It would be difficult to identify a facet of church life that suffered more under Marxist regimes than theological education. From Siberia to the Balkans to the Baltic the majority of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant seminaries simply disappeared. Communists confiscated or permitted the destruction of rich libraries and archives. Faculty, not killed or arrested, rarely could continue in their calling. State authorities secularized most facilities and frequently allowed them to fall into serious disrepair. Not one of the 59 Orthodox seminaries open in Russia in 1917 survived to 1929. And the eight opened after World War II dropped to three during the Khrushchev Anti-Religious Campaign of 1959-64. Catholics in the Soviet Union were reduced to two schools and Protestants carried on without a single seminary from 1926 to 1987.
Marxists in power circumscribed and compromised the sprinkling of institutions that survived to such an extent that many faithful often felt they could not trust their own clergy. Secret police systematically interfered with faculty and administrative appointments, student admissions, and the placement of graduates. By this means atheist officials groomed a church leadership which too often was docile, morally suspect, fawning in its pronouncements of support for the state, and insensitive to grassroot complaints of religious persecution.
As a result of glasnost, the East European revolutions of 1989, and the demise of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1991, East Central Europe and Soviet successor states enjoy, at least for the present, an unprecedented degree of religious liberty. A dramatic increase in the number of seminaries and seminarians all across Europe's former Communist states is one sign of faith resurgent.
"Biblical and Theological Education Initiatives in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe," a recent study by Jack Graves of the Overseas Council for Theological Education and Missions, documents a rapid increase in the number of seminaries and Bible institutes all across East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Data for schools on the territory of Soviet successor states, more complete than information currently available for East Central Europe, indicate that programs for theological training increased from 5 in 1986 to at least 54 open, or scheduled to open, by 1993:
Mark Elliott is a Report editor and is professor of history and director of the Institute for East-West Christian Studies, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton,IL.
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© 1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report