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Friday, 22 April 2016

The Russian Church under the Communist regime

Translated from the original by Costas Balomenos

As is well known, Karl Marx, the "father" of Communism, said the famous phrase that "the religion is the opium of the people", that is used by the ruling class to lulls the masses and keeps them pauperized. It is therefore the debt of Communists, when they will be able and they will seize power, to eliminate this "opium", releasing the people, to lead him to happiness that will be held through Communism...

Since October 1917, when the Bolsheviks - Communists seized power in Moscow after a bloody civil and fatal war, until about 1988, during which the Russian Christianity celebrated the thousand years of life, the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union he lived in a limiting situation and siege.
In these seventy years, the intensity of persecution differed from season to season, but the main and basic attitude of Communist authorities remained the same: the religious faith, in all its dimensions and manifestations, is a mistake that must be stifled and eradicated at all costs. In the words of Joseph Stalin, «the Party cannot remain neutral ahead in religion. Conducts an anti-religious fight against any religious bias».  To be done perfectly understood what Stalin said, must be remembered the lack of multi-party system in the Soviet Union, with the victory of Communism and the identification of Party and State.
As a result, from 1917 and onwards, the Orthodox and other Christians be found in front of a situation that like of which there was no other in the history of early Christianity. Even the Roman Empire, when at times were persecuted the Christians, he did as an atheistic State, oriented to the oppression of the religion itself. In the conquered peoples, even the Ottoman Turks, faithful in one God - Allah, although they were not Christians, they seemed quite tolerant towards the Church. But the Soviet Communism, because of the basic principles and the respective ideology, was turned into an aggressive and militant atheism. It was not enough a neutral separation between church and state, as happened in several bourgeois states of the West, but wanted and sought by lawful and unlawful means, to turn over all organized ecclesiastical life, and to eliminate any religious faith.
Occupying the power the Bolsheviks - Communists, they have implemented their program. The Legislation of 1918 excluded the Church from any participation in education and confiscated all church property. The Church ceased to have any right and did not possess any legal status. The articles of the Soviet Constitution became increasingly hard. The 1918 Constitution was allowing "freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda" (Article 13), but in the "Law for religious Associations", which was implemented in 1929, it was changed to "freedom of religious belief and anti-religious propaganda". The distinction is very important here: to the Christians was allowed - at least theoretically - the freedom of belief, but was not allowed them any freedom of propaganda. The Church was considered simply as a worshiping Union. Substantially allowed in Church to make religious sequences and in practice - especially after 1943 - some churches were attributed in the worship. Also, after 1943 enabled it to maintain a few sacerdotal schools and have some limited publishing activity. But beyond these, not allowed it - essentially - nothing else.
Therefore they removed from the Russian Church a basic and important role that characterizes the true Christianity. And that is none other than the work of charity and social care. Thus, the bishops and the clergy could not practice it. Even the visits to patients were very limited. The pastoral work in prisons, hospitals or mental institutions was therefore impossible.  In their parishes the priests could not organize some sort of youth groups or study circles, or - much more - catechetical for the children. The only way indoctrination of the flock from priests was one who was done - substantially - during the holy sequences and the Holy Mass, hour of preaching - that do not were leaving untapped, since were made four or five different sermons.
Also the clergy could not organize a parochial library, since the only books that were permitted to exist in the church were the liturgical books, for cult use. They do not have any kind of brochure or anything other informative material, which was concerning the Christianity and the Church.  Even the Bible, the sacred book of Christianity, which without it there would be no Christianity, was a rare species and were exchanged on the black market - who so much was flourishing in the former Communist countries - to excessively high prices. But worst of all was that every cleric from the bishop until the humblest parish priest, had to be licensed by the State to exercise the holy function, and was under the close and merciless monitoring of the secret police of "famous" KGB, which had replaced the previous GRU. Every word that the priest was saying in his sermons was noted carefully. The whole day, some hostile and observant eyes were watching those who were visiting the church for baptisms or weddings, for confession or a simple personal discussion.
The totalitarian Communist regime used all possible forms of anti-religious propaganda, while it had deprived from the Church every right of rejoinder, as is the case in all forms of totalitarianism. First of all there was the atheistic teaching that systematically was transmitting in every school. The teachers were taking orders, that were forced to apply, such as the following:
 The Soviet teacher must be guided by the principles of the scientific spirit of the party. Obliged not only to be active unbeliever, but also to be an active propagandist of atheism and among other things, be a carrier of ideas of proletarian militant atheism. With capacity and calmness, with subtlety and patience, the Soviet teacher should reveal and transcend the religious prejudices of his work at school, but also outside of it every day. (F.N. Oleschuk, former Secretary of the Association of Militant Atheists, in the newspaper Uchitelskaya, 26 November 1949)
Here, please allow us a personal testimony from one of our close friend who now lives in a European country and who was a repatriated political refugee, both he and his father, in the '70s. Our friend was living in Tashkent - of the erstwhile mighty Soviet Union -, in the current capital city of Uzbek in which had escaped and was living almost the whole the Greek Communists, that had taken refuge after the defeat in the Greek Civil War. Then he recounted the following incident that we believe is verging of absurdity. When the teacher was entering in the primary school there, he was handing candies to students. Thus he wanted to prove that the teachers who exist, they can hand out candies. Instead, God - that does not exist - can not to hand out candies!! This way they believed that would uproot the faith in God, from the souls of young children. Be noted that all this was said by our friend, who is not follower of religion.
From the Association of the Militant Atheists - out of school - had been organized a massive anti-religious campaign. In 1942, the Association was replaced by the less aggressive "Pan-Union Company for dissemination of Scientific and Political Knowledge". The Atheism was cultivated systematically among the young from the League of Communist Youth. Were created Museums of Religion and atheism - many times - in places where they were former churches, as for example the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, in St. Petersburg (former Leningrad). In the decade 1920-30 were organized anti religious "litanies" in the streets with rough and provocative character, who had intended the mocking of religion, and was becoming during Easter and Christmas, i.e., during the two leading Christian feasts . Following is a description of one such a "litany" from eyewitness:
There were no protests from the silent streets - the years of terror were done well their job - and everybody was trying to circumvent the road when they were encountering this provocative "litany". I personally, who attended the carnival of Moscow, I can assure that there was not a drop of popular pleasure in it. The march was moving in empty streets and was trying to create laughter or challenge, was encountering the deep silence of random passersby. G.P. Fedotov, The Russian Church since the Revolution, London 1928, p. 47)
In the decades of the 20s and 30s, a large number of churches not only closed down, but too many bishops, priests, monks, nuns and lay people barricaded in prisons and concentration camps, in the known and "famous" gulag. During this period, we cannot estimate with precision how many were executed or died from torture. Nikitas Struve in his work "Christians in Contemporary" Russia, pp. 393-398 gives a list of 130 names of bishops witnesses, but even this he calls "temporary and incomplete." The total number of priests who were martyred should reach tens of thousands.
Of course, Christians were not the only ones who were suffering at the time of the terrorist power of Stalin, but were suffering more than any other, because of their religious beliefs.
But how and how much the Church was influenced by the communist propaganda and persecution? In the above question remained in force the well known ancient saying " none evil, unmixed a good"! In many areas was observed a amazing and unhoped revitalization of spiritual life. Because the true Orthodox believers purified by the cosmic elements and liberated from the burden of false members of the Church - which simply complied with the formulas for social reasons - "Purified as through fire", gathered and resisted with heroism and humility. A Russian of the diaspora and one of the leading theologians of the 20th century, Vladimir Lossky, wrote in the most classic book "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church", p. 296-297 the following:
Just twenty-years before, the Russian Church gave birth thousands of martyrs and confessors, who are not inferior in any way from the witnesses of first centuries˙   where faith was tested, they became - with copious doses of grace - everywhere the most amazing miracles ˙  the images were presented admirers in the eyes of astonished spectators, the domes of churches glistening in the light, which was not of this world. And miracle superior of all, the Church was aware to triumph over in all the difficulties and coming out from the probation renewed and more fixed. However, all this just was observed˙  the glorious side of this, which was done in Russia, remained almost indifferent to the majority˙  mainly protested against persecution, saddened because the Russian Church not brought as a worldly power and politics˙  they forgave her for the "human weakness". The crucified and buried Christ not will be judged differently from those who are blind for the light of the Resurrection. Order to learn to recognize the victory under the phenomenal defeat, the power of God, which - in disease - becomes perfect, the true Church in its historical reality, we must take in the word of the Apostle Paul "not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, to see what God gave to us (I Cor. b12)".
The miraculous "refurbishment of images," in which Losky mentioned, took place in several regions in the period of the Communist regime. Pictures and murals, which were blackened and contorted by weather, suddenly and without any human intervention, they acquired brilliant and luminous colors again.
The amazing thing is not that such a large number of people abandoned the Church in time of persecution, because always it was happening, and no doubt will happen again. More surprising is the fact that so many remained faithful. And when "came the fullness of time",  as saying the Scripture, the rotten, corrupt and oppressive Soviet regime collapsed like a house of cards, leaving most freedom to the Russian Church to move in space and time, to carry out his task of "in Christ".


Callistus Ware, «The Orthodox Church"
Vladimir Lossky, "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church"

Writer Christos Pal

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