This is the eighth in a series of RT online reports on Christianity in Russia, from its arrival more than 1,000 years ago to the present day.
The tide turned in the relationship between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church when Mikhail Gorbachev gained power. He decided to put the brakes on the USSR’s anti-religious campaign. Under the new political and social freedoms provided by his policy of “glasnost” or “openness” many church buildings were returned by the state.
A key moment in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church came in 1988 – the 1,000th anniversary of Russia’s Christianisation. Throughout the summer of that year, large-scale government-supported celebrations took place in Moscow and other cities. The festivities were used to show to the outside world that the USSR promoted religious tolerance. But more than that, and crucially for believers, they gave a fresh start to the church-state relationship.
Many churches and some monasteries were reopened and an implicit ban on religious propaganda on state television was lifted. For the first time in the history of the Soviet Union, people could see live transmissions of church services.
After the collapse of the USSR many of those who were persecuted during Soviet times were canonised. They are referred to as “new martyrs” by the Russian Orthodox Church. One of the most controversial was the canonisation of Tsar Nicolas II and his immediate family.
Some suggested that the Emperor was a weak ruler who had failed to prevent the outbreak of Communism in Russia. Others pointed out that martyrdom in the Russian Orthodox Church has nothing to do with the martyr’s personal actions but is instead linked to why he or she was killed.
Despite the original opposition to canonisation, in August 2000 Nicolas II and his family were made saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet, they were not called martyrs as their deaths didn’t come from their Christian faith; instead, they were called “horrorbearers” or those who met their final moments with Christian humility.
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
Bolsheviks raze Orthodox Church to the ground
Aggressive atheism in the Soviet era