For nearly 70 years, the Soviet Union, driven by a Marxist-Lenin ideology of state atheism, did all it could to stamp out all forms of worship and reference to God throughout the socialist republics.
This perilous history of religious persecution of church bishops and priests, and confiscation of church property, prompted former President Ronald Reagan — in a 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals — to refer to the atheistic system as the evil empire.
“They must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards, we will never give away our freedom, we will never abandon our belief in God,” Reagan said to a standing ovation of the gathered religious leaders. “Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness, pray they will discover the joy of knowing God.
“But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on earth,” Reagan concluded, “they are the focus of evil in the modern world.”
Now, more than twenty years after the collapse of this system, Russia is witnessing an upsurge in traditional religions while some say spirituality is on the decline in America.
And the unlikely Russian “defender of the faiths” is none other than former KGB agent and President Vladimir Putin.
Putin, who serves as the Prime Minister of Russia, is seeking a third term as President on March 4, and is relying on religion as a key foreign policy strategy to embrace Christians, Muslims and other traditional faiths while being critical of the West.
“Much has been done to restore religious organizations and help them develop in the last 10 years, and even earlier, starting from the early 1990s,” Putin said in a recent meeting with the spiritual leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“But years before this upsurge of our traditional religions, the state had inflicted such powerful damage on their organizations that it is probably still indebted to the Church and our traditional religions.”
Throughout Russia, churches, synagogues and mosques are being built at a higher rate than at any other time in the country’s history. Church-sponsored educational youth programs and charity systems have been organized and continue to grow.
Meanwhile, leaders of these faiths — and, increasingly the Russian population — are sounding the praises of religious liberty in a land where brutality and spiritual darkness were the order of the day.
“What happened in this country has never happened anywhere else in history,” the Russian Orthodox Church leader said at the Feb. 1 meeting with Putin. “The religious life of an enormous nation lay in ruins…but it has since flourished.”
A Feb. 8 Reuters report quoted the Russian Church leader describing Putin’s 12-year leadership as a “miracle of God.”
The same article quoted an Islamic scholar — Russia has a significant and restive population of Muslims — as wishing Putin continued success.
“Muslims know you, Muslims trust you, Muslims are wishing you success,” the scholar said. “You are the only person who has shown the United States its place.”
In a Feb. 12 article by The Christian Post, Putin reportedly vowed to take up the crusade of persecuted Christians around the world.
“You needn’t have any doubt that that’s the way it will be,” Putin remarked.
Russia recently made news when it joined China in blocking a vote at the United Nations that would have forced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down after months of fighting and bloodshed with opposition forces.
Assad belongs to a minority sect of Islam, and shares that distinction with Christians in Syria.
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