The “Opium of the People”

And then there were two…

February 1917: Bolshevik law separates church and state. Starting with the February Revolution, the contention between the Orthodox Church and the Bolsheviks escalated. The Bolsheviks who came into power after the 1917 October Revolution were atheists who considered religion to be “opium of the people,” working against the interests of the Church by transferring power from the Church to the state. Private schools run or owned by the Church were turned over to the Ministry of Education, church lands were confiscated, marriage switched from a religious to civil ordinance, and the Law on Freedom of Conscience was established, “the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda” (Bucknell). The monopoly of the Orthodox Church was now dissolved and the offensive campaign against the Church had begun.

Propoganda poster: “Love Live the Socialist Revolution”                                        Source: American Orthodox Institute

The rise of the Communist party after the 1917 Revolutions led to disastrous persecutions of the Orthodox Church in years following. Bishops and priests were murdered and thus, the Church was highly repressed. Despite warnings from the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and even the implementation of an anathema against the Bolsheviks, the conflict continued.

Interviews about the persecution: Watch here



“Conflict with the Church.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 29 Dec. 2015,

“1936 Constitution of the USSR, Part 1.” Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , Bucknell University,

Severance , Diana. “Bolsheviks Bore Down on Orthodox.”,

Jacobse, Johannes. “Russian Orthodox Church Urges Political and Legal Treatment of Crimes Committed by Bolsheviks.” The American Orthodox Institute ,

The Russian Orthodox Church. U.S. Library of Congress,


The Photographer to the Tsar

Self- portrait of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Source

The Photographer 

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer and chemist in the early 1900s, displayed the powerful Russian Empire pre-World War I and revolution with the use of colored photography, a new technique that he developed during the time. Supported by Tsar Nicholas II and with the aide of the Ministry of Transportation, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled in an equipped railroad car (that even included a darkroom), to photograph eleven regions including regions such as present day Poland and Finland. Although his subjects were diverse, such as railroads and medieval churches, his photographs of the ethnic diversity that remained intact despite Russian acquisition is a fascinating insight to the times.

Culture Remains Intact 

Prisoners in a Zindan with a Guard                                                                 Source 


1907- Prokudin-Gorskii photographed a Zindan, or prison, in Bukhara, then called Turkestan, and nowadays located in Uzbekistan. Five inmates peer out through the prison bars, accompanied by a visitor squatting outside. The Russian uniform of the prison guard greatly contrasts with the robes of the locals, displaying the traditional clothing of Bukhara. This photograph is a prime example of the predated forced “Russification” that had yet occurred in the Russian empire.

A Closer Look…

Traditional Zindan in Uzbekistan                                                           Source

Zindan today is referred to as Emir’s Prison- one of two prisons in Bukhara. The prison was made up of a multiple debt chambers, a solitary confinement cell, and an underground dungeon that was dug about 21 feet deep into the ground. Prisoners mainly included debtors or those who did not carry out their “citizen’s duty” in following religious instructions and authority, as religion had the highest authority in Bukhara at the time (another show of how culture was retained). The imprisonment was extreme and death for the prisoners was expected. The prison was also referred to as “Bithana”, or the “bug pit” due to the plethora of scorpions and other poisonous insects that found their way into the cells. Due to the treacherous bites, prisoners often died within two to three days of imprisonment.