From Murder to Mercy

IMG_5512Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Epistle of Apostle James Chapter 5

The senseless murder of innocents has often in history followed godless greed and unholy desire for personal gain. Midway through the 20th century experiment of atheist communism in Russia, Joseph Stalin felt the need to purify the system and find new sources of blame for his failing policies. Finding no blame in himself, he and his minions sought secretly and indiscriminately to purge undesired members of society in numbers before unimagined.

Icon of the New Martyrs of Butovo

Icon of the New Martyrs of Butovo

And thus, what was once a sleepy southern suburb of Moscow became the killing fields and mass grave of over 20,000 people in one year’s span from 1938-1939.  They came from all segments of society including bishops, politicians, scientists, poets, common laborers, anyone the government considered a threat was given a very brief trial and then murdered in cold blood, these New Martyrs of Butovo.

The full history of this land reaches back several centuries, but it is this tragic slaughter in the 20th century that brings it the most notoriety. What should be our response to such massive, cold-hearted bloodshed? For a long time, the Soviet Regime, so schooled in the art of deception somehow managed to keep the massacre a secret. But as word got out, especially after the fall of communism in 1991 and the re-enfranchisement of the Church, the people looked for a response to this travesty of justice among other similar travesties. One way could have been revenge. Like the Trials of Nuremburg, accused officials could have been brought to stand trial before the bar, and the world could have seen who was immediately to blame for the atrocities. Certainly, this type of justice is helpful in some way (it sells newspapers), but it is not the best response for it never manages to catch all those responsible and ultimately never heals the soul of the nation completely.

The Church’s response to mass murder and collective blame is much more comprehensive. Since judgement is finally in God’s hands, it is better for all of us to blame not others but ourselves for the evil we see in the world. And as for nameless masses deprived of decent trial and burial, the Church has striven to give them a name and a remembrance. For as the Great Dickens reminds us, no death is insignificant:

‘There is nothing,’ cried her friend, ‘no, nothing innocent or good, that dies, and is forgotten. Let us hold to that faith, or none. An infant, a prattling child, dying in its cradle, will live again in the better thoughts of those who loved it, and will play its part, through them, in the redeeming actions of the world, though its body be burnt to ashes or drowned in the deepest sea. There is not an angel added to the Host of Heaven but does its blessed work on earth in those that loved it here. Forgotten! oh, if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear; for how much charity, mercy, and purified affection, would be seen to have their growth in dusty graves!’

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (Chapter 54)

IMG_5504And so it is today that Butovo is no longer just a killing field, a place of tragedy. It is rather a place of remembrance where the many who perished for their confession of faith are now martyrs. And the church which stands gleaming white and recently consecrated in 2013 remembers these almost forgotten dead who now intercede eternally for us. Holy New Martyrs of Butovo, pray to God for us!

Here is just a sample of photographs from this radiant triumph of God’s holy martyrs…

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