È noto che, al di là delle perduranti campagne a favore dell’ateismo militante (che a lungo potè contare anche su pubblicazioni dedicate), soprattutto nei primi anni dopo la Rivoluzione il regime bolscevico si accanì con particolare durezza non solo contro i rappresentanti della Chiesa ortodossa (e delle altre confessioni presenti in Russia) ma anche nei confronti dell’intero patrimonio, iconografico e liturgico, della Chiesa medesima. Michael Woerl, che opera nel settore della ricerca e degli studi sull’arte delle icone in Ohio (Usa), ha pubblicato sul tema il testo in lingua inglese che proponiamo di seguito corredato dalle immagini – rare e importanti – che riproduciamo a corredo.
While the Church tried to maintain a neutral stance during the Russian Civil War, and Benjamin was one of the few people in Russia with no interest in politics, the Russian Orthodox Church and Soviet State had diametrically opposite world views and the church was viewed as dangerously counter-revolutionary by the Soviet authorities. The real conflict, however, came out into the open in 1922 when the Soviet authorities demanded the church hand over church valuables to pay for famine relief. The Russian church agreed to this, but refused to hand over certain valuables of religious or historic significance. Benjamin did not resist turning over the Church’s valuables, believing it was his duty to help save lives, but insisted this be voluntary and not a plundering of church property by the Bolsheviks. On 6 March Benjamin met with a commission formed to help the starving that agreed to his voluntary dispersal of funds controlled by the parishes.
Newspapers of that time praised the Benjamin and his clergy for their charitable spirit. In April, Benjamin reached an agreement with Petrograd party officials to hand over certain valuables and to allow parishioners to substitute their own valuables for other church valuables of historic or religious significance. However, party leaders in Moscow did not approve of that decision and declared that the confiscation of Church property would continue. Protesters gathered in Petrograd, shouting and throwing stones at those who were stealing from the churches. Benjamin was placed under house arrest on 29 May and subsequently imprisoned. Benjamin was tried by a revolutionary tribunal with ten other defendants from 10 June to 5 July. As Benjamin entered the courtroom for his trial, people stood up for him and he blessed them.
The defendants were found guilty and condemned to death, but the sentences of six of the defendants were later commuted by the Politburo, though not of Benjamin and others seen as the main instigators of counterrevolution. The defendants were given a chance to speak, and Benjamin addressed the court saying it grieved him to be called an enemy of the people whom he had always loved and to whom he had dedicated his life to them. During the night of 12–13 August [O.S. 30–31 July] 1922 after having been shaved and dressed in rags so that the firing squad would not know that they were shooting members of the clergy, Benjamin and those with him, Archimandrite Sergius, Yury Novitsky, and John Kovsharov, were executed in the eastern outskirts of Petrograd, at the Porokhov Station of the Irinovskaya Railroad (a narrow-gauge railroad built to bring peat into the city for heating that starts in the Bolshaya Okhta district of St. Petersburg, across the Neva River from the Smolny Institute and ending at Vsevolozhsk 24 kilometres (15 mi) east of the city.)