Sermon of Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich, +1993) of Geneva and Western Europe on the Feast Day of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia
We read in Holy Scripture from the Old Testament of the terrible tribulation suffered by the nation of Israel during the Babylonian captivity. King Nebuchadnezzar built an enormous idol and announced to the people that all who bow before this statue and proclaim him to be God shall be given mercy, but those who would not would be cast into a terrible blazing furnace.
And so, upon the blare of trumpets, all dutifully bowed down before this golden image, and it turned out that only three youths of Israel refused, saying to the king: We believe in the One True God, we shall not bow before nor serve your gods. And they were then cast into this terrible furnace, but they had no fear, for they believed in the One True God. And within this fire, they lifted up their prayers to him: “Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise: and thy name is glorified for ever.” And the Lord heard their prayers and sent an angel who cooled the furnace and preserved the lives of the youths.
Beloved brothers and sisters, we are in error if we think that this idol does not stand even today; it awaits not the worship of the people of Babylon, but summons the whole world to worship him. And it bitter is the fate of those who do not worship this present-day idol.
Today’s golden idol is served by all unbelievers, those who not only fail to believe in God themselves, but those lure others, and implant temptation and disbelief in the souls of their neighbor. The idol is served, too, by the heretics of all times and all peoples, who pervert people from the faith and from the One True God.
His servants are the militant atheists who also erected this golden idol in our Homeland and demand his worship among all the nations living there.
But they are mistaken. They imagined that, as it was in Babylon, perhaps only three would refuse to bow down before the idol, but in our Homeland there were not only three, but millions of people of Russia who boldly declared to the idol of this age: “No, we shall not serve your gods nor shall we bow before you idol!”
And so our Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia accepted the fate that befell them for refusing to worship the image: terrible persecutions, depraved violence. They were cast into a furnace blazing with hatred and evil, the flames of which the very same Satan fanned in the hearts of the persecutors, Satan, the enemy of our salvation. This was a fierce blaze, beloved brothers and sisters, a fire of suffering in which our Martyrs suffered, but they remained unshaken and, like the youths of Israel, they prayed within this terrible fire, in prisons, in camps, beaten and tortured, yet they prayed: “Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise: and thy name is glorified for ever.”
Thus did our Martyrs pray, acknowledging their own sins and the sins of all the people of Russia, who throughout Russian history had abandoned their God, seeking other gods and desiring through them to quench their earthly passions and predilections.
Yes, the Holy Martyrs died for the sins of our entire nation, for your sins and mine, and they did not waver and accepted their horrible deaths.
Beloved brothers and sisters, today we gather here to pray to them. But what are we to pray for? We pray that they teach us to emulate them, so that in the face of all of the temptations and tribulations of this world, we would say as they did: “No, we do not serve you and do not bow before your idols. We believe in the One True God, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We shall pray that whenever this question faces us—whether or not to bow before this idol—that we shall answer as did they. Through these sufferings and torments they inherited the bliss of eternal life. And if we also yearn for that very life, if we know that this earthly existence is temporary, we must always, every single time that these temptations loom, luring us to believe that, oh, we live amongst mortals who all do the same—for indeed, why not just do the same?—we must yet reject worshiping this very idol.
Let us not forget that we are Orthodox Christians, we are brothers and sisters of the Martyrs who sacrificed their lives in our time for the sake of their love for Christ. They beseech us to do the same today.
Let us now perform a moleben, a service of supplication, and pray that we, too, emulate the youths, Christ the Savior who loves us, and faithful sons of our much-suffering Homeland. Amen.