Russian Cultural Studies: An Introduction

By Catriona Kelly; David Shepherd | Go to book overview

13
Religion and Orthodoxy

JANE ELLIS


The Russian Orthodox Church, 1921-1953

The Bolsheviks lost no time in beginning their attack on the Russian Orthodox Church. Though the Church had been able to open a National Council in 1917 following the February Revolution (the first for 200 years, since the Church's governing structure had been suppressed by Peter the Great), after the October Revolution the Bolsheviks issued a series of decrees disestablishing the Church, secularizing schools, and confiscating its property. 1 Their Marxist ideology led the Bolsheviks to believe that property was an essential support for the Church and that its confiscation would inevitably lead to the Church's downfall: time was to prove them wrong.

In 1918 the aged Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev was assassinated and the popular Metropolitan Veniamin of Petrograd was tried and executed (both were among the first martyrs of the Soviet period to be canonized in 1992). This was the start of a wave of persecution which lasted through the 1920s and 1930s, when hundreds of thousands of bishops, clergy, and laity were sent to the Gulag, where many of them perished or were shot. All religions and denominations suffered, but the sufferings of the Orthodox were on a larger scale, partly because of the sheer weight of numbers, and partly because of their connection with the overthrown tsarist regime. 2

In 1918 Patriarch Tikhon anathematized those who

persecute [the] truth and are trying to ruin Christ's work. Echoes reach us every day of horrible and cruel massacres whose victims are innocent people, and even those lying on a bed of a sickness whose only fault was that they had

-274-

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