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Sekretiki No. 10. Soviet Ecumenism

Moscow hippie Vladimir Teplyshev, nicknamed Zen-Baptist, put together a samizdat journal called Alternativa, which introduced its readership to the ideals of hippie-Christians and Jesus Revolution. The publication was inspired by his participation in the network of underground discussion groups of the ecumenical movement, founded by Sandr Riga and active in many cities across the Soviet Union.

Ecumenism—a Christian movement promoting unity among religions through greater cooperation and improved understanding—was part of the “religious revival” that was set in motion by Khrushchev’s Thaw. The movement’s respect for the variety of spiritual paths accorded well with the challenges of the youth counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Generational anti-establishment protest at the time—often going hand-in-hand with a bohemian lifestyle and self-destructive practices of “negative freedom”—had begun to reveal its negative side- effects: alienation, personal crises, addictions, early deaths. There was a need to replace the blind alley of marginalization with a more positive, spirituality- orientated outlook on life. But there was also a desire to enjoy radical freedom of choice when shaping one’s own religiosity.

Many members of Soviet hippie communities were fascinated by the myriad number of belief systems and the prospects for religious eclecticism. Some preferred to remain self-made believers outside any particular religion or confession, others joined the Orthodox church, sympathized with Tolstoyan ideas or found their spiritual base in Buddhism, the Hare Krishna movement or the endless realms of “occulture.” The ecumenist Sandr Riga and his samizdat journal Prizyv demonstrated acceptance of such personal freedom by setting new standards for religious samizdat. Prizyv was respectful of the individual differences in spiritual experiences and provided open editorials for sharing them. The movement received a serious blow in the mid-1980s, when several of its leaders were imprisoned or locked away for “treatment” in psychiatric hospitals.

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