To distract myself a little, I want to tell you about the history of the Orthodox Church in the USSR which explains why, after converting at age 8, I didn’t become baptized until 2018.
Stalin was anti-church until 1941. Not as much as Lenin, who was completely rabid, but still a lot. But when Nazis invaded, Stalin decided to use everything possible to motivate people to fight. For instance, he permitted a small amount of nationalism in the republics, especially in Ukraine because it was particularly heavily hit. He also decided to permit a small dose of religion.
Stalin called in the Patriarch and proposed a deal. Some of the church buildings would be allowed to hold services. They’d not be molested. Even a few small processions with crosses would be allowed. In return, the priests would break the seal of confession and inform on their parishioners. Lists of parishioners would be handed over to the KGB because anybody who wanted to visit a church was by default suspicious.
Many brave priests refused. They were murdered, persecuted, sent to the camps, tortured in madhouses. Some managed to worship and hold services in secret. But the official church was comprised solely of KGB informants.
I had an opportunity to observe how it all worked with my own eyes. One of my closest school friends was from a practicing Orthodox family. Obviously, this was a closely held secret. She never told me or anyone else.
One day, the literature teacher drags this poor kid in front of the classroom and proceeds to mock and humiliate her. Turns out the teacher’s dad was a KGB officer who curated the church. He was informed that not only did my friend’s parents go to the services, they even – oh, horror – had their kids sing in the choir.
The literature teacher really went to town on my friend. This was a tiny, scrawny kid in ill-fitting clothes. Underfed and terrified. (They were religious, so had many kids and not enough food.) We were all terrified and confused. We had no idea why the teacher was screaming or what was so bad about singing in the choir. We all sang in the school choir, and it was incomprehensible why the teacher would get so mad.
After the USSR fell apart, everybody expected the KGB church to go away or at least do penance for these crimes. We expected that the heroic catacomb priests would be allowed to take the place of the KGB priests and cleanse the church of this garbage.
This never happened. The KGB priests remained fully in control. It’s so bad that they rent out the banquet hall at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for oligarch orgies. Their main source of income is tobacco sales. You just can’t make it up.
The priest who baptized me here in Illinois is a convert to Orthodoxy. He told me about how he went to the seminary in Russia to get trained, and he was horrified. Had to move to a Bulgarian diocese because, while not perfect, it was better than any heir to the Soviet church.
Of course, seeing all of this put me off the idea of church attendance for a very long time.