Alexander Ogorodnikov grew up in the former Soviet Union at a time when the communist government wanted to rid society of all religious influences. While his father was a loyal member of the Communist Party, his grandmother had him secretly baptized.
“After the Revolution the Bolsheviks declared a war on Christianity,” Alexander noted, in a talk he gave at Cambridge in 2012. “It all started when Trotsky and Lunacharsky gave God the death sentence and decided that God should be shot and executed.
“This was taken quite seriously and was not just a joke, they really thought this should be done,” he added. “Their ultimate aim was to create a new man, Homo Sovieticus – The Soviet Man.”
The persecution of believers was relentless. “A great many clergy, priests, deacons, monks and nuns were killed by crucifixion, killing, shooting, drowning an all sorts of terrible ways,” Alexander recounted.
“One of the things the Bolsheviks would do at this time was to bury people alive, priests, monks, nuns. Witnesses say that they could hear the singing of hymns and prayers – so much so it looked as if the earth was alive, it was moving and shifting simply from the amount of people buried alive.”
There was a mindless fanaticism to their hatred of Christians. “These were not just atheist, but anti-theist, God haters. This was their religion, that is, ardent belief against God. They represented people who not only denied the existence of God, but people who fanatically hated God and did everything they could against him. This was their new religion – fervent hatred for God.”
Although raised an atheist, as a college student at the University of the Urals Alexander began to question the prevailing ideology of dialectical materialism. The university expelled him for a “dissident way of thinking” incompatible with the school.
Later he enrolled at the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. In his quest for truth, he became a Christian believer after he watched “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew” by Passolini.
Alexander received his first communion at an Orthodox Church in Moscow from a bishop visiting from London. After his religious faith was discovered, he was once again dismissed from school.
Somehow, Alexander began to build a network with other young Christians from the intelligentsia. He founded an underground group known as the “Christian Seminar,” whose participants read the Bible and discussed theology and faith.
Slowly, the authorities gathered evidence against the group. As the leader of the seminar, Alexander was the first to be detained. Most of those involved were arrested, put through show trials and deported to forced labor camps known as gulags.
In 1976, at the age of 25, Alexander was sent to a psychiatric institution — a hospital “for the criminally insane” — and he received antipsychotic medication. The authorities viewed his Christian faith as a mental disorder.