04 September 2016

Remembering New Hieromartyr Gorazd, Bishop of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia

Holy Hieromartyr Gorazd, along with his fellow Martyrs Jan, Václav and Vladimír

A saint after my own heart, sharing with me a secular name and a nationality as well as the Faith, and displaying a truly inspiring political and religious boldness before a murderous and hostile régime, which we must strive to emulate; today we remember the martyrdom of Bishop Saint Gorazd of the Orthodox Church in Moravia.

Born Matej Pavlík in the South Moravian town of Hrubá Vrbka in the Western Carpathians, he took an active interest in matters of faith, and joined the Latin theological seminary at Olomouc in order to be ordained as a priest. He was led to a deep study of the lives of our Fathers amongst the Saints Cyril and Methodius, and through their example gained a firm appreciation for the Church to which they belonged.

When the First Czechoslovak Republic was formed in 1919 and the laws were secularised, Father Matej was among those who crossed the Bosporous and joined the Orthodox Church, being accepted as a priest in the Serbian Patriarchate. In 1921, the Serbian Patriarch Demetrius and Bishop Dositheus consecrated Father Matej as a bishop, and he took for his ecclesiastical name that of Methodius’s student and disciple Gorazd, who himself was ordained bishop after the death of his beloved teacher, but was forced to flee by the agents of Pope Stephen V, who refused to recognise him as bishop there. In this way the return of the Orthodox Church to the original mission site of Ss. Cyril and Methodius was signified.

As bishop in the Czech and Slovak lands, Bishop Gorazd oversaw the organisation of eleven Orthodox parishes and the construction of two temples, and the translation of the prayer books into the Czech language. He also invested heavily in the monastery at Ladimirovo. In his missions to the Carpathian Rusin people, who after 1919 were an integral part of the First Czechoslovak Republic, the blessed and holy bishop shepherded back into the Orthodox fold many who had been forced to adopt the Unia centuries before. It was on behalf of the Rusin people that, in 1934, he attended the commemoration of the trial at Marmorysh-Sigotsky of Father Saint Alexis Kabaluk, who was imprisoned along with 94 fellow Rusins by the Hungarian authorities on a charge of treason, for confessing the Faith of their Fathers.

Naturally, this did not win him many friends among his Latin compatriots, many of whom attempted to persuade him to rejoin the Latin church – or when this didn’t work, they took to reviling him until the Latin Bishop Stoian shamed them into desisting. But in all things, Bishop Saint Gorazd followed what his father had told him: ‘Never be afraid of anyone, and when you are right, do not give up.’ This saying he kept faithfully.

When the Nazis invaded and subjugated Czechoslovakia in 1938, Hitler set up Reinhard Heydrich, an SS-Obergruppenführer of a particularly vicious and sadistic temperament (whose claims to notoriety include the engineering of Kristallnacht, the formalisation of the Endlösung policy of genocide against the Jews, and the creation of the Einsatzgruppen which directly carried out these genocidal policies), as the ‘Reichsprotektor’ of Bohemia and Moravia, where his brutal reign of terror gained him a reputation as the ‘Butcher of Prague’. Hundreds of Czechs were summarily executed under his rule, and thousands more were sent to labour camps. Two Czech loyalists of Edvard Beneš’s government-in-exile, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, were tasked by the British intelligence services with assassinating Heydrich, in Operation Anthropoid. The two of them managed to detonate a grenade outside his car, the shrapnel from which ultimately killed him. Gabčík and Kubiš eventually fled to the Cathedral of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, where, when Bishop Saint Gorazd learned of this, he offered them temporary shelter from Nazi pursuit, but on the condition that they be moved in secret to a safer location as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, Gabčík and Kubiš were betrayed by one of the captured Czech resistance fighters, and the Nazis tracked them and their compatriots to the Cathedral, resulting in a massive firefight which ended in the deaths of all of the brave Czechs. Bishop Gorazd, hoping to spare the Czech Orthodox from the heinous reprisals that had already visited the villages of Lidice and Ležáky, took sole responsibility on himself for the incident in the church. He wrote three letters to the Nazi leadership that he was ready to accept any penalty, including death, for the actions of the resistance fighters. He, along with the two priests of the Cathedral, Father Václav and Father Vladimír, and several of the lay leaders of the Church were arrested, tortured, and eventually killed by firing squad. As Hieromartyr Gorazd’s hagiographer in the Russian Church put it: ‘He showed his love to the end and by his death was counted worthy of fulfilling the Saviour' s words: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

If the Church in the Czech and Slovak Lands remains standing, even after its suppression and the devastation wrought upon Czechs and Slovaks by the insane race-hatred of their persecutors, it is in all likelihood on account of the Christ-like willing self-sacrifice of this holy missionary to them.
Leader of the Orthodox and renewer of the Moravian Church,
Wise in God and the foremost of shepherds, Father Gorazd,
Who in joy suffered for the Truth,
Beseech merciful God to save our souls!

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