Freedom of Religion in Russia

In this terrible and destructive war which is being waged between the Allied nations and the Axis powers, it is indeed strange that the great Russia is numbered among the Allies. Our President gave as the basis for the uniting of the Allies as war partners the “Four Freedoms”. In this article, we are concerned merely with the “religious freedom”, which as outlined by Mr. Roosevelt when he tried to form a Magna Charta for a new world order constituted: 1) liberty of conscience, 2) liberty of worship, 3) liberty of faith, 4) liberty of mission or evangelism, and 5) liberty to give children a religious education.

No doubt, all of us are to some extent acquainted with the atmospheric religious conditions existing in Russia the last few decades, and have at some time or other expressed great bewonderment at our allying ourselves with Russia on the Basis of the “Four Freedoms”, and especially “religious freedom”, as outlined by our own President. We all know that the Bolshevistic government of Russia is purely atheistic, Godless: the U. S. hails herself a “Christian nation”.

The intention of this article is to picture the religious conditions in Russia, (which has thus far staged a noble fight against the Nazis mainly on her own soil), on the basis of authenticated information which has been attainable.

Bolshevism has been for Russia a great progress in social, hygienic and educational spheres, which she never enjoyed under the reign of the Czars. Lenin and Stalin have done all which has been humanly possible to give bread and health and a new national consciousness co a nation, nearly “down and out”. However, while supplying their needs materialistically. Lenin and Stalin have at the same time attempted to purge out all the religious sentiment which her citizens had acquired during eight and one-half centuries. But inevitably must this question be raised: “Shall man live by bread alone? Shall he not live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Holy Spirit?”

Without a doubt, religion in Russia has since its beginning been polluted by corruption, superstition and moral depravity in certain spheres of society. In fact, many have wondered whether the souls of the Russian people have been Christianized at all! Russia officially accepted Christianity (or shall we say religion?) in 1085 when the ruler, Vladimir, was (supposedly) converted to the Christian faith. In those times a nation became “Christian” when her rulers accepted “Christianity”, because of the relation between Church and State. The faith of the Russian church was Greek Orthodoxy of the fourth and fifth centuries, the basis of which was surprisingly sound, at least for that time. However, almost immediately the religion became an equal mixture of Christianity and Russian paganism. It was characterized by extreme superstition and sickly, mystical piety, with its worship of ikons or images, feasts for the dead, etc., which would make the superstition of the Catholic church seem insignificant. In fact, it was more paganism than Christianity. Such a religion in its effects have pronounced the deathblow for any real Christianity. as may be seen in the happenings of recent years.

Very sudden was the rise of Bolshevism, with an atheistic, materialistic philosophy which should soon change the entire traditional, political and social structure of the nation. Her leaders have attempted to change the religious faith of the people, desiring to build a mighty nation, which has no need for God or religion. Bolshevism has hated religion because its adopted Marxian philosophy is materialistic and declared atheism. Bolshevism is the belief in the omnipotence of science as opposed to Christianity or religion. Thus, it is more than a political, social structure, or an abstract ideology. It is the myth of the totalitarian autocracy of man who believes in himself, not in God. We notice, nevertheless, that since religious liberty belongs to the requisites of the modern state, Russia has also included in her constitution the right of “religious freedom”.

Church and State were separated by a decree of Jan. 23, 1918. The constitution of July, 1918 promises in article 13: “To guarantee Real liberty of conscience to all workers”, and “liberty-of- religious and anti-religions-propaganda to all citizens”. Article 3 said that “every citizen has the right to practice any religion or to practice none”. Article 9. separating the school from the Church, declares that “religious instruction is forbidden in all public schools of the state as well as in private institutions which give a general, cultural education”. Articles 11 and 12 promulgated that “It is forbidden to raise taxes or contributions for ecclesiastical or religious associations”, and that “no ecclesiastical or religious associations have the right to possess property. All property of the existing ecclesiastical and religious associations is declared public property”.

Yes, indeed. Litvinov was partly right when he declared in Washington that the religious policy of Russia adopted the same position as other neutrals, France, for instance, where the Church continued to exist. HOWEVER, the liberal text of the law was not applied in a liberal spirit at all, but in a very unfriendly and hostile way. Gradually a series of decrees nullified what remained of “religious freedom” in Russia. For in Feb. 1918 they had abolished THE FUNCTIONS OF THE PROFESSORS OF RELIGION, and in Oct. of the same year a decree forbade RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION. A great many churches were destroyed, church schools and theological seminaries were closed, church dignitaries arrested, many of the clergy killed, banished, or imprisoned! The government excused itself for these things, on the basis

that religion fostered political, anti-revolutionary, tendencies.

It was in 1925 that the “UNION OF MILITANT ATHEISTS” was founded, which stimulated persecution, seeking the destruction and utter annihilation of the Church. Article 124 of the constitution, promising “religious freedom” was completely ignored. Between the years 1928 and 1983 the highest authorities of the churches died in Siberia, or in the prison camp of Solovetsky.

In April of 1929, a law was passed restricting religious societies all the more. The constitution now allowed only anti-religious propaganda. Anti-religious teachings were compulsory for all schools. The Sabbath was abolished by the 5 and 6 day week. Any church building in a village might closed by only a majority of the inhabitants. Usually clubhouses, exhibition halls or reading rooms were the purposes for which the buildings were now used.

In October of 1929 there was a decree issued forbidding religious organizations to do any of the following: 1) to found mutual aid societies or Homes of Refuge for the poor and sick, 2) to grant material aid to members of the religious organizations (no administration of mercy) .3) to hold prayer meetings for children, young people and women. 1) to form groups for religious instruction, 5) to arrange excursions and lectures for children, 6) to organize libraries and reading rooms, 7) to open sanatoriums and hospitals for children.

In May of 1929 the Soviet Congress adopted a five-year plan for the expulsion of religion. It stated: “BY MAY 1937 NO CHURCH IS TO BE LEFT IN THE SOVIET UNION. GOD WILL THEREFORE BE EXPELLED AS A MEDIEVAL RELIC FROM THE TERRITORY OF THE U.S.S.R. THE HIDDEN CORNERS OF RELIGION AND IDOLATRY ARE HEREBY TO BE TRANSFORMED INTO LIGHTHOUSES OF THE FUTURE CIVILIZATIONS”! Isn’t that terrible ridicule and blasphemy of the Omnipotent One? I think that if the two “sons of thunder” had been there, they would have wanted to call fire down from heaven!

A short while later the “KOMINTERN” or “Godless Movement” was organized, whose aim it was to destroy religion, so that the land should become a land “without God”!

At the 17th Congress in 1932, Stalin declared the struggle necessary: “Because religion hinders the worker from progressing, and serves as a camouflage for capitalistic idealology”. He further stated that anti-religious propaganda was the first duty of atheists.

In some sections the persecution was so great that many were refused food cards, much worse than should our ration books be taken from us. This reminds us of: “And he that had not the mark of the beast upon his forehead could neither buy nor sell”. The government also forbade the importation of Bibles! It became illegal to give any religious instruction to children before they attained the age of 18. There was no education for the clergy.

Article 124 of the Constitution had become a “laugh”. It had never been abolished, but it had never been practiced either.

In June of 1936 a new constitution had been published, permitting:“freedom of conscience, speech, press, meeting and association”. But in spite of it, new persecutions broke out. It was at this time that Stalin said: “THE COMMUNIST PARTY CANNOT REMAIN NEUTRAL TOWARDS RELIGION. THE PARTY HAS TO START AN ANTIRELIGIOUS PROPAGANDA AGAINST ALL RELIGIOUS PREJUDICES BECAUSE IT BELIEVES IN SCIENCE”. The leaders of the French Revolution had said: “No God and no master”. Stalin says: “No God, but Science”.

In many of the newly occupied countries such as Lithuania, Latvia Estonia, Bessarabia, and Poland, the persecutions were most severe. The clergy, fortunate enough to have escaped death, were forced to flee. Taxes on churches were sky-high, so that many of them had to “fold up”.

Much more could be said, but in order not to exceed my allotted space too greatly, I will be brief.

As concerns Stalin, (and the Russian Government), we might ask many, many questions, which time alone can answer. If his persecution of the Church has abated, it most likely is because of international political reasons are concerned, in as much as he has allied his country with the democracies, and then, too, he may be beginning to see that he cannot eradicate religion from the souls of the Russian People.

As concerns the Church, (for we believe that God also has His people in Russia), persecution has acted as a medicine. Once one of the persecutors of Christianity said: “Religion is like a nail; the harder you hit it, the deeper it goes into the wood”. Although we realize that on a whole, the churches in Russia are (or were) entirely corrupt, as are also the Modern, Man-centered Churches of our country, and many other countries, yet we know that persecution purifies the Church, and draws His people closer to Him.

And finally, as concerns us, the history of the Church of Russia serves a warning to us that we be vigilant, marking the time, discerning the signs and the seasons. The persecution in Russia sprang up overnight, and it is easily conceivable that the same can very possibly happen here. We are being rushed faster and faster to the End: we have seen the beginning of sorrows. There are more and terrible sorrows to come, which our children, not at all impossible we ourselves, may experience. This is neither pessimism nor optimism. But we have a watch to keep! Let us keep it!

But let not your hearts be troubled! God will not leave us without comfort. Remember the words of Christ as they are recorded in Luke 21:28: “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh”. John writes in Rev. 22:20: “He which testifieth these things saith: Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”