There is no such thing as a typical Christian martyr, for each one is unique in his or her witness to God’s love for the world. At the same time, each martyr was a person living in the age to which God assigned him, and therefore was joined to and served to sanctify the world during that time.
Thanks to modern photography (and the bureaucratic efficiency of totalitarianism), we know what a lot of the Christians who were shot to death for their faith in the Soviet Union looked like. Precisely, vividly, and even in some cases rather artistically.
Take the woman in the photo to the right, for instance. Her name is Daria Zaitseva, and she was a common Orthodox believer when the Communists seized control of Russian Christendom in 1917, providing an occasion for Trotsky to issue his notorious “dustbin of history” speech about the coming end of alternatives to Communism, which included Christianity. After driving her out of the convent where she had decided to spend part of her life (she was never formally made into a nun), they arrested her and charged her with that muddled accusation of being involved in “counter-revolutionary” activities. (I mentioned in my previous post the way in which the atheistic state blurred the line between being a political enemy and simply being a faithful Christian). She was thrown into prison near Moscow, where this “mug shot” was taken.
It is an exquisite piece of photography, really. Though the Communist who took it scorned Daria and those condemned with her, he couldn’t help capturing an expression of real intelligence and faith. And it is as realistic as the Gospel. Daria does not look angelic or other-worldly. Her face is worn out and her expression is rather rough. But what an expression! She stares into the eyes of her persecutor with determination and peace. There is neither anger nor fear. Just a resolve to fulfill the calling of a Christian martyr.
Daria was shot at Butovo Firing Range in 1938, the site of the more than 20,000 executions which I mentioned in my previous post. The charge, to which she courageously admitted “guilt,” was to have criticized her government for closing down churches in its efforts to eradicate Christianity and create a post-Christian Russia.
In 2000, Saint Daria was canonized by the Orthodox Church in a post-Communist Russia.
If you would like to learn more about her and other Russian New Martyrs, a good English language source (translated from the Russian) can be found at Pravmir.com (where I obtained the images for this post).