CHURCH OF THE HOLY RESURRECTION AND THE HOLY NEW MARTYRS AND CONFESSORS OF RUSSIA
THE GREAT PURGE 1937 – 1938
RE-UNION OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD
It may appear initially to some of our readers that the subjects of this page contained in the title hereof are incongruous, yet all three come together in the small town of Butovo, unknown to most of our readers, just south of Moscow in a unity of events which we shall illustrate below. Here in the months from August 1937 through October 1938 more than 20,000 presumed enemies of the Soviet state were shot and buried during the worst of the Stalinist purges of the 1930ies. At that time, much of Butovo was a military reservation closed to the public. Some one thousand of the victims are believed to have died for their faith – bishops, priests, deacons, monks, nuns and numerous Orthodox faithful along with old Bolsheviks, monarchists, Trotskyite rightists, arch-reactionaries, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries, Jewish Zionist cosmopolites, German communist refugees from Nazi Germany, kulaks, revisionists, social misfits, and various others caught up in the final Stalinist frenzy of extermination before the onset of World War II – all buried together – saints and sinners – in common graves on which the earth was piled in mounds which remain to the present - to await the sundering of the sheep from the goats on the Last Day.
The splendid new temple of white stone, shown above, built to commemorate these new martyrs, confessors and passion-bearers of Russia, was consecrated on May 19, 2007 by Patriarch Alexis II and Church Abroad Metropolitan, Laurus, as part of the celebration of reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, severed from unity since the 1920ies. Thus the sad events of the past are presented together with the commemorative present to illustrate the unity of suffering and joy which has been the reality of the Church for two millennia.
THE GREAT PURGE 1937 - 1938
Following the collapse of Imperial Russia in 1917, the end of the Romanov dynasty and the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution, civil war between the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin and the remnants of the forces loyal to the old regime contended in a vicious struggle which lasted four years. In the early 1920ies, following Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin succeeded in the leadership of the Communist party and state and moved quickly to consolidate power in competition with his rival, Leon Trotsky. By 1927 Trotsky was defeated and in exile while Stalin and his supporters moved to assert power in all areas of the Soviet Union. The new Soviet order had eliminated the previously existing ruling classes and substituted the social and political regime of rule by the Communist party as vanguard of the proletariat and defender of the toiling masses of workers and peasants. The Soviet legal system served not as a limitation on state power but as its instrument of oppression to push society toward the Communist ideal of a stateless, classless society.
In spite of progress in destroying the old ruling classes of monarchists, clergy, capitalists and landlords and substituting in their place the rule of the Party, Stalin remained apprehensive that his hold on power could be challenged by those in the Party and in the government who clung to the older Communist ideal of collegial rule by the Party instead of absolute rule by one man. Already by nature vicious, ruthless and paranoid and suspicious of possible challengers, the assassination in 1934 of his ally, S. M. Kirov, Leningrad Party boss and member of the Politburo and Central Committee, confirmed Stalin’s suspicions that his enemies were everywhere. He set about to reorganize the entire state apparatus of compulsion - intelligence, army and secret police - to consolidate under him directly the means by which he could liquidate the enemies of Party and state. Toward that end he created the NKVD under the direction of his toady, N. I. Ezhov,  which would be the collector of intelligence, the prosecutor of alleged crimes, the tribunals for passing on guilt, and the executioner of the condemned. Although the purges were initially directed against Party members and those in the bureaucracy and intelligentsia, they spread to other segments of the population deemed to be counterrevolutionary including, of course, remaining members of the Orthodox clergy.
Soon after the death of Kirov, the first purges began. A purge in the Soviet context or chistka means cleansing and was a process of removing individuals from the Party, the government, and more broadly, the populace in an ongoing struggle for power, to rid the Party and government of people whose revolutionary ardor had slackened and the population of those who were deemed counterrevolutionary or tending toward the same. Thus entire classes of people fell under the axe – clergy, peasants, high ranking military officers, monarchists, artists, writers and old Bolsheviks. Both Lenin and Stalin believed in the efficacy of purges, but Stalin’s purges were far more ruthless and sweeping. The purge, like the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, fed on itself. In a society founded on lies, denunciations and treachery, the midnight knock on the door, the speedy ride to Lubyanka Prison, the interrogations, torture, forced confessions, the ten-minute hearing followed by the verdicts from which there was no appeal, the transport to slow death in the Gulag or to quick death in the killing grounds of Butovo were the norms. The years 1937 – 1938 were the worst. Terror was universal. By the end of 1938 the Great Purge had run its course and from then until the advent of World War II a false calm settled upon a people brought to the nadir of despair. 
From the end of the 1930ies through World War II until Stalin’s death the purge was used less frequently. During the war it found application in the removal of whole populations of non-Slavs, believed to be German sympathizers, to Siberia and after the war Soviet soldiers who had been prisoners of war in Germany were transported to the Gulag. The post-Stalin leadership was incompetent at best but far less paranoid in its treatment of the Soviet populace. The ill treatment of the Church, however, continued. By 1939 the institutional Church had virtually ceased to exist. Only four bishops were free and very few churches were open for worship. By the 1980ies it became clear to many that the empire which Lenin and Stalin had built was moribund. A warm wind blew across Russia bringing perestroika and glasnost under the new leadership of Michail Gorbachov. Slowly the Orthodox faithful and clergy in hiding began to emerge to claim relief in the evolving new order. The churches which remained began to fill and chants of praise were heard again in the land. But the reforms of Gorbachov came too slowly and too late. Finally the Bolshevik Interregnum ended in 1991 as it had begun – quickly.
The new Russian state and the Orthodox Church found themselves faced by unanticipated challenges. The economy had collapsed, the state had no money to pay essential expenses, the Soviet Empire was partitioned into its constituent ethnic parts and the Church was but a pale image of its pre-revolutionary self. The old ruling classes of pre-revolutionary Russia were gone. Only the Church survived. To rebuild post-Soviet Russia would require great efforts by the remaining institutions of society, Church and state, which were now co-equal.
In Butovo the flesh of the victims of the Great Purge had returned long ago to nature but the moldering bones in the mass graves still hold up the mounds of earth in silent protest to the sky. Decades after the wailing of the condemned and dying had ceased, there was new motion in the little town south of Moscow. The Church hierarchy and the faithful were intent on recalling to memory eternal that which had transpired there in the 1930ies. Throughout Russia old churches in ruins have been renovated or rebuilt and splendid temples beneath golden domes began to appear.  In Butovo too a magnificent new temple of white stone was constructed near the burial grounds of the Great Purge. Where once fields and forest sheltered grave mounds in silence, bells now summon the faithful to worship; icons commemorating the saints, martyrs, confessors and passion-bearers of Russia decorate the nave and reflect the soft glow of burning candles; fragrant incense ascends as chanting priests in gold-brocaded vestments and the faithful move about in the appointed rituals of solemn liturgy – in eternal memory of those who perished in Butovo long ago.
RE-UNION OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
ALEXIS II BLESSES FAITHFUL
CLERGY IN PROCESSION
PATRIARCH ALEXIS AND METROPOLITAN LAURUS
ALEXIS AND LAURUS ANOINT ALTAR
This re-union was not a return to the ecclesial status quo which existed before the Bolshevik Revolution. Under the agreement, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia remains independent in the conduct of its internal affairs subject to its own Council of Bishops. Its metropolitan and bishops will continue to be elected by the Council of Bishops subject to confirmation by the Patriarch. The Council of Bishops will have the authority to create or liquidate dioceses in agreement with the Patriarch. Both ecclesial bodies will include the hierarchs of the other in the diptychs. Church Abroad hierarchs may participate in the meetings of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate. And the Patriarch will be the chief prelate of both ecclesial bodies empowered to hear appeals to resolve conflicts wherever they arise.
An analysis of the post-Bolshevik Russian Orthodox Church is not without paradox which can only be resolved in the context of Russian history. First the Church responded to its triumph over its enemies by reasserting its traditional role in Russian society as the Church in and of Russia and sole moral arbiter in the nation to the exclusion of all other Churches and ecclesial bodies which it regards as foreign imports. Assured of Christ’s promise that He would remain with the Church for all time and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it, the Russian Church moved to claim a role as co-equal with the state, having traversed the past millennium on parallel tracks with the state but now fully independent to manage its own affairs in symbiotic relationship with the state. Having just vanquished its worst enemy, the Church found itself again under assault from the West as swarms of foreign religious hucksters in the person of Evangelical Protestants invaded Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in an effort to convert the Russians to the Evangelicals’ salvifically presumptuous religion. Church and state reacted with alarm and in cooperation. Visas were denied the invaders and those who were already in the country had their visa renewal requests rejected. [footnote 4] Today this new ideological invasion from the West is under control. As the Church reasserts its ancient role in Russian society and faces the future, it remains haunted by and seeks to exorcise ghosts from the past including remnants of judeophobia, anti-Westernism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and neo-fascist reaction.
In addition to its triumphal response to its victory over the Soviet past the Russian Church is also repentant for having failed in its role as moral arbiter of Russian society to address adequately the challenges of the Bolshevik Interregnum. Triumph and repentance are not necessarily contradictory. On the contrary in Russia they appear to be complimentary. Thus the allocation of vast resources to rebuild old churches and construct new ones, all with application of a full panoply of rich aesthetics seemingly unrestrained by considerations of costs or budget, demonstrates to us not only the Church’s ostentatious or triumphal rejection of its Bolshevik enemies and victory over them, but also the intent to compensate for its inadequacies in the past. The joy of victory explicit in the post-catacombs history of the Early Church and manifest in Russia today is accompanied by a profound sorrow in confronting the past, begging and receiving forgiveness, and turning away to face a different and better future.
There are many in the West, Orthodox, Catholics and others, who are reluctant to accept as sincere the Russian Church’s efforts to account for its role in aiding the state during the Bolshevik Interregnum. Such reluctance approaches, in our opinion, a level of righteous indignation accompanied by a refusal to forgive. In response, we suggest that such reluctance may be inappropriate, for the proper response of Christians to the sins of others is always forgiveness and compassion, as Christ mandated in Matt. 7: 1-5. Moreover, those of us who live in free societies and who have never experienced Soviet tyranny should avoid passing judgment on others who have suffered and survived, albeit much diminished, for in spite of numerous adversities throughout their history, the Russians have learned to suffer and to survive where others may well have succumbed. As the Russian Church moves into the future, its links to the Soviet past will fade, as should also the objections of its protagonists.  And for those whose bones lay beneath the mounds at Butovo we close our page with this prayer:
In blessed repose, grant, O Lord,
eternal rest to the souls of Your
servants and remember them
2) In the 1930ies and 1940ies, American liberals who shared the Bolsheviks’ commitment to Marxist materialism without the Hegelian dialectic, strove mightily to defend their ideological brethren in the Soviet Union from criticism. In the media, academia, the entertainment industry and elsewhere they promoted the Soviet experiment as the wave of the future and best guaranty for securing for the masses social equality, the abolishment of exploitation by the bourgeoisie, social justice, and material and cultural progress. Their reaction to the purges in Russia was to deny or to justify them as necessary to achieve the objectives of the Revolution as expressed in their mantra: “One cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
3) See http://www.byzantines.net/epiphany/christsavior.htm and http://www.byzantines.net/byzcathculture/churchonblood.html As we have stated elsewhere, we are impressed by the generous allocation of assets to the renovation, repair and construction of churches in Russia. When compared to new church expenditures in Western countries, including the US, such efforts are extraordinary and, we suspect, are due to the higher priorities which the Russians place on their divine aspirations expressed through their culture and church architecture. Many of these restored and new churches wherein the martyrs, confessors and passion-bearers of Russia are venerated demonstrate the close affinity of triumph and repentance in the Russian mind.
4) Many Americans find the defensive policies of the Russian Church and state that reject the efforts of foreigners to remake Russian society in their image appalling. The collapse of the Soviet Union convinced American policy-makers that the ideology of democratic liberalism had triumphed globally and hence is universally valid. America, always a missionary nation of messianic Evangelical Protestantism, the so-called “city on the hill”, believes that the non-Western peoples of the world should commit themselves to Western, viz. American values of democracy, free markets, asocial capitalism, limited government, human rights, individualism, and the rule of law as if the same were universal verities akin to the laws of nature and/or derived from divine revelation, and that others should incorporate them into their institutions. We define our interests as those of the “world community”, viz. the so-called free world i. e. countries whose policies are similar to those of the US. This American universalism is elsewhere widely rejected as imperialist and presumptuous. Many Americans including our policy-makers fail to appreciate that other much older civilizations such as Russia have their own values which they strive to defend against American pretensions and this is clearly manifest in their rejection of much that the US seeks to impose on them often with negative results. Tragically, America’s faith-based fantasies enunciated by its governing elite are the foundation of a foreign policy which has accomplished little but alienate most of the world. We recommend to our readers the book, THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS by Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, 1996, ISBN: 0684811642
5) On a cold, dark day in November 1950, at the age of 20, the author rode his bicycle from Bogenhausen, where he lived at that time, to Dachau, a small village northwest of Munich, to visit the first concentration camp organized in 1933 by the new Nazi fascist regime of Adolf Hitler. Here were gathered the political enemies of the Third Reich who had resisted Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Within a few years the killings began. The accused were shot or gassed and thrown into pits which were covered over by the displaced soil. In the years thereafter the soil settled slowly but the burial mounds remained clearly visible reaching 4 – 5 feet above the surrounding ground. When in May 2007 the author learned of the mounds of Butovo, a suburb south of Moscow, his recollections traveled eastward. Stalin’s purges of the 30ies had left across the landscape of Butovo familiar burial mounds. Dachau and Butovo, while different in time and space, tell the same story of tyranny. The repentant Germans responded to the atrocities at Dachau by preserving and maintaining the concentration camp at Dachau as a perpetual memorial to the people who died there, while in Russia repentant Russians replied similarly by constructing at the killing grounds of Butovo a beautiful white temple in eternal memory of the victims of the Great Purge. Through their respective histories, Dachua and Butovo demonstrate that the victims of tyranny will not be forgotten. No, they shall continue to call for justice long after the mounds have eroded away