The conversion of Russia: maybe not as we expected it
All through the Old Testament and into the New, God surprised his People. We shouldn’t be caught off guard, then, if He still has surprises in store for us today.
Elijah encountered God not in wind or the fire or the earthquake, but in the small still voice. [1 Kgs 19:11-13] The Messiah came on the human scene not as a mighty warrior but as a defenseless baby. Jesus did not rise to a throne but to a Cross. Time after time, the expectations of the faithful have been confounded. God tells us what to expect, but we put his message into our own tight little categories, and in the process we miss something critical.
I’m reminded of this all-too-human weakness today, on the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima, because I am one of the many, many Catholics who misunderstood Our Lady’s message. I expected that the global struggle against Communism, the great worldwide political battle of my lifetime, would be resolved by some great, epic struggle. It was not. When the Soviet regime fell, it was defeated by the small, still voice of a people who refused to accept the legitimacy of the regime. The Berlin Wall was torn down not by tanks, but by young people in a party atmosphere. The great battle that I expected never came to pass.
Or was there a great battle—a spiritual battle—that escaped public notice? There were, after all, all those people praying the Rosary, in accordance with Mary’s wishes…
And now we wait for the promised conversion of Russia. If we have learned from experience, we should not be too surprised if that conversion take an unexpected route. The Catholic News Service has just released a short (30-minute) film, Faces among Icons, that reports on a spiritual revival in Russia. It is not the revival that you and I might have predicted. It is taking place most noticeably in the Orthodox Church, for one thing, rather than among Catholics. The relationship between the Orthodox Church and the Russian government is problematic, as it has been so often in the past. But something is stirring.
I’m not saying that this is the answer to our prayers. I am saying that it’s worth watching.
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