The Century of Martyrs
As we focus in prayer on the Persecuted Church, it is important to have insight into the history of
those who lost their lives for serving and following Jesus Christ. The following is a shortened
history of the persecution of Christians over the centuries.
The persecutions of the 20th century were the most severe in the history of the church.
In 1905, it started in the Baltic States. Time and again Bolshevik gangs ill-treated and killed
From 1894 to 1916 the Armenians, who had been officially Christian since 301, were
In 1916, 1 million Armenians were killed by the “Young Turks.” Today any mention of this
massacre is outlawed in Turkey.
The Aramaic-speaking Assyrian Christians, too, were greatly afflicted, first in 1895, then in
1933 and again in the 1970’s and 80’s when they were cruelly decimated.
In South Eastern Turkey, the Syrian Orthodox Church has been reduced to a few thousand
In 1921-22, when Smyrna was ceded to Greece, two million Greeks were exiled and
thousands murdered. On 9 September 1922, 120,000 Greeks died in Smyrna alone. This
brought to an end a 4,000-year-old period of Greek Christian history.
However, the fiercest persecutions took place in Russia. They started with the victory of the
doctrines of Karl Marx, a German Jew who initially embraced Christianity, but later turned to
Satanism. He wanted to “avenge himself on the One who rules above”. His disciple Lenin, at the
age of 16 tore his cross from his neck and spat and trampled on it.
When communism was established in Russia, the Soviets immediately started to persecute the
In 1918 bishops, priests and nuns were tried, shot and deported.
In 1922 alone 2,690 priests, 1,962 monks and 3,447 nuns, altogether 8,100 people, were
killed for righteousness’ sake.
The next wave of persecution came in 1928, when about 5,000 Christians perished during
the dispossession of the Kulaks (farmers).
However, the worst came in 1927 after a census identified those who still called
themselves Christians. In the next 6 years, 12 million people are estimated to have lost
their lives. It is assumed that in 70 years of atheism and communism, 20 million men,
women and children were killed for the sake of Christ.
Now, nearly 20 years after the collapse of the USSR, it is an absolute miracle of God’s grace that
the Russian church is rising to new life again.
Even outside Europe Christians suffered great persecution.
After 1920 and again in 1945, Korea endured affliction from both the Shinto religion and
from communism. Yet Korea, too, has had a glorious revival and now sends missionaries
into the entire world.
In Mexico, a communist-infected liberalism caused the death of 5,000 priests.
In Spain, during the civil war, the “Reds” killed 6,700 priests and monks.
Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria recorded untold
suffering of the saints.
China, Laos and Cuba, too, have not escaped persecution by the Communists.
Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have fallen victim to Islamic
Africa has also had many martyrs, especially Nigeria, the Sudan and other countries.
St. Paul describes the lot of the martyrs as follows: Others were tortured and refused to be
released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still
others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put
to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and illtreated
– the world was not worthy of them… (Heb 11:35)
But such intense persecution brings a believer closer to Christ and Jesus comforts all who endure
on His account. If we endure, we will also reign with him, is the promise (2 Tim 2:12). The martyrs
have a special place in God’s kingdom, for they are those who have come out of the great
tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he
who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them… for the Lamb will be their shepherd… and
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 7:14-1