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The New Martyrs of Kholm
by Archbishop Athanasius
Before proceeding to narrate the details of this tragedy, let us first call to mind the holiest place in the Kholm region -- Turkovichi -- where for centuries the miraculous Turkovitskaya Icon of the Theotokos has abided. Tens of thousands of pilgrims used to gather from the entire Kholm region on its feast day, July 2/15, to venerate it.|
If it were possible to collect all the tears which have been shed before this icon by pilgrims and to hear in a mystical manner the flaming prayers of the faithful, even those with hardened hearts would be softened and they would be enflamed with the profound and simple faith of the people. The Queen of Heaven heard all the deep sighs of the faithful and their tearful prayers and through her sacred icon she comforted and strengthened the supplicants and healed the sick ones. This grace was felt by the people and they ardently believed in it and by the thousands they would stream to venerate the holy image. That had to be seen: how the people would form endless lines throughout the night and all day in order reverently to approach the sacred icon, kiss it and depart with a relieved heart. The author of this article was an eye-witness of such moving events during his service there as a priest in 1932 and from 1940 to 1941.
Prior to the First World War in 1914 there existed in Turkovichi a large convent founded and headed by the nun Magdalena (Princess Gorchakova). This convent sponsored widespread philanthropic, educational, and religious activity (consisting of schools, orphanages, hospitals, first-aid clinics, etc.) throughout the Kholm region. The peasantry held that in high esteem and was proud of their convent, refuting the Polish Roman Catholic propaganda of that border area.
With the beginning of the war in 1915 the nuns, together with many refugees, fled to Moscow and brought with them the miraculous icon, where it perished in the flames of the atheistic Revolution. During the absence of our nuns, in 1918 the Poles occupied the monastery and turned it into an orphanage under the direction of Polish nuns. The Orthodox were strictly forbidden to enter the monastery.
Upon return from exile, the Orthodox inhabitant of Turkovichi built with their own means a small chapel in the cemetery not far from the monastery and ordered from the local artist and iconographer, Zinya, a copy of the miraculous icon, adorning it with a large kiot (shrine) and placing it in the church. The people heard of this and began to make massive pilgrimages to Turkovichi in order to venerate the sacred "Turkovitskaya" Icon as one equal to the original. Thus the feast day of Turkovichi was restored and drew numerous pilgrims on the July 2/15 date.
But the wheel of fate turned mercilessly for Turkovichi and Kholm. During the terrible years of 1943-1945 during the Second World War Polish bandits attacked the peaceful Orthodox inhabitants at night, slaughtered them, burned their homes, and brought a reign of terror and fear to these Orthodox people. In this tragedy hundreds of thousands of Orthodox people who inhabited the four districts of Grubeshovsky, Tomashevsky, Zamoisky, and Bielgoraisky perished at the hands of the Poles. In a significant coincidence, during the same years the Croatians mercilessly slaughtered the Orthodox Serbs in Croatia, as if done by the same hand according to a pre-arranged plan.
A few of the Orthodox were miraculously saved from death and fled from town to town and wherever they could. In 1945, under the influence of Soviet propaganda, many of them fled to the Soviet Union and to the Ukraine, while others settled in Polish-German areas of Western communist Poland. There a reign of terror is depriving them of their national identity but not of their Orthodox faith.
In former years tens of thousands of pilgrims would gather in Turkovichi to celebrate the triumph of Orthodoxy. But today the Orthodox and much-suffering Russia of Kholm no longer exists. Throughout history a Kholm duchy had existed with its capital at Kholm, together with a Kholm bishopric. The will of fate caused all that to perish and sink into oblivion, and therefore we write the subtitle: "Eternal be its memory!" History will preserve this memory.
Source: Archbishop Athanasius, "The Tragedy of Orthodoxy in Kholm: Eternal be its memory!", Orthodox Life, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1984), pages 34-35. Translated by Timothy Fisher from Orthodox Russia (in Russian), No. 14, 1983, p. 9.