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The Canonization of the New Martyrs by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1981 – How It Happened

Brief Background

The decision to canonize the Russian martyrs of the 20th century was made in principle by the Council of Bishops in 1971 when, in response to a multitude of appeals by parishes abroad, and clergy and faithful in the USSR, the bishops of ROCOR adopted a resolution stating, "The Council of Bishops kneels in piety before the holy struggle of the Russian New Martyrs and consents to their glorification." The preliminary study of issues connected with their canonization was entrusted to Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich), the head of the Diocese of Southern California. At the 3rd All-Diaspora Council in 1974, which included clergymen, monastics, and laity of ROCOR, Archbishop Anthony presented a lengthy report on this subject, but the matter was delegated for consideration to the Council of Bishops, which convened at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, immediately after the close of the All-Diaspora Council. After careful deliberation, the Council of Bishops confirmed the decision of 1971, expressing its profound veneration of the holy memory of the martyrs of the 20th century, "whose struggle represents the glory of the Russian Church and through whose prayers she is strengthened." This became the first liturgical step toward canonization, adding the following words to the rite of dismissal during panihidas, "and by their holy prayers may we receive mercy and salvation, for Thou art good and the Lover of Mankind." In accordance with the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-1918, such panihidas were already being served in the Diaspora on the day of the martyrdom of Metropolitan Vladimir or the following Sunday, on the "Royal Days" [historic dates of the Imperial Dynasty – trans.], the so-called "Day of Irreconcilability," that is, the date of the October Revolution, and also on other days.

The President of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR, Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), the archpastors, clergymen, and many active Church members supported the glorification of the New Martyrs. Periodicals were published with materials on the New Martyrs, and there were thoughtful collegial deliberations at diocesan assemblies, pastoral retreats, youth conferences, and within the Russian Orthodox community in general; however, there was no complete unanimity within the Church flock on this matter. Those who were hesitant were troubled by the questions regarding the timeliness of the canonization, and what authority ROCOR possessed to perform such an act, of adding the New Martyrs & Confessors to the choir of saints of the Russian Church?

It is worth pointing out that some activists, following the example of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), considered the glorification of the New Martyrs & Confessors a matter under the exclusive authority of the fullness of the Local Russian Orthodox Church, recalling the opinion of the second Primate of ROCOR on the matter of the glorification of Righteous John of Kronstadt. At the Council of Bishops of 1953, when the question of the canonization of the Pastor of Kronstadt was being discussed, Metropolitan Anastassy expressed his doubt regarding the canonical basis of such an act, saying that "the only basis on which we are founded is the directive of His Holiness, Patriarch Tikhon, № 362, which allows us to perform the functions of ongoing Church life, but does not grant us the right to perform such an exceptional act as the glorification of saints." Metropolitan Anastassy feared possible inter-Church complications and the risk that the act of glorification might be condemned as premature. At the conclusion of his comments at the Council of Bishops of 1953, Metropolitan Anastassy stated that, on the basis of these considerations, his "lips would not dare to utter this glorification on behalf of the Russian Church Abroad." At the same time, he emphasized that he revered Fr. John no less than the other members of the Council of Bishops and profoundly believed in his sanctity, but wished that his glorification be performed by the entire Local Russian Church. So, in 1953, even though the Council of Bishops recognized the holiness of Fr. John, they decided to postpone his glorification until it could take place with ceremony on a nationwide scale in Russia, with all parts of the Church of the Fatherland adding him to the choir of saints. However, in 1964, still during the life of the retired Metropolitan Anastassy, yet with his consent, the Council of Bishops, having unanimously elected the new Metropolitan Philaret as First Hierarch of ROCOR, glorified the Righteous John of Kronstadt among the saints, for the consolation of the People of God who found themselves on foreign soil, and with the hope of the rebirth of the Church in the Homeland, which was suffering persecution.

In his article "Toward the Glorification of New Saints – the Russian New Martyrs," Bishop Nathanael (Lvov) called the requirement that the canonization of the martyrs of the 20th century be declared by the entire, unified Russian Church "the only serious objection" to adding them to the choir of saints.

In response to such demands, Metropolitan Philaret addressed his flock in an epistle on the forthcoming glorification of the New Martyrs and wrote, "Now, with the approach of the long-awaited day of the glorification of the New Martyrs, one often hears people say, ‘The Church Abroad does not have the right to glorify them – this can only be done by the entire Russian Church in its fullness.’ Of course, that would be so, if the Russian Church were free!.. That is why the Church Abroad deems it her duty to do that which in Russia cannot be done. And we know that from behind the Iron Curtain, many, many voices reach us not only approving of the glorification of the New Martyrs, but beseeching us to perform the glorification as soon as possible."

Noting the hesitation on the part of some members of the clergy and flock with regard to the canonical basis of the canonization of the New Martyrs by ROCOR, His Grace, Bishop Anthony (Bartoshevich), wrote, "The martyrs we are discussing could be glorified as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. But She is suppressed into profound silence. There is no appropriate ecclesiastical organ which could perform the official act of canonization. Are we to wait for the emancipation of the Russian Church from persecution? Cannot ROCOR do that which the Russian Church as a whole is unable to do today, just as St. John of Kronstadt and the Holy Blessed Xenia were glorified by our Council of Bishops?

"Our Church sees her authority for this in the fact that we always considered ourselves the free part of the Russian Church, trying not to separate from her in any way or in any place, and to not betray her nor seek out a more advantageous position with the hierarchs of other Churches. Is it not our duty before the Mother Church to perform the act of glorifying the holy martyrs? As we answer this question, let us remember that the glorification of many saints began with a so-called ‘local glorification,’ that is, where the saint lived, where his pious life was known by many, where people turned to him for help even during his lifetime, prayerfully appealed to him after his death, and received answers to their prayers. Gradually, the renown of the saint would spread further, attestations to his miracles in response to prayers became the legacy of a growing number of believers, and finally the Church as a whole would face the question of canonizing a new saint, which its Council of Bishops would do.

"It is clear that the glorification of the new martyrs by our Church, just as that of St. John of Kronstadt and Blessed Xenia, will first be a local phenomenon, in light of circumstances, and not final, that the official act of canonization by the entire Russian Church will follow after her emancipation from persecution.

"But in the case of these martyrs, this is not even necessary, since the recognition of a martyr as being a saint does not demand official sanction by ecclesiastical authorities. He who is killed for confessing Christ is revered as a holy martyr by the Church immediately after his death, without heed to how he lived, what he did, and without the expectation of miracles and such."

A great influence on doubters were the letters received by the bishops abroad from Fr. Dimitry Dudko and other clergy and laymen in the USSR, which were published in church periodicals calling for the speedy glorification of the New Martyrs. They expressed the hope that such a measure taken by the Russian Church Abroad would strengthen the persecuted and serve as the beginning of the rebirth of the Church in the Homeland.

The author believes that a discussion by the Church and society on the issue of the glorification of the Royal Family, just as it was with various ROCOR Councils of Bishops, ought to be dealt with separately and given special attention.

The Council of Bishops of 1976 "expressed its unanimity and agreement in principle with the need to glorify the New Martyrs of Russia." Still, in light of the absence of unanimity among the participants of this Council on the timing of this action, it was decreed to prepare the clergymen and faithful with the widespread publication of materials on the suffering of the martyrs and confessors. That same year, thanks to the work of activists in the Diaspora, church periodicals published a list of the names of 22,000 victims of the Red Terror, and were distributed among believers in the USSR.

In 1978, the Council of Bishops, convening in New York for the ceremonial canonization of Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg, adopted the following historic resolution: "To glorify the New Martyrs and reposed confessors of Russia among the choir of saints at the next Council of Bishops."

On February 23, 1981, the Synod of Bishops formed a preconciliar committee and decided to perform the ceremonial glorification of the Holy New Martyrs on Sunday, November 1, 1981, at the Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady "of the Sign" adjacent to the residence of the First Hierarch of ROCOR in New York City. The Synod charged Bishop Laurus (Škurla) to continue working on compiling lists of those who suffered at the hands of the atheists and instructed publishers abroad to increase the dissemination of materials devoted to the canonization of the New Martyrs. The preconciliar committee tended to this matter. Archbishop Vitaly (Ustinov) of Montreal & Canada was appointed chairman of this committee and energetically took to the printing of brochures containing two sermons of praise by Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) about the Holy Hieromartyrs Metropolitans Vladimir & Benjamin, the Royal Family, and other martyrs and passion-bearers. Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of San Francisco & Western America was appointed to compose a service to the Synaxis of New Martyrs & Confessors, while Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich) was asked to compose a service to the Royal Passionbearers. Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov) – cleric of Holy Trinity Monastery and spiritual father of His Grace, Bishop Laurus – was asked to paint the first icon of the saints in time for the glorification.

In 1981, by recommendation of Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), the Synod of Bishops initiated expedited liturgical preparations for the Council of Bishops, which was to perform the canonization. By directive of the Synod of Bishops, moleben services were to be held everywhere on the Sunday of All Russian Saints, preceded by a sermon on the forthcoming glorification and adding the following special petition during the augmented litany. "For the success of the Council of Bishops in the work of glorifying the New Martyrs & Confessors of the Church of Russia, that they may pray for us and for our people." On July 17, the clergy and laity were called upon to celebrate a final Liturgy for the Departed, while cathedrals and monasteries were encouraged to conduct midnight services. Beginning with the new ecclesiastical year in September, all churches were to perform litanies for the departed for the New Martyrs & Confessors following every Sunday and festal Liturgy. That year, St. Demetrius Soul Saturday was specially celebrated by first commemorating "those new martyrs and confessors killed or who died in terrible suffering."

The Council of Bishops of 1981

The Holy Council of diasporan hierarchs opened with all of the bishops celebrating Divine Liturgy and serving a moleben at the Cathedral of Our Lady "of the Sign" at the Synodal residence of the First Hierarch of ROCOR in New York City on Sunday, October 18, the feast day of the Synaxis of the Primates of the Russian Church. The next day, after the singing of "Today hath the grace of the Holy Spirit assembled us together," the secretaries and members of various committees of the Council were elected, the agenda was approved, and Metropolitan Philaret read his report on the life of ROCOR in the inter-Council period. The archpastors then commenced studying a draft of the Act of the Council on the glorification of the New Martyrs, prepared by Bishop Gregory (Grabbe).

The text of the Act met no particular objections, but Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) proposed replacing the words "headed by the Tsar-Martyr" with the words "together with the Tsar-Martyr," reminding the hierarchs that during deliberations at the previous Council of Bishops, it was decided to specifically glorify the last Emperor together with all those who suffered under the godless regime. Replying this comment, Bishop Nectarius (Kontsevich), vicar of the Western American Diocese, responded that in his opinion and that of very many Russian people, the many millions of martyrs must be headed by Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich for the reason that the last Sovereign was the Anointed of God, a sacred figure and bearer of that special grace which restrained the spread of "the mystery of iniquity." Bishop Constantin (Essensky) agreed with him, while Archbishop Athanasius (Martos), Administrator of the Argentinian See, proposed carrying out the glorification of the Royal Family separately from the other martyrs, calling Emperor Nicholas "the most pious and Orthodox Tsar." Incidentally, even before the Council, some hierarchs, in their correspondence, suggested glorifying the New Martyrs headed by Patriarch Tikhon and Metropolitan Vladimir first, and then glorifying the Royal Family and the Alapaevsk martyrs later. Arguing against a separate canonization was Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), who called on the members of the Council of Bishops not to forget that the Emperor stood at the head of a faithful people who were subjected to godless persecution, so in matter of fact he should be canonized specifically as the head of the New Martyrs. Still, the author of the draft, for the sake of unity among the hierarchy, suggested removing the words "headed by."

Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), successor to St. John (Maximovich) in the See of San Francisco, expressing his personal pious reverence of the Tsar-Martyr, read an excerpt to the Holy Council regarding some actions taken by the Tsar and Tsaritsa which were seen by opponents of their glorification as evidence of meddling in internal Church affairs. His Eminence, Archbishop Anthony, nonetheless stressed that if one were to discuss errors by Emperor Nicholas, then it should logically be done asone speaks of the sin of the Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ, i.e., as a means of edification. He then noted that the Tsar should be glorified together with all the martyrs: "The glory of the meek and humble Soveregn will be greater if he is placed together with the other martyrs. But if the people set him apart with special veneration, then this will be the will of God… The glory of the Tsar will not be dimmed if he is glorified together with others." He then recalled the famous discussion between Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) with the dying Bishop Michael (Gribanovsky) on the necessity of reëstablishing the Patriarchate [in Russia]; Archbishop Anthony saw in this a reminder that the priesthood supercedes the monarchy. Archbishop Mark (Arndt), currently living and then heading the Munich Vicariate of the German Diocese, noted that hieromartyrs always took primacy over other martyrs. During the discussion of this topic, Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) noted that his Western European flock would not accept the glorification of the Royal Passionbearers "heading" all of the martyrs, and that it would be improper to darken this celebration with disagreement, stressing that it was not martyrs of a people or of a state being glorified, but of the Church of Christ. Archbishop Alypy (Gamanovich), then ministering the See of Cleveland of the Chicago Diocese, said that the monarchy defended Holy Orthodoxy, and that the essence of the Church resides in Her hierarchy. When Bishop Nectarius (Kontsevich) objected, saying that "no bishop was ever anointed twice, but the Tsar was," Archbishop Paul (Pavlov) clarified that "a second anointing exists in the priesthood; not by myrrh, but by the laying on of hands." Sensing the lack of unanimity on this matter, Metropolitan Philaret proposed putting off the debate until another day and to move to other matters on the agenda.

Returning to the martyric struggle of the Royal Family on the second day of the Council’s deliberations, Metropolitan Philaret recalled how Venerable Arsenius the Great replied to a certain elder who was troubled that another ascetic whose labors were less burdensome was actually granted greater spiritual gifts. This was recorded in Protocol № 3 of the Council of Bishops thus: "The elder asked: who were you in the world? The answer was, ‘From simple folk.’ But the other ascetic was renowned in his aristocratic rank. We did not face the same temptations he did, who had everything and rejected it. He had to labor harder. That is why the Lord gave him such gifts. The Royal Family enjoyed great stature in the state, and it was from this loftiness that they descended to a condition of persecution. They could easily have been angered, yet they preserved their meekness and love, which even influenced their captors."

Deliberation on the Act continued in the evening session of the fifth day of the Council of Bishops, when Bishop Gregory read aloud the new text, into which the thoughts and amendments on the first draft had been added. This text included the formula "a special place in the choir of the Holy New Martyrs is held by Tsar-Martyr Nicholas," and was unanimously accepted.

Back on the second day of its meetings, the Holy Council began to study the categorized list of martyrs and confessors to be glorified, compiled by the aforementioned committee headed by Bishop Laurus, who was elevated to the rank of archbishop at that same Council. In the compilation of this list, the committee used recollections of living and reposed eyewitnesses, excerpts from Soviet newspapers, reports from clergymen and the faithful from the USSR, and the materials from the book of Protopresbyter Michael Polsky, The New Martyrs of Russia. At the beginning of his report, Archbishop Laurus expressed the notion that the names of some people in the list required special attention by the Council. The question of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich arose, who, according to information from that time, "berated his murderers and fought them." Archbishop Paul (Pavlov) saw in this no obstacle for canonization, for many martyrs denounced their executioners, and Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich) compared the murder of the Grand Duke with the massacre of the Infants of Bethlehem, since Michael Alexandrovich was designated for extermination so that the faithful would have no hope for the restoration of the Orthodox monarchy. As a result, the Grand Duke remained on the list of the glorified, and the iconographer was instructed to add a halo to his depiction in the icon.

During the reading of the list, the names of those who were not to be glorified by that Council or were subject to further study by the hierarchy were noted. Before every recess, one of the bishops would perform a litany for the departed with the commemoration of the names of the martyrs and confessors from the confirmed list. On the fourth day of the Council of Bishops’ work, Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) proposed the following resolution on the lists that had been read: "Having heard the list of New Martyrs & Confessors of Russia presented to the Council, we tenderly kiss their shared struggle. Now the Council deems it necessary to assign a special committee to check and edit this list and to present it for confirmation by the Council in one of its subsequent sessions. We assume that in the final edited version of the list, all the New Martyrs & Confessors should be included who suffered before the declaration of Metropolitan Sergius of July 16/29, 1927, which gave rise to the as-yet-unresolved division in the hearts of the faithful.

"We bow down before the struggles and sufferings of all of the victims of later times, but there must be a special circumspection here in adjusting the list. For those whose names were not added to the list, commemorative prayers will continue for the time being, and the Lord will reveal the time and place for adding to the list."

The Council concurred with Archbishop Anthony, charging the Synod of Bishops with augmenting the list of New Martyrs & Confessors in the future, and expressed special gratitude to the committee headed by Bishop Laurus. Despite this decision, the list included some of those who suffered after 1927, including Metropolitan Arsenius (Stadnitsky), Archbishop Hilarion (Troitsky), and others.

The Celebration of the Glorification of the New Martyrs & Confessors

Before the canonization, the Synod of Bishops authorized the Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe), together with a small group of the mission’s brethren, to examine the remains of the Alapaevsk martyrs, which lay in a crypt under the "Royal" Church of the Russian Convent in Gethsemane. They opened the relics and immediately noticed an aroma from their remains of the venerable martyrs, which exuded myrrh with a pleasant scent. It is interesting to note that on the breast of Holy Martyr Elizabeth was a paraman (monastic) cross, bearing witness to the fact that she was tonsured a nun before her death. The hierarchs of ROCOR and the witnesses then decided that the Grand Duchess was probably tonsured by First-Martyr Metropolitan Vladimir.

Archimandrite Anthony and the monks drew up a report on the relics of both martyrs, which were partly incorrupt, and of the washing of the relics. They then removed the right hand of St. Elizabeth and a bone from Nun Barbara. Noteworthy was the fact that, after the examination, the Head of the Mission contacted then-Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem who, as soon as he heard the news of this historic event in Gethsemane, headed to the convent. His Beatitude venerated the relics, examined them, and said that the martyrs of Alapaevsk were great saints not only of the Russian Church, but of the Orthodox Church as a whole. He expressed hope that, by their intercession, Russia and the entire Russian Orthodox Church would be reborn.

The right hand of Grand Duchess Elizabeth and a piece of the relics of Nun Barbara were ceremoniously brought to the Synodal residence of the First Hierarch of ROCOR in New York City, where the Council of Bishops was in session. The entire Council of Bishops, wearing their mantles and minor episcopal vestments, greeted the relics in procession at the building’s entrance. The holy relics were placed in the lower Chapel of St. Sergius of Radonezh. After a memorial litia, Metropolitan Philaret delivered an edifying sermon to the gathered hierarchs.

The glorification of saints by ROCOR follows the tradition established in pre-Revolutionary Kievan Rus’: during the All-Night Vigil on the eve of the saint’s feast day. First, a final panihida is performed, then "Memory Eternal" is sung for the last time, then the All-Night Vigil commences, when the various prayers to the newly glorified saint are first sung. The rite of glorification occurs during the Polyeleos. Such, for instance, was the method of canonization of the Holy Hierarch Theodosius, Archbishop of Chernigov, in 1896.

The ceremony of the glorification began on Saturday evening, October 31, 1981, with the final panihida for the New Martyrs & Confessors. Many of them were named at every litany. A great icon of the New Martyrs, painted by the renowned iconographer of the Russian Diaspora, Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov), a champion of the rebirth of the ancient Russian iconographic style abroad, was wrapped in cloth and placed on an analogion in the middle of the cathedral. The reliquaries containing the relics of the Alapaevsk martyrs were still sealed away.

After the singing of "Praise ye the name of the Lord," Metropolitan Philaret first unveiled the icon, and then opened the reliquaries of the Venerable Martyrs Elizabeth Feodorovna and Nun Barbara. The entire Council of Bishops and clergy then sang the Magnification to the Holy New Martyrs & Confessors of the 20th century for the first time.

Protopresbyter Alexander Kiselev recalled, "‘Memory Eternal’ is intoned, the singing of which spreads like wildfire throughout the entire church, and the thousand-strong crowd repeats the words of the choir and clergy, so it seems like the very walls of the church are singing… The panihida ends. Vigil begins. The altar, it seems, is more crowded than the cathedral nave. At moments, only some of the serving clergy emerge from the altar, because leaving and returning to the altar in the proper order would be too difficult because of the crowd. All of the clergy emerge only for the Polyeleos, which consists of the opening of the reliquaries of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and the Novice Barbara, and the unveiling of the new icon of the New Martyrs & Confessors, the blessed intercessors for our people. I was standing fourth in line by seniority on the right side, that is, right next to the reliquaries and icon; but standing behind the backs of the Metropolitan, the protodeacon, and others, I could not see holy relics being taken out. What could the others therefore see? Absolutely nothing. How then did they manage to stand 6-7 hours, squeezed into the crowd? The anointing and veneration of the relics and icon by the faithful finally ended at midnight. Of course, people were not simply standing, they were praying. Naturally, they wished to stay until they could venerate the holy icon and relics."

A new service to the saints was sung during All-Night Vigil, along with the designated Sunday hymns. Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) read the canon with great fervor.

On Sunday, November 1, 1981, the festal divine services were celebrated by all of the members of the Council of Bishops, headed by Metropolitan Philaret, with over 100 priests and deacons, some 2,000 Russian émigrés in attendance, with representatives of other Churches, the Imperial Family, and the American press. The service concluded with a sermon by Metropolitan Philaret on the topic of the glory of the Russian Church, followed by a moleben to the newly glorified saints and a procession around the city block. As the luncheon began, arranged for a thousand guests in a specially rented hall, the participants greeted the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God and the new icon of the New Martyrs, which were then both placed on a dais. After the blessing, while everyone listened in total silence, the Act of the Glorification of the Saints, the Epistle of the Council of Bishops, and a description of the execution of Hieromartyr Vladimir were read. The luncheon ended with sermons by Archbishop Vitaly (Ustinov) and Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich). The former called the glorification ceremony "heaven on earth," and described the state of one’s soul as burning with the fervent desire to emulate the zeal of the saints in his own life, while the latter said that the work of the Council of Bishops will no doubt strengthen living confessors who are in need of the fervent intercession of the newly glorified martyrs and the support of their brethren.

By resolution of the Council of Bishops of 1981, the festivities surrounding the glorification of the New Martyrs continued with the transfer of the relics of the Nun-Martyrs Elizabeth and Barbara to the cathedral in the Russian Convent in Gethsemane. These exceptionally important celebrations occurred after Pascha in 1982, when the Synod of Bishops sent a delegation to Jerusalem consisting of Archbishops Anthony (Sinkevich), Paul (Pavlov), and Laurus (Škurla), Bishop Gregory (Grabbe), and their aides. In the Throne Room of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, the archpastors of ROCOR were received by several members of the Holy Synod, headed by His Beatitude, Patriarch Diodoros, who in his greeting said the following: "Your arrival here is holy, as was holy the matter of canonizing the New Martyrs, for both one and the other involve people who suffered for Orthodoxy." Further, the Most Blessed Patriarch, noting that ROCOR for various reasons was located outside of the borders of her homeland, announced that the Church of Jerusalem could not remain indifferent to the transfer of the relics of Holy Martyrs Elizabeth & Barbara, so it was decided that a special delegation of their Holy Synod would be sent, headed by Metropolitan Germanos of Petra. By this official act His Beatitude, Patriarch Diodoros, recognized the canonicity of the glorification of the New Martyrs, and he noted at the end of his greeting of the ROCOR delegation his wish that "the blood of the martyrs that was spilt would be the good water that abundantly irrigates the tree of Orthodox Christianity; that by the prayers of all the Holy New Martyrs, we be strengthened in unity and truth." The relics of the nun-martyrs were transferred on Saturday, May 1, on the eve of the Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers, during All-Night Vigil. The festivities concluded with the celebration of Divine Liturgy on Sunday, May 2, at the "Royal" Church of the Gethsemane Convent, attended by a large gathering of worshippers from all over the world.


What inspired the diasporan bishops to overcome the aforementioned doubts and courageously perform the historic canonization of the New Martyrs & Confessors of the Russian Church in 1981? From the materials of the Councils of Bishops, the meetings of the Synod of Bishops, the proclamations of the bishops at ecclesiastical and social gatherings, and from the multitude of sermons, epistles, articles, and interviews of the hierarchs, clergy, and laity, it is clear that ROCOR, recognizing itself as only a part of the Russian Church, but taking advantage of the gift of its freedom in performing this act, was guided by a burning love for the martyrs, the pious honor of their memory, and a moral duty before the Mother Church, the peoples of Rus’, and our common history. This is mentioned in the Epistle of the Council of Bishops as follows: "That which no one else could do, yet with fear and trepidation and with piety before the blood of the martyrs, the Council of 18 bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, a small part of the entire Russian Church, accomplished in her name."

Many in the Russian Church Abroad considered the end of Khrushchev’s persecutions to have been one of the spiritual fruits of the preparation for and eventual canonization of Righteous John of Kronstadt. That is why, with the glorification of the New Martyrs, the archpastors, clergy, and faithful abroad drew great hopes for the emancipation of the Church in the Homeland. And indeed, the beginning of Perestroika in a few years’ time led to the nationwide celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ and the beginning of the renascence of Holy Orthodoxy in the Fatherland. Indubitably, the historic step taken by the fathers of the Council of Bishops of 1981 contributed to the growth of the veneration of the new saints throughout the Orthodox Christian world, the dissemination of literature about them, and the final confirmation by the Church in the Homeland, first of the glorification of Patriarch Tikhon in 1989, Hieromartyrs Vladimir and Benjamin and the martyrs of Alapaevsk in the 1990s, and then the entire Synaxis of New Martyrs & Confessors in 2000. That the canonization by ROCOR of the New Martyrs would carry first a local character, and that the entire Local Russian Orthodox Church, emancipated from atheist persecution, would later accept it, was boldly predicted by Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) and many other luminaries of the Church Abroad. Prophetic too was the aforementioned wish of His Beatitude Diodoros, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who expressed the hope that the prayers of the martyrs of the 20th century would strengthen the unity of Orthodox Christians, for it is specifically the joint veneration of these saints and the study of the works of the hieromartyrs and new confessors that helped representatives of both parts of the Russian Church find the proper path to reestablishing the fullness of brotherly communion within the Mother Church in 2007.

Of interest was the discussion by the bishops at the Council of 1981 on the positioning of Emperor Nicholas amidst the choir of Holy Martyrs, attesting not only to the unanimity of recognition of his sanctity, but also of their pastoral approach to those who doubted, and their paternal care for the internal unity of the Church. The measured approach of Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich) and Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), students of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who tonsured them, and of several other archpastors, to the canonization of Emperor Nicholas proved ecclesial and proper, for the glorification of the Royal Family together with all the New Martyrs & Confessors caused no divisions within ROCOR.

With the premonition that the nations, which were home to the part of the Russian Church abroad, were rushing headlong into the circumstances of the Russian Empire before the Revolution, the faithful of the Russian diaspora hoped that the glorification of new saints would inspire the children of the Russian emigration, and edify their faith, piety and churchliness in the face of temptations which exist in the difficult circumstances of the secularized world. This hope is clearly expressed in the festal kontakion to the New Martyrs: "Beseech Christ Who strengthened you, that we also, whenever the hour of trial find us, may receive the gift of courage from God. For ye are a model for us that venerate your struggle."

From all this we see that ROCOR, ministering to her flock and laboring in her mission abroad, always remained in union with the persecuted Mother Church in the Homeland. Free to act as they chose, the representatives of the diasporan part of the Church strove to declare the truth about the martyrs and confessors, and about the difficult situation of the Church and faithful in the USSR, by actively publishing and broadly disseminating literature. In canonizing the saints, they set their goal not only to glorify their memory, but also to console their flock, and strengthen their Orthodox Christian brethren in the Homeland. The confirmation of the canonization of the New Martyrs by the Church in the Fatherland, which contributed toward the reëstablishment of ecclesiastical unity a few years later, underscored the fact that the actions of the fathers of the Council of Bishops of 1981 was pastorally justifiable. This demonstrates that the entire flock of the Mother Church, both residing on her territory and scattered throughout the whole world, despite all obstacles and years of division, remained brethren in Christ, loving their Church, their history, and the great culture of the peoples of Rus’.

Concluding this brief outline of the great event, which will continue to grow every year in its significance, I draw attention to an excerpt from the service to the New Martyrs & Confessors composed in the Russian Diaspora: "O ye saints whom we have remembered here, and ye countless multitude of those unknown, forgive the poverty of these words, and vouchsafe that praises may be written more fitting for you. To reckon your number is not possible. By the supplications of all of you may we that honour you receive from the Lord and Master of our life grace and great mercy."

Archpriest Serafim Gan
Translated by Nicholas Ohotin

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Eastern American Diocese | Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia