After being driven underground by Soviet rule for nearly 80 years, the Russian Orthodox Church has been resurrected and is rapidly being restored to its former splendor as the center of Russia’s identity — spiritually and architecturally. In 1991, hopes for a new Russia gave rise to dreams of democracy, economic freedom, and most of all, a spiritual revival. The number of people claiming a religious affiliation surged. By 2004, communities of the Russian Orthodox Church almost quadrupled in numbers and millions of Russians rushed to be baptized, eager to be reunited with their historical past. Thousands of ruined churches- – including those claimed by the Soviets for use as warehouses, factories, or barns – have been restored to their original opulence and the clergy have resumed their magnificent traditional liturgies and rituals. Young and old are embracing age-old acts of devotion and faith; the monastic life has returned and the church’s role within local communities is expanding; throngs of young priests with corps of volunteers are faithfully administering to the sick, elderly, poor; troubled youths housed in prisons and half-way houses are being both cared for and proselytized – and an icy swim in the priest-blessed waters of rivers and lakes at the Feast of Epiphany cleanses the soul of sins.
Russia has realigned itself with God, and as the Kremlin quietly takes stock of the church’s growing influence, the Russian people are reveling in their reunion with the deeply rooted mysteries and abiding traditions of their once buried past.