Historically, the predominant religion in Russia is Russian Orthodoxy, a branch of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. (Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism were divided in the Great Schism of 1054.) Russia became a Communist totalitarian state with the revolution of 1917. The militant atheism imposed by the government persecuted all religious beliefs. The Communists destroyed thousands of churches (mostly Russian Orthodox); all but two Catholic parishes were liquidated, the buildings being destroyed or converted to other uses (e.g., archives, animal stables, libraries, museums—even museums of atheism). The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and the Communist Party was outlawed 1991-95.
Religion in General during the Communist Period (1917-91)
In the first twenty years of Communism (1917-37), Russian Orthodoxy, the predominant faith in Russia, was persecuted almost to extinction. Hundreds of thousands of priests, sisters, and brothers were murdered by Communist government agents. The surviving remnant of Russian Orthodoxy was allowed to exist under Communist totalitarian control to help rally the people to fight the Nazi German invasion in 1939.
Some churches were allowed to stay open if they were licensed by the Communist government, but they were very restricted in what they could do: they could celebrate liturgies and the sacraments, but they could not teach religion, either to children or to adults. The Orthodox Church became a highly regulated organ of the Soviet government, with all newly ordained priests and bishops becoming agents or cooperators of the Secret Police (KGB). The sacraments of baptism and marriage, as well as funerals, were usually performed only upon payment of substantial fees.
All children were forced to learn and believe atheism as scientific truth in all levels of school and in all youth organizations. No private schools or clubs were allowed. The harsh religious persecution and the Stalin terror (1927-52) made parents afraid to tell their children about God.
Between 1917 and 1937, more than 50 million people were murdered by KGB extermination squads or in death camps, and 8 million people starved to death in man-made famines designed to consolidate Communist power. All land was confiscated by the state. (Most of the pre-Revolutionary church property had not been returned to church ownership by 2002.)
Within two generations, Russia became a predominantly atheistic society. When freedom of religion was returned in 1991, fewer than 25% of the population was baptized; even today, fewer than 0.50% (one-half of one percent) practice any faith at all.
Religion in Vladivostok before and after Communism
Before the Communist revolution, Vladivostok was home to 36 religious parish organizations, primarily Russian Orthodox, but also Protestant, Catholic, and Buddhist. After 1922 (only five years after the Communist revolution) only one Russian Orthodox church remained in the city. Approximately 28 church buildings were destroyed, and the remainder, including Most Holy Mother of God Catholic Church, were converted to be used for other functions:
The lone Russian Orthodox Church that had been allowed to remain open was closed in the early 1960s, leaving the entire city of Vladivostok without a single church.
Roman Catholic Hierarchy Reestablished in Russia
In April 1991 Pope John Paul II restored the hierarchy for the first time since 1923 by naming two new bishops for Russia: Archbishop Thaddeus Kondrusewicz (for the European part of Russia, with center in Moscow), and Bishop Joseph Werth, S.J. (first Apostolic Administrator of the Asian part of Russia, with center in Novosibirsk, Siberia, 4,000 miles northwest of Vladivostok). At the time of the appointments, Vladivostok was located in Bishop Werth's jurisdiction.
Four new dioceses were established by Pope John Paul II in February 2002:
Approximately 200 priests work in the four dioceses; 85 percent of them are foreign citizens, mainly Polish, Slovakian, American, or Italian.
The Growing Church in Russia
As of 2002, there were about 350 Catholic parishes in all of Russia, compared to only 2 in 1989 (one in Moscow and one in St. Petersburg, which were kept open only because they were the property of the French government, who insisted that they be kept open—some years there were no priests to serve in them). A two-year pre-seminary program is in place in Novosibirsk, staffed by the Jesuits, and the Theological College of St. Thomas Aquinas (for laity) in Moscow has been established, with affiliates in St. Petersburg, Kalinigrad, Novosibirsk, Sartov, and Orenburg. A Catholic weekly newspaper is now published, and there are several monthly and quarterly Catholic publications, as well as a few publishing groups (the Daughters of St. Paul have a book store in the center of Moscow). The KANA Catholic Video Programming Center operates in Novosibirsk (sponsored by the Jesuits), and there are two Catholic radio stations, one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow.
Most Reverend Cyril Klimovich, D. D.
Bishop Klimovich was born in Kazakhstan and has served as assistant
bishop in the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mogelov, Bylorus, which before the
Russian Revolution, was the diocese for all of Russia. He is the bishop
for the region where Mary Mother of God Mission society is located in the
Primorye Krai region.
Copyright © 2007 Mary Mother of God Mission Society