The roll-call of heroes and saints shows just how much courage you needed to live out your faith

I have been reading, with difficulty, Jonathan Luxmoore’s first volume of The God of the Gulag: Martyrs in an Age of Revolution (Gracewing, £20). I say “with difficulty” because it is a long catalogue of the appalling sufferings endured by Christians who happened to be caught up in the Russian Revolution and afterwards in the Soviet Union, as well as for all those trapped behind the Iron Curtain, as Churchill described it, after the war.

It is worth reminding those who think Christianity is a “violent” religion and who triumphantly cite the Crusades that untold millions of people died under Soviet Communism in a seemingly never-ending orgy of blood-letting. Luxmoore often refers to the persecutions of the early Christians for comparison, as well as the atheistic impulse that came to dominate the French Revolution. He implicitly demonstrates that revolution, rather than the slow process of reform (fortunately favoured in this country), is never the answer to society’s ills; it simply makes them worse.

What has been called “the Red Terror” is encapsulated in the statement of Alexander Zinoviev, the Bolshevik chairman in Petrograd at the time of the Revolution: “We must carry along with us 90 of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s inhabitants. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.” And they were, often at the hands of the Cheka, the secret police formed by the early Communists and who, in the chaos following the Revolution, behaved with lawless abandon.

Luxmoore informs us that “at least 7.7 million people would die during the 1930s through famine, execution, forced labour, deportation and exile”. They include countless Orthodox and Catholic priests and religious sisters who often suffered torture before a cruel death. The roll-call of heroes and saints who suffered under the informers and psychopaths who thrived under Communism makes one aware of just how courageous you had to be to live out your faith under this atheistic system.

I was once informed by a Russian that it was Communism which was bad rather than atheism, which is good. I understand his distinction, but in Russia and its satellite countries they were baleful bedfellows. “Every religious idea, every idea of God, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness,” Lenin remarked to the writer Maxim Gorky.

I shall now tackle Volume 2: Martyrs in an Age of Secularism.