Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Feast of All the Neomartyrs of Russia

Guest Article by Henri de Velliers

This past Sunday, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the feast day of all the holy new martyrs and confessors (neomartyrs and confessors) of Russia, victims of the communism during the XXth century.

The unprecedented atheist persecution that hit the Church in Russia since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the celebration the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia in 1988 failed to destroy the Christian faith in this country. Under communist rule, many martyrs have witnessed the victory of Christ over death, fear and evil. A database of the St. Tikhon Orthodox University in Moscow identified the names of 500 000 new martyrs and new confessors of the Faith, victims of communism. Each year the Russian Orthodox Church proclaim the canonization of about 2000 new saints, and name them in its calendar. Nevertheless, it seemed necessary to unite all the neomartyrs in a special feast day. It was scheduled for the Sunday following January 25 (February 7 on the Gregorian Calendar), because at that date was martyred the first victim of the persecution after the October Revolution: on January 25, 1918, Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev was arrested during the night and taken out of the Laura of the Caves of Kiev. Abused and insulted, he sang and prayed quietly before his execution. He blessed his executioners before being shot, saying: 'May God forgive you!'.

It is certainly impossible to list all the neomartyrs, but we would like to recall here the beautiful figure of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia. Elizabeth Feodorovna was born on October 20, 1864. She was the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, who was assassinated in 1905 in a terrorist attack. She visited the murderer in his prison to urge him to repent, and she seek his grace to the Tsar. She never stopped praying for him. During the Russo-Japanese War, she took care of many war-wounded soldiers and then decided to devote herself to God.

Animated by the spirit of charity and mutual help, she founded the Monastery of Martha and Mary in Moscow, for nuns nurses serving the poor and sick. Feeling hard times coming for her country, she encouraged believers to get through these terrible times with faith. She was herself an admirable nurse, never sparing her strengths. Refusing to be rescued, she was arrested in 1918 with two sisters, one was Barbara, who shared her martyrdom. During the night of July 17, 1918, she was thrown, with other members of the Romanov family, in a well 60 meters deep, inside the Alapaevsky mines. She did not die immediately and people outside the mine were able to hear her singing the troparion of the Resurrection & the Akathist hymn from the bottom of the well. Her body was found intact on a ledge about sixteen meters below, beside the body of prince Konstantinovich whose wounds have apparently been cured by her. After a long journey by Irkutsk, China, Suez and Palestine, her relics were deposited in the Russian Monastery Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem, built by Emperor Alexander III. St. Elizabeth is one of the most revered holy neomartyr in Russia today, her icon is present everywhere.

Troparion of the neomartyrs and neoconfessors of Russia, tone 4: Today the Church of Russia joyfully forms a chorus, * praising her new martyrs and confessors; * hierarchs and priests, * royal passion-bearers, * right-believing princes and princesses, * venerable men and women, * and all Orthodox Christians. * Having laid down their life for faith in Christ * during the days of godless persecution, * they preserved the truth by the shedding of blood. * By their protection, O long-suffering Lord, * preserve our land in Orthodoxy * till the end of the age.

Nota bene: The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia canonized the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 1981, fixing their feast day on the Sunday nearest January 25 (February 7 on the Gregorian Calendar). The Russian Orthodox Church instituted the same feast in 2000 but on the Sunday after January 25. This year, Russian Church authorities decided to choose the same date for next year, that is on the Sunday after January 25.

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