I know it’s late to be posting anything new, but I did some thinking while having to write my final essay about my experience in Russia, and I felt like I should share some of the things I learned. Here is an excerpt from my paper:
Henri Nouwen, the author of The Return of the Prodigal Son, found great spiritual significance in Rembrandt’s similarly-named painting. In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen spent years studying and contemplating the painting and finding himself in the painting in a number of ways. While I did have the opportunity to see Rembrandt’s painting and did not garner any great spiritual lesson from it myself, I was able to find spiritual significance somewhere else – in the history of the Russian Christian churches.
When we first arrived, I was aware of the oppression of the church during the Soviet era, but I viewed the oppression as something that had passed, and I didn’t really think about the tremendous effect that it had on the church today. Once we arrived in Russia, that all changed. What I found was a story of God’s unfailing faithfulness – his promise to never leave of forsake his people. In the few opportunities I had to speak with Russian Christians, particularly those of the older generation, I saw people of God who had endured tremendous hardship and had seen the desecration of their buildings and belittling of their faith. I saw strength, a deep strength, rooted in a heart subservient to God through all trials, a strength that I know I don’t possess, but one that I deeply admire.
When we had the opportunity to speak to Stefan, the Orthodox priest who gave us a tour of the seminary, he described to us how he had walked through the Kazan Cathedral during the 1970s when it had been converted into a museum of atheism, and my heart ached to hear that such a beautiful building dedicated to the Lord could be defiled in such a way. If the government wanted to build a museum of atheism, then they should be allowed to do so, but why build it in a church? Why spit in the faces of the faithful in such a way? I was nearly in tears when I saw the protestant church that had been converted into a public pool before being returned to the Church.
The scars of Soviet oppression are all over the Church in Russia, but somehow, the faith did not die. God was there, even when his churches were being torn down and misused, even when his people had to live cautiously for their possession of a bible, even when it seemed that God had abandoned the church, he was there. I saw it in the eyes of the old woman who came up to me after church to thank me for coming to her country. I saw it in the eyes of the Orthodox priest who told us about his life during the Soviet times. I saw it in the eyes of Dr. Negrov as he discussed the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberation of the Church. Christianity did not come back to Russia, it never left. We take so much for granted.