theophanes put it in the same critical year of 1927: "The Bolshevik authorities are in essence antichristian, and there is no way in which they can be recognised as being established by God."[11]

     The same conclusion was reached by the Catacomb Church inside Russia. Thus the Catacomb Council of Ust-Kut, Siberia, in July, 1937, decreed:

   “1. The Sacred Council forbids the faithful to receive communion from the clergy legalized by the anti-Christian State.

     “2. It has been revealed to the Sacred Council by the Spirit that the anathema-curse hurled by his Holiness Patriarch Tikhon is valid, and all priests and Church-servers who have dared to consider it as an ecclesiastical mistake or political tactic are placed under its power and bound by it. 

     “3. To all those who discredit and separate themselves from the Sacred Council of 1917-18 – Anathema!”[12]

     Thus we come to the conclusion that the confessing Christians of the Soviet Union suffered and died precisely for Christ and against the Antichrist. This was not a political struggle because the Antichrist is not a purely political figure. In his kingdom there is no sustainable boundary between religion and politics; everything is both religion and politics; for he claims to be both lord (of the bodies) and god (of the souls) of his subjects. This being so, it is impossible to resist the Antichrist in one sphere while cooperating with him in another - the totalitarian man-god must be rejected totally. It is the glory of the holy new Martyrs and Confessors of Russia that, having exhausted all attempts to achieve some kind of honourable modus vivendi with the Antichrist (more often than not, for the sake of others rather than themselves), when they were finally presented with the stark choice between the man-god and the God-Man, they boldly and unswervingly chose the latter, proclaiming: "Thou art my Lord and my God" (John 20.28).

The Martyrs and the Moscow Patriarchate

     In November, 1981 the Russian Church Abroad, meeting in New York, canonised the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia. This act proved to be very popular not only in the Russian Church Abroad and the Catacomb Church, but also among ordinary believers in the Moscow Patriarchate – that church organisation founded by Metropolitan Sergius and Stalin which had become the “official church” of the Soviet Union since 1943. Over the next twenty years, under pressure from these believers in its own ranks, the MP began to follow the Russian Church Abroad’s example, glorifying first some of the major martyrs who died before 1927, such as Great Princess Elizabeth and Patriarch Tikhon, and then, in its “Jubilee Council” of the year 2000 – the Royal Martyrs and several of the martyrs who died after 1927.

     How was it possible for the MP to glorify Tsar Nicholas, which, following communist ideology, it had condemned as a “blood-sucker” for so many years? 

     The decision to glorify Tsar Nicholas was a compromise, reflecting the very different attitudes towards them in the patriarchate. The Royal Martyrs were called “passion-bearers” rather than “martyrs”, and it was made clear that they were being glorified, not for the way in which they lived their lives, but for the meekness with which they faced their deaths. This allowed the anti-monarchists to feel that Nicholas was still the “bloody Nicholas” of Soviet mythology, and that it was “Citizen Romanov” rather than “Tsar Nicholas” who had been glorified - the ordinary layman stripped of his anointing rather than the Anointed of God fulfilling the fearsomely difficult and responsible role of “him who restrains” the coming of the Antichrist. Of course, even if the Tsar had committed the terrible sins he was accused of (nobody denies that he made certain political mistakes), this would in no way affect his status if he was truly, as all the Orthodox believe, martyred for the sake of the truth. After all, many of the martyrs lived sinful lives, and some even temporarily fell away from the truth. But their sins were wiped out in the blood of their martyrdom. However, this elementary dogma was ignored by the MP, which wished, even while glorifying the Tsar, in a subtle way to humiliate him at the same time.

     How was it possible for the MP to glorify the martyrs after 1927, when these rejected Metropolitan Sergius and were condemned by him as graceless schismatics - for example, Hieromartyr Victor of Glazov, whose relics are incorrupt and wonderworking, but who said that Metropolitan Sergius’ betrayal was “worse than heresy”?After all, as late as 1992 “Patriarch” Alexis II was declaring that the Catacomb Church was uncanonical.[13] How could an “uncanonical” and “graceless” Church produce martyrs?

     The short answer is that, as in the case of the Royal Martyrs, the people already venerated them, and it was impossible to deny their manifest holiness any longer… However, since to glorify only the true martyrs would be to admit that they themselves were schismatics, the MP hierarchs proceeded also to glorify a series of false martyrs – hierarchs and priests who remained in communion with Metropolitan Sergius and shared in his sin of Judas. Thus was fulfilled the prediction of Fr. Oleg Oreshkin: "I think that some of those glorified will be from the sergianists so as to deceive the believers. 'Look,' they will say, 'he is a saint, a martyr, in the Heavenly Kingdom, and he recognized the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius, so you must be reconciled with it and its fruits.' This will be done not in order to glorify martyrdom for Christ's sake, but in order to confirm the sergianist politics."[14]

      This position had been anticipated by “Patriarch” Alexis II in 1993, when he declared: wrote: “I believe that our martyrs and righteous ones, regardless of whether they followed Metropolitan Sergius or did not agree with his position, pray together for us.”[15] It became official at the Council of 2000, as Sergius Kanaev writes: “In the report of the President of the Synodal Commission for the canonisation of the saints, Metropolitan Juvenaly (Poiarkov), the criterion of holiness adopted… for Orthodox Christians who had suffered during the savage persecutions was clearly and unambiguously declared to be submission ‘to the lawful leadership of the Church’, which was Metropolitan Sergius and his hierarchy. With such an approach, the holiness of the ‘sergianist martyrs’ was incontestable. The others were glorified or not glorified depending on the degree to which they ‘were in separation from the lawful leadership of the Church’. Concerning those who were not in agreement with the politics of Metropolitan Sergius, the following was said in the report: ‘In the actions of the “right” oppositionists, who are often called the “non-commemorators”, one cannot find evil-intentioned, exclusively personal motives. Their actions were conditioned by their understanding of what was care for the good of the Church’. In my view, this is nothing other than blasphemy against the New Martyrs and a straight apology for sergianism. With such an approach the consciously sergianist Metropolitan Seraphim (Chichagov), for example, becomes a ‘saint’, while his ideological opponent Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd, who was canonized by our Church, is not glorified. For us another fact is also important, that Metropolitan Seraphim was appointed by Sergius (Stragorodsky) in the place of Metropolitan Joseph, who had been ‘banned’ by him.”[16]

      The canonisation of both the true and the false martyrs downgraded the exploit of the true martyrs without denying it completely. It was as if the MP were saying: “Yes, these were good men, and we give permission for them to be venerated and prayed to as saints. But it would have been better if they had followed the lawful hierarchy!”

     Some, seeing the glorification of the Catacomb martyrs by the successors of those who had persecuted them, remembered the words of the Lord: “Ye build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets’. Therefore ye bear witness against yourselves that ye are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up the measure of your fathers!” (Matthew 23.29-32).

     As the Kaliningrad parish of the ROCOR wrote on November 1/14, 2000: “What throng of new martyrs was canonized by the Moscow Patriarchate if, in that multitude, there are ‘saints’ who fought against the Church, and who later suffered at the hands of their masters - but not for Christ, having become, rather, victims who were offered up upon the altar of the revolution, just as were thousands of other bolsheviks and liberal dreamers?  A throng of new martyrs in which victims and executioners, holy martyrs and ‘Christians’ (at whose orders these new martyrs were shot and sent to prisons and labour-camps), find themselves side by side?”

     The 20th canon of the Local Council of Gangra declares: “If anyone shall, from a presumptuous disposition, condemn and abhor the assembly [in honour of] the martyrs, or the services performed there, and the commemoration of them, let them be anathema….” And again, Canon 34 of the Council of Laodicea decrees: “No Christian shall forsake the martyrs of Christ, and turn to false martyrs, that is, to those of the heretics, or those who formerly were heretics; for they are aliens from God. Let those, therefore, who go after them, be anathema.”

     This act of canonising both the true and the false martyrs has further absurd consequences. First, it means that, if any one was still tempted to consider that the official acts of the MP had any validity at all, he can now be assured that even the MP itself does not believe in them. For consider: Archbishop Victor, Metropolitan Cyril and the whole host of Catacomb confessors were defrocked, excommunicated and cast out of the community of the “faithful” by official acts of Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod. But if these “defrocked” and “excommunicated” people are now saints in the Heavenly Kingdom, this only goes to show, as the MP now implicitly admits, that the actions of Metropolitan Sergius and his Synod were completely uncanonical and invalid!

     Secondly, it also shows that the MP does not know what martyrdom is, and looks upon it in an essentially ecumenist spirit which deprives it of all meaning. Some years ago, a writer for the Anglican Church Times was reviewing a book on the “martyrs” of the Anglican Reformation. In the spirit of that ecumenism that has been at the root of Anglicanism for centuries, this reviewer claimed that both the Catholics who died for their faith at the hands of the Anglicans and the Anglicans who died for their faith died at the hands of the Catholics died for the truth as they saw it and so were martyrs! For it was not important, wrote the reviewer, who was right in this conflict: the only thing that matters is that they were sincere in their beliefs. And he went on to deny that heresy in general even exists: the only real heresy, he said, is the belief that there is such a thing as heresy!

     The act of the MP presupposes a very similar philosophy. It presupposes that you can be a martyr whether you oppose the Antichrist or submit to him, whether you confess the truth or lie through your teeth, whether you imitate the love of Christ or the avarice of Judas. This is the perfect philosophy for our lukewarm times! But if the Lord Himself spews such lukewarmness out of His mouth, then so should we. And if the anathema on those who venerate false martyrs does not frighten us, let us at least pay heed to the words of St. Paul: “If a man strive for mastery, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (II Timothy 2.5)…


June 3/16, 2006.

Holy Martyr Demetrius the Tsarevich.

[1] Archbishop Anthony, "The Glorification of the New Martyrs of Russia is Our Sacred Moral Duty", Orthodox Life, vol. 29, N 3, May-June, 1979, pp. 24, 25.

[2] Zhuravsky, Zhizneopisaniya Novykh Muchenikov Kazanskikh God 1918, Moscow, 1996, pp. 4-5.

[3] Bolotov, V.V. Lektsii po Istorii Drevnej Tserkvi, Saint Petersburg, 1907, reprinted in Moscow, 1994, volume 2, pp. 14-15.

[4] Zhuravsky, op. cit., pp. 5-7.

[5] Tertullian, Apologeticum, 33.1.

[6] Marta Sorti, The Christians and the Roman Empire, London: Routledge, 1994, p. 176.

[7] See Schema-Monk Epiphanius (Chernov), Tserkov' Katakombnaya na Zemlye Rossijskoj, 1980 (typescript).

[8] Matushka Evgenia Grigorievna Rymarenko, "Remembrances of Optina Staretz Hieroschemamonk Nektary", Orthodox Life, vol. 36, N 3, May-June, 1986, p. 39.

[9] Cited in William Fletcher, The Russian Orthodox Church Underground, 1917-1970, Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 64.

[10] Novye Prepodobnomuchenki Raifskiye, Moscow, 1997, p. 17.

[11] Pis'ma Arkhiepiskopa Feofana Poltavskago i Pereyaslavskago, Jordanville, 1976. Cf. Archbishop Averky, "Mir nevidimij - sily byezplotniya", Slova i rechi, Jordanville, 1975, vol. 2, pp. 593-95; Metropolitan Innocent, "O Sovyetskoj Vlasti", in Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), Zhizneopisaniye Blazhenneishago Antoniya, Mitropolitan Kievskago i Galitskago, izdaniye Severo-Amerikanskoj i Kanadskoj eparkhii, 1960, volume 6, pp. 168-172.

[12] Schema-Monk Epiphanius (Chernov), personal communication; B. Zakharov, Russkaya Mysl’, September 7, 1949; "Vazhnoye postanovleniye katakombnoj tserkvi", Pravoslavnaya Rus’, N 18, 1949. According to one version, there is a fifth canon: “To all those who support the renovationist and sergianist heresy – Anathema”. See Bishop Ambrose (von Sievers), “Katakombnaya Tserkov’: Ust’-Kutskij Sobor 1937g.”, Russkoye Pravoslaviye, N 4 (8), 1997, pp. 20-24.

[13] Nedelya, N 2, 1/1992.

[14] "Ierei o. Oleg otvechayet na voprosy redaktsii", Pravoslavnaya Rus', N 23 (1452), December 1/14, 1991, p. 7.

[15] Fr. Peter Perekrestov, "Why Now?" Orthodox Life, November-December, 1994, p. 44.

[16] Kanaev, “Obrascheniye k pervoierarkhu RPTsZ”, in Otkliki na deiania Arkhierejskogo Sobor RPTsZ 2000 goda i na prochie posleduischie za nim sobytia, part 2, Paris, 2001, pp. 3-4..

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