In no area are the contradictions inherent in Joseph Stalin's character more obvious than in his policy towards the Orthodox Church. Victorious after the long and bloody battles of the Second World War, at last Stalin had some time for leisure. He became sentimental about his Georgian roots, after decades in Moscow, and went down to his dacha beyond the Caucasus. He invited friends from his schooldays to visit him, who stayed several days. Some had studied with him in the seminary and become priests, as Stalin himself had not. In lengthy conversations he dropped his pseudonym (Stalin -- "man of steel") and became again "Soso" Dzhugashvili. He understood that some of them, especially Peter Kapanadze, who had become a priest, were in needy circumstances, and he would not allow them to depart before he had given him money. Was this the same man who had virtually liquidated the Church, in Georgia as in Russia, ten years earlier?
It was not Stalin, but Vladimir Lenin, who initiated the religious persecution. Patriarch Tikhon was elected in 1917, after the reforms of Peter the Great had rendered the office vacant since 1721. He soon denounced the Bolsheviks and found himself under house arrest and barred from office from May 1922. Only three months later, Metropolitan Venyamin of Petrograd (St Petersburg) was tried and shot, along with three of his associates. A major schism in the Church arose, with a powerful group, the Living Church, or Renovationists, claiming that Bolshevism and the October Revolution embodied the highest ideals in life. Tikhon, who had been removed to prison, was released and forced to sign a document in June 1923 proclaiming his loyalty to the Soviet State. This extracted confession set the scene for Stalin to do his worst after Lenin's death in 1925.
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