Soviet Religious Battles

October 08, 1990

The Soviet parliament's decision to end seven decades of religious repression is another harbinger of the eventual collapse of communism. It also is an example of how power in the Soviet Union is gradually shifting. For if Soviet people are granted true freedom to confess, practice and teach the faith of their choosing, such a right will inevitably lead to further erosion of the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, which calls itself "the right-believing church" but became a willing tool for its atheistic usurpers.

The church's hierarchy knows this.

In a desperate power grab attempt, it tried to win the parliament's authorization for the after-hours use of state school buildings for religious classes. The parliament, wisely, denied this request which could have triggered violent fights over school buildings in areas where the Russian Orthodox hierarchy's supremacy is challenged by other denominations.

Such fights are already brewing. In recent weeks, several parishes have decided to leave the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate and join the New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. These kinds of splits are certain to occur in all denominations, when individual congregations no longer have to belong to the discredited, communist-controlled official religious bodies.

The Soviet Union is ripe for a great religious revival. Among the beneficiaries of this revival will be Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics, who courageously fought state control even after communists had terrorized the Russian Orthodox hierarchy into subjugation and servitude. Independent Russian Orthodox churches will also thrive because Russian history is so interwoven with religion. The big question is the future of the Russian Orthodox clerical establishment, which is tainted by its collaboration with communists.

Under the czars, the Russian Orthodox Church was a privileged state church. After the Bolshevik takeover, many priests and believers were jailed or shot, and thousands of churches were closed. An atheistic orgy of sacrilege turned some of them into butcher houses, others to cinemas or welding shops. Only after Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union did Stalin extend a grudging recognition to the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, which was only too willing to cooperate with the Kremlin in order to regain some of its lost prestige. Now that new winds are blowing, the hierarchy is quickly forgetting the bitter lessons of the past and trying to regain its status as official religion.

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