Soviet Union as our fatherland, whose joys and successes are our joys and successes and whose setbacks are our setbacks.'5
During the 1920s there was an abortive attempt by a group called the Obnov-lentsy (Renovators) to seek an ideological accommodation with the Soviet state.6 This movement, inspired by the communist authorities, sought to force clergy to take an oath of loyalty to the regime. Those who refused suffered the fate of Metropolitan Veniamin of Petrograd (St Petersburg), who was summarily tried and then shot on 12 August 1922. The movement lingered on for a few years, but never found popular favour and had effectively died out by the beginning of World War II.
While the Soviet Union contained the overwhelming majority of the world's population of Orthodox believers, there were countries which, at the time of the upheaval of the Second World War, still considered themselves to be 'Orthodox': Greece, Bulgaria, Romania. Most other countries of the Near and Middle East contained a significant minority of Orthodox believers, not to mention a diaspora which by this time had spread into many countries. All of these countries, in one way or another, were deeply affected by World War II.
Yet the catastrophe for billions of people, not least for the vast numbers in the Soviet Union who perished as a result of the war, did have some beneficial effects for those who had somehow preserved their religious faith against the communist onslaught, for Stalin halted and eventually reversed his antireli-gious policies. The Nazi invasion of 1941 caught the country so totally unprepared that it caused immediate demoralisation. One way of re-establishing shattered morale was to persuade the church to bolster patriotic sentiment. It was considered capable of doing this even after virtual annihilation over the previous two decades, but to achieve this, prison doors had to open to allow those clergy who had survived and were prepared to take an oath of loyalty to return to their churches. Now they were metaphorically wearing martyrs' crowns, with all that meant for their influence and personal relations.
In 1943 Stalin invited Metropolitan Sergii and a handful of other surviving church leaders to a meeting in the Kremlin, at which he promised rewards for the war effort. These included restoration of the patriarchate (which seemed to Sergii a vindication of his 1927 compromise), the re-establishment of a
5 Quoted in Michael Bourdeaux, Opium of the people: the Christian religion in the USSR (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), 56.
6 Struve, Christians in contemporary Russia, 35-40.
Was this article helpful?