Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Religious Persecutions in Russia



French newspapers report on the meeting of spiritual solidarity with the Christians persecuted in the U.S.S.R., which was held recently in Paris.

"One of the largest meeting halls of Paris — writes one reporter — was full to capacity and, in spite of this, in spite also of the fact that the meeting was open to everyone, its spiritual solemnity was not weakened at any time. Sometimes one had the feeling that we were in a huge church, among people united by the same faith, the same hope, the same love."

J. M. Domenach, editor of the Catholic monthly Esprit and chairman of the meeting, called it, in his opening speech, "a meeting of ecumenical solidarity with those who are far from us and who yet, through their suffering, are among us and make us suffer with them. The wounds of a Christian in Russia are wounds on our own body ... we too often forget that all this concerns us, concerns the body of the whole Christianity. . . ."

Francois Mauriac, Nobel Prize of literature, member of the French Academy and probably the most famous living French author said: ". . .when Christ is being crucified in Moscow, He is crucified in Paris. . . Christianity is one body and when one member suffers, the whole body suffers and it is the Body of Christ."

Professor Olivier Clément, editor of the French Orthodox periodical Contacts, gave some statistical information. Of the 22,000 churches that were open in 1959, there remained in 1962 only 11,550. "There can be no doubts about the reality of a new persecution. . . The Russians themselves beg the foreign visitors to U.S.S.R.; let the world know about our situation, shout from your roofs! Communists claim that the churches are being closed because there are no believers — but this is a monstrous lie! They are closed because the government prevents people from attending the services and the priests to perform them. Of the 8 seminaries in 1959 only 3 still function today and the government makes the access to them virtually impossible. Monks are sent to mental institutions." Prof. Clément read then a letter sent to Khrushchev by the Mayor of Florence La Pira. "I am absolutely convinced — wrote the leftist Italian Catholic — that the religious persecutions in U.S.S.R. are provoked by your enemies — the Stalinists. State atheism is the sign of scientific and cultural infantilism and, at the same time, an indication of political anachronism. . . . It does not fit into our own time, into the mentality of our youth. . . ."

Father Jean Daniélou, S.J., the well-known Catholic theologian and Patristic scholar declared that he was deeply impressed by Prof. Struve's book Christians in U.S.S.R. and called all Christians in the West to an act of spiritual solidarity.

Other speakers of the evening were Pastor Albert Finet, editor of the French Protestant weekly Réforme, and Nikita Struve, author of the above mentioned book (a chapter of which was published in the last issue of the Quarterly).


The best proof that the Paris meeting "hit" its target is that the French Communist daily L'Humanité deemed it necessary to react. But, the tragical irony of that reaction is that, to help smooth the deep impression made by the meeting of solidarity, the Communists chose no one else but the official spokesman of the Moscow Patriarchate itself — Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad. On March 14, the Communist paper carried an interview with him in which Metropolitan Nikodim flatly denied the fact of persecutions and this, in spite of Ilyichev's article in Kommunist and the anti-religious instructions in Pravda. "There is no religious repression in our country," said the Metropolitan. "I know that recently there were rumors about the trial of two bishops. . . . It is unpleasant for me to speak of this, but I must say that these bishops were indicted for actual crimes having nothing to do with their ecclesiastical activity. . . ." This interview took place at a moment when, according to the most reliable information, the number of open churches decreased almost by one-half, five out of eight seminaries were closed and administrative measures against churches are being intensified. Not only the Church is persecuted, but its hierarchs are forced to deny the persecution! In view of this truly demoniac situation, the systematic silence of organisms such as the World Council of Churches or the National Council of Churches appears, to say the least, ambiguous. — ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN

St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1964, pp. 48-49