Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Khrushchev’s Anti-Religious Campaign Sparked Growth of Catacomb Church and Its Ties Abroad, New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 27 – Serhii Shumylo, a Kyiv specialist on religious life in the post-Soviet countries, has published a new and heavily-footnoted article entitled “Clandestine Connections between the ROCOR and the Catacomb Communities in the USSR from the 1960s to the 1980s” (rocorstudies.org/2021/11/03/9405/).

            Among the many important observations he makes, many of which will be of interest only to specialists on this issue, one stands out because of its importance for an understanding of the sources of an important development in religious and social life in the USSR during the final decades of its existence.

            He documents that one of the most powerful contributing factors to the development of the underground Catacomb Church during that period was Nikita Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign at the end of the 1950s. As the result of that effort which led to the closure of half of the Russian Orthodox Church congregations, more than 7000 priests were left without work.

            Many of them continued to conduct religious services underground, adding often by several orders of magnitude the number of such unregistered congregations. And one aspect of Orthodoxy drove them not only underground as far as the Soviets were concerned but into close contact with the anti-communist Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

            That aspect of Orthodox life is this: For an Orthodox priest to function, he must be subordinate to a bishop. Once Khrushchev closed the churches and they lost their ties to the remaining bishops, many of these catacomb priests sought to subordinate themselves to ROCOR bishops, exactly the opposite of what the Kremlin wanted.

            Indeed, as Shumylo shows, these new recruits to the Catacomb Church not only increased the numbers of religious the Soviet authorities had no control over but also led these priests in the catacombs to reach out via clandestine channels to ROCOR bishops among the emigrations in Europe and North and South America.

            That combination likely helped the genuine faithful in the USSR to survive and laid the foundation for the partial recovery of religious life after the fall of communism.


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