In Europe today, Christianity is dwindling in the Western half of the continent while it thrives in the East. The explanation of this trend has to do with the repression of religion under the Soviet Union, the Rev. Michael Dahulich said.
Speaking from the Hall of Philosophy platform, Dahulich, an Orthodox bishop in the Orthodox Church in America Diocese of New York and New Jersey, delivered his lecture “Rising From the Ashes: Faith is Reborn in Eastern Europe.” From the lectern, he said Eastern churches are outperforming their Western counterparts because of the role they played preserving not just religious ideology, but comforting those afflicted by the Soviets and maintaining the regions’ cultures and heritages.
“From the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany in 1989, to the subsequent freedom of Eastern bloc nations to the eventual demise of the Soviet Union, once again Eastern European countries became free to practice their faith, which had also preserved their culture,” Dahulich said.
Having toured the religious sites of Europe extensively in recent times, Dahulich said he is impressed not just by the numbers attending churches, but also by how young the attendees are. He said the parents of these young people are bringing them to the church to expose them to their savior from the “militant atheism” of the Soviets.
“Why are there so many young people in Churches in Eastern Europe?” Dahulich asked. “Having lived under the effects of 70 years of Soviets, militants, secularist and atheistic oppression which offered no hope, no purpose to life, no destiny, [they] have turned to Christ in the Church.”
Dahulich said churches preserving culture is nothing new to the area. Alongside Soviet rule, he said that the Church played a similar preservation within the Byzantine world and during the Ottoman Empire’s tenure.
Delving further into why so many turned to the church, Dahulich said some of the atrocities committed by the Soviets. He described how certain higher-ups in the command would take pride in how many dissenters, supporters of the ousted tsar, or people of faith they killed annually. In stark contrast to this sociopathy, the church reminded people of what the brighter side of humanity can look like.
“It showed the people of Eastern Europe how little the lives of others meant to the militant Soviet atheists,” he said. “Meanwhile, the church was continuing to struggle to survive, and to preserve the faith and the culture. To do the work of caring for those people who were starving to death. Of caring for those people who were sick and untreated.“
However, Dahulich did note certain problems with Christianity in Eastern Europe. While he said its followers show strong devotion, many of them lack a formal understanding of the religion, the history behind it or the theology behind its worship. Educating the people there will be one of the biggest challenges for the church today, he said.
In closing, Dahulich compared the rising secularism in Western Europe to some of the oppression faced under the Soviet regime. He said Christianity is the most repressed religion in the world, as evidence by the exodus of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, and that it will soon be a major area of national concern.
However, oppression from a governing force cannot trump the will of the people, and it is this will that rose from the ashes of Eastern Europe, and that flame will not be put out, he said.