Commentary on the Troparion
to the Chinese Martyrs
This is impromptu reaction by Reader Isaac Lambertsen, the English translator of the troparion of the Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion as composed originally some years ago in Church Slavonic in Bulgaria by the former rasophore monk Euthymios and published in the June Menaion. This is not intended as an in-depth, systematic rebuttal to the commentary on the troparion to the Chinese Martyrs entitled, "How we treat Confucianism and Buddhism" by Avgerinos, in the July-August 1998 issue of the Censer. Pray for Reader Isaac, who is due for an operation soon to address his poor eyesight these days.

Reader Isaac offers the following observations:

Firstly, it seems to me that no one, not even the author of the commentary, can take exception to the first four lines of the troparion, or the last five. What seems to have prompted the author's criticism are the two lines in the middle:

ye put to shame the false Confucian piety and trampled demon-inspired Buddhism underfoot as refuse,

These statements are fully in accord with Holy Orthodoxy, and, indeed, may be considered a paraphrase of the words which our merciful and loving God put into the mouth of His holy ancestor, the Prophet-King David, who says: "All the gods of the heathen are demons" (Ps. 95: 5 [LXX]). But the author seems more concerned with bruising sensibilities, with "political correctness", than with bearing witness to the Truth.

It does not matter that the massacre of Orthodox Chistians was not "an organized assault by the Confucianist scholar-gentry…, nor… an assault by the Buddhist sangha on missionaries". Nor is it in any way relevant that there may have been "many decent and responsible people who adhere to Buddhism or Confucianism who were unsympathetic to the violence." The same may be said of people in any level of society in civilizations which have subjected Christians to persecution. To convert to Holy Orthodoxy the martyrs had to renounce their previous religious affiliations and embrace the True Faith. They were slaughtered because they were Christians and because they refused to recant their conversion when so commanded. Again, whether the persecutors enjoyed the approbation of any faction within society or the Chinese Imperial government is, as I understand it, irrelevant.

I disagree with the commentator, who mischaracterizes the troparion as "seeking and extolling the triumph of Christianity over other religions or ideologies." There is no military imagery in the troparion at all. The "whiff of gunpowder" which the author claims to detect is utterly lacking in the text. What the troparion DOES extol is the superiority of the Holy Faith, a concept which the commentator even acknowledges as valid, when he writes: "Christianity is universal because it is the True Faith."

It may be that there are many Chinese who would take exception to any characterization of the prevalent Buddhist and Confucian religions as false and inspired by the demons, but this is, for the Orthodox Christian, a simple statement of fact. Read any of the apologies for Christianity penned during periods of persecution, and you will find a similar candor; read the acts of the martyrs who refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods and the deified emperors, and you will see a similar witness.

Again, the commentator is off the mark when he says "Healing itself is a form of forgiveness; it does not seek to perpetuate blame." There is no blame to be found in the troparion. It states objective facts: "By the purity of your Christian ways ye put to shame the false Confucian piety and trampled demon-inspired Buddhism underfoot as refuse, sanctifying the Chinese land with your blood."

There is no denunciation of the persecutors as persons for the sins they committed against the martyrs. There is simply a comparison between the Holy Faith and the religions from which the martyrs had converted.

And it puzzles me how one can extol the martyrs and their witness without mentioning the circumstances under which they made their witness. Take, for example, the standard/general troparion for any group of martyrs (it serves also for an individual martyr when not couched in the plural):

"In their sufferings, O Lord, Thy martyrs received crowns from Thee, our God; for, possessed of Thy might, they cast down the persecutors and set at nought the impotent might of the demons. By their supplications do Thou save our souls."

Where here, in one of the most ubiquitous hymns to the martyrs, sung almost daily in our Church, will the commentator perceive the "forgiving face of Christ"?

Forgive me if I misjudge the author, but it seems to me that he might be doing a disservice to the Chinese people by not dealing with them plainly and simply. The Gospel is replete with the sayings of our Savior, which amply declare that He alone is the way, the door, to salvation. While it is true that every culture has its ethos and embraces Christianity in its own way, the dynamics of conversion, if such conversion is to be sincere, require that one cease to be what one was and embrace new life in Christ. No man can serve two masters.

Personally, too, I find truly offensive the commentator's tarring of the Orthodox conversion process as akin to Mao's campaign against all religion. The martyrs were converted to Orthodoxy by benign means, and in such a way that they sincerely preferred to die for it rather than betray or deny it. They were not forced to come to Christ, as Mao and his minions forced many to abandon their religions. To imply that anyone who holds the Orthodox Faith is the One True Faith, and the converse, that other faiths are not true, ipso facto favors a "scorched earth policy", flies in the face of our Creed itself. To be honest about Christianity's uniqueness as the means of salvation is not "to adopt the tactics of a misguided man-made ideology".

These are just a few random thoughts, tapped out off the top of my head.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Isaac, reader
September 12, 2005