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The Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church

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The contribution of religious organisations to the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945

In 2015, it will be 70 years since the end of the bloodiest military conflict of all times and nations – the Second World War. During the fighting, due to bombing, shelling, hunger, and inside the camps, almost 70 million people died. The losses of the Soviet Union, according to official data, amounted to 26.6 million people, with a significant part of the dead, more than half, made up of the civilian population of the country.

Such great losses of the country, especially in the early years of the war, were caused not only by the extreme cruelty of hostilities, but also, as it turned out, by the lack of readiness of the Soviet Union for a military conflict of such magnitude. In the pre-war years, mass political repressions were occurring within the country. They struck not only the so-called “counter-revolutionary classes”: the peasantry, the clergy, the Cossacks, but also the Soviet administrative, party and military institutions themselves. Marshal Vasilevsky later wrote: “Were the thirty-seventh year to be excluded, perhaps there would have been no war at all in the forty-first year. The fact that Hitler decided to start a war in the forty-first year, was owing in large part to an assessment of the degree of devastation of the military cadres that occurred in our country.”

In the second half of the 1930s, the majority of Old-believers’ clergymen were repressed and in 1937–1938, a campaign of closure and destruction of churches swept the country. As a rule, to make this process irreversible, church buildings were blown up.

Following the German attack on the USSR and the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the Old-believers, as in 1812 and 1914, defended the Homeland.

Already in the first days of the war, the Old-believers’ Archdiocese appealed to their children to stand up to fight the enemy: “In the silence of the night, when the peaceful Russian people slept, the locusts attacked them. Free and peace-loving small peoples of European countries had drowned in blood, were turned into slaves and abused by evil. The great sorrow, the weeping of the elderly, children and mothers shudders the whole world…

The time has come, the hour has come for each faithful Old-believer to direct all his strength and thoughts to battle the raging enemy and, without sparing their stomach, to stand up for their sincere friends, to defend their great, peaceful and beautiful Motherland!

Let us make the sign of the Cross, and by the examples of previous years, by the examples of our holy warriors, with the blessings and prayers of all the saints, and I bless you for the feats of war.

May the sword of victory be in your hands, you who smash the foreign enemy!”

In 1942, in one of the most difficult periods of the war, the head of the Church, archbishop Irinarkh, addressed the residents of the occupied territories with a message. In it he said: “Beloved children of the Old-believers’ Church of Christ, who are in German captivity and occupation… From the centre of the Old Belief – from glorious Moscow, from the Rogozhskoe outpost – I, your archpastor and devotee before God, appeal to you with words of consolation and hope and a call to render all kinds of opposition against the enemy. Help the partisans, join their ranks, be worthy of your ancestors who fought for their holy Rus’. Remember how our illustrious ancestors, driven by love for their homeland, all as one, with pitchforks and spears destroyed and drove from their land twelve nations ​​of a proud conqueror. And how many of them left Russia? A pathetic bunch! The liberation of our motherland from the primordial enemy and destroyer of the Russian people – the German – is a national holy cause. Help our army to exterminate and drive the enemy from our sacred land and thereby bring about the joyful hour of our reunion with you.”

One million two hundred thousand roubles were collected by the Archdiocese of Moscow and All Rus’ for the defence of the country. The amount, perhaps, on a national scale is small, but we remember how highly Christ regarded the widow’s contribution. “It brought tears to the eyes to see, with what readiness, with what ardent impulse, hands were stretched forth to the collection plate ‘For the Defence of the Motherland’, in order to place upon it their hard-earned contribution within their means”, recalls the secretary of the Archdiocese Galina Marinicheva about the services in the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Theotokos during wartime.

Too many did not return from the front. During the war years, many thousands of Old-believers fell on the battlefield, defending the Homeland, died of starvation and disease. In the winter of 1942–1943, bishop Paisius (Petrov) died of typhus and protopriest Andrew Popov was shot dead in occupied Rzhev by the German invaders.

Old-believers’ bishop Irinarkh of Kiev-Vinnytsia (Vologzhanin), protopriest Marcellus Kuznetsov (Kaluga), Lazarus Turchenkov (Ivanovo, Rzhev) and others were awarded with medals ‘For Valiant Effort in the Great Patriotic War’, and bishop Alexander (Chunin) of the Volga-Don and the Caucasus received medals ‘For the defence of Stalingrad’ and ‘For the victory over Germany’. The legendary scout Nicholas Kuznetsov originated from an Old-believers’ family…

After graduating from school, the future archbishop John (Vitushkin) worked as a welder for 16 hours a day at the Yaroslavl steam engine repair plant, where armoured trains were produced and repaired. Continuous welding work almost deprived the future archbishop of his sight. At 24, he became disabled in the second category and only through prayers to the Lord was the young man healed.

All four years, archbishop Irinarkh (Parthenov) and bishop Gerontius (Lakomkin) addressed their flocks with a patriotic sermon. It was verbal, from the ambo of the church, and was distributed in the form of leaflets throughout parishes – those already liberated and those captured by the enemy. Saints Alexander Nevsky, Sergius of Radonezh, patriarch Hermogenes, Dmitry Donskoy, Kozma Minin, Dmitry Pozharsky – these names, with which the Old-believers are vitally connected, inspired to military labour and feats of battle.

In 1943, changes began in the attitude of the Soviet authorities toward religious associations. Patriotism played a significant role in this, which manifested itself in the faithful during the most difficult period of the war.

I should note that the leniencies toward the Old-believers’ Church were very minor. By the end of the war, some priests were released from imprisonment. In 1945, the publication of the church calendar of the RPSC resumed. On the other hand, the church buildings seized in the 30s were not returned. It was not allowed to start the publication of the journal ‘Bulletin of the Moscow Archdiocese’.

I, for one, wanted to share my thoughts about the results and lessons of the Second World War and its significance both for the whole world and for the destinies of our country and our people. Today it is very important to speak on this topic, because we are witnessing an ideological review of the outcome of this bloody conflict among the nations on earth in recent decades.

The first lesson is that you cannot pacify and support countries and regimes that profess a misanthropic ideology, in this case German Nazism. Sooner or later, such a regime will instigate wars and disasters for many people.

The second lesson is that the state should never take punitive measures, nor stage persecutions against the indigenous classes of society, including traditional religious groups.

Third, patriotic education should be developed, along with respect for the memory of our ancestors, for the spiritual, cultural and historical values ​​of our country.

Fourthly, in order to preserve peace, it is necessary to strengthen the system of international security on the one hand, and the state’s defensive capability on the other.

Let us remember that not only the army and navy, rockets and aircraft, the latest weapons and military talent protect the country from its enemies. Sometimes circumstances seemed hopeless and it seemed that everything was over. But the Russian people, frantic from the impudence of the enemy, rose and stood up to their full height and resolutely cleared their land of the foreign foe, of the hated enemy.

In the battles for the Russian land, our ancestors, the Old-believers, covered themselves in eternal glory. The Old-believers are those simple people that always constituted the glory and honour of Russia, its historical memory and pride, the golden reserve of our culture. No wonder A.I. Solzhenitsyn called the Orthodox Old-believers “the best part of his tribe”.

Turning to the history of the Old-believers, you can find the answer to the question of what can unite the Russian people and contribute to its spiritual and moral revival – the return to the Orthodox faith, preserved by the Old-believers, is where the soul of our people lies, the basis of morality, along with the material revival of Russia and the revival of the Russian spirit!