The Significance of Russian New Martyrs for Orthodox Christians in the West

Why do Orthodox Americans, French, Swedes, and those outside Russia need to revere the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia? It is clear what they did for Russia, but why are the Russian New Martyrs so significant for people in the West? Why should we pray to them?

Father Andrew Phillips, Rector of St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in Colchester, England:

First of all, the New Martyrs and Confessors are multinational, not merely Russian, or even only East Slav, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. Like the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire was multinational. At once there comes to mind the heroic examples of the Royal Martyr Tsarina Alexandra and her sister the Grand Duchess Elizabeth who were Anglo-German by blood and upbringing. They represented the best of the West, but they were brought to Paradise by their faithfulness to Russian Orthodoxy. Then there were Nicholas (Johnson) (+ 1918), who was Anglo-Russian, or St. John of Riga, who was Latvian. And there were many, many others of many nationalities, united by only one thing, the Russian Orthodox Faith.

Their witness is not political. They all witness to the Church; they are above party or partial politics of left or right. Christ and His Church are paramount for them and they were ready to die for Him. Several years ago, for instance, in Munich the New Martyr Alexander (Schmorell), a victim of Nazism, was canonized by the Church Outside of Russia with representatives from Russia and his name was added to the list of New Martyrs and Confessors. Their sacrifice is not political, it is spiritual – a witness to the values that are not of this world, a witness to the fact that our human destiny is not here, but on the other side, which all human beings are called to and for which we must prepare in the here and now.

Tsar-Martyr Nicholas with the Royal Martyr Tsarina Alexandra and her sister the Grand Duchess Elizabeth

Then there are the numbers involved. This is greater than the numbers who were martyred for Christ in the first three centuries. So far over 30,000 have been officially glorified by the Church, but there are many more. It has been noted that this number appears to be linked with the number of churches open in the Russian Orthodox Church. The consciousness of the New Martyrs and Confessors is what has changed Russia over the last 20 years and will change it further, if people continue to repent and be Churched, taking on the spiritual and so moral values of the Church. I believe that the Russian Orthodox are at the beginning of this process, that there is still far to go.

We recall the words of Tertullian, repeated by St. Cyprian of Carthage: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’. I have baptized many people from Russia because of the witness of the New Martyrs and Confessors. ‘It cannot be that all was in vain’, said one of them. ‘I cannot live and ignore their spiritual feat’. In Russia of course tens of millions have been baptized over the last 20 years. Although the West still has little idea of the New Martyrs and Confessors, but word is spreading.

In them there is an alternative to the empty consumerism and indebtedness to materialism of the West and the Western system which has spread worldwide. This system is based on individualism, the convenience and comfort of the ego bubble of self-absorption. Opposed to this is the spirit of sacrifice, to sacrifice us for a great and noble cause. The only alternative to the spiritual deprivation and poverty of Western materialism is the love of Orthodoxy of the Martyrs and Confessors, the New Saints. This is not of the political left or right, which simply argues about the details of distribution of material benefits. The Church offers another system, which says that justice and just societies are good, but that the salvation of our soul is more important. In fact there will only be just societies when the human souls which make them up are convinced that Christ and His Church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail, is at the aim and at the heart of our lives. Where is the proof of all this? It is in the New Martyrs and Confessors. If they were willing to die for Christ’s Church, then we must also be willing to do so. In this sense the example of the New Martyrs and Confessors is a warning to the West: Repent before it is too late.

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