Page 13 Chapter 12:
Russians and Religion
I am often asked if it is true that the majority of Russians are Christian believers. After all, that is the claim that nearly all Russian girls make in their ads and letters. I’m afraid I must disappoint you — it is not the truth. More than seventy years of official atheism bore its unfortunate fruit — too many Russians lost their faith and now know nothing about Christianity.
To be sure, it has now become somewhat fashionable to call oneself a Christian, go to Church, and observe religious rituals. But I personally know very few Russians who read the Gospel (and more importantly understand and accept it) and who have a clear idea of what Christianity is truly about.
For one thing, the Russian Orthodox Church pays far more attention to following rituals and customs than it does to explaining the Gospel and Christianity to the members of its churches. One Orthodox priest once summed this position up nicely: “Faith is faith. There is nothing to understand in it. You just have to believe without asking.” I personally was never able to understand and accept meek obedience to rituals and prayers performed in an arcane Slavic language.
Neither could I accept that one must obey God strictly out of fear. Nevertheless, “Behave yourself, or God will punish you!” is the mantra of Orthodox priests. And this is the mentality that so many Russians, very possibly including your Russian bride, have had drilled into them from youth.
The Orthodox Church was and is a powerful bureaucratic organization. It is very intolerant toward other Christian denominations and fights for absolute ideological monopoly in Russia. And it is a well-oiled hierarchical machine. The Orthodox priest considers himself the true spiritual intermediary between his flock and God If a faith can be compare with marriage, I would say that Orthodox faith represents relations between couples in boring and loveless marriages. There are only duties, habits and obligations, fear of divorce and punishment, and the like.
The Western, Protestant relationship with God is very personal and intimate. Although there are, to be sure, so-called Protestants who are Christians by sheer formality, in general Protestants enjoy personal relationships with God and are filled with love for Him. The faith of many Russian Christians shows itself instead as the philosophical acceptance of God as the Supreme Mind.
They interpret Christianity as an idealistic philosophy, and view Jesus Christ as a teacher and propagandist of this philosophy. I know very few Russians who have a profound understanding of the idea of Salvation and the real mission and sacrifice of Jesus. Very few Russians would understand what does it mean to be a born-again Christian.
Thus, there is a significant difference between Orthodox and Protestant mentalities, and this is amplified in their philosophies. The essence of the Orthodox philosophy is that life is nothing but suffering, and real happiness begins in Heaven. The main Orthodox holiday is Easter, not Christmas. Joy and successes in earthly life are considered wrong and even evil. Suffering, endless patience, and hardships are praised and respected.
The Orthodox Church takes the words of John extremely literally: ” Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (John 2:15). Meekness, passivity and a departure from reality are considered virtues of character. (Why even try if it won’t be better in any case?)
According to Orthodox ideology, a human being is insignificant, a slave of God, insubstantial. Protestants, on the other hand, think that every human holds great value in the eyes of God. He gave His life for us. Would he make such a sacrifice for an insignificant creature? The Lord suffered for man to be happy and fulfilled in this life as well as the next, not to be miserable. This is, at least, my understanding of the case. So be aware that bringing an Orthodox Russian to the U.S. and getting her to view Christianity through Protestant eyes will take time.
It’s equally important to note that even if a Russian woman grew up in an atheistic family and knows nothing about Christianity and Orthodox philosophy, the millennial monopoly of the Orthodox faith in Russia will undoubtedly have still influenced her character. It will have penetrated her soul and thoughts from the best works of Russian literature, music, and art, and will be a part of her. Perhaps this is the origin of that eternal sorrow in the beautiful Russian eyes. At any rate, keep this fact in mind as you search for your bride.
Even if they are not believers, Russians are usually very spiritual. Their hearts are yearning and they are subconsciously seeking God. Russia is a vast country with unlimited opportunities for missionaries, if that is your wish. Your marriage with a spiritually rich and God-seeking Russian woman may well become something of a missionary venture as well. But if you want this to succeed, you will need patience, understanding, and a true knowledge of the Russian culture and tradition.
It will take time before the Russian woman opens her heart to God. Even if she considers herself a believer, her faith is likely to be distant and shy. At first it will be difficult for her to get accustomed to praying aloud, to reading the Bible together with you, to becoming an active member in your Church. Give her time to get acquainted with all that, and be delicate and patient.
Pay special attention to how the priest and members of your Church treat your wife. Do not allow them to be too zealous and pushy in attempting to convert her into your faith. Any such pressure will only drive her farther from God. Remember that the main thing is delicacy, consideration, and endless patience. In the end, all this will pay for itself in full. A traditional Russian woman who sincerely accepts God will be the embodiment of Christian virtue and the spiritual core of your family.