ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2015 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 61, No.2 - Summer 2015
Editor of this issue: Almantas Samalavičius

Book Review

Arūnas Streikus. The Church in Soviet Lithuania.
Trans. UAB "Magistrai." Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, 2012. 47 pages. ISBN 978-609-8037-1-7.

Streikus provides a condensed history of Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, during the Soviet occupation, but the publication suffers from various translation and technical issues.

The booklet primarily reviews the changing status of the Roman Catholic Church during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. The opening chapter makes the perplexing claim that Lithuanian Catholicism only formed in the twentieth century. (2) No explanation is provided. Under the Soviets, the Church sequentially experienced repression, attempts at creating a Catholic Church independent of Rome, forced cooptation with the regime, a brief liberalization during the post-Stalin thaw, more forced cooptation, and liberalization in the last decade of the Soviet Union. The significant work of nuns is emphasized. The book only mentions Siberian exile, but does analyze the Church's status there, and several Siberian photographs are included. One chapter covers antireligious propaganda. That chapter includes a photograph from a seemingly pagan St. John's Day celebration, but it lacks an accompanying explanation. Oddly, the final events, Lithuanian independence and the collapse of the USSR, are missing. Streikus provides a clear historical narrative sequence with interesting and rare photographs; but the illustrations do not always match the topics being discussed.

The second largest Christian denomination, the Lutheran Church, is briefly addressed several times. Unfortunately, there is no analysis of Soviet attempts to control the Church. The Lutheran situation is stereotypically portrayed, i.e., that the Church focused on its poorly educated clergy and dwindling congregations. (46) The third largest denomination, the Reformed Church, is not mentioned at all. Both orthodox Churches are each mentioned once, as are various Pentecostal denominations. The Pentecostals arrived toward the end of the Soviet era. Again, no analysis of state-church relations is provided for any of these denominations. Streikus apparently misunderstands the orthodox old Believers, claiming untrained laity led worship for them. (46) old Believers opted for lay led congregations, rejecting the clergy, hierarchy, and corruption of the institutional Russian orthodox Church. The author repeats that non-Catholic clergy lacked religious education. This emphasis sounds like a prejudice against Protestants and the orthodox. In contrast, he details the challenges Catholics faced in training their equally underprepared clergy.

Surprisingly, Streikus mentions the appearance of the Hare Krishnas in Soviet Lithuania. They get a modicum of recognition in a book on Soviet Christianity. Why, then, are the historic Jewish, Muslim, and Karaite religious communities of Lithuania omitted? They suffered similar religious repression. The Jewish question is particularly important since self-serving Soviet propaganda widely exploited the Jewish genocide by the Nazis. How did the Soviets treat the Jewish religious establishment?

Many of the topics in the volume raise interesting questions for further reading, but there are no sources, bibliography, or index provided. The English translation is faulty and cumbersome. Names are listed inconsistently. Priests are often incorrectly dubbed as friars. Is this a mistranslation of "Reverend?" Protestant and Orthodox worship is called "Mass," the Catholic term. Religious orders are incorrectly called "monks" and their houses "monasteries." Šiluva is misspelled. (29) Miscellaneous vocabulary items are also mistranslated: "hostel" for dormitory, for example. (22) Ultimately, this curious publication requires a professional editor and English-language proofreader to correct its academic and English deficiencies.

Vilius Rudra Dundzila