Stalin the Divine Savior

Stalin the Divine Savior June 22, 2009

Via Making My Way (a great atheist blog, although its author doesn’t update often enough!), this amazing historical fact.

I wrote in “Red Crimes” about how communism, demonized by religious apologists as an atheistic ideology, was more in the nature of a political system: willing to work with anyone who supported its goals and to persecute anyone who opposed its goals, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. As evidence of this, I cited the story of Andrei Sakharov, an atheist and a brilliant physicist who helped the Soviet Union develop nuclear weapons, but was exiled and placed under house arrest when he spoke out against the Soviet regime and in favor of human rights. On the other side of the equation, there’s evidence that dozens of clergy members, including the one-time Archbishop of Warsaw, were Soviet collaborators who assisted the regime in spying on its enemies.

Now we can add another piece of evidence to this cumulative case. From the website Seventeen Moments in Soviet History:

The enmity between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet state came to an official end in September 1943 with the election of Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergii Stragorodskii, de facto leader of the church for seventeen years, as Patriarch. The election had been preceded by a momentous September 4 meeting in the Kremlin between Joseph Stalin and three leading Metropolitans: Sergei, Aleksei Simanskii of Leningrad and Nikolai Iarushevich of Kiev. Stalin granted them the right to open a limited number of churches and religious schools, and to convene a national synod on September 8, which duly elected Sergei patriarch. Upon his elevation, Sergei immediately declared Stalin the divinely anointed ruler, initiating an uneasy collaboration between church and state that survived the Soviet system.

From Google Books, this excerpt from Robert W. Thurston and Bernd Bonwetsch’s The People’s War confirms this story and adds more detail:

Stalin abolished the League of the Godless (founded in the 1920s) and arranged a temporary truce with the Orthodox Church; in return, the Metropolitan of Moscow publicly announced in 1942 that Stalin was “the divinely anointed leader of our armed and cultural forces leading us to victory over the barbarian invasion.” Church reopenings were attended by multitudes of devout believers. The regime proudly communicated news about fund-raising efforts by churchmen and congregations to purchase tanks for the army; Ehrenburg openly described people praying, and Simonov wrote poetically and movingly of “the simple crosses on Russian graves.”

The official allegiance between Stalin and the Russian Orthodox Church shows that communism’s relationship with religion was nowhere near as black-and-white as modern Christian apologists portray it. While communists did persecute some churches, they happily made alliances with others – and those churches were more than happy to reciprocate.

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