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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: God's Survival Path Through Soviet Russia




After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church inevitably became the enemy of the new atheist state.


Cathedrals and monasteries were closed and destroyed; priests were sent to labor camps or the gallows; and believers were repressed in every possible way. Even the name of God was banned, and the censors would rigorously cross out colloquial expressions like "God knows."


The miracle of the survival of the Orthodox Church -- one of the pillars of tsarist Russia -- can be attributed not to divine intervention, but two very pragmatic concessions.


First, Stalin needed the church to unify and strengthen the resolve of the nation during World War II. Second, the church authorities were prepared to collaborate with the state, informing on their colleagues and congregants in order to be allowed to exist, if only for the benefit of the babushkas.


Alexander Nezhny, a journalist and secular historian, recently published The Interrogation of the Patriarch, ("Dopros Patriarkha"), under the Graal imprint. It sells for the ruble equivalent of $5. The book is a collection of new and previously published essays on the battle between church and state and the martyrs and traitors within the church.


The first part of the book is taken up with detailed biographical portraits, laden with fact and emotion, of Patriarch Tikhon, who was executed alongside Metropolitan Veniamin, and of the daring Bishop Andrei, formerly Prince Ukhtomsky, as well as of their persecutor, Commissar Yemelian Yaroslavsky.


The second part of the book is devoted to analyzing the current situation in the Russian Orthodox Church. And the final part is a guide to basic ecclesiastical topics, which may be of use to new believers.


Nezhny's approach -- his belief in the nobility of the human soul, and his willingness to judge people unequivocally -- has all the merits and the limits of the "shestidesyatniki" (intellectuals who came to prominence during the Khrushchev Thaw).


However, despite this, or perhaps because of it, this is the best existing book about the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century.