The Persecution of Christians in Bolshevik Russia

The Persecution of Christians in Bolshevik Russia

Hungarian Report from 1933

Following the Bolshevik “Revolution” (coup d’état) of 1917, the Christian Church was severely persecuted in Russia. The following excerpt is just a small contribution to the information already available on this subject. This excerpt from an article entitled “Protestant World Report” written by Hungarian university professor Károly Karner, which appeared in the Hungarian Protestant Almanac of 1933, reports on the condition of the Protestant Church in Russia. Just a small part of the Russian Christians was Protestant, but we can infer from the information presented that the more extensive Orthodox Church suffered a much greater loss.

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…In the same context, we shall at least refer to the situation that emerged in Russia after the fall of the Czar, as far as it concerned Protestantism. The nations living on the west border of the empire declared their independence in the midst of the revolutionary turmoil which started in the spring of 1917 and turned the old Russian Empire upside down. This process was relatively peaceful in Finland, and the order was reestablished quickly. The Finns were almost exclusively Lutheran, and the independent Finnish Evangelical Church adapted to the new circumstances quite easily. The inhabitants of the so called Baltic Provinces endured much more hardships: the cruelties of the war, since the territories of these provinces were battle-fields, and the cruelties of the emerging Bolshevik power. The old German nobility had mainly been Lutheran and there was also a high percentage of Lutherans in the populations of these provinces. The revolutionary turmoil devastated these countries: most of the German nobility was killed by the agitated masses, others had to flee, and there are only a few of them remaining today. The reign of the Bolsheviks, though temporary, caused a lot of harm to these people. During those few months, the Bolshevism in Latvia degenerated into the persecution of the Lutheran Church. Eight Lutheran pastors were martyred in Riga and 23 more in the countryside by the Bolsheviks during 1918–1919. At the same time, eight other pastors died due to persecution. With death-defying courage, these confessors bore witness to the truth of the apostle’s words: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21). Their martyrdom clearly showed the power of the Gospel. Be their memory blessed by those reading these words. Since the rebels, united with German irregular troops, drove out the Bolshevik army from the Baltic States in May, 1919, the situation has stabilized and the Church started her mission again.

Although following critical times, the regular work of the Church could start again in all these countries. But in Soviet Russia, Christianity, including Protestantism, is still in a critical condition…

Since the Soviets overcame the inner crisis originating in the so called “warlike communism”, they are relentless in their fight for a communist state. And in that state there’s no room for Christianity or other religions.

This is why the persecution of Christians started with increased efforts in the spring of 1929. The religious work of the Church was hindered by laws and government decrees. The educational function of the Church was completely abolished. The clergy and lay workers were persecuted by the police, and they had to pay high taxes. A decree issued on April 8, 1929 forbade all forms of religious propaganda and made even the most minimal and restrained charitable work of the Church impossible. This meant that all religious activity was repressed. The decree was followed by further seizures of churches, the imprisonment, and in many cases the exile or the martyrdom of the pastors. The Protestant Church already suffered a lot during the first years of the revolution, but as a result of these decrees its situation became almost hopeless. Most of the congregations perished or faded away due to persecution. A great number of pastors were martyred and there is no reinforcement. We do not have concrete figures for it is impossible to gather statistical information about the Church, and it is generally difficult to obtain reliable information on the events happening in Russia. However, we can get an idea of the extent of the destruction if we consider that there were 1,200,000 protestants living in pre-war Russia, and their number was 900,000 even before the persecution wave of 1929. But professor Elert from Erlangen stated in 1929 that the number of Russian Lutherans barely reached 600,000 (“Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart”, 2nd ed., III, p.1785)—this number could have greatly decreased since then.