On my first trip to the then Soviet Union in 1988, I noted the following:
After this, we were given tour of the seminary (at the Monastery of Trinity-St. Sergius, outside of Moscow)museum by a seminarian. This contains historical articles of the Orthodox church of all kinds and a special section on the life and work of the Patriarch Alexis, who helped bring the Orthodox Church back to life after its near extinction by Stalin. There was a scale model of a large cathedral in Moscow built to commemorate the victory over Napoleon in 1812. Titov (our Russian agent) asked what happened to it and the seminarian replied “What happened to thousands of other churches in Russia? There is a swimming pool where that one was.”
The model was of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, then the largest Orthodox church in the world. Stalin had visions of a grandiose “Palace of Soviets,” so on 5 December 1931 he had the cathedral dynamited to rubble.
Unfortunately the regime that brought the world “scientific” socialism (and some unscientific socialism as well!) had troubles with the foundations, so the palace remained unbuilt. Under Nikita Khrushchev, the site was converted into a giant swimming pool.
With the fall of communism, the possibility once again came to rebuild the Cathedral. Work began again in 1994. Evidently now, as when it was built the first time, the foundation problems were solved, as the Cathedral was dedicated 19 August 2000, once again the largest Orthodox church in the world in the largest Orthodox country in the world.
Today we celebrate Easter, the day when we commemorate the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead simply on his own account, but so that we, believing him to be our Lord, God and Saviour, might rise with him on the last day and spend eternity with him.
In a way the story of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour mirrors that of the Saviour after whom it is named. When Stalin had the place demolished, many thought that Communism was the way of the future and that they had just blown up the past. But the “Great Patriotic War” (World War II) showed that things didn’t work quite as planned. As was explained to me twenty years ago:
Matters were at their nadir when the Second World War broke out, and when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union the demoralization of the nation was so complete that Hitler nearly succeeded in conquering the country. In its desperation Stalin’s war effort turned to the Orthodox Church and other Christian groups to help with the war effort, to revitalize the people for the war effort. This they did, and in return the Soviet government has granted the Orthodox Church and some other Christian groups limited freedom of existence and activity.
It was only a matter of time from that when the Cathedral would “rise from the pool” and many monuments to Communism would fall.
The Russians are certainly capable of fine work with both foundations and with the equipment to install those foundations. But beyond the technology and science the whole course of the Soviet Union is a reminder that we need a solid foundation of another kind before we start building (and tearing down): “For no man can lay any other foundation than the one already laid-Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) We need to keep this in mind as we face secularists that seem to be more rabid by the day. We know that the Orthodox, like everyone else, aren’t perfect, but what they have to offer is certainly a big improvement over atheism, as history has borne out.
So, with the Orthodox and others who call themselves by the name of Jesus Christ, today we lift our voice and proclaim the truth that will ring into eternity: