The Guardian, Thursday March 20 2008
He was the leader of the world's last atheist super-power. And during his time as general secretary of the communist party, God wasn't supposed to exist. But this week Mikhail Gorbachev - the man who presided over the demise of the Soviet Union - has revealed himself as a believer.
On a trip to Italy, Gorbachev paid a surprise visit to the tomb of St Francis of Assisi, where, with his daughter Irina, he spent half an hour meditating. Afterwards, he declared that the saint's story had played a "fundamental" role in his life. "It was through St Francis that I arrived at the church, so it was important that I came to visit," he added.
Gorbachev's comments reveal the tantalising gap between public and private attitudes in Soviet family life. Like many children of the Stalin era, he was secretly baptised, by his grandparents. But during his career in the communist party he was - in public, at least - an atheist. Rumours of his religious inclinations have swirled since his 1989 meeting with Pope John Paul II; even his cold war adversary Ronald Reagan reportedly told aides that he felt Gorbachev was a "closet believer".
Yesterday, however, a spokesman quashed suggestions that Gorbachev was a card-carrying Christian. Describing his visit to Italy as "personal", he said: "He is a member of the Russian Orthodox church. But he is not a regular churchgoer." Russian church leaders were also unimpressed. A spokesman for Russia's Orthodox patriarch Alexey II said Gorbachev had a long way to go before his faith could be taken seriously. "In Italy he spoke in emotional terms, rather than in terms of faith. He is still on his way to Christianity. If he arrives, we will welcome him."
At 77, Gorbachev is the most senior ex-communist leader to show an interest in God. But these days other Russian leaders believe in Him too. Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB colonel, is a churchgoer. His presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, is also a member of the Orthodox chuch.
It seems that God is returning the favour. Last month Alexey II hinted strongly that he had voted for Medvedev in Russia's presidential election.
Κλήμης Πυρουνάκης / Της φυλακής τα γράμματα είναι για τους λεβέντες - *«Το µήλο κάτω από τη µηλιά θα πέσει». Η γνωστή παροιµία ταιριάζει γάντι στην περίπτωση του 63χρονου θεολόγου και καθηγητή Κλήµη Πυρουνάκη. Είναι γιός ενό...
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