There was no religion in the Soviet Union, or let’s say very little. The Bolsheviks worked hard to eradicate it and in the 1960s Khrushchev reassured, “Gagarin flew into space and didn’t see God”. Many churches and cathedrals had been destroyed by the Soviet regime, although some remained and stood quietly to see their light of day. Some would later be rebuilt, like Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was demolished by Stalin in 1931 and a huge open-air swimming pool was put in its place. I remember it — my Dad and I used to go there on weekends. It was perfectly round, steamy, and crowded, with lots of old and fat men and women half-walking half-swimming. Maybe not everyone was old and fat and, of course, it was only steamy in the winter, but that’s how I remember it.
During the Yeltsin years in the 1990s, the Cathedral was rebuilt in the place of the swimming pool:
It was during the 1980’s Gorbachev’s perestroika that some Russians — as was the case with my Mom — began to rediscover their long-suppressed spiritual identity. After all, Russia had been Christian for a millennium, in fact, exactly a millennium. I remember a book in our home library with a colorful cathedral on its cover, titled “One thousand years since Russia’s baptism.” Russia was baptized into Christianity in 988. The title sounded grandiose but the book was disappointingly dull: full of icons, many photographed in black and white, with unhandsome saints. That was it — my acquaintance with religion — in my early childhood years.
I don’t know the exact story of my Mom’s faith. Maybe she had believed before, although her own family was most certainly not religious, or maybe she started her spiritual journey then, during the Gorbachev years. Either way, around 1987 or 1998 she arranged for me to be baptized. I was eight years old. Mom herself got baptized too on that day. Nowadays, the ritual is performed soon after birth. Then, it was “better late than never.”
The ritual took place at Moscow’s Church of Ilya the Prophet. Located on the eastern edge of the city, a few tram stops away from our home and a walking distance from my middle school, the church is…