Memory of the New Russian Martyrs (2010)
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Beloved in Christ brothers, sisters, and children,
Today we have been honored to be concelebrants and fellow communicants in the Divine Liturgy—the great Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is especially notable for us because today we celebrate our parish feast—the memory of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia. From the earliest times of the Church, Christians gathered on the days of the memory of martyrs for the breaking of bread—participation in the sacred Eucharist; and today, the Lord granted us this great gift.
Our small church, hidden among the trees in the Oregon countryside on the edge of the North American continent, was the first in the world to be consecrated in honor of the holy new Russian martyrs. Today, twenty-eight years later, the memory of the holy new martyrs is celebrated in churches that are consecrated in their honor from Oregon to New York and from Moscow to Novosibirsk. The memory of the holy new martyrs of Russia became the foundation and the banner of the restoration and healing of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Why is the memory of the holy new martyrs so dear to us? How did they so please God that we hymn their lives as a true example for the faithful? We do not honor the new martyrs because they suffered. Everyone suffers, and we also suffer. We suffer because our lives turn out different from what we want them to be; we are hurting because others do not value us enough; we are tortured by our own passions and are in pain from the wounds that we inflict on ourselves by our own lack of physical and spiritual self-control. Romeo and Juliet, they also suffered—for there never was a story of more woe… Often we suffer because our circumstances are truly difficult; and then we complain and ask God what we have done to deserve such a lot. Nor do we honor the holy new martyrs because they were killed. We also get killed. Killed in wars, accidents, catastrophes, disease, and sometimes we kill ourselves through bad habits and addictions. If we are fortunate, we die peacefully of old age surrounded by friends and family.
But the holy new Russian martyrs lived for Christ and suffered and died for Christ. Only such life, only such suffering, and only such death are worthy of honor and emulation, because only such life leads to eternity with God, only such suffering cleanses the soul from the corruption of sin, and only such death is a glorious falling-asleep in the joyous awaiting of the resurrection. Being the image of God, the saints become the likeness of God by giving to him their life and their death: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice to us, and in order for us to become true communicants with Him in the Divine Liturgy—to become His Body, we must give ourselves as a sacrifice to Him: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1).
Life is difficult, but it is also meaningless if it is not lived for God; suffering and pain is difficult, but they are also meaningless and empty if they are not endured for Christ; death is fearful, but it is fearful, empty and meaningless, if it is not death for Christ. As you live—live for God, do His will, keep His commandments, hurry to do good, as He did good. When you suffer and hurt—give everything to Christ; He also suffered and was in pain. In repentance, thank God for all things and ask for patience, so that your cross may become that of the Good Thief, not the foolish one (see Luke 23:39-43). When you die—do not cling to death, give this last thing to Christ, so that it may become gain for you (Phil. 1:21)—not an abyss that devours the emptiness of time that was meaninglessly wasted, but the royal doors leading to the eternal life with God.
In Liturgy, one cannot be a consumer. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, and participation in it can only be sacrificial. The Savior brings Himself as a sacrifice to us, but if we are His Body, then together with Him we also must become the sacrifice. In one of the most sacramental prayers of the Divine Liturgy, we ask God to “send down His Holy Spirit upon us and upon the Gifts set forth”—the bread and wine. But first, upon us… One cannot be at the Liturgy, watch it, or listen to it—one can only be the Liturgy. And it is this being, this sacrificial life as a Eucharistic offering to God, and the sacred Eucharist as true life—this is the accomplishment of the holy new martyrs of Russia, this is the glory which through glorification adorns the Church of Christ, that rule of life for us, that canon, to which the Church points in canonization of the saints.
Through the prayerful intercession of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia, may we become worthy communicants at the Divine supper in the unwaning day of Christ’s kingdom!