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Martyrs of Our Times

The month of May was coming to an end. The trees were adorned with bright and juicy leaves. The green grass stretched luxuriously up towards the warm sun. The air was filled with the fragrance of plants awoken from the winter cold. Lively mountain streams swiftly carried their thawed waters down into the valleys. All living things, from the tiniest insects to the birds and animals so tenderly nurturing their young, rejoiced in the warmth and the approaching summer days. Only the tears in the eyes of a soldier’s mother did not dry up…

On the bright and joyous feast day of the Lord’s Ascension, the young lives of soldier Yevgeniy Rodionov and his comrades Alexander, Andrey, and Igor were tragically cut off…

In Chechnya – a small republic in Northern Caucasus – a cruel war was going on… Private Yevgeniy Rodionov was finishing his training for service in the border guards. After the training ended, Yevgeniy, together with his comrades, would be assigned to a border outpost. The young soldiers were eager to serve their homeland.

In the winter of 1996 border guard Rodionov began his service at the Ingush outpost. The border with Chechnya was right nearby. Together with the other soldiers Yevgeniy served at one of the border checkpoints. The checkpoint was totally unequipped: there was no light, no communications, no fire support…

Yevgeniy and his comrades – Andrey, Alexander, and Igor – tried to prevent the transport of weapons and ammunition to the bandit fighters. A suspicious vehicle passed daily through the checkpoint. One night the vehicle stopped, and a group of well-armed bandits sprang out. An uneven battle ensued. After a while the vehicle drove off towards Chechnya, carrying with it the captured young soldiers. Only the trampled snow and the dried up pools of blood silently told the tale of the young soldiers’ brief but intense struggle with the bandit attackers.

Thus began the road of martyrdom for Yevgeniy and his comrades. The prisoners spent one hundred days and nights in Chechen captivity in a tiny place called Bamut. Every day they were beaten, tortured, hung on a rack attached to the ceiling of a cold cellar. All this time they were practically being starved. The walls of the dank, dark cellar and the concrete floor became black with the blood of the unfortunate prisoners, who endured everything with the greatest courage. The Chechen fiends used all possible means of torture upon the young soldiers. Afterwards they tried to force them to renounce the Orthodox faith and convert to Islam, promising to let them go free. But though beaten up, starved, endlessly tortured, the young soldiers did not betray their faith and the Church…

Meanwhile Yevgeniy’s mother, not receiving any help from military officials in searching for one of their own men, herself walked through all the Caucasian villages, trying to learn something of her missing son. Chechen women and old men railed at her, pelted her with stones, threatened to kill her. And only simple Russian soldiers looked at her with pity, gave her food to eat, asked if there was any news of her son.

During this time Yevgeniy was subjected to the most excruciating torture. The Orthodox cross on his chest enraged his adversaries. “Take off your cross,” – Yevgeniy was told many times during his brief life. Yevgeniy’s mother remembers: when the boy was eleven years old, he came back from a holiday visit to his grandmother, wearing a cross around his neck.

– Zhenya, what is that? – his mother asked him.

– That’s a cross. I went with grandma to church before the new school year, had confession, took communion, and I was given this to wear.

– Zhenya, take it off, don’t even think of wearing it, you’ll be laughed at cruelly.

Her son was silent, but did not take off his cross.

The young Russian soldier was given a choice: to change his faith or die. And no matter how much he was tortured, he did not take off the cross from around his neck…

The bandit commander shouted in the mother’s face:

– You’ve raised a wolfish son! He didn’t want to submit. Twice he tried to escape, but no one can run away from us! He didn’t love you, mother. If he had, he would’ve switched over to our side. We need strong fighters like him. He could’ve taken our faith, fought against the federal troops, and after the war he could’ve come back to you. He left you. He was a bad son, insubordinate and stubborn. But we are stronger and even more stubborn! And we kill everyone who doesn’t submit to us. He himself didn’t want to do so. Our patience is not endless. We are willing to persuade people, but whoever doesn’t want to go along with us – we’ll kill him. If you come here again – your end will come too, so don’t tempt fate!

The violent rage of the “freedom-loving mountain fighter” in the face of a weak and unarmed woman old enough to be his mother showed that the bandits had gotten nowhere with Yevgeniy and his comrades. The brutal bandits cruelly killed Yevgeniy by cutting off his head.

This occurred on May 23, 1996, on the day of the Lord’s Ascension and Yevgeniy’s birthday. On that day Yevgeniy turned 19 years old. It was as though the Lord Himself waited for and strengthened the young warrior, so that his incorruptible soul would ascend to the heavenly homeland. Yevgeniy’s soul became a precious gift for the Heavenly Father…

The mutilated bodies of the soldiers who had fulfilled their duty to the bitter end found their rest in the floodland near a grove of trees. They chose death, horrible martyric death instead of betrayal, and remained loyal sons of Christ’s Church!

It was only on September 21st, on the day of the Nativity of the Mother of God, that the murderer told the mother of her son’s death and demanded ransom for his dead body. A while later the mutilated bodies of Yevgeniy and his comrades – Andrey Trusov, Alexander Zheleznov, and Igor Yakovlev – were raised from the bottom of a crater made by an aerial bomb. The earth that had covered the bodies of the martyred soldiers revealed its terrible secret: another one of them had been beheaded like Yevgeniy, while the remaining two were shot…

Standing at the edge of the grave, Yevgeniy’s mother spoke the words that would forever be etched in the memory of the soldiers who were digging the bodies out of the earth:

– If there is no cross, it is not he.

Under the headlights of the Army vehicle, at 11:00 at night, amid the fallen leaves mixed in with the earth, the soldiers saw and cried out:

– A cross!…

Even in death Yevgeniy’s beheaded body had not parted with his cross. The hands of the soldier clasped the cross to his chest as the most precious thing in life.

This small cross became the symbol of the victory of Orthodoxy over the forces of evil, and to the Crucified Christ the martyr-warrior Yevgeniy turned with his last prayer.

The bodies of the young soldiers lay near a small tree maimed by the bandits’ bullets. Here they had fired bullet after bullet into the tied up and unarmed, but not defeated young soldiers…

Time would pass and life would go on – the crippled tree would produce new shoots, the leaves would cover them and murmur in the wind as though nothing had happened. Only the mothers would never get back their sons…

But this was not the last act of the tragedy. Back in Russia Yevgeniy’s mother would not be given her son’s body to be buried – there was no head. And once again she would go off to Bamut, once again she would go to the murderer and say: “Give me back my son’s head.”

The latter would laugh and go away, and after a while he would bring her several pieces of a skull. The superstitious bandit was afraid even of the dead Yevgeniy, and had crushed the severed head with the butt of his rifle, fearing to be followed in the next life…

At that very time, by the grace of God, 1,500 kilometers from Bamut, in Yevgeniy’s native village of Kurilovo, an ancient church in honor of the Lord’s Ascension was being restored. It was next to this church that on November 21st, the feast day of the Holy Archangel Michael, the first prayers for the deceased servant of God Yevgeniy rose up to heaven, while the ground of the village cemetery embraced the body of the martyr-warrior Yevgeniy Rodionov…

…The small pond nearby was lightly frozen over. The trees in a small grove had shed their last leaves. Life was slowing down, getting ready for the onslaught of winter. And only the soul of the martyr-warrior continues to live forever in the Heavenly chambers of the loving Father.

A large cross stands in the modest cemetery, engraved with the following words:

"Here lies the Russian soldier
Yevgeniy Rodionov,
who defended his homeland
and did not renounce Christ,
and was executed at Bamut
on May 23, 1996."

Eight years have passed since the day private Yevgeniy Rodionov and his comrades-in-arms died, but their memory will live forever.

The grave of the warrior-martyr Yevgeniy attracts visitors from St. Petersburg, the Volga region, Ukraine, Chuvashia…

He is beloved by soldiers, his help is asked for in prisons and in tight places…

Participants of previous wars take off their chest medals and place them on his grave, honoring him as a hero

His fame has spread to America, Japan, Germany… He is venerated in the Caucasus… In Serbia he is known as martyr Yevgeniy the Russian…

Priest George Khanov
(From the booklet “A precious gift. Dedicated to the soldier’s mother.”)

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