In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2012. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, pp. 315-334.
Pilgrimages to monasteries or other holy places were a traditional religious practice among Orthodox believers up to 1917. Despite the Soviet government’s proclamation of state atheism, it was only with the mass terror in the 1930s that these practices disappeared. Yet in the context of World War II and Stalin’s following policy change towards religions, believers felt encouraged to practice the pilgrimage again. This article examines a pilgrimage to the famous monastery called “Rooted solitude” (Korennaia pustyn’) by the city of Kursk (Central Russia). From 1944 onwards until the new antireligious campaigns under Nikita Khrushchev in 1958/59, these processions attracted up to 20,000 pilgrims each year. Yet pilgrimages of this period differed somewhat from those practiced prior in pre-revolutionary times: the prominent icon of ‘Our Lady of Kursk’ (Bogomater’ Kurskaia Korennaja) was taken abroad in 1920 and the monastery was closed. ‘Holy springs’ nearby was chosen by the people as its substitute. In its struggle against such ‘occurrences of superstition’ the regime relied on the church hierarchy prohibiting the clergy to participate in the procession or any open air prayer sessions. Hence, the local bishop of Kursk was stuck in the dilemma between abandoning an important Orthodox tradition and open denial of the state instructions. This paper will analyze the bishop’s decisions as well as reactions of the laypeople.