Seventy Years

On November 15/28, as we celebrate the Feast of St. Paissios Velichkovsky whose life and work is crucial for the renewal of hesychast spirituality in the Church, and the beginning of the fast for the Nativity of our Saviour, we are also marking the 70th anniversary of the repose of the New Martyr, Catherine Routis of Mandra, in Attica, Greece.

Her Troparion (printed in The Struggle Against Ecumenism, p. 305) sums up her significance in the life of the Church:

The crown of martyrdom didst thou receive, O Catherine, by struggling steadfastly for the tradition of our Fathers; and thou didst surrender thy soul to Jesus the Bridegroom, when, on the festival of the Archangels at Mandra of Megaris, thou didst sincerely proclaim the dogmas of the Faith of the Scriptures.

New Martyr Catherine was born in 1900 in the village of Mandra in the region of Megara, between Athens and Corinth.  When the western calendar was forcibly imposed on the Christians of Greece in 1924, large numbers of Greek Christians spontaneously rejected both the new order of things and the Hierarchs responsible for enforcing that new order.

The forcible (and violent) imposition of the western calendar was the result of a sinister combination of secularizing political policies, inaugurated by the government of Emanuel Venizelos, coupled with the reformist-ecumenist ideas associated with syncretist freemasonry and an infatuation with the West, which had been quietly emerging within a circle of Hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarch (and elsewhere) from the 19th century forward. These ideas would become the stated policy of that Patriarchate under the guidance of the freemason and ecclesiastical adventurer, Patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis.  

New Martyr Catherine and her husband joined the widespread populist and spontaneous rejection of the government's Synod of Bishops and their policies, and continued to worship with clergy and laity according to the traditional calendar.  While much is written in our times concerning the futility and the wrong-headedness of making an issue of the 13 day difference between the western and the traditional calendar, the fact is that neither the 13 days nor even the calendar itself is the primary issue, any more than boiled wheat (kollyva, in Greek) was the issue during the kollyvades  dispute; any more than painted pictures were the issue during the age of ikonoclasm.  The question raised by the heresy of ikonoclasm was a fundamental christological issue; the issue raised by the kollyvades Fathers concerned the liturgical reflection of fundamental Christian faith and practice, and the issue raised by the "old-calendar" movement is the issue of the basic definition of the Church herself, as that definition is manifested in the decrees of Councils and the writings of acknowledged Fathers.

The defense spontaneously organized by humble laymen and clergy in Greece from 1924 on was only in the first instance the defense of a given calendar, because contained within that defense was the instinctive defense of the integrity of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" as such.

On the feast of the Archangels, November 8th (November 21st on the western calendar), 1927, Catherine was part of a large congregation of confessing Christians in her native village.  During the Vigil for the feast (presided over by the Presbyter Christopher Psallidas) a detachment of police, ordered out by the Ministry of the Interior acting in response to a demand issued by the head of the government Synod, Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, surrounded the village church.  After an all-night Vigil, as the Liturgy for the feast began, the police began to batter down the doors of the church with their rifle butts.  Windows were smashed.  The apparent goal of the police forces was the arrest of Father Christopher (and the consequent termination of the liturgical assembly).  But the efforts of the police were not met with success and they called for reinforcements.  Meanwhile, inside the temple, most of the congregation received Holy Communion, and were preparing to leave the church and rest after the all-night service.

As the communicants began to leave, and as it became evident that the police were intent on arresting Father Christopher, a group of pious women surrounded him to form a protective wall, under the impression that the police would not physically attack women.  Catherine Routis had left the church after Communion and made sure that her husband and 2 children were safely home, and then she had returned to the church to join the congregation's non-violent efforts to protect its Presbyter.  

The police fired their guns into the air to scare off the lay defenders of their Priest, but to no avail.  One woman, Angeliki Katsarellis, still inside the church, was hit in the forehead by one of the stray bullets.  Women raised their voices against the violent police attack, and when a policeman raised his rifle to strike Father Christopher down, Catherine stepped between the Priest and the attacker and received the hard blow from the rifle butt on the back of her head.  Falling to the floor of the church, her last words were Most holy Mother of God.

She was transferred by some of the women to Annunciation Hospital in Athens, along with the injured Angeliki Katsarellis.  For 7 days New Martyr Catherine suffered in the hospital.  At 4 am on November 15 (November 28 on the western calendar), the first day of the Nativity Fast, Catherine Routis died.  She has been commemorated among the Church's New Martyrs ever since.

It is interesting to note that there is a widespread belief amongst the ecumenists that the old calendarists constitute a violent movement.  There has been violence aplenty, in fact, both in Greece and in Romania and elsewhere, directed against the confessing, traditional Christians by the ecumenists, but actual violence directed by the confessing members of the Church against the ecumenists has yet to be documented.

Sadly the pristine early years of steadfast resistance to the ecumenist innovations were followed by our own era, characterized by disturbances from within, as confessing but undisciplined and irresponsible Hierarchs, much-given to employing the tactics of verbal abuse and to the violent denunciation of fellow confessing Hierarchs, ad hominem for the most part, have become the familiar face of traditionalism in the public square.  This undisciplined and unworthy behaviour defines the confessing Church of our times in the eyes of many, and it does the confessing Church a terrible disservice.  

While theological debate and the defense of truth is necessary, the tone in which that defense is undertaken can determine the actual impact of Christian apologetics. It is not possible to view with any satisfaction the increasing failure of a style of apologetics that clearly has alienated many from within the ranks of the so-called "old calendar" movement, and kept many traditionalists within the ecumenist communities from abandoning their ecumenist Hierarchs and affiliating with confessing Orthodox Hierarchs.  

Clearly, this is not the way to speak for the Church, because clearly, the actual interests of the Church are not served.  One can disagree, without being disagreeable, and one can effectively defend the Church without ad hominem attacks.  When the confessing Hierarchs of our own time understand this, the confessing Church will once again become the real option for serious and honest seekers for the truth both from the ranks of the ecumenist Synods, and from the ranks of those who have no connection with either "world" or with "confessing" Orthodoxy.

New Martyr Catherine of Mandra, pray to God for us and for the steadying and clearing of the Church's voice in our confused and contentious times.

+Bishop Sergios of Loch Lomond, November 28, 2007