The Church of New Martyrs

Metropolitan Vladimir

Metropolitan Vladimir

The Orthodox Church today commemorates St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, famed for his “lofty eloquence and … wondrous breadth of learning.” In Russia, today is also the feast day of the New Martyrs, the millions of faithful Christians who perished under the Communist terror. Among them was the holy New Martyr Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev and Gallich, the first bishop to be tortured and slain by the Communists at the time of the Russian Revolution. The Church was an immediate target of the Bolsheviks who saw the faithful as “a threat from the opposing political force.”

On January 23, 1918, during the battle for Kiev, the Bolsheviks seized the Kiev Caves Lavra, and the monks were taken out into the courtyard to be stripped and beaten. A few nights later, according to one account, five armed soldiers and a sailor came looking for Metropolitan Vladimir. The hierarch was tortured and choked in his bedroom with the chain of his cross. They tortured the metropolitan and demanded money, then drove him away to be executed. Another account just states that some anonymous persons proceeded to take him to the commandant for interrogation. On the way, they decided to rid themselves of him.

“Twentieth-century Christians surely have particular reason to reflect on the centrality of martyrdom, for ours has been pre-eminently an age of martyrs,” writes Bishop Kallistos of Diokelia in his essay “The Seed of the Church.”

“The ordeal undergone by contemporary believers — in the Soviet Union after 1917, in Ethiopia after 1974, to mention but two examples — makes the persecution of the early Church in the Roman Empire, even under Diocletian, appear relatively mild and humane,” the Bishop writes. “In the past sixty years incomparably more Christians have died as martyrs for their faith than in the whole of the three hundred years following the Crucifixion.”

This following is attributed to Srdja Trifkovic, who offered this reflection in an address to the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey, Silverado, Calif., in May 2006.

It may be argued that among the Bolsheviks’ victims many were slaughtered not because they were Christians-as-such, but because they were “objectively” real or potential enemies of the state, i.e., Tsarist army officers and aristocrats, peasant farmers (“kulaks”), artists, academics, or middle class professionals. But while it would be admittedly erroneous to count every Christian, however nominal, who died under Communist persecution as a “New Martyr,” there is no doubt:

(1) that Christians were targeted with particular ferocity for the very reason of their faith;

(2) that the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian confessions – notably Eastern Rite Catholics – were subjected to systematic destruction on a titanic scale; and

(3) that the majority of victims targeted for supposedly “secular” reasons of class, profession, or political beliefs, were also Christian believers whose faith was inseparable from other traits of their personality.

We’ll never know how many of those countless victims were “in a situation of witness for the Faith” at the moment of death, which is the conventional definition of martyrdom. Of the mental state of the killers, however, and specifically of their intention to eradicate Christianity by whatever means, there is no doubt at all. In 20 years (1918-1938) the number of churches that remained open in Russia was reduced from 54,000 to under 500 — to less than one percent, that is, of the pre-Bolshevik total. In all some 600 bishops, 40,000 priests, 120,000 monks and nuns, and millions of laypeople were martyred for the Orthodox Faith in Russia in the five decades after 1918. The survivors were also confessors: they survived, but theirs was a living martyrdom.


Tone 4: O ye holy hierarchs, royal passion-bearers and pastors, /
monks and laymen, men, women and children, /
ye countless new-martyrs, confessors, /
blossoms of the spiritual meadow of Russia, /
who blossomed forth wondrously in time of grievous persecutions /
bearing good fruit for Christ in your endurance: /
Entreat Him, as the One that planted you, /
that He deliver His people from godless and evil men, /
and that the Church of Russia /
be made steadfast through your blood and suffering, //
unto the salvation of our souls.


Tone 2: O ye new passion-bearers of Russia, /
who have with your confession finished the course of this earth, /
receiving boldness through your sufferings: /
Beseech Christ Who strengthened you, /
that we also, whenever the hour of trial find us /
may receive the gift of courage from God. /
For ye are a witness to us who venerate your struggle, /
that neither tribulation, prison, nor death //
can separate us from the love of God.

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