The Russian Orthodox Church and ‘Patriotic’ Support for the Stalinist Regime during the Great Patriotic War
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Soviet wartime propaganda and contemporary Russian work on the activities of the Orthodox Church during the war promote the Church's claim that it was motivated by patriotism, a point it used to claim legitimacy in the USSR and now in contemporary Russia. In contrast, this paper argues that the hierarchs and laity of the Patriarchal Church were not essentially motivated by patriotism or the desire to show loyalty to the Soviet regime in 1941, but instead acted to use the war to achieve three goals: first and most important, to become relevant in the everyday life of the Soviet people by promoting Christian beliefs and values; second, to earn legitimacy in the eyes of anticlerics and non-believers by lending moral and practical support to the war effort; and finally, to obtain legal standing by showing its trustworthiness and loyalty through displays of Russian (not Soviet) patriotism consonant with its historic role, all the while without endorsing communist ideology. The hierarchs orchestrated a campaign from the top down throughout the clerical hierarchy, to achieve the aforementioned goals whilst from below the faithful, independently of the hierarchs, used their local displays of patriotism as leverage to reopen local churches and to force the regime to respect their right to worship. The grassroots response by believers and parish clerics in support of the Church and its wartime activities represents primarily an endorsement of the Church, Christianity, Russian patriotism, and only secondarily, if at all, loyalty to the Stalinist regime. © 2014 School of Humanities & Social Sciences, The University of New South Wales.
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