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Fifteen years after glasnost and perestroika opened the borders to Christianity without and within, I'm looking for God in Russia.

Can he be seen wandering amid the broken beer and vodka bottles around the monuments of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin, bottles thrown by young people wanting something more? How many residents of Moscow's ubiquitous skyscrapers thank him as they see the wind moving through the tall leafy trees that save their lungs from suffocation by smog? Is he more alive than I'm able to comprehend to gold-toothed babushkas kneeling for the duration of long Baptist church services, praying for permits to build sanctuaries?

One of the most bizarre places I find the indelible fingerprints of grace is a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Moscow. Here, East meets West, modernity meets history, ceremony meets informality, and the Jesus who said give to Caesar what is his meets the Christ who called the religious establishment a brood of vipers.

The small living room—about 12 by 15 feet—has been transformed into a sanctuary. There's an altar by the balcony and side altars with icons of Mary and the child, and Christ. Incense wafts in the air. Five bearded priests are wearing festive robes—crimson, gold, turquoise. They are about to ordain a young man.

The schismatic Apostolic Orthodox Church, founded in May 2000, has two dozen priests and several bishops, and not many more parishioners. They meet in private spaces because they don't recognize the Moscow patriarchate, which in turn doesn't recognize them. Not registered with the state, they can't own a building.

Glasnost made way for the group's moral badge of honor—or dishonor, depending on who's talking—when in 1991, Fr. Gleb Yakunin dug up in the newly ...

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The God Who Lives and Works and Plays in Russia
hide thisNovember November

In the Magazine

November 2006

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