30 October 2018
Project Presentation: New Saint Martyrs
30 October in Russia is the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression. Each year, in collaboration with the Repentance Foundation, we commemorate the events of the turbulent years when millions of people who were deemed anti-Soviet by the Stalin regime were persecuted or executed.
Priests of the Russian Orthodox Church were frequent targets of persecution at the time of political repressions. By 1939, virtually all the clergy in the region of Komi were eliminated. Very few who survived became political prisoners.
The National Library of Komi presents an exhibition dedicated to New Saint Martyrs of Komi. In 18 posters the exhibition tells about the life of 17 Orthodox priests who were canonized by the Synodic Commission. Under the threat of death, they did not renounce their faith or bear false witness against anyone or plead guilty, but showed unbending courage and held true to their ideals.
The New Saint Martyrs of Komi Project was funded by the Orthodox Initiative Award as a regional research project in history of the Russian Orthodox Church. The project activities included collecting information about the persecuted clergy of Komi, their photos and archive documents that are now made publicly available in electronic resources.
The project collected dramatic stories of the priests who were either executed or jailed. One of the documented evidence tells an episode from the life of a detention camp in Komi. Sick and healthy people would be kept in the same barracks. Many prisoners were infected with typhoid. Their healthier inmates would be happy to find a bunk bed next to the sick - to catch the disease and end their own sufferings.
Who were these 17 people canonized by the chirch and what moral lessons could we learn from them?
A typical priest of that time would be a man in his early fifties or sixties, typically descended from a family of clergymen, living in the countryside, married and having a large family, with a high-quality education, not only serving in church, but also teaching literacy in a local school.
A village priest used to be a role model for the local community. His personality, his family and lifestyle would be often judged by highest ethical standards. Clergymen in the countryside were models of virtue, truly loved and respected by their fellow villagers.
This is how the 17 saint martyrs were portrayed by people who knew them personally. They also defended adamantly the right to worship and the freedom of belief.
After the October Revolution of 1917, priests were denied the right to vote, which in fact meant they were denied basic citizenship rights. It also meant confiscation of their property, loss of job and no chance to get any, loss of health care insurance and excessive taxes. Under such a pressure, mere survival was an issue and the family was doomed to live in destitute conditions.
The fact that clergyman were persecuted for their faith was contrary to the Soviet Union law. According to interrogation notes, one of the priests, Grigory Bronnikov, remarked that the Soviet Constitution declared freedom of belief; however, churches were shut down and priests ended up in jail.
We hope the exhibition will make young people contemplate not only about the XX century history of our country, but also history of their families and stimulate to learn more about the spiritual history of the Komi Republic.
According to one of the curators of the exhibition, Maxim Styrov, 17 citizens of Komi presented in personal stories and documentary materials could serve as moral guidance to believers and non-believers alike.
The exhibition is open till 11 November and will travel to Ust-Kulom District of Komi afterwards.