In the early 1940's the Moscow Patriarchate published a book called "The Truth About Religion in Russia" which flatly denies to the whole world that believers are persecuted under the communist yoke. Here is the foreword to the book and one selection from an MP priest. The "Karlovatsk emigres", for those who don't know, is the Russian Church Abroad. Interesting and revealing material.
Foreword to The Truth about Religion in Russia
by The Acting Patriarch
This book is primarily a repudiation of the so-called "crusade" of the fascists, in which they have had the efrrontery to advance a specious claim to "liberate" our nation and our Orthodox Church from the bolsheviks. But at the same time an answer is given to the broad question of whether our Church conceives of itself as persecuted by the bolsheviks, and hence whether it asks anybody for liberation from such persecution.
To those convinced of the existence of persecution the attitude maintained by our Church towards the fascist invasion might appear constrained and not corresponding to the inner expectations of the Church; and its prayers for the victory of the Red Army may appear as a mere lip service, a thing done for the sake of form or, to put it differently, as being evidence that the Church, even inside its own walls, must be acting under constraint.
Let us not attempt to conceal the fact that certain people, who are inspired by selfish egotistical interests, and not by the interests of the Church, are prejudiced in their outlook and are more ready to accept insincerity than sincerity in the conduct of the Church towards the Soviet regime, particularly in the matter of prayers and other assistance to the Red Front. They will readily forgive us hypocrisy in this respect, but they fly into a rage when they realise that in our hearts we believe what we say. Even now, twenty-five years after the Revolution, such an attitude may be encountered, to say nothing of former years.
The theme of religious persecution in Russia was played upon unremmitingly in hostile sections of the foreign Press. It still occupies a prominent place in Russian emigre ecclesiastical publications. And here the fact must be stressed that it was not merely a case of giving prominence to any excesses such as inevitably accompany every mass rising; but official, systematic measures on the part of the Soviet authorities were alleged, aiming at the destruction of all believers in religion in general and ministers of religion in particular.
The Russian emigre Press drew without constraint a parallel between the persecutions of the early centuries of Christianity and the modern "persecutions" in Russia.
The most furious publicists did not tire of inventing fabrications. There was, for example, the tale published in a Karlovatsk paper, according to which the bolsheviks had come across, somewhere near a railway line, Bishop Andrew Ukhtomsky as he proceeded on foot and had shot him on the spot: he was alleged to have fallen on the rails "with his bag over his shoulder". The truth is that he lived for many years in perfect health after his alleged murder, and functioned as a diocesan bishop. Or again, quite recently one of the most irreconcilable Karlovatsk emigres, the well-known Bishop Vitaly, spread the report in America that when the Red Army occupied the western districts of the Ukraine, Simon, Archbishop of Ostrog, was "tortured" by the bolsheviks. Then suddenly it became known in America that the "tortured" Archbishop was unharmed and as well as ever.
It is unwise sometimes to act in the spirit of the proverb: "A lie is the best mount for the road to safety."
In this connection it may be asked: What is it that makes the emigre agitators pass over to the uncertain ground of inventiones, in which, of course, they themselves do not believe and which can always be unmasked? The explanation plainly is the need for maintaining the illusion of religious persecution in Russia which has been brought into being among simple Orthodox believers, especially in the region of the Carpathians, not far from where the Karlovatsk emigres have taken up their residence.
The ecclesiastical bourgeoisie interpret as a consclusive proof of persecution the ending by the State of its age-old alliance with the Church, through which ending the Church - or rather ecclesiastical institutions (for example, monasteries), and the clergy as a caste or profession - lost certain privileges, such as the ownership of land and commercial undertakings, various professional rights as distinct from "the people", and so on.
On the other hand it is the fact that "the ordinary orthodox people", hearing in the Gospel Christs's instructions to His apostles, reading St. Paul's Epistles or the life of a Christian hero such as St. John Chrysostom, feel strongly that the change which has takenplace is not persecution, but rather a return to Apostolic times, when the Church and its clergy followed the true path to which they were called by Christ, when they considered their ministration not as a profession which, being one among many secular professions, gave them their means of livelihood, but as their way of answering the call of Christ. That path, winnowed by the ideals of the people, sanctified by the highest traditions of the Orthodox Church, and at the same time spiritually most fruitful, and which is the path of service for the salvation of men, the Patriarchal Church has set itself to follow and calls on its clergy to follow.
Since the revolution the Church has suffered great loss of numbers. The separation of the Church from the State removed the artificial barriers which kept people within the Church, and all nominal Church folk left us.
Of fatal significance in this was the age-old habit which prevailed among us of regarding Orthodoxy as indissolubly interwoven with tsarism. In Maxim Gorky's description in his Life of Klim Samghin, of 9 January (1905), in St. Peterburg are given clear instances of how previously fervid devotees of Orthodoxy, having lost their illusions about the tsar, went straight over to atheism. And even now it is possible to meet people genuinely unable to understand how we can talk about the Orthodox Faith when we have rejected tsarism.
On the other hand, those who did not wish to reject tsarism could not remain in the Church, which was ready to go on its way without tsarism and had nothing against the Soviet authorities. From this attitude there proceeded various emigre schisms attracting out of the Church almost all the ecclesiastically conscious emigration. At the same time, and, it may well be, under their active influence, certain breakaway groups within the borders of Russia separated themselves from us: Ioannite-Josephians, Victorites, Danilovites and simply our oppositionists, disagreeing with our prayers for the Soviet authorities and in general with what they described as the "redness" of our orientation...
... In a word, in our Church there reigned unbelievable chaos... Standing on the verge of what seemed the unavoidable break-up of the whole Russian Church, our Patriarchate could not count on any protection or help from outside, and as a matter of principle, did not seek such help... In our condition of external helplessness we could only count on the moral force of canonical tradition, which in past ages more than once preserved the Church from disintegration. And our expectation was not deceived...
... Our Russian Church's attitude to the fascist "crusade" can be defined simply. The fascist "crusade" has already burst upon our land, is already bathing it in blood, is desecrating our shrines, is destroying historical monuments, is exercising itself in crimes against the unarmed population... It is clear that we, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, cannot permit even for a moment the thought of receiving from the hands of the foe any kind of immunity or gain. He is the very opposite of a shepherd who, seeing the wolf starting to rend the flock of the Church, begins in his soul to fondle the thought of arranging his own affairs. It is clear that the Church once and for all must unite its fate with the fate of its flock, whether the issue be life of death. And the Church does this not because of any cold calculation that victory is already assured on the side of our country, but in fulfillment of its imperative duty, like a mother seeing the purpose of life in the preservation of her children....
... The European Karlovatsk separatists have completely entered Hitler's service; they pray for him in their churches; with the help of the German authorities they have brought about the subjugation to themselves of their opponents... It is sad to recall such falling away among our Russian people, even through they are in schism, but it is comforting that our Patriarchal Church in its opposition to fascism is by no means alone...
... The ancient Orthodox East, and with it all the Orthodox world together with us, shudders at the horrors of the fascist invasion, together with us blesses the self-sacrificing achievements of our Russian Army, and together with us diligently prays for victory over the fascist hordes.
Such a universal, united prayer of almost all the Orthodox churches, capable, it would seem, of setting all things in motion (Acts iv, 31), unshakably confirms in us the certainty of inevitable victory of light over darkness, of righteousness over savage licence and oppression, of the Cross of Christ over the fascist swastika, which may God grant us by His Grace and by the prayers of His Most Pure Mother and all the saints. Amen.
Acting Patriarch Sergius
Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna
28 March 1942
OUR CHURCH IS FREE
By Archpriest Sergius Vozdvizhensky
Those in Western Europe who do not wish us well have often raised a cry as if there are religious persecutions in Russia and as though there were some sort of obstacles to believers carrying out their religious duties. The compare the position of the Church in Russia with her position in the Graeco-Roman Empire at the time of the persecutions, and write stories about martyrs for the faith, perishing in molten lead or on fiery pyres.
Such cries have once more been raised by the modern "Knight" of the 20th century who springs from the same stock as those German Teutonic Knights whom the Holy Orthodox Prince Alexander Nevsky defeated on the ice of Lake Chud in 1242. This is the scourge of modern Europe, blood-stained Hitler, who has plunged the whole world into a sea of tears and blood, and is trying to drag it into the web of his pagan swastika.
In refutation of the false lying clamour that Hitler makes about the Church, I should like to add to the voices of the town clergy my own priestly voice from a Moscow suburban parish...
The Orthodox Church - whereever it happens to be, whether an enormous cathedral in the capital or a simply village church is immaterial - reveals to the world "the quiet light of the holy glory of the immortal Heavenly Father". Whereever it stands, it is equally God's house on earth in which the Christian may receive spiritual nourishment and delight.
All our village churches, lost in the endless space of our native fields, with their modest holy services and the solemn singing of the village priests, send out to this day without hindrance invisible abundant streams of spiritual peace and light.
A multitude of believers from among the local and neighbouring workers, collective farmers and officials gathers around me as an Orthodox priest....
May my voice be an accusation against the enemies of our native land who are trying to lead astray world public opinion by spreading absurd rumours about religious persecutions in Russia."
Archpriest Sergius Vozvizhensky,
Priest in Charge
Kosmo-Damyansky Church, village of Bolshevo
31 March 1942