Last Saturday, May 23, was the synaxis of the saints that were martyred at Butovo Shooting Field outside of Moscow. As per tradition the patriarch served liturgy in the open air on the spot of the martyrdom of tens of thousands. You can see pictures of this years liturgy here. Follows my translation of Patriarch Kirill’s homily.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Christ is Risen!
We address this joyful Paschal greeting on this place of suffering to all of you, dear Vladyki, fathers, brothers and sisters, to all the living, but also to those who accepted a martyric death here, at this Russian Golgotha. We address them today with this Paschal greeting not as to the dead but as to the living. There are probably not many places on earth where the border separating earthly from heavenly and temporary from eternal seems so illusory. Here, around us today, are those who perished as martyrs but who now stand before God and together with us constitute the one Church of God, the Church of not the death but the living, for God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living.
The realization that there is no border or wall between earthly life and eternity, and that there is no border between the earthly Church and the heavenly triumphant Church is the most important foundation of our Christian interpretation of and attitude towards the world. For us the world of God is not only those who live now but is a world of those who lived before us, a world of those who come after us; it is all of God’s creation, which by His divine power was fashioned ex nihilo. We, who are the heart and summit of all creation, have responsibility for all that happens in the world because it is particularly to man that God entrusted much which he must do so that the world and creation of God would reveal the beauty of the primordial existence.
A specific service of the Church springs from these responsibilities for the fate of the world and man. We call this a prophetic service because, according to the example of the Lord and the holy prophets, continuing that service, the Church is called to proclaim the truth of God to people, for prophecy especially is the proclamation of the truth of God, and it never has been easy. For the whole 2000 year history of the Church many times the proclamation of Divine truths ran up against deaf and blind people, the reluctance to hear, irritability, animosity, and even hatred. The whole history of the Church is a history of the witness to God’s truth, which is not limited to an oral witness and a witness of life but which includes a witness of death. Specifically that witness we call martyrdom.
Our Russian Orthodox Church brought God such a gift of this witness which not one people can boast of. The tragedy of the 20th century, which took away hundreds of lives of such witnesses, presents itself, on the one hand, as an image of diabolic hatred rising against God and His truth, but, on the other hand, is imperishable beauty of the power of the human spirit, which abides in the service of the Lord.
The martyrs died because they did not refuse the cross, and with that refusal they witnessed of God’s truth. The tormentors of the martyrs knew well that this witness may be perceived differently. Many of them remembered the words of Tertullian, and if they did not remember then they by experience felt the danger of shedding Christian blood, for it may be the seeds for the birth of new souls saved in Christ. It is for that reason that murders and torment were carried out in secret. The martyrs of the 20th century died as martyrs for Christ but they were not even given that truth. They were tortured in solitary cells, blocked out from the world and many of them, probably, never thought that their podvig, or even their name, would become known. But the design of the torturers was not realized because the Lord himself was with the holy martyrs. And no matter what secrets surrounded the persecutions of Christians of the 20th century, no matter what secrets surrounded also this place, everything was revealed: both the names of the holy martyrs and the names of those places where their blood was shed.
For us, my dear brothers and sisters, everything that happened to our Church in the 20th century serves for a great edification. On the one hand, the example of the holy martyrs and confessors of the 20th century convinces us of the fact that at any moment each of us must be ready to both in word and dead, even unto death, proclaim God’s truth, in which is the sense of our Christian life and our witness. The example of the 20th century teaches us that there is no power in the world which could overcome the power of God, nor any human evil which would withstand God’s love. And the victory is always for Christ and the Church because Christ is risen from the dead and with His Resurrection He has already completed that victory.
Sometimes it seems that the podvig of a confessor is something that belongs to the past as today we are surrounded by a completely different reality not demanding any particular effort to confess Christ. Sometimes it seems that the reality of martyrdom and confession is in the past, that it is somewhere behind us. In actuality the act of confession of faith is a podvig of witness that will always be. Today no one demands of us to reject our faith, no one is compelled to leave the Church, but throughout the world today exists a great multitude of seductions and powers, which act on man without any use of physical strength, that are capable of tearing him away from God and the Church and darken his life and the capability to witness to God’s truth.
The standards of life themselves, the standards of thought, a certain fashion of lifestyle which prevail today are anti-Christian. From these values, which are even impossible to be called values, the spiritual and religious dimension is removed. Today a civilization is being created which is outside of religion. Often it is done consciously, citing the fact that, they say, the world today is in motion, moving towards unification, and different religions and different systems of values clash and come into contact with each other, and, therefore, it is impossible to construct a world in which those religious values would be present; so the world must be outside of religion, while leaving the freedom for people to be believers or non-believers, but limiting their religiosity in the framework of their private lives. At the same time those values are propagated which, in essence, are pagan or even, moreover, non-religious. Human consciousness is captured by this fashion, by this stereotype of life because, voluntarily or involuntarily, through the media all of those stereotypes and fashions of non-religious life assail the consciousness of contemporary man. And here is where courage is required, here is where strength is required to walk through the narrow gates of the Kingdom of God, to walk against the flow, against the general torrent in the hope that the more the people walk against that torrent the more probable it will be that the murky waters will stop, and maybe turn back.
To us it is not given to know what may happen in history and the result of our witness of Christ, the result of our witness to God’s truth. But we know precisely that this life, which is in accord with that truth, is life; specifically that life contains truth, specifically that life is the way to the Kingdom of God because the Lord Himself said, I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
Our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters who accepted the podvig of martyrdom and confession are with us today, with our people. By their prayers, blood, podvig, and position before the face of God gives us the strength of witnessing. Only that God would allow us in our weakness to be capable of accepting God’s grace to respond to that strength of the prayers of the new martyrs so that the lives of our people would become such that would exclude new falls able to separate our people from God. May the prayers of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia strengthen the spiritual lives of our people, that they would go from strength to strength. And may our Church of martyrs and confessors, wisely and courageously witness to God’s truth in the name of His Kingdom. Amen.