ROGOZNY P.G. The Civil War and “National Orthodoxy” (Bolshevik Persecution of Icons and Relics of Saints)


Pavel G. Rogozny

Candidate of Sciences (History), Researcher,

Saint Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences,

Petrozavodskaya St, 7, 197110 Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

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Аbstract. Introduction. The article focuses on the church policy of the Bolsheviks during the Civil War in relation to” national Orthodoxy”, namely, the removal of icons and the opening of relics.

Methods and materials. The removal of icons was legally formalized by the Bolsheviks in August 1918 in the instructions for distributing the decree on the separation of the church from the state. Icons were hung in schools, hospitals, factories and factories, in public places, but now they were all removed. The removal of the icons caused a protest of part of the population and even uprisings on “religious grounds”. The autopsy of the relics officially took place at the beginning of 1919.

Analysis. In total, there are more than 60 autopsies of the relics of saints. They led to a huge shock to a significant part of the population of the believing population, where it was believed that the relics of saints must necessarily be incorruptible. However, during the autopsies of the relics, which took place in the presence of representatives of the clergy, scattered rotten bones, cotton wool, wire frames resembling the outlines of a person were found in the shrines of the saints. Despite the secret order of Patriarch Tikhon to remove foreign objects from the tombs of the saints, it was already too late, and the Church was accused of deceiving the population in order to receive money from the numerous pilgrims who came to the relics. The Bolsheviks decided to take this action in the conditions of the Civil War in order to demonstrate the deception that, in their opinion, came from church leaders.

Results. If the action to remove the icons was unsuccessful and stretched over time, the results of the autopsy of the relics were used for a long time in atheistic propaganda. If the action of the Bolsheviks to remove the icons was explained by the word tolerance, which was incomprehensible to the people, then the opening of the relics was a successful campaign, since it beat according to the idea of “national Orthodoxy” that the relics of saints should be incorruptible.

Key words: Orthodoxy, Church, Civil War, “national Orthodoxy”, Bolsheviks, icons, relics, anticlericalism.

Citation. Rogozny P.G. The Civil War and “National Orthodoxy” (Bolshevik Persecution of Icons and Relics of Saints). Vestnik Volgogradskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Seriya 4. Istoriya. Regionovedenie. Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya [Science Journal of Volgograd State University. History. Area Studies. International Relations], 2022, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 203-214. (in Russian). DOI:

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The Civil War and “National Orthodoxy” (Bolshevik Persecution of Icons and Relics of Saints) by Rogozny P.G. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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