Overcoming: the Russian Church and the Soviet government


“Let them slander truth; let them hate love; let them kill life; the truth is justified; love is victorious; life resurrects” (Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, 1825).

From November 9 to December 9, 2012, an exhibition dedicated to the persecutions of the Church in the Soviet years was held in the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia (21 Tverskaya St., Moscow). The exhibition was organized by the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University for the Humanities together with the museum and timed to the university’s twentieth anniversary.

The showpieces of the exhibition “Overcoming: The Russian Church and Soviet Power” included various documents illustrating both the authorities’ atheistic policies and the Church’s reaction to them. Considerable attention was given to the anti-religious propaganda which was carried out everywhere: in schools, in universities, in the army, and among workers and peasants. Visitors were able to familiarize themselves with Soviet periodicals, pseudoscientific atheistic publications, placards, leaflets, wall newspapers, and even dolls that were used in the 1920s in anti-religious performances.

The conceptual center of the exposition was the sections devoted to the era of the most extensive and bloody persecutions, from the October Revolution to 1937. But after this date there should be a continuation: the Church continued to be persecuted in the USSR in the decades after the war, down to the mid-1980s.

Exhibition curator Deacon Pavel Ermilov: “Preparing the exhibition, we were concerned that the audience would feel the spirit of the age, and feel some involvement in the lives of believers in the 20th century. It is hoped that modern methods of presenting historical realities will help the project to go beyond the bounds of the Church community, and receive a response from a wide audience, interested in both the history of the Church and the history of Russia as a whole.”

For twenty years, historians of the university have been collecting numerous testimonies about the suffering and martyric spiritual feats of the Russian people, tracing thousands of lives, and analyzing the history of internal Church disputes provoked by the persecutors. The artifacts of the exhibition “Overcoming: The Russian Church and Soviet Power” were displayed in six halls in chronological order. Each hall represented a word that is symbolic of this era, which became the “key” in creating their artistic concepts.

The exhibition’s program included open lectures:

1. Fr. George Orekhanov (PSTGU), Doctor of Church History, Doctor of Historical Sciences: “Leo Tolstoy, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Religious Crisis of the Era.”

2. F. A. Gaiada (MSU, PSTGU), Candidate of Natural Sciences: “On the Threshold of Persecution: The Church in the View of Russian Liberals 1907-1917”

3. Fr. Alexander Mazyrin (PSTGU), Doctor of Church History, Candidate of Historical Sciences: “The Anti-Religious Policies of the Soviet Authorities and the Church’s Reaction to Them”

4. L. A. Golovkov (PSTGU): “Butovo—the Russian Golgotha”

St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University for the Humanities’ website provided its visitors a virtual tour of the “Overcoming” exhibition. The exhibition was first held in the winter of 2012/2013 in the Museum of Contemporary History of Russia and dedicated to the memory of the Russian New Martyrs and Confessors. The virtual version of the “Overcoming” exhibition was timed to the impending completion of the restoration work in the Moscow Diocesan house at 6 Likhov Pereulok, where the Local Council of 1917 restored the patriarchate. Hundreds of the council’s delegates subsequently suffered for Christ, and around fifty were canonized as part of the Synaxis of Russia New Martyrs and Confessors.