How Russians survived militant atheism to embrace God
Today, less than 20 years after the collapse of the officially atheistic Soviet Union, Russia has emerged as the most God-believing nation in Europe. That's a testament to the devotion of babushkas who kept the flames of faith alive in the face of state-sponsored repression.
Sometimes really huge news stories occur that receive almost no notice, but they are seismic just the same. Today, less than 20 years after the collapse of the officially atheistic Soviet Union, Russia has emerged as the most God-believing nation in Europe, more so than Roman Catholic Italy or Protestant Britain. The independent Public Opinion Fund poll discovered this spring that 82 percent of Russians now say they are religious believers.Skip to next paragraph
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Given the brutal and ruthless repression by Joseph Stalin of the Russian Orthodox Church and all religion, this is truly a remarkable statistic. It is a testament to the babushkas who would not capitulate to Soviet bullying. Hoorah for the hero grandmothers of the motherland! Against all odds they have won.
Those stooped, graying old ladies with head scarves, deeply creased faces, and stainless steel-capped teeth were scorned, mocked, and ridiculed by Communist officialdom during the 74 years of official Soviet atheism because they were religious believers. Dismissed as babas and crones, they were, however, the true soul of Russian society.
When the Kremlin’s Soviet Politburo or the Central Committee apparatchiks raced about in their Chaikas and ZIL limousines, the babushkas quietly went about dutifully kissing their religious icons because those were their only windows to a better world.
The babushkas devotedly stood guard over decaying churches, lighting candles amid the dilapidation and ruin. These spiritual sentinels were virtually helpless to prevent decades of Soviet looting of their churches. But the babushkas refused to allow the flame of faith to go out in Russia, even if it was only their own.
In the worst of times, Stalin’s thugs dynamited spectacular Orthodox cathedrals. They sent the Russian clergy to the gulags; they discriminated against believers in hiring and education; and they stole the churches’ priceless religious icons, selling them in the West for precious hard currency.
All the while, the impoverished babushkas eked out an existence living on a few kopecks and handfuls of lard as they scurried in the shadows of their darkened churches, doing their best to protect and police these shrines, demanding dignity and decorum from all who entered.
The babushkas’ critical role outside their churches was at least as central to Russian society as their role in preserving religious ritual. With Soviet
mothers working at full-time jobs, it was these grandmothers who raised generations of Russian children, teaching them whatever morality and ethics they could because the Communists had dismantled the traditional rudder of societal morality, the churches.