The conversion of Russia: maybe not as we expected it

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 13, 2017

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.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Oct. 24, 2017 2:01 AM ET USA

    With you on that thinking Phil, or, in other words, me too kept looking for the "big ones". Now we worry whether America will hear a small voice too for there can be no doubt of the immensity of the spiritual battle going on here.

  • Posted by: Gregory108 - Oct. 22, 2017 5:57 AM ET USA

    My hope would be that if Putin is rediscovering the truth about God, he will rediscover the Ten Commandments,the parts that say, Thou shalt not kill (your political enemies), Thou shalt not steal (other peoples' countries and their land) and Thou shalt not bear false witness (by lying about Ukrainian "persecution of ethnic Russians," giving an excuse to invade other peoples' lands and killing said people.) These are not white lies and simple "bad boy" incursions, but actions that kill and maim!

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Oct. 16, 2017 7:02 AM ET USA

    Just when you think you have a handle on God He does something that is totally off your radar! For example, the USA fought against Germany in WWII and was allied with communist Russia. We declared victory over the Nazis but many slipped away and came to America. We declared victory over communism in 90s but the ideology had safely transplanted to American shores. It would appear we need to fight more spiritual battles and less physical ones. Blessed Mother of God Pray for us!

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 14, 2017 1:06 PM ET USA

    I am glad, Phil, that someone in this forum is finally taking notice. It started...wait for it...wait for it...with Putin. Back 7 or 8 years ago (?) when he and the Duma instituted mandatory religion classes in all schools at all levels of instruction. It started when he and the Duma outlawed any and all forms of desecration and disruption of liturgical services throughout Russia. It started years ago when he and everyone with ears to hear and eyes to see rediscovered the truth about God.