A few decades ago a small paperback appeared titled Tortured for Christ in which Pastor Richard Wurmbrand described his experiences of persecution behind the Iron Curtain. He urged Americans to remember believers in the Soviet Union and its satellites, suffering deeply for their faith yet nearly invisible behind a fog of disinformation. To refute Western church leaders who promoted endless "dialogue" with the Communists, Wurmbrand needed only to take off his shirt, revealing the scars that covered his back.
As long as the Cold War endured, such stories enjoyed a wide audience among Christians in the United States. But when the Soviet Union fell, attention turned elsewhere, to the persecution of believers in China, Sudan, and other parts of the world.
That is well and good, but we still have much to learn from the experience of Christians under communism. This was confirmed for me by a book recently published in English translation, Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, a collection of reminiscences by a wide range of people who were drawn to this imprisoned priest. The editor, identified only as "the servant of God Alexander," gathered memoirs from "factory workers, peasants, members of the intelligentsia, criminals, political prisoners, former Communists, and camp administrators of all ranks." All of these, he said, were profoundly affected by meeting Father Arseny, becoming believers in Christ and the priest's spiritual children.
The book opens with a scene of the horror of prison life: a cold, windy night lit with bonfires set to melt the ice so graves can be dug. Father Arseny is gathering fuel for the dormitory woodstove. Numb and exhausted, he fumbles with the wedge, praying all the while, "Have mercy on ...1