Father Dmitri Dudko was priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in the late twentieth century whose sermons and answers to questions concerning Christianity during the 1970s influenced greatly thousands and drew the ire of the atheistic Soviet government. His imprisonment and treatment ended in his forced renouncement of his activities.
Dmitri Dudko was born on February 24, 1922 into a peasant family in the village of Zarbuda in the region of Bryansk. In 1937, his father was arrested for refusing to join a collective farm. Dmitri was introduced to and embraced Christianity at the age of 16 when he came upon a copy of the Bible. He was wounded during his brief combat service with the Red Army in World War II.
After the end of World War II he entered the Moscow Theological Institute at Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow. Dmitri was arrested in 1948 when a fellow seminarian reported him for writing a poem that criticized the destruction of Russia's holy places. This led to his sentencing without a trial to ten years hard labor in the Urals for "anti-Soviet" agitation. He was released in 1956 during the thaw after Stalin's death.
As a former political prisoner, Dmitri, with difficulty, returned to school at the Moscow Theological Seminary. After graduating in 1960 and marrying, Dmitri was ordained a priest. But, he also was now under watch by the KGB.
Fr. Dimitri's life as a priest was one of constant interference with the Soviet authorities, as he once noted no week of his life passed without some interference. Yet, in the atheistic society, he brought many to Christ, baptizing thousands of adult converts. His reputation came, however, from a series of nine sermons that he deliver at St. Nicholas Church in Moscow in late 1973 and early 1974.
In the Soviet State, the churches were not permitted to distribute publications publicly, hold classes. or conduct discussion groups. Sermons were limited to matters of ritual. In this atmosphere Fr. Dimitri framed his sermons in the form of a dialogue in which he addressed written questions that interested his congregation. His candid comments, presented in his strong speaking style, soon caused the church to be overflowing with visitors. But, his success also brought interruptions to his life as the police subjected him to interrogations. In 1973, Fr. Dimitri was told by Patr. Pimen to stopped his unusual sermons, which he did, only to move the sessions to his home.
In his instructions, Fr. Dimitri tried to make religion less abstract. His words dealt with the pressing problems of everyday life in the Soviet Union, where half the marriages led to divorce and alcoholism and hooliganism were a continuing problem. He stressed that atheism could not answer the moral, domestic, and social disintegration that was occurring.
His adversities continued to occur. While visiting his mother in 1975, his two legs were broken in the crash by a truck into his car. Recovering from the injuries, Fr. Dimitri was assigned as assistant priest at a rural church in Grebnevo, that required him to commute from his Moscow apartment, and to leave his wife and children for most of each week.
Notes taken of Fr. Dimitri's sermons and conversation were collected and circulated in samizdat and eventually assembled and published, first in French in 1975 and in 1977 in English, in a book titled "Our Hope" published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press of Crestwood, New York.
In January 1980, Fr. Dimitri's continuing activities led to his arrest. Accused of giving "slanderous materials" to the Western press, Fr. Dimitri was confined and hospitalized. Six months later, on June 20, 1980, Fr. Dimitri was shown on Soviet television. In a twenty minute show he renounced his activities, in what was clearly an event produced by the KGB as a decisive measure, not only against the anti-Soviet activities of freedom seekers in Moscow but against the little independence left in the Russian Orthodox Church.
After his recantation, a broken Fr. Dimitri became an irrelevant, broken man of whom one could feel anything but deep sympathy, a man whom the KGB broke in 1980. He bore his soul in his confessions:
- "I thought if I didn't agree, I wouldn't live ... Compared to the hell that I then brought into my soul, anything - even torture or execution - would have been easier to bear."
- "I consider my [confession] to have been treacherous, if not before God and the church, then towards those friends with whom I was walking along the same path and doing the same work."
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