The lives of the Saints are as varied as the entire spectrum of humanity. Some men and women are called to the ascetic life either to be alone in the wilderness. Others are called to small monastic communities where constant prayer, humility, spiritual insight, and wondrous works are the marks of their sainthood. Some saints are simple farmers and peasants, husbands and wives who give their lives in service to their spouse, their children, and their communities. One other form of saint discarded in this age of political correctness is the warrior saint.
The calling of the warrior saint is to defend not only his Christian faith, but also his Christian nation, community, and family.
Since the dawn of Christendom, the importance of nationality and ethnicity has never been questioned. While the Church is national, it is also universal. The Gospel is open to every man, woman, and child on the planet and as Christians we should strive to expand the Faith to the “four corners of the Earth” as Scripture commands. At the same time, we must not lose the importance of nationality and ethnicity in the Christian experience. Both the Hebrew and the Greek words for “nation” indicate an ethnic foundation of a nation, not simply a civic institution or a Constitution as modern American conservatives attempt to argue. The nation is not a Romantic Period phantasm or a Westphalian political instrument. It is an ancient and universal thede comprised of blood and soil.
The Russian Orthodox Church’s Declaration on Christian Patriotism that was announced in the year 2,000 A.D declared to the largest body of Orthodox Christians on the planet “The universal nature of the Church, however, does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and national self-expressions. On the contrary, the Church unites in herself the universal with the national… Orthodox Christians, aware of being citizens of the heavenly homeland, should not forget about their earthly homeland.” The declaration goes on to describe how many hymns in the Church and hagiographic sources praise various Saints for their “sacrifice to the Fatherland” when they gave their lives for their nations.
The Russian Orthodox Church goes on to say “Christian patriotism may be expressed at the same time with regard to a nation as an ethnic community and as a community of its citizens. The Orthodox Christian is called to love his fatherland, which has a territorial dimension, and his brothers by blood who live everywhere in the world. This love is one of the ways of fulfilling God’s commandment of love to one’s neighbor which includes love to one’s family, fellow-tribesmen and fellow-citizens.”
Loving your faith, family, and folk is not just compatible with Orthodoxy, the Church tells us that it is a calling for all Orthodox Christians to sacrifice their lives in service to the Church, our organic community, and our “brothers by blood.”
Saints known as ethno-martyrs are a specific type of saint who sacrifice their life for the nation, and one of the most inspirational martyrs of the modern era is Yevgeny Rodionov of Russia.
Yevgeny Rodionov was born on May 23rd 1977 as the Soviet Empire was beginning to crumble. The institutions of atheism and aftereffects of Bolshevism were failing the Russian people. After centuries of a devotion to God, the Tsar, and the folk, the attacks by the Jewish Bolsheviks to destroy the spirit of the Orthodox Russian people were able to hurt the Church and the Faith of the people, but never destroy it. The blood of millions of Holy Martyrs who died in the gulags, the mass graves, and the torture chambers of the NKVD only emboldened the faith and watered the seeds of Orthodoxy in Russia for the moment when Communism would inevitably implode, as all man made ideologies are destined to.
Yevgeny Rodionov was born into a family that had kept the fire of Orthodoxy alive in their hearts and souls. While his parents were atheists, Yevgeny’s grandparents were devoted Orthodox Christians. On his 11th birthday while many boys were getting toys, Yevgeny was given the greatest gift of his life by his grandmother, a small silver Orthodox cross.
This humble cross would sit on the neck of Yevgeny from his 11th birthday until the day of his death, nothing could make him remove it. While many young men and women around Yevgeny would follow the Soviet Communist Party line of attacking Orthodoxy in order to further their chances of higher paying jobs and a better place in society, no amount of teasing, bullying, or threats could get young Yevgeny to remove his cross from his neck and renounce his faith in the Holy Orthodox Church.
As the Soviet Empire fell, Yevgeny’s faith only increased with each passing day. Like most young men, Yevgeny was conscripted to serve the Russian Federation in her armed forces when he turned eighteen. Far from the life of a restaurant cook that Yevgeny wanted, military life was a challenge to the young man. With tough training and a war raging with the Muslim Chechens, the military was a hard and dangerous life for the young private, sent far from his home and his family.
While for many years Yevgeny had been an Orthodox Christian, the oppression of the State and the lack of available priests had prevented him from being baptized and chrismated into the Church. Before leaving for basic training Yevgeny was able to find a priest who was willing to baptize and chrismate him, thereby making him in full communion with the newly liberated Russian Orthodox Church. While the dangers and hardships ahead would be daunting, and eventually fatal, Yevgeny was given the grace of being an Orthodox Christian to be able to overcome all obstacles.
The importance of serving in the military to defend faith, family, and folk cannot be understated. Christian men who place themselves between dangerous threats and innocents at home are to be held as doing a service both to the nation and to God. Press secretary for the Russian Patriarch, Cyril Alexander Volkov recently said “The Church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the Fatherland, the Church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.” With this as his background, Yevgeny Rodionov undertook his Christian duty to serve as a soldier for the Russian nation, the Russian people, and the Russian Church, to defend them from attacking jihadist Muslims who strove to destroy and dismantle both organic community and the faith of the Russian folk.
After less than a year in military service, Yevgeny was sent to the frontier of the Russian Federation as part of a military force sent to keep order in the region, in the face of an increasing jihadist threat from Chechen terrorist groups. On February 16th 1996, an armed and well-trained group of Chechen militants attacked Yevgeny’s outpost and after a struggle, took Yevgeny and his comrades captive.
Much like the modern ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the Chechens were dedicated to their belief in Islamic jihad. The jihad of Islamic extremists which calls for the forcible conversion of the world under Sharia law is shared by many Chechen extremists, including the ones who took Private Rodionov hostage.
In captivity, the Chechens began to starve the young Russian soldier in an attempt to break his spirit, and force him to renounce his Orthodox beliefs. Many soldiers had been captured prior to Yevgeny, and a ransom and a public conversion to Islam was enough to earn a safe passage back to Russian controlled territory and safety. With only a few words Yevgeny could free himself from what would be a horrendous torture and horrific death, but Yevgeny would not turn his back on his God.
When starvation would not break the Russian soldier, the Chechens strung him by his wrists to the basement wall, causing him intense pain. The carrot and the stick were unable to change the mind of Yevgeny, who would undergo one hundred days of captivity and pain.
At the end of the one hundred days, when Yevgeny would not renounce his Orthodox beliefs, Chechen leader Rusland Haihoroev gave Yevgeny one final chance to convert to Islam and to save his life. All Yevgeny had to do was remove the small cross that hung around his neck and bow down to the Islamic God in order to avoid losing his life, but Yevgeny once again refused. Two of the soldiers that were captured with Yevgeny converted to Islam, leaving Yevgeny alone in his unshakable devotion to the faith.
The end of the life of Yevgeny Rodionov came in a cold basement, many miles from home. With a hacksaw generally used for work around a farm, a Chechen jihadist beheaded Yevgeny to punish him for his refusal to become a Muslim. Yevgeny’s murderer later told Yevgeny’s mother that “Your son had a choice to stay alive. He could have converted to Islam, but he did not agree to take his cross off.” And with that, the mortal life of Yevgeny Rodionov ended, and his immortal life began, as another martyr who gave his life for Christ.
When Yevgeny’s headless body was recovered, the cross that his grandmother had given him years before was still around his neck. After hearing of her sons martyrdom, Yevgeny’s mother Lubov became a devout Orthodox Christian and was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church.
The news of the martyrdom of Yevgeny spread throughout Russia and the Russian military. As Orthodox Russia began to reassert itself as the heir to Byzantium, the Third Rome, the selfless sacrifice and dedication of Yevgeny spoke to millions of Russians who had rediscovered their faith.
Local churches around Yevgeny began to honor the young martyr with prayers, one such prayer that read “Thy martyr, Yevgeny, O Lord, in his sufferings hath received an incorruptible crown from Thee, our God, for having Thy strength he hath brought down his torturers, hath defeated the powerless insolence of demons. Through his prayers, save our souls.”
Soldiers in the Russian military began to have visions of the Holy martyr, giving them strength and comfort during their tours of duty against the Chechen jihadists. Relics of Private Yevgeny such as the cross that he refused to give up and his body began to be linked to miraculous healings to those who came to give tribute to the fallen soldier.
Soldiers and Orthodox parishioners pooled money to purchase an Orthodox cross in memorial of Yevgeny for his grave. On the Orthodox cross that was raised the people inscribed a message that read “Russian soldier Yevgeny Rodionov is buried here. He defended his Fatherland and did not disavow Christ. He was executed on May 23. 1996. on the outskirts of Bamut.” The sacrifice of Yevgeny moved the hearts of spirits of the Russian people as a new hero and hopefully soon to be a saint of the Russian Church.
In fulfillment of the Christian commandment to care of the widows, Russian believers purchased a home for Yevgeny’s mother. These devoted Christians would care for the widow, and spread the story of the martyrdom of her son to the world.
Hieromonk Joachim of Pravoslavie posted that one Russian writer wrote how Yevgeny inspired not only him personally, but the newly revitalized Orthodox nation of Russia “He [Yevgeny] did not renounce the Orthodox faith but confirmed it with his martyr’s death. He proved that now, after so many decades of raging atheism, after so many years of unrestrained nihilism, Russia is capable, as in earlier times, of giving birth to a martyr for Christ, which means it is unconquerable.”
As the tide of Islamic jihad continues to wage war against the Christian world and atheism and modernity attempts to subvert Christian civilization, all Christians should look to Yevgeny Rodionov the New Martyr as someone to follow. We all must be willing to give our lives in sacrifice to our nation, our Church, and our God. If Yevgeny Rodionov was able to resist the temptation to betray his Faith and his nation, we too should hope and pray for the strength and grace to live and to die with the same faith and courage that he did.
Yevgeny Rodionov is now moving towards full canonization in the Russian Orthodox Church, and is honored as a saint in many churches and regions around Russia. We must all pray that soon that Yevgeny Rodionov is honored through the entire Orthodox world as the saint and martyr that he is. Blessed martyr Rodionov, pray for us!