We recently received a letter from a Gentleman who. having seen a copy of the last issue of the paper, expressed the opinion that surely Sergei Markus' troubles were brought on by political reasons. He went on to say that he has read various publications and had seen the recent broadcast of Rev. Billy Graham's trip to Russia--all of which indicate that the churches are well attended and that reports, such as ours, of religious persecution must be exagerated.
These comments only demonstrate the unfortunate effectiveness of the Moscow Patriarchate's propaganda which makes good use of the naivete of the Western media and also certain Orthodox groups who are drawn in by talk of 'brotherly love."
The Soviets are masters of deception and, once established, the myth of religious freedom is not easily dispelled--even by trip to "go and see" for oneself. What must be kept in mind--and this is emphatically stated by Solzhenitsin and others--is that the communist ideology is militantly opposed to religion and, therefore, all believers are potentially political “criminals". It is true that churches are filled to capacity and that one sees young people in attendance. But at what price? And how few churches there are for the millions of believers, even on great feasts, attending church is not such a simple matter. under pretext of "keeping order" in the crowds, the government provides militia whose ranks are often augmented by local communist youth; but however distracting their presence, the believers have learned to endure and to concentrate on the message of the service: "Christ is Risen!"
Below, former prisoner of conscience Yevgeni Pashnin-Speranski describes having attended the Paschal services last year at the famous Trinitv-Sergius Lavra, 45 miles outside of Moscow.
To celebrate the Easter just passed I went to the St. Sergeius Lavra at Zagorsk. At the very entrance to the Lavra there was a throng of young people, and militiamen with walkie-talkie sets. Some of the young people had bright blue or red arm hands on their sleeves .... A mood of expectant excitement was very noticeable among the crowd, as was the smell of alcohol. Young people were standing around in pairs outside the monastery, quite at ease with the crowds of people as they kissed ard hugged each other; one had the impression that this was a resort and not a monastery. A temporary fence had been erected at the entrances to the Refectory, Dormition and Trinity Cathedrals, and it became increasingly clear that the majority of young people present had been drafted in from senior classes of the various nearby schools and towns, as were also the militiamen, to supervise this Orthodox festival. An illustration of this is the fact that between half and two-thirds of the room outside the cathedrals was taken up by young non-believers who were crowding round the entrances, thereby hindering and preventing true Christian believers from entering the house of worship. A militiaman explained to a group of believers standing at one entrance that the church was full to overflowing: "Wait here until someone leaves and you can have their place !"
I was aware of the way the rights of believers are "safeguarded' and so arrived at the Lavra deliberately at 8:00 p.m., i.e., four hours prior to the service. I managed to get into the Dormition Cathedral with no problem and waited there for the service to start; there was no heat in the cathedral and I was freezing through to the marrow of my bones. My hands were so cold that I had to keep them thrust into my jacket pockets.
Plenty of youngsters were scurrying around the hallway and many, too, shamelessly standing with their backs to the altar, eyeing the icons up and down without due reverence and watching the believers: they continued to kiss and hug each other and kept up a noisy chatter .... People huddled together in the chill as our torments were made worse by the cold and the conduct of those godless people-the only recompense being the absolute magnificence of the service later on.
The true joy of the Risen Christ flowed into our souls and irradiated us with the abundant light of the Risen Christ!...I listened to the service, shuddering from the cold but joyfully praying to our Saviour, thanking Him for bringing all the young people here to a church rather than a dance hall, a cinema or a bar. Yes, let them crowd noisily around today, at least they are here in a church, in a place where human values are real, in a world of beauty and spiritual love. And once they have, met head-on with genuine love and true beauty, they might just desire it for themselves...they might just take with them from these houses of worship a speck of that Light, that love, that beauty...
Yevgeni Pashnin-Speransky (b. April 10, 1937) was arrested in 1970 and sentenced to 6 years strict regime camp. followed by 3 years exile. During this time he wrote a document describing camp conditions, especially as they affect Orthodox believers: repeated confiscation of prayer books, even an Orthodox calendar published by the Moscow Patriarchate; difficulty of praying together with other believers--when he managed to gather with some fellow Orthodox to celebrate Pascha in 1975, he was punished by 2 weeks of isolation on rations of bread and water. "I find it very painful to write about what has been the theme of my earthly life, but seeing how those of my faith suffer torment in prisons and camps, I cannot remain silent."
(RCL, Vol. 5, No. 4: "Orthodox Monitor, July-August, 1979; Keston News #200)