The Third Rome Besieged: The Persecution, Division, and Revival of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1917-1943
Haverford College. Department of History
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This thesis discusses the status and the use of the Russian Orthodox Church by both the invading Nazis and the Soviet Union in the opening two years of World War II. While the Russian Orthodox Church was once a significant part of the Tsarist state, the February and the October Revolutions saw an immediate reversal of fortune for the Church. What was once an extremely powerful and dominant organization within Russian society quickly fell into a nearly twenty-year period of extreme persecution, the aim of which was nothing less than the complete destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church's power and its place in society. As the Russian Orthodox Church was being persecuted in the Soviet Union, the Nazi Party was securing its stranglehold on political power in Germany. There, despite mixed views on Christianity among the Nazi elite, Christianity remained a powerful force. Consequently, Nazi leaders including Adolf Hitler and Alfred Rosenberg had to temper their assertions about Christianity, going so far as to present themselves as its champions. Germany during the 1930s saw a gradual weakening of Christianity's place in national politics while simultaneously seeing it used instrumentally by the Nazi regime as a vector to exert social control. With the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in opening years of World War II, Nazi occupation force had to manage a protracted conflict and a huge Russian civilian population that came under its control. The person in charge of the Nazi-occupied Eastern territories, Alfred Rosenberg, sought to use collaborationist Russian Orthodox clergy to cement Nazi rule by means of fostering the revival of religion in the occupied territories. These religious revivals became known to the Soviet leadership, which recognized the inherent threat posed by a popular Christian religious revival supported by the Nazi occupation force. Soviet authorities responded by introducing a slow, limited restoration of the Russian Orthodox Church's hierarchy and the Church's place in society. This restoration would increase in pace and scope as the war progressed, peaking with the start of the Soviet counteroffensive in 1943. The culmination of this religious restoration occurred when Soviet authorities approved and supported the restoration of the Moscow Patriarch in September 1943. This action reversed over twenty years of intense, often violent anti-clerical and pro-atheistic Soviet policies, and was intended solely to counter the Nazi occupation force's campaign aimed at coopting the loyalty of the Russian Orthodox Church's laity and encouraging their submission to Nazi authority.