In This Review
A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy

A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy

By Nathaniel Davis

Westview Press, 1995, 381 pp.

For the general reader interested in religion in Russia -- and, considering the important role of Russian Orthodoxy in the country, many should be -- this is now the best book. Davis takes the church from its initial battles with Bolshevism after the 1917 revolution, through the near-fatal years of Stalin and the repressions of Khrushchev, to the at times traumatic rebirth during the collapse of Soviet power. The story is laid out in a clear, uncluttered fashion, built from the most fundamental kinds of questions such as whether there is "something intrinsic in the natural order that prevents the triumph of antireligion."

Most of the book focuses on the contemporary period. The history, about a third of the book, is there genuinely as background and is very helpful. For the rest, Davis systematically explores the reconstitution of the Russian Orthodox Church in Gorbachev's last years and the explosion of possibility with the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, too, however, does he address the explosion of schisms within the church and conflicts with sister faiths in Ukraine, a crucial base of Russian Orthodoxy. And he takes on the question of the church hierarchy's collaboration with the KGB, a painful but, as he sees it, complex issue. There are also informative chapters on the clergy, convents, theological training, publications, and heirs of the illegal or underground church. As for the laity, Davis seems to conclude that, while the effort to create a "society against God" failed, its residual, a "society without God," has more staying power.