Remember the Butovo massacres, 75 years ago
Seventy-five years ago, on 8 August 1937, ninety-one people were shot at Butovo, just outside Moscow, a firing range belonging to the NKVD, the Russian Security police.
But that was only the start.
The shooting continued day after day,, with increasing numbers killed daily. On 8 December 1937, four months after the killing began, 474 people were shot. And it went on until altogether something like 20000 people were killed on Stalin’s orders.
Who were these people?
They were “anti-Soviet elements”, which included political opponents of Stalin’s regime, former officials of the Tsarist regime, and also what were described as “sectarian activists, churchmen”, which included clergy, monastics and lay leaders of the church.
According to this site Synaxis of the New Martyrs of Butovo : A Russian Orthodox Church Website:
By now it is known that the former special zone of the NKVD-KGB in Butovo is the largest mass grave of victims of political repression in the Moscow area. Among those executed were a great many clergy, including six bishops, as well as monastics and simple believers, laypeople who assisted in churches. Over several years, by decrees of the Council and Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, 230 of them were glorified among the saints.
The peak of executions came during the “Yezhov era.”  In one year, from July 1937 to August 1938, there were 20,765 executions on the firing range. Of them, approximately 1,000 (based on investigative materials) suffered specifically for their fidelity to the Church and to faith.
I first learned about Butovo when I visited Russia in 1995 to do research for my doctoral thesis, and at St Tikhon’s Institute a couple of researchers were compiling a computer database of the new martyrs, and at that stage they had about 800 recorded. They scanned in photos from the KGB archives, and also asked relatives to let them have photos to scan.
Synaxis of the New Martyrs of Butovo : A Russian Orthodox Church Website:
The church itself is a symbol, small and wooden, erected right here on the shooting range, on the site of the forge where it is believed the first executions took place. It is remarkably light and warm inside. It is prayed in, especially on the day commemorating the saints of Butovo. It feels as though they are all here, next to us, with the small church holding everyone.
On the iconostas is a row of icons depicting the martyrs of Butovo. Among them are Archbishop Dmitri (Dobroserdov) of Mozhaisk, Archbishop Nicholas (Dobronravov) of Vladimir and Suzdal, Bishop Arkady (Ostalsky) of Bezhetsky, Bishop Jonah (Lazarev) of Velizh, and Bishop Nikita (Delektorsky) of Nizhniy Tagil. Here they all are: archimandrites, abbots, archpriests, priests, and parishioners.
I sometimes think of how casual some people are when they ask for baptism foir themselves or for their children. Do we realise that we are signing ourselves up for this?
And I recall the words of a Western hymn that we used to sing so unthinkingly on the Western All Saints’ day and Hallowe’en.
They have come from tribulation
And have washed their robes in blood
Washed them in the blood of Jesus
Tried they were and firm they stood
Mocked, imprisoned, stoned, tormented
Torn asunder, slain with sword
They have conquered death and Satan
Through the might of Christ the Lord.
So take a pause in your busy day to remember the martyrs of Butovo, and other martyrs of the 20th century.
You can read more about them here:
- Synaxis of the New Martyrs of Butovo : A Russian Orthodox Church Website
- Former Killing Ground Becomes Shrine to Stalin’s Victims – New York Times
- New Martyrs of Butovo – OrthodoxWiki
- Butovo massacres – a tragedy to remember: Voice of Russia
This is my 1000th post in this blog.