On Friday, October 20, the Synodal Residence in New York City hosted a symposium entitled "The New Martyrs of Russia: 100 Years of Revolution & Our Future." St. Prince Vladimir Youth Association organized the event to mark the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia and the 10th anniversary of the reestablishment of unity within the Russian Orthodox Church in the fatherland and abroad. Invited were clergymen and scholars who spoke to young people, among others, interested in this momentous anniversary year.
Professor Nadieszda Kizenko of Albany University of SUNY gave the keynote address, directing the audience’s attention towards the bonds between the New Martyrs and those living today. She told the stories of the fate of the first New Martyr in Russian history: Archpriest John Kochurov, who had ministered for a time in the United States; John Kovsharov, the lawyer of Metropolitan Benjamin of Petrograd (who was also martyred) and the laypersons Yury Novitsky and Tatiana Grimblit, who lived regular lives yet performed miracles of mercy during times of terror. Novitsky cared for disabled children, Grimblit materially and spiritually supported imprisoned clergymen. Professor Kizenko showed them as examples of how, during the Bolshevik regime (sometimes dubbed "the Russian holocaust"), laypersons went side-by-side with the pastors who ministered to them and with the needy, and displayed true Christian courage and charity. Professor Kizenko also discussed non-standard styles of iconography of the New Martyrs, offering to the audience comparisons of icon types of the New Martyrs of our age, as well as images of Coptic Christian martyrs of today.
Does this tragic page in the history of the Russian state and the Russian Church have an effect on the young people of today? And if so, how? The young people at the event answered in the affirmative to the first question; meanwhile, the Russian children born in the diaspora have known about this part of history since childhood.
Masha Healy of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC, who is now a student living in New York City and is active in youth ministry, has known about the revolution since her early years. She hails from an Orthodox Christian family: her mother is Russian, her father is an American whose family had fled Russia during the revolution. "The topics of the revolution and of the New Martyrs are nothing new to me," said Masha. "I participate in St. George Pathfinders of America and attended their summer camp since childhood, where we were taught the history of the revolution. So we grew up knowing about Tsarist Russia, and also knew about the history of the emigration."
Isaiah Trofimenko was born in New York. His parents came to the USA in the 1980s as political refugees who wished to practice their Orthodox Faith and rear their children in the Orthodox Church. Isaiah graduated from New York University, where he studied music, and has been singing in the Synodal Cathedral choir for ten years. "It is interesting that for my parents, all of this was new, because in the USSR, knowing about this was prohibited. But I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the revolution," said Isaiah. "The prerevolutionary Russian culture is my culture, my music. We always had a lot of literature lying around our home, and albums about the last Tsar’s family. Like most new Russian Orthodox immigrants who sought asylum in America, my parents had to relearn this period in history. I grew up with this knowledge and want to share my experience with other young people who live in Russia, who visit from Russia. Despite the fact that you can find any kind of literature you like, this page in Russian history is little studied."
The young attendees feel that it is important to conduct similar symposia to discuss these matters, which are important even today.
"In Russia, with the beginning of Perestroika, a lot of good changes have taken place," said Isaiah. "I’m talking about the opening of new churches and monasteries, the mass publication of Orthodox Christian literature, but there are also tendencies that are troubling. A lot of cities and streets bear the old Soviet names, even 25 years after the fall of the USSR they still haven’t decided what to do with the mausoleum of the revolution’s leader. Russian society has still not come to terms with the October Revolution. This is all very strange. Society today continues to remember the Soviet Union as a great nation."
"Everyone knows what happened in 1917, but no one is in a hurry to properly evaluate those events, and bring them to a close," agreed Masha Healy. "It is a good thing that there are people who study this topic and can discuss it with us, the youth of the Russian Diaspora."
His Grace Nicholas, Bishop of Manhattan, discussed the importance of remembering the New Martyrs for the Russian Diaspora: "The New Martyrs of Russia are part of our contemporary history, and they cannot but influence us. The epoch a hundred years ago is still right with us. Bishop Tikhon, who was later to become Patriarch of All Russia and a Holy Confessor, served and worked right near the Synod building in New York today. The second Primate of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), who worked in this very building, was the spiritual father of Grand Duchess Elizabeth when he was in Russia. They are all present, they see us and pray for us."
Abbot Nicodemus (Balyasnikov) of St. Nicholas Patriarchal Cathedral in New York City thanked Professor Kizenko for her serious work and her truly Christian outlook on the history of the Church. He noted how well the history of the Church of Christ is illustrated in the succession of generations:
"It is in the very context of the 1917 revolution, the Bolshevik overthrow, and everything that followed, that the history of the New Martyrs of the Russian Church now appears not as a hopeless tragedy, of which we sense ourselves to be victims, bewailing our fate as persecuted and humiliated people, but we feel that we belong to this history, successors of the New Martyrs, who were the true victors. These were and are Christians who fulfilled and continue to fulfill service on earth. In this context, the events of 1917-1918 and the years following must be viewed as the remarkable manifestation of Divine Will, for He returned to the Russian Church her own children both in the Fatherland and abroad, the flock which preserved and continues to preserve their native culture, language, traditions, and most of all, who are missionaries of Orthodox Christianity in lands that were not traditionally Orthodox."
Fr. Nicodemus revealed the unique nature of serving in the Russian Church in America: "It was not without Divine Providence that the Holy Hierarch Tikhon, who served here for many years and achieved a great deal in America, became the Patriarch of Russia. This ‘inoculation’ in America gave him the possibility of preserving the Church in the earliest, most difficult years under Soviet rule, to maximally protect it from potential destruction and schism. It was his accessibility and proximity to the people that he learned here that served its purpose."
Nicholas Nicholson, whose ancestors came to the U.S. from Russia, also spoke.
The gathering agreed on the importance of holding joint events in the U.S. between members of the Russian Church Abroad and the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate. Fr. Nicodemus said: "We fulfill our service here not as a state religion; we are not supported by any government institution. This gives us the freedom to minister in purely spiritually, internal ways, to deal with questions that face the Church today with no association with any social or government institutions that could distract us from our main goal: the preaching of Christ and our life in Him. This is the purpose of the Church on earth."
A question-and-answer period followed, after which the clergymen, scholars, and youth continued their discussions of important questions in Russian history then and now.