*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 26th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was a great time this past weekend in Arkansas- great to meet so many of you who wake up to this show every morning… I am always encouraged to meet the people who listen to this show.
A few things: you can always (except for the Weekend Show) find something like a rough transcript for today’s show. It is written colloquially, but you can be reminded of specifics, dates, spelling, etc. I apologize for using certain pronunciations- and if I use a fancy word, I promise I’m not trying to impress or confound. My family has helpfully reminded me that I don’t need to drop a “ubiquitous” or “kaleidoscopic” if “everywhere” and “varied” are also available words.
OK- so- to get to today, let’s go far back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It was then that the Orthodox Church lost its most prominent home (sometimes we use the shorthand “Greek Orthodox” to refer to the Orthodox because they were centered in the Mediterranean for so long).
The next few centuries saw the rise of the Kievan Rus and the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church, which saw itself as the spiritual successor to the church at Constantinople.
And, to jump into the 20th century, we see one of the more ambitious anti-religious political programs in the modern world: the implementation of state-sponsored atheism under the Bolsheviks and the creation of the USSR.
“State-sponsored atheism” is shorthand for a much trickier sleight of hand whereby the Soviets under Lenin implemented an official “separation of church and state.” To western ears, that might sound helpful- but if the separation “American style” was to protect the church in the USSR, it was to preserve the state and marginalize once-powerful faith-based institutions.
The first five years of the USSR saw dozens of Bishops executed and 1,000s of priests killed. Churches were turned into social clubs, and by 1925 a group called the “League of the Militant Godless” would help implement the more draconian anti-religious programs of the 30s.
The rise of Stalin and the 2nd World War would change things- Stalin saw that appealing to traditionalist sentiments against The nazis could harness support- in the 1940s, a few hundred new churches were allowed to open. While professional politicos would not be involved with a church, they became popular places for traditionalists.
Under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the person and policies of Stalin were condemned, and some rolled back. Churches were closed, and religious activities were monitored more closely. Soviet television began airing popular movies overnight on Easter eve to discourage what was the most popular vigil in the Russian church.
The policies of Perestroika and Glasnost from Gorbachev ushered in some reforms in the late 80s and early 90s- but the century of soviet experimentation in atheism dealt a blow on this the 26th of April in 1992. Let’s go to the New York Times for the day:
“The great bells of the soaring towers of Ivan the Great burst into life at midnight today, ringing in Easter for the first time in seven decades. For 400 years before that, until the Bolsheviks silenced them, bellringers at Moscow's myriad of churches, "numbering 40 times 40," would await the first peal from Great Ivan to proclaim that "Christ Is Risen!" and bathe the city in a joyous clamor. The great tower was the spiritual heart of Muscovy -- its golden dome was visible from the fringes of the town -- and to this day, distances to and from the capital are measured from its base.
It seemed only logical, now that the country is Russia again and the Russian Orthodox Church holds regular services in the Kremlin and even in St. Basil's on Red Square, that the bells of the Kremlin should once again herald the greatest feast of the Russian land.”
The story of the Church in post-Soviet Russia is a mixed bag, and we’ve told some of her stories on this show. In light of the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Russian Patriarch’s peculiar praise of violence shows that progress rarely goes in a straight line. But the demise and resurgence of Christianity is a fascinating thread in the history of the modern Christian church.
Today we remember the pealing of the church bells at the Kremlin for Easter in 1992- the first time in seven decades.
The Last Word for today comes for the common lectionary- Easter season in Revelation season! Here we go from Revelation 2:
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man full of Russian Easter delicacies like kulichi and pashas- cottage cheese and raisins… he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by one who has eaten raw pig brain, would do it again, and will not touch cottage cheese. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.