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The photographs, taken June 18, 1984, tell the story better than an article, more poignantly than an essay. The religious dissidents are unfolding their banners over the balcony rails of an Evangelical Christian Baptist church in Moscow, carefully watching to see that their signs are visible to the congregation below. But many of the National Council of Church delegates are ignoring the demonstration.Some of the Americans are looking up, expressionless; most are looking at nothing at all. Their faces seem to be saying this is odd, or this is boring, or this isn't happening. A few seem intent and questioning. The banner reads, "Number of Prisoners for the Work of the Gospel Is Constantly Increasing and Reaches 200 Persons Now."1
Immediately after the photographs were taken, KGB agents consulted with church deacons who rushed to the balcony and threw the Evangelical Christian Baptists to the floor, then hustled many of them out of the church. After a second banner was unfurled, men once again rushed to the balcony and violently dragged the demonstrators away.2
Although NCC tour leader Bruce Rigdon was at the lecture when the first banner was unfurled, he ignored the message. Other American delegates took turns speaking from the pulpit, but not one delegate mentioned the banner, offered a prayer for their fellow Christians, or mentioned a second sign which read, "Pray for Persecuted Church in Our Country."3
After the service, as a handful of independent delegates were questioning one lone stubborn dissident who had remained outside - despite frantic efforts by Soviet Intourist guides to end the conversation - tour coordinator John Lindner ordered the delegates away from the woman. According to some delegates, he complained that they were being impolite to their Soviet hosts.4
Lindner, on loan to the NCC from the Presbyterian Church, later told a news conference that he found it "disturbing to have worship interrupted by any kind of group. . . . Just because people do something to grab media attention doesn't mean that's the best way,to settle things."5
Rigdon later commented that he believed that the dissidents "are free. . . . I understand that in the United States a situation like this would have been handled by the police."6
If you have seen the photographs, remember the man immediately behind and to the right of the woman unfurling the banner? He is Veniamin Naprienko, and he was sent to a Soviet labor camp because he had the courage to tell the truth to the National Council of Churches. Obviously, the situation was handled by the police.7
Naprienko and his wife, Natasha, members of a Moscow Baptist congregation which is persecuted because it refuses to register with the government, soon smuggled an explanation out of Russia concerning their actions. It was subsequently quoted in a newsletter published by emigré Georgi Vins. "We believed," the Naprienkos wrote, "that if we did not speak out, we would be guilty before the Lord. We could not remain silent. . . ."8
Evidently the National Council has no such compunction. The NCC has not protested Naprienko's plight or the persecution of the "Church of Silence" in the U.S.S.R. When asked about Naprienko's arrest (occurring three weeks after the NCC delegation left the Soviet Union) spokesmen for the Council said they thought Naprienko had been arrested for another incident - therefore, it was not the National Council's concern.
As sad as it is, it is not surprising that the National Council has not commented on Naprienko's imprisonment. From the first round of exchanges between the Russian Orthodox Church and the NCC in 1956, until the mid-1980s, there has been little from Council officials but admiration for the state of religion in Soviet Russia. It has sent dozens of delegations (many of whom have been NCC officials), who have returned either extolling the Soviets or declaring that there is little or no abuse of religious dissidents. Those statements have not been, and are not, true. Not content to merely send delegations, the NCC has also brought delegations from the U.S.S.R. to the United States, and a majority of them have been used by their government for propaganda purposes.
It is difficult to understand why the National Council behaves in this manner, but it has certainly been damaging. At worst, it has managed to convince some people that the Soviet government is peace-loving and fairly tolerant of Christianity; at best it has caused doubt that the persecution of Christians is as bad as religious dissidents have said it is.
Further, because some delegates have claimed it is the United States who forces the Soviets to behave badly, the real difference in Soviet and American behavior, and its implications, has been clouded. This is not a minor matter. Geopolitical ignorance is dangerous. Another way in which this clouding has been achieved is through the NCC's concealment of the true position of the Russian Orthodox Church. The National Council made a 1984 television documentary, in conjunction with NBC, which, in effect, denied the Russian church is captive to its government. This is an important point, as the Russian Orthodox Church makes many statements regarding arms control and Soviet foreign policy.
Perhaps most damaging, however, has been the NCC's lack of concern for Soviet Christians. By ignoring their persecution, they have helped isolate them. By isolating them, those Christians, many of whom are courageous people, have been denied the sympathy of the outside world and the help that would have come as a result. The Soviet government may not have stopped the persecution, but had the NCC been loudly outraged through the years, the Soviets might have lessened the degree of persecution. There is a lot of difference, for a dissident, between lack of freedom to worship and a labor camp in the Ural mountains.
Typical of the false or misleading statements made by NCC delegates (over the decades) were comments made by Lindner and Rigdon in 1984. "We discovered vital religious communities wherever we went, from Tallin to Taskent. We have heard of a couple of instances of new churches being built," Lindner said.9
Izvestia, the Soviets' official government newspaper, quoted Rigdon as saying the delegates had been "completely satisfied in their interest regarding the position of the churches." Izvestia continued, "During the press conference and in conversations, members of the delegation repeatedly stated that in their view the church in the USSR is not persecuted."10
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Soviet Persecution Of Christians
These statements are disgraceful. Besides the everyday persecution of Christians, who are denied good jobs and admittance to universities, besides even the labor camps - which many do survive - there have also been numerous instances of priests and church activists being "accidentally" killed. Moreover, Soviet soldiers have been sent to "psychiatric hospitals" merely for believing in God, an offense that is considered evidence of mental disturbance. Psychiatrists have told these "patients" that they will not be released until they renounce their faith, and stubborn believers are treated with drugs that turn them into vegetables.11
The very laws governing any kind of religious activity in the Soviet Union are of a persecutory nature. Churchmen and believers are forbidden to organize schools, teach classes, use the media, establish youth groups, or hold any meetings apart from worship. Churches may not have libraries or reading rooms, may not keep any kind of literature except prayer books and hymnals (literature directly needed for worship), may not conduct trips or pilgrimages, may not hold prayer or Bible study, and may not give charitable aid for sick or aged church members. Priests or clergymen may not perform any religious function outside the church except last rites, and must have permission from authorities to do so and may not act as clergymen in any church but their own. Clerical appointments to churches must also be approved by the state.
It is true that the official structure of the Russian Orthodox Church is still in existence, but it is tolerated only because the Soviets have found a way to use it as a tool of the state. The Soviet government finds it convenient to have "godly" spokesmen mouth the Soviet line; somewhat like a puppet and a puppet-master. It also finds the American religious pilgrimages, and unending "peace" meetings which they inevitably arrange for the delegates, extremely useful. The meetings are extensively covered by the Soviet press, and the propaganda value, for the Soviets, is substantial. Nevertheless, the National Council continues to maintain the church is not only thriving, but independent, and gives its predictable positions on "peace" and disarmament great weight.
This is true to such an extent that NCC officials and Orthodox churchmen now hold joint arms control meetings in Geneva. The meetings are held, according to NCC, to seal a common position on the moral imperatives of arms reductions. That ordinary Soviets, or those used as tools of Soviet propaganda, do not influence the Politburo is something that seems to escape notice.
NCC spokesmen not only deny the real state of religion in the U.S.S.R., but often choose sides between the two governments - and it is not the United States whom they support. NCC delegate Alan Geyer was asked at a Moscow press conference if Russian Orthodox Churchmen could bring pressure on their government to return to arms negotiations. Geyer (a member of CAREE and a participant in the National Council's visit to the U.S.S.R. in 1984) said, "I think they'd (the U.S.S.R.) be happy if the talks resumed but there is a widespread feeling in the United States, which I share, that it is not the Soviet Union's fault."12 Geyer, you will remember, was the principal consultant to the United Methodist bishops as they prepared their pastoral letter on nuclear arms.
(CAREE, Christians Associated for Relationships in Eastern Europe, is a sponsor-related organization to the National Council of Churches. It is also a child and partner of the Christian Peace Conference, an organization which the U.S. government believes is a Soviet front. This does not mean CAREE members are Soviet agents. They are generally well-meaning Christians who sincerely believe - contrary to all evidence - that they can make a difference in world geopolitics through displaying their sincere desire for peace to the average Russian citizen. However, the organization has been used by the Peace Conference to sponsor Marxist-Christian encounters13 and for originating delegations to the Soviet Union, trips which are used by the Soviets to further their image as peacemaker.)
The sympathy for the Soviet perspective is so strong among NCC delegates that even when aware of tactics most people would consider persecution, they often find reasons to justify their hosts. After Soviet officials told a vice-president of the United Presbyterian Women (an NCC delegate) that Christians are not imprisoned in the Soviet Union because they were Christians, but because they had committed other offenses, she commented she was uncertain what the truth was but ". . . wondered what percentage of our prison population are members of Christian Churches and why it never occurred to me that Soviet Christians may break the law."14
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Baptists Fight - Orthodox Protest
If the 1984 NCC delegation had conducted a real investigation - or had been allowed to do so - they would have found that thousands of Baptist congregations (about one hundred thousand people) such as the one represented at the demonstration in the Moscow church, break the law by refusing to register with the government because to do so would invite the same sort of treatment accorded the Russian Orthodox: surveillance, inability to proselytize (it is against the law), the inability to teach religion to children under eighteen years of age and denial of the right to appoint their own clergy or for clergy to decide the content of their own sermons. Sometimes it means destruction.
Russian Orthodox Archbishop Feodosy, in a letter to the late Leonid Brezhnev, complained that government officials, among other things, refuse to allow registered Christian churches to make repairs on their buildings and refuse to allow some churches to meet at all. He also said officials persecute Christians who choose to be baptized, steal church inventory, refuse to allow the bishop to ordain priests (a tactic which the Archbishop referred to as "smothering diligence [which] dooms the Russian Orthodox Church to a slow death"), and persecute priests.15
The bishop cited a registered church in the Ukrainian Hlobyne District of Poltava, which had one very small registered house of prayer. Because the mud walls were decaying, members decided to brick-face the building. After spending months begging for a permit, the faithful began the work. However, at midnight on July 31, 1971, when they were almost through with the building, the chairman of the village council appeared in the company of militiamen and twenty Komsomol members with crowbars and the house started to "shake from the strong blows. . . ."16
He recalled, the archbishop told Brezhnev, that the following morning, members of the Hlobyne religious congregation - older men, former front-line soldiers - sat in his office sobbing. "From the above, it is obvious that even the smallest, so to say, insignificant work - renovation of a rather ordinary peasant cottage in which the house of prayer is situated - requires of the faithful an enormous effort to overcome all the opposition and obstacles . . . " he wrote.17
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Catholics, Uniates, Protestants
Brezhnev did not reply to the bishop's letter, and the bishop was probably not surprised. After all, the Soviets also persecute the Lithuanian Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Greek (Uniate) Catholics, Adventists-Reformists, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonites, and the remnants of the True Orthodox Christians. Some of these religious bodies refuse to register, and some are simply forbidden to exist.
Outlawed since Russia formally absorbed the Ukraine after the Second World War, and forced to merge with the Russian Orthodox, the Uniate Catholic Church is a hotbed of defiant and unregistered religious activity - so much so that dozens of priests and believers have been sent to labor camps.18
The Soviets claim the church "voluntarily" liquidated itself in the late 1940s, an absurd allegation - the Uniates had a one thousand-year tradition and four million members in 1946. In 1974, Father Volodymyr Prokopiv led a delegation of Ukrainian Catholics to Moscow, where they presented to the government a petition calling for legalization of the church: the petition was ignored. But Ukrainians are stubborn. In 1982 five of them formed a regional Committee for the Rights Of Believers and the Church, branches of an organization which has since sprung up all over the Soviet Union. Most of the founders are in labor camps.
The Lithuanian Catholic Church, to which 70 percent of all Lithuanians belong (about three million) is still legal, but is nevertheless persecuted. Its priests have also organized Committees for the Defense of Believers' Rights and are, predictably, in labor camps. A typical example is Father Sigitas Tamkevicus, who, besides organizing the committee, was accused of giving children religious instruction and organizing Christmas celebrations for children. The Lithuanians have responded to the persecution by sending dozens of petitions to Moscow, signed by thousands of believers, calling for more religious freedom.
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Lithuanians Protest For Priest
A typical petition drive, launched in 1979, was signed by one hundred and forty-eight thousand people or 5 percent of the population. It called for the restoration of the Church of Mary, Queen of Peace in Klaipeda. The church has been used as a concert hall since 1960. Other petitions complain about the subordination of priests to the Soviet Council for Religious Affairs, about the shortage of priests due to the closing of seminaries, the shortage of religious literature, the official disruption of religious processions, the desecration of shrines, and the taunting of their children in school.
Another recent petition expresses support for Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, sentenced in 1983 to seven years' imprisonment and three years in internal exile for his part in organizing a believer's rights committee. Svarinskas was also accused of preaching anti-Soviet sermons, sermons in which he reportedly denounced the murder of priests, the burglarizing of churches, and the desecration of the sacraments by government agents.
In a 1983 letter to the investigator of Svarinskas' case, Soviet citizen (and exprisoner of conscience) Liudvikas Simutis offered an appeal for Svarinskas and, indirectly, a cry from the heart for all the persecuted. "Having been summoned to a hearing in connection with the case," he wrote, ". . . I hereby declare: I have known Father Alfonsas Svarinskas very well for a long time and associated with hirn in places of incarceration where inhumanly difficult conditions of life offer especially good opportunity to get to know a person. People who have suffered for long from hunger and exhaustion cannot hide even the least of their vices or virtues.19
". . . Love is the sole source of Father Svarinskas' energy and the driving force of his activity. . . . Father Svarinskas did only what most Lithuanian priests wanted to do but did not dare. In his sermons he spoke out loud and clear on those issues about which the priests and faithful in Lithuania spoke in whispers, about which most priests and believers would not speak from lack of courage or ability but about which they repeatedly asked him to speak up.20
". . . Strong in his faith, he almost never succumbed to elemental fear, but often worried that to keep quiet and do nothing would mean to acquiesce in criminal actions. He was afraid that silence would offend God in those things where conscience demands not only that one speak out, but that one cry out at the top of his voice."21
The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, a samizdat (underground) publication, accuses the Soviets of worse than mere persecution: one of its issues charged them with the murder of Father Bronius Laurinavicius, a member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Watch Group. Laurinavicius had been attacked in the state press a few days before his death, the publication said, for "luring youth to church." The Chronicle claimed that on November 24, 1981 three or four witnesses saw men (who were believed to be KGB agents) seize Laurinavicius and push him under a passing truck. The testimony of doctors on the scene was included in the article.
Father Laurinavicius was the third Lithuanian priest to die under suspicious circumstances since 1980.
The Soviet attitude toward religion is mirrored in the policies of its satellite states throughout Eastern Europe. Father Jaroslav Duka, a member of a banned Dominican Order in Czechoslovakia, is a typical victim. He was sent to prison for saying Mass without state approval, copying religious texts, and attempting to revive the Dominican order.
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Typewriters And Music Banned
In Romania, typewriters must be registered because Romanians have used them to copy Christian literature and Bible passages. The U.S. Congress granted Romania most favored nation status in 1975 because, among other things, it had agreed to allow twenty thousand Bibles, supplied by Western churches, to be given to the Hungarian Reformed Church - only to later find that the Bibles had been immediately recycled into toilet tissue.22
Music is, apparently, also a threat to the Soviets. Two members of an underground Christian band (the only kind able to exist) were caught in 1984 and sentenced to two and a half years at hard labor. "The Trumpet Call" band members, Valeri Barinov and Sergei Timokhin, were sentenced only after spending eight months in psychiatric hospitals and prisons. Barinov and Timokhin may have had the last word, however. Their Christian rock opera, which they secretly recorded, was smuggled out of the U.S.S.R. and was performed in Europe in the summer of 1985.23
Although the persecution of apolitical Christians like Barinov and Timokhin seems unreasonable, it is not: it is an absolute necessity for the Soviet government. Marxists-Leninists work at eradicating religion because any belief in a higher authority is dangerous for them. They rightly believe that if totalitarianism is to succeed, there can be no higher authority than the state.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung understood this principle. Religions, he said, give mankind a "point of reference" outside itself, allowing, humans to exercise judgment and the power of decision. Religion builds up a spiritual reserve and a different kind of reality. "If statistical reality is the only reality, then it is the sole authority . . . then the individual is bound to be a fraction of statistics and hence a function of the state.. "24
Marx believed that religion would fade away when confronted with "scientific communism." Since it has not, other means have been employed to assist destiny.
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Lenin obviously understood the need to eradicate religious belief. Just a few days after he seized power, in 1917, widespread arrests of bishops and clergy began. Between 1918 and 1930 at least three hundred Orthodox bishops, forty thousand priests, tens of thousands of monks, and millions of lay Orthodox were either shot or sent to their deaths in prison camps.25 Lenin also confiscated all church property and ruled that no person under eighteen could be instructed in the faith.
Additional legislation was passed in 1929 which restricted the number of churches to those the state was willing to register and banned any religious activity outside the building.
In the U.S.S.R., religious persecution tends to come in waves. In the 1920s thousands more church leaders, priests, nuns, and bishops were imprisoned, tortured, and shot. Patriarch Tikhon was interrogated by the Cheka-GPU (the forerunners of the modern KGB), then died under "suspicious circumstances."26 In order to weaken the Russian Orthodox Church, the Communist government also encouraged a schismatic pro-Bolshevik group of clergy who called their group the "Living Church." It was probably the original version of Nicaragua's "people's church."
Under Stalin, thousands more churches were closed because the state refused them registration. When his famous purges began in the 1940s, many of the remaining priests and pastors disappeared to Siberia or were executed - to the point that there was scarcely a church left open. Stalin also took the opportunity to destroy religion in the Baltic "republics" by literally stuffing the labor camps with Lutherans from Latvia and Estonia. Never one to do things halfway, he also took the, opportunity to liquidate the Eastern Rite Catholic Church in the Ukraine.27
During the Second World War, however, the fortunes of the Russian Orthodox Church took a dramatic upswing. Stalin was unprepared for hostilities and needed the church to develop patriotism. Some of the subsequent improvements, such as the installation of the Moscow Patriarchate and the central church administration, became permanent when Stalin realized that the church could be used for propaganda purposes - a realization which has served the Soviets to this day.
During this period an attempt was even made to woo back Russian emigrants. The patriarch assured the strayed that "the Russian Orthodox church, like a Mother, opens her loving arms and calls you, her children, back into her fold."28
A recent Russian samizdat sneered at this phase of Soviet history, revealing that those who returned "found that apart from the Mother Church they also had a Father Stalin, who thought a stay in concentration camp in Siberia or exile in Central Asia would do them a lot of good."29
When Nikita Khrushchev took power, the picture once again changed for the worse. Khrushchev led one of the most vicious antireligion campaigns since the 1930s, while denying it completely to the outside world. Hundreds of priests were sent to prison camps while the archbishops were mouthing Moscow's latest "peace line."
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NCC Campaigns For Soviets
Nevertheless, despite the venomous treatment accorded Christians by the Soviets from the revolution on, most NCC delegates obviously did not understand the true state of religion in the U.S.S.R. before they left home - and the NCC made sure they did not and could not understand once they arrived. The NCC Committee on U.S.-U.S.S.R. Church Relations - of which Rigdon is chairman - distributed a booklet to delegates titled Together on the Way, a booklet filled with pro-Soviet apologia. It was also made clear to delegates that their main function was not to change the Soviets, but to change American attitudes toward the Soviet Union.
In one of the briefing books given to delegates, written by Alan Geyer, the trip's purpose was made explicit. "There is . . . no escaping the political, or 'pre-political,' role of our educational and religious institutions in equipping the American public with a sounder and more balanced understanding of the Soviet Union" in order to overcome "the extraordinary strength and resilience of anti-Soviet sentiment in this country.30 Once the delegates arrived, the Soviet government's Intourist travel agency controlled the itinerary. Hot spots, of course, were excluded from the tour. There were no scheduled meetings with representatives of the unregistered churches, and the delegates were kept constantly busy with banquets, receptions, "peace
meetings," and summit conferences with government spokesman Georgy Arbatov. Those who were interested in meetings with dissidents were discouraged.31
Unfortunately the tour, which was cosponsored by the Joint Peacemaking Program of the United Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church of the United States, and the Presbyterian Bi-National Service Program, was just one of many planned for the coming years and only one of five planned for 1984-1985. Those included three delegations of Soviet churchmen visiting this country and several more NCC delegations visiting the U.S.S.R.
The Presbyterians (who were the most represented group on the June 1984 trip and the denomination which has been the largest contributor to the U.S.-U.S.S.R. committee) also sponsored a 1985 youth delegation to the Soviet Union. According to Presbyterian material, applicants had to "be able to show a commitment to peacemaking."
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NCC Broadcasts Propaganda
Tours are not the only method used by the NCC to convince church members and the public at large that the Soviets are benign. In 1984 the NCC sponsored a television documentary which shamelessly distorted the religious situation in the Soviet Union. "The Church of the Russians" was first aired during the summer of 1984, just in time to enhance the publicity of the returning NCC delegation. It had nothing but praise for freedom of religion in Russia, mentioned no dissidents, and barely mentioned nonorthodox groups such as the independent Baptists.
The award-winning program featured a scenic travelogue, shots of beautiful churches and elaborate Orthodox services, infant baptisms, and interviews with church and government officials who insist the U.S.S.R. has an officially sanctioned growing church. It did not discuss the hundreds of Christians now in prisons for breaking the antireligious laws or the myriad ways in which the government suppresses belief and believers.
Typical comments from the film's host and commentator, Bruce Rigdon, and others, are as follows:
- "Without any announcements or declarations of policy from the Kremlin, the position of the Orthodox Church has irnproved dramatically, over the past several decades." (Rigdon)
- "You see the church minds her own business. The state does not interfere into church affairs and the church does not interfere into state affairs." (Peter Makartsev, vice-chairman Of the (Soviet) Council on Religious Affairs)
- "Our discussions are absolutely free. There is absolutely no control over us . . . not in the preparation of our work, nor in our work, nor in our conversation. Such control cannot exist because the sphere of our work is clearly religious. It is quite apart from government concerns." (Alexei Buevsky, executive secretary, External Relations Department, Moscow Patriarchate)
- "I would tell you frankly that at the moment the peacemaking cause of the church just coincides with the foreign policy of our government. And we're glad. But all our peace activity is based on our Christian views." (Metropolitan Filaret, chairman, External Church Relations, Moscow Patriarchate)
- "We've discovered that it's impossible to talk for very long with leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church or with faithful members of the church without recognizing that one of their most fundamental and passionate concerns is that of peacemaking. How many times in the last few weeks have we heard bishops and metropolitans as well as crowds of the faithful who surrounded us wherever we went, quote to us that familiar phrase from the Gospels: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.'" (Rigdon)
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Fact: as a result of official anger over the refusal of many Baptists to register, Soviet authorities in 1979 began a fresh campaign of religious persecution. The persecution gained such fresh impetus in 1984 that it was mentioned in the U.S. State Department's annual report on worldwide human rights. There are now an estimated four hundred-plus Christians in Soviet labor camps, two hundred of which are unregistered Baptists. This is up from the one hundred and forty-seven Christians who were in Soviet camps prior to 1979.32
There is a strong possibility these Christians will stay in prison twice as long as they were originally sentenced. During Yuri AndroPov's short tenure, he initiated legislation which made it possible to resentence prisoners for performance of religious acts or even recitation of private prayers.
Further, the Soviet Union has rarely had as few active churches as it has today. Before the revolution there were 54,174 Orthodox churches and hundreds of monasteries, most of which were closed after the revolution. During the late forties there were still about twenty thousand open, but as many as ten thousand more were closed during the reign of Nikita Khrushchev. Very few have been opened since, elimination through attrition being a policy which was resumed during the tenure of Brezhnev and Andropov.33
According to statistics gathered by Keston College, a research institute which gathers data on religious liberty in the Eastern Bloc, there are now approximately six thousand and five hundred Orthodox churches open for worship in the Soviet Union. There are an estimated thirty-five to forty million Orthodox believers. Moscow itself, which once had one thousand and five hundred churches, now has less than fifty. Russia's second largest city, Leningrad, has ten, Further, there are only 5,994 registered priests in all the Soviet Union. There are approximately fourteen thousand and four hundred churches total for all denominations for a total Christian population of fifty-eight million: one church for every 3,973 believers.34
There are now only six monasteries and ten convents remaining open, down from sixty-nine before Khrushchev's purge of the churches - only two of which, Soviet expert Michael Bourdeaux points out, are actually on Russian soil. The other fourteen are in the non-Russian republics. There were several hundred before 1917.35
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The Furov Report
Almost everything else stated in "The Church of the Russians" is equally false and can be proved so by a Soviet secret report on the Orthodox Church. The report, officially labeled "From the Records of the Council for Religious Affairs to the Members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union," was written by Vasily Furov, the deputy head of the Council on Religious Affairs, and was smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1980. The council oversees all religious activities in the U.S.S.R.
The 1975 report was first published in Paris and then in the New York-based Religion in Communist Dominated Areas (RCDA) publication and Monastery Press, publishers of the Free Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. It was predictably blasted by the Soviet press, but its authenticity had been confirmed by numerous experts on the Soviet Union and the Orthodox Church.
The Furov report proves that the price the Russian Orthodox Church pays for its survival is its use by the Soviet government as a propagandizing tool. Ergo, any negotiations conducted between the NCC and spokesmen for the Orthodox Church is, in truth, an exercise in manipulation. "The council controls the synod (the body that supposedly governs the Orthodox Church)," the report asserts. "The question of selection and appointment of its permanent members used to be, and still is, completely in the hands of the council; candidacy of
special members is also determined upon previous agreement by appropriate officials of the council.
"All topics to be presented for discussion at the Synod are first submitted by Patriarch Pimen and the permanent members of the synod to the executive committee of the council and its departments. . . . Furthermore, the Council approves the final 'Decision of the Holy Synod.'
"In exercising its constant and unrelenting control over the activities of the Synod appropriate officials of the council conduct systematic work to educate and enlighten the members of the Synod, maintain confidential contacts with them, shape their patriotic views and attitudes, and exert necessary influence on the entire episcopate through the members of the Synod and with their help."
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The Three Groups
Furov divided the church's top clergymen into three groups. Group A, which included Russian Orthodox Patriarch Pimen, "strictly observe laws . . . realistically acknowledge that our government is not interested in expanding the role of religion and who, realizing this fact, are not personally involved in the spreading of orthodoxy among our populations." Group B, Furov said, follow the law and have correct attitudes, but "try to activate the clergy and the church body . . . and recruit young zealots for the priesthood."
Condemnation was reserved for Group C, a dangerous group of men who "evade the law on cults," "bribe and slander" council officials, and "stimulate religious feeling, provoke unwholesome interest among non-believers and persons indifferent to religion." This is undoubtedly the group to which Archbishop Feodosy - the man who dared to complain to Brezhnev - belongs.
Furov noted that Orthodox priests are "ideal" for handling foreigners because they "are loyal, operate within the law, are well informed and can influence many people; therefore we are interested in working with them individually . . . particularly when they meet and accompany foreign tourists, religious and governmental organizations."
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The news about council control is particularly ominous because, according to Soviet expert John Barron, the Council on Religious Affairs is under the control of the KGB. In John Barron's book KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents, he quoted ex-KGB officer Vladimir Sakharov recalling his friend Anatoli Kaznovetsky - the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Africa - who was "the most colorful KGB agent in the Middle East."36
Archbishop Kaznovetsky, Sakharov said, was "perfectly capable of administering religious sacraments one hour and writing reports for the KGB the next." The archbishop's main mission was "to persuade clergymen of other faiths to adopt and propound the Soviet view or, international issues such as Vietnam, the world peace movement and the Arab-Israeli conflict."37
The duty of the KGB's Fifth Directorate, Barron maintains, is to clandestinely control religion in the Soviet Union. It works to identify all believers in the Soviet Union and ensure that the Russian Orthodox Church and all other churches serve as instruments of Soviet policy.
Barron believes that the Directorate places KGB officers within the church hierarchy and recruits bona fide clergymen as agents. Much of its work is accomplished through the Council on Religious Affairs, which is heavily staffed with retired and disabled KGB officers.
If any more confirmation is needed, it can be supplied by ex-Polish official Zdzislaw Rurarz. Rurarz, who resigned as Polish Ambassador to Japan after martial law was imposed in his country in 1981, was visiting Zagorsk in 1967. Zagorsk, a monastery, is in a sense the Russian Orthodox holy city. It is about forty-four miles from Moscow. While there, Rurarz was surprised to see the large number of priests and religious pilgrims. When he mentioned his surprise to his hosts one of the men, an official high in the Soviet hierarchy, laughed and said of the priests, "All of them are ours."38
The purpose of the Soviet Council on Religious Affairs was made even more abundantly clear when Furov wrote, "Thus, the plethora of measures . . . enables us to influence future clergymen in a specific way beneficial to us and to expand their theoretical and practical knowledge in the spirit of materialism. In our opinion, this will undercut the religious and mystical ideals of the future clergy and in conjunction with other objective and subjective factors, it may bring them to understand their own uselessness as clergymen."
Soviet officials were so pleased with Bruce Rigdon's performance on the "The Church of the Russians" broadcast that they awarded him, the Order of the Holy Prince Vladimir, Third Class.
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NCC Hosts Soviet Spokesmen
In addition to the propaganda spouted by NCC delegates after visiting the Soviet Union, the National Council inflicts more by bringing Soviet delegates to this country. These guests, many of them Russia" Orthodox "churchmen," use every possible opportunity to act as agents of influence for the Soviet government. A typical delegation visited for three weeks in May 1984. Those nineteen "churchmen" consistently touted religious freedom in the U.S.S.R., blamed the U.S. for the arms race, and encouraged peace groups to fight their government's defense policies.
Their cynical attitude was revealed, however, when they were asked hard questions. Would the church intercede on behalf of Andrei Sakharov, Metropolitan Juvenaly was asked. Juvenaly replied, "I don't think he belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church."39
The Orthodox Church did send a priest to the Reverend Gleb Yakunin, Juvenaly claimed, to give him Communion and a Bible. That was decent of them, since Yakunin, as has been stated, is an Orthodox priest who has been imprisoned since 1980 in a Urals labor camp (sentenced to a five-year "strict regime"), to be followed by five years of internal exile. The Soviets may not let Yakunin out of the camp the rest of his life, however, because he committed a serious crime. He was one of the founders of the Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in 1983 that Yakunin has been punished by being held in a "freezing stone cubicle without bed, clothes or food."40
It is also interesting to note that Yakunin's futile appeals for help to the World Council of Churches (mentioned in Chapter One) were used against him at his trial.
During the same 1984 tour of Soviet churchmen, a Ukrainian who now lives in the U.S. asked the Soviets why Christians in the Soviet Union are being held in jail for their faith. Archbishop Job of Sareisk answered that they were in prison not because of their religion, but because they had broken the law. When the question was raised again at a news conference, Archpriest Vladimir Kucheryavy said that "religious persecution simply isn't an issue in our country."41
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the Soviets' use of the Orthodox church is that its clergy apparently feel that refusal to cooperate with their government would be useless. One bishop told a Western friend, "Of course I could stand up and proclaim the truth in a loud voice. But what would that achieve? Would the West rise to the defense of our church? Hardly, for all the information about our difficulties is available to the Western public.42
"For a few days they might write about me in secular Western newspapers: the church ones would probably remain silent so as not to jeopardize relations and trips to Moscow. And then what? Even if I were allowed to return home, I would be imprisoned immediately, which would be good for my conscience, but could be disastrous to my diocese. . . . "43
Part of the explanation for the willingness of the Orthodox clergy to cooperate with the Soviet government can be attributed to Orthodox belief that the church is incorruptible and its sacredness does not depend on its members and priests. Michael Bourdeaux has delineated this attitude in his writing and speeches. Bourdeaux points out that there is even a popular saying to the effect that if the celebrant is unworthy, then the angels, who are mystically present at the Eucharist, perform the sacrament instead.44
This belief must offer some comfort to their conscience, as they am forced to spend so much of their time spouting mendacious nonsense. In 1982 Russian Orthodox leadership sponsored a "peace" conference entitled "Saving the Sacred Gift of Life from Nuclear Catastrophe." The conference was attended by hundreds of religious leaders from six continents, including evangelist Billy Graham. The conference produced an abundance of pro-Soviet propaganda, including repeated endorsements of a nuclear freeze and a halt to the American neutron bomb, plus proposed steps which would have, if taken, stopped the modernization of NATO defenses.
The Soviets propagandized so successfully at the conference that Graham defended Soviet attitudes toward religion, declaring that "It would seem to me that in the churches I visited - and there are thousands of them - services are allowed to go on freely."45
Graham was almost universally castigated for his naive comment,, and Russian Baptists felt, according to an American student who studied in Leningrad during that period, that "He sold them out." In a story for the Houston Chronicle, Marcus Sloan, who was in Moscow at the time Graham visited, wrote, "But then I doubt he realized what he was doing. He never got to meet Baptists there. People participating in services at that church told me that he never met one person at that church who was not a KGB agent."46
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The American Peaceniki
Even if the true believers have not been replaced with KGB agents when Americans visit, it is doubtful that most Russians would speak frankly. Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Gillette quoted a Moscow scientist - who is bitterly opposed to his countty's invasion of Afghanistan - about the naiveté of Americans concerning Soviet statements on their system, "Don't your people know anything about our system?" he asked an American friend. "Believe me, if you came to my institute with a foreign delegation and you asked me what I thought of Afghanistan, I would tell you we were helping a fraternal socialist country at the invitation of the legitimate government there. You could talk to me for a week and you still wouldn't know what I really thought."47
According to Soviet intellectuals, Americans who swallow their line are fools, commonly called "peaceniki."48
One of the problems of American delegations results from a kind of native American naiveté. Americans find it very difficult to accept evil as a reality and deception as a way of life. They reject with horror the notion that the nice people who guide them and see to their every comfort are Soviet-controlled, or Soviet agents trained to do their best to brainwash visitors. Soviets, however, are past masters at the art of concocting "not merely a favorable impression of this complex and contradictory land, but often a false and entirely imaginary one."49 For more information on this subject see Appendix, Document III.
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The most famous deception of this sort (which the Soviets call "pokazukha") occurred when Vice-President Henry Wallace visited forced labor camps in the U.S.S.R. during World War II. The Soviets dismantled the wooden watchtowers, hid the prisoners, and made the camp guards play the role of hardy miners. The Soviets cleaned up the surrounding area, and the city of Magadan had its stores stuffed with food and clothing - most of the inventory coming from the American lend - lease program. Wallace came home with glowing reports; thirty years later it was revealed that from 1937 to 1953, over three million people died in those very camps.50
Now the targets of "pokazukha" are American and European visitors, especially religious and "peace" activists. These people, who often come in groups, are pushed into a heavily crowded (and strictly guided) schedule of tours of Orthodox churches, banquets, and speeches. There is no time or opportunity to go out alone and no way for most Americans to communicate with average Russians. It helps the Soviets that there is no obvious repression on the streets, no heavily armed security police or a palpable aura of fear. When these things are absent (on the surface) and the crowds move freely, when visitors conduct friendly conversations with normal people (who rarely discuss their real thoughts and feelings), they conclude they have been the victims of propaganda about the "evil empire."
Barron has quoted KGB defector Yuri Nosenko - who once directed operations against Americans visiting Moscow - as saying the KGB can invisibly restrict the lodgings, travel, and contacts of foreign visitors by simply insuring that the foreigner talks to the right officials and by determining what the visitor may or may not see. ". . . the KGB can shape impressions without mounting a complicated operation."51
It helps that emotions of pity and "understanding" are often stirred by the Soviets' unrelenting propaganda concerning their casualties during the Second World War. These civilian losses, which resulted from the German invasion, have been used by the Soviets to justify the greatest arms buildup in world history. Look, we are just afraid of our neighbors, they say. The Soviets, Gillette points out, did not put unrelenting emphasis on World War II until the early 1960s, when their massive arms buildup began.
Soviets who come into contact with Americans are also trained to speak constantly of "mir," or peace. "I feel like I've been tortured for peace,"52 one NCC delegate conunented regarding the many "peace" meetings which he was required to attend. That visitors are feted and flattered often has an impact. Visiting Americans are impressed both by what seems a sincere desire for peace and by the elevated status the visitor seemingly has in the U.S.S.R. It leads the foreigner to conclude that he/she is helping to bring the two governments together.
As difficult as the propaganda is to resist, however, there is no excuse for Americans, especially American Christians, to allow themselves to be manipulated. It seems a particularly American folly to believe a short trip to another country, especially those which specialize in Potemkin villages, will make the observer a specialist.
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André Gide, the noted French author and former Marxist sympathizer, was given such a conducted tour of the Soviet Union during the 1930s. As long as his trip was "conducted," everything "seemed to me wonderful," he said. Gide was taken to model villages where there was plentiful food, where there were recreation centers and kindergartens, model factories, clubs, pleasure grounds. "I asked for nothing better than to be carried away with admiration," he said. Gide was provided luxurious train compartments and the best hotel rooms. He was feted everywhere he went and was treated to magnificent banquets. "Nothing was too good for me."53
However, when Gide began to travel alone he saw a completely different picture. He saw that most Russians lived in the "direst poverty." He saw the conformity, the ban of foreign publications, the lies and propaganda told the people concerning the West and almost everything else, the exploitation of the people by the Communist Party in order that Party officials could live luxuriously, the government's promotion of informing as a way of life, and total repression of opposition.54
Gide finally concluded that in no country in the world, "not even in Hitler's Germany - have the mind and heart been less free, more bent, more tefforized over - and indeed vassalized - than in the Soviet Union."55
Soviet tours, however, still work to the Soviet government's advantage. Gillette, who came into contact with the NCC delegation while he was assigned to Moscow, quoted a "dismayed" Western ambassador who said, "These people are going to go back to I don't know how many hundred communities in the United States saying these are peace-loving people, there's freedom of religion in the Soviet Union, and they've got just wonderful arms control policy. It's extraordinary."56
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Ironically, some of the Soviet religious leaders who preach peace to Americans have nothing but contempt for the "peace activists" with whom they mingle. Bourdeaux tells a story about a Soviet churchman who, after listening to an impassioned speech by a Western clergyman who declared that he "would rather the whole world became Communist than even one bomb be dropped," turned to a Western friend and murmured, "And you expect me to tell the likes of him that my church is being persecuted!"57
Worse, however, are some American delegates and clergy who apparently know the truth about the church in the U.S. S. R., but make excuses for the Soviets to protect their coveted trips to the U.S.S.R. - during which their hosts treat them to elaborate feasts and pander to their egos.
Others refuse to see what is evident in order to protect some ideological commitment of their own. Bourdeaux tells of a meeting between an Orthodox and an American clergyman in which the Orthodox told the American that the Soviet government always had to be considered in their meetings: "What you are talking about is ecumenism with our persecutors, for a close union between Russian bishops and bishops of the Western Church inevitably includes a third party, the big brother," he said.58
The American then condescendingly rebuked him for his warning: "A friend may have weaknesses. . . . In the final analysis, Communist victories always lead to a religious upsurge. For example, the number of baptisms has sharply increased since the Communists came to power in Vietnam. Similarly, in your country the Holy Spirit is more active."59
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Finally, not content with inundating the church with propaganda sympathetic to the Soviet Union, the NCC has also produced literature which gives equal weight to Soviet and American morality. Must Walls Divide, by the Reverend James Will, published by the NCC's Friendship Press, has received wide distribution among the United Methodists, Presbyterians, and United Church of Christ. The study book treats the human rights record of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. as morally equal by stating, among other things, that Stalin's reign of terror "though compressed into a shorter period and thus, more terrible, . . . was not unlike the oppression of men, women, and children in mine and factory - to say nothing of outright slavery - which accompanied early industrialization in Europe and North America."
Consider this fallacy - Will states that Communist regimes have been roughly as successful as the European democracies in meeting the economic needs of their people. And this claim for the efficacy of communism was said of countries in which chronic shortages, black markets, and low income are endemic; about a place where life expectancy is actually falling.
Will's attitude cannot be separated, in the long run, from the fact that he is a CAREE director.
The end result of NCC naiveté however, adds up to more than ridiculous statements and useless meetings in the U.S.S.R. and Geneva. It achieves Soviet propaganda coups accomplished through an organization which represents American Christians. It influences the world when the NCC vouches for the religious tolerance of the Soviets. It makes a difference to Soviet Christians that their persecution has not only been ignored, but covered up by fellow-Christians. It makes a difference to Gleb Yakunin that as he freezes in his cell, punished for his faithfulness to God, fellow-Christians ignore his suffering.
How much NCC statements matter was demonstrated when the NCC delegation that visited the Soviet Union in June 1984 was officially defended by the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship. Employee Alan Thomson claimed the bad publicity resulting from the delegation's remarks at various press conferences was a result of "the anti-Soviet public relations establishment." He also went to some effort to defend NCC statements, claiming, among other things, that the Orthodox Church has freedom it did not have under the Tsars.60
The Friendship Council was created by the American Communist Party in 1943 and, according to American intelligence, is a tool of the Soviets. Obviously the credibility of NCC statements matters to those who have the most to gain from them.
Despite all opposition, however, despite its isolation, despite the cooperation of the NCC and the Soviet inquisition, many believers in the Soviet Union remain faithful. Documents captured in Afghanistan,
often letters taken from dead Soviet soldiers, exhibit a degree of startling religious devotion.
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In the Soviet Union itself, youth are attending religious seminars that have grown so in popularity that the state has begun active persecution of anyone caught attending. Startsy, or elders, have reappeared in public consciousness. The startsy are monks or hermits who are known for their godly lives and deep wisdom and are consulted by the people for spiritual guidance. There is also a significant upsurge in religious ceremonies to sanctify state weddings and funerals.
The trial of Father Svarinskas was a compelling example of the endurance of belief and of believers, despite all difficulties, despite all persecution. Christians from all Lithuania flocked to the trial, so many that to keep them from attending, the KGB brought buses to Vilnius, forced the people on, and hauled them to the forest.61
The underground journals reported that "Those arrested prayed the rosary out loud the whole way, finishing it on their knees in the woods." During the trial, which Father Svarinskas referred to as his "Golgatha," he gave a speech accusing the state of persecuting the faithful. When the judge tried to stop his speech, Svarinskas requested that before death he be able to have his say. "You won't have to try me again," he said, "I shall remain a debtor. I don't expect to finish my sentence. Are you afraid of me? Surely, I'm not going to destroy your tanks with my bare hands (you even took away my rosary). . . ."62
Nothing the state did, however, not the threats and not the arrests, extinguished the witness of God's faithful priest. "Even on the trolley buses one could hear people saying, 'What a powerful priest. Against him are assembled the greatest forces. . . . "63
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The Betrayal of the Church Copyright © 1986 by Edmund W. Robb and Julia Robb. Published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois 60153
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.
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