Something we like to not think about is the fact – both ongoing and historic – of persecution.
This article speaks about the murder of Russian Orthodox priests, religious and laity by Soviet Communism.
“Soft Christians Ignore the Hard Lessons of the Russian Revolution”
“There still are Russians old enough to remember seeing priests nailed to the doors of their churches.”
…And of course we are thinking now about the still unresolved conflicts in Europe brought about by the Protestant Revolution, triggered by the execrable Martin Luther. The 20th century seems to have been the climax, the final form, of that revolution, as Lutheran godlessness degraded into secularist French godlessness, the Terror and the massacres that started and continued through the late 18th century and right down into our own time. There may be no one living who remembers the massacres of the Vendee, but there are plenty of people alive now who know what red martyrdom looks like.
I won’t go on about it much right now, but this article did remind me of a story I remember being told by a nun who had been going to Russia to help a group of missionary priests establish a foothold for the Faith in a town the Gulags built. It has remained in my mind as an example of what a completely secularised, de-Christianised society might look like.
Vladivostok – the furthest eastern port of the Russian Federation – though it existed and flourished as a port before the revolution, was turned into a destination for people who had been deported from their homes by Soviet policies from all over Stalin’s empire. These were people cut off from their families – who often simply would come home to find their relatives gone and never hear from them again – their cultures, their languages. Russia is BIG and there are a lot of different kinds of people living in it. Stalin saw this cultural diversity as something to be stamped out. It all had to be swept away and replaced with the New Soviet Man. So these were a people officially without an identity, who had no hope of ever returning home.
The nun I met – she was founding a missionary community of sisters – would go to this spiritually desolate place and speak to people there. The missionaries set up a number of social initiatives: an old people’s community centre where people could have a meal and make friends, have some company; scouts; a post-abortion counselling service… One woman told her that she had had 30 abortions. Sex was the only comfort she believed she could have in life and the complete absence of hope had made it impossible for her to consider motherhood; she was just marking the days until she died. This was a town where older people, sick people, young people – anyone who was not useful to the various Soviet state-owned industries – were simply discarded.
She told me that when this little group of American missionaries turned up in the early 1990s a lot of people there had ever heard of Christianity. It was a city where despair was the ruling mindset, hope was absent and no one could generate the mental energy even to bother much with crime – what was there to steal? She said that one of the old ladies they had been caring for in the old folks centre, who had been turning up daily for some time, approached her one day and asked, “What do you people want?” meaning the missionaries. Sister was perplexed by the question and said, “Nothing.” The old lady said, “Yes, but no one ever does anything for nothing.” Sister replied, “We do it for Jesus Christ.” The old lady said, “Who?”
It took some convincing, apparently, before she accepted that there was not going to be a bill of some kind handed to her, that she was never going to be asked to work or respond in kind, that what she was receiving was being offered in friendship. This sort of thing simply didn’t happen in her world.
There had been a Catholic presence in the town – mainly Chinese Catholics – up to the 1920s but she said it had been stamped out during the Soviet period. Sister told me that the government had simply shot the local Catholic priest, and left his body on the steps of the church as a message.
Don’t ever indulge the fantasy that just because Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail in the end that the Faith cannot be stamped out where you live right now. It does have a way of surviving, even under dire persecution, but that does not mean it cannot be lost – and lost pretty thoroughly – in a given place or time.