National Geographic : 2009 Apr
in December 2008. His story is the story of the church and its struggle with the state. Born in Estonia in 1929 to a family of Russian émigré nobility, Alexy served as a priest and bishop for 40 years under a Soviet regime that reduced the church to a barely tolerated "cult" and com- pelled "servers of cult" to play a constant, humil- iating game of collusion and deception. Alexy never denied that he cooperated with the state "organs," but he insisted that everything he did was to safeguard the essential functions of the church. "In the most di cult days of repression the church did not ee into the catacombs," he said. "It sustained the sacraments, the prayers." Alexy made it his personal mission to identify the "new martyrs and confessors"---the victims of communist persecution who, in the eyes of the church, died for their Christian faith. He set aside the fourth Saturday a er Easter for a special service to commemorate at least 20,000 "enemies of the Soviet state" who, at the height of the Great Purge of 1937-38, were shot and buried in mass graves just south of Moscow. ere I joined thousands of Muscovites as the patriarch, along with scores of bishops and hun- dreds of priests, celebrated the Divine Liturgy. Some people pushed lit candles into the grassy mounds that now cover the trenches where the victims were felled and buried. A modest billboard displayed photographs of some who died here: a bearded monk, a tousled peasant, a Jewish woman, a student---their eyes either wide in horror or half-closed in surrender. A chart chronicled the numbers killed day-by-day, month-by-month. December 10, 1937: 243 exe- cuted. Total for the month: 2,376. May 28, 1938: 230. Total for the month: 1,346. There has been some grumbling that the church has singled out its own for honor when so many others were killed. Indeed, the thou- sand bishops, priests, deacons, and nuns who died here lie alongside Bolsheviks, monarchists, Trotskyites, accused counterrevolutionaries, Jews, German communist refugees, kulaks, "so- cial mis ts," and even Moscow s Chinese laun- derers, all caught up in Stalin s orgy of death. But Patriarch Alexy was resolved: "We are now returning to our history. We have to re- member it." He talked as if those long dead were his brothers and sisters: "Can you imagine? Archimandrite Kronid, the last deputy abbot of the Trinity--St. Sergius Lavra, was 83! ey brought him out on a stretcher and shot him!" The hatred for clerics that burned among communist revolutionaries was fueled by a fact of history. For centuries the Russian Orthodox Church had served as a handmaiden of the tsars. e emperor was head of the church, and all awards, promotions, and appointments passed through the imperial court. In 1990 Alexy became the rst patriarch since the Russian Revolution to be elected without the direct interference of the government. "We have managed to establish an entirely new relation- ship with the state," he said, "one which never existed before." He insisted the church had no Praying that the cross will replace the swastika in a young criminal s heart, Father Oleg (in gold) gathers inmates for baptism at a juvenile prison in Bogandinskoye ---part of the church s renewed social outreach e ort. "Many had not heard of the Bible," Father Oleg said.