Orthodox America


 The Cry of the New Martyrs – the Millennial anniversary 


     With this special double issue, the staff of "Orthodox America" greets its readers with the triumphant celebration of the Millennial anniversary of the Baptism of Rus'. It is, of coarse, a noteworthy occasion for the entire Orthodox world, but particularly for those within the Russian Church--whether they be of Russian descent or those who have by the grace of God been engrafted into the tree which grew out of Grand Prince Vladimir's Providential decision to adopt the Orthodox faith for his people. This anniversary is much more than the commemoration of something that happened 1,000 years ago on the banks of the Dneipr. It is a celebration of an unchanging faith in a world buffeted by change, a faith which, like its Founder, is yesterday, today and forever the same. It is a time for reflection, a time for enriching our present lives through a greater appreciation of the past; a time of gratitude towards those men, women and, yes, children--rich and poor, prince and peasant, learned and unlearned--whose acquisition of the Holy Spirit preserved the flame of faith and nurtured traditions of piety which we, unworthy ones, have been vouchsafed to inherit. It is through their ascetic struggle that the Kieran princedom blossomed into that land which, despite all external contradictions, can still be called "Holy (Svyataya) Rus."

    Beginning in this issue with the Lives of the Holy Passion-bearers Boris and Gleb (+1015), we are planning a series of saints' Lives from each century of the Millennium. The account of the righteous pilgrim Maria might have been taken from any century in the history of pre-Revolutionary Russia. The bulk of the issue is devoted to articles from and about the present. Indeed, because the coming of the Millennium has coincided with the era of 'glasnost', there has been a rather extraordinary proliferation of material, originating both within the Soviet Union and without, on the subject of the Russian Church Today.

    From a human perspective the contemporary experience of Orthodox believers in the Soviet Union is rooted in bitter tragedy. Archpriest Victor Potapov, speaking at a seminar on the issue of human rights in the USSR, held at the White House just prior to this winter's summit meeting, summed it up when he said:

    "In this century Russia has come face to face with militant, godless international communism, a totally new phenomenon which has never been experienced by any other people in the history of mankind. Russia's body has been scourged, tortured and literally crucified.''

     This fact is witnessed by the myriad of Russia's New Martyrs, represented in this issue by Archbishop Mitrolan of Astrakhan, brutally executed at the outbreak of the Red Terror which opened the door to Russia' s Golgotha. Central to the experience of her ascent has been the "tragic attempt," so well described by Sergei Khodorovich, of the communist experiment to eradicate religion, both externally--through the broad scale destruction and closure of churches, and internally--by t h e physical liquidation of its most fervent advocates and by bringing the Church organization into submission to the State.

“…there is much joy today…the time is unique…may God grant us to contribute our own 'widow's mite' and bring our own efforts to God's work....Everything that is now happening is felt like a miracle, like invisible assistance from Our Lord and the New Martyrs....It feels as though we are walking on water--may God only help us not to fall down. The great jubilee is opening horizons, and many clergy, silent until now, are waking up..."

 (from a letter to Fr. Victor Potapov from Fr. Gleb Yakunin) 

     The resulting 'deficit' of spiritual life, more pronounced in the face of the present near economic disaster and decades of failed promises, has prompted a search for meaning and an appreciation for the spiritual values of the past. This is reflected in a new breed of writers who are turning tothe past for inspiration and who use fiction to express their spiritual convictions. Prize laureate Victor Astafiev writes in. one of his novels that there was a time when "we lived with a light in our soul, acquired long before us by the doers of heroic deeds ('podvizhniki') and lighted for us so that we would not wander in the darkness, scratch out each other's eyes..." This influence of the past, of a culture permeated by the Christian world view has helped to bring many to the Church who, like activist Vadim Shcheglov were raised in the spiritual vacuum of communist society.

    The occasion of the Millennium has combined with a greater boldness generated by the present policy of 'glasnost' to stimulate various open appeals and calls for reform in the area of religious affairs, and particularly Church-State relations--from laity and hierarchs alike. One appeal which has received widespread attention is a letter to Gorbachev by Archbishop Theodosy of Poltava calling for the restoration of the Kiev Caves Lavra as a functioning monastery (to appear in the next issue of OA). Among the more original appeals for change is a proposal inade to Gorbachevlast year by Fr. Gennady Fast, a priest of the Dormition parish in Yeniseysk, who sets forth by means of precise logic the argument that atheism and religion should be on the same legal footing inasmuch as atheism as belief in the non-existence of God is no more "scientific" than religion. Therefore, he concludes, atheist propaganda should be held to the same parameters as religion. Even Metropolitan Alexis of Leningrad, considered loyal to the status quo, has openly voiced his opinion that some Soviet authorities still regard believers as second-class citizens, and that this attitude is contrary to Soviet legislation.

    While there is talk of reforming the legal status of the Church, of allowing it to own property, so far there seem to be few substantive changes. Indeed, despite official efforts to portray a policy of tolerance towards religion, one should keep in mind the recent comments of the Chairman for Religion Affairs, Konstantine Kharchev, in "Izvestia" (Jan. 17, 1988), calling upon communists "to keep up the ideological struggle against the growing influence of the Church" (KNS).

    Clearly, one would have to conclude with Fr. Victor Potapov that "the state of religion in the USSR remains bleak," and, as another commentator cautioned: "Rejoicing should be restrained as long as the basic apparatus of repression remains in existence" (J. Anderson in "Religion in Communist Lands, winter 1988). Nevertheless, in this Millennium year one cannot help but find tremendous inspiration in the tenacity of the Russian Church's struggle, and in the miracle of awakening sensed by Fr. Gleb Yakunin and others, a miracle which is a harbinger of that greatest of all miracles, resurrection.


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