My father was a closeted Christian in the USSR. There was no way for him to get his hands on a Bible or talk to a priest but he was desperate to learn about the teachings of Christ. So he’d pore over the textbooks in his university courses on Scientific Atheism (yes, that’s the real, official name) that everybody had to take and he would underline every quote from the Bible that the textbooks included to demonstrate the supposed stupidity of Christianity. He didn’t read the Soviet critique of the Bible that filled the space between the quotes. But the quotes were the only way for him to access the text of the Bible. He had no community of believers around him and he didn’t seek one out for the sake of his children. There was a girl from an openly religious family in my school, and nobody who saw the way she was terrorized by the school authorities would want that for their kids.
I will never forget the day when my father finally got his hands on an actual Bible. It was 1985, and perestroika was just beginning. We were visiting friends in Moscow, and they gave my father a Bible to read. He stayed up all night reading it and when I asked him to give it to me, he did. I was nine, and when I started to read the Gospel of John I felt compelled to read it aloud.
“It feels like the kind of book that has to be read aloud. It has the kind of greatness that demands it,” I explained to my Dad. I saw that he was deeply shaken by what I said but I was too young to realize how important it must have been to him to see his child realize the greatness of the teaching of Christ.
My father got baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church at the age of 57 in Canada.
I thought about my father’s experiences in the USSR recently as I was preparing for a job interview with a very woke department of a very woke college and worried that the hiring committee would see my Christian cross and reject me out of hand as a religious fanatic, racist-sexist-homophobe-transphobe.
And what a shame that is.