I. Everyday life in a society without God
The Communist Party came to power in Russia in October, 1917, and three months later, in Ukraine. Its goal was to create “new morality” and “new person” and build a new society based on general well-being, transferring the world into “heaven on Earth”, a heaven without God or religion. This ideology saw the Church and its main conception Jesus Christ – the Savior of the world — as the main threat to establishing a communist regime. Religious beliefs and private property were for Lenin and the Communist party one of the main obstacles on the way to establishing a communist dictatorship. One of the main tasks of the Soviet regime was overthrowing religious beliefs; it was a condition without which it was impossible to create a new society and bring up a “new person”. (M. Horkyi, 1920): “Leninism acts without mercy in order to destroy religion. Religion is like a fluid that in which our enemies sink our people. We cannot forget that religion is an intellectual drink with poison: it poisons, hypnotizes, drugs and relaxes our people”[i] . “This problem is extremely important: we need to ruin what was being created during 20 centuries”[ii].
“Mykhailo Kalinin said: “The fight with religion is a necessary tool for communists to be able to move ahead”. Religious traditions were seen as a direct threat to life and health of people. The ceremony of Baptism was replaced with the “holiday of the name;” confirmation became the “holiday of adulthood;” and religious burial of the deceased ones was replaced with a “ceremonial funeral” with music and carrying of medals.
The goal of this fight against religion was the building of the new society that based on the Marxism-Leninism theory, which was a regime of collective justice, “heaven on Earth”. On the side note, we need to say that the program of “heaven on Earth” was supposed to only be completed under supervision of the one and only control group – the Communist party that controlled the life of the entire society. The condition for creating the new world was destruction of the old one by the revolutionary terror. Lenin said: “The more representatives of bourgeoisie we will be able to shoot the better. This way we will give them an important lesson, because it will be forbidden to even think about any kind of protest”.
Georgie Zinoviev said: “In order to destroy enemies we need to have our own socialistic terror. We need to put on our side ninety out of a hundred residents of Soviet Russia. And we won’t even talk about the others – they need to be destroyed.” “We hate Christians and Christianity. Even the best one among them must be considered as our worst enemy.” (Anatoly Lunacharskyi)[i].
This started the cruel persecution of the faithful: people were tortured, burned alive. Some Catholic priests were buried alive only because they believed in God. Andrey Volkov wrote: “Never did the Church have such tragic times as now. Churches are being closed, Christians are persecuted. Maybe, the time of antichrist is coming. We are suffering from hunger and brutality.”[ii]
Churches and chapels were turned into stables, bathhouses, granaries, storage for chemicals, museums, libraries, plants for tanks, tractors or plastic. For greater desecration, toilets were put in place of altars. The biggest sanctuaries, always the gathering place for large numbers of people, were close and turned into cinemas or museums of atheism. Besides sacred and valuable items, even chairs and altars were taking out of churches. All the church typographies and publishers were closed, publication of religious press was forbidden, and the destruction of all religious literature in bookstores and libraries began. Leaders of the party ordered all the faithful to give Bibles and prayer books to the authorities. The faithful fought with those sent by authorities to confiscate religious property. Many priests were killed because they refused to give up sacred items. If the faithful didn’t want to give the keys to the church and people were found their praying when the police arrived, they were shot. Shortly after that the persecution of priests started. Everyone who worked for church – organ players and members of the parish alike – were disappearing. Never before had the Church experienced such a strong negative impact: Bolsheviks considered themselves worthy of honors for creating the first ever secular and atheistic state.
The government was very persistently attempting to cancel religious holidays, because people prayed in their homes even without churches and priests. Religious ceremonies were not permitted, and any disobeying was punished either by forced labor or with the fine of 300 rubles. The government also forbade pilgrimages, using the excuse that “people were trampling grass and ruining crops”. Priests were not allowed to serve a Liturgy between 5:00 AM and 10:00 PM during the summer in order to not distract people from agricultural work. Organizing and conducting religious meetings and ceremonies that were “violating public order”[i] were forbidden. Starting in 1925 the sacrament of marriage was forbidden as well.
The association “Atheistic fighters” was the important weapon in hands of communists for spying, denunciation, terror against the faithful, and the formation of the material worldview in the younger generation. They authorized the destruction of churches in 1929 for the purpose of reusing the building materials, which happened over the following three years.) Many courses and clubs were organized under the slogan “citizens – workers – universities:” in 1930 they numbered, and in 1931 – 845,020 beginning courses were 225 courses organized which 4135 students attended.
The press was also used in the fight against the Church: the amount of newspapers and magazines was huge. The most important ones were “Bezboznyk” and “Atheist,” which made fun of the Church, the Gospel and religion, spreading false accusations against priests, quoting fake poems from the Bible, changing the biblical events and inventing facts about the lives of the Virgin Mary and the saints, drawing caricatures of them.
“Bezboznyk”, 1926: “Without the church life is more joyful, without religious holidays life is many more calm”[i]; “The cross is the hammer of the church” “Wild donkeys with long ears, patient and stupid, that is the true image of Christians who have to bear the beating and carry the cross”[ii].
In 1924 Soviet publishers produced 700,000 copies of antireligious literature; in 1927-1930, 15,505 newspapers (8 million copies) and 749 periodicals; from 1930 to 1940 – 140 million copies with 1832 antireligious titles (for 1931, production was calculated to be 3.5 million copies). The newspaper “Bolshevik” that year reached 3.5 million copies. In 1970 production reached 7251 newspapers (140 million copies) and 5553 periodicals in 59 languages of the Union. As Lenin wanted, there were copies of newspapers for each category of readers: “Pravda” – 9 million; “Izvestia” – 8 million; for komsomolets and pioneers – 10 million copies of the newspaper “Pravda” in each republic; “Murzilka” for children – 6 million[iii].
The fight with religion in the Soviet empire was considered necessary for creation of a new person – homo soveticus. Authorities not only wanted to reject the existence of God, but also to erase from the human soul anything similar to God. P.E. Neveu wrote: “It was horrible to live in the country were His Honor Fear governed everything. Everyone was scared of himself, his wife, child, brother, neighbor, maid, police. People were scared of morning, night especially, they were scared at the plant, in the tram in bed. General fear, fear of prison, death and life. It was a true image of hell”[i].
The word freedom meant renunciation of Christian morality and creating a new one. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that for communists the word morality smelled like bourgeois. They acted in correspondence to the principle that everything was permissible. The faithful were humiliated. “There is no God and morality is relative. If there is no God then, the authorities take His place”. Another conclusion: “If there is no God, then everything is allowed”. “Everything you see is yours. Whichever house you see – it’s yours. Every” woman is yours. The land is yours. The sky is yours!”[ii].
Communism viewed morality and freedom in its own way. “A lie said twice is a lie; a lie said 100000 times will become truth for many of people”. This is the expression of Yaroslavskyi, a famous theorist of communism in 1923. The result of these lies was a constant statement that there was no persecution in the USSR. Soviet writers said that during that period of time the existence of persecution for beliefs did not exist. “Representatives of the Church were only imprisoned because they were opposing authorities under their religious propaganda. The Clergy were never persecuted”[iii].
“I don’t know another country where a person can breathe so freely”. But the reality was different and the evidence for it we find in the letters of those who were persecuted in 1932: “Later you will be free”, – we were promised. It was extremely hard to hear how we were called “free”. “We, who were deported to foreign territories, unfamiliar countries, and endless Siberia. We didn’t even have an opportunity to breathe according to our own will! Our husbands were offered work as police watchdogs to oversee others. Many times we witnessed a horrible scene when a husband was taken away from his family.”[iv]
One priest who lived in Ukraine wrote to his friends in Poland: “With my body and soul I am with you, but during this time our conscience tells us: we can’t do it anymore. Here we are near crucified Christ, beat up and tired. How much suffering do we have to bear because of our religion! But even in the most hopeless situations we remember that God is great and merciful. You cannot even imagine how horrible the conditions in which we are. Most churches in diocese are robbed, the Holy Sacrament is disrespected, and toilets are in places of altars. A few weeks ago in St. Oleksandr’s church, the Holy Sacrament was stolen and thrown away; a similar thing happened in Berdychiv. 50% of churches and chapels in our diocese are turned into museums, prisons, storage for grain. And the worst thing is that children of the church are dying one by one. Many priests in our diocese have already died from hunger, illnesses and hardship. Besides that, an imprisoned priest cannot forsake other prisoners, he tries to help them all out, because they are unfortunate”[i].
In the following years, many people in Ukraine continued to suffer from persecution and violence, having to accept death only because they refused to give up their faith. Despite all of that the Church survived because during WW II priests came from Germany, Poland and Western Ukraine (attached to the USSR). From 1944 to 1946, 837 churches were opened again. People started practicing their beliefs again, which authorities did not like.
On December 10, 1958 Khrushchev signed a decree “Downsides of conducting scientifically – atheistic propaganda among civilians.” The purpose of it was to prevent the process of renewal of religious consciousness. Political organizations were encouraged to support actions of the party “directed to stop religious sentiments of civilians”. Prepared in 1958, the campaign started the next year. The law to close a certain number of churches reopened during war was their favorite weapon. All the methods were used: legal, illegal, their own. If, for example, the church was located near a school, the reason to close it was because it intervened with the educational process. If there were many faithful, it was said that the crowed disrupted transportation and that the church had to be closed. If the church was an architectural monument, that meant that it belonged to people, and therefore it had to be closed. If the restoration was needed, the church was closed. Satisfied, Khrushchev declared: “Eventually, religion will cease to exist, people will forget what it is, and I will show you the last priest on television.”[ii] In the homes of the faithful, everything connected with religion was taken away: books, radio, and out of pages of prayer books they made cigarettes.
This regime ruined Christian morals and values. In 1960s-1970s, 90% of people accused in “antiSovietism” were convicted, approximately 1000 people per year.
These are only some aspects of the communist project of “heaven on Earth” – religious persecution of Catholics in Ukraine. Victims were in every layer of society, including priests with Polish and German roots. Parishioners made the biggest number of the convicted: the KGB did not bother to investigate; they simply deported Christians to the taiga, the Ural Mountains, to the North or to the steppes of Kazakhstan. Many of Catholics were considered socially dangerous elements. They died and there is not even a cross on their grave, because cemeteries were ruined by the regime during that time. It was said that they were doing it in order to increase the territory for building cities and increase the territory for farming lands. But really it was only done with the purpose of destruction of the thought of the life after death.
[i] D. NOWICKI, O odprawianiu nabożeństw przez duchowieństwo katolickie, uwięzione na Wyspach Sołowieckich (lata 1925-1932), ms, s.d.
[ii] F. OLECHNOWICZ, Prawda o Sowietach. Wrażenia z 7-letniego pobytu w więzieniach sołowieckich 1927-1933, Warszawa 1937, c. 13.
[i]A. VAKSBERG, Le mystère Gorki, Paris 1997, сс. 72-73.
[ii]A. OKOŁO-KUŁAK, Bolszewizmareligia, Warszawa 1923, с. 120.
[iii]Безбожник 22 (1929) 9.
[iv]Безбожник 4 (1925) 2-3; D. SERRETTI, Il tempo della Tirannia. Nabokov/Bulgakov/Pasternak/ Solzenicyn, Roma 2000, с. 120.
[v]V. LENIN, Opere Complete, vol. XXXV, Roma 1965, сс. 388 -389.
[vi]Антирелигиозник31 (1932) 1.
[vii]Литература в школе5 (1955) 4-5.
[viii]B. CAPLICKI, (a cura di), Martirologio cattolico, Mosca 1999, б.с.
[ix]R. DZWONKOWSKI SAC, Losy duchowieństwa katolickiego w ZSSR 1917-1939. Martyrologium, Lublin 1998, c. 70.
[x]Безбожник у станка 6 (1927) 5.
[xi] Там само, 5 (1927) 10.
[xii]M. LARAN, Russie-URSS 1870-1970, Paris 1973, с. 321-322.
[xiii]E. WALEWANDER, Katolicyzm na wschod od Bugu. Fakty i nadzieje, Naklo nad Notecia 1998, с. 14.
[xiv]A. SOLZENICYN, Arcipelago Gulag I1: 1918-1956, Milano 1990, c. 477.
[xv]История Совецкой Конституции в декретах, Москва 1936, c. 67
[xvi]F. OLECHNOWICZ, Prawda o Sowietach. Wrażenia z 7-letniego pobytu w więzieniach sołowieckich 1927-1933, Warszawa 1937, c. 13.
[xvii]D. NOWICKI, O odprawianiu nabożeństw przez duchowieństwo katolickie, uwięzione na Wyspach Sołowieckich (lata 1925-1932), ms, s.d.
[xviii]N. KRUSCEV, Kruscev ricorda, Milano 1971, с. 254.