On Sunday, February 10, the feast day of the Synaxis of the Holy New Martyrs & Confessors of the Russian Church, His Eminence Luke, Metropolitan of Zaporozhye & Melitopol, celebrated Divine Liturgy in the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City. Upon completion of Liturgy, His Eminence addressed the gathered faithful with a sermon:
Today is a day to commemorate all those New Martyrs and Confessors who were killed in the 20th century during the terrible persecutions by the godless authority of the Bolsheviks. The campaign of repressions they initiated began immediately after the October Revolution. The new government had no need of those who, seeing that enmity and hatred rooted in men’s hearts, spoke instead of the need to live a Christian life. Priests were called "enemies of the people," and after this sentence was passed down, as a rule, followed execution, or years of torturous hard labor. The victorious proletariat dreamed of building a new and happy life with no king and no God.
Praying today for those who were subjected to suffering and death for the Faith and the Church, we remember those who, still in this earthly life, were already seeking the Kingdom of God, who filled their lives with its presence and dreamt of meeting the Lord right here on earth. We remember those whose faith was able to endure and not break, who did not betray themselves or their ideals. Today’s prayer brings us back to those tragic events of a century past. Thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people were put to death. For what? For their faith, though they were not being forced to renounce Christ. They were not accused of being Christians, but rather were accused of not supporting the official government. These confessors already understood the tragedy this would become for millions of people. The selfish and ambitious desire of those in power to build a live without God led only to an increase in cruelty and to the murder of their fellows. For any religion – and atheism is also a religion – built on the assertion that there is no God, inevitably leads to one thing: the coarsening of the soul, its withering away, and the destruction of the image of God in man. Today we remember the best among us, who died on account of the sins of the worst; who, even facing death prayer not for retribution and the punishment of their tormentors, but for God’s mercy on the whole of our people; on those who would endure these terrible times and come to God; on those who would be better and nobler than those who attended the churches at the beginning of the century. For many attended with a cold heart and an empty soul. That is why these so-called Orthodox people would later kill priests. They were not killed at the hands of heathens, but precisely at the hands of their co-religionists. That is the most terrible part.
In connection with the events we remember today, it is difficult to even imagine that the persecutions to which the Russian Orthodox Church was subjected in the 20th century would ever be repeated. But I, as a citizen of Ukraine, must acknowledge that they are already repeating; worse still, everything that happened at the beginning of the past century is happening now before my eyes in my country. The events taking place right now in Ukraine differ very little from those that took place in the [former] Russian Empire. We see the same accusations. Priests of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being accused of treason, as though we represent some threat to the sovereignty of Ukraine, or are interested in her collapse. At the same time, priests and parishioners of the Diocese of Zaporozhye alone, as part of their benevolent "Love is Kind," gather hundreds of thousands of hryvnias for the purchase of medical equipment and drugs for children with cancer, Ukrainian children who have been given this terrible diagnosis. Throughout the years, more than a ton and a half of blood has been donated. We regularly help those in need; hundreds of people are given food, clothing, and various items every day in our monasteries and parishes. If one were to calculate it, it would come out to tens of millions of hryvnias collected by our parishioners – citizens of Ukraine. And they do not donate this money to a foreign power, but to their own fellow citizens who have fallen on hard times, on whom their own government has turned its back. The Church becomes the sole salvation for these people. And after all this, we are accused of being enemies of Ukraine. This is a lie from beginning to end, and a lunacy taking place in our society. We are called second-class citizens, a fifth column, accomplices of enemies of the state. People are beaten, people are terrorized. Our churches are seized and burned, and priests and threatened with violence. Those who own businesses and help our Church are threatened with the loss of their business, are threatened with their destruction. And this lawlessness is taking place in the 21st century, in a country that declares its so-called democratic values. But these values are in word only. In our country, distrust, animosity, hatred, and suspicious grow between citizens. And the mass media only fans the flames of this hysteria surrounding our Mother Church. People are afraid that bloody persecutions are at hand. But, I hope – and this is only my opinion – they likely will not take place. We will simply be destroyed morally. They will do everything for us to morally destroy one another with our own hands. Who will talk to someone branded an "enemy of the state" or "enemy of the people"? I can say for myself how many former friends and acquaintances I had who are now so frightened, that they are afraid to even glance in my direction. But I am not worried in this regard, and do not fear. What I fear most in this situation is that I may sin. Christ tells us: fear not them which kill the body, but rather fear him which is able to destroy the soul. Today, as never before, it is important for us to be vigilant, to keep watch over our own hearts and all of the movements of our souls.
In order that the deaths of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia not be in vain, we must always be alert, but always keep watch to make sure that our soul is not being destroyed in sin, and that our heart is not touched by indifference and disinterest toward what is taking place. Life shows us that we are far more vain, more self-serving, envious, and embittered than people at the start of the 20th century. But behind us stand generations of our broken and tormented brothers and sisters. Is this really not enough to make us start thinking more, not about ourselves or our own benefit, but about how to please God? By this alone we ought already to be wiser and better; but, unfortunately, this is not happening. And as concerns our spiritual formation, we remain just as uneducated, uninformed, and unenlightened as before. And there is only one reason – our laziness. We are too lazy to overcome ourselves, we simply lack the patience. We do not want to discipline our souls in the work of patience. This is our scourge. We want to live in comfort and convenience, pleasurably, while at the same time also living with Christ. But such a division is impossible. I am not calling on us to reject convenience, or else what good are the benefits of civilization to us? Must we reject them? Of course not. Everything that we have for our convenience must serve us, not enslave us.
How did Christ act? In today’s Gospel reading we hear how He forgave the publican Zacchæus, who was undoubtedly a cruel, capricious, and tyrannical man, else the Roman Empire would not have employed him in such a position. The Lord teaches us not to fear anything or anyone. In emulating the saints of God whose memory we glorify today, let us keep watch over our hearts, nurturing within them Christian virtues, the foremost of which should be our pious relationship with God, a fear of betraying Him and offending Him by disobeying His will. We ought not fear men; every man is a liar, as Holy Scripture tells us. We should fear offending God, because only in this way can we develop within ourselves that particular vigilance and humility, achieving purity and sincerity in our prayers. Amen.
New York City: Sermon by Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye & Melitopol on Sunday of Holy New Martyrs of Russia - 02/10/19