17. Who is Rebuilding Russia?
(Fr Gleb Yakunin writing in Russian Thought, 6 December 1979.)
Nearly every day now we hear the words 'glasnost' (transparency) and 'perestroika', which literally means 'rebuilding'. The media tell us that it is Mr Gorbachev who is rebuilding Russia. And yet how can he, a convinced Communist, rebuild Russia? For it was the Communists who have attempted to annihilate Russia, to wipe it and its name from the face of the Earth. Why should they undo their work by attempting to 'rebuild' what they have destroyed. Who then is behind Mr Gorbachev, behind the 'perestroika' of which he is only the agent, the puppet manipulated by the tide of history? Who is changing the spirit of the times? What are the spiritual sources and roots of these outward changes? Who, in other words, is rebuilding Russia?
For those who believe in the saints, the answer to this question lies in an event, much mocked by the media at the time, that occurred in 1981. It was then that the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in the emigration, based in New York, took the step of canonizing all the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, an uncountable cloud of witnesses of the Orthodox Christian Faith. The Synod had delayed this act, which had been proposed many years before, both in the Russian Church 1 and outside it 2. It had been delayed because the Russian emigration had not been ready for it. There were, for example, monarchists who wished to politicise a canonisation and turn it from a canonisation of martyrs into some sort of approval for the political system which they admired. Then there were those who wished to turn the Synod of Russian bishops into some kind of sect, and, since failing, have left it. On the other hand there were those liberal humanists opposed to canonization on political grounds - their only attachment to the Church being cultural. In such circumstances how could canonization take place? For canonization does not mean 'making' saints, it means our recognition and acceptance of those who have already been glorified by God in the Holy Spirit. Canonization cannot therefore take place until we are ready to recognize and receive the saints as saints and to wish to ask for their prayers and emulate them.
And so it was that the Orthodox world waited until 1981. And by that time voices from the more churchly elements in the emigration, from other local Orthodox Churches and, above all, from churchly elements in Russia had spoken out so forcefully and so clearly that the conscience of the Church expressed itself in the act of canonization. This, in the face of a disbelieving and mocking world, took courage and faith.
In 1917 the American journalist Reid wrote about the Revolution as 'ten days that shook the world'. Why was the world shaken? Because the Body of Christ in the world was to be crucified anew and the earthquake of Golgotha was to be repeated, announcing the bloodiest and most brutal persecution of the Church of Christ that the world has ever seen. And yet in the last seven years, since the canonisation of the New Martyrs and Confessors, we have witnessed extraordinary events: The deaths of three Soviet leaders; The reopening of three major monasteries and scores of parishes; The official admission last April by the present Soviet leader of 'serious errors' made with regard to the Church; And at the end of last March the admission of the Chairman for the Council for Religious Affairs in the Soviet Union, K. Kharchev, that the Communist Party is 'confronted with an extraordinary phenomenon; despite all our efforts not only has the Church survived, but it is starting to revive'. 3
Is the Lord not speaking through the courage and the faith of the New Martyrs and Confessors and those who canonized them? Has he not heard the voices of these Saints crying out to Him as St John the Divine mystically saw in the Book of Revelation? Is it not the fruits of their prayers that now work to revive the Russian Church, to raise the body that has been down to the Soviet hell, that lies crucified, tortured, exhausted? Are not the prophesies of the holy men of Russia coming true? St John of Kronstadt spoke of 'deliverance from the East'. The Elder Alexis of the Zosima hermitage, the Elders Anatolius the Younger and Nectarius of Optina, the Elder Barnabas of the Gethsemane Skete, Schemahieromonk Aristocleus and St Seraphim of Sarov himself all prophesied a flowering before the end. 4
Our hope cannot come from the Western countries, because the once full-hearted Faith of the West has been whittled away by centuries of man-worship. Our hope is from Russia, because our hope is in Christ and He is confessed there, not only in words, but also in deeds. Our hope is from Russia, but not from the Russia of Communist bureaucrats and their servants, nor from the Russia of intellectuals who wish to set up a Western-style democracy there, just as the tragically mistaken idealists before 1917 who thus paved the way to the Bolshevik terror. No, our hope is from the living and suffering faithful on Earth and in Heaven, the Martyrs and Confessors of Christ, the One Lord and Saviour.
Is then the seventy-year Babylonian captivity of the Russian Church now coming to an end? As yet we cannot know for sure. We shall be certain only when all those many Martyrs and Confessors are venerated without exception, openly, officially and universally in the Russian land, when the work begun in New York is brought to its fullness in Moscow; this will be the 'True Pascha' of which St. Seraphim prophetically spoke.
Who is rebuilding Russia? It is the Russian New Martyrs and Confessors who are rebuilding Russia by their prayers, for their prayers have at last been asked for and accepted on Earth. The glorification and canonization of the New Martyrs and Confessors is a gift of God made through the Church for the spiritual enrichment of the whole Orthodox Church, of all the Orthodox Christian peoples.
The true and only real 'perestroika' in Russia and everywhere is not firstly the rebuilding of an economic or political system, but the rebuilding of souls. And when souls are rebuilt, they and all things shall truly become transparent.
Holy New Martyrs and Confessors, pray to God for us!
One thinks in particular of Archbishop John (Maximovich) at the All-Diaspora
Council in Yugoslavia in 1938, though almost every Synodal bishop held
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