"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Stalin's Holy War

In my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, I spend a good bit of time describing Russian Orthodox ecclesial structures, particularly since 1945. There I noted that the church, at war's end, was deliberately restructured in such a way as to make the patriarch of Moscow into a "super-patriarch" with enormous powers (some of them since removed in recent revisions to Russian ecclesial statutes). This was by design so that Stalin could more easily and effectively maintain control over the church by maintaining control over this all-powerful patriarch.

The role of the Russian Church in the "Great Patriotic War" has long been discussed by historians, but a new study sounds as though it will require us to reconsider what we thought we knew about that tumultuous and dark time: Steven Merrit Miner, Stalin's Holy War: Religion, Nationalism, and Alliance Politics, 1941-1945 (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 432pp.

About this book we are told:
Histories of the USSR during World War II generally portray the Kremlin's restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church as an attempt by an ideologically bankrupt regime to appeal to Russian nationalism in order to counter the mortal threat of Nazism. Here, Steven Merritt Miner argues that this version of events, while not wholly untrue, is incomplete. Using newly opened Soviet-era archives as well as neglected British and American sources, he examines the complex and profound role of religion, especially Russian Orthodoxy, in the policies of Stalin's government during World War II. Miner demonstrates that Stalin decided to restore the Church to prominence not primarily as a means to stoke the fires of Russian nationalism but as a tool for restoring Soviet power to areas that the Red Army recovered from German occupation. The Kremlin also harnessed the Church for propaganda campaigns aimed at convincing the Western Allies that the USSR, far from being a source of religious repression, was a bastion of religious freedom. In his conclusion, Miner explores how Stalin's religious policy helped shape the postwar history of the USSR.

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