Ecclesiastical Politics of Leonid Brezhnev: 1965-1982




Brezhnev, Soviet Union, Church, Dissident


The religious policy of the Soviet government is particularly urgent in modern Georgian, Russian and Western scientific literature. Special investigations, aimed at the study of the state of religious organizations in the Soviet Union and, particularly, of the Orthodox Church, are being developed. It is noteworthy that alarge part of the existing research includes the study of the ecclesiastical policy of the Soviet government in the 20s and 60s of the last century. Only in recent monographs do we find attempts of the scientific study of the relationship between church and state in the Soviet Union of the 1970s and 1980s. The study of religious policy issues of the Soviet period is being successfully conducted in Georgian scientific reality, however, the chronological framework of the research herein only includes the period of 20-60s of the XX century. More specifically, the upper limit of this period is defined to be the final years of Nikita Khrushchev’s rule, namely the first half of the 1960s. Less attention is paid to (and is actually not investigated) Leonid Brezhnev’s ecclesiastical policy and its development tendencies.The aim of our paper is to elucidate the bases of the ecclesiastical policy of the Soviet government during the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, its main aspects, domestic and foreign factors and the consequences of their influence; to analyze and evaluate the works of modern Russian, European, American and Georgian historiography, written and visual historical sources and published and unpublished archival documents.In terms of research methodology, the work is based on historical cognitive, content analysis, historical-typological, comparative, biographical, retrospective, historical-genetic and systematic research methods, which needless to say envisages a comprehensive historical study of the historical sources around the issue; it is also an attempt to restore the images of historical past.

The results of the research can be chronologically divided into 2 stages:

  1. A) The ecclesiastical policy of Leonid Brezhnev from the second half of the 1960s to the second half of the 1970s;
  2. B) The ecclesiastical policy of Leonid Brezhnev from the second half of the 1970s to 1982.

Each stage is characterized by different tendencies, internal and external challenges, orientations and results that the Soviet Union used to face. For example, if at the beginning of his rule Leonid Brezhnev’s government considered it a priority to condemn Nikita Khrushchev’s repressive ecclesiastical policies and to take a relatively compromising approach to relations with religious organizations, from the second half of the 1970s, under the intensification of the dissident movement, the rapprochement of the society with the Church, and the success of Western states diplomacy, the chosen course was being changed and Brezhnev’s sophisticated policies became more radical and rigid. The transformation of the form (and not the content) of the ecclesiastical policy of the government was obviously preconditioned by certain reasons and was serving the respective purposes. In the paper, we discuss the above-mentioned reasons, goals, measures taken by the official authorities in the field of religion, both at the legislative and social levels, and the way of transforming its course from the second half of the 60s to the beginning of the 80s.  Naturally, it is impossible to settle this complex issue within one paper, however, we think that this research will contribute to the development of further studies in Georgian scientific world.

Author Biography

Eter Bokelavadze /Sakartvelo, Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University

Eter Bokelavadze  is  a  Phd  candidate  at  Ivane Javakhishvili  Tbilisi  State University,  Faculty  of Humanities, direction of  history,  a  teacher of  history  and  civic  education, a  coach  and  also  an invited  lecturer  at  the  Faculty of  Psychology  and  Educational  sciences  in the same university. Her scientific-research  interests  include:  the  history  of  the Christian  Church, inter-church relations, the religious policies  of  the Soviet governmens  and  relations  of  the state  and  church. Since 2007 she has participated in  25  university, republican  and  international  scientific conferences  and  symposiums and  is  an author of up to 30 publications; such as: "The struggle of  Georgian Orthodox Church for the international recognition of autocephaly and patriarchal  dignity  and  the  position  of  the  Patriarchate of Constantinople (70-80s of the XX century)";  "Political  bases for becoming a member of  Georgian Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches",  "The Role of the World Council of Churches in Relations  between  the  Socialist  and  Capitalist  Camps (50-80s of the XX Century)"; "The Patriarchates of  Georgia  and  Alexandria  for  the  Restoration  of  World  Peace (due to a single fragment of  inter-church relations, 70-80 of the XX century); "The Peace Mission of the Church of  Antioch  in the Conflicts  of  the Middle East (70-80s of the XX century)";  "Excerpt  from  the  history of relations between the  churches  of  Georgia  and  Jerusalem  in  the  70s  and  80s of the XX century (on the issue of  the return of Jerusalem Cross Monastery)"; "On the Foundation of  Serbian Orthodox Autocephalous Church", "About Falsification of  Ecclesiastical-Historical  bases  in Kosovo  and  Abkhazia (Historical Parallels)", etc.


Guruli, V. (Ed.) (2003). Sakartvelos istoria XX saukune. [History of Georgia XX century]. Tbilisi: Tbilisi State University Press: Artanuji Publishing

Loria, V., Gelashvili B., Bendeliani M. (2006). Adamianis uplebebi da religia. [Human rights and religion]. Tbilisi: Tobalisi Pubishing

Nergadze, N. (2010). Helsinkis deklaratsia 35 tslisaa – ra mnishvneloba hkonda a dokuments? [The Helsinki Declaration is 35 years old - What was the significance of this document?].

Saralidze, L. (2015). Sakartvelos helsinkis kavshiris mogvatseobis istoriidan, zhurnali “Akhali da uakhlesi istoriis sakitkhebi”. [From the history of the Helsinki Union of Georgia, Journal of Modern and Contemporary History Issues]. N1 (16). Tbilisi: Universali Pubishing

Schmidi, U. (2013). Sabchota kavshirisa da rusetis dziritadi kanonebis ritorikuli da zhanruli gamorcheuloba, Giorgi Noniashvilis targmani. [Rhetorical and genre distinction of the basic laws of the Soviet Union and Russia]. Translated by Giorgi Noniashvili.

Constitution (Basic Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1985); Constitutions (Basic Laws) of the Union Soviet Socialist Republics. Moscow: News of the Councils of public Deputies of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library

Sazonov, D. I. (2015). Brezhnev's persecution of the Church (based on materials from Central Russia), Historical sciences and archeology, Bulletin of the KSU. Named N.A. Nekrasov № 6, 46-50

Tseshkovsky, W. (2013). Russian Orthodox Church in the era of Brezhnev's rule

Stricker, G. (1995). Russian Orthodox Church in Soviet times (1917-1991), Materials and documents on the history of relations between the State and the Church. Moscow: Propylaea Publishing

Anderson, J. (1994/2002). Religion, state and politics in the Soviet Union and successor states,

University of St Andrews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Transferred to digital

printing 2002

Childers, B. (2012). The Plurality of Soviet Religious "Policy", The Florida State University

Conquest, R. (1968). Religion in the USSR, New York : Praeger

Corley, F. (1996). Religion in the Soviet Union , An Archival Reader, London: Macmilan Press Ltd

Kowalewski, D. (1980). Religious Belief in the Brezhnev Era: Renaissance, Resistance and Realpolitik,

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 280-292

Walters, Ph. (1993/2005). A survey of Soviet religious policy, Religious policy in the Soviet Union,

Cambridge : Cambridge University Press




How to Cite

/Sakartvelo, E. B. (2022). Ecclesiastical Politics of Leonid Brezhnev: 1965-1982. TSU-TI — THE INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL OF HUMANITIES, 1(1).