This is the sixth in a series of RT reports on Christianity’s arrival and 1,020-year-long development in Russia. The year 1917 became a major turning point in the history of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church.
From the reforms of Peter the Great until the Russian Revolution, the Church was essentially transformed into a part of the state, ensuring the Tsar the support of the faithful. When Russia’s tsarist government was overthrown the Church resolutely defended the old regime. After the Bolsheviks came to power, they saw the Russian Orthodox Church as their enemy and immediately set about crushing its power.
The revolution initially brought a brief period of liberation for the Church when an independent patriarchate was re-established briefly in 1917. But the new Bolshevik government soon declared the separation of the Church and state. One of their first decrees declared freedom of religious and anti-religious propaganda. This led to a decline in the power and influence of the Church. When Russia’s Civil War broke out the Russian Orthodox Church supported the White Army, provoking further wrath from the Bolsheviks, and ultimately finding itself in the losing camp.
While the newly-founded Soviet Union officially claimed religious tolerance, in practice the government discouraged organised religion and did much to remove religious authority from Soviet society. A wave of persecutions against the clergy erupted across the country. Many were tortured and executed and churches were converted to other uses. At first, Lenin thought that the Church would automatically lose influence after a mass nationalisation of all its lands and property. But the number of worshippers didn’t decrease so other ways were tried.
In the 1920s the Renovated Church or the Living Church, a movement supported by the Soviet government, was set up to bring division among the clergy and faithful. But the new church was fiercely resented and disappeared in the 1930s.
In 1927, to secure the survival of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius, its de facto leader at the time, formally expressed his loyalty to the Soviet government, promising to refrain from criticising the state in any way. But the move failed to stop persecutions, only provoking conflicts within the Church itself.
Christianity: 1020 years of Russian faith
Kiev: the cradle of Russian Christianity
Moscow becomes ‘third Rome’
Old Believers break from Russian Orthodox Church
Peter the Great’s reforms bring religious renaissance