The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation
Dmitry Dudko wanted to be a priest in a violently atheistic Soviet Union. When the KGB came to arrest him in 1948, they demanded he recant poems denouncing Stalin. “I won’t sign anything,” he told them. “I spoke the truth.” He got 10 years’ hard labor in the freezing mines of the far north. In the gulag he continued to pray, continued to write, continued to insist that Christ’s law was higher than the Kremlin’s. He was given another 10 years. When he was finally released, he began to preach in a cemetery on the outskirts of Moscow. He spoke against the state’s attack on the family, chastised the Orthodox establishment for toadying to the Kremlin, denounced the KGB for destroying communities by making men report on one another, taught Jews and Russians and Tatars to huddle together in faith and hope and overcome their ethnic bitterness.Drunk young people sleep on a park bench after a heavy drinking session in Moscow. (Martin Roemers/Panos)
In the 1970s, in a late Soviet period defined by endless cynicism and conformism, when no one believed in anything (least of all communism) and submission to the Kremlin for the sake of submission became the essence of the system, Dudko became legendary. Thousands would come to his sermons. Foreign correspondents were so inspired by him, they smuggled Dudko’s works out of the U.S.S.R., and his fame spread throughout the world. He became a beacon of anti-Soviet dissidence, a religious Solzhenitsyn, a free man in a totalitarian system. In 1980 he was arrested again. This time the KGB’s approach was more subtle: “we are guilty before you, and the state is guilty before the church,” they told him; they agreed that Russia needed to find faith; they hinted that they were believers just like him; they blamed all the bad bits of communism on the Jews. Wasn’t it time for us Russians to stick together? They said they would give him a chance to preach to a much greater audience if only he would do one tiny, little thing for them.