If someone came up to you and said “persecution”, what would you think of? You would probably think of certain times in history. Maybe Nero and Hitler would come to your mind. Perhaps you would not consider the times of today because of all the freedom you have: freedom to go to the school of your choice, freedom to go to church, and the freedom to work at the place of your choice. Today, persecution sounds like a thing of the past. But it is not! Right now hundreds of people are suffering for their beliefs. These people are (as Hebrews 11:25 states) “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Who are these people? Some of these persecuted people are the Christians in the Soviet Union. They are being strongly suppressed through cruel measures by the government, even though Article 52 of the 1977 Soviet constitution assures the people of the right “to profess and not to profess any religion and to conduct religious worship.” Persecution, prison, and exile for their faith have become a way of life for the Christians of Russia.
In Russia, the believers are divided into two main groups, the registered church and the unregistered church. According to law, believers must form groups and register with the government’s Council on Religious Affairs. Of these registered churches, the most famous is the Russian Orthodox Church with a membership of over 40 million. Because it is registered with the government, it is placed under government restrictions. Here is a list of some of the rules for a registered church:
1. Believers shall form groups and register with the government’s Council on Religious Affairs.
2. The Council may object to any church leader. (On some smuggled documents it shows that the council rates the leaders on political trustworthiness. Church leaders can be reprimanded for failing to urge parishioners to love the Socialist motherland.)
3. Churches may not proselytize or offer instruction to persons under 18 years of age.
4. Sermons may not raise challenges to the state or to the Communist Party policies.
These restrictions make it impossible for these churches to preach the true Word of God.
So the differences between a registered church and an unregistered church is that one is accepted by the government of the Soviet Union, the other is not. The basic difference is that the unregistered church “rests entirely and completely upon the gospel preaching, fundamental teaching of the gospel . . . mainly absolute freedom of conscience, full separation of church and state.” 1 The unregistered church believes that the Lord Jesus is the head of the church and the state has no right to dictate or interfere with the function of the church.
The members of the unregistered churches are the true Christians to whom the persecution is directed. Only the officially sanctioned Russian Orthodox Church exists in relative peace. Our concern as fellow Christians is for the children of God in the unregistered church who suffer persecution and cruelty.
The main reason for persecution is the Christian’s hunger for biblical preaching which is causing the congregation to grow. The government is trying to stop this growth. The churches are a threat to those in authority because they know “if a man believed in Christ he would never be a mindless, willing creature. The authorities know they can imprison men, but they cannot imprison faith in God.” 2
The authorities consider this belief a real threat and are scared of the rise in membership. Communists are given the idea that giving a Bible to someone is the equivalent of giving liquor to a drunkard. One patient was put in a hospital for witnessing to other people about God and was told as long as he talked about God, he would be considered a schizophrenic (a person with a mental disorder characterized by loss of contact with environment and by disintegration of personality). 3
Instead of trying to stamp out the church, Communist authorities are trying to restrict and manipulate the church. These Soviets can easily control the registered churches but this is not so with the unregistered Christians. Thus, the emphasis is placed on the persecution of the members of unregistered groups.
In June, ’83 the Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party voted to redouble the government’s atheistic propaganda efforts. This includes the heavy censoring of the newsletters of registered churches. The Communist Party wants to replace the religious rituals with pageants and ceremonies that have no religious content. 4 There are no religious radio broadcasts except one which features such topics as the health dangers involved in baptism, the anti-Soviet nature of the Christian Church, and the pollution of children’s minds by Christian superstitions. 5 The devil works through such kinds of propaganda to pervert the minds of the Soviet people.
The tactic used to strangle Christianity is simply to seal off the new generation from God’s Word . . . and let Christianity die off on its own accord. The Government doesn’t want children or young people to come to church. This is the reason for the law that says “Churches may not proselytize or offer instruction to persons under 18 years of age.” Christian parents are deprived the right to bring up their children according to their own beliefs. The parents are threatened not to do this and are told if they don’t obey, the government has the right to do anything to safeguard children’s minds against “religious poison”. Children are forcefully taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools to be educated. These actions contradict the truths taught in the Bible. Yet they continue every day.
The KGB (Russian secret police, like our FBI) does the dirty work for the government. The KGB tries to make all pastors agents. Those who refuse to cooperate are put in prison. It is the KGB that carries on eavesdropping, spying, and systematic following to find out where the believers are secretly meeting.
The state has found that by confiscating or destroying homes used for meetings, active congregations can be restricted. What follow is an excerpt from a Russian magazine reporting the destruction of one of thousands of homes of those that worship in hiding:
… the personal home of Eduard Hauf (22 Strelochnomu), in which regular worship services were held, was completely destroyed. While Eduard Hauf was at work, agents of the militia and a group of security police came to his house. They knocked in the doors and windows with iron bars and took the crying children and the grandmother in a car to another lodging. When Hauf came home, the house was completely destroyed. Wrecking equipment and bulldozers stood upon the ruins of his house. 6
These actions are clearly illegal but the people can do nothing to stop them.
When one congregation refused to accept a government-appointed pastor, the authorities padlocked the door to the church. The believers met secretly in homes where the police often disrupted the meetings, even assaulting believers physically. The police also searched the homes of church members, taking all church literature and bugging the homes to find out church plans. 7 School children are often approached by secret police to investigate the parents’ beliefs and activities.
The Soviets use many forms of degradation: slander, beatings, fines, and deprivation of work and education. It is very hard to be a believer in Russia because of the suffering that a believer and his children go through. By going to church, he runs the risk of losing his job, his security, and the opportunity to obtain automobiles, homes, and other scarce items. He receives no promotions at work, and he is placed on the bottom of the long waiting list for an apartment or car. Also, the children find themselves barred from any further education such as colleges, universities, or technical schools. 8 The believer does not live in the comfort you and I have, instead he/she fights a hard battle just to be a Christian.
The government does not dare to act openly. Through false witnesses and false accusations, men are brought to trial, found guilty, and sent to prisons and concentration camps. A variety of excuses are used to arrest people who believe. Some members of a Christian Seminar, a group of mem and women converted to Christianity, were arrested for “psychological disorders” and were forced to take damaging drug treatments. 9 Many arrests were made on charges of slandering the states. Believers are arrested at prayer meetings, at work and home, and also ae being seized on highways, even without a warrant of arrest.
True believers have been suffering and continue to suffer in the prisons, in exile, and in banishment. The government does try to use persuasion whenever possible but it doesn’t hesitate to use force. Interrogators will use force through beatings to make prisoners say false things to have something to charge against them. These Communists practice a modern age “stoning to death”. Prisoners are beaten until the information wanted is given or until they lose consciousness. Often the result of these beatings is damage to their inner organs. Many prisoners are beaten a few hours each day until death subsequently occurs. What a prolonged and horrible suffering some of these Christians have!
One pastor, after being tortured very badly with red-hot pokers and knives, was thrown in a cell where starving rats were driven in through a large pipe. If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him. After two weeks of being forced to stand day and night, the police compelled him to betray his brethren. He refused so the furious communists took the pastor’s son and beat him to death in front of his eyes. 10 Thousands of prisoners are tortured to death, some having their tongues cut off.
Many Christians are thrown into “refrigerator cells” until they show symptoms of freezing to death. Then doctors would rush in to take them out and make them warm. After being warmed, they were immediately thrown back into the ice-box cells to freeze. This continued endlessly and the chances of survival were very slim. 11
Here is a description from a Christian who was thrown with 20 other prisoners into a tightly shut cell:
There was no fresh air. A half hour passed, then an hour. The perspiration ran down our bodies, but there was no air to breathe. Men banged on the door asking for air. The guards opened the door and released tear gas. I pressed my head on the floor for a bit of air, prayed, and was ready to die, as the gas stopped my breathing. The cell door was opened when some men fainted. 12
The tragic part of this is that these inhuman acts continue and nobody is stopping them.
People in camps are punished for praying to God and put in solitary confinement where they become severely emaciated and then die because of terrible health. After serving their terms, many prisoners are given repeated terms of imprisonment. At home, all of their possessions are confiscated so their wives and family have no means to exist. Those who are free are fined continuously and lose their jobs.
Another method of persecution in the camps is brainwashing. For years, 17 hours a day, some Christians are told repeatedly,
“Communism is good! Communism is good!”
“Christianity is stupid! Christianity is stupid!” 13
Many of them after awhile will crack down and will think that what is told them is true.
Sudden deaths of certain pastors are a result of the work of the Soviet authorities through the KGB. Leaders die under mysterious circumstances. For example: Leonid Timoshchuk was tortured and killed and his body dumped in a gasoline storage tank. Rev. Bronius Laurinavicius died in a specially engineered road accident. 14
Nobody really knows exactly how many Christians are jailed. One trustworthy source identifies about 56 concentration camps. The total number of prisoners is estimated at 1,150,000! But how many of these prisoners suffer for their belief in God? We can get an idea from this instance: In the town of Angren, 23 men were sentenced for their faith in ONE month! There may have been many more men whom we don’t know about. In Russia, there are 5,092 towns. Multiply this and you get an enormous figure representing suffering Christians.
1. “The Word of God is Not Bound,” Eternity, 1979 p. 23.
2. Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ (Glendale: Diane Books, 967) p. 32
3. Michael Wurmbrand, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist,” The Voice of the Martys 1984
4. “The Soviet Union Calls for more Atheistic Propaganda,” Christianity Today, vol. 28, 1984 p. 68
5. Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle.” Good News Broadcaster, 1979. P 20
6. Mark A Noll, translator, Christians Under the Hammer and Sickle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).
7. “A Salvation of Suffering: The Church in the Soviet Union,” Christianity Today, vol. 26, 1982, p. 19
8. Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle” Good News Broadcaster, 1979, p. 19
9. J. Garvey, “The Trial of V. Poresh,” Commonweal, vol.110, 1983, p. 137
10. Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Glendale: Diane Books, 1967) p. 36
11. Ibid., p. 36
12. Michael Wurmbrand, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist”, The Voice of the Martyrs (1984)
13. R. Wurmbrand, op. clt.
14. “Religion’s Fight for Survival in Russia”, U.S. News and World Report, vol. 93, 1982, p. 40