It was one thing to kill Russia’s Christians, and another to destroy Russian Christendom.
In a certain sense, of course, the elimination of Christians would achieve this end. In addition to Orthodox lay people such as the New Martyr Daria (whose execution I recounted in my previous post), most of the clergy was killed off or consigned to places such as Solovetsky Monastery, which was converted to a kind of clerical death camp.
Of some fifty thousand parish priests in 1917, only about five thousand existed two decades later. The bishops faced even greater odds against survival.
Without a body of the faithful or the clergy to lead them, the Communists reasoned, Christendom would wither and disappear. But they could not wait for that. They had seized power in the name of an entirely new and post-Christian civilization and intended to usher in its supporting culture as quickly as possible. They were men in a hurry.
And so they launched a cultural revolution on several “fronts.” In this post I will introduce one of them: The notorious cult of Vladimir Lenin.
As I noted in a more distant post about the image of George Washington in the United States Capitol, secularized Christendom has shown a tendency to exalt political leaders in a way similar to that of pagan Rome. A different tendency can be noted in traditional Christendom, and in the future I will have an opportunity to discuss cases such as that of Emperor Constantine. (Readers who want a head start on that can listen to an episode on Constantine in my podcast here). In the case of the Soviet Union, however, the cult of Lenin went much further than that of Washington. There arose there an actual mysticism about his continued presence among his followers. If Washington had been exalted as a symbol of national purpose and unity, Lenin was regarded as ever present among future generations of Communists.
“Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin shall always live!” This was the refrain of a poem written by Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky the year Communism’s founder died.
How like the acclamation of the western Christian liturgy it is: “Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ shall come again.” I have never read an account that tried to connect the two (the Orthodox liturgy contains no such acclamation), but the similarity is remarkable. What the statement indicates is that though a mortal, Lenin had upon his death become a living presence within the Soviet Union and would always abide with her.
There is no doubt that the Communists were creating a alternative god for the alternative culture they hoped would replace that of Christendom. And the effort went far beyond verses written by Mayakovsky, the “poet of the revolution” according to Stalin. In the next post, I will take us on a tour of some of the Soviet Union’s most notable Lenin pilgrimage sites.