In the most miserable conditions imaginable, Russian Christians are experiencing the mysteries of prayer.

Da gospodee … Yes, Lord; pomeelooy … Have mercy.

Waves of whispered prayers from the Russian congregation surged through the sanctuary, sometimes submerging the words of the pastor at the pulpit, who was also praying. When the prayer was finished, prayers arose from several in the congregation. All of them stood or knelt. (As a Russian pastor once explained to me, “We would show infinite respect if we were in the presence of an earthly ruler. In prayer, we are in the presence of a heavenly king.”)

I stood between a babushka whose face was mapped by a world of wrinkles and a little girl with prim braids tied with a white bouffant ribbon. Both stood still and straight, punctuating the prayers of others with their own whispered petitions.

During that service as on many other occasions in the Soviet Union, which claims to be the citadel of atheism, I have experienced an immediacy and intensity of prayer that has caused me to ponder it more deeply—particularly its paradoxes.

The Price Of Faith

In the Soviet Union, atheism shadows every citizen’s life. Christians, and especially their children, are deluged with atheistic propaganda but forbidden to proclaim their Christian faith freely. A restricted number of churches registered by the government are the only legally sanctioned refuges in a sea of atheism, and KGB informers often intrude even into these sanctuaries.

For their faith, some Soviet Christians pay the price of imprisonment. An estimated 60 million people, half of whom may have been Christians, perished in Soviet prisons and labor camps from 1917 to 1953.

In his epic, The Gulag Archipelago, ...

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