In the midst of the pomp and fanfare of the 1000th birthday of Christianity in Russia, the younger generation in the Soviet Union is apparently showing a growing interest in spiritual matters. “There has been a religious revival among young people,” said Deputy Chief Father Vladimir of the Russian Orthodoxy’s main monastic center.
Young Russians are increasingly interested in joining the clergy, according to Time magazine, and they are attending church in unprecedented numbers. For example, at a monastery that re-opened as a church after a period of government control, two-fifths of the congregation is in their 20’s and 30’s.
This growing interest in Christianity among the youth during the state-sanctioned celebration may stem from boredom, disillusionment, and cynicism – which the Soviet government is acknowleging as a problem.
Jon Utley, associate editor of The Times of Americas magazine and commentator on Voice of America, said that Soviet youth are a major government concern. Utley recently went on a tour sponsored by the World Media Association with 50 journalists, academic leaders, and activists.
“From talking to young people, we could well understand why Soviet youth are a major preoccupation of the government. There were almost no diversions. Our members (when alone) were often approached by youths for black market transactions.”
Utley attended a press conference by the Foreign Ministry. During the briefing, Communist state officials distributed a release which stated: “Young people are uncompromising in their search for truth. One can’t overlook the fact that many young people during the years of stagnation reconciled themselves to the hopelessness of attempts to attain truth and change …”
“(T)hey saw in society elements that were totally incompatible with what they knew about the nature of socialism. The example of some officials … was morally destructive.” Specifics on these officials were not revealed.
Utley also attended a meeting in Leningrad with students of the Soviet American Friendship Society. “In one discussion about human rights, a student said that Russia should withdraw from Afghanistan and was promptly answered and dressed down for 10 minutes by an older member,” he said in a report on his visit in Human Events.
Besides growing interest among youth, the official Russian Orthodox Church is becoming more vocal in the Soviet press and television on matters involving the country’s moral and cultural climate. “Glasnost and religious freedom are intimately correlated,” Vsevold Marinov told The Forerunner. Marinov is the director of the Soviet Bureau of Opinion based in Moscow. “Religious people have much more of a voice in the mass media which wasn’t the case before.”
Marinov is also a member of the Peace Committee, a delegation of Soviet citizens that recently visited the U.S. Pravda Cultural Editor Nikolai Potopov agreed, saying, “Religious people are more and more active in sharing their opinions with non-religious people on peace-related problems. Confiscated church buildings are being returned to churches.”
To commemorate the birth of Christianity, the Soviet government gave permission to the United Bible Society in Stuttgart, West Germany, for the importation of 100,000 Ukranian language Bibles. But many church leaders both inside and outside the country say that Gorbachev’s reconstructionist policies are cosmetic, and are calling for more radical changes to be made in Soviet dealings with the Church. Father Gleb Yakunin, an ex-prisoner who initiated the Russian Orthodox human rights movement in 1965, said, “The general atmosphere has changed a lot, but when it comes to actual church life, it’s like it was 30 years ago.”
Communist officials have said there may be signs of a new policy toward state control of churches. In the communist Central Committee Publication, an article stated, “The time has finally come to put an end to a suspicious and unfavorable attitude toward believers and their ideals of care for people, love and moral self-improvement. We should take into account the unprecedented historical fact that the church has managed to find its place in socialist society without detriment to its faith.”
Yuri Smirnov, spokesman for the Council for Religious Affairs, told Time, “The church could be a help in changing people’s attitudes toward work. There are too many divorces. There are many other social problems, like drug abuse. There are three to eight suicides among young people in Moscow every week. Why not use the power of the Church, since millions of people are under its influence?”
This is most definitely a far cry from the rhetoric of past Soviet regimes, which predicted total eradication of faith and Christianity by this date. As millions of nationals celebrate the arrival of the Christian gospel in the Soviet Union, and as young people return to the churches in record numbers, it will most likely open the doors for even more lively discussion in the Kremlin about the future of the USSR.