“We must keep the memory of the new martyrs for our descendants”
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On Sunday, February 10, the Russian Orthodox Church commemorated the synaxis of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia. Related to this event, we publish here an interview with Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev on the exhibition devoted to the new martyrs, and organized in the diocesan house located in Likhov Lane, Moscow.
Father Vladimir Vorobiev, the rector of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University, speaks here about the creation of this museum, about the prospects of ecclesiastical museums, and about the perpetuation of the new martyrs memory for future generations.

– Reverend Father, how did the idea come of ​​creating a museum for the memory of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia?

– Since its beginning, our university [Saint Tikhon] has been collecting materials on the new martyrs. Finally, this led to the formation of a database of “those who suffered for Christ”. To date, it features more than 36,000 people. We add to it little by little. So far, five volumes have been published. The university has a department focusing on the modern history of the Russian Orthodox Church. The basis is Mr Goubonine’s archives. He was a historian of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century. They consist in 17,000 typewritten pages and documents, and they were placed at our disposal.
Today, St. Tikhon’s University is one of the main centers of study of the history of the Russian Church in the 20th century. In 1998, Metropolitan Juvenal of Krutitsy and Kolomna, the president of the commission for the canonization of Saints, invited me to participate in the work of the commission. The University is also involved in this activity. Our collaborators participated in the preparation for the canonization of the synaxis of the new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church, during the assembly of bishops in 2000 and the reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).
The canonization of the new martyrs became one of the main events that helped us overcome the schism between the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church. Throughout this period, we accumulated a multitude of objects, documents, and materials from missionary journeys, and the idea came to create our historical archives and a museum.
The first exhibition on the history of the new martyrs took place in 2012. It was St. Tikhon’s University 20th anniversary, and with the Museum of Russian Contemporary History, we organized the exhibition called “Overcoming” . It proved to be very interesting, with many authentic documents and objects on display. Then, we made this exhibition interactive, and we sent it to different dioceses and countries, such as Italy, Austria, and the United States. It is still traveling throughout Russia today, and is successful. The exhibition consists of pictures, accompanied by a computer version. Pictures are hung in the room, and a virtual tour is organized.
Today, 100 years after the Revolution, the local council of 1917-1918, and the beginning of faith persecutions for, we have created a new exhibition in the Diocesan House gallery with the blessing of Patriarch Kirill and the Holy Synod. As you know, it was in this building that the Council of 1917-1918 was held. This exhibition was organized with the support of a presidential grant.

– Today, museum exhibitions dedicated to those who have suffered for their faith are created in parishes. Do you see any prospects in this movement of opening museums dedicated to the new martyrs and confessors of Russia?

– This work is difficult to do, especially since museums in dioceses have been created only recently. When we began this study, dioceses often didn’t even know a single of their martyrs. We looked through the Federal Security Service archives to identify new martyrs and send information to the regions. Now, many dioceses are involved in this work, martyrologies have even been published in some places, especially in the dioceses of Arkhangelsk, Tambov, Syktyvkar, Penza, and others. We have done research, more and more objects have been found. We can expect work to continue in this direction. Taking into account current possibilities, it will probably be possible to achieve a major joint project in the future.

– This year, a museum dedicated to Nicholas II’s imperial family was opened in Tobolsk. Could this event get people to try to know more, at least on their new local martyrs?

– The veneration of the imperial martyrs is great among our people. Although there are complications, such as the destruction of the Ipatiev House, the study of what we call “the Ekaterinburg remains” [fragments discovered in 1991 and 2007 that may belong to the Imperial Family], etc. There are different positions towards the last emperor. On the basis of the veneration of the imperial family, some try to create a far-right political platform. Others, on the contrary, try to tarnish their prestige. The new martyrs’ spiritual exploit, for example Tsar Nicholas and his family’s gentle attitude towards the very ones who caused them so much suffering, clarifies the concept of martyrdom, of defense of the truth, of the faith in Christ. The very fact of the opening of a museum in Tobolsk underlines the fact that the State commemorates the 100th anniversary of these sad events by perpetuating the memory of the Imperial Family. It’s very important!

– After visiting the museum in the Diocesan House Council Chamber, one has the impression that the exhibition is only a small stream in the huge amount of information on recent history available to your department. How do you explain that?

– We don’t have enough technical means. There is not enough room to set up pictures and documents. When we had the “Overcoming” exhibition, the Museum of Russian History offered us many premises and their own exhibits. We were able to install a series of exhibition objects from other dioceses. But this time, we did almost everything with our own means, taking into account the exhibition space at our disposal. Nevertheless, while hoping we will have new premises for the museum, we continue to collect objects and documents. In addition, to exhibit each piece, we have to work hard on it: we need to write an explanatory text and to prepare the display. Our main asset is the archives, but if we simply expose archive files, it will not produce a great impression. When the idea came to us to create a museum, we hired an architect specializing in exhibitions. He suggested we install metal structures up to the ceiling, we bring carbonized beams to make a cross, etc. This project would have been similar to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. But they have a huge space there. In our case, recreating the atmosphere of a camp is extremely difficult.

– Before this interview, we asked parents with teenagers what the attitude of their children was towards the new martyrs. It turns out that their exploit calls respect and interest in children, but as a historical fact, nothing more. Why hasn’t this issue so far not become one of the central issues in our society? In 20 years, when the generations for which this memory is alive and important are gone, it’s possible no one will remember that.

– I think that if we manage to hand down this memory to our children, if we work hard at it, this won’t happen. For example, we have the Saint Peter general school near our Saint Nicolas the Wonderworker parish. It’s named after Hieromartyr Peter Polyansky, who spent twelve years in exile and in prisons, and then was shot. In this school, there is a magnificent icon of Metropolitan Peter, and every day, the children sing the troparion to this holy hieromartyr in front of it, they venerate his memory and that of the new martyrs.
Our university is named after the holy patriarch Tikhon. Our main building is located in the diocesan house where the local council of the Russian Orthodox Church was held in 1917-18, and we celebrate in the church which is located near the Council Chamber, where conferences, debates, and educational events are constantly taking place. All our students and teachers understand what names are associated with the building where they are. Near the entrance to the Council Chamber is a list of all the participants in the local Council, not just those who are canonized. In the Council Chamber itself, you can see the icons of the new canonized martyrs. The story is not written right away, but after a long period of time.

It takes a lot of work, a lot of labor and prayers. And time flies. What do contemporary children know about Second World War? Only fragmentary facts. Can they experience war as the children of those who fell on battlefields? For us, for myself who was born before the war, it remains close and alive. I remember the hunger, I remember how we survived, I remember how a German fighter jet fell near our house, and we kids climbing on the debris. But for today’s children, this is already another time. Of course, they joyfully take part in the March of the Immortal Regiment and they carry their great-grandfathers’ portraits. But their feelings differ from mine, for example. It’s natural. It is the same with the new martyrs. I have personally met many confessors who experienced exile and camps. But the current children couldn’t have known them. Besides, we are even further away from the exploits of our princes, our holy monks, our righteous who lived centuries ago. But we read their lives, we celebrate their service on the day of their memory, we remember them. The same is true for current children. Many bear the name of new martyrs, they know the history and the life of their saints. Many girls called Elizabeth have the holy martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna as their patron saint.
But it is understandable that they can’t experience in their heart what people felt during the years of persecution. Mentality changes, society changes. Thus we must strive to do all we can to perpetuate this memory for our descendants.

Source in Russian

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About the Author

Emma Cazabonne

Emma Cazabonne

Beside an anthology on Cistercian texts, Emma Cazabonne has translated and published articles on Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She converted to Orthodoxy in 2008. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/

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