I was reading through Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Church earlier today when I came across a little detail that made me sit up in my chair: More Christians have suffered for the faith in the past century than in the 280 years between the crucifixion of Christ and Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan, a time — frequently characterized as the most difficult period in the Church’s history — when civil authorities were openly hostile to Christianity and Martyrdom was central to the life of the Church.
Under the Nazi, Soviet, and Ottoman regimes millions of Orthodox Christians were targeted for harassment, put into concentration camps, and systematically executed. After some digging, I found that an estimated 20 million Christians were killed in Soviet “labor” camps alone. This brings us to the shocking realization that, in Metropolitan Ware’s words, “Christians today stand far closer to the early Church than their grandparents did…” (19). It might be more appropriate to say great-great-grandparents in 2023 (The Orthodox Church was written back in 1963 after all), but our cultural memory of the twentieth-century and shared communion with these New Martyrs allows us to participate in this renewed proximity to the early Church ourselves.
As we pray in the service of small compline,
Adorned in the blood of Thy Martyrs throughout all the world as in purple and fine linen, Thy Church, through them, doth cry unto Thee, O Christ God: Send down Thy compassions upon Thy people; grant peace to Thy commonwealth, and great mercy to our souls.
we encounter the proper context of Martyrdom in the life of the Church. The Martyrs of the Church are no longer just legendary Saints of old, but (as in the early Church) are ordinary people of exemplary faith who suffered for Christ within recent memory.
Saints Habib and Nicholas Khasha, Maria of Paris, Alexander Schmorell, Vladimir Bogoyavlensky, and millions of others suffered for Christ in the twentieth-century. Their sufferings bear witness to the Christian faith and give us access to the Holy Martyrs, Ascetics, and Hierarchs of old. By their prayers and intercessions may we have the strength to endure in prayer that we may glorify God. Amen.