“What can the church of gold give us? Russia could be fed this year and the next!”
Source: Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.
With all of the cultural changes happening during the early 1900’s, I found the changing of religion the most interesting. In history, religion, or the lack of, often has defined movements, entire governments, or even states. In this new age of Russian history, it is no different. As George Freeze states on page 335, “no Bolshevik assault on tradition could overlook religion.” This new culture coming into being didn’t really have a place for the old religion as religion had been the “opiate of the masses” and would impede scientific discovery (Freeze 335). In 1918, a decree was made that would separate church and state, but it would also nationalize church land and property (Freeze 335). The decline of the authority of the church had begun and would last several more years with acts of violence against the church and the clergy rising.
During the famine of 1921 the Bolsheviks decided this would be the perfect opportunity to undermine the authority of the church. Because the churches were generally very wealthy, the Bolsheviks demanded they turn over the precious metals and gems in order for them to be used to buy grain. However, many of the churches refused to do this, and so the Bolsheviks used this to hurt their authority by saying that the church didn’t care about the people who were starving. The picture above is one of the many posters distributed during the time that blamed the church for the famine and for not helping the people. The Bolsheviks called it the “church of gold” because of the amount of wealth it had (which also made them a threat).
On February 22, 1922, Father Tikhon issued a statement informing the public of the Bolsheviks actions in an attempt to counter the attacks coming from the party. He stated that, “the All Russian Central Executive Committee ordered for the benefit of the starving the seizure from the churches of all valuable things, the sacred objects needed for the holy rites included. From the point of view of the Church, such an act is a sacrilege, and we considered it our duty to inform all the faithful about it.”
Although the Church entered the New Economic Policy era divided and downtrodden, there was by no means a complete abolition of religion in the Soviet state. Some practices still remained, such as baptism and church ordained weddings(Freeze 337). While the power the church had certainly was diminished, the people were still not willing to fully turn away from some religious ceremonies.
I found this aspect interesting because no matter how much religious authority diminishes or how things change, it always seems that people cling to their beliefs because there always seems to be a superstition about an after-life, no matter what period of history we look at.
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