Gleb Rahr

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Gleb Alexandrovich Rahr (Russian: Глеб Александрович Рар) (October 3, 1922-March 3, 2006) was an exiled Russian journalist who dedicated his life to the Orthodox Church. He is a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, and his account of Pascha at Dachau in 1945 is one of the few to be recounted of this momentous occasion. He was active in trying to bring the Gospel into Soviet Russia, as well as informing the rest of the world of the plight of the Orthodox Church within the Soviet Union. As conditions for the Church slowly started to improve in his homeland, he was at the forefront of the effort to reunite the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) with the Moscow Patriarchate.


Early Years

Rahr was born into a Russian merchant-class family of Scandinavian ancestry, the son of the Alexander Alexandrovich Rahr and his second wife, Natalij Sergejewna Judin. The family was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1924, and first settling in Estonia, and then later to Latvia. This is where the young Gleb grew up, attending and finishing his schooling at a German "Gymnasium" there. Once the Red Army invaded Latvia in 1940, the family escaped to Germany along with many German families living in Latvia, thanks, in large part, to their German-sounding last name.

From 1942, Rahr began studying architecture at the University of Breslau (the German city of Breslau is now the Polish city of Wroclaw). It was here that he assisted in the construction of a Russian Orthodox Church. During this time, he joined the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (NTS), which besides being anti-Bolshevik, was anti-Fascist. The Nazi government eventually rounded up a number of NTS members, and in June, 1944, Gleb Rahr was arrested. He ended up spending time in the following concentration camps: Gross-Rosen, Sachsenhausen, Schlieben, Buchenwald, and Dachau. He was one of the prisoners in the infamous transfer of prisoners from Buchenwald to Dachau. Although the true number may never be known, out of the 3100 prisoners who boarded the train in Buchenwald, 2300 or fewer survived the 21-day ordeal. (Rahr himself estimated that 5000 began the journey, with only 1300 surviving.) This train arrived in Dachau in the middle of the night between April 27 and 28, 1945. Dachau was liberated by the American Army on April 29, which did not allow the Nazis to destroy the evidence of this transport. The Americans found the train there, still containing the bodies of hundreds of prisoners, many of them whom had starved to death, but many others who had been shot.

Pascha at Dachau, 1945

Since the Americans could not immediately release all the prisoners at Dachau, and in that year Pascha occurred on May 6 (April 23, on the Julian Calendar). Among the prisoners at Dachau, many of them were Orthodox, including priests, deacons, and a group of monks from Mount Athos. It was decided that there would be an effort made, in conjunction with the Yugoslav and Greek National Prisoner's Committees, to celebrate the Paschal service there in Dachau.

However, there were no liturgical items to be found at the concentration camp, and attempts to procure any of these items from a Russian Orthodox Church in Munich was futile. Besides the Orthodox in Dachau, a "block" of Catholic priests had been allowed to stay together during their imprisonment, and they had been allowed a room in their barrack in which they could say Mass every day before they began their work. They offered this makeshift "chapel" - a bare room containing only an icon of the Theotokos of Czestochowa. Vestments were made of new linen-towels raided from the hospital of the SS-guards, and red crosses, meant to denote medical personnel, were sewn to adorn these towel-vestments.

Although 40 percent of the prisoners at Dachau were Soviet prisoners of war, very few were allowed to participate, as Russian forces, in the days between liberation and Pascha, started the "repatriation" process for this group. However, the services commenced, there being twelve Orthodox priests and one deacon there, mostly Greek and Serbian, and the entire service, from the Paschal Canon to the Sticheras to the Gospel to the Homily of St. John Chrysostom were all done by memory, alternating between Slavonic and Greek.

After the War

After spending some time in a displaced persons camp, Gleb Rahr ended up in back in Hamburg and served as secretary to Bishop Nathaniel. By the end of 1947, he was working at a publisher of Russian materials in Frankfurt am Main. From 1949-1950, he and his family lived in Casablanca, in (French-occupied) Morocco, where he worked at an architecture firm and continued to be involved with Church life. From 1950, Rahr worked for the NTS in West Germany, and from West Berlin he attempted to spread anti-communist propaganda into East Germany. He was a particpant in the in the "Big Four" talks of 1954 in Berlin and Geneva as well as the 1957 Pan-American Conference for the Protection of the Continent, located in Lima, Peru. His area of expertise was the fate of the Church and its faithful in Russia. In 1954, under the alias of Alexei Vetrov, he wrote the Russian-languge book "Plenennaja Zerkow" (The Church in Bondage), describing the situation of the Church in the Soviet Union.

In 1957, Rahr, now married, moved to Taiwan with his wife to work at the NTS radio station "Free Russia" there. With only about 100 Orthodox faithful on the island at that time, there was no consecrated Orthodox church, so most services were conducted in the Rahr home. In September of 1958, Archbishop Ireney, then Archbishop of Japan, visited Taiwan, and conducted services there.

From 1960-1963, the Rahr family relocated to Japan, where he directed a Russian-language program on Japanese radio in Tokyo. During this time, he also taught Russian at the Tokyo campus of the University of Maryland. (When the Rahr family returned to Germany, he would teach Russian Literature and History at one of the University of Maryland's campuses there.) From 1963 until 1974, Gleb Rahr again worked for the Frankfurt publisher he had years before.

From 1974-1995, Rahr worked for Radio Liberty in Munich. He led programs going into the Soviet Union of religious nature along with the programs "The Baltic Lighthouse", "Russia Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow", and "Not from Bread Alone." For many in the Soviet Union, these radio programs were the only opportunity to get truthful information about the plight of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Church Work

Gleb Rahr was ordained a subdeacon in 1967 by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

During the years 1967-1968, Gleb Rahr was an active member of the building committee of St. Nicholas Church in the Hausen district of the German city Frankfurt am Main. Among other things, he was responsible for the creation of the bells, and their casting, which was done in the traditional manner in the city of Saarburg. The crosses and inscription on the bells were done according to his sketches. The chandelier was also created according to his plans.

For many years, Rahr was a member of the diocesan council of the German Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and on parish councils in Frankfurt and Munich. He was one of the foremost members of an organization by the name of "Orthodox Action" (Pravoslovnoe Delo), whose aim was to smuggle religious literature into Russia in order to spread Christianity there, and in 1972 also helped found the Swiss institute "Faith in the Second World".

In 1974, Rahr was a representative of the German Diocese of the Third Council of ROCOR, where he made a presentation on the plight of the Church in Russia. In the following years, he would travel worldwide to give speeches on this topic. As part of the celebrations for the Millennium of Christianity in Russia in 1988, Rahr gave these presentations not only in Germany, but in North America, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, as well as other European nations. Within Church circles, he garnered great respect and recognition, establishing friendships with many priests, bishops, and activists, first within ROCOR, and then with the Moscow Patriarchate.

After the Millennial celebrations, as the Church in Russia began to experience more freedom from the state, Rahr began to work on the effort to reunify ROCOR and the MP. In 1990, he vehemently opposed the establishment of ROCOR parishes within Russia, which he considered to canonically be the territory of the MP. In August of 1991, Rahr and his wife were received by Patriarch Alexei II in Moscow, where Rahr brought up the subject of rapproachment with ROCOR on their behalf. Even though this attempt was rebuffed, Rahr strengthened his resolve to keep working toward this goal.

For his work with the churches, Rahr was recognized with a number of awards, from both ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, including one in 1988 from the ROCOR Synod of Bishops and Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, one in 2001 from the Church of Poland for his work in rebuilding and reestablishing the Orthodox Church at Sokołowsko, and one in 2004 from Patriarch Alexei II for his life's work.

Charitable Work

Gleb Rahr also participated in other charitable work, including serving for over twenty years as the head of the "Brotherhood of St. Vladimir", an organization founded by Archpriest Alexei Maltzev, where he helped broaden the organization's mission that had narrowed to taking care of churches damaged by Soviet communists, to having a broader focus which included care of people and to publishing. Besides this, he helped found a school for street children in Kaliningrad, which eventually had to close because of the Russian monetary crisis, but even after this, continued to be involved with other projects to help children in Russia.

Family

Gleb Rahr married Sofiya Orechow, the daughter of a well-known Russian exile dissident. Together, they had six children - Alexander, Xenia,Vsevolod (Pseudonym: Benjamin), the Archpriest Michail, Dimitri, and Irina.

Secular Award

In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Gleb Rahr and his wife Russian Citizenship.

Death

Gleb Rahr died on March 3, 2006 at the age of 83. He is buried in the Russian Cemetery in Berlin-Tegel.

The Chapel at Dachau

On the initiative of Archbishop Longin (Talypin) of Klin, as Russian forces were completely withdrawn from Germany in 1994-1995, a memorial chapel was built at the former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, outside of Munich. This chapel, named for the Resurrection of Christ, (and which led to a parish of the same name - a church Rahr belonged to for years - being founded in Munich in 1996), was built to remember the Orthodox victims of the Nazi regime, as well as any other regimes of terror. The main icon of the chapel depicts Christ leading the prisoners of Dachau out of the camp through the gates, held open by angels. One of the prisoners depicted wears the prisoner number R64923 - Gleb Rahr's number. Since his death, a small wooden cross, fashioned by Rahr whilst a prisoner, is also housed at this chapel.

Sources

For Further Reading