Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a high ranking bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, commented on a new poll that showed a growing number of Russians are viewing the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in a positive light. Hilarion’s comments amount to a verbal cup of black coffee for those intoxicated with Stalin (1878-1953), one of the most murderous dictators in history. Stalin, who blew up Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931, was described by historian Robert Conquest as a man who combined ruthlessness, deception and terror in the extreme. The historian quoted a Russian scholar who said of Stalin’s dictatorship: “We wiped out the best and brightest in our country and, as a result, sapped ourselves of intelligence and energy.”
“I think that to sober up, some need to go to the Butovo firing range on the outskirts of Moscow,” Ilarion said during a program aired by Channel One on Monday, according to media reports.
Butovo was the site of the largest number of political executions in the Moscow region under Stalin. “The firing range has a museum, photographs of people, it tells you what was happening there: Every day they brought in and shot 200, 300, 400 people,” Ilarion was quoted as saying. “There were 15-16-year-old children. Why were they shot?”
The museum’s website describes Butovo as a “Russian Golgotha,” in a Biblical reference to the site outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. About 20,750 people were executed in 1938-39 alone at the firing range, which operated for nearly three decades from 1934 to 1953.
A recent poll by independent Levada Center found that 45 percent of Russians believe that Stalin-era purges were fully or to some degree justified by the Soviet Union’s rapid economic progress during his rule.That figure stood at 25 percent just two years ago. Meanwhile about 39 percent of Russians now view Stalin positively, in a drastic change from the “prevailing attitude” of negative views at the start of the millennium, the Levada Center said.
Read “Russian Church Leader Says Stalin Fans Need to ‘Sober Up’ to Realities” at the Moscow Times.
Also see my Spring 2007 Religion & Liberty article, “Solzhenitsyn and Russia’s Golgotha.” Excerpt:
Russian historian George Vernadsky estimated that between the years 1917-1920 “several hundred bishops, priests, and monks were either shot or starved to death in prisons.” In 1922, the Soviets confiscated religious art and liturgical items, citing the need to raise funds to combat a famine, and in the process, Vernadsky wrote, “many priests were arrested and a number executed, among them the bishop of Petrograd, Benjamin.” To this day, the Russian Orthodox Church holds an annual memorial service in Butovo, the location of a former secret police camp now known as Russia’s Golgotha. No one knows exactly how many died at the “shooting field” in 1937-38, although the official number tops 20,000 people. Among them were more than 1,000 clergymen, including seven bishops. Witnesses said “enemies of the people” were brought to the shooting range in food vans marked “MEAT.” Shootings went on non-stop day and night in the later stages.
The Russian exile theologian Vladimir Lossky defined evil as “nothing other than an attraction of the will towards nothing, a negation of being, of creation, and above all of God, a furious hatred of grace against which the rebellious will puts up an implacable resistance.”
Also see my April 3 post based on an interview with Hilarion: “Russian Bishop: Western Powers Share Blame for Middle Eastern Christian Genocide.”