Alexander Yakovlev, a Communist who became disillusioned following Khrushchev’s 1956 speech denouncing Stalin, documented the terror perpetrated against Russia’s Orthodox Christians in his book A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Almost immediately upon the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1918, the clergy were purged. The Metropolitan of Kiev was mutilated and castrated, his naked corpse left to be desecrated in the street. The Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, in line to succeed the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, was doused with water and left to freeze to death, “a pillar of ice.” A bishop was strapped alive to the paddlewheel of a steamboat and mangled by the rotating blades. One archbishop was buried alive; another was crucified and burned to death. Three thousand members of the clergy were shot in the first year of the Russian Revolution. “All these Christian martyrs went unswervingly to their deaths for the faith,” Solzhenitsyn noted. Tens of thousands of religious would be sent to concentration camps; few returned. And the worst was yet to come in the 1920s under Stalin.Read the rest here.
Yet the faith of the Russian people was not extinguished by three generations of official atheism. Solzhenitsyn would note that, to the astonishment of the Soviet leadership, “the awareness of God in my country has attained great acuteness and profundity.” During the reign of Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, among the more ominous days of the Cold War, Solzhenitsyn declared, “It is here that we see the dawn of hope: For no matter how formidably Communism bristles with tanks and rockets . . . it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.”
Today there is a revitalization taking place in Russian culture and, as with the Renaissance in Western Europe, it is being spearheaded by institutional Christianity. This renaissance is perhaps best captured in the work of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, a celebrated historian, philosopher, theologian, and composer who is only forty-seven. Like Solzhenitsyn, Alfeyev strives to fill the cultural void of Russia’s lost century, and does so with indefatigable energy. This can be heard in his St. Matthew Passion, a sublime orchestral and choral piece that seems to hasten with desperation to recapture time lost. Like the martyred Metropolitan Veniamin of St. Petersburg, Alfeyev is a leading candidate to become Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. While he is, like Solzhenitsyn, unapologetically Russian, Alfeyev’s worldview has been shaped significantly by his exposure to the West, where he has lived and traveled widely. He also has close ties to the Vatican, and represented the Russian Orthodox Church at the installation of Pope Francis. His worldview is not limited to Russia, nor indeed to Orthodox Christianity.