I serve as a Catholic priest in a country that suffered under Communist materialism where God was an enemy of the state, the church needed destroying and faith in Christ was considered no better than superstition.
For nearly a century, Christians across the world have offered prayers for the conversion of Russia. Is it happening?
According to Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, it is.
“In the countries of the former Soviet Union, in particular in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldavia, an unprecedented religious revival is underway. In the Russian Orthodox Church over the past 25 years there have been built or restored from ruins more than 25,000 churches,” Metropolitan Hilarion said recently. “This means that a thousand churches a year have been opened, i.e., three churches a day.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently spoke about the future of Russia and about the traditional religious values needed as the country moves forward.
“People in many European countries are ashamed, and are afraid of talking about their religious convictions,” Putin said this past September. “[Religious] holidays are being taken away or called something else, shamefully hiding the essence of the holiday.”
The president of Russia is lamenting the loss of public respect for religion and religious holidays in the West. In a sense, the Russians are speaking to the West.
Several years ago, the current Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill gave a passionate sermon in Rome. The heart of his message was a warning to Europe and the West for turning away from their Christian roots.
“We tried to build a world without God,” Patriarch Kirill said of the Soviet experiment. “We failed. Do not take that path.”
But is Russia’s apparent embrace of religion a real conversion or just political posturing? Many believe it’s the latter with the state attempting to use the church for its own reasons, while the church in turn attempts to use the state for self-preservation.
Only time will tell if the turn to religion is authentic.
In the meantime, it seems that there is some common ground between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church that now needs to be deeply embraced. Recent Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis have said the same about secular materialism that is now being said by the Patriarch Kirill.
Secular materialism sees God as an enemy of freedom, the church as an outdated and useless intuition and faith in Christ as a Christian way of controlling and limiting human freedoms. In Fatima 1917 Our Lady spoke of a Russia that would be in the future converted in faith. Are we in prophetic times when the church of a former atheistic country, not perfect or fully converted can nonetheless speak to us in the West about the importance of faith in society? If we don’t listen to our prophets and popes maybe someday at the foot of altars in Russia there will be conversion prayers for those who once prayed and lost their faith in the West.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that the West had Jesus without the cross and the East and former communist countries had the cross without Jesus. But he prophetically believed that the zeal of the Eastern church would find Jesus before the stagnancy of the West found the cross. Will we listen to the Russians who have already lived the lie of life without God? Will we find Jesus and embrace his cross?
Prophets don’t tell the future but they show what will happen if God is abandoned — if faith is denied. Let those who have ears hear and those who have faith proclaim it.
The writer is a missionary priest of the Anchorage Archdiocese who is serving as pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.