Some of my readers may be interested in this powerful, but short Russian film (with English subtitles). It’s just 18-minutes long, and gives the viewer some idea of what it was like in 1937 to have a child baptized in the USSR. From what I can read, the film appears to be the final project of a Russian graduate student.
1937 was 76 years ago. It was the year that Josef Stalin’s political repressions reached their peak. The government did not stop at forcing secularization on society, it set a goal for the complete elimination of religious faith. The political class had control of the justice system, and heavily persecuted the clergy and believers.
The figures are staggering. During the purges of 1937 and 1938, documents record that 168,300 clergy were arrested. Of these, over 100,000 were shot. More than 85,000 priests were shot in 1937 alone. Hundreds of thousands of believers were shot or sent to labor camps. Churches and religious icons were destroyed. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. Teaching your own children about religion was considered grounds for termination of parental rights. Officially the USSR constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, but militant secularists running the government ignored that guarantee. Despite the persecution, religious faith survived although many people paid a terrible price.
I fear for the West, those of us in the formerly Free World, because history often repeats itself. We are living in a time when religious faith is marginalized and openly ridiculed, and our freedom of religion is being downgraded to simple freedom to worship which means people are “free” as long as they don’t drag their beliefs outside of their churches or temples. When people live a compartmentalized existence where their religious life and regular life don’t intermingle, that is secularism at its worst.
The persecutions in Russia in the 20th century created many hundreds of thousands of what are now called “the New Martyrs of Russia”, the true number known but to God Himself. The advancing secularization of Western society in the 21st century may yet see a new persecution emerge in the West since religious belief and secular government appear to be set on a collision course.
Update: A letter is read at the end of the film mentioning a destination called “Kolyma”. That place is located in far eastern Siberia and was the site of a particularly notorious “gulag” or forced labor camp for political prisoners. It is worth noting that millions of ordinary and innocent people never returned from the Soviet gulag system.
Another Update: I would like to update and close this piece with a brief personal anecdote. My wife is an ex-Soviet citizen, and an outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in the relatively prosperous post-war period she and her contemporaries knew little of the Stalinist era gulag system, and most of her contemporaries dismissed the stories of purges and mass arrests as exaggerations, and something from a bygone era. While she was a university student in the 70’s, two male friends of hers went camping in the far east of Russia. Siberia, so vast and limitless, still holds many secrets. While they were hiking in the wilderness, the past and present collided. Her friends came across large mounds of human bones. Who they belonged to is known only by God. Her mention of their unsettling discovery, and this film, reminds me of the novel “Dr. Zhivago” written by the Russian writer Boris Pasternak. He closed the story by describing the circumstances of the heroine Lara’s disappearance with these words. “…as so often happened in those days…she died or vanished somewhere, forgotten as a nameless number on a list which was afterwards mislaid.”
May their memory be eternal.
See also one of my earlier posts: Moral Relativism, Homosexuality, Secular Law, and the Coming Persecution of Christians in the USA
This video is on Youtube.com