A Second Darkness
Few folk in the West know just how relentlessly the Soviet regime persecuted the Orthodox Church, in the attempt to obliterate Christianity off the face of the Russias. It's worth remembering:
Lenin seemed to have taken in earnest Voltaire's jocular remark that the era of human happiness would begin when the last king was strangled in the entrails of the last priest. And so Lenin and Stalin destroyed or diverted to the use of the Soviet state over 90 percent of Russia's 96,000 churches and killed over 90 percent of its 112,000 Russian priests. The rest were thoroughly infiltrated by the Cheka and its follower, the KGB, and were forbidden to proselytize or even to preach.
And indeed, this remnant church did its best to function as a transmission belt for the regime, persecuting priests who took their jobs seriously. The Bible and religious literature were banned. Meetings for religious purposes or religious conversations were cause for one-way trips to Siberia.
. . . . the extent to which the regime succeeded in destroying the spiritual bases of family, faith, property and law is less interesting than the reasons why it did not succeed even more. The short answer seems to be that the campaign quickly drove millions of Russians to nihilism and that nihilism is unendurable for very long. Visitors to the Soviet Union in the era of glasnost encountered a cynicism so deep and widespread, misanthropy so bitter, that even the most ardent communists had become frightened of it.
. . . . The constant flow of priests beaten and jailed for trying to do their job and the very existence of churches that were obviously muzzled reminded the masses that there was an alternative to the regime's morality, more attractive because forbidden. The regime said the Church was corrupt. But the masses knew that the regime was. [Angelo Codevilla, The Character of Nations: How Politics Makes and Breaks Prosperity, Family, and Civility (New York: Basic Books, 1997), p. 93f.]Fast forward to modern times.
What is the state of the Church and of the Christian faith in Russia today? What has been left as a result of the Communist persecution and the full blooded attempt to drive God from the hearts of men? The recent movie Leviathan, co-written and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev attempts an answer. In it there are two priests. Neither are main characters, but they both provide tangential religious commentary on the awful lives and events portrayed in the movie. The first is a bishop who is a tool of corrupt and vile politicians. The second is a priest who holds to the faith of his persecuted fathers.
The modern Russia portrayed in the movie is one where the worldly quisling bishop is an easy tool of victorious corrupt power, whilst the faithful priest is left awaiting vindication by a Power not of this world. Tyrannical petty corruption, on the one hand. The faithful suffering on the other. Meanwhile, ordinary people are ground down daily by the regime and the consequences of their own sins.
According to director Zvyagintsev, this is modern Russia. Pray for the conversion of the Russian peoples.