Sermon on the Day of the Russian New-Martyrs
Priest Sergei Sveshnikov
Dear fathers, brothers, sisters, and children!
Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. This day is notable for us for several reasons.
A quarter of a century ago, the foundation of our church was laid in the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and under their prayerful protection. Ivan Vladimirovich and Lyudmila Raymondovna Assur founded this church in the memory of Ivan's father, the New Martyr Vladimir, who was killed for preaching Christ. Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov), the well-known churchman and writer blessed New Martyr Vladimir to preach. The history of this small parish in its picturesque setting is similar to the mountains which are visible to the northeast: there have been peaks and there have been valleys. The ever-memorable Hieromonk Seraphim Rose once prayed at Divine Liturgy in this solitary place, and later heavy trucks roared along Route 213, destroying the usual prayerful silence. The parish grew and became strong in the Truth. We need not recall all of the days of difficulties, but there was a schism in 2001, the deep wounds of which are not yet healed to this day. By the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, may the Lord strengthen us, and may the trials which are sent to us be for our spiritual growth.
The church was built by the efforts of several families, several of whom are among us today. All of us come to church, pray, and help according to our abilities. But there are certain people who respond to God's question "Whom shall I send? And Who will go forth for us?" loudly and with full responsibility, "here I am, send me" (Isaiah 6:8). They build, sing, give offerings, and do everything necessary for the existence of the church, and then again they build, and continue to sing, and continue to give offerings, and again do all things that our parish needs... Maybe we do not thing about this often, but without these people, the doors of our small church would not open for services -- the doors themselves would not even be there. Therefore, on this day of celebration for our parish, I would like to thank from my whole heart our laborers, who already for a quarter of a century have worked for the good of the parish, without whose sacrificial help and support our parish simply could not exist. By the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, may the Lord give them His most-abundant blessing and many years!
Our laborers, always putting the service of God and others in the first place, follow in the footsteps of those saints whose memory we celebrate today. The Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia show us an example of personal bravery and patient bearing of one's cross.
The way of following Christ is always the way of cross-bearing. The road to Pascha always passes through Golgotha. Christ went along this road; the first Christians chose this road, and the saints followed after them, generation after generation.
The Holy New Martyrs and Confessors were not only an incarnation of the entire treasure of Christian tradition, but were also exactly worthy imitators of the first Christians. Let us recall that the first work of the infant Church was not leadership by hierarchs, nor monasticism, nor lofty theological thought, but martyrdom and confession. It is precisely the first martyrs and confessors that laid the foundation on which the fruit-bearing tree of Christ's Church flowered. And it is precisely with this rock of faith, with this apostolic leaven that the holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia unite us.
The way of faith in Christ is always the way of cross-bearing. The Lord Himself showed us this salvific path, and if there were some other way that leads to eternal life, then undoubtedly the Lord would have showed it to us. The path of following Christ, the path of imitation of Christ are the paths of humility without complaining, the paths of joyful bearing of sorrows, the ways of bearing not only one's own, but also others' burdens, the ways leading to the Cross, the ways leading to the eternal Pascha.
The next time it seems to us that the cross that we are given is greater than we can bear, when not only the attainment of Christian virtues, but even the usual attendance at services and following the Church-established fasts seems unbearable, let us turn with fervent prayer for help to the Lord and to the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, who did not give only a day or an hour, but their whole lives to Christ.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the former Russian Empire suffered for faith, and by this showed their loyalty. In many cities and villages of Russia, churches are now being restored on the places of their executions, on the blood of the new-martyrs. Here is just one of the most fearful examples. On Butovo Field, the NKVD [People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs] shot tens of thousands of people from the 1930s to the 1950s. In the years 1937 and 1938 alone, in fifteen months 20,765 people were shot there. As research has shown, about a thousand of them suffered for Christ and loyalty to His Church. The place where shots and dying groans of uncountable executed people so recently sounded without ceasing is now a place of church prayer. As in the first centuries of Christianity, services were performed over the tombs of the martyrs, even today the Butovo Field has become a place of offering the Bloodless Sacrifice.
On May 15, 2004, Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow and All Russia and the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Laurus, laid the foundation of a church in the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia on the Butovo Field. This year on the May 20, both hierarchs will perform the consecration of the church. There, at every service prayer will be offered to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, just as this prayer has been offered at every service in our church for a quarter century.
Let us remember "all who suffered for faith in Christ in Butovo and in other places during the years of cruel persecution", let us honor their memory by our God-pleasing lives, and let us bring as a gift to them works of mercy and love.
Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, pray to God for us!
Translated from the Russian by Priest Michael van Opstall