THE CANONIZATION OF THE NEW MARTYRS BY THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS
OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OUTSIDE OF RUSSIA
IN 1981—HOW IT HAPPENED
Archpriest Serafim Gan
The decision to canonize the Russian martyrs of the 20th century was made in principle by the Council of Bishops in 1971, when in response to a multitude of appeals by clergymen, parishes abroad, and the faithful in the USSR, the bishops of ROCOR reached a determination that stated, “The Council of Bishops kneels in piety before the holy podvig of the Russian new martyrs and consents to their glorification.” The preliminary study of questions connected with their canonization was entrusted to ArchbishopAnthony (Sinkevich), the head of the Southern Californian Diocese. At the 3rd All-Diaspora Council in 1974, which included clergymen, monastics, and laity of ROCOR, Archbishop Anthony presented a lengthy report on this subject, but the matter was delegated for consideration to the Council of Bishops, which convened at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, immediately after the close of the All-Diaspora Council. After careful deliberation, the Council of Bishops confirmed the decision of 1971, expressing its profound veneration of the holy memory of the martyrs of the 20th century, “whose podvig represents the glory of the Russian Church and through whose prayers she is strengthened.” This became the first liturgical step towards canonization, adding the following words to the rite of dismissal during pannikhidas, “and by their holy prayers may we receive mercy and salvation, for Thou art good and the Lover of Mankind.” In accordance with the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-1918, such pannikhidas were already being served in the diaspora on the day of the martyrdom of Metropolitan Vladimir or the following Sunday, on “Royal Days” [historic dates of the Imperial Dynasty], the day called “The Day of Intransigence,” that is, the date of the October Revolution, and also on other days. The President of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), archpastors, clergymen and many active Church members supported the canonization of the new martyrs. Periodicals were published with materials on the new martyrs, and there were thoughtful collegial deliberations at diocesan assemblies, pastoral retreats, youth conferences and within the Russian Orthodox community in general; however, there was no complete unanimity within the Church flock on this matter. Those who were hesitant were troubled by the questions as to would the canonization be timely, and what authority did ROCOR possess to perform this action of adding the new martyrs and confessors to the host of saints of the Russian Church?
It is worth pointing out that some activists, following the example of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), considered the glorification of the new martyrs and confessors a matter under the exclusive authority of the fullness of the Pomestny or Local Russian Orthodox Church, recalling the opinion of the second Primate of ROCOR on the matter of the glorification of St John of Kronstadt. At the Council of Bishops of 1953, when the question of the canonization of the Pastor of Kronstadt was being discussed, Metropolitan Anastassy expressed his doubt regarding the canonical basis of such an act, saying that “the only basis for this action would be the ukase of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon No. 362, which allows us to perform the functions of ongoing Church life, but does not grant us the right to perform such an exceptional act as the canonization of saints.” Metropolitan Anastassy feared possible inter-Church complications and the risk of that the act of glorification would be condemned as being premature. At the conclusion of his comments at the Council of Bishops of 1953, Metropolitan Anastassy stated that on the basis of these considerations, his “lips would not dare to utter this glorification on behalf of the Russian Church Abroad.” At the same time, he emphasized that he revered Fr John no less than the other members of the Council of Bishops, profoundly believed in his sanctity, but wished that his glorification be performed by the entire Local Russian Church. So, in 1953, even though the Council of Bishops recognized the holiness of Fr John, they decided to postpone his glorification until it could take place with ceremony on a Russia-wide scope with all parts of the Church of the Fatherland adding him to the hosts of saints. However, in 1964, even during the life of the retired Metropolitan Anastassy, yet with his consent, the Council of Bishops with the unanimously newly elected Metropolitan Philaret, the First Hierarch of ROCOR, glorified St John of Kronstadt for the consolation of the People of God who found themselves on foreign soil, and with the hope of the rebirth of the Church in the Homeland which was suffering persecution.
In his article “Towards the Glorification of New Saints—the Russian New Martyrs,” Bishop Nafanail (Lvov) called the requirement that the canonization of the martyrs of the 20th century be declared by the entire, unified Russian Church “is the only serious objection” to adding them to the host of saints.
In response to such a requirement, Metropolitan Philaret addressed his flock in an epistle on the forthcoming glorification of the new martyrs and wrote, “Now, with the approach of the long-awaited day of the glorification of the new martyrs, one often hears people say, ‘The Church Abroad does not have the right to glorify them—this can only be done by the entire Russian Church in its fullness.’ Of course, that would be so if the Russian Church were free!... That is why the Church Abroad deems it her duty to do that which in Russia cannot be done. And know that from behind the Iron Curtain, many, many voices reach us not only approving of the glorification of the new martyrs but beseeching us to perform the glorification as soon as possible.”
Noting the hesitation on the part of some members of the clergy and flock with regard to the canonical basis of the canonization of the new martyrs by ROCOR, His Grace Bishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) wrote, “The martyrs we are discussing could be glorified as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. But She is suppressed into profound silence. There is no appropriate ecclesiastical organ which could perform the official act of canonization. Are we to wait for the emancipation of the Russian Church from persecution? Cannot ROCOR do that which the Russian Church as a whole is unable to do today, just as St John of Kronstadt and Holy Xenia the Blessed were glorified by our Council of Bishops?
“Our Church sees its authority for this in the fact that we always considered ourselves the free part of the Russian Church, trying not to separate from her in any way or in any place, and to not betray her nor seek out a more advantageous position with the hierarchs of other Churches. Is it not our duty before the Mother Church to perform the act of glorifying the holy martyrs? As we answer this question, let us remember that the glorification of many saints began with a so-called ‘local glorification,’ that is, where the saint lived, where his pious life was known by many, where people turned to him for help even during his lifetime, prayerfully appealed to him after his death, and received answers to their prayers. Gradually, the renown of the saint would spread further, attestations to his miracles in response to prayers became the legacy of a growing number of believers, and finally the Church as a whole would face the question of canonizing a new saint, which its Council of Bishops would do.
“It is clear that the glorification of the new martyrs by our Church, just as that of St John of Kronstadt and Blessed Xenia, will first be a local phenomenon, in light of circumstances, and not final, that the official act of canonization by the entire Russian Church will follow after her emancipation from persecution.
“But in the case of these martyrs, this is not even necessary, since the recognition of a martyr as being a saint does not demand official sanction by ecclesiastical authorities. He who is killed for confessing Christ is revered as a holy martyr by the Church immediately after his death, without heed to how he lived, what he did, and without the expectation of miracles and such.”
A great influence on doubters were the letters received by the bishops abroad from Fr Dimitry Dudko and other clergymen and laypersons in the USSR, which were published in church periodicals calling for the speedy glorification of the new martyrs. They expressed the hope that such a measure taken by the Russian Church Abroad would strengthen the persecuted and serve as the beginning of the rebirth of the Church in the Homeland.
The Council of Bishops of 1976 “expressed its unanimity and agreement in principle with the need to glorify the new martyrs of Russia.” Still, in light of the absence of unanimity among the participants of this Council on the timing of this action, it was decreed to prepare the clergymen and faithful with the widespread publication of materials on the suffering of the martyrs and confessors. That same year, thanks to the work of activists in the diaspora, church periodicals published a list of the names of 22,000 victims of the Red Terror and distributed them among believers in the USSR.
In 1978, the Council of Bishops, convening in New York for the ceremonial canonization of Blessed Xenia of St Petersburg, took the following decision: “To glorify the new martyrs and reposed confessors of Russia among the host of saints at the next Council of Bishops.”
On February 23, 1981, the Synod of Bishops formed a preconciliar committee and decided to perform the ceremonial glorification of the holy new martyrs on Sunday, November 1, 1981, at the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” adjacent to the residence of the First Hierarch of ROCOR in New York. The Synod charged Bishop Laurus (Skurla) to continue working on compiling lists of those who suffered at the hands of the atheists and instructed publishers abroad to increase the dissemination of materials devoted to the canonization of the new martyrs. The preconciliar committee tended to this matter. Archbishop Vitaly (Oustinov) of Montreal and Canada was appointed chairman of this committee and energetically took to the printing of brochures containing two sermons of praise by Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) about the Holy Hieromartyrs Metropolitans Vladimir and Veniamin, the Royal Family and other martyrs and passion-bearers. Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of San Francisco and Western America was appointed to compose a service to the Synaxis of New Martyrs and Confessors, while Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich) was asked to compose a service to the Royal Passion-bearers. Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov) of Holy Trinity Monastery and the spiritual father of Bishop Laurus was asked to paint the first icon of the saints in time for the canonization.
In 1981, by recommendation of Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), the Synod of Bishops initiated expedited liturgical preparations for the Council of Bishops which was to perform the canonization. By ukase of the Synod of Bishops, moleben services were to be held everywhere on the Sunday of All Russian Saints, preceded by a sermon on the forthcoming glorification and adding the following special petition during the augmented litany. “For the success of the Council of Bishops in the work of glorifying the new martyrs and confessors of the Church of Russia, that they may pray for us and for our people.” On July 17, the clergy and laity were called upon to celebrate a Liturgy for the Departed, while cathedrals and monasteries were encouraged to conduct midnight services. Beginning with the new ecclesiastical year in September, all churches were to perform litanies for the departed for the new martyrs and confessors following every Sunday and feast-day Liturgy. That year, St Dimitry Saturday was specially celebrated by first commemorating “those new martyrs and confessors killed or who died in terrible suffering.”
The Council of Bishops of 1981
The Holy Council of the hierarchs in the diaspora opened with all of the bishopscelebrating the Divine Liturgy and a moleben at the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” at the residence of the First Hierarch of ROCOR in New York on Sunday, October 18, the feast day of the Hierarchs of Moscow. The next day, after the singing of “The Grace of the Holy Spirit gathers us this day,” the secretaries and members of various committees of the Council were elected, the agenda was approved, and Metropolitan Philaret read his report on the life of ROCOR in the inter-Council period. The archpastors then commenced studying a draft of the Act of the Council on the glorification of the new martyrs prepared by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe).
The text of the Act met no objections, but Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) proposed replacing the words “headed by the Tsar-Martyr” with the words “together with the Tsar-Martyr,” reminding the hierarchs that during deliberations at the previous Council of Bishops, it was decided to specifically glorify the last Emperor together with all those who suffered under the godless regime. To this comment, Bishop Nektary (Kontsevich), Vicar of the Western American Diocese, responded that in his opinion and that of very many Russian people, the many millions of martyrs must be headed by Emperor Nikolai Alexandrovich for the reason that the last Monarch was the Anointed of God, a sacred figure and bearer of that special grace that restrained the spread of “the mystery of lawlessness.” Bishop Konstantin (Essensky) agreed with him, while Archbishop Afanasy (Martos), Administrator of the Argentinian cathedra, proposed to perform the glorification of the Royal Family separately from the other martyrs, calling Emperor Nicholas “the most pious and Orthodox Tsar.” Incidentally, even before the Council, some hierarchs, in their correspondence, suggested glorifying the new martyrs headed by Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Vladimir first, and then glorify the Royal Family and the Alapaevsk martyrs later. Arguing against the separate canonization was Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), who pleaded with the members of the Council of Bishops not to forget that the Emperor stood at the head of the faithful people who were subjected to militant-atheist persecution, so in essence he should be canonized specifically as the head of the new martyrs. Still, the author of the draft, for the sake of unity among the hierarchy, suggested removing the words “headed by.”
Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), successor to St John (Maximovich) on the cathedra of San Francisco, expressing his personal reverence of the Tsar-Martyr, read an excerpt to the Holy Council regarding some actions taken by the Tsar and Tsarina which were seen by opponents of their glorification as evidence of meddling in internal Church affairs. Archbishop Anthony, nonetheless stressed that if one were to discuss errors by Emperor Nicholas, then it follows to recall the sin of Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ as a method of edification. He then noted that the Tsar should be glorified together with all the martyrs: “The glory of the meek and humble Tsar will be greater if he is placed together with the other martyrs. But if the people set him apart with special veneration, that will express the will of God… The glory of the Tsar will not be dimmed if he is glorified together with others.” Then, he recalled the famous discussion between Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) with the dying Bishop Mikhail (Gribanovsky) on the necessity of reestablishing the Patriarchate in Russia; Archbishop Anthony saw in this a reminder that the clerical rank supercedes the monarchy. Archbishop Mark (Arndt), then heading the Munich Vicariate of the German Diocese, noted that hieromartyrs always took primacy over other martyrs. During the discussion of this topic, Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) noted that his Western European flock would not accept the glorification of the Royal Passion-bearers “heading” all the martyrs, and that it would be improper to darken this celebration with conflict, stressing that they should not be martyrs of the people or of the government, but of the Church of Christ Archbishop Alypy (Gamanovich), then Vicar of Cleveland of the Chicago Diocese, said that the monarchy defended Holy Orthodoxy, and the essence of the Church resides in her hierarchy. When Bishop Nektary (Kontsevich) objected, saying that “no bishop was ever anointed twice, but the Tsar was.” Archbishop Paul (Pavlov) clarified that “a second anointing exists in clerical service, but not by myrrh, but by the laying on of hands.” Sensing the lack of unanimity on this matter, Metropolitan Philaret proposed putting off the debate until another day and to move to other matters on the agenda.
Returning to the podvig of the Royal Family on the second day of the Council’s deliberations, Metropolitan Philaret recalled how St Arseny the Great replied to a certain elder who was troubled that another ascetic whose labors were less burdensome was actually granted greater spiritual gifts. This was recorded in Protocol No. 3 of the Council of Bishops thus: “The elder asked: who were you in the world? The answer was ‘From the simple folk.’ But the other ascetic was renowned by his rank. We had none of the temptations of the renowned ascetic, but he who had everything, rejected it and had to work harder. That is why the Lord gave him such gifts. The Royal Family enjoyed great stature in the government and it was from this loftiness that they descended to the state of persecution. They could easily have been angered, yet they preserved their meekness and love, which even influenced their captors.”
The deliberation on the Act continued in the evening session of the fifth day of the Council of Bishops, when Bishop Gregory read aloud the new text, in which the thoughts and amendments had been added to the first draft. This text included the terminology “a special place in the host of holy New Martyrs is occupied by Tsar-Martyr Nicholas,” and was unanimously accepted.
Back on the second day of its meetings, the Holy Council began to study the categorized list of martyrs and confessors to be glorified, compiled by the aforementioned committee headed by Bishop Laurus, who was elevated to the rank of archbishop at that same Council. In the compilation of this list, the committee used recollections of living and reposed eyewitnesses, excerpts from Soviet newspapers, reports from clergymen and the faithful from the USSR, and the materials from the book of Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, The New Martyrs of Russia. At the beginning of his report, Archbishop Laurus expressed the notion that the names of some people in the list demand special attention by the Council. The question of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich came up, who, according to information from that time, “berated his murderers and fought them.” Archbishop Pavel (Pavlov) saw in this no obstacle for canonization, for many martyrs denounced their executioners, and Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich) compared the murder of the Grand Duke with the massacre of the Infants of Bethlehem, since Mikhail Alexandrovich was designated for extermination so that the faithful would have no hope for the restoration of the Orthodox Monarchy. As a result, the Grand Duke remained on the list of the glorified, and the icon-painter was instructed to add a halo to his depiction in the icon.
During the reading of the list, the names of those who were not to be glorified by that Council or were subject to further study by the hierarchy were noted. Before every recess, one of the bishops would perform a litany for the departed with the commemoration of the names of the martyrs and confessors from the confirmed list. On the fourth day of the Council of Bishops’ work, Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) proposed the following resolution on the lists that had been read: “Having heard the list of new martyrs and confessors of Russia presented to the Council, we kiss their common podvig with love. Now the Council deems it necessary to assign a special committee to check and edit this list and to present it for confirmation by the Council in one of its subsequent sessions. We assume that in the final edited version of the list, all the new martyrs and confessors should be included who suffered before the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of July 16/29, 1927, which gave rise to the as-yet-unresolved division in the hearts of the faithful.
“We bow down before the podvig and sufferings of all the victims of later times, but there must be a special circumspection here in fine-tuning the list. For those whose names were not added to the list, commemorative prayers will continue for the time being, and the Lord will reveal the time and period to add to the list.”
The Council concurred with Archbishop Anthony, entrusting the Synod of Bishops with augmenting the list of New Martyrs and Confessors in the future, and expressed special gratitude to the committee headed by Bishop Laurus. Despite this decision, the list included some of those who suffered after 1927, including Metropolitan Arseny (Stadnitsky), Archbishop Ilarion (Troitsky) and others.
The Celebration of the Glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors
Before the canonization, the Synod of Bishops authorized the Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe), together with a small group of the mission’s brethren to examine the remains of the Alapaevsk martyrs, which lay in a crypt under the “Royal” Church of the Russian Convent in Gethsemane. They disclosed the relics and immediately noticed an aroma from their remains, which exuded myrrh with a pleasant scent. It is interesting to note that on the breast of Holy Martyr Elizabeth was a paramanny [monastic] cross, bearing witness to the fact that she was tonsured a nun before her death. The hierarchs of ROCOR and the witnesses then decided that the Grand Duchess was probably tonsured by First Martyr Metropolitan Vladimir.
Archimandrite Anthony and the monks drew up a report on the relics of both martyrs which were partly incorrupt. They were washed, and then the right hand of St Elizabeth and a bone from Holy Nun Barbara were removed. Noteworthy was the fact that after the examination, the Chief of the Mission contacted then-Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, who, as soon as he heard the news, headed to the convent. His Beatitude venerated the relics, examined them, and said that the martyrs of Alapaevsk were great saints not only for the Russian Church but the Orthodox Church as a whole. He expressed hope that by their intercession, Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church would be reborn.
The right hand of Grand Duchess Elizabeth and the relic from St Barbara were ceremoniously brought to the Synod residence in New York, where a Council of Bishops was in session. The entire Council of Bishops, wearing their mantles and minor episcopal vestments, greeted the relics with a procession of the cross at the building’s entrance. The holy items were placed in the lower-level Chapel of St Sergius of Radonezh. After a memorial litany, Metropolitan Philaret read an inspiring sermon.
The glorification of the saints by ROCOR followed the tradition established in pre-Revolutionary Kievan Rus: during all-night vigil, on the eve of the feast day of the saint. First, a final pannikhida [memorial service] is performed, then Eternal Memory is sung for the last time, then all-night vigil commences, when the various prayers to the newly-glorified saint are first sung. The rite of glorification occurs during the polyeleos. Such for instance, was the method of canonization of St Theodosius, Archbishop of Chernigov, performed in 1896.
The ceremony of the glorification began on Saturday evening, October 31, 1981, with the final pannikhida for the New Martyrs and Confessors. Many of them were named at every litany. A great icon of the New Martyrs, painted by the renowned icon-painter of the Russian diaspora, Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov), a champion of the rebirth of the ancient Russian iconographic style abroad, was wrapped in cloth and placed on an analogion in the middle of the cathedral. The reliquaries containing the relics of the Alapaevsk martyrs were still under lock and key.
After the singing of “Praise Ye the Name of the Lord,” Metropolitan Philaret first unveiled the icon, and then opened the reliquaries of SS Elizabeth and Barbara. The entire Council of Bishops and clergymen then sang the “Magnification” to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the 20th century for the first time.
Protopriest Alexander Kiselev recalled, “Eternal Memory is intoned, the singing of which spreads like wildfire throughout the entire church, and the thousand-strong crowd repeats the words of the choir and clergymen, so it seems like the very walls of the church are singing… The pannikhida ends. Vigil begins. The altar, it seems, is more crowded than the cathedral nave. At moments, only some of the clergymen emerge from the altar, because leaving and returning to the altar in the proper order would be too difficult because of the crowd. All of the clergymen only emerge for the polyeleos, which consists of the opening of the reliquaries of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna and her Novice Barbara, and the unveiling of the new icon of the New Martyrs and Confessors, the blessed intercessors for our people. I stand fourth in line by seniority on the right side, that is, right next to the reliquaries and icon; but standing behind the backs of the Metropolitan, the protodeacon and others, I cannot see how the holy relics are taken out. What could the others therefore see? Absolutely nothing. Yet how do they manage to stand 6-7 hours, squeezed into a mass of humanity? The anointing and veneration of the relics and icon by the faithful finally ends at midnight. Of course, people are not simply standing, they are praying. Naturally, they wish to stay until they can venerate the holy items.”
A new service to the saints was sung during all-night vigil along with the designated Sunday hymns. Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) read the canon with great fervor.
On Sunday, November 1, 1981, the festive divine services were celebrated by all the members of the Council of Bishops headed by Metropolitan Philaret with over 100 priests and deacons, some 2,000 Russian emigres in attendance, with representatives of other Churches, the Imperial Family and the American press. The service concluded with a sermon by Metropolitan Philaret on the topic of the glory of the Russian Church, followed by a moleben to the newly-glorified saints and a procession of the cross around the city block. As the trapeza luncheon began, arranged for a thousand guests in a rented hall, the participants greeted the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” and the new icon of the New Martyrs which were then both placed on a dais. After the blessing, while everyone listened in total silence, the Act of the Glorification of the Saints, the Epistle of the Council of Bishops and a description of the execution of Hieromartyr Vladimir were read. The luncheon ended with sermons by Archbishop Vitaly (Oustinov) and Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich). The former called the glorification ceremony “heaven on earth,” and described the state of one’s soul as burning with the fervent desire to emulate the zeal of the saints in his own life; while the latter said that the work of the Council of Bishops will no doubt strengthen living confessors who are in need of the fervent intercession of the newly-glorified martyrs and the support of their brethren.
By a decision of the Council of Bishops of 1981, the festivities surrounding the glorification of the New Martyrs continued with the transfer of the relics of SS Elizabeth and Barbara to the cathedral in the Russian Convent in Gethsemane. These exceptionally-important celebrations occurred after Pascha in 1982, when the Synod of Bishops sent a delegation to Jerusalem consisting of: Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich); Archbishop Pavel (Pavlov); Archbishop Laurus (Skurla), and Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) along with their aides. In the Throne Room of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the archpastors of ROCOR were received by several members of the Holy Synod headed by His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros, who in his greeting said the following: “Your arrival here is holy, as was the matter of canonizing the New Martyrs, for both involve people who suffered for Orthodoxy.” Further, His Beatitude the Patriarch, noting that ROCOR for various reasons was located outside of the borders of her homeland, announced that the Church of Jerusalem could not remain indifferent to the transfer of the relics of Holy Martyrs Elizabeth and Varvara, so it was decided that a special delegation of their Holy Synod would be sent, headed by Metropolitan Herman of Petra. By this official act, His Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros recognized the canonicity of the glorification of the New Martyrs, and he noted at the end of his greeting of the ROCOR delegation his wish that “the blood of the martyrs that was spilt would be the good water that abundantly irrigates the tree of Orthodox Christianity; that by the prayers of all the holy New Martyrs, we be strengthened in unity and truth.” The relics of the saintly women were transferred on Saturday, May 1, on the eve of the Sunday of the Women Myrrh-bearers, during all-night vigil. The festivities concluded with the celebration of Divine Liturgy on Sunday, May 2, at the “Royal” Church of Gethsemane Convent, attended by a large gathering of worshipers from all over the world.
What inspired the bishops abroad to overcome the aforementioned doubts and courageously perform the historic canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church in 1981? From the materials of the Councils of Bishops, the meetings of the Synod of Bishops, the proclamations of the bishops at ecclesiastical-social gatherings, and from the multitude of sermons, epistles, articles and interviews of the hierarchs, clergy and laity, it is clear that ROCOR, recognizing itself as only a part of the Russian Church, but taking advantage of its freedom in performing this act, was guided by a burning love for the Martyrs, the pious honor of their memory and a moral duty before the Mother Church, the people of Rus and our common history. This is mentioned in the Epistle of the Council of Bishops as follows: “That which no one else could do, yet with fear and trepidation and with piety before the blood of the martyrs, the Council of 18 bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a small part of the entire Russian Church, accomplished this in her name.”
Many in the Russian Church Abroad considered the end of Khrushchev’s persecutions to have been one of the spiritual fruits of the preparation for and actual canonization of St John of Kronstadt. That is why with the glorification of the New Martyrs, the archpastors, clergy and faithful abroad drew great hopes for the emancipation of the Church in the Homeland. And indeed, the “perestroika” phenomenon that began in a few years led to the broad celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus and the beginning of the renascence of Holy Orthodoxy in the Fatherland. Indubitably, the historic step taken by the fathers of the Council of Bishops of 1981 contributed to the growth of the veneration of the new saints throughout the Orthodox Christian world, the dissemination of literature about them and the final confirmation by the Church in the Homeland first of the glorification of Patriarch Tikhon in 1989, Hieromartyrs Vladimir and Veniamin and the Saints of Alapaevsk in the 1990’s, and then the entire Synaxis of New Martyrs and Confessors in the year 2000. That the canonization by ROCOR of the New Martyrs would carry first a local significance, and that the entire Local Russian Orthodox Church, emancipated from atheist persecution, would accept it, was boldly predicted by Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) and many other luminaries of the Church Abroad. Prophetic was the aforementioned wish of Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, who expressed the hope that the prayers of the martyrs of the 20th century would strengthen the unity of Orthodox Christians, for it is specifically the joint veneration of these saints and the study of the works of the hieromartyrs and new confessors that helped representatives of both parts of the Russian Church find the proper path to reestablishing the fullness of brotherly communion within the Mother Church in 2007.
Interesting was the discussion by the bishops at the Council of 1981 on the positioning of Emperor Nicholas amidst the host of Holy Martyrs, attesting not only to the unanimity of recognition of his sanctity, but also of the pastoral approach to doubters, and the paternal care for the internal unity of the Church. The measured approach of Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) and Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), the students of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who tonsured them, and of several other archpastors, to the canonization of Emperor Nicholas proved ecclesial and proper for the glorification of the Royal Family together with all the New Martyrs and Confessors caused no divisions within ROCOR.
With the premonition that the nations, which were home to the part of the Russian Church abroad, were rushing headlong into the circumstances of the Russian Empire before the Revolution, the faithful of the Russian diaspora hoped that the glorification of new saints would inspire the children of the Russian emigration, and edify their faith, piety and churchliness in the face of temptations which exist in the difficult circumstances of the secularized world. This hope is clearly expressed in the festal kontakion to the New Martyrs: “Beseech Christ Who strengthened you, that we also, whenever the hour of trial finds us may receive the gift of courage from God. For ye are a witness to us who venerate your struggle.”
From all this we see that ROCOR, ministering to its flock and laboring in its mission abroad, always remained in union with the persecuted Mother Church in the Homeland. Free to act as they chose, the representatives of the part of the Church which is abroad strove to declare the truth about the martyrs and confessors, and about the difficult situation of the Church and faithful in the USSR, by actively publishing and broadly disseminating literature, and by canonizing the saints. They set their goal not only to glorify their memory, but also to console their flock, and strengthen their Orthodox Christian brethren in the Homeland. The confirmation of the canonization of the New Martyrs by the Church in the Fatherland, which contributed towards the reestablishment of ecclesiastical unity a few years later, underscores the fact that the actions of the fathers of the Council of Bishops of 1981 was pastorally justifiable. This demonstrates that the entire flock of the Mother Church, both residing on her territory and scattered throughout the whole world, despite all obstacles and years of division, remained brethren in Christ, loving their Church, their history and the great culture of the peoples of Rus.
Concluding this brief outline of the great event, which will continue to grow every year in its significance, I draw attention to an excerpt from the service to the New Martyrs and Confessors composed in the Russian diaspora: “O ye saints whom we have remembered here, and ye countless multitude of those unknown, forgive the poverty of these words, and vouchsafe that praises may be written more fitting for you. To reckon your number is not possible. By the supplications of all of you may we that honor you receive from the Lord and Master of our life grace and great mercy!”
Archpriest Serafim Gan
Translated by Nicholas Ohotin