“Martyrdom means a great deal to Orthodox people,” writes historian James Billington in “The Orthodox Frontier of Faith,” an essay collected in “Orthodoxy and Western Culture,” a volume of essays published in honor of Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005).
The 20th Century’s first genocide, the Armenian genocide, began with terror and massacres in the late 19th century and culminated in the great destruction of Christian minorities at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915-1918. Some 1.5 million Armenian Christians perished, according to Armenian sources. With the Russian Revolution and the rise of totalitarian communism, the martrydom of Christians took on unprecedented proportions in the gulags, killing fields and the famines that resulted from forced collectivization of farming.
Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a historian who has written several books on Russian culture, cites figures showing that “something like 70 percent of all Christian martyrs were created in the twentieth century, and the largest number of those were in Russia. Religious persecution was quite ecumenical; all religions suffered. However, since Orthodoxy was the main religion of the USSR, it suffered specially. The same Russian expanses that saw amazing frontier missionary activity in the early modern period suffered enormous devastation in the twentieth century when millions of people disappeared in the frozen wastes of the North and the East. The concentration camps were spread across almost exactly the same places – often using the monasteries for prisons.”
The world will never know all of the names of the millions of New Martyrs, as they are known to the Church, who perished under Communism, an oppression that lasted for most of the 20th Century. But their martyria, their witness, will be forever known to God.
In Russia this week, according to AP, “Russian Orthodox priests consecrated a wooden cross Wednesday at a site south of Moscow where firing squads executed thousands of people 70 years ago at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges. Created at a monastery that housed one of the first Soviet labor camps and brought by barge to Moscow along a canal built on the bones of gulag inmates, the 40-foot cross has been embraced as memorial to the mass suffering under Stalin.”
Noticeably absent, the article said, were representatives of President Vladimir Putin’s government. “This is in keeping with efforts by … Putin, a former KGB officer, to restore Russians’ pride in their Soviet-era history by softening the public perception of Stalin’s rule,” wrote reporter Bagila Bukharbayeva. Nostalgia for the Soviet era? Read remarks on the subject by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his recent Der Spiegel interview.
The site consecrated to the Russian martyrs this week marked the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were labeled “enemies of the state” and executed without trial or sent to labor camps. The Butovo range was used for executions in the 1930s and until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Some 20,000 people, including priests and artists, were killed there in 1937-38 alone. “We have been ordered to be proud of our past,” said Yan Rachinsky from Memorial, a non-governmental group dedicated to investigating Stalin’s repression. “I know no other example in history when 700,000 people were killed within 1 1/2 years only for political reasons.”
Follow the link below to read the entire report on the memorial to victims of Stalin’s Purge. (more…)