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The Influence of the Orthodox Church on the History and Culture of Eastern Europe
In the 1970s Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer, an Orthodox Christian, spoke of Russia's future emergence from "under the rubble" of communism. Today we are witnessing the difficult exit of the countries of central and eastern Europe from the communist totalitarian system. We see, in each case, the painful emergence "from under the rubble" of communism.
This rubble is not simply the result of the collapse of communism. It is primarily, in fact, the result of the effort to create communism. The stated goal of the communist ideology was the creation of a perfectly just society. The actual result was the creation of totalitarian dictatorship maintained in power by police-state methods. To build communist society, according to the communist ideology, required the demolition of the pre-communist social structures, values, and ideals. Religion was a special object of this demolition campaign.
All religion was considered to be ideologically unsuitable to the building of communism. All those who professed religious faith were treated as second or third-class citizens, and were subject to discrimination (always) and to persecution (often).
In the United States many are aware of the key role of the Roman Catholic Church, and especially of Pope John Paul II, in standing up to the communist dictatorship in Poland. It was the cooperation of the Roman Catholic Church with the movement of workers and intellectuals called Solidarity which finally brought down communist dictatorship in Poland.
Not so many in the United States are fully aware of the history of Eastern Orthodoxy in central and eastern Europe during the communist decades. This is due partly to the general lack of knowledge about Eastern Orthodoxy among American Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Most American Christians tend to think denominationally, thus seeing the various Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Orthodox churches as denominations. The Orthodox, on the other hand, see the Christianity of the west, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, as two sides of the same coin historically. Timothy Ware, in his book The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 1983), puts it well in the following passage:
... Western Christians, whether Free Churchmen, Anglicans,
or Roman Catholics, have a common background
in the past. All alike (although they may not
always care to admit it) have been profoundly influenced
by the same events: by the Papal centralization
and the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages, by the Renaissance,
by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
But behind members of the Orthodox Church--Greeks,
Russians, and the rest--there lies a very different
background. They have known no Middle Ages
(in the western sense) and have undergone no Reformations
or Counter-Reformations; they have only been
affected in an oblique way by the cultural and religious
upheaval which transformed western Europe in