Sergei and the “Divinely Appointed” Stalin

A new article has just been published in Social Sciences – download here. Entitled “Sergei and the ‘Divinely Appointed’ Stalin: Theology and Ecclesiology in Church-State Relations in the Soviet Union in the Lead-up to the Cold War,” it deals with material that I could cover only briefly in the book on Stalin. The abstract is as follows:

In contrast to the tendency to focus on political and social reasons for the rapprochement between the Soviet government and the Russian Orthodox Church, between Stalin and the later patriarch Sergei, this article deals with theological and ecclesiological sensibilities. One would expect such reasons from the side of the church but I also argue that they were important for Stalin’s considerations and acts. His deep awareness and intimate knowledge of the church, and active involvement and concrete proposals in the long interaction between church and state, were as important as those of Sergei. The article begins with a reconsideration of Stalin’s period of theological study, which influenced him deeply and provided him with unique insights into the nature of the church. After this period, an intriguing path unfolds, through key categories of Stalin’s thought thought and his effort—which was strongly opposed – to include the article on religious freedom in the 1936 constitution, let alone the definition of socialism (in contrast to communism) in terms of two biblical verses in the very same constitution. At the same time, the statements and actions of Sergei, already from 1927, were also part of the narrative, so the analysis moves between church and state until the meeting in 1943. All of this is crucial material for understanding developments in the period officially known as the Cold War.

And as a teaser, I quote part of the final paragraph, where Patriarch Sergei and then his successor, Aleksii, speak of Stalin in the following terms (I leave out the Russian here): Stalin, they write, is “deeply revered” and “beloved by all,” is a “wise, divinely appointed leader,” who had become so through “God’s Providence.” Indeed, they express feelings of “deep love and gratitude” for his “constant, wise attention to Her [the Church’s] needs.”

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