- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Local Russian Orthodox Christians gathered yesterday to commemorate the Nov. 7 national holiday that mourns the beginning of communism that led to the persecution of thousands of Russian clergy and the faithful.

“The Russian people were the first to suffer under an atheistic and godless government,” said the Rev. Victor Potapov, head pastor of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Northwest. “We don’t celebrate that day. We mourn it.”

Father Potapov led his congregation in an hour-long memorial service to pay tribute to the victims of communism and mourn the holiday marking the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Nearly 100 parishioners — women with their heads covered in traditional kerchiefs — bowed their heads and genuflected during the service delivered in Slavonic.

Several priests chanted prayers standing around a chest on which dozens of lit candles stood. In front of the chest stood an image of the Crucifixion.

The sanctuary is adorned with hand-painted images of priests, bishops and nuns killed by the communist regime. Hundreds of centuries-old icons depicting images of saints hang on the walls throughout the cathedral at 4001 17th Street NW.

Russians worldwide commemorate Nov. 7 as a Day of Accord and Conciliation.

After the Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian czar in 1917, 300 bishops and 40,000 priests were killed for practicing their Orthodox faith, said Leonid Mickle, protodeacon at St. John the Baptist. The Soviet government persecuted Christians, destroyed thousands of churches and imposed control over the administration of the church.

Within 10 months, 20,000 members of the clergy were executed, causing many Russians to flee the country and establish the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, whose parishes now are scattered worldwide, Father Mickle said.

“Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them,” he said.

But, there now is a movement to replace the holiday with one that celebrates unity.

Religious leaders recently urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to abolish the traditional holiday and replace it with a public one that “genuinely unites society.”

Revolution Day traditionally is marked with rallies and marches in cities, with crowds waving red flags and portraits of former Soviet leaders.

The Interreligious Council of Russia, grouping Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders, has said the country needs to be united at a time when it is facing an “undeclared terrorist war” intended to “sow chaos and mistrust.” Revolution Day commemorates events that destroy national unity, the group has said.

Many in the church support a new holiday that would take place a few days earlier. The day proposed for a new holiday is Nov. 4, when Moscow was liberated from Polish occupiers in 1612 .

Nov. 4 also is a day Russians celebrate Our Lady of Kazan, the pearl icon credited for the many Russian victories for hundreds of years, including the liberation of Moscow.

“We just came out of 75 years of atheism. In the scope of Russian history, that is a short time,” Father Mickle said. “It would be so much better to be celebrating something that is more about Russian heritage.”

Father Mickle said Russian history — both bad and good — has lessons for Americans, too. “We have seen in Russia the results of taking a traditional structure of religion and replacing it with a nonreligious system,” he said. “The results have been devastation.”

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