The main target of the anti-religion campaign in the 1920’s and 30’s was the Russian Orthodox Church. Because it had the largest numbers of faithful followers and the most clergy it suffered most. Many clergy, some 92,000, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed and church publications were prohibited. By 1939 only 500 of over 50,000 churches remained open and about 12,000 were destroyed or used as museums for atheism.
Perhaps the most devastating event occurred not in outright persecution or killing but in a subtle act of the Central Committee. On April 8, 1929, the Party made the following decree about the church.
You say you are not of this world. Well then, there is nothing for you to do in this world. That is why I forbid the church to set up benefit societies, cooperatives of industrial societies, to offer material aid to your members, to organize children’s and young people’s groups for prayers and other purposes, or general, biblical, literal or handicraft groups for the purpose of religious instruction and the like, or to organize groups, circles or sections; to arrange excursions, kindergartens, open libraries and reading rooms, organize sanatoria
or medical aid. This forbids the development of all charitable foundations, Christian worker groups, and giving food, clothing and shelter to members.
Does this sound like any nation you know?
Although this was a terrible thing the most devastating result, according to Solzhenitsyn, was agreement by church leaders. As a result, the focus of the church became “other worldly” so the church’s entire practical ministry to people was lost. The spiritual life of prayer and the after-life was the only emphasis. Pastoral care, childcare, counseling, marriage, family life, medicine and economic issues were totally neglected. The church answered the Party by saying:
You are right to prohibit these things. We only multiply our sins by occupying ourselves with good works. We have not yet learned to pray-how could we get involved in kindergartens. The church is for prayer and not for worldly cares.
This reduced the church from teaching about new life and the care of body and soul of the faithful to an emphasis of caring for only one’s own soul. This led to a lack of interest in social relations, family life, work, health care and Christian growth. This was a return to the Gnostic heresy that sees the body as dirty and evil and the spiritual nature as holy and pure.
Does it sound like any church leadership you know? What leaders attack psychology, medicine, helping the poor and good physical conditioning?
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