National Geographic : 2009 Apr
• social initiatives of the church," he says sadly. "It forces us to beg for scraps." I n o ering little or no resistance to the "dark and threatening authoritarianism" James H. Bil- lington warned of 15 years ago, the church has failed a crucial test. Yet no one who has wit- nessed the enormous love and labor that has gone into restoring churches and reviving chari- table work can doubt that something good and promising has also awakened in Russia. As I walk through an orphanage in St. Peters- burg or a restored monastery in Murom, I am amazed at the mere fact that a religion so ruth- lessly repressed for so long has been born anew. And I begin to understand why my father s dia- ries have had such resonance among many Rus- sians. e journal he kept for the last ten years of his life was a voyage through the ideas, books, "How do you know?" Father Evstafy retorted. Two wartime patriarchs proclaimed Stalin a believer, "and I will believe them before I believe all these liberals and democrats." of the church priests such as Father Evstafy recast mass mur- derers as champions of Holy Russia, many mainstream pastors pursue a more enlightened agenda: rehabilitating drug abusers, rescuing neglected children, and extending Christ s for- giveness to criminals. In a brightly lit foster home in St. Petersburg, four-year-old Nikita shows me his toys and proudly tells me that his mama will soon give him a gi . He doesn t yet understand that he has just been placed in this home because his mother is a drug addict---a fast-growing blight in Russia---and she can no longer care for him. Father Alexander Stepanov has been caring for casto s ever since he le a job in physics to join the priesthood some 20 years ago. "I was ordained right into prison," he quips, recalling how he started his ministry by discussing the Bible with inmates. "I had no idea about that world of gold teeth and tattoos." All private humanitarian work had been strictly banned in the Soviet Union---social problems don t exist in a workers paradise--- but a er the collapse of communism, Father Alexander found no shortage of people willing to plunge in, and Western churches were quick to o er help. Today, working out of two restored buildings on St. Petersburg s waterfront, Father Alexander oversees a parish church, a foster home, an orphanage, a halfway house for teen- agers in trouble, and a corps of volunteers who visit hospitals and prisons. He also has a radio station in the attic, and the o ces of a summer camp in the basement. No space is wasted, and no time---his cell phone rings (to the tone of church bells) repeatedly. Many churches now have some form of out- reach, and there are plenty of volunteers, Father Alexander says. But the government is jealously seeking to reclaim its monopoly on social work. " e government doesn t want to support the Painted eggs and iced sweet breads await a priest s blessing at Easter daybreak in Vorkuta. For many Russians awakening to their country s traditional faith, the attraction is national- istic. But among the deep believers, said a clergyman, "their souls long for spiri- tual food."