New Martyrs of the Church

Augustine Sokolovski

Today we celebrate the memory of the New Martyrs of the Russian Church. On this day, we remember the memory of all those who suffered for their Christian beliefs during the Bolshevik, revolutionary and other atheist persecutions against Christians, Christianity, and the Church in the last XX century, and were glorified as saints. At the same time, the Church prays for all those who have suffered for the Christian faith, but have not yet been canonized.

Initially, the New Martyrs were those who suffered during the persecution but had not yet been officially glorified by the Church. Under communist rule in Eastern Europe, such canonization was not possible. Then, after the solemn nominal canonization of many martyrs and confessors of the Orthodox Church in 2000, the adjective "new" is not always used when commemorating these saints in calendars.

In this regard, one may wonder whether such a name has further meaning? Perhaps it is worthwhile henceforth to call these saints not new martyrs, but martyrs and confessors. This is how the Church called the holy martyrs of antiquity. In addition, the question arises of what is the peculiarity of their feat, in the language of theology, what is the essence of their message, and why should these martyrs of the last time be venerated with special attention?

According to Scripture, the first martyr was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. “Thus says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness” (Rev. 3:14). The word Witness in Greek sounds like "Martyr", that is, literally, a witness. The martyrs are also named in German, Italian, French, Spanish, English and other non-Slavic European languages. The Lord Jesus ascended the Cross. In the event of the Last Supper, He gave the disciples Bread and Wine as His Body and Blood. Thus, He indicated that His death was voluntary. The Lord Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father, showed fidelity to the biblical Testament. He became the First Martyr, and the First Witness of the New Testament.

History has known various periods of persecution for the faith. It is important to note that, in general, this periodization followed the structure of the Christian confession of the Creed. In some mysterious sequence, the paths of martyrdom in the Church largely reproduced the sequence of the Creed. 1. Unity of God; 2. Lord Jesus, Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity; 3. Church, Baptism and salvation found in the Church.

The martyrs of the first centuries of Christianity suffered from the pagan Roman emperors for their confession of faith in the One God. The emperor himself was deified. The pagans called him Lord. Temples were erected in honor of emperors. Christians refused to make sacrifices to Emperors, to recognize other gods. “God is One and One, He is our Heavenly Father,” their confession sounded. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). ‘I believe in One God’, - was the reason for their persecution. Obviously, these words are the first part of the Christian Creed.

After the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian (303–313), and his successors Emperor Constantine (+337) legalized Christianity. Many were sure that Christianity would spread throughout the universe. But Islam arose in the first half of the 7th century. The Arab conquests began in 630. The Caliphate was established. This New Empire was led by Muslim rulers. Although they relied on Christian intellectuals and ancient culture, Islam spread.

Christians were martyred for refusing to convert to Islam. Muslims became martyrs if they converted to Christianity. Centuries later, the Arab conquerors were replaced by Turkic states and empires. In place of the former Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire reigned. So times have changed. Christians began to suffer for confession of faith in Jesus as King and God. For faith in the Holy Trinity. ‘I believe in the One Lord Jesus, in the Holy Spirit’ – was the reason for these persecutions. This is nothing but the second part of the Creed.

The French Revolution of 1789 and then the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia of 1917 unleashed their hatred on the Church as such. Therefore, many Christians were killed by the revolutionaries, and then by the Bolsheviks for one belonging to the Church of Christ.

The persecutors were not interested in faith and truth. The wonders would have made them even more furious. The Church of Christ would suffer even more. Therefore, unlike the ancient martyrs, whose sufferings, according to the lives, were clothed with special glory, and even signs and wonders, the suffering of the new martyrs took place in silence. It carried the image of Christ in Gethsemane. The ‘revolutionaries’ did not demand the renunciation of Christ; rather, on the contrary, they would consider believers who rejected their convictions even more contemptible.

The ancient martyrs confessed their faith in the amphitheater. The image of the new ones is to be alone with the dead; child lost in the forest. Hell is killing others, hell is others who kill; hell is a topos of defenselessness, where there is nothing and no one.

Those who killed the New Martyrs renounced God in advance, did not believe in Him in hatred, sold their souls to the devil. If they had heard the sermon, they would have killed even more. Only silence could resist them. Saturday of the descent into hell, the path of Christ's abandonment.

The church is an indelible seal, a sign of glory, for which the atheists persecuted and persecuted Christians. This is what made them, in the eyes of the persecutors, doomed to death. “I believe in the Church, I belong to the Church through Baptism, in the Church I find forgiveness and salvation,” is the third part of the Creed.

It is important to remember this when celebrating the Memory of the New Martyrs. In their silent witness to the glory of Christ, they revealed to the Church and to the world the image of the Divine Lamb. "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her", Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians (Eph. 5:25). They, the new martyrs, were the Sufferers for the Church. They testified that the Church is the precious Bride of God. Here on earth, in the End of Time, she, as a fragile human being, must be protected and loved.