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Archbishop Hilarion

Sermon on the Feast of the 222 Martyrs of China, Killed During the Boxer Rebellion on 11/24 June 1900

Holy Apostle John the Theologian, the great seer of Divine revelation, wrote in the Apocalypse: "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held" (Revelations 6:9). "And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God" (Revelations 20:4). In this vision, the apostle was able to see the state of the souls of all those martyred for the teachings of Christ and for their confession of the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are in special proximity to God—under His altar in the Kingdom of Heaven, for the active confirmation of the earnestness of their faith. And so these martyrs, under the Divine Altar, cried out "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were , should be fulfilled" (Revelations 6:10-11).

For all the centuries that the Church of Christ has existed, the number of these fellow-laborers and brethren—that is, the holy martyrs for Christ—has grown, with new representatives from among different peoples, nations and tribes. The ancient, far-eastern nation of China was not deprived of the honor of having their holy martyrs and confessors for Christ redden the land with their honorable blood.

Orthodox Christianity arrived in China at the end of the 17 th century with Russian Cossacks who came to Peking, courageous defenders of the Russian settlement of Albazin. The Chinese emperor invited them to serve him in a special division and gave them the opportunity to freely confess their Orthodox faith. To provide their spiritual nourishment, clergymen were dispatched from Russia, and the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Peking was gradually established. But missionary work broadened to include the local Chinese population only in the 19 th century with the translation of Holy Scripture and divine services to the Chinese language, and with the preaching of Orthodoxy outside the confines of Peking. The number of Orthodox Chinese people grew every year, they matured spiritually and their faith strengthened. And so this young Chinese flock confessed their devotion to the Savior in the first year of the 20 th century, when the Lord visited upon it a great tribulation. People throughout the world awaited that century with great hope as an age of progress, of well-being and overall peace. But the 20 th century proved the bloodiest, cruelest century despite the incredible leaps in human ingenuity and the blossoming of technology. Never before in history did so many people die and was so much destruction wrought as in the 20 th century. Among those who suffered were a great multitude of martyrs and confessors of the faith in the much-suffering Russian land. But the holy first martyrs of China, numbering 222 souls, led by Bishop Mitrofan (Ven) the Martyr, were in a way the forerunners of the coming persecutions upon the faith of Christ. They courageously endured all the bitter sufferings and refused the tempting proposal to reject Christ and worship the pagan gods. The cruel torture they endured and their subsequent death were not in vain, for they inherited the great mercies of the Lord and the honor of being among the great heavenly host of martyrs who stand before the altar of God and pray for their brothers and countrymen who remain on earth. Glorifying their martyric feats, we prayerfully ask them not to forget us or their own people. May the light of the Holy Orthodox Faith again shine brightly in this great nation of the land of China, blessed with their martyric blood. Amen.