“The way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death” Miyamoto Musashi.
The Lord, speaking to us through His servant Joshua, says, “Behold, I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be cowardly or fearful, for the Lord your God is with you in all things, wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
The Lord instructed the children of Israel through the prophet Moses, “I set before you today life and death, good and evil. If you hear the commandments of the Lord your God I have commanded you today, to love the Lord your God, and walk in His ways, and keep His ordinances and judgments, you shall live and multiply … but if your hearts turn away and you do not hear, but go astray and worship different gods and serve them, I announce to you today, you shall perish” (Deut. 30:15ff).
Truly the same is true to this day for all who are of the House of the Lord. Following in the way of Jesus Christ is Life. Willful compromise of the way will only end in destruction.
The righteous Joshua was commanded to be strong and courageous. These spiritual virtues are firmly grounded upon the upholding of the commandments of the Lord and the living in the life of Christ. Yes, for then God is with us and we are with God.
It is evident then, that fear and cowardliness are unvirtuous states. The person abiding in them will not “take the land,” that is the spiritual inheritance which is in Christ the Lord. How we are in need of men and women of the spirit of Joshua in our times, O Lord!
“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life on account of Me shall find it” (Matt. 16:25). The Christian warrior must resolutely accept death – the way of the Cross. For if we are “alive” to the fading passions of this life, then we will slink back in cowardice from the inevitable spiritual battles, fearing that we will die. The fear of death breads cowardice. Therefore the Lord says, fear not. Be strong and courageous. Christ the Lord has conquered the power of death, therefore a Christian is free from its fear. The devil uses the power of death to tyrannize and manipulate humanity. The fear of the loss of bodily comfort, the fear of illness and physical suffering, and the fear of loss of status are all aspects of the fear of death. The Christian faces death, neither in a fatalistic nor a reckless manner but rather from the stance of the Resurrection – “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:55)? The Christian soul sings this hymn of victory, “The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life: of whom then shall I be afraid” (Ps. 26/27:1)?
Thus, we may hear the voice of the Lord asking us, “Why are you cowardly, O ye of little faith?” The Lord is the Master of every storm; He will not let those who are striving to be faithful to Him perish (cf. Matt. 8:23ff). “These things I have spoken to you, in order that you may have peace in Me. In the world you shall have affliction; but be of good courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33), proclaims our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The holy theologian John teaches us, “For this is the love of God, that we be keeping His commandments. And His commandments are not heavy. For everything that has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory having overcome the world – our faith. Who is the one overcoming the world, if not the one believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5: 3-5)?
In the book, “Russia’s Catacomb Saints,” there is recounted the heroic deeds of a few nuns from Shamordino monastery. The nuns were among the hundreds of thousands of Christians arrested and sent to the gulags for forced labor. These nuns in their Christian conscience had firmly decided to not conduct any work on behalf of the Soviet government. A choice they knew could mean their death. They were willing to face even death to uphold their conscience before God. As the reader will discover, God answered their faith and steadfastness with His divine protection.
A very important aspect of this account is the place and freedom of Christian conscience rooted in the commandments of Christ, although I will not at this moment begin to unpack the theme too much. In our own times and situations, in some way, one may witness the attempt to stifle Christian conscience. How many Christians over the past years have felt their conscience trampled upon and disregarded? Even under the feet of those who are to be their own brethren in Christ. There have been numerous times when Christians have been instructed to go against their conscience for the sake of compliance with some purported “greater good.” No doubt many in Soviet Russia thought themselves to be working for the “greater good” also.
True and living Christian conscience is a powerful thing. For in it is reflected that freedom which is from God Himself. St. Nektarios teaches, “Man, therefore is not only free, but is recipient not of some common freedom but rather of a truly extraordinary freedom that has great and precious value. So great and valuable is this freedom of man that God Himself shows respect and honors it.”1 The enemy seeks methods to entice Christians to compromise their conscience. He strives to bait Christians to freely compromise their conscience, otherwise, he has no power over it. Once a Christian begins to concede his conscience, this gives the enemy a potential area of dominion. The enemy always works to dull and desensitize a feeling Christian conscience. He despises the free conscience which is founded upon Christ Jesus. The enemy desires to stifle this freedom and break a Christian conscience through imposing compliance with standards that are other than the commandments of the Lord. Once given the place, he delights to tyrannize through unquestioning submission to his desires; he exalts in slaying the freedom of a sensitive Christian conscience. Sin is false freedom, an anti-freedom. True freedom is only found in God, for only God is truly free. It takes true courage to stand in Christian conscience.
May we be inspired by the feat of these nuns who were “strong and courageous” for the Lord during times of terrible tribulations. They conquered in Christ the Lord because they resolutely accepted death before they would compromise the commandments of the Lord and a good conscience before God.
It was November of that year, 1950, just after our own arrival, that three nuns reached the camp under sentences of hard labor. The many thousand women prisoners at Vorkuta did not work in the mines but performed other rugged work, and the nuns were assigned to a plant which made brick for construction work throughout the whole Arctic area of Russia.
When the nuns were first taken to the brick factory, they told the foreman that they regarded doing any work for the Communist regime as working for the Devil and, since they were servants of God and not Satan, they did not propose to bow to the orders of the foreman despite any threats he might make.
Stripped of their religious garb, the nuns’ faith was their armor. They were ready to face anything and everything to keep their vow and they did face their punishment, a living testimony of great courage. They were put on punishments rations, consisting of black bread and rancid soup, day after day. But each morning when they were ordered to go out to the brick factory, into the clay pits, or to any other back-breaking assignment, they refused. This refusal meant, of course, that they were destined to go through worse ordeals. Angered by their obstinacy and fearing the effect upon the other slave laborers, the commandant ordered that they be placed in strait-jackets. Their hands were tied in back of them and then the rope with which their wrists were bound was passed down around their ankles and drawn up tight. In this manner, their feet were pulled up behind them and their shoulders wrenched backwards and downward into a position of excruciating pain.
The nuns writhed in agony but not a sound of protest escaped them. And when the commandant ordered water poured over them so that the cotton material in the strait-jackets would shrink, he expected them to scream from this pressure on their tortured bodies, but all that happened was that they moaned softly and lapsed into unconsciousness. Their bonds were then loosed and they were revived; in due time they were trussed up again, and once more the blessed relief of unconsciousness swept over them. They were kept in this state for more than two hours, but the guards did not dare let the torture go on any longer, for their circulation was being cut off and the women were near death. The Communist regime wanted slaves, not skeletons. They did not transport people all the way to Vorkuta in order to kill them. The Soviet government wanted coal mined. Slave laborers were expendable, of course, but only after years of labor had been dragged out of them. Thus the commandant’s aim was to torture these nuns until they would agree to work.
Finally, however, the commandant decided that he was through trying. The nuns were either going to work of he was going to have to kill them in the attempt. He directed that they again be assigned to the outdoor work detail and, if they still refused, that they be taken up to a hummock in the bitter wind of the early Arctic winter, and left to stand there immobile all day long to watch the other women work. They were treated to this torture, too. When the pale light of the short Arctic day at last dawned, they were seen kneeling there and the guards went over expecting to find them freezing, but they seemed relaxed and warm.
At this, the commandant ordered that their gloves and caps be removed so that they would be exposed to the full fury of the wind. All throughout the eight-hour working day, they knelt on that windy hilltop in prayer. Below them, the women who were chipping mud for the brick ovens were suffering intensely from the cold. Many complained that their feet were freezing despite the supposedly warm boots they wore. When in the evening other guards went to the hill to get the nuns and bring them back to the barracks, they expected to find them with frostbitten ears, hands, and limbs. But they did not appear to have suffered any injury at all. Again the next day they knelt for eight hours in the wind, wearing neither hats nor gloves in temperatures far below zero. That night they still had not suffered any serious frostbite and were still resolute in their refusal to work. Yet a third day they were taken out and this time their scarves were taken away from them too.
By this time, news of what was happening had spread throughout all the camps of the Vorkuta region. When at the end of the third day, a day far colder than any we had yet experienced that winter season, the bareheaded nuns were brought in still without the slightest trace of frostbite, everyone murmured that indeed God had brought a miracle to pass. There was no other topic of conversation in the whole of Vorkuta. Even the hardened MVD men3 from the other compounds found excuses to come to the brick factory and take a furtive look at the three figures on the hill. The women working in the pits down below crossed themselves and nervously mumbled prayers. Even the commandant was sorely disturbed. If not a religious man, he was at the least a somewhat superstitious one and he knew well enough when he was witnessing the hand of a Power that was not of this earth!
By the fourth day, the guards themselves were afraid of the unearthly power which these women seemed to possess, and they flatly refused to touch them or have anything to do with them. The commandant himself was afraid to go and order them out into the hill. And so they were not disturbed in their prayers, and were taken off punishment rations. When I left Vorkuta four years later, those nuns were still at the brick factory compound and none of them had done a day’s work productive for the Communist regime. They were guarded with awe and respect. The guards were under instructions not to touch them or disturb them. Their devotions were carried on in their own way and they seemed at peace and contented. Though prisoners, they were spiritually free. No one in the Soviet Union had such freedom of worship as they.
What their example did to instill religious faith in thousands of prisoners and guards there at Vorkuta, I cannot begin to describe. Later on, when I had the opportunity as a locker-room attendant for the MVD men to talk with some of the more hardened Russian Communists about religion, not one failed to mention the Miracle of the Nuns.
My name is Zechariah Lynch. I am an Orthodox Christian. I am an Orthodox priest. I have freely given myself to be influenced and guided by the Orthodox Faith: it is the main foundation upon which I will endeavor to base my thoughts and observations for this blog.
I believe in things like Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; that humanity is subject to higher principles. Ultimately I believe in God.
I will be mixing the proverbial “religion and politics.” I will also simply be reflecting on various issues of life. Sometimes everyday things; sometimes global events. An organic and cohesive philosophy spans all aspects of life. Everyone has a “philosophy” for life. But I am not a relativist, thus I do not think that all ideas are true and equal. Although ideas they may be.
My articles are my thoughts and opinions. Although, as stated above, I have diligently sought to guide them by the standard of Orthodox Christianity.
My writing credentials do not come from the fact that I have an M.Div, for instance. My credentials remain in the fact that I am striving to base my thoughts and way of life upon the Revelation of the Holy Trinity as given to the Eklessia. Or in the words of Fr. Seraphim (Rose), “Far be it from me to presume to speak for the Church; but I can at least speak of some of the things I think I have learned from Her.”
This Revelation is very objective. Humanity has not been left without standards. God revealed Himself by becoming Man. He left us the Church, His Body, as the “pillar and ground of truth” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15); we have the testimony of Jesus Christ and the Apostles – the Scriptures. We have a two thousand year experience of Christian living and teaching (tradition). These are all very concrete and empirical.