September 9, 2022

1943. "Russian Orthodoxy's Offensive"

The Orthodox Church in Wartime Russia
"1943 meeting of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church" (source)
From Newsweek, December 27, 1943, p. 70:

Russian Orthodoxy's Offensive

One of the most remarkable occurrences of the war has been the Soviet Government's growing leniency not only toward religion as such, but specifically toward its onetime archenemy, the Russian Orthodox Church. For the developments on Christmas, Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS Moscow correspondent, has sent the following dispatch.

Two significant events in the spiritual life of the Soviet Union occurred last week. Yemelyan Yaroslavksi, former leader of the anti-religious movement and a faithful old-time Bolshevik, died. The press made no reference to his atheism; others referred to his "scientific writings." Long lines of people filed through the while marble Hall of Columns in downtown Moscow to pay homage to one of the most popular Communists of Russia—a man, who represented the tenacity of the religious feeling he could never quite stamp out. On Dec. 6, Yaroslavski's ashes were buried in the Kremlin wall behind Lenin's tomb.

The other event was the announcement in the newly founded Journal of the Orthodox Church and Moscow Patriarchy that a system of religious schools would be established throughout the Soviet Union in order to train priests and clerics to carry on the Orthodox religion. This is proof of the Soviet Government's sincerity and good faith in giving the official go-ahead which resulted in the episcopal assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow last September. That was when the Metropolitan Sergius was elected Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.

From the historical point of view, there is nothing hypocritical or devious in this shift of attitude toward the Orthodox Church. Briefly, the situation is this: Before the revolution, the church was one of the wealthiest institutions in Russia. Its corruption was notorious, and its subservience to the czarist government—which employed the church as a weapon—made it an enemy to the revolutionaries, who were also inspired by the atheistic concepts of Marxism. Hence the Soviet Government included most church land and property in its declaration of common ownership. the official attitude was that the church, with its ritual and dogma, must not have a chance—either by interference or tradition—to act as a brake on the progressive drive of the new Soviet Government.

Sergius the Patient: Thus the Orthodox Church, while never completely obliterated, went into a decline. But the wise leaders like Sergius (who retired to a Volga village near Kuibyshev and continued to preach the faith) accepted the complete break of church and state. They knew that the old-time Russians are one of the most deeply religious people on earth—people who would keep their beliefs.

The patience and good judgment of these men were rewarded when war came. Their church began to grow as one of the spiritual forces of the Soviet Union's fight against Fascism, since church leaders have left no doubt which side their God is supporting.

Thus the Orthodox Church takes the offensive. To faithful churchgoers, working and sowing to keep the Red Army in the field, the resurgence of their religion is another indication of the justice of their cause and God's. And although the Orthodox Church now emerging will be maintained only on the basis of a complete separation of church and state, the movement now under way is more than a temporary wartime arrangement. The establishment of ecclesiastical schools is indicative of this.

• The program of religious studies will follow that of the formed seminaries. That means it will constitute one of the most rigorous courses in the world. Students will get such things as the history of the Christian and Russian churches, Christian apologetics, canonic rights and the Constitution of the U.S.S.R., hymnology, the reading of Greek texts and the history of Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches.

• Studies will be free. Moreover, money will be provided for those who need support and dormitories for students living out of town. Also, no candidate will be accepted until he is 18, which means that men entering the priesthood will first have a Soviet education.

• The study period is reduced from a prewar six or seven years to two or three years. (The course at the highest school in the land, the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Institute in Moscow, will take three years; at secondary schools in the dioceses, two years.)