Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Religion in Soviet Russia - Sam Welles (1948)

My grandpa - Sam Welles - coming from a long line of 
Episcopal priests including his grandfather, father, and brother, 
wrote in his book - Profile of Europe - about religion in Soviet Russia. 
Later, in the 1950's, he edited the Time-Life Guide to World Religions. 

Sam Welles wrote in 1948:

          In their quiet, patient way the Russian people have recesses which even the Kremlin cannot control. Perhaps the chief of these is religion. Religious persecution in Soviet Russia was never so bad as it was under Rome's Nero or Diocletian. There were always some churches open above ground, not just in catacombs. Now there are more, and the Kremlin has allowed more than a dozen seminaries to reopen. It has made other small but significant concessions. Russians have always liked to bake certain cakes at Easter. In years past the special ingredients for these cakes used to pop up in Soviet stores - possibly by sheer coincidence - a week or two before Easter. In 1947 it was no coincidence. Many stores had the ingredients piled on separate counters, with the sign EASTER SPECIALS.
          The whole history of Christianity shows that once active persecution has ceased, religion returns with the slow steady power of a rising tide. There are at least some signs it is doing so in Russia. There are still official Soviet pronouncements against religion. Young Bolshevik recently had the most open antireligious attack the Soviet press had published since the Nazi invasion in 1941. It quoted Stalin: "The Communist Party must be antireligious since its activity is founded upon science, which is antireligious." The article then stated: "If a Young Communist believes in God or goes to church, he is not fulfilling his obligations." Komsomol Pravda has criticized Soviet teachers for failing to give their pupils "clear and firm atheistic beliefs".
          Apparently the Kremlin thinks that time is on its side and that a state-fostered, materialistic outlook will in due course eliminate religion. The Kremlin might be right. But I saw nothing in Russia that approached the deep enthusiasm and emotion in tens of thousands of Russians of both sexes and all ages in Moscow on Easter eve. I went first to the Church of the Resurrection, where some two thousand had jammed every inch inside and thousands more were milling cheerfully in the square outside, holding the little tapers they would light at midnight. People were perched thick on every window sill, peering into the church. Then I went on to the Easter service at Epiphany Cathedral, conducted by the Patriarch. Some twenty thousand people were happily shouting, singing and shoving outside its doors. Inside, over seven thousand packed it into the eaves. At midnight, when the Patriarch chanted, "Christ is risen!", the choir took up the refrain, and lights from the candle which the Patriarch lighted spread quickly from taper to taper throughout the whole cathedral. Their little lights flickered on the most deeply happy faces I saw in all Russia.
          After the period of fairly severe religious persecution from 1923 to 1941, the Kremlin made concessions to the people's clear desire for more than a trickle of religion. The new religious literature is printed at the old Godless Press- under that imprint! Which could indicate that the Godless Press may some day be used again for its old purpose of publishing antireligious literature. The Kremlin has had the same experience with Russia's literary classics. It long restricted the reading of many works by Dostoievsky, Gogol, Ostrovsky, Pisemsky and Ouspensky. It has gradually brought them back because the people wanted to read them.
          As an American who knows Russia well has said, "The strength of the Kremlin lies largely in knowing how to wait. The strength of the Russian people is in knowing how to wait longer."


On back of book:

          Sam Welles Author of Profile of Europe is an associate editor of Time and one of its top foreign news writers. During the war he served for three years in the State Department and in our London Embassy, where he was the Special Assistant to Ambassador Winant.
          At Oxford University, on a Rhodes Scholarship after Princeton, he took an honors degree in modern history. Ever since 1935 has spent a considerable part of his time traveling over Europe. In one thirty-nine month period he logged more than 100,000 miles from Connemarra to Constantinople; and during the Conference of Foreign Ministers in Moscow he walked more than 300 miles through that city and its suburbs. In the months that followed, he visited sixteen other countries, making his way across most of them by car. His equipment-including extra cans of gas, spare tires, tools, food and mountains of documents- would almost have outfitted a polar explorer.

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