While many across the American Empire (and too many Southerners, we fear) were debauching themselves for the sake of a football game last Sunday, a very different celebration was being observed in Russia: the commemoration of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia who suffered under the Communist yoke.
When we in the West can bring ourselves to stop vilifying the Russians and begin learning from them and imitating their ensample; when we can join them in celebrating the holiness and bravery and the other virtues of their wonderful martyrs and precious confessors; when we can celebrate in a fitting way the martyrs and confessors of our own forebears of Orthodox Western Europe and Africa before schism and heresy set in; when holy men like Archimandrite John Krestiankin of Russia or St Eugenius of Carthage and Albi are more honored than Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, then things will begin to go better for us.
Here are some works that will hopefully help us on towards that end:
Sermon read by Archbishop Mark of Berlin on the feast day of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 2001
The Divine meaning of suffering can be understood only through the help of grace. For this, the Lord consoles His sorrowful disciples and all of us, sending us “the Comforter… even the Spirit of truth” Who “will guide you into all truth” (John 15:26, 16:13).
The Holy New Martyrs of Russian are close to us in time and in spirit, the spirit in which we were raised, which we have assimilated to the best of our abilities. Today, the iconostasis of our church contains relics of the Holy Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara, who are particularly close to us. Holy Grand Duchess Elizabeth was a princess of Darmstadt, who left her homeland and found a new one, both spiritual and physical. In the terrible years of persecution, her cell-attendant, the Russian novice Barbara, joined her, and they proceeded towards martyrdom together.
Martyrdom is the same thing as Christianity. These two words have the same meaning. Hatred against Christ and His followers should not surprise us. It is natural, it was foretold by the Lord Himself, Who said: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
What sort of disciples would we then be, if we did not follow the footsteps of our Teacher? The Lord forewarned us that we should not be tempted if we are to suffer for Him. And we suffer, every one of us, in our own measure, it was not only the New Martyrs, to whom our church is dedicated, and the martyrs of all times, who suffered, but even we, for only then are we truly Christians.
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Source: ‘The Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/44707.htm, accessed 7 Feb. 2016
On February 5, 2006, the elder known throughout Russia, Archimandrite John (Krestiankin), reposed in the Lord. That day in 2006 also happened to be the eve of the celebration of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, and many saw the blessed elder’s repose as the culmination of an era of confessors for the Orthodox Faith in the much-suffering Russian land. Father John had been imprisoned and tortured for his steadfast confession of the faith, and even after his release lived a life under constant watch by the Soviet authorities. It was not a simple time, and great wisdom and spirituality were required to guide his spiritual children through this life. Fr. John goes down in people’s memory as having those gifts in abundance.
The following is from the recollection of one of his spiritual sons, Igumen Savvaty (Rudakov). Fr. Savvaty is also the builder and father confessor of a monastery for women, which was established with Fr. John’s blessing.
Fr. Savvaty was raised in a pious Orthodox family, and answered the call to become a priest. But his heart’s desire was to find a spiritual father, even though everyone would say that there are no elders like the ancients, who could lead a person through life. Fr. Savvaty prayed and hoped, and finally God led him to Fr. John in the Pskov Caves Monastery.
Writer Olga Rozhneva talks with Fr. Savvaty about his beloved spiritual father, Archimandrite John (Krestiankin).
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The priest’s whole life turned around after meeting the elder. Fr. Savvatty came up to him and felt that he had no words, nothing to ask. He wanted just to stand next to him and feel the love radiating from this man. It was like a heavenly force coming from his soul. Fr. John poured out this heavenly love over everyone around him, and at first he couldn’t understand: How could Fr. John love everyone? Here is an evil man, there is a man with impure hands, while yet another is ashamed of himself for all the sins upon his soul. But the elder loved them all like a mother loves her sick children. This was Christ-like love.
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The elder appointed a time to meet with Fr. Savatty. The young priest prepared himself a long time for this meeting. He prepared himself to ask important—in his opinion—and complicated questions. But when the discussion began he felt he was a spiritual infant. Fr. John did not answer the questions Fr. Savvatty asked, as if he didn’t even hear them. He began with simple words, but these simple words were somehow extraordinary. A spiritual depth revealed itself with each word, and one could think and ponder over each one.
Igumen Savatty smiles, “I ask him about Harry and he tells me about Larry. Do you understand, he was a spiritual doctor. A spiritual professor. You complain to him about a spiritual illness like a pimple that popped up on your nose. But he has already penetrated your heart like an x-ray and seen the main reason for your spiritual illnesses. And your weaknesses. And your passions. As a doctor who sees what the patient doesn’t see. Fr. John spoke God’s truth, but he spoke it very softly, carefully. Like a loving mother feeds her children porridge—she blows on it, cools it down so that the infant does not get burned, that is how the elder fed his spiritual infants. Some shoot straight from the hip. But God’s truth is not always easy for an infant to digest… He never let his spiritual children go without treating them to some candy, some chocolates, and he loved us like children. He would often say, ‘My good ones!’
“But if Fr. John would see a deeply rooted vice or a destructive passion he would as if perform a spiritual operation—and pray for that person. You would return home feeling a slight pain—the elder was healing you, and opened a spiritual wound. So the incision hurts as it’s healing. He cauterized your spiritual ailment, but he did it so subtly and gently that you didn’t notice how the operation even took place.
“When I returned home from seeing the elder I felt I was a lucky man. I had found a spiritual father. And I was happy simply because he exists in the world. I felt his love and prayers from a distance, because he received me as one of his spiritual children and immediately began praying. He knew and remembered thousands of people by name.
“Fr. John was a window into the Kingdom of Heaven. I saw the Lord through him, because he reflected God in himself. Our soul is Adam, who has lost God. And it searches for Him and will not settle for anything else. Not power, nor riches, nor any kind of earthly delights can quench this longing for God or give peace to the soul. This was when I understood what the apostles must have felt when they were near to Christ! Or how they could exclaim only, “It is good for us to be here!” There were no other words, only happiness.
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Source: ‘“I Have Seen a Holy Man.” On the Repose Day of Archimandrite John (Krestiankin)’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/77068.htm, accessed 9 Feb. 2016