Priest Martyrs in Communist Russia, 1922

Background information: in Orthodox churches Pascha (Easter) is celebrated starting late Saturday. Our church is packed to full capacity. At midnight the resurrection is announced. We sing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” In services in the Orthodox Church in America, this hymn is sung to a peppy melody at the top of our lungs in a church packed full of people. Also throughout the rest of the service periodically a priest yells out “CHRIST IS RISEN!” And we reply, “INDEED HE IS RISEN!” Also, we cross our arms over our chests when we receive the Eucharist (communion). With that background, this story about Communist Russia is even more moving.

“One day, the Patriarch had to take a personal part, as a witness, in the trial initiated by the Bolsheviks against a group of clergymen. The Patriarch was warned that the fate of the accused depended on his testimony. This was a trial involving a great many priests, and concluded early in May of 1922, at which ‘red justice’ was showcased. Here is an eyewitness description of the Patriarch’s interrogation and the conduct of the accused and the audience. ‘When the stately figure, robed in black, appeared at the doors of the hall, accompanied by two escorts, everyone involuntarily stood up. All heads bowed low in profound, respectful homage. His Holiness the Patriarch calmly and majestically made the sign of the Cross over the accused and, turning upon the judges a direct, stern and majestic gaze, awaited his interrogation, leaning on his staff.

“‘You gave orders that your Appeal be read publicly, calling the people to refuse to submit to the authorities?’ asked the presiding judge.

“The Patriarch answered calmly: ‘The authorities are well aware that there was in my Appeal no call to refuse to submit to the authorities, only a call to preserve our holy things, and in the name of preserving them to request the authorities to permit us to pay the monetary equivalent of their value, so that, while aiding the starving brethren in such a way, we might still preserve our holy objects.’

“‘So, this Appeal will cost the lives of your dutiful servants,’ said the presiding judge, indicating with a dramatic gesture the accused seated on a bench.

“The elder cast a kind and loving glance at the ministers of the altar and said clearly and firmly: ‘I have always said, both to the investigative authorities and to all the people, that in this I alone am guilty. These are merely my army of Christ, which is obediently carrying out the orders of the leader given it by God. But if a redemptive victim is required, innocent lambs of the flock of Christ must die.’

“Here the voice of the Patriarch rose and was audible in all corners of the immense hall; and he himself seemed to grow when, turning to the accused, he raised his hand and blessed them, loudly and distinctly saying: ‘I bless the faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and die for Him.’ The accused fell to their knees. The interrogation of the Patriarch was over.”

“That evening’s session did not continue. At dawn on 25 April 1922, the sentence of the ‘just and impartial’ ‘people’s’ court was handed down: eighteen men were to be executed by firing squad, the rest were to be imprisoned for terms of various lengths. The suggestion of the presiding judge that an appeal for leniency be made to the higher authorities was responded to by Archpriest Zaozersky in an ardent speech and was rejected by all those sentenced. Only a deep sigh was audible in the hall at the pronouncement of the sentence; not a groan, not weeping.

“A great redemptive sacrifice was to be offered up for the sins of the Russian people, and the people dispersed in silence. Yet not to their homes, but to the square, where all night more and more awaited the fatal moment. It was already light, the sun had already risen, when the heavy doors of the court opened and those sentenced to death emerged on the square, surrounded by a forest of bayonets. They walked bare-headed, their arms crossed upon their breasts, their eyes upraised to heaven, where the good Redeemer of the world awaited them, where all is forgiven, all is forgotten, where there are no sufferings, no evil. And a loud and exultant hymn poured forth from them: ‘Christ is risen from the dead.’

“Ecstatically, the people responded to them, crying: ‘Truly He is risen!’ They kissed their hands, the hems of their garments. The guards fended off the crowd with their rifle-butts, yet they swelled in number, pressing against the soldiers. Mounted detachments appeared and pushed the people back with their horses; they beat them back with their rifle-butts, with whips–all to no avail. The ecstatic singing poured forth, the ecstatic people hurled themselves at the martyrs. A truck carrying soldiers of the Red Army forced its way into the crowd. They seized the convicted and literally threw them into it. The truck rumbled and sped off. Yet the joyous ‘Christ is risen!’ was long heard, was long audible in the clear air of the sunny spring morning.”

Excerpt from

Retrieved 2 Nov 2019.

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