31 Gregory the Cross-Bearer
THE NEW MARTYRS’ FORETASTE OF PARADISE
Commemorated November 6 (†1936?)
And the elders said to me, these are they that came
out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes,
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore
are they before the throne of God; and they serve
Him day and night in His temple.
“Brother, let us not hurry, but let us work at an even pace.”
“Why is that?” I asked. “Are you not well? What is your category?”
“My category is the first, all right. I am well. Who needs our work? Only the devil needs it. We are all made to work for him.”
Pleasantly surprised I said, “Let’s work a little and then you’ll explain to me how it is that we work for the devil.”
I crossed myself. My partner did the same, saying:
“Hey, that is good that you are praying. God will protect us from trouble but even so He will not allow us to fulfill our work quota.”
We felled a tree and as we began to cut it into pieces Gregory—for such was his name—began to talk:
“The Soviet government wants to build communism without God, in order to boast later and blaspheme the name of God. He who helps the atheists in this construction takes part in the war against God; he blasphemes God together with them. But we are Christians; we must be soldiers of Christ. God allowed us to fall into Satan’s captivity. Now we are his captives. But we must not serve him and help him in the war against God. To work for communists is sin—an unforgivable sin.
The philosophy of the young Cossack touched me to the depth of my soul, unto tears. After three days of our common work, he refused to work altogether. They put him in solitary confinement and then, together with other prisoners who likewise refused to work, he was sent to another camp, and so I lost track of him.
A year passed by while I was in the Altai region in Osinavka. One warm spring evening soon after Pascha, while returning from work to our barracks, we heard in the compound many voices singing loudly. They were singing “Christ is risen from the dead.” I did not go into my barracks but, like the rest of the prisoners, was drawn to the singing. Behind the last club barracks there was a barbed wire enclosure and in it was a crowd of about 150 prisoners who looked quite dif ferent from us. These were the “cros s-bearers”. They were dressed in civilian clothes, but all their heads were shaven. On their chests or on their left sleeve there was sewn a white cross of equal dimensions. They were of various ages from 20-60 years old. They were thin, emaciated and looked like bare skeletons. But their pale faces shone with happiness. There were only men in this group; woman were concentrated in another camp.
When I had made my way through the crowd to the barbed-wire fence, one of them ran towards me. In his gaunt, pale face I recognized my old Cossack friend Gregory. Through the barbed wire we managed to give each other the Paschal kiss. Like all of these “cross-bearers” he was exceedingly thin and worn out, but his in spired face literally shone with unearthly beauty. Hurriedly he told me news about himself.
“Batiushka, I followed your advice and quit smoking; since the Temnikov camps I have no more desire for it. There, thanks to the solitary confinement, I was inspired to join this group of Christ’s warriors—these “cross-bearers”. The camp authorities try to force us to work, they plead with us, but we refuse. We spend time in praying, singing, and reading—we are preparing ourselves for death... They take away from us our books but the free camp workers give them back to us. God feeds us. The authorities give us 200-300 grams of bread a day and a little bit of hot water—’ ‘soup”. The people who work in the camps give us a little additional bread, gruel and other food. We are constantly transferred from one camp to another and everywhere they try to talk us into working. While travelling in cars, we feel the hunger more severely; for that purpose they deliberately keep us longer on wheels.
"Since Temnikov I was both in Solovki and Vyshera and the Urals and the Kotlos and the taiga of Tomsk... Now they have brought us here, but here too they will keep us only for a few days. Here there are also “cross-bearers”. They will join us and then we will be taken all the way up to the Obdorsk wilderness where they send all the religious people who refuse to cooperate with the Soviet regime. There they throw them out into the wilderness. The hunger, the cold, the scurvy—all help the Bolsheviks to kill off their victims. But there, far from the world and closer to God, one is truly free to work upon his salvation. And God strengthens His true slaves with wondrous visions and sights. There, they say, light from paradise shines... Join us, Father. Come with us to earn a martyr’s crown. Among us there are two priests, they say from Tver, and laymen from Voronezh and of course from other places.”
With great emotion and unspeakable joy, I listened to what Gregory was saying. My whole being was burning with sympathy ai compassion and awesome reverence before this holy movement of spiritual heroes who “endured .sufferings as good soldiers of Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 2:3). However, I was not vouchsafed to take part in their heroic exploit: I could not free myself from the influence of my calculating mind..
Very soon this barbed wire enclosure near the club barracks was surrounded by armed guards and access to these “cross-bearers” was forbidden. Nevertheless, we continued to hear their Paschal singing for three more days. Then they disappeared. I heard that they had indeed been sent to the Obdorsk taiga, to the desert tundra, to the shore of the Arctic Ocean—from where there is no return.
Sources: Protopresbyter Nicholas Masich, Word of the Church, Australian church periodical, No. 11, 1979; also his letters to the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood not long before his death.