George Walford: “Atheistic” Russia

The unprepared ecclesiastical visitor to the Soviet Union usually gains the impression that the Russian Orthodox Church is thriving. Its coffers are full, its seminaries over-subscribed, its hierarchs sleek and well spoken, and its divine services crowded to overflowing. Beyond these impressive externals, moreover, there is much evidence of a religious revival among the population at large. Western clergymen have been known to return wishing the faith were as lively in their own countries as in the heartland of atheism. (Geoffrey A. Hosking, in TLS 9 Jan 87).

The writer goes onto say the appearance of well-being is partly deceptive; the state imposes “unacceptable restrictions” which churchmen refrain from denouncing only from fear that to do so would mean the end of the Russian Orthodox Church as an institution. It is clear, however, that the ideology supporting paternalistic or maternalistic religion is far from having been eliminated. After 70 years of attempts to impose atheism the belief in Christianity is not markedly weaker in the USSR than in Britain.

from Ideological Commentary 27, May 1987.