National Geographic : 2009 Apr
bureau chief in Moscow during the last years of the Soviet state, in the 1980s, and I was back to report on the collapse of communist rule and the rise of a new Russia. It was a giddy and chaotic period, a time of confusion and great hopes---for democracy, economic freedom, and perhaps most of all, for spiritual revival. e Russian Orthodox Church was rising everywhere from the ashes of the Soviet era, and millions of Russians were rush- ing to be baptized. Most were only dimly aware of the religious signi cance of the sacrament but eager to reclaim a past and an identity that the communists had for 75 years worked to erase. Thousands of ruined churches---including those the Soviets had used as warehouses, fac- tories, or barns---were being restored to their original function, and eventually to their former splendor. e monumental Cathedral of Christ the Savior, destroyed on Stalin s orders in 1931, rose anew on the banks of the Moscow River. Believers who had gone underground during Soviet times emerged and began energetically establishing parishes, orphanages, halfway houses, and schools. ousands of men were ordained to the priesthood, and thousands more---men and women---took monastic vows, all yearning to recover a guiding faith. For almost a thousand years the Orthodox Church, with its magni cent liturgy and ico- nography, had been an integral part of Rus- sian identity and history. I was Russian enough Serge Schmemann is the author of Echoes of a Native Land: Two Centuries of a Russian Village. Gerd Ludwig frequently covers Russia for the Geographic.