Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

On the Importance of the New Russian Martyrs

Posted in Interviews by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 February 2012
Sophia Moshura ( Why is it important for Orthodox Christians outside of Russia (Americans, Europeans) to revere the Russian New-Martyrs? We understand what they did for Russia, but why should they be revered outside of Russia?

Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: I think that this question can have several different answers, perhaps, even on an individual level, but I would like to focus our attention on two.  First of all, for Christians, saints are the standards of life in Christ.  In canonizing a saint, the Church gives us a canon, a rule to follow.  In this sense, Russian saints are important to the French in just the same way that French saints are important to the Russians–as examples and standards for anyone who wants to lead a Christian life.  In Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew; so, when we think of Saint Stephen, we do not often think of the fact that he was a Jew or understand what he did for Israel, but rather see him as an example of the kind of faith and boldness in Christ to which we all should aspire.  In much the same way, Americans or Europeans or Asians or Africans who learn about the new Russian martyrs will undoubtedly find them to be examples of faith and love that were shaken by “neither tribulation, prison, nor death.”[1]

But there is another aspect of the glorification of the new martyrs which may be important to both Christians and non-Christians alike.  New Russian martyrs are a constant reminder to all who are working to build heaven on earth without God.  Nowadays, we think of the communists as some evil people who set out to torture and murder, yet this is simply not true.  The communists believed that they were building the infamous “bright future” for everyone in the world–a future of freedom, equality, brotherhood,[2] and happiness for all.  People in the Soviet Union did not think that they lived in an oppressive and totalitarian society.  In fact, they were convinced that their country was the most democratic and free in the whole world.  They earnestly believed that they were building a life which was “better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”[3]

This almost sounds Christian.  Doesn’t Christ want all to be happy?  Didn’t He come to free us?  Aren’t we brothers and sisters?  And weren’t all men created equal?  All this is true, but not quite.  To give people freedom, equality, and brotherhood in the kingdom of God, Christ sacrificed Himself.  To give people the same in the kingdom of communism, communists sacrificed the people.  According to Feodor Dostoevsky’s horrifyingly accurate analysis, one hundred million people would die for the success of the revolution in Russia.[4]  Not all of them were Christians, not all of them died for Christ, but Christ died for each and every one.

For three decades the Russian Orthodox Church has been lifting up the holy lives and deaths of the new martyrs as an example for the faithful and a reminder to the whole world.  It is a reminder that when people reject the “one thing needful,”[5] when they reject Christ, they follow a path of destruction—millions of human lives ground up to feed the communist beast, and no “bright future.”  “By their fruits you will know them”[6]; and the fruits of godlessness are blood, death, devastation, and collapse.  There is only one ending to the story of the tower of Babel.  And it would be a horrible mistake to think that communist ideals can be substituted with those of capitalism—the result will inevitably be the same.  The only path which leads to the true bright future for mankind is Christ.[7]  For as long as we chase after “the bright future,” the “American Dream,” or the same “rose” by any other name—humanity is destined to failure.  It is only when we start seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness that all other things will take their rightful places in our lives.[8]

[1] From the kontakion to the new Russian martyrs.

[2] Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité is the motto of France since the Third Republic.  This also became a prominent motto of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: “Peace, labor, freedom, equality, brotherhood, happiness for all people.”

[3] This happens to be John Truslow Adams’ definition of the American Dream (Epic of America).

[4] The Possessed, 1872.  Later, Solzhenitsyn has noted the exact correspondence to the number of victims of the revolution.

[5] Luke 10:42

[6] Matt. 7:16

[7] John 14:6

[8] Matt. 6:33


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