Stalin's Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945

Stalin's Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945

Stalin's Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945

Stalin's Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945

Synopsis

Histories of the USSR during World War II generally portray the Kremlin's restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church as an attempt by an ideologically bankrupt regime to appeal to Russian nationalism in order to counter the mortal threat of Nazism. Here, Steven Merritt Miner argues that this version of events, while not wholly untrue, is incomplete. Using newly opened Soviet-era archives as well as neglected British and American sources, he examines the complex and profound role of religion, especially Russian Orthodoxy, in the policies of Stalin's government during World War II.

Miner demonstrates that Stalin decided to restore the Church to prominence not primarily as a means to stoke the fires of Russian nationalism but as a tool for restoring Soviet power to areas that the Red Army recovered from German occupation. The Kremlin also harnessed the Church for propaganda campaigns aimed at convincing the Western Allies that the USSR, far from being a source of religious repression, was a bastion of religious freedom. In his conclusion, Miner explores how Stalin's religious policy helped shape the postwar history of the USSR.

Excerpt

In an age when literature and even history are increasingly autobiographical, when a historian who is neither a Russian nor an Orthodox Christian — nor even especially religious for that matter—undertakes to write a book that deals to a large extent with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet state, his prospective reader may wish for some sort of explanation. Although the most intriguing part of the historian's art is trying to understand and explain people unlike himself as well as places and beliefs unlike his own, I did not set out to explore an unfamiliar, personally alien subject for that reason alone. Like most books, this one did not spring full-blown into the author's mind. Rather, it gestated slowly, the product of an accretion of various experiences and ideas.

My first exposure to the Russian Orthodox Church came in the 1980s, when I visited what was then still the ussr to study the language and history of Russia. the impressions I carried away from my encounters with the church at that time were contradictory, though in ways that reflected the strange and conflicting realities of religion under the late-Soviet political order. One day, I witnessed a deeply moving liturgy at Leningrad's magnificent, heavenly, sky-blue Nikol'skii Sobor'. I stood transfixed, watching the unfamiliar ceremony as it stretched over the hours, the sun streaming through the high windows, penetrating clouds of incense to pierce the heart of the dark cathedral. the deep male voices of the choir boomed impressively overhead from a choristry concealed above and behind the worshipers. the congregation was overwhelmingly female and elderly; most were old enough to have experienced the period covered by this book and so to have survived the almost unsurvivable Nazi siege of the city. They genuflected solemnly and silently at the appropriate moments, only muttering the occasional nearly inaudible “amen. ” Hard lives had scarred many of them; one woman, nearly bent double with a spinal deformity, had tears of emotion streaming down her face as she participated in the ceremony. Although she appeared to be in her late seventies, a life of pain, incessant hardships, and shortages had perhaps aged her prematurely. My attention was constantly drawn away from the priests with their censers and elaborately choreographed movements toward the faces of the congregation, whose etched visages testified powerfully to the sad history of a generation that had experienced two world wars, a revolution, and civil war, as well as Stalinist terror.

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