My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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MEMPHIS, Tenn—In the Soviet Union the Communist party government has tried to give the people a feeling that the party replaces religion and the feeling the people have about Lenin is somewhat like the worship of a saint.

That was the impression I received while in Russia.

Beyond the feeling they have for family and friends, people need something to hold onto. In the Soviet Union, the long line that slowly wends its way daily to the tomb of Lenin every day it is open seemed to me actually the expression of this need for worship which is in every human soul.

Is there freedom of religious worship in the Soviet Union? While there, I tried to get the answer.

I attended a service in the Baptist Church in the outskirts of Moscow—the only church where young people seemed to be in great numbers. The minister told me they were quite free to train young people for the ministry and to conduct services. Of course, they are only a small sect—numbering about one quarter of a million—but they are growing, I was told, at the rate of 20,000 a year.

The old Orthodox religion is also allowed to conduct services, but many of the old churches have become museums.

In Leningrad I visited a church where on the lower floor just a prayer service, with people wandering in and out, was being conducted. On climbing laboriously up two flights of stairs, we found a full service was being conducted with beautiful singing. In the case of the Orthodox church, however, the congregation seemed to consist largely of older people, many old women and men, and they toiled up those flights of stairs faithfully, stopping at every icon on the stairs to say a prayer.

Outside of Moscow I visited Zagorsk, which has been a holy city and where there is a 16th Century monastery and two lovely churches and other buildings dating from the 16th and 18th Centuries. St. Serge is buried there, and inside the church, where his tomb is, there is a constant service. Again, most of the worshipers looked like older women. I was astonished to hear their singing, which was remarkably beautiful.

There was a whole wall of very fine icons and one famous one of the trinity. In the days of the Czars it was the custom for the Czar to walk to Zagorsk on foot to worship, and people come still from miles around.

They tell an amusing story of one of the Czar's daughters who found it difficult to take this long walk. With a carriage following her, she would walk each day as far as she could, then drive home and return to the place where she stopped and begin her pilgrimage again.

Here the Greek Orthodox church has a seminary and academy and I was told that 220 students were entering the seminary in the next semester. Students must enter between the ages of 18 and 40, but they must have had 10 years of previous schooling.

Their education, board and lodging are free. The Patriarch at the head of the Greek Orthodox church supports the academy and seminary and all the churches by voluntary gifts from people who are still faithful to their religion.

My secretary, Miss Maureen Corr, attended a Roman Catholic church in Moscow and in Leningrad and was saddened by the fact that there seemed to be only older people present.

Attendance at the synagogue and the training of a limited number of rabbis is also allowed, but no Hebrew school for children existed in Moscow.

I understand that no member of the Communist Party can attend church, so evidently the general opposition of the government to church attendance possibly influenced a great many of the people. They work hard and it is easy for them to look upon Sunday as a day of rest and holiday and to feel that, on the whole, they might as well fall in with the habits of those who are close to the government. Therefore, church attendance does not seem to be very popular with many of the younger people of the Greek Orthodox faith.

In Tashkent we visited the head of the Mohammedan church who had just taken over the duties from his father. He is still a fairly young man and he said that Islam was the religion of that area. His mosque seemed to be in good condition and he had some fine old books in his library. He seemed to feel that his people were continuing with their religion.

In the next article or two I will sum up for you my feelings and impressions as I look back on my time spent in the Soviet Union, now I have had time to evaluate what I saw and felt. That will end this series. Then I will be able to come back to our contemporary scene which, I must say, I am rather glad to do, as so much seems to be happening both at home and abroad.

E. R.

(Copyright, 1957, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Memphis (TN, United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 17, 1957

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.