On FB today a friend asked the question about the distinction between red and white martyrdom. We don’t hear much about white martyrdom in the Catholic Church. Probably because it is a bit more difficult to ascertain and that we have a lot of evidence of “hatred for the faith” going around. But it may be the case that our white martyrs of today are the ones who are listed annually by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Some think there are 11 Christians are martyred every hour around the world. So, I know the concept of red martyrdom –being killed out hatred for professing Christian faith; I was fairly certain about white martyrdom, but wasn’t confident. So, I asked a friend who is another Orthodox monk. My friend’s response follows:
A “Passion-bearer,” is one who is killed, not directly for professing the Christian Faith, but while practicing and upholding the practical implications of the Faith, frequently accepting death rather than themselves shedding blood. Their voluntary death links them in a very special way, to that of Christ’s Passion, so they are said to bear his passion in their own bodies.
The first to be designated as such were Ss. Boris and Gleb, sons of St Vladimir of Kiev. They were devout Christians who refused to shed blood or defend their royal rights against their brother, who had them murdered.
St Nicholas II and his Family were officially canonized as Passion Bearers, not martyrs (though they are often referred to as the latter). This was for the way in which they bore their humiliation and suffering following the Tsar’s abdication, all the while maintaining their faith in the Lord and trust in his Will. So, while one can quibble over Nicholas’ ups and downs as an Emperor, there is no question as to his genuine faith, model family life (not something most royals were known for), devotion to duty, and steadfastness under tribulation.
In the case of such Passion Bearers as the Imperial Family, including my beloved Grand Duchess/Nun St Elizabeth and her companions, a person with a secular mindset will say that they were killed simply because they were members of the former ruling family. However, viewed in Orthodox terms, the status of the Tsar as an anointed king (sacral and sacrosanct) who was actually very devout and strove to live and model the Faith, gives his death along with that of his family, a martyric character.