Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht was unstoppable. Their operational and tactical levels in war were resilient- “the finest army in the world” (Freeze, 276) at the time. The Soviet Union was going to be easy to take, right?
Joseph Stalin was able to mobilize his people in a remarkable way. The centralization under Stalin’s dictatorship unified the people across the vast state, the war being seen as a national struggle by the populous, the barbarity of the Nazis, and the returned liberties were crucial to the mobilization of the country and their success in the war. As I mentioned in my earlier post, “The ‘Opium of the People'”, the Orthodox church was greatly oppressed under the rule of the Bolsheviks; church property was confiscated, religion was ridiculed, atheist propaganda was spread, and bishops and priests were executed. With the majority of the country identifying themselves with the Orthodox Church and to intensify patriotic support for the war effort, Stalin reestablished the patriarch.
September 1943, Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergii Stragorodskii was elected as Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Stalin also granted permission to open a certain number of churches and religious schools during a significant meeting with three leading Metropolitans in the Kremlin. The patriarch actively sought to form a good relationship between church and state and even declared Stalin as “the divinely anointed ruler” (Soviet History). The Church prayed for victory at state ceremonies, prayed for the health of Joseph Stalin, directed fundraisers for Russian tank units, and provided assistance in field hospitals. Acknowledging the Orthodox Church was an incredibly tactical move in unifying and gathering public support for both Stalin as a leader and in mobilizing the people to join the war effort.
Statement of the Council of the Most Reverend Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Soviet Government (September 8, 1943):
Deeply moved by the sympathetic attitude of our national Leader and Head of the Soviet Government, I. V. STALIN, toward the needs of the Russian Orthodox Church and toward our modest works, we, his humble servants, express to the Government our council’s sincere gratitude and joyful conviction that, encouraged by this sympathy, we will redouble our share of work in the nationwide struggle for the salvation of the motherland.
Let the Heavenly Head of the Church bless the works of the Government with the Creator’s blessing and let him crown our struggle in a just cause with the victory we long for and the liberation of suffering humanity from the dark bondage of fascism.
Signed by Sergei and 18 other metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops
Von Geldern, James. “Orthodox Patriarch Appointed.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. June 18, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/orthodox-patriarch-appointed/.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
5 thoughts on “Religious Return”
Maura, I really enjoyed your post! I think it’s interesting how the church was brought back after intense efforts to diminish its influence. Why do you think the institution of the church was strong enough to unify the people and gather public support?
As i was writing my post i also came across how Stalin was trying to unite or mobilize people for the war. It was definitely an extremely tactical move to acknowledge the Orthodox church. It always seemed like Stalin was a few steps ahead of its people and knew how to get them to do something! Super interesting!
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Agree. Check out Ethan’s post on the Patriarchate here: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/eclaybrook/2018/03/26/an-unorthodox-solution/
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I liked how you mentioned the differences between the Revolution ideals and Stalinist ideals! Even if it was only motivated to ensure he stayed in power!!
Interesting how Stalin re-instituted the Church only after realizing it could be of some utility to the country’s war effort. He really was a shrewd politician!