It is now two years since Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn sent his famous "Lenten letter" to Patriarch Pimen of the Russian Orthodox Church. As Lent and Easter come round again, it is right that Christians all over the world should think once more about the plight of persecuted Christians in Communist countries.
For they arc persecuted. There can be no denying it -any hopes that persecution would cease or even lessen with the advances in detente are merely wishful thinking.
. "The church in our country is ruled by atheists," said Solzhenitsyn in his letter. "The whole of church property and the use of church funds is under their control • pric!as have no
right, in their parishes, only the act id worship is entrusted to them for the time being — they have to ask permission of the town council if they want to visit a sick person or enter the churchyard."
Christians, he said, "suffer persecution in their place of work, and are held up to public ridicule." and as their children grow up they arc barred from receiving Communion and even from simply attending services.
What has happened in the two years ,since Solzhenitsyn wrote that letter? Let us look at some of the reports that have reached the West.
In a trial of three Christians, Piotr Serehriakov was found guilty of not working (he is 73!) :ind "or spreading religious propaganda and reading religious hooks to children; Grigorii Eateev was found guilty of performing religious
ceremonies and of reading to people from religious books: and Vasilii Zazakov was found guilty of spreading religious propaganda — all received heavy sentences.
Last year an Orthodox priest, Vasyl Romaniuk, was given seven years' hard labour and three years' deportation.
In Barnaul in the Soviet Union all the Baptists withdrew their children from local schools because "hey discovered that Christian children were being beaten and exploited by teachers to get information about the church.
In one area in Rumania all the churches of one denomination have been closed down by the State authorities, and any members found meeting together are liable to be fined the equivalent of two months' pay.
Probably the most tragic news
of all comes from the infhmous lunatic asylums. From one of them. Christian writer Tchernigov sent the following message to the West: "I fear death, but I would accept it. I fear tortures terribly, but there is one torture worse than all others awaiting me: the injection of chemical substances into my brain. Probably I will remain alive, but I will not be capable any more of writing, or even of thinking. Can you imagine anything more terrifying?"
I think Solzhenitsyn knew what he was doing when he chose Lent as the time for releasing his urgent plea for the trapped Christians in the Soviet Union. Lent and Easter is essentially a representation of repentance followed by renewal. Dare we pray for precisely this in the Soviet Union today?