In Hindsight: one hook used to lure sheep into the ROCOR-MP union
Christianity and the Soviet State
Orthodox Life magazine 1988 (1)
(Paper delivered by Fr. Victor Potapov at the Humans Rights Seminar
held on December 3, 1987 at the White House, Washington, D.C.)
The attitude of the Soviet regime towards religion is not an incidental matter—a matter of only social and political significance. Hatred of God is the principal driving force of communism and militant atheism is, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn puts it, "the central pivot of communist policy."
Marxism-Leninism is formulated as a living and forceful doctrine, an "anti-Christian sect," as one contemporary Russian philosopher put it. Its adherents believe in propositions which are to be accepted as absolute truths. This has been explicitly repeated thousands of times in Soviet literature.
In this century Russia came face to face with militant, godless international communism, a totally new phenomenon which had never been experienced by any other people in the history of mankind. Russia's body was scourged, tortured, and literally crucified.
In 1917 there were in Russia more than 80,000 Orthodox churches and chapels. Now, according to information provided by Constantine Kharchev in an interview published in the Soviet journal Religion and Science (Nauka i religiya, No.11, 1987, p.23) there are only 6,794. What happened to the rest? They were forcibly closed, turned into warehouses, circuses, planetariums, or simply razed.
Proponents of glasnost and perestroika would have us believe that at the present time, on the eve of the Millennium of the Christianization of Rus’, which will be celebrated in 1988, churches are no longer treated as they were in Stalin’s time and that the Soviet Government is radically changing for the better its attitude towards the Church. True, certain minor changes have been made; however, most of the changes have remained on paper. Superficial changes in the policy of the regime towards the Church reveal a certain pragmatism which is closely tied to the forthcoming Millennial celebrations which the world will be closely watching. However, in reality the state of religion in the USSR remains bleak.
Although Gorbachev cynically pointed out during his recent NBC interview that next year the Millennium of the Christianization of Rus’ will be observed in his country, it would be beneficial to the believers in the Soviet Union if our President in his conversations with Mr. Gorbachev during the Summit would express to the Soviet leader the genuine concern that millions of American Christians have for the plight of their co-religionists in the USSR. The President should point out to Mr. Gorbachev that the Soviet Union continues to be one of the only countries on this planet whose population is denied elementary religious freedoms such as publishing spiritual literature, the preaching on all subjects concerning religion and its impact on life and the teaching of the Faith. The Church and its faithful are deprived of even the fundamental right to conduct charitable activities. In communist Bulgaria and Romania. not to mention Poland, citizens enjoy all these basic rights, but in the Soviet Union these freedoms are lacking in spite of glasnost and perestroika.
This is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Surely Mr. Gorbachev will not object to hearing it, for it was he who recently stated in a conversation about truth in the process of glasnost: "There cannot be partial truth; there is only one truth—the whole truth." (Quoted in Nauka i religiya, No.11, 1987, p.22)
Keston College, a well—respected British research center. which closely monitors religion in communist-dominated areas, reports that as of December of this year the overall known number of religious believers imprisoned in the Soviet Union stands at 260. This is the situation in spite of the assurances given last September by Constantine Kharchev. the Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs of the USSR, that all religious prisoners in the Soviet Union would be released by November 1987.
One of those languishing in the Gulag is Fr. Vladimir Rusak, a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, sentenced in 1986 to 12 years in Soviet prisons. His crime? He wrote a truthful three-volume history of Church-State relations in the USSR since 1917 (Witness of the Prosecution, Vol. 1, Multilingual Typesetting, Valley Cottage. NY, 1987).
But what about glasnost and perestroika? Did not Mikhail Gorbachev state in Pravda (November 5, 1987) that the time has come “to overcome attempts at misinterpreting history"? Alexander Yakovlev, Central Committee Chief of Propaganda and the architect of perestroika was quoted in Izvestia (November 4, 1987) as saying "harsh truth is better than endearing silence, fantasy, and emotions." Then why should telling the truth about the tragic fate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union by Fr. Vladimir Busak be considered a crime worthy of 12 years of confinement in the Gulag? Let us be mindful of the fact that Fr. Rusak was incarcerated during Gorbachev's period of glasnost and perestroika in the context of which so much is being said about the need for "one truth—the whole truth" in Soviet society.
Fr. Vladimir Rusak's case is an eloquent example of the fact that the Church is not a part of perestroika and has no chance at true glasnost and must continue to follow the degrading path of subservience to an atheistic state. It was Fr. Vladimir Busak who wrote in an open letter to the World Council of Churches meeting in Vancouver: ‘'I love my Church, I grieve for its fate, and I want to serve it, but, of course, not at the price of subservience, that terrible price which our Church leadership is paying and which it proposes that I also should pay."
The sad fact is that the churches in the Soviet Union are being used and exploited for propagandistic purposes by the Gorbachev regime just as they were used by Stalin and by all the other Soviet dictators. In this respect it will be curious to hear what Metropolitan Philaret of the MP and the rest of the Soviet religious delegation will have to say this Sunday at the National Cathedral during an ecumenical service organized by the NCC on the eve of the upcoming Summit.
I am not implying that all clergy are subservient to the State. Numerous clergymen place themselves in no small danger by performing secret baptisms, proselytizing, lending out copies of the Gospels and books on spirituality, writing and distributing religious Samizdat materials, conducting clandestine talks and seminars for children and young people. In other words, doing their best under the most difficult circumstances to perform their priestly duty.
After 70 years of onslaught on the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union, after the physical extermination and ceaseless persecution of her clergy, and 70 years of systematic propaganda of atheism in every form and by means, faith in Russia is not only alive but is being reborn in the hearts of many.
We are witnessing a slow but steady rebirth of Orthodoxy which is gathering strength in various corners of Russia and which began many years before glasnost and perestroika.
Yes, repression continues and so does the oppression of the faithful., And, yes, the Orthodox Church is controlled by the atheist establishment, but in spite of its captive status, people are drawn to it and find in it the source of Life.
The process of religious revival in the Soviet Union has begun in earnest and we should all be supporting it, because the implications of the spiritual reawakening are of universal importance and are in our own national interest.