Imagine if today, in the United States, there were only 100 actual (functional) Christian churches. To give some basic perspective, that would equal just two church buildings per State! (The truth is that there are about 300,000 churches in the USA, according to “Grounds For Giving”.) What kind of society would we have? What would our morality look like? Would we rely more, or less, upon the Federal and State governments?
The Russian, or Bolshevik, Revolution of 1917 and its outcome would alter the landscape of the country of Russia for the better part of a century. The communist and socialist party overthrew the last Tsar (or Czar) of Russia, killing him and his family, and in the few years that followed the new leaders did all they could to undermine the very popular and far-reaching Russian Orthodox Church and its leader, Patriarch Tikhon. In 1918 the new government declared that the Church had no legal rights, including the right to own property. In the years and decades to come churches were outright demolished or forcible switched over to secular activities. In 1922, the government mandated that all riches and valuable artifacts would become property of the State.
Later in the 1920′s and 1930′s many clergy were arrested and some were murdered or sent to labor camps. Thousands were martyred. By 1939 only 3 or 4 Orthodox bishops remained, governing a mere 100 churches. The State had essentially eliminated the Christian church, by force, over the course of about 20 years. This preconceived plan was directly in line with the values and marching orders of people like Lenin and Stalin- who wanted the State and the Soviet Premier to be the most important part of a person’s life- not Christ or the Church. By eliminating much of the Orthodox Church, the communist regime was able to mostly keep its millions of citizens in check. Of course they accomplished this also with constant threats of force and starvation.
From the 1940′s to the late 1980′s the Church did have somewhat of a tepid renaissance in Russia, but it never reclaimed the glory and true national involvement it once had prior to 1917.
In the U.S. our founding fathers established the very First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791. Herein was our protection of religion; while Congress could not dictate a national religion or Church, the federal government could not prevent the free access to and practice of one’s religion. Clearly our founders were speaking primarily of Christianity- as they were overwhelmingly practicing Christians- but they meant the liberty of all persons and all religions. It is worthy to note that the freedom of religion is within our very first Constitutional Amendment, not 2 or 3 or 10. Our forefathers understood that when a nation loses its ability to freely worship it truly loses much of itself and its character. In the case of Russia, the nation easily became overcome by the vice-like grip of a communist regime.
Be grateful for every church that you drive by in your travels. Even if they are not of your own denomination. They are a center of Christian fellowship, and without these centers a person’s ability to stay steadfast in Faith is limited.
(Note: Some of the research for this article was via http://russian-crafts.com/customs/russian-church-history.html and http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/history7.aspx)