FROM EDITORSHIP OF RUSSIAN COMMUNIST YOUTH JOURNAL TO THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY

 

Victor Sokolov was born in 1947 in the city of Kalinin, some 165 miles northwest of Moscow. His father was a factory worker born in 1916, just one year before the revolution. His mother was born in 1924.

 

Victor's father was not a believer, but was tolerant of those who were. His mother, a product of the anti-religious Communist youth organization Komsomol, was strongly atheistic.

 

Victor attended primary, middle and high school in the Soviet Union, and also became a member of Komsomol. (Higher education in the USSR is closed to all who do not join this state youth movement.) After high school, he served the compulsory three years in the Soviet army.

 

After his discharge Victor did various kinds of work before deciding to enter the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute. (In the USSR an institute is a school of university level which specializes in one particular field of studies.) After three years at the Maxim Gorky Institute, Victor graduated as an official "worker in literature."

 

He then became a literary critic and journalist, and edited the Komsomol publication YOUNG GUARD. This periodical sought to instill and strengthen in its young readers the atheistic and materialistic philosophy of the Communist Party.

 

Even before he began working for Young Guard Victor had started to question some of the teaching and activities of the Communist Party. Nevertheless he joined it and worked at its youth periodical thinking that he could reform the system from within and help to make it more human. He soon found this to be impossible, and became increasingly disgusted at being a part of the state propaganda machine.

 

One of the things which contributed to his growing disillusionment with the system was the lack of absolute moral standards in the Party's teaching. Something was "true" if it served the Party's interests. If circumstances changed and it was no longer useful to the party, it ceased to be "true."

 

As a youngster Victor had occasionally attended Easter services in the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a tradition for millions of people in the Soviet Union who have no contact at all with organized religion at any other time of the year. Victor had understood little of the few services which he had attended. As his disillusionment with the Communist system grew he determined to obtain a Bible.

 

Scriptures are in very short supply in the Soviet Union, but Victor was able to buy a small Bible on the black market in Moscow for one hundred rubles - a whole month's salary. Its title page indicated that it had been printed in London by the Bible Society.

 

Victor began to read the Bible, and at first it made little sense to him. It was full of strange names, places and concepts which he had never heard of before at home, or at school or at the institute. The Old Testament he found particularly difficult to understand because he had no Bible background or Bible study books to guide him. Nevertheless, the clear ethical message of the Scriptures made a great appeal to him. "I found out that good is good - it is not just what is good for the state," recalls Fr. Sokolov.

 

As his understanding of the Scriptures increased, Victor decided to identify himself with the Christian cause. In May 1975 he was baptized by Fr. Dmitri Dudko, a Russian Orthodox priest well known for his stand for religious and human rights in the Soviet Union. (Fr. Dudko was later sent to prison camp for his bold witness which was influencing many people, and on his release was sent to serve in a remote parish.)

 

For some time before his baptism, Victor had become involved in the Dissident Movement in the USSR, and had worked with Anatoly Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov and many others in the cause of human rights. Increasingly he came under KGB surveillance.

 

He had also met and fallen in love with Barbara, a young American lady who worked for a couple connected with the U.S. embassy in Moscow. With no guarantee that he would be able to leave with her for the United States, Victor and Barbara were married in Russia in 1975.

 

After the wedding, Victor applied for an exit visa. "I didn't know whether the authorities would send me east to Siberia or west to be with my wife. I guess they decided it would be less trouble to let me join her in the USA because in the unusually short time of four months after I applied for a exit visa they allowed me to leave the USSR. The recently signed Helsinki Accords may also have helped.

 

"I left my little Bible Society Bible behind for someone else to use when I departed from the Soviet Union. The Scriptures are so hard to get there that I didn't like to take it out with me."

 

In November 1975 Victor arrived in the USA and began teaching in the Russian studies department of the University of California at Santa Cruz and at the language institute of the US Department of Defence's Monterey Institute of International Studies. During this time Victor became increasingly involved in the life of a Russian Orthodox Church at Santa Cruz.

 

After some years the Sokolovs moved to New York where Victor became Deputy Chief Editor of the largest Russian language newspaper outside the USSR the New Russian Word.

 

Nine months after taking up this appointment Victor felt called to the priesthood. He gave up his newspaper position and entered St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. Here he studied for three years and graduated with a Master of Divinity degree. While at seminary he worked in a senior citizen's home on Staten Island and taught in the Russian school of Norwich University in Vermont.

 

In 1985 Fr. Sokolov was ordained to the priesthood of the Orthodox Church in America. The Komsomol training that his mother had received was seen in the letter which she wrote to her son just before his ordination in which she asked that he not send her any photographs of himself in his church vestments. In the same year Fr. Sokolov became Rector of Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church in Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

A keen supporter of the Bible Society, Fr. Victor Sokolov is a member of the British Columbia Board of the Canadian Society. Remembering the profound effect that a copy of the Scriptures produced by the Bible Society had had on him, he loves to expound the Scriptures and to testify to the life-changing power of the written Word of God.

 

Remembering also his struggles at first to understand the Bible without any Scripture guides in Russia, Fr. Sokolov plans to translate into Russian a number of well known books in English which explain the Scriptures and give the background to the Bible.

 

The Sokolovs have two sons, Christopher and Philip, and one daughter, Tamara.

 

 

The Rev╣d Robert Grey

September 1986