861.404/2–845: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State

368. With respect to the events which have been taking place in the religious field, I wish to add the following further comments to those submitted in my No. 320, February 3, 9 p.m., in the light of what has occurred since that telegram was despatched.

The publication by Pravda and Izvestiya of appeals of the Synod [sobor] to Christians throughout the world and to the Russian Church, and the holding of a religious concert at the Moscow conservatory, have made a deep impression in Moscow and have caused much speculation as to the lengths to which this patronizing of the church may be carried. On this point, I have little to add to what was stated in my telegram under reference. It does indeed appear that the church will be permitted a relatively free hand within that sphere of activity which it already embraces. It will probably be allowed greater physical facilities for maintenance of churches and ecclesiastic premises, for internal administration and for the training of priests (it is rumored for example that the Monasteries of Bessarabia, which are understood to be largely intact, will be turned over to the church for its use) but there is still no evidence that the church will be encouraged to widen this existing sphere and particularly to gain adherents among young people. It is significant that no official of the Soviet Government other than Karpov attended any of the ceremonies connected with the election and enthroning of the patriarch or received the visiting dignitaries, and that the historic Kremlin churches were not made available for these occasions.
The current leniency toward the church is explained in Communist circles as a mark of greater confidence on the part of the regime in the maturity and loyalty of the population and as a token that as this confidence increases still greater opportunities will be granted for the enjoyment of liberties which are set forth in the Soviet Constitution. This explanation, while it should not be allowed to lead to exorbitant hopes, is probably not devoid of substance.
The statement read by the announcer of the religious concert, and the glowing press reviews of the new Soviet film on Ivan, The Terrible, in which the religious motif is dominant, both indicate that the Government has come to the conclusion that the beauty and symbolism of Russian Church music and ritual are necessary for the expression of the emotional experiences undergone by the Russian people in the present war. The Government is obviously seeking a means of enlisting the pageantry of the church in the service of Russian nationalism without undermining orthodox Communist dogma.
A feature worth bearing in mind in connection with these changes is the Soviet relation to the Eoman Catholic Church. There may be a direct connection between the unfruitful outcome of Father Orlemansky’s mission74 and the present sponsoring of the Russian church by the Government. If Moscow had been able to come to terms with Rome the Russian Church might conceivably have remained in its former obscurity. Today, all things indicate that the Kremlin is prepared to do open battle against the influence of the Vatican. It has always been widely believed here, rightly or wrongly, that the initial reverses suffered by the Russian Church under the Bolshevist regime were a source of comfort and hope to the Vatican as providing a possibility for the eventual overcoming of the age old schism. The instilling of new hope and strength into the Eastern Church would therefore appear in Russian eyes a logical means of resistance to Catholic aspirations. The Metropolitan Benjamin, in his conversation with me, spoke bitterly about the Catholic Church and proposed the intention of writing a polemic against it for publication here in the near future. It is perhaps also significant that the Soviet press has accompanied the recent ceremonies with a running series of attacks on the Vatican.75 How this anti-Catholic tendency will affect Soviet [Page 1121] policy in Poland, Hungary and Croatia is however still not apparent. A strong bid will probably be made for reconciliation of the Uniate Church76 with Moscow, but the regular, Catholics in Central Europe will constitute another, and highly delicate, problem for Russian Church diplomacy.

Sent to Department, repeated to Rome as 11; repeated to Ankara as 7; repeated to Cairo as 19.

  1. Information regarding the visit of Father Stanislaw Orlemanski to the Soviet Union between April 28 and May 6, 1944, is in Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. iii, pp. 13981409, passim. The text of a letter of May 5 from Premier Stalin to Orlemanski, regarding the possibility of improved relations between the Soviet Union and the Roman Catholic Church is quoted in telegram 1618 of May 9, 1944, from Moscow, ibid., vol. iv, p. 868.
  2. Ambassador Harriman had reported in telegram 105 on January 11, that the “Soviet press has recently renewed attacks upon [the] Vatican.” The Christmas address of Pope Pius XII was criticized as being an attempt “to shield Germany from responsibility for her war guilt.” (866A.404/1–1145) On February 9, Professor Boris Efimovich Stein, who before the war had been Ambassador of the Soviet Union to Italy, gave a public lecture on “The Diplomacy of the Vatican”. He emphasized the anti-Soviet attitude of the Vatican and concluded with a warning against the danger of the machinations of papal diplomacy in the contemporary world. From the other side, Myron C. Taylor, Personal Representative of President Roosevelt to the Pope, at times reported on official articles appearing in the Osservatore Romano protesting against Soviet propaganda attacks on the Vatican. These recriminations continued throughout the year.
  3. This church arose from the efforts to unite the Greek Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church in the eastern regions of Poland and the western parts of the Ukraine in the sixteenth century. At a congress in Brest-Litovsk in 1596 the advocates of unity passed a resolution of submission to the Pope, while retaining the Eastern rites and language. The process for reincorporation of the Uniate Church in the Orthodox Church, begun in the summer of 1945, was nearly completed in 2 years.