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100 years after Russian revolution, Christianity faces new challenges

16 Oct 2017 – By Robert Duncan

Editors: A short preview of a documentary on faith in Russia today is available at A full video accompanying this story can be found at

MOSCOW (CNS) — A few blocks from Moscow’s Lubyanka Building, which for decades served as the headquarters of the Soviet Union’s KGB security agency, the Russian Orthodox patriarch recently consecrated a church memorializing those martyred during communism’s reign.

“While we were in procession around the church, people were standing with portraits of those martyred and those condemned to death” by the communist regime, said Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who heads the church’s department for external affairs.

President Putin, who was a former KGB agent, as well as government officials and church leaders, were in attendance for the ceremony on 25 May.

Patriarch Kirill’s consecration of the Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church was one of the ways his church is commemorating the centenary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which ushered in the communist era and led to the persecution of Christians.

The 100th anniversary of the communist takeover of Russia coincides with the 100th anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Portugal. The children said the lady “dressed in white” asked them for prayers and penance, otherwise Russia “will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the church.”

The Russian Orthodox Church formally has recognized or “glorified” more than 1,500 bishops, priests, monks, nuns and deacons who died for their faith under communist rule, which lasted from 1917 until 1991. While the Orthodox Church was never legally suppressed like most Protestant churches were, communist authorities worked vigorously to encourage atheism, closing thousands of Orthodox monasteries and churches, sending clergy and religious to the gulags or to psychiatric hospitals, and making it extremely difficult for any regular churchgoer to hold a decent job or get into a university.

The Roman Catholic Church suffered even more. Long considered by Russians to be part of the West, under communism, Catholicism was seen has having a foreign allegiance. By the end of the 1930’s, only two of the 150 Catholic parishes in Russia were still functioning. And, with the establishment of the Soviet Union — and its incorporation of neighboring republics — the persecution grew. The Ukrainian Catholic and other Eastern Catholic churches were outlawed, and their bishops were imprisoned. Priests caught celebrating Mass were arrested and either executed or sent to prison or to work camps.

After the Soviet Union began breaking up in 1990 and communist rule came to an end, all of the churches experienced a revival. In Russia, even government officials are now embracing Orthodoxy in public, and Russian culture and art are being transformed with new Christian influences.

Salavat Scherbakov, a Moscow-based sculptor, recently completed a massive statue of Russia’s first Christian emperor. The towering St. Vladimir sculpture was prominently placed in Borovitskaya Square, just outside the walls of the Kremlin.

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