Orthodox America

  The Christian Seminar

The increasing interest in religion among Soviet young people, has led to the spontaneous growth of groups who meet to discuss religious and philosophical questions. One such group of recent converts to the Orthodox faith began in 1973 to form under the leadership of Alexander Ogorodnikov. With the purpose of undertaking a serious study of Christianity, they began in 1974 to hold regular seminars. Any literature of a serious religious nature is very difficult to obtain; one of the most important functions of the seminar was, therefore, the sharing of material which was not readily available. The seminars took the form of lectures and readings, the subjects of which would then be discussed. Ogorodnikov's group, called the Christian Seminar, had as its aim "the creation of a living Christian community within the conditions of Soviet reality." In 1978 the Seminar began the publication of a religious-philosophical magazine, "Obshchina" ("Community"). In a statement to the press Ogorodnikov made the following statement:

"The magazine 'Obshchina' reflects the process of the religious revival of contemporary Russia....It concentrates on spiritual inquiry and is not concerned with political problems....The Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th century has made heavy sacrifices and has been subject to harsh government control....In this situation, so tragic for the Church, we begin the preparation of the magazine, 'Obshchina', exercising our right to confess our faith and to live according to a Christian conscience."

Despite the apolitical nature of the Seminar, the harassment of its members by the KGB began from its inception and took on various forms: some were expelled from universities,. dismissed from their jobs, searched, detained, beaten by "unknown personages", relatives came under investigation; others were forcibly' incarcerated in psychiatric "hospitals". One such victim, an active member of the Seminar,

George Fedotov, had been converted to Orthodoxy in the camps and just before his "hospitalization" had made a pilgrimage to various monasteries. Ogorodnikov was told by an official that Fedotov was "gravely ill"; his illness-religion, "and we are going to cure him of that." The official forbade Ogorodnikov and his friends to visit Fedotov saying: "You are drawing him towards God, and we are trying to influence him toward the Devil, This is causing a split in his personality."

Sources: "Possev", Feb. 1979 (in Russian); Letter from friends and members of the Seminar to Dr. Potter of the WCC, April 18, 1977. (Russian transcript available from Washington Street Research Center, San Francisco