Considering that Soviet Union was officially atheistic and Bibles and most "Christian" denominations were banned, it is interesting to me that the government left the Russian Orthodox churches standing. It also seems that the Russian Orthodox priesthood did not have to "recuperate" and "re-establish" themselves after the collapse of Soviet Union in early 1990s.

Considering that the communist plan was probably not something like "let's leave them here in case we ever stop being communists", so was it because the Russian Orthodox religion was not banned in Soviet Union?

  • Yes, thank you CopperKettle. I corrected my question.
    – x457812
    Jan 19, 2015 at 20:45
  • 1
    Did you mean "churches" more in the sense of "buildings" or more in the sense of "institutions"? There were serious attempts to deracinate the Church. Jan 19, 2015 at 20:47
  • 5
    Persecution campaings came in waves, and many church buildings were either demolished or converted for other purposes. Jan 19, 2015 at 20:56
  • 3
    One example of what @CopperKettle is talking about, St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg was turned into the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in the 1930s.
    – two sheds
    Jan 19, 2015 at 21:01
  • 3
    As by laws, religion in general was never officially banned in Soviet Russia/Soviet Union (though some 'sects' were, mostly Protestant and Old-rite Orthodox). The state was secular but never officially atheistic; the policy of the ruling party was. The official paradigm was like this: 1) clergy ropes working classes into religion in order to distract them from class struggle and exploit their obscurity; 2) some of our worker and peasant fellows are still in the darkness of their religious beliefs, but we shouldn't punish them for that; 3) we must prevent clergy from stealing more souls.
    – ach
    Sep 13, 2017 at 8:32

2 Answers 2


The churches (and all religious institutions) were, essentially, honeypots. They were tightly controlled and closely observed - those who tried to avoid KGB control were suppressed.

The benefits were many:

  1. early and easy identification of unreliables
  2. good PR with the West ("see, we do not persecute religious people!")
  3. an additional cover (on top of diplomats) for foreign agents
  4. a extra venue to influence foreign events

The alternative - forceful elimination of all religion (attempted in early twenties), in addition to losing the above benefits, entails the additional costs of a military action against the inevitable religious resistance.

PS1. Given that "there is no authority except from God", as soon as the Soviet authorities declared an armistice, the Church leaders gladly rendered the State all support it asked for (see, e.g., Alexy I who received Order of the Red Banner of Labour four times).

PS2. See also my other answers.


In the very early years of the Soviet Union, religion, specifically, the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, was both banned, as well as the target of wrathful and rabidly anti-religious desecration, discrimination and destruction. For the early Bolsheviks, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Tsar, were essentially, "two sides of the same coin"........in other words, they were viewed to be inseparable and indistinguishable. To the founding generation of Bolshevik Communists, the Tsar and the Church, were Medieval oriented institutions... anachronisms and antiquities that had to be forcibly discarded.

After Lenin's passing, the Soviet Union officially became, an atheistic state whereby religion, in particular, Orthodox Christianity, was officially banned. It was probably an unwise move to have expressed pro religious sentiments in the streets of Moscow, Leningrad or other Soviet Russian cities during much of the 20th century. Yet, despite the official ban, the Russian Orthodox Church did manage to survive and exist within Soviet Russia. In a way, Soviet Russia, never completely extricated itself, nor did it completely disassociate, disaffiliate or divorce itself from the Orthodox Church.

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, his programs were initially designed to liberalize and modernize the old Soviet system-(but not necessarily to universally dismantle it). Both Perestrokia and particularly, Glasnost, were near revolutionary programs-(by traditional Soviet standards) and such a liberalization effort included, the rejuvenation of the Russian Orthodox Church as an active public institution. (Though it really wasn't until after Gorbachev, specifically during the 1990's, that the Orthodox Church experienced a near renaissance in Russia which is present to this day).

  • 1
    No, religion was never officially banned in the Soviet Union.
    – Headcrab
    Mar 28, 2018 at 3:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.