The record needs repeating on a regular basis, as this article from the National Catholic Register does, to enshrine the visitation of the holy Queen Mother to us, and whose instructions we have not yet fulfilled.
In October 1917, as the bloodshed of the First World War continued to rage, the final apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima took place on Oct. 13, culminating with the “Miracle of the Sun.” The call of the Blessed Mother for the consecration of Russia during her apparitions and for the world to repent from sin was a powerful one, but few could have imagined the horrors that were soon unleashed in the very country named by Our Lady: Russia.
Indeed, only a few weeks after the final apparition at Fatima, the Russian Revolution took its last and darkest turn, and decades of suffering ensued.
A century ago, on Oct. 25, the October Revolution brought the Bolsheviks — the Communists under Vladimir Lenin — to power in post-Czarist Russia. What followed was the first officially atheist state and one of the darkest eras in human history. Its name is taken from the events on Nov. 6 and 7, 1917 (or Oct. 24 and 25 on the Julian Calendar, which is why it is described as the “October Revolution”), when radical leftist forces led by the Bolsheviks staged a largely bloodless coup d’état against the debilitated provisional government of Russia that had been established after the fall of Czar Nicholas II from power earlier that year.
Karl Marx had predicted — and based many of his assumptions on the idea — that the inevitable revolution of the workers would take place in the advanced industrialized Western European countries, where the proletariat would rise up and create a worker’s paradise. As events transpired, the communist revolution did take place, but in the agrarian and only barely industrialized country of Tsarist Russia.
The Fall of Czar Nicholas II
Having endured several abortive efforts at modernization, the Russian Empire had limped into the 20th century and was already weakened by political unrest when World War I began in 1914. By 1917, the Romanov Dynasty under Czar Nicholas II was near collapse, and the city of Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) faced food shortages, massive unemployment, inflation and a demoralized and defeated Russian Army. The communists, under the exiled Lenin, had long agitated for political chaos, but the initial revolution, in February 1917, created a provisional government made up of conservatives, moderates and liberal socialists, as well as so-called Mensheviks (Russian socialists) and other socialist revolutionaries.
Czar Nicholas abdicated Feb. 28, 1917 (he and his entire family were later murdered), but in the next months, extremists plotted a bloody takeover. The return of Lenin from exile — with the help of the Germans who wanted to destabilize Russia’s war effort — culminated in the revolution in which the radical Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace and arrested the members of the provisional government.
The Soviet Union (born out of the so-called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was the first state in history to declare itself atheist and to take as one if its central policies the eradication of religion from all life in the country. This had been forecast, of course, by Karl Marx, and it was given its most brutal expression in the 20th century in Russia, although communist China and the Soviet satellites also embraced similar policies. The Soviet regime persecuted all forms of religious belief, confiscated churches and places of worship and arrested and tortured priests, men and women religious and dedicated laypeople, and used the state-controlled schools to indoctrinate young people against all notion of faith. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Orthodox Church was reduced in influence so that, by 1939, there were a mere 500 churches left open of the original 50,000 in 1922. Thousands of Orthodox priests had been shot or sent into forced labor, and over the decades, they were compelled to register with the NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) and agree to all conditions imposed by the state.
The Suffering of the Church
Particular fury was spent on the Catholic Church, especially the Ukrainian Catholic Church. In 1921, there were 245 Catholic priests in Russia; by 1925, these had been reduced to fewer than 70, and most were in labor camps. The rest had been murdered, tortured to death or died in the camps. By 1926, all of the bishops in Russia were dead. In 1917, there were 1,200 Catholic churches; by 1941, there were two. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was forced in 1946 to be subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church, all of its property confiscated and its priests watched closely by the NKVD. Similar treatment was given to the Georgian and Armenian Byzantine Catholics, and Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople were killed by the thousands after they refused to give up the faith. In the two gulags of Sandormoch and Leningrad alone, the Soviet authorities murdered thousands of Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Jews in a series of mass killings in the 1930s. Estimates place the number of Catholics murdered or exiled to Siberia and other camps by 1925 at 200,000.
The anti-Catholic and anti-Christian campaign included mandatory programs in the schools attacking the Church as an enemy of reason and a corrupt hypocritical institution that survived by feeding off the superstitions and fears of the people. Students were told about Galileo, the Inquisition, the “evil” popes and the Crusades. In the 1920s, Soviet propaganda included pamphlets, books, films and radio programs that mocked religion and portrayed the popes and priests as vile and hypocritical lechers. At the same, the virtues of atheism were extolled as the only way toward human progress and enlightenment.
Despite the unimaginable horrors faced by Catholics and others, religion persisted, as did fidelity to the Holy See, to the anger and frustration of the Soviet regime. In the darkest days of World War II, with German forces only miles away from Moscow in 1941, Stalin allowed the Orthodox churches to reopen to give some hope to the Russians who had lost hope in the state. Cynically using the Orthodox clergy to promote the defense of Mother Russia against the German invader, Stalin held together social order and then returned to oppressing religion once the war was over.