21 July 2011, 17:02

Mordovia’s transfiguration: from Stalinist camps to monasteries

Mordovia’s transfiguration: from Stalinist camps to monasteries
Download audio file

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill has visited Mordovia, an autonomous republic in central Russia.  Patriarch Kirill, whose secular name is Vladimir Gundyaev, has been to Mordovia several times, but this is his first coming here as head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill has visited Mordovia, an autonomous republic in central Russia. 

Patriarch Kirill, whose secular name is Vladimir Gundyaev, has been to Mordovia several times, but this is his first coming here as head of the Russian Orthodox Church .

In Stalin’s time, there were two camps for political prisoners in Mordovia – the two largest prison camps in the Soviet Union.

“Russians must remember the terrible events of the 1917 revolution and the crimes committed during the Communist regime,” the Patriarch said while visiting Mordovia. “Nothing like that must ever happen again.”

“At present, some people try to whitewash Stalin’s regime,” the Patriarch said. “They say that repressions were necessary, that those who were repressed were real enemies of the people. Some people say that Russia must return to Communist ideology. This is impermissible.”

“In the first half of the 20th century, Russia lived through a terrible time – a revolution, a civil war and repressions. Temples were closed, and religion was mocked. It may seem that these tragic experiences are more than enough to reject atheism once and for all. However, some people still say that the Church and religion are hampering Russia’s progression to a happy future. I think that Russia has had enough experiments in trying to build a happy future without God. We know very well what these experiments led to.” 

In the 1930s, over 30 thousand prisoners were held in these two Mordovian camps – former party leaders, scientists, artists, priests, and common people who were declared “enemies of the people” for no articulate reason. Many of them were executed. Before the 1917 revolution, there were over 600 churches and 14 monasteries in Mordovia. In the Soviet time, all these churches were destroyed, and all the monasteries closed. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were probably fewer repressions than during Stalin’s reign. But, by that time, Mordovia had turned into a godforsaken land with a depressed economy and bleak towns and villages. 

Things started to change in the late 1980s, when a big cathedral was built in Mordovia’s capital Saransk.

“From a grey and dull town, which in no way differed from any other, Saransk suddenly started to turn into a real beauty,” His Holiness Patriarch Kirill said. “This began with the building of the cathedral. The sight of the splendorous temple stirred Saransk’s residents to make the whole city much nicer. This is a good illustration to the idea that any economic, political or social changes must begin with a spiritual revival.”

At present, the Saransk diocese has the biggest number of Orthodox churches in Russia – 300 churches and 13 monasteries. In late March, the Holy Synod (the Russian Church’s supreme body) decided to establish two new dioceses in Mordovia, in the regions of Krasnoslobodsk and Ardatov. 

The republic’s capital Saransk is becoming more and more beautiful every day - clean streets, green trees, picturesque fountains, happy mothers walking with their children. 

“What is now happening in Mordovia is a miracle,” Patriarch Kirill said. “I have been to Saransk many times in my youth. Last time, I was here 6 years ago. Still, now, I can’t recognize the former Saransk. This is good evidence that to be prosperous, Russia must return to its old spiritual traditions.”

  •  
    and share via