Though the Cold War has ended and democracy is attempting to take hold in the former Soviet Union, the Russian people still live with the devastating consequences of seven decades of Communist domination. Between the physical and political persecution of its members and the loss of many of its key leaders and places of worship, the Orthodox church suffered tremendously.

Still, says Patriarch Aleksii II, the current head of the Russian Orthodox Church, God has sustained his people during their time of travail. Before assuming the role of patriarch in 1990, Aleksii, 66, served in various roles within the church's Moscow headquarters. In 1986, however, he was transferred to Leningrad because his outspoken requests for easing religious repression incensed Soviet leadership.

At that time, recalls Aleksii, supporters of the policies of state atheism did not know that their own power was coming to an end. Here the patriarch talks to CT about the restoration of religion in Russia and his role as the head of the nation's most influential church.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF THE RUSSIAN CHURCH?

The church suffered grievous losses during the period of totalitarianism. Millions of Christians, including a majority of the clergy, became victims of the repressions of the communistic authorities. Many were executed or died from hunger and deprivation. Tens of millions of our compatriots were torn away from the church and their faith after yielding to the influence of atheistic propaganda. Nevertheless, the church was kept from complete ruin. Seventy-odd years of state atheism were not able to destroy the deep spiritual roots of our people. The Lord sent us trials, but he also gave us the strength to overcome them.

As soon as the harsh restrictions ...

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