Sunday, November 06, 2011


 Reprinted from TIME AND TIDE October 1945


 By Walter Zander

 IT IS SIGNIFICANT that the emancipation of the Jews on
the continent of Europe has been mainly brought about
at times of religious decline. This is equally true of
the French and the Russian revolutions. In Russia, the
Orthodox Church had allied itself so much with the
Tsarist régime that it became nearly identified with
the forces of reaction and oppression; and the demand
of political and social equality for all was left to
the secular powers. Accordingly the anti- religious
measures of the revolution in the beginning were
directed chiefly against the established Church, whilst
other groups, such as Roman Catholics, Baptists and
Jews were not equally affected. When later on, however,
the conflict between State and religion sharpened, it
extended equally to all confessional groups, and
Christians and Jews alike suffered the same fate.

 THE GREAT MAJORITY of Russian Jews had been by no
means friendly to the Communists. Many of them belonged
to the class of middlemen, shopkeepers and agents,
which was to be eliminated by the Revolution. A large
number of them were Zionists, and therefore more
interested in the establishment of a Jewish National
Home in Palestine than in a Revolution in Russia.
Moreover the religiously orthodox elements were
deterred by the official atheism. But gradually
opposition vanished. The comradeship, created by the
social Revolution, exerted a profound attraction on all
Soviet nations, and Gentiles and Jews united for the
establishment of the new society. This. new society was
based not so much on a common past, but on the common
aim which was to be realized in the future. Church and
Synagogue played no leading part in this development,
but the revolutionary forces themselves - in spite of
their proclaimed atheism - were largely nourished by
ancient messianic and prophetic longings; and there was
a sincere desire to create a universal communion in
which there would be "neither Jew nor Greek". This
development, combined with the social and economic
transformation of the country, worked towards
dissolution of the Jewish community.

 During the last years before the war, however, new
trends became apparent. Russian history came to be
recognized again as an unbroken entity. Great men of
Russia's past - not only artists, writers and
musicians, but statesmen, Tsars and even Saints - Peter
the Great and Alexander Nevsky, were reinstated as
heroes of the Russian nation; and the Soviet State
began to sink its roots into the old traditions of the
people. The war brought this development to a climax
throughout the Union. Hitler's invasion and his march
on Moscow revived the memories of Napoleonic days.
Russia became again the "Holy Motherland" which had
survived innumerable storms. The Mongols, Tartars,
Swedes and French, had come and disappeared again. Seen
from this perspective, the onslaught of the Nazis
became only one of many links in a great chain; and,
ultimately, all these assaults had led to greater glory
and renascence of "Eternal Russia".

 In this connection the rise of the Church was of
paramount importance. As early as 1934, a change of
policy towards religion had become apparent.
Anti-religious mock- processions were forbidden, the
children of the clergy were re-admitted to the higher
schools and priests themselves were re-franchised. But
there were other more dramatic changes. When in 1936
the Kamerny Theatre in Moscow produced The Knights by
Borodine, in which a modern librettist had ridiculed
Russia's Christianization by Prince Vladimir, further
performances were suppressed by the Government.*

* See N.S. Timasheff, Religion in Soviet Russia,
London. 1943.

 The derision of an event sacred to Russian history had
become incompatible with the spirit of the new time.
The Central Art Committee issued a statement that
Christianity had been one of the main factors of
Russia's civilization, and the Journal of the Militant
Atheist League declared: "The Christianization of
Russia by Prince Vladimir certainly was a progressive
act. Christianity struggled against slavery and blood
feuds, it favoured the advance of culture and laid the
foundation of Russian art and literature". Christianity
was thus recognized as a historic event equally
beneficial to the world and to Russia; and when in the
war the Orthodox Church identified itself with the
struggle of the people, the new recognition of the
Church found its visible expression in the solemn
re-election of a Patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia.
This recognition by the State is, however, only one
side of the development, and it can well be assumed
that the change of the Government's attitude is in
itself a recognition of the inherent strength of the
Christian Community in the country. History shows that
hitherto Christianity has survived all periods of
attack. How should that be different in Russia whose
whole history for a thousand years has been imbued by
religion! Even the leader of the godless movement
estimated in 1937 that, in spite of all anti-religious
activities, in the towns about one-third and on the
land about two-thirds of the adults were still
believers. It would be by no means surprising if now -
a generation after the establishment of the atheistic
society - the trend was moving in the opposite
direction, and if among the younger generation an
increasing number should be attracted again by the
daring adventures of spiritual experience.

 THE EFFECT OF these developments on the Jewish 
situation must be profound. Already the general revival
of national and traditional forces in the years before
the war had its parallel within the Jewish sphere. The
Yiddish Theatre in Moscow turned to the production of
historic plays with subjects taken from ancient Jewish
past; and the Jews began again to speak in public of
their "age of civilization". The catastrophe which the
Nazis brought upon the Jewish world has increased the
Jewish consciousness everywhere and particularly in the
east of Europe where most of the horrors have been
committed. The national and spiritual development in
the Soviet Union - with its tendency towards historical
tradition - is likely to intensify the consciousness of
their own destiny among the Jews. It will, therefore,
counteract the trend to dissolution which in the first
years of the revolution seemed overpowering. The
knowledge of the rebirth of Jewish life in Palestine
will, furthermore, strengthen this development.

 The rise of national and religious forces is bound to
affect the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. For
years their common ground had been the secular society
of the future. Now increasing stress is laid on the
past. The history of Jews and Russians is, however, not
identical, and both groups have different backgrounds
and experiences. It will need, therefore, a creative
statesmanship to avoid their drifting apart.

 Faced by a rising Christianity, the Jews have
apparently the choice between three ways Those who are
nearest to Russian life may become Christians, and thus
integrate with the great civilization in which they
live. Others may remain or become atheists, detached
from their own religious roots without being joined to
the spiritual foundations of the surrounding world. A
last group, however, will rally round those who,
through all the vicissitudes of the last decades, have
maintained the light of traditional Judaism; and
although it is not easy to regain a lost tradition,
this group will represent the core of Jewish strength.

 THE INFLUENCE OF the Eastern Church is not limited to
Russia. Since in the 15th century, Constantinople fell
to the Turks, Russia has considered herself the heir of
the Byzantine Empire and the Tsar was conceived as the
protector of the Christians and their Holy Places
against the Moslem world. This was expressed in many
wars against the Turks; and the question of the Holy
Places played even a part at the outbreak of the
Crimean war. To the Russians the "Eastern question" was
by no means limited to the acquisition of a great
harbour and the access to the seas. "it is not even the
union and re-awakening of the Slav peoples," wrote
Dostoevski in 1877. "Our task lies infinitely deeper.
We Russians are indispensable for Christendom in its
entity in the East and for the future of Orthodoxy on
earth and its union. In one word this fateful Eastern
question contains nearly the whole of our destiny. It
contains all our tasks, above all our only way into the
future of world history."

 When after the Franco-Prussian war European history
began to centre round the German danger, such thoughts
receded into the background. But a constant stream of
Russian Christian pilgrims kept the light burning.
Whoever has seen these Russian pilgrims in Jerusalem,
wrote Laurence Oliphant, a British consular official in
1880, knows which spiritual forces are here involved.
Thirty years later, Stephen Graham described how a
thousand Russian peasants, after endless wanderings,
went to Jerusalem to pray at the Holy Places and to
bathe in the Jordan. "They feel", he added, "that when
they have been in Jerusalem the serious occupations of
their life are all ended". The revolution interrupted
this development. But in January 1945 the Patriarchs of
Antiochia and Alexandria and Archbishop Athenegor of
Jerusalem were received with great honours in Moscow
where they took part in the election of the new
Patriarch of Moscow and all-Russia. A few months later
the newly elected Patriarch went to Palestine himself
and took repossession of all sanctuaries which Russia
had ever had in the Holy Land. It appears certain that
with the war at an end, the Russian Christian pilgrims
will return, and the rise of Eastern Christianity can
deeply influence the Middle East.

 Of all changes within the Soviet Union the religious
reawakening is likely to have the greatest
significance. It is the culmination of the national
revival. Christianity, as manifested in the particular
form of Eastern Orthodoxy, has given to the Russian
people that sense of mission and destiny in which every
nation must believe if it wants to survive. For
centuries Russia has seen the ultimate purpose of her
existence in the Christian salvation of the world, a
salvation of which in her opinion neither Rome nor the
Protestant Churches were capable. It is in this sphere
that the Jewish problem in the Soviet Union will
ultimately have to be faced.

Bookmark and Share
posted by u2r2h at 2:39 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home