Protopriest Victor Potapov:
Stalin Did Not Resurrect the Church, He Exploited It
Protopriest Victor Potapov, Rector of St John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington, DC, a clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, discusses the rehabilitation of Stalin.
I never lived in Russia, but I remember how as a child my grandparents told me about the horrors Stalin wrought upon our much-suffering people; I was raised on these stories. Later, as I matured and began reading about the recent history of Russia, I became convinced that they spoke the truth. During my time in seminary, we students had profound reverence for the New Martyrs of Russia, having learned the terrifying details of their sufferings. It was always apparent to me that Stalin was a tyrant, one of the great terrible tyrants of the 20th century: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung and others.
I worked for Voice of America, and broadcast material on the repressions, painstakingly researching everything we broadcast. I never doubted the reality of the role Stalin played in Russia. That is why I am appalled now with the amnesia of some Russian people, because many who remember those who died during the repressions-their relatives and friends-are still alive. How can there be any nostalgia in the 21st century for those times? Tens of millions were killed during the repressions.
I visited Butovo Square even before the Cathedral to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors was built, and I learned yet more about the mass executions that took place there. Several hundred people were shot there every day. Executing 200-300 people a day is simply incomprehensible to a normal person. An old archpastor, Metropolitan Serafim (Chichagov) of Petrograd was taken by the Chekists to Butovo in an ambulance, and then taken by stretcher to his place of execution-this was the madness of the regime at the time!
The second time I went to Butovo Square was in 2007, when the cathedral was solemnly consecrated by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and the First Hierarch of ROCOR, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus. Not one of the representatives of the Church Abroad present could imagine that the day would come when people in Russia would attempt to rehabilitate the name of Stalin.
His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev) was absolutely correct in his authoritative statement that Stalin was a tyrant, and that Russia’ victory during the Great War of the Fatherland should be credited to the Russian people and not Stalin. There were mass repressions in the 1930’s-the entire staff of generals, the very best of the Russian Army, was annihilated. And yet Russia, despite enormous losses, won the war, because the people defended their Fatherland. Of course, many were sent to die for Stalin, but few were inspired by his personality, recognizing him as an executioner. No, people died for their homeland.
Various myths about Stalin are spreading, one in particular, that he reestablished Church life in Russia. Yet Stalin restored the image of the Church in order to exploit her, to use the Church to elevate patriotism during the war-this is blatantly obvious.
Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) first appealed to the people with the words “brothers and sisters” in the beginning of the war, and Stalin simply appropriated the expression. In Western Ukraine and Belarus, churches were opened on a massive scale in German-occupied territories, and Stalin could not but notice that the thousands of reopened churches elevated the people’s morale. He realized that he could exploit the Church towards his own goals. He freed bishops from prison, convened a council of bishops, and looking into the future, he knew that the Soviet people would win and could occupy Eastern Europe, and used the Church for this.
Whence this resurgence in the popularity of Stalin? Maybe it is ignorance, poor knowledge of one’s own history by a large percentage of the former Soviet Union. And this is alarming. The West is leading a campaign of propaganda against Russia, and it is hard for us Russian Americans to bear that our own compatriots give reason for it. When we are shown articles or statements by various public figures in praise of Stalin, we are distraught. We try to justify it by saying “not everyone thinks this way,” but facts are facts.
Take the published words of Bishop Avgustin of Gorodetsk and Vetluzhsk-and this is a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church! One tries to make excuses, but that is wrong. It is difficult to react calmly, without emotion, when black is turned to white.
I hope that reason ultimately prevails, and that this madness comes to an end, that courageous historians speak the truth about Stalin and help people make sense of the history of their nation. The effort to rehabilitate the persona of Stalin is a genuine assault by the enemy of our salvation upon the Russian people.
Transcribed by Maria Stroganova