Orthodox America

  The Cry of the New Martyrs – Millennium Threat

       Far the past several years, both in this country and in Russia, preparations have been underway in anticipation of the approaching Millennial celebration of Russia's conversion to Christianity in 988. The coming event has not only aroused the interest of historians and other scholars, but it is providing art inspiring focus for Orthodox believers everywhere. Naturally, Soviet authorities manifest a growing concern about the possible effects such interest may have on religious awareness and atheist morale.

      In a recent commentary, Keston College cites an article in Pravda written by a Dr. P. Platonov, in which "he calls for an urgent reappraisal of current methods of atheist propaganda. These, the author suggests, are not, proving themselves inadequate to deal with the evolving intellectual and spiritual demands of the Soviet people .... He insists that atheist propaganda must be more forcefully directed to counter religious activity, and to galvanize the passively athiestic sector of the population.

     "Dr. Platonov warns of threats from militant clerical circles and from the West which, he claims, is already exploiting the Orthodox Millennium to stir up political unrest. However, he also states that serious thought must be given to the more sophisticated, intellectual believers whose presence has become disturbingly evident in Soviet society in recent years. Religious intellectualism is dangerous because it purports to reconcile science and social ideology with religious faith."

      Science has long been used as a stronghold of atheist argument, and the propagandists are hard put to explain this growth of religious feeling in the ranks of those schooled by their methods. This manifest ineffectiveness of anti-religious propaganda cannot be attributed to any lack of thoroughness on the part of atheist policy. In the Soviet Union atheism is a required subject at all levels of education. Its importance in the curricula is attested by the Soviet Minister of Education himself, M. A. Prokofiev, who said, "The development of atheist convictions and views of an irreconcilable attitude towards religious ideology and religious morals, is a most important, integral part of the work of general secondary schools in forming a communist outlook on the part of students." From nursery schools through high schools, colleges, medical and trade schools, and even later--in factories, on collective farms-there is scarcely any aspect of Soviet life which is free of atheist infiltration. The Soviet Department of Propaganda and Agitation employs some six million! professional agitators--lecturers and "re-educators," working to insure the Soviet citizenry against the ‘pernicious’ effects of religion.

    Efforts through the spoken word are supported by the State presses; circulation of just one of the many atheist monthlies, Science and Religion, is more than 400,000, whereas the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (which does contain, besides the ubiquitous 'peace movement' articles, some worthy Orthodox material) has a print run of only 20,000 of which most is designated for overseas distribution.

      But while the propagandists do not lack a sufficiency of ammunition, they themselves confess to missing the mark. After nearly 70 years the Church is still a prime target. And if the institution of the Patriarchate has been forcibly allied--however awkwardly--to certain policies of the State, particularly in its role as promoter of world peace, the strength of religious belief in the hearts of the people remains a constant threat and a real obstacle to 'socialist solidarity'.. It is, therefore, no wonder that the approaching Millennium comes as a rather unsettling historical fact to those trying to blot out religious consciousness. No matter what measures Dr. Platonov and others may recommend to "curb the tide of religious awareness which the Millennium threatens to release," they are bound to fail, if only because Truth is ultimately more powerful, and more appealing than any system of lies.

     Dr. Platonov's article in Pravda suggests that State policy towards religion in the recently initiated Gorbachev era shows every sign of being "more-of-the-same." The question now remains," concludes Keston, "to what degree the celebration of the Russian Orthodox Millennium will be permitted to go ahead, and what kind of message about the true state of the Russian Orthodox Church they will ultimately carry to the rest of the world."


(Sources: KNS #237, 10/31/85; "Orthodox Monitor," Nos. 14 and 16)