For nearly 20 years I traveled regularly to the Eastern Orthodox regions of the old Soviet Bloc, the last 15 years or so almost every Easter season, including two Easters. For one, I loved Orthodox choir music, and my wife, a devout Catholic, found their music moved her almost as much as her own Church.
Most of all, since on every visit I visited both the giant cathedral St Alexander Nevsky near the Parliament building, as well as the smaller Russian Church (shown here) about 300 yards away, I was also able to watch (and hear) Bulgarians “come back” to their church over that 15 years period.
I’ve told stories in past articles about the great grandmother teaching her two great grandsons how to cross themselves and kneel, Orthodox style, since neither their mothers not grandmothers had ever been to a real church service. Or allowed to, withou jeopardizing their jobs. And Communism had only controlled Bulgaria for 42 years instead of the 75 it had controlled Russia and the USSR.
When I first visited Sofia there was a flea market near the large cathedral and for about ten years it was filled silver crucifixes, which were sold for the value of the silver. Most of the people who sold them had found them buried in a chest of drawers after their owners ahd died and they had no sentimental meaning to them at it.
It had always been the objective of the Communist to kill of Christianity the laws of generations, and that 80-year old granny teaching those two boys was trying to jump-start the family. Very moving if you can grasp the big picture since Americans have never had our religion snatched from us as was done there.
Now, it was common both Orthodox and Catholic towns and cities, for the entire Easter Season, which begins Easter Day, to use as an everyday greeting when seeing friends and neighbors on the street to say:
He is risen! —Хрїсто́съ воскре́се! – (Xristósŭ voskrése! )
to which the reply is:
He is risen, indeed!—Вои́стинꙋ воскре́се!- Voístinu voskrése!)
In 1998, as the Kosovo War raged, I heard this greeting on the streets only a few times.
By 2008, when I visited for the funeral of a good friend there, it was again a common greeting on the streets, after 60 years.
It’s now 2021 and we have spent nearly a year with empty churches, largely by state decree. But you and I know there may be no end in sight, since the government has decided that perhaps out of sight is out of mind, indeed!
The anti-Christian invective today on social media is as hateful as it was in the coffee houses Karl Marx habited in the 1840s, and the power of the state to be able to summon a mob on a moment’s notice second to none in history. And the fear of Christians to make any joyful noise more than a few feet from the doors of their houses of worship almost palpable.
I wonder who’d be next.
How long would it take us to recover considering no one ever stuck a gun to our heads and forced us out of church?