Eleven years ago I covered (not uncritically) for this journal the Second All-Christian Peace Assembly in Prague. Since then, perhaps because I was erroneously listed as a participant, I have received regular communiques that augment my collection of Czechoslovak stamps, make me an enigma to our local post office, and give me an intimate though selective account of Christian activity behind the Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania; not many Western Christians could name all nine easily; fewer could cite individual features that distinguish them; some have merely a shrewd suspicion that there are such places.
At last, however, we have a paperback that brings together information in concise form. An Anglican clergyman has written it, instigated and assisted by a British Council of Churches working party with “multiple expertise.” The group does not agree that in Eastern Europe “the only authentic Christianity is underground,” indicates that the range of conditions in this area is enormous, and holds that some parts have “more freedom than in some countries of what used to be called the mission field.”
The book, Discretion and Valour: Religious Conditions in Russia and Eastern Europe, by Trevor Beeson (Collins Fontana, 348 pp., 60p), deals with developments up to January 1, 1974, taking each of the countries in turn, from 110 pages on the U.S.S.R. to less than five on Albania (“the bleakest place in Europe”). Beeson is good at putting things in perspective. Thus, “The Russian people as a whole have never become Marxist, and … there are more convinced Marxists in Western Europe than in the East.” Or (of Poland), the British and Foreign Bible Society ...1
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