‘I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. Holiness, it is clear, is a sign of the Church. A ‘Church’ without holiness, without saints, is therefore not a Church, it is merely a worldly organisation, a charity, an ideology, a philosophy, just another ism’, like Protestantism or Roman Catholicism.
Moreover, the communion of the saints and our communion on earth with the saints in heaven, are signs of our Unity, Catholicity and Apostolicity. We are One, because of the saints. They witness to the same faith at all times and in all places. In other words, they witness to our Catholicity. And the saints are Apostolic because they share the faith of the Apostles.
The saints are men, women, children, of all ages, of all races (there is no room for nationalism in the Church, but there is plenty of room for nationalism outside Her, as we saw in the tragic last century with its murderous nationalist ideologies). The saints belong to all social classes. They are kings and peasants, rich and poor, clergy and laity, of all professions and backgrounds. Thus, the Church has saints who are repentant prostitutes. For example, there are St Eudokia (1 March), St Mary of Egypt (1 April), St Maria of Tarsus (14 September) or St Pelagia the Penitent and St Thais (both 8 October).
Among the saints of Romania, we may mention: St Anthimus, Metropolitan of Wallachia, who was a Georgian (27 September); St Antipas the Athonite, who lived on Mt Athos and reposed at Valaam in Russia (10 January); St Callinicus of Cernica, who was a bishop (11 April); St Stephen the Great, who was a ruler (2 July); St Daniel of Sihastria, a hermit (17 December); St Philofteia, a 12-year old girl, who lived in Bulgaria (7 December); St John Jacob the Chozebite, who reposed within the lifetimes of many, in 1960, in Jerusalem (5 August); St Nikodemus of Tismana, who was probably a Serb (26 December); St Paraskeve, a young Greek nun, who is loved all over the Balkans (14 October); St Theodora of Sihla, a hermitess who lived in the mountains (7 August). What a variety here, what differences! And yet they are all one!
The saints are revealed to us by God. They even rise from the ground as a token of the Resurrection, as today in one famous case in Romania, or at the time of Christ’s Resurrection (Matt. 27, 52). God makes saints, not people. People only recognise the saints. This recognition takes place in two stages. First of all, there is glorification, popular veneration, then there is the conscious decision by the Church to canonise them, that is to take these newly-revealed saints as examples or models (in Greek, ‘canons’).
The saints can be divided into two categories. These are the confessors, those who lived for the Orthodox Faith, and the martyrs, those who died for the Orthodox Faith.
The confessors can also be called ‘living martyrs’, for they suffer for the Kingdom of Christ and His Body, the Church, in their lives. Often the confessors are ascetics, but they may also be kings and queens, bishops, priests and laypeople, living in the world. Foremost among them is the Most Holy Mother of God Herself. Of the twelve apostles only one, St John the Theologian, was a confessor, all the others were martyrs. Some of these saints actually have the title of ‘the Confessor’, for instance, St Maximus the Confessor (21 January), St Martin the Confessor (14 April), St Nicetas the Confessor (3 April) and many others. In this article, however, we are much more concerned with the martyrs and we shall look at them more closely.
It is said by some that the first martyr was St John the Baptist, though the title of Protomartyr is actually given to St Stephen the Archdeacon. After him came the eleven apostles, all martyred in different ways in different lands. St Andrew the First-Called Apostle is especially dear to Romanian hearts. Many of the early martyrs were betrayed by Jews, others were martyred by Roman and Greek pagans. Their stories are often well-known. Many of them bore the names that we today bear. Between the third and seventh centuries there were many Orthodox who were martyred in Persia (Iran). The most famous of these are perhaps St James the Great Martyr (27 November), St Benjamin the Deacon (31 March), St Christina the Persian (13 March) and St Anastasius the Persian (22 January), but there are thousands of others in the Church calendar.
There were also those martyred by the iconoclasts in Constantinople, like St Theodore the Branded (27 December), later those martyred by the Roman Catholics, as in Romania, Sts Bessarion, Sofrony and Oprea (21 October) and the many other martyrs of Transylvania. Then there were the martyrs under the Turkish Yoke, all over the Balkans with some 30,000 in what is now Greece, but in Romania we recall especially perhaps St John the New of Suceava (2 June) and St Constantine Brancoveanu and his sons (16 August). However, there were also the saints martyred by others who called themselves Orthodox. As we have said, there were the iconoclast persecutors, but before them also the monothelite rulers who martyred many, or later in Moscow, there was the Russian tyrant Ivan IV, who had St Philip of Moscow (9 January) martyred. As for the martyrs of the twentieth century, we shall speak of these later.
We must also consider here the case of ‘unbaptised’ martyrs. First of all, we must speak of the great saints of the Old Testament, for example St Abel, killed by his brother Cain, or the holy prophet Isaiah, who was sawn in half. Here, it can be said, that we can include St John the Baptist, who may be considered to be the last saint of the Old Testament. These saints were martyrs, though not baptised by water. There is also the case of the Good Thief, who was promised salvation by Christ on the Cross: ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’ (Lk. 23, 43).
But there are many other cases of ‘unbaptised’ martyrs, that is to say, those who were not baptised by water, but by their own blood. Seeing the testimony of the first Orthodox martyrs, they too decided to follow them. Some of these were actually executioners, converted by the faith of those who considered death a wonderful price to pay for their Orthodoxy. Foremost among these is St Irene the Great Martyr (5 May), of whom it is said that 100,000 were converted by her sacrifice and some of these were martyred. But we could also mention other Great Martyrs like St Catherine (24 November), St Barbara (4 December) or St George (23 April) and others in this context, who by witnessing, converted and thus made new glorious martyrs.
In this context of being baptised by blood and not water, sadly we must mention the millions of cases of abortion which occur in this modern world every year. Are these infants, like the 14,000 Holy Innocents (29 December), not also baptised in their blood, the victims of human selfishness and lust?
With the loss of Church understanding on account of secularisation in recent decades, there is now much confusion about what a martyr is. For example, members of the Communist Party have spoken about the Communist victims of Fascism as ‘martyrs’, and the Fascist victims of Communism are also spoken of by Fascists as ‘martyrs’.
The Greek word for martyr means a ‘witness’ and specifically a witness to the Orthodox Christian Faith of the Church of Christ. A martyr is someone who dies for the Orthodox Christian Faith, for the Church. This should be obvious, for the Church can only recognise Her own. As for those who are outside the Church or who have even renounced the Church, we leave them to the judgement of God. The Church can say nothing about the victims of Communism and Fascism who were not Orthodox Christians, other than to express Her loathing for murderous and man-hating, political ideologies of all types.
The Church is not political. Politics are a necessary evil, they are of this world. The Church is not political, whatever some of Her members may personally believe. Some of the beliefs of Fascism or Communism may be acceptable to some members of the Church, but any ideology which persecutes the Church is anti-Christian, anti-Church. Thus, there are Orthodox martyrs because of Communism and there are Orthodox martyrs because of Fascism. Many Orthodox died in Nazi concentration camps. We can think of the Russian German, Alexander Schmorell of the White Rose resistance group in Germany, whom many consider to be an Orthodox saint. We can think of the great confessor of Orthodoxy, St Nicholas of Zhicha, who was imprisoned in Dachau, but there were above all hundreds of thousands of Slav Orthodox victims of Hitler’s racist insanity. He considered the Slavs to be subhuman, ‘Untermenschen’, like Jews, Gypsies and others. Some of these were undoubtedly martyrs because they were killed for the Orthodox Faith.
However, here we must be careful to distinguish between those who were baptised Orthodox and died and those who died specifically for the Orthodox Faith. For example, under the Communist regime in Romania, we can probably find baptised Orthodox who did not live an Orthodox life, but who were murdered by their Communist opponents for their political views. These are not martyrs.
On the other hand, at the time of the Communist regime in Romania we can no doubt find baptised Orthodox who were politically-minded, were imprisoned and tortured by that regime and as a result repented of their previous negligent way of life, became truly Orthodox in their hearts and then were killed for their confession of the Faith. These are martyrs. Finally, we also know of others who were arrested by the Communist regime and were murdered by it specifically because they were Orthodox. These are clearly martyrs.
Let us be clear. An Orthodox who suffers a violent death is not necessarily a martyr. Everything depends on what they die for, what their motivation is. If their motivation is secular and political, they are not martyrs, they are victims of hate-filled, political ideologies. Martyrs are only those who die for Christ and His Holy Church and Her Orthodox Faith.
The Orthodox Churches are guided by one or more of the following six criteria in the lives of men and women, when canonising them as saints of God:
1.The irreproachable confession of the Orthodox Faith.
2.An ascetic life of sacrifice and repentance.
4.Miracles, either in the lifetime or/and after the repose of the saint.
5.In some cases, the partial or complete incorruption of their relics.
6.In the case of martyrs, that they have spilled their blood for Christ.
It is then clear that a properly constituted and equipped commission of the Romanian Orthodox Church should conduct careful and efficient research into the lives of the victims of the Communist Yoke. In this way, it could determine who among these victims are Romanian New Martyrs and Confessors. It should be possible for the present Romanian government, a member government of the European Union, to open the archives of the Securitate, so that this research can be done and canonisations can follow.
This is exactly what has happened in the Russian sister-Church of the Romanian Orthodox Church in less than twenty years. There, over 30,000 New Martyrs and Confessors have been canonised and many more are being added to this list. The vital importance of this task has been proved by the fact that within that space of time the Russian Orthodox Church has grown from about 6,000 churches to over 30,000 churches. And it has been noted that the number of churches which opens closely follows the number of New Martyrs and Confessors canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church. Moreover, many of the new churches have been dedicated to those New Martyrs and Confessors, whose lives have been written, whose icons have been painted and to whom services have been written.
For over forty years Romania suffered from the Communist Yoke, imposed on her from outside, but accepted by her. Communism was a spiritual posion, which proclaimed that since, according to Communism, man does not have a soul and is merely a descendant of the chimpanzee, it could create paradise on earth through material means. Romanians learned that this was a lie. Instead of entering into paradise, Romania entered into hell. In attempting to implement its materialist ideology, Communism strived to destroy everything and everyone who proclaimed that man is a spiritual being with an immortal destiny, to be with Christ. Those who proclaimed this and opposed the materialist doctrines of Communist ideology are New Martryrs and Confessors. Romania needs their intercessions now.
Romania needs them now because for nearly twenty years now she has suffered from the post-Communist Yoke, with its materialistic, EU threats to the spiritual integrity of both Church and Nation. Romania will not survive as a little pawn in the huge EU game. This we have seen in the ecumenist scandals committed by two clergy in recent times, which were encouraged by the EU and its US backers. Romania will keep her spiritual and so national integrity, only if her people are faithful to their ancestral path, the path that leads to prayer and fasting, confession and communion in her churches. This path and this path alone leads to the Romanian national identity, which is in her saints and so in communion with the other Local Orthodox Churches. This path will be maintained only if Romania can recognise her own new saints, the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Communist Yoke. And thst is why, just like the Communist regime before it, the present Romanian regime strives to deny the New Martyrs and Confessors.
The saints are the heaven-given glory of the earth. How long will Romanians on earth be deprived of this heaven-sent glory?
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
4/17 July 2009
The Royal Martyrs of Russia