It has been said that the glory of the Church of God is its martyrs, those people who proved ready to be witnesses of their God and witnesses of their Faith up to their own death. I was asked some time ago, “Why endure martyrdom, why not be silent and keep one’s faith in one’s heart?”, and my answer was, “Would you, if challenged, renounce your father, your mother, your child, the man or the woman whom you love, simply for the sake of enduring no danger?”. And so it was with the martyrs: they loved the Lord — not sentimentally, but with all their heart. They loved the Lord with all their life and indeed, with their death if it proved necessary.
We keep to-day the memory of the new martyrs. The martyrs of old we know about, and they are so distant, we are used to them; but in the last seventy years the Russian Church has brought thousands and thousands of new martyrs, men, women, indeed children, who proved ready not only to proclaim their Faith openly, but when challenged unto death, to die rather than renounce the God and the Lord whom they venerated, adored and wanted to serve.
The Russian Church has now established a special Feast of the New Martyrs and Witnesses, that will be kept every year. Some of their names are known and millions are unknown; but we commemorate only a few — those who in the first days of the Revolution gave their lives and were therefore a beacon, an example for millions of others who came after them to do the same. The first was Patriarch Tikhon who was imprisoned four times and was a witness of God until his death; Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev who was the first to be murdered by the revolutionaries; Metropolitan Veniamin of St Petersburg who was accused of treason and who, with several of his disciples and friends, endured martyrdom; the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth with the nun Varvara, who died also a martyr’s death, and many of us believe also that members of the Imperial Family, who refused to be saved from the dangers of the Revolution, who wanted to give up every blessing to die with their people, are martyrs and witnesses, not only of their faith in God, but in the faith that they had in the nation that gave them birth and brought them up.
We will sing the first moleben praying to them for the grace of faithfulness, the grace of courage, the grace of such love for God and for our neighbour, that we also should be able to be true witnesses. No one at the moment is asking for our life, but how many there are who ask for our mercy and for the word of truth that would kindly in their heart a new life, a new hope, a new joy. Amen.
(There followed a Moleben to the New Martyrs & Confessors, Witnesses of Russia)
Published: Newsletter № 281, 1995 February